Revisiting the Revolution

Back in 2012, after the release of my novel Owl Dance and while I was still in the early planning stages of the sequel, Lightning Wolves, author Robert E. Vardeman asked if I would like to contribute a novella to a series he was assembling. The series was called “The Empires of Steam and Rust” and it was set in an alternate 1915. Queen Victoria was still on the throne and growing younger. Teddy Roosevelt was still president of the United States and growing an empire. The Russian Revolution had failed and the Czar was still in power. The Meiji Restoration had not happened and there were still samurai in Japan. Bob had already written a novella in the series about an adventurer and an aeronaut who travel into a world where all metals have turned to rust. The novella also featured Albert Einstein’s scheming brother, Ernst, as an antagonist. Stephen D. Sullivan had written a novella set in the Russia of this world.

While seeking inspiration for a story, I happened on a photo of Pancho Villa in a pith helmet dated March 1916. At that moment, I knew I needed to write the story of the Mexican Revolution as it happened in this world. Bob had provided a detailed bible for this world. One notable aspect of the world was that while airships existed, airplanes had not yet been invented. What’s more, the American Expeditionary Force’s real life incursion into Mexico in 1915 was the first American military action to utilize airplanes. That gave me the story. What if the Americans had airships, but Pancho Villa discovered airplanes in another world and brought them to his?

While researching this story, author Jeffrey J. Mariotte invited me to participate in an author event being held in Douglas, Arizona at the Gadsden Hotel. Douglas sits right on the Mexican border and Pancho Villa had been a guest at the hotel along with General John J. Pershing. In fact, the two dined together at the hotel restaurant. The Gadsden Hotel is one of the biggest buildings in town. You can’t miss it and I decided I should find a way to use it in the story.

The Hotel Gadsden in Douglas, Arizona

The hotel has a beautiful lobby where I set some of the novel’s action.

Lobby of the Hotel Gadsden

That amazing, marble staircase in the center of the photo has two chips in it. There’s a story that the chips came about because Pancho Villa rode his horse up the staircase. Again, that was a real life event too good not to use. I have a scene where Pancho Villa rides full tilt at the hotel, hollers to open the door and rides right into the lobby and up the stairs to wake his men. In the photo below, my daughters and I are sitting on the steps by the chips said to have been made by Villa’s horse. The chips are right by my feet.

Stairway at the Gadsden Hotel

Of course, while I was in the area, I also drove around some of the surrounding countryside. This was a story about Pancho Villa and air power. He had to hide his plane somewhere. I found the washes around had lot of growth and would provide good cover for whatever Villa planned to do from his headquarters in Douglas, Arizona and Agua Prieta, Mexico.

Can you see the hidden airplane?

The Tucson Steampunk Society’s virtual book club has chosen Revolution of Air and Rust to be their selection this month. They will be discussing the book from 4:30-5:30 Mountain Standard Time (Remember, Arizona does not switch to Daylight Savings Time, so that’s 5:30-6:30pm if you’re on Daylight time) on Sunday, October 18. I’ll be on hand to discuss the book as well! You can get more information about how to join the discussion at the event’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/671206483480544

You can learn more about the book and find all the places it’s available by visiting http://davidleesummers.com/Air-and-Rust.html. There are also links to all the other books in the Empires of Steam and Rust series if you want to continue your explorations of this world.

The Hands of Fate

While reading the book of plays, Uncanny Encounters – Live! by Paul McComas and Stephen D. Sullivan a few weeks ago, I was reminded that Sullivan had written a novelization of the movie Manos: The Hands of Fate. The movie has been declared by people such as the writers of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Elvira as the worst movie ever made. The movie fascinates me personally because it opens on El Paso’s Transmountain Highway and much of it is set in the familiar desert between El Paso and Las Cruces. It is a terrible movie and I’ve only survived my viewings by laughing along with hosts such as those I mentioned. So, I was very curious what Sullivan did with a novelization of such a movie.

I put the book on my Christmas list and lo and behold it arrived and I devoured it between Christmas and New Years. The novel takes a humorous, snarky tone and could really be seen as a companion to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 version. It’s very self aware and has fun with the movie’s problems. That said, the book made me aware that Sullivan had not written just one novelization, but two. The other, Manos: Talons of Fate, attempts to turn the campy film into a serious horror novel. I downloaded it to my Kindle, and I must say, Sullivan does a fine job of using the movie as a basis for a chilling, Lovecraftian tale.

According to the book Huh? by Hal C.F. Astell, Manos: The Hands of Fate was the result of a bet made in a coffee shop between fertilizer salesman and insurance agent Harold P. Warren and Stirling Silliphant, a writer for the TV series Route 66. Warren apparently played a bus driver in the series and he bet Silliphant that anyone could make a movie and see it released. In fact, he started plotting the movie on the spot. No doubt that very cynicism that just anyone could make a movie is part of why people are happy to have seen it turn out so bad. However, despite that issue, Harold Warren had the tenacity to see the project through and complete it, something many would-be writers never manage.

