What Is a Monster?

This past weekend, I was on a series of three panels with Gail Carriger at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego where we discussed a spectrum of topics ranging from Gothic literature to monsters in steampunk. Gail is the author of the well loved Parasol Protectorate steampunk series. On one of the panels we were joined by Dru Pagliasotti, author of the novel Clockwork Heart. The other two panels were moderated by DeAnna Cameron, author of the novel The Girl on the Midway Stage. In addition to these panels, I gave a presentation on the paranormal as it was perceived during the Victorian Age. Below is a photo from the first panel session.

gail-dru-david

The overall experience proved to be a very in-depth discussion that started with our love of Gothic Literature and for many of us, how it got us started thinking about being writers and how the Gothics influenced almost all modern genre fiction from science fiction to horror to mystery to romance. We then moved on to a discussion of how monsters allow us to explore topics we might not otherwise get to explore in fiction. For example, werewolves allow us to explore the monster within. Vampires give us creatures who have a long-time outlook on humanity and can make observations that might seem trite coming from another creature. Of course mad scientists allow us to look at the morality of science itself.

What was perhaps the most interesting point of discussion for me came near the end of the three panels. One of the audience members asked us simply “What makes a monster?” The answer we came up with was that a monster must be corporeal, because monsters must have a physical, perhaps even visceral component. Monsters must be dangerous to humans in some way. In this sense, this allows for someone like Jack the Ripper, who is arguably a monster, though clearly in the form of a human. A monster is no longer monstrous when they are fully allied with humanity and pose no threat to the people they’re around.

One monster who seemed to show up in all the panels was Spring-heeled Jack, who I spoke about at length about a year and a half ago at The Scarlet Order Journal. It was even suggested that I should create a Spring-heeled Jack costume for a future steampunk event. I actually think such a costume would be a lot of fun to create, but it would be a challenge to figure out how to portray him. After all, he really was pretty monstrous in his earliest incarnation, attacking women with his metallic claws and breathing fire, which blinded a girl. Nevertheless, this is a challenge I’ll definitely consider.

Finally, despite Gaslight Gathering being a steampunk convention, it seemed my books which did the best in terms of sales were my Scarlet Order vampire novels, no doubt as a result of the theme. The vampires were pleased to get a chance to shine, though they do remind my readers that they will never, ever sparkle.

Gaslight Gathering and Other Steampunk Fun

gaslight-gathering-logo Next weekend, I’ll be at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego, California. This year, Gail Carriger, best selling author of the Parasol Protectorate Series will be Guest of Honor. Also presenting there will be my friends Madame Askew, Denise Dumars, Dee and Hal Astel, and Madeleine Holly-Rosing, creator of the Boston Metaphysical Society comic. The event will be held at the Town and Country Hotel from Friday, October 7 through Sunday, October 9. There will be costuming workshops, teapot racing, absinthe, movies and more!

Here’s my schedule:

Saturday, October 8

  • 10am-11am – Garden Salon One – Gothic Literature and Its Influence on Steampunk. I’ll join Writer Guest of Honor Gail Carriger, along with fellow steampunk writer Dru Pagliasotti for a lively discussion about Gothic literature and how it has influenced the Steampunk genre.
  • 1pm-2pm – Garden Salon One – Zombies, Vampires, and Ghosts – What are your favorite monsters? I’ll again join Guest of Honor Gail Carriger, along with fellow writer Todd McCaffrey for a panel that explores different monsters and paranormal creatures who have appeared in steampunk books. Which ones work best? Which are our favorites? Which didn’t work so well in both literature and the cinema!
  • 4pm-5pm – Vendor Hall – Autograph Session
  • Sunday, October 9

  • 10am-11am – Garden Salon One – Victorians and the Paranormal Presentation. We will look at ghosts, seances, spirit photography, and mysterious creatures such as Spring-Heeled Jack and Arizona’s ghost camels that have so fascinated our Victorian forefathers.
  • 11am-12pm – Vendor Hall – Autograph Session
  • 12pm-1pm – Taking The Horror out of Monsters. Not all monsters are monstrous. Some monsters are darn near lovable. Who are your favorite monsters and why do you like them better than certain people. On the panel with me are Gail Carriger and Todd McCaffrey.
  • doapromo2

    It seems fitting to announce the anthology Den of Antiquity in this post about forthcoming steampunk goodness. This anthology collects writings by members of The Scribbler’s Den, a writing group gathered on The Steampunk Empire, a great online social network for steampunk enthusiasts.

