Saturday Morning Cartoons

Perhaps one of the things I miss most from years gone by is the ability to tune in to network television on Saturday morning and find a wide variety of animated cartoon programming. Much of this is due to television networks in the period of 1992 to 2002 deciding they didn’t make enough money to continue supporting animated programming. Also, around 2001 my wife and I decided that neither cable nor satellite TV were necessary items for our budget and we could see all the TV we wanted with other media such as DVDs. Of course, our decision was all part of the national trend that helped to kill animation in the first place. Not many people eschewed broadcast TV altogether as we did that early, but the number of choices available made it harder for networks to justify the expense of animation when certain cable networks specialized in it.

I grew up watching cartoons in the 1970s. I fondly remember many teams of crime-solving kids from shows such as Scooby-Doo and Josie and the Pussycats. The Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour provided some great comedy, much of it originally produced much before my time. I was already a Star Trek fan and loved the animated adaptation that aired in the mid 70s. There were even some cool live action experiments during that time such as Land of the Lost about a family trapped in a land of dinosaurs and the superhero-themed Shazam/Isis Hour.

I never really fell out of love with cartoons, but the 1990s ended up being another high point for me. That was in the early days of my astronomy career and cartoons became an escape from my working life. They were also a welcome treat when my first daughter was young. What I particularly remember from that period were some exceptional superhero shows such as Batman: The Animated Series and X-Men. There were also some great animated superhero parodies such as Earthworm Jim, The Tick and Freakazoid.

Of course, for all the gems, there were many forgettable shows as well. Still, what I find amazing living in the times we do is how many of these shows that I thought I would never see again are readily available on video or with the touch of a button on the internet. For a guy like me who occasionally wants a dose of nostalgia, these are great times. That said, the real joy of those Saturday mornings was the fun of discovery and I think that’s what I really miss is having that easy means of discovering new favorites.

Giving people a way to discover new authors was much of the reason I edited Hadrosaur Tales followed by Tales of the Talisman. Publishing those magazines also helped me appreciate the economic reality that caused the networks to take Saturday morning cartoons off the air. Like TV shows gone by, you can still get most of the back issues of both magazines. There are some great stories there by authors such as Neal Asher, Nicole Givens Kurtz, David Boop, and Janni Lee Simner and many more. You can find the back issues of each at:

As it turns out, I can do better than just give you nostalgia, Hadrosaur Productions has published two anthologies of stories set around planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler mission. Be sure to check out:

Queries, Marketing, and Talismans

It’s been a little over a year since Tales of the Talisman volume 10, issue 4 hit the streets and I thought I’d take this opportunity to update you on the magazine’s hiatus.

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I took the break, in part, to finish three novels under contract. Where those stand is as follows: The Brazen Shark was published earlier this year. I just turned in the first round of galleys for The Astronomer’s Crypt. I still need to write Owl Riders. My goal is to work on that novel this autumn and winter. Lurking in the background was also the anthology which is now called Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. As I mentioned last weekend, construction of that book is well underway.

I’m also conducting an experiment to see whether it’s a better business decision for Hadrosaur Productions to focus its publishing efforts on anthologies rather than a magazine. That experiment is on-going and you are welcome to participate. If you’re a writer, we’re reading for the anthology Kepler’s Cowboys right now. Find out what we’re looking for at the Guidelines Page. If you’re a reader, be sure to visit my homepage at davidleesummers.com and sign up for my newsletter so you can be among the first to know when the book is released! Just as a brief update for those writers who have submitted, the first short-listed stories are with my co-editor Dr. Steve Howell right now to get his opinion. If you want to check on the status of a submission, please feel free to query.

Which brings me to a brief digression for some writerly advice. Over the last few weeks, I’ve received a few queries about Tales of the Talisman and other projects. When writing a query, keep it short, on point, and avoid presumptuousness, no matter the reason for the query. A specific example comes to mind when someone queried to see if I’d be interested in reading an essay they’d written. About mid-way through the query, they said something to the effect: “This essay is longer than your guidelines specify, but the material is so interesting, I’m sure you’ll want to take a look.” A writer needs confidence, but this is not the best way to express it. Better would be a simple statement of the length. This would allow me to decide if I’m willing to bend the rules. Best would be to indicate willingness to work with the editor if changes are desired. In this case, don’t even indicate that it’s the length that’s at issue. The problem with the query letter was that it was so specific on the point of length that I suspected the author wouldn’t be willing to make any changes. Even if I had been buying essays for Tales of the Talisman, this would have made me less likely to consider the essay.