What fascinates me about Sullivan’s approach in this novel is that he doesn’t alter the plot very much at all. Instead, he delves deeper into the characters’ heads and lets us understand why they are doing what they are doing. He gives the scenes more detail and depth while letting them play out very much like they did on screen. He does add a few things that don’t happen on screen, but he keeps that to a minimum. The result is a wonderful demonstration of the thin line that exists between a story that works well and one that doesn’t work at all.

Sullivan’s exercise in writing two novelizations of Manos: The Hands of Fate also interests me because it’s not unlike what I’m currently doing at my Patreon site. I’m presenting chapters of my novel The Pirates of Sufiro as they appeared in the most recent print version and giving some brief analysis of what worked and didn’t work, then within a couple of weeks, I’m releasing an edited chapter. While I certainly hope the most recent edition of The Pirates of Sufiro doesn’t descend to the level of the movie Manos: The Hands of Fate, it was my first novel and I don’t feel I did as good a job describing characters and situations as I could have. I also don’t feel like all the story’s “beats” hit where they needed to.

My goal with Pirates is much the same as Stephen Sullivan’s goal with his novel. I want to improve Pirates, but I don’t want to change it so far that it become unrecognizable. If someone picks up a different edition of one of the sequels, I still want them to be able to read with confidence that the same major events transpired in all editions of the novel. You can support me in this experiment at: http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers. Please drop by and browse the posts. While many posts are reserved for patrons, several are free so you can get a sense of the work I’m doing. I hope you like what you see.

Uncanny Encounters

During my first year of graduate school, I joined a small acting troop that called itself the Socorro Little Theater and we put on a series of related one-act plays known collectively as The God’s Honest: An Evening of Lies by playwright Jules Tasca. The idea is that in each play, one or more characters is lying and through their lies some truth is revealed. The whole thing was done with minimalist sets that could be used in each of segments. Below, is a photo from the segment called “The Twin Mendaccios” where I play Clarence, a poor befuddled soul who isn’t sure which twin, Terry or Thomasina (both played by the same actress), that I’ve been to the movies with, had dinner with, or even slept with!

While performing in the play, the director, Carolyn Abbey, had me hard at work adapting my short story “A Matter for Madness” into a stage play that we hoped to perform. I’m sorry to say, the stage play was never produced, but the story did go on to be one of my first story sales. Also, the play’s protagonist, John Mark Ellis, would go on to be one of the heroes of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series and is featured prominently in the novel Heirs of the New Earth which is on sale for half price at http://hadrosaur.com/bookstore.html#heirs.

It’s from this perspective that I turned my attention to the book Uncanny Encounters—Live! by Paul McComas and Stephen D. Sullivan. The book collects eight short plays with distinctly science fictional or horror elements in the vein of The Twilight Zone. Some of the plays are very short. In fact, the shortest is only one page, but published in 2015, “The Most Terrifying Three Word Dystopian/Dark-Fantasy/Horror Story Ever Written” proves to be the most chillingly predictive piece of science fiction I’ve ever read. I won’t spoil it. You’ll have to read the book or see the play to know what I mean!

As someone who fell in love with stagecraft many years ago, I’d enjoy watching or performing in any or all of the plays in this volume. That said, my two favorite pieces were “Corona Encounters” by Stephen D. Sullivan and “Be Mine” by Paul McComas. These were two of the longer plays in the volume and I suspect they grabbed me as much as they did because there was a little more time to explore the characters and watch them change as they reacted to the events. “Corona Encounters” tells the story of a UFO enthusiast who has calculated the time of the aliens’ return and the skeptical photographer she convinces to go out to the desert with her. It starts out as a lighthearted romp that takes a chilling turn. “Be Mine” is the story of a man who dabbles in Voodoo magic to win the heart of a woman who is in a relationship with another man. The problem is that once our hero wins the woman’s heart, he can’t stop using the magic.

If you’re an actor, director, producer looking for fresh material, I highly recommend taking a look at this volume. For that matter, if you’re a reader looking for a great read, this is worth putting on your list. It’s available at: https://www.amazon.com/Uncanny-Encounters-Sci-Fi-Screams-Horrific/dp/1499706014. Contact information for performance rights is in the book. Like The God’s Honest, these plays are designed to work with minimalist sets. So, even though they’re science fiction and horror, don’t let the potential cost scare you. These should be adaptable to companies working with even modest budgets.

If you want to learn more, you can hear an interview with Stephen and Paul at: https://narrativespecies.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/paul-mccomas-and-steven-sullivan-navigate-uncanny-encounters-rod-serling-used-to-tour-the-nation/