    When one thinks of a den, one tends to think of comfort. A cozy room in the house—a quiet, comfortable place, a room for conversation, reading, or writing. One doesn’t tend to think of high adventure, dragons, vampires, airships, or paranormal creatures. And yet, that’s just what you’ll find in these pages. Stories of adventure and mystery! Paranormal, dark, and atmospheric tales! The fantastical and the imaginative, the dystopian and post-apocalyptic, and everything in between!

    So settle in to the coziest room in your house, plop down into your favourite armchair, and dive in to the Den of Antiquity.

    This anthology which is slated for release on November 5 includes stories by Jack Tyler, E.C. Jarvis, Kate Philbrick, Neale Green, Bryce Raffle, N.O.A. Rawle, David Lee Summers, William J. Jackson, Steve Moore, Karen J. Carlisle, and Alice E. Keyes.

    My story in the anthology is called “The Jackalope Bandit” and it’s an exciting new story featuring Larissa and Professor Maravilla from my Clockwork Legion novels in a brand new adventure in which a six-foot tall mechanical jackalope robs banks and payrolls along the Rio Grande. Can Larissa and the professor solve this mystery from their armchairs in the den? Find out on November 5!

    Surviving At All Costs

    I was born in Barstow, a small town in California’s high desert. Nearby is a ghost town called Calico purchased and restored by Walter Knott, better known as the founder of Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County, California. Calico is now managed by San Bernardino County and serves as a tourist attraction. This weekend finds me in Southern California for my nephew’s wedding. On my way, I stopped off at Calico, which I last visited some thirty-five years ago.

    Calico-1

    Visiting places like Calico can help inform not only my steampunk and weird westerns, but my science fiction as well. It reminds me how people moving to new places must use their wits to survive by any means necessary, sometimes in harsh conditions. I was especially impressed by a few remaining examples of miner’s quarters clinging tenaciously to the hillside. This put the miners both close to work and gave them somewhat cool housing in the fierce desert heat.

    Calico-2

    People lived in Calico until the silver mines played out, then for the most part, moved on to other places where they could continue surviving by any means necessary. Most of what survives in Calico today is the former downtown area. With a few exceptions, most of the residences, including a small “Chinatown” have vanished into the desert. An $8 admission gets an adult access to a set of small shops and eateries. A short train ride and a brief self-guided tour through a mine on the town site give a little bit of history. There are campgrounds on site and campsite fees give access to the town. If I returned, I would probably camp and then visit. You can learn more by visiting the Calico Website.

    Among the shops is a small saloon. This venue served a variety of soft drinks and a few local beers. The one I tried wasn’t bad and proved a nice way to cool off after hiking up the town built along a mountainside in the summer heat. It also provided some possible inspiration for a weird western story. Here, my daughters drink sarsaparilla, play poker, and enjoy music performed by a skeletal piano player. At the time I took the photo, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” was playing.

    Calico-3

    Watching Western films, it seems as though the wild west must have lived forever, but it was a very transitory time and place as people moved in, found ways to make a living, and moved on. It was a very diverse place populated not just by white people, but Native Americans and Latinos who had lived in the region for centuries. Asians had a strong presence in the old west as did African Americans trying to find a life after the end of slavery. I’ve tried my best to capture the transitory and multi-cultural aspects of the old west in my writing. You can see how well I’ve succeeded by reading Owl Dance, Lightning Wolves and The Brazen Shark which are available at Amazon, and as a special combination edition from Barnes and Noble.

    Smashwords Sale

    I’ve just reviewed the copy edited draft of my forthcoming novel The Astronomer’s Crypt and turned it back in to the publisher. I’m getting excited as we close in on publication. In the meantime, the e-book retailer Smashwords is holding their July Summer/Winter sale this month and I’m pleased to announce that you can get three of Hadrosaur Productions’ titles for 50% off their retail price until July 31. All you have to do is enter the code SSW50 at checkout. Clicking the book titles or covers will take you to their page at Smashwords. Smashwords presents their ebooks in a variety of formats including mobi (which work on Kindles), epub (which work on Nooks), and PDF (which work on just about anything).