As far as the hiatus is concerned, I estimate I’m about two-thirds of the way through the time-critical projects that I knew would take a lot of my attention from the magazine. The experiment to see whether anthologies are a better product for Hadrosaur is really just gaining momentum. The upshot is that the hiatus will continue through 2016 as planned and will continue into 2017. About mid-way through 2017, I’ll take another look and see where things stand.

Of course, the one thing that speaks volumes to any editor or publisher considering a project is sales. The thing that would most convince me to bring back Tales of the Talisman sooner than later is a surge in back-issue sales, which actually brings me to another writer tip. For me, one of the hardest things about marketing is tooting my own horn. However, magazines and anthologies offer a way around that difficulty because there are great works by a number of authors. Instead of tweeting “buy my book” you can encourage people to “check out this magazine with an awesome story by Lee Clark Zumpe and an terrific poem by Beth Cato.”

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If you go to the “Issues” link at TalesOfTheTalisman.com you’ll find the four issues of Volume 10. More than that, if you scroll to the bottom, you’ll find links to all the past volumes. For an extra special treat, check out Tales of the Talisman’s predecessor, Hadrosaur Tales. Many of the back issues are available at the HadroStore! These older issues are a real bargain. If you’re a writer who wants Tales of the Talisman back as a market, why not recommend a few of these older magazines to your readers. I encourage readers to browse and find something they’d like to try. Even though the issues have dates, stories and poems don’t spoil. They’re just as fresh as the day they were published.

Cowboy Bebop

A couple of weeks ago, I was browsing through the video section of a local store when I came across a recent release of the TV series Cowboy Bebop. Although I’ve been an anime fan since I first saw Gigantor in the early 1970s, I managed to miss Cowboy Bebop’s debut on the Cartoon Network circa 2001. Cowboy Bebop Disc That was right after my wife and I decided that we weren’t getting enough out of cable to keep paying an exorbitant bill every month. I’d seen two or three episodes over the years at science fiction conventions and knew that I wanted to actually watch the series, so I picked it up.

If you’re like me and late to discovering Cowboy Bebop, it’s the story of two bounty hunters: a former cop named Jet Black and a former mob enforcer named Spike Spiegel, who travel through the solar system in a space ship called the Bebop looking for criminals to nab. As the series progresses, they’re joined by Faye Valentine, a bounty hunter with a mysterious past; Ein, a Welsh Corgi with a brain implant; and Radical Edward, a teenage girl who has mad computer skills. Unlike a lot of current anime, Cowboy Bebop has less of an overarching story and is more a series of self-contained episodes.

In this world Cowboys are Bounty Hunters, but space cowboy imagery runs through the series. Spike, Faye, and Jet all have their personal fighters, which are a little like their mechanical horses. There’s a sense of the solar system colonies on Mars and Jupiter’s moons requiring a kind of wild west frontier spirit to tame. Much of the look and feel of the show is reminiscent of Joss Whedon’s Firefly and if Whedon didn’t take some inspiration from Cowboy Bebop, then the similarities are a pretty big coincidence.

One of the great elements of Cowboy Bebop is a truly remarkable jazz soundtrack by Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts. At points, the music slips away from the jazz and adopts a little lonely guitar to enhance the wild west feel.

Another thing that strikes me as especially well done is the characterization of Radical Edward. As the father of a bright teenage girl, she hits many of the right notes. Edward can be persuaded to be useful, but most of the time is more interested in sleeping, eating, or doing her own thing, which sometimes horrifies or confuses the adults around her.

The Pirates of Sufiro

My only real issue with the series is that it’s set in 2071, and though I would love to have many well populated colonies out in the solar system by then, I’m hard pressed to believe it will happen. Despite that, I love the look of the series and have long been attracted to the idea of stories about the rugged individuals who will go out and forge new lives among the stars, such as my novel The Pirates of Sufiro. In my story, space pirates are stranded on a distant world and must make a life there in a story that took some inspiration from my great grandparents who homesteaded in New Mexico and Texas. The link in the title will take you to the free PDF edition distributed by my publisher, which is my preferred edition.

Finally, I’ll wrap up today’s post with a brief update. At this point, we’ve decided that Tales of the Talisman will remain closed through 2016. However, Hadrosaur Productions will be reading for an anthology this year tentatively on the theme of Space Cowboys. Like the space cowboys of Cowboy Bebop and The Pirates of Sufiro, these are not necessarily literal cowboys, but people who embody the frontier spirit. Some may be quick with their blaster. Some may have to use their wits to survive in a harsh environment. Some may just be the people who are happy to be alone riding the range of space when no one else wants to. I hope to have guidelines posted at the Tales of the Talisman website by April, with the reading period this summer. Till next week…see you space cowboy.

Day Jobs and Talismans

I spent last weekend at LepreCon in Phoenix, Arizona, where I had a great time presenting science talks and speaking on steampunk panels. The convention was large enough that I kept busy, but small enough that I could have some good productive conversations with people. Tales10-4-cover-big I came home to find the final illustrations waiting for the last issue of Tales of the Talisman Magazine. So I spent much of this week finishing the layout. Today, I wrote my final introduction for the magazine. We’ll be proofreading in the coming week, then sending it to the printer. Needless to say, this has been something of a week for reflection.

When I started Tales of the Talisman in 2005, I was working as a full time writer and editor. No one was more surprised than me at the end of 2007 when I received a call from Kitt Peak National Observatory asking if I would be interested in returning to operate telescopes. To be honest, I thought it would be a short-term job. The funding situation for the national observatory looked bleak and it was unclear how much longer the National Science Foundation would continue to operate the facility in an era when bigger and better telescopes needed construction funds.

I left astronomy in 2001 because I’d moved into a position that ate so much of my time I had little left over for my own writing, much less Hadrosaur Tales, the predecessor to Tales of the Talisman. I returned because I thought I could help out, I thought it was short term, and a regular paycheck looks good to banks when you’re trying to get a mortgage! I also had the promise of a regular schedule that effectively gave me every other week off. (Just as an aside, I’ll note that I average 80 hours of work in six nights at the observatory. It’s an intense schedule!)

Seven and a half years after I returned to Kitt Peak, the situation has changed dramatically. The Dark Energy Spectrographic Instrument (or DESI) is being developed for the Mayall 4-meter telescope. Also, NASA is pushing ahead with the Extreme Precision Doppler Spectrometer (or EPDS) for the WIYN telescope. In these volatile times, it’s hard to say what will happen in the coming months and years, but right this moment, Kitt Peak’s future looks bright and I’m excited to be a part of it.

In this era of promise for astronomy, I also find my writing load has increased. I just turned in The Brazen Shark, which is book three of my four-book Clockwork Legion Steampunk series, and I signed the contract for the horror novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. If all goes well, that latter project will be the first of a series. I was already finding it challenging to keep up with a relentless, quarterly publication schedule. Also, publishing has been evolving in the past decade and I’ve recognized the need to create a sustainable electronic edition of any book I publish. It’s not much more work than creating a print-only edition, but it’s enough extra that I haven’t managed it regularly.

So, volume 10, issue 4 is the last issue of Tales of the Talisman … for now. Who knows quite what the future will hold as both publishing and astronomy evolve. What I can say for sure is that I will continue to find ways to publish short fiction, but in a way that I can manage with the astronomy work and my writing commitments. At LepreCon last weekend, I had a great discussion with Jennifer Brozek, who has been nominated for the Hugo Award for best editor.

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We also got to play with a really cool Star Trek transporter prop. I can’t say too much about our discussions until more discussion happens, but I can say a viable project is in the works, and it might just be as much fun as playing with a working transporter console. Stay tuned.

Here’s wishing all of you a Happy Independence Day!

A Time of Milestones

The middle of May 2015 marks several milestones in my life. In chronological order, my youngest daughter celebrated her thirteenth birthday, I turned in my tenth novel for publication, Hadrosaur Productions celebrates its twentieth birthday, and my wife and I celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Twent-Five-Years

On the left are my wife and I about a year before we were married and the photo on the left was taken a little over a year ago. I have to say, those twenty-five years have gone by quickly. While it’s a little sad to see my little girl grow up, I’ve had to remind myself it’s the nature of life and I’m proud of the young woman she is growing into. She has a bright future ahead.

Novel number ten is The Brazen Shark, third novel in my Clockwork Legion Steampunk series, contracted by Sky Warrior Publishing. Beta readers have gone over the book and given me feedback, which I’ve applied to the novel as I’ve polished it for submission. It now joins novel number nine, waiting to begin edits. Number nine is The Astronomer’s Crypt, which is at Lachesis Publishing. I’m told my editor is ready to begin work and I’m just waiting for the contract to arrive.

Hadrosaur Productions was founded as part of my wife’s final project for her Masters in Business Administration at the University of Arizona. The original vision of the company was to produce audio stories, but the focus soon shifted to books and Hadrosaur Tales Magazine, which we published for ten years. Afterwards, we reformatted the magazine and called it Tales of the Talisman. Now as we celebrate our twentieth anniversary, the magazine will be going back into a chrysalis phase. Of course, Hadrosaur Productions has been much more than a magazine publisher. We also publish anthologies, have served as a cooperative publisher for novels, and we sell books at conventions. Of course, we also do have three audiobooks. To celebrate this particular milestone, we’re offering 20% off all our novels, anthologies, and audiobooks for the next month. This includes many of my novels! Drop by hadrosaur.com and celebrate twenty years with us.