    A Kepler’s Dozen

    A Kepler's Dozen A Kepler’s Dozen presents thirteen action-packed, mysterious, and humorous stories all based on real planets discovered by the NASA Kepler mission. I edited this anthology along with Steve B. Howell, project scientist for the Kepler mission. Whether on a prison colony, in a fast escape from the authorities, or encircling a binary star, these exoplanet stories will amuse, frighten, and intrigue you while you share fantasy adventures among Kepler’s real-life planets.

    Don’t forget, we’re reading for a follow-up anthology right now called Kepler’s Cowboys. You can read the guidelines here: http://hadrosaur.com/antho-gl.html. Of course, reading the first book is a great way to get a sense for the editors’ taste in fiction!


    Revolution of Air and Rust

    Revolution of Air and Rust This is my tale of Pancho Villa in an alternate Steampunk reality. Set in 1915, Teddy Roosevelt is building an empire. Pancho Villa is the only man who stands in his way!

    The American Expeditionary Force under the command of General “Black Jack” Pershing has invaded Northern Mexico. Pancho Villa leads his revolutionary army in a desperate raid against the American force only to be outflanked. Just as Pershing’s airships prepare to deliver the death blow, Pancho Villa is transported to a parallel Earth where he finds an unexpected ally and the technology that might just turn defeat into victory.

    Revolution of Air and Rust is a stand-alone novella set in the Empires of Steam and Rust world created by Robert E. Vardeman and Stephen D. Sullivan. A story filled with military action, espionage and gadgetry that’s sure to satisfy fans of steampunk and alternate history.


    Sugar Time

    Sugar Time

    Her name is Sugar. Sugar Sweet. But never EVER call her “Sweetie.”

    When Sugar’s Uncle Max falls ill and his collaborators disappear, she investigates the old Victorian mansion where he conducted his research. She soon finds the collaborators—or what’s left of them—along with an angry Neanderthal. She also finds her uncle’s research project, a working time machine. Sugar must act quickly to unlock the secret of time travel so she can set things right and protect her uncle’s research.

    Sugar Time collects all four of Joy V. Smith’s Sugar Sweet stories into one volume. I had tremendous fun editing this volume. If you enjoy a good time travel romp, this might just be the book to put at the top of your summer reading list.

    Sharing Time

    Susan over at Dab of Darkness gave me a shout-out in her post about being nominated for the Real Neat Blog Award. She has a wonderful review site and you can read her reviews of Owl Dance, SummersOwlDanceLightning Wolves, Culhwch and Olwen and even the very first edition of The Pirates of Sufiro. She also conducts author interviews and here’s her most recent interview with yours truly.

    What I like about these award-type posts is that it gives me the opportunity to share some things I might not otherwise, plus I get to recommend some cool blogs. Although Susan didn’t “nominate” me outright, she did mention my blog and she came up with some cool questions. What’s more, one of the “rules” of this award is to bend the rules. So, I’m not treating this as the usual award post, just sharing some questions and answers, then recommending some blogs at the end of the post. Enjoy!

    1. If you could be an extra on a period piece (Outlander, Spartacus, etc.) what would it be and what would you be doing?

      Although I know the series finished a few months ago, I would have enjoyed appearing in Da Vinci’s Demons as someone working with period astronomical instruments such as astrolabes and armillary spheres who helps Da Vinci solve a mystery that required some knowledge of celestial motions.

    2. What makes you cringe?

      Recent wounds just starting to heal produce a strong cringe response in me. Good thing I’m not a doctor! Actually, new wounds usually don’t cause me to react that way, but I suspect that’s because the adrenaline from trying to help overrides the cringe response.

    3. What’s the most interesting gross fact you know?

      Despite what makes me cringe, I seem to have a high threshold for being grossed out and I’m not sure whether I find this fact more gross or more interesting. Apparently it’s quite natural for a woman to have a bowel movement while in labor—perhaps this shouldn’t be much of a surprise given the muscles involved in both activities. The interesting part is that it’s believed that this is actually an important part of the life process, imparting a baby with their first exposure to bacteria, helping to develop their immune system.

    4. It’s time for you to host the book club. Who do you invite (living, dead, fictional, real)? And what 3 books will you be discussing?

      I would invite Lafcadio Hearn to talk about his journey from being a newspaperman in New Orleans and collecting recipes for the first book of Creole cookery, La Cuisine Creole, to writing about life in Meiji Era Japan in Gleanings in Buddha Fields to collecting Japanese ghost stories in Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. It couldn’t help but be a fascinating journey.

    5. If you had to choose someone to rescue you from the jaws of certain death would it be a superhero, supernatural creature, or a space alien?