Last but not least, this brings us to the twenty-five years of marriage with Kumie Wise. Fact of the matter is, none of these milestones would have been possible without her. Not only is she mother and wife, but as noted in the paragraph before, founder of Hadrosaur Productions. She’s also my biggest fan—the one who makes sure I don’t get distracted with other projects, and actually finishes the books I’m working on.

Of course twenty-fifth anniversaries are a common time for people to ask, how did you make it work? I routinely come back to one of the great quotes by Robert A. Heinlein’s character Lazarus Long: “Formal courtesy between husband and wife is even more important than it is between strangers.” The quote reminds me that it’s important to be considerate of feelings. It reminds me that no matter what, we’re in business together. In this case, I’m not talking about Hadrosaur Productions so much as the business of running a household and raising kids. Being courteous with each other, helps us set an example for the kids. Yeah, we’ve often forgotten this, but part of formal courtesy is knowing the importance of apology, forgiveness and moving on. Here’s to the next set of milestones!

A Week of Editing

My third Clockwork Legion novel, The Brazen Shark is due at the publisher in just under a month. Ten Percent Solution In the memoir, On Writing, Stephen King says, “Your job during or just after the first draft is to decide what something or somethings yours is about. Your job in the second draft—one of them, anyway—is to make that something even more clear. This may necessitate some big changes and revisions. The benefits to you and your reader will be clearer focus and a more unified story. It hardly ever fails.” One of the tools I’m using to clarify things in the second draft of The Brazen Shark is a little book called The 10% Solution by Ken Rand, shown here in front of my keyboard.

Phyllis Irene Radford, my editor on Lightning Wolves introduced me to The 10% Solution and I now see that Sky Warrior Books recommends that all authors apply the book’s methods before submitting a manuscript for publication. In short, the method is to use your word processor to highlight the adverbs, the over-used words, and the wishy-washy verbs and adjectives like “was” and “very” so you can evaluate them, so you can decide if you can say them more clearly or in a stronger way. Lightning Wolves clearly benefited from the technique and I feel The Brazen Shark is getting stronger as I work through it using Ken Rand’s methods.

Not only am I editing the novel, I recently received notes from an editor about a story I’d submitted to an anthology she’s editing. In essence, her notes went right to the same point. She was working to get me to be more clear and precise. I’d written the story before I read The 10% Solution, but after going through her suggestions, I’m guessing the story would have needed less work if I’d applied those lessons ahead of time. Fortunately, she likes the story enough that it’s likely to appear in the anthology. The first moral of the story is that a good story can sell even if it needs work, so don’t worry too much about making it perfect. The second moral of the story is that your chances greatly improve the better the story is the first time around!

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Finally, I’m in the process of editing Tales of the Talisman volume 10, issue 4. This will be the last issue before we take a break. Stories will be going out to the artists early next week. At this point, I suspect we’ll get the issue out in June. Although it’s a little sad to think about this phase of the magazine coming to an end, I have been excited to think about the directions we might take in 2016. Once I get The Brazen Shark turned in, I hope to start making more definite plans. Stay tuned!

ConDor 22

This weekend, I’m at Wild Wild West Con in Tucson, Arizona. Afterwards, I’ll spend three whirlwind days at work, then I’ll be off to San Diego for ConDor 22! The guest of honor is S.M. Stirling and other participants include Vernor Vinge, John W. Oliver, and Drake and McTrowell. The convention will be held at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego from Friday, March 13 through Sunday, March 15. Visit the Condor Website for more information.

As of this writing, I haven’t seen the schedule yet. I know I’ll be presenting my telescope building workshop and I’ll be presenting a fun Harry Potter-themed astronomy class. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll drop by and say “hello!”

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In other news, Tales of the Talisman volume 10, issue 3 is getting ready to ship. Copies are already available at Amazon.com. I’ll ship copies to contributors and subscribers as soon as they arrive in my office and I’m back from my travels. The issue features stories by Jude-Marie Green, Frank Tavares, Lou Antonelli, J Alan Erwine, and more. The stories include a fantasy tale of post-Katrina New Orleans, a dark, magical tale of a starship captain ordered to quell an uprising, and a story of learning to fly. As always, the issue includes a great array of poetry and artwork.

Finally, a brief update about my novel-in-progress. I’ve just crossed the 70,000-word line. Plot threads are coming together in my tale of samurai, airships, and warfare. I’m hoping to have a draft finished by the end of the month. Then the work of revision begins!