      Vampires of the Scarlet Order

      The most interesting superheroes often have emotional issues they’re working through, and certainly in recent superhero movies, there’s a lot of collateral damage where those guys hang out. Not sure I want to be around those guys. Looking at the space aliens I’ve written about in the Old Star/New Earth series, a lot depends on the alien. Some have been friends in need. Others have had their own agendas. So, I lean toward supernatural creature, and specifically the Scarlet Order vampires. They work quickly and quietly and most of them have good hearts as long as no one is trying to screw them over. I just hope they aren’t too hungry when they rescue me!

    6. If you could, what book/movie/TV series would you like to experience for the first time all over again and why?

      The tricky part about this question is that when I think about the very best books, movies, and TV series, they’re great the first time and only get better in repeated viewings as I see things I missed before. The one TV series, though, that comes to mind is Star Trek: The Animated Series which was first on when I was about eight years old. The writing by such folks as David Gerrold, Larry Niven, and D.C. Fontana still holds up and I catch things in the scripts today that I didn’t then. Although many of the cells were beautifully drawn, it was animated with the limitations of a 1970’s Saturday morning TV budget. I would be delighted to go back and experience the episodes again where I’m more captivated by the magic of the animation and less critical of the execution.

    7. If everyone came with warning labels, what would yours say?

      Caution: Requires coffee to function properly.

      DLS with Pirate Mug

    Here are some of my favorite blogs:

    • Lachesis Publishing is one of my publishers and has a regular blog featuring author interviews and helpful tips for writers.
    • Wyrmflight is a blog by Deby Fredericks covering any and all aspects related to dragons.
    • Earthian Hivemind is Steph P. Bianchini’s blog that covers topics of science and science fiction.
    • Karen J. Carlisle is a steampunk writer, photographer, and costumer in Australia who presents some great stories, writing tips, and sometimes even recipes.
    • Joy V. Smith is the author of the short story collection Sugar Time that I edited. She blogs and reblogs about topics of interest to writers.
    • eSpec Books published the anthology Gaslight and Grimm. Their blog not only announces upcoming publications, but gives some great behind-the-scenes insights into the stories plus author interviews, and they sponsor a monthly writing contest.
    • D.M. Yates is an author of paranormal romance who has handy tips about grammar plus some interesting crafting and cooking tips.

    The Future of Steampunk

    I was on a panel yesterday at LepreCon in Phoenix, Arizona, entitled “The Future of Steampunk Literature.” As it turns out, my other panelist didn’t show up and I ended up being the only speaker. Still, it was a good conversation and I think several good points were raised that are relevant to questions about the future of any genre.

    First off, I’ve encountered people who have suggested that steampunk has reached its peak in popularity and may even be past it. While I think it’s possible that steampunk has reached a peak in the general public’s consciousness, I see that the genre has a good strong, core following. I think this is helped by the fact that steampunk is not just a literary genre, but is strongly connected with the maker movement and has a vibrant music scene. Even if it didn’t have that strong core, I think it’s easy, especially for new writers, to put too much emphasis on writing to what’s popular and avoiding what’s not popular.

    It’s true, the big New York publishers are going to base decisions on what they see in their marketing numbers and if they see steampunk on a rise, will probably buy more steampunk. However, they’re not going to be looking for what you send them in a month or two. They’ll be looking at what they already have in their reading stacks. If they see numbers trending upward, they’ll talk to authors and agents they know and perhaps get a few known authors on board. In short, the publishers are probably way ahead of you in the popularity game and it’s better for a new author to write what they’re passionate about than chase perceived trends. Of course, creating what they’re passionate about is one of the things steampunks do best!

    Second, steampunk is a very multi-faceted genre. There’s alternate history, weird westerns, science fictional steampunk, magical steampunk, horror steampunk, post-apocalyptic futuristic steampunk and probably more than I haven’t thought of. Not only that, new authors are putting their own spins on it, punking up the diesel era, the atom age, and even going back to the stone age. Although these many facets can make marketing steampunk a challenge, the fact that so many people are being so creative with the basic idea speaks to the health and the vibrancy of the genre.

    I can’t pretend to have any great insight into steampunk’s future, but the strong, evolving core following tells me it’s a healthy fandom and gives me hope that it will be a force in publishing and other areas for many years to come.

    Clockwork-Legion

    I continue to be on panels for the rest of this weekend at LepreCon, and will be engaging in more steampunkery. When I’m not on panels, I’ll be in the dealer’s room. Local Gamer Guest of Honor, Ben Woerner has graciously given me some space at his table. Be sure to come by the table and check out his cool samurai noir role playing game, World of Dew as well as my books. If you’re not at LepreCon or you managed to miss me, you can check out my steampunk books on Amazon:

    Meeting Old Friends for the First Time

    This weekend, I’m sorry I’m missing Phoenix Comicon, an event I’ve enjoyed attending as an author for the last few years. My schedule at the observatory just didn’t allow it to happen. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to return next year. However, I am grateful my schedule allowed me to attend Balticon 50 in Baltimore, Maryland last weekend. Balticon was special for me because I’d worked with several of the attending authors and editors over the years, but this was the first opportunity I’d had to meet them face to face!

    Signing-GanG-0528-Mike

    Ostensibly, the reason I went to Balticon was for the release of the anthology Gaslight and Grimm edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine. Indeed, just about the first thing that happened upon my arrival at Balticon was a wonderful, warm welcome from Danielle, promptly followed by instructions to sit down and sign 150 copies of the anthology. Dani’s husband Mike and author Chris Hiles helped by pulling out boxes and handing them to me one by one until we got the job done. It was a fun way to start the convention and made me grateful for my arthritis being in remission!

    Pirates-0528-Missy

    My first official event was a pirate reading on Saturday night. I joined Jack Campbell, Laura Nicole and Misty Massey to read selections from our pirate stories. I shared the story “Calamari Rodeo” which features Captain Firebrandt and the crew of the Legacy. The story is scheduled to appear in the Hadrosaur Productions anthology Kepler’s Cowboys. Writers can read the guidelines to learn how to submit. Readers can stay up to date about the anthology by following this blog or by signing up for my mailing list. Of course, you can read about Captain Firebrandt’s later adventures in The Pirates of Sufiro, available for free from my publisher. Not only were there fine readings, but there were prizes and even rum! These little touches made for a memorable evening.

    The next day, I was on a panel discussing mistakes beginning writers make. On the panel with me were Mike McPhail, Chris Hiles, and Michael Ventralla. Among the mistakes we discussed included being paranoid about editors stealing your idea, falling for writing scams (remember money flows to the writer not from the writer!), and standing out to editors in bad ways. Examples of that last include sending your submission in such a way that it forces the editor to stand in a long post office line to pick it up, sending it on perfumed paper, or emailing it in a format the editor can’t work with.

    As I mentioned at the outset, a real thrill of Balticon was getting to meet people I’ve worked with over the years. This includes Danielle Ackley-McPhail who I published in Space Pirates, Space Horrors, and Tales of the Talisman. I also got to meet Christine Norris, whose Talisman of Zandria I edited for LBF Books and Patrick Thomas who appeared in Space Horrors and whose “Dear Cthulhu” column ran in Tales of the Talisman. Patrick also recommended me for the anthology Apocalypse 13. All of these were people I’d only really worked with via email or in internet chat sessions, so it was wonderful to finally meet them in person and not only better cement our business relationship, but now honestly think of them as friends.

    GanG-gang-0529

    Of course, the reason I was invited to Baltimore was to be on hand for the release of Gaslight and Grimm. Here you see with me with most the authors of eSpec books at the release party. I’m wearing a very nice clockwork dragon scarf my wife knitted for me. The party was great with good food, a raffle for great prizes and good conversation. At the party, I got to meet another Tales of the Talisman contributor, Vonnie Winslow Crist, which was a real treat.

    Although I didn’t have any events scheduled on Monday of the convention, I did stay around and spent time in the dealer’s room. I had pleasant conversations with Ian Randal Strock of Fantastic Books, who published Uncle River’s collection The Mogollon News, which features a photograph I took on the cover.

    Before I wrap things up, I have to give a shout-out to two friends I knew before attending Balticon. I met Missy Gunnels Katano through my friends Marsheila Rockwell and Gini Koch. Missy graciously met me at the airport and took me to the convention. Nicki Fatherly, who once lived down the hall from me in college, kindly shuttled me around during the convention. They did a lot to make my first Balticon all the more fun by keeping it very stress free.

    I hope I’ll get a chance to return to Baltimore before too many more years go by. In the meantime, I look forward to keeping you posted about the ongoing collaborations with many of the fine folks I finally met in person at Balticon.