The Astronomer’s Crypt, on Lisa Burton Radio

Last week, Mike Teter from my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt was interviewed on Lisa Burton Radio. Lisa Burton is a robot who interviews characters from novels on her radio show. The transcripts appear on Craig Boyack’s blog.

In fact, Lisa is Craig’s brainchild and we collaborated to put together this “radio” segment. After I told him about the novel, he drafted a set of questions Mike to answer. I put myself in character and answered the questions. I realized in the process of writing this that one of the other characters in the novel might not like what Mike was saying, so he calls in.

I hope you’ll go check out Lisa’s interview with Mike. She puts him on the spot and asks tough questions that make him uncomfortable. If you’re a writer, you should check out Craig’s guidelines and consider having Lisa interview one of your characters. If you’re a reader, be sure to check out more of the Lisa Burton segments. You’re sure to find some great books and you may discover a new favorite character!

Entertaining Stories

Don’t touch that dial, you’ve found Lisa Burton Radio. Coming at you with 1.21 jigawatts of power, this is the only show that interviews the characters from the books you love. I’m your host, Lisa the robot girl, and with me today is Mike Teter. Mike is an astronomer with the Carson Peak Observatory in New Mexico. “Welcome to the show, Mike.”

“Hi Lisa, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me on the show.”

“My bio says you’ve recently returned to the observatory after a two year hiatus. What happened, grass wasn’t greener?”

“Actually, leaving the observatory was the hardest thing I’d ever done. You see, a terrible blizzard blew in my last night there and the two of us working that night decided to leave the site. Ron Wallerstein drove ahead of me. He was going a little too fast when he reached a bridge spanning a…

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Owls from the Dark Side

With the first novel in my Clockwork Legion series titled Owl Dance and the fourth, in progress, tentatively titled Owl Riders, you might think I have a fondness for owls, and you would be right. I find them fascinating, elusive creatures. They do an important job, eating vermin. A few years ago, a family of burrowing owls nested in a field near my home. Going by their nests on my daily walks, I developed something of a rapport with them. I would whistle at them and they would whistle back, sometimes doing a little dance going back and forth from one foot to the other. In fact, that’s where the title, Owl Dance came from. The photo below was taken at Wild Wild West Con in Tucson where I’m posing with my daughter and one of the world’s largest owls, a Eurasian Eagle Owl.

David and Myranda

The thing is, owls are not universally regarded as likeable or good. If you look at the photo above, one of the first things you should notice is the size of the owl’s claws. I was very aware when it sat on my arm that that owl was a powerful hunter. When I lived in the small town of Madrid, New Mexico, owls were known to hunt any cats running loose after dark. Sometimes I drive up to work at Kitt Peak National Observatory after dark and see a rather large owl sitting on the road. One time, the owl took off in front of me causing me to slam on the brakes. It was an awesome and terrifying sight.

Many Native American tribes actively dislike owls. They are believed to harbor the spirits of the dead. Hearing an owl hoot at night can be considered an ill omen. The following appears on the official website of the Mescalero Apache: “The owl is a night creature and the Apache people do not have contact with this animal. Avoid having a night owl near you. It is considered a bad omen if an owl hoots near you day or night.” These beliefs have also crossed over into Latino culture where there are stories of owls being associated with witches. In Owl Dance, my character Fatemeh is seen as a witch precisely because of her association with owls.

This brings us to my latest novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. astronomers-crypt-453x680 In Apache lore, there’s a creature known by many names including Big-Owl, Owl Man, or even Owl Monster. He’s something of a bogeyman in Apache stories. Sometimes he’s described as more human like and other times as more monster like. He often appears in the Apache Creation story, such as the version recorded in this post on Noah Nez’s Native Skeptic blog.

When I came upon descriptions of Big Owl, I began to wonder what a real creature that could have aspects of man, owl, and troll would be like. Of course, evidence suggests that birds are the modern dinosaurs. Thinking about the dinosaurs that became owls went a long way to picturing this kind of creature. The protagonist, Mike Teter, has the following vision in the novel’s prologue:

    On the dome floor, next to the telescope, stood a grotesque figure resembling an unholy merging of a predatory dinosaur and some kind of alien creature from a sci-fi movie. Its body crouched atop long talons that looked as though they could easily rip the tiles from the floor. The creature’s nose consisted of two slits above a sharp, beak-like mouth. But it was the eyes that froze Mike in terror. Dark. Mesmerizing. They were like black holes in space. Mike had no idea where the creature had come from or how it managed to get into the dome. But he did know one thing for certain. It wanted to kill him.

To see more of what happens with Big Owl, be sure to pick up a copy of The Astronomer’s Crypt from Amazon, Kobo, or Lachesis Publishing. You can learn more about the Clockwork Legion series by visiting my website.

Astronomers and Their Crypts

As we close out the year, I’m revisiting a couple of posts that I originally wrote for my Scarlet Order blog before I started posting exclusively here on the Web Journal. In the autumn of 2015, I wrote a post entitled “Haunted Observatories” and discussed how I got the inspiration for writing a ghost story set at an observatory.

As it turns out, I know of three observatories where astronomers are interred either at telescopes they helped to build or nearby. lowell-crypt One is Percival Lowell, whose mausoleum is right outside the 24-inch telescope on Mars Hill in Flagstaff, Arizona. In the photo, you see my daughters and I standing beside his mausoleum. Another is James Lick, who funded the University of California’s Lick Observatory and is interred under the observatory’s 36-inch telescope. Also, John and Phoebe Brashear are interred under the Keeler Telescope at the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh.

However, it’s not just bodies near telescopes that gave me the idea. My first job in astronomy was at Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket Island. The building is an old-fashioned Gothic structure right next to the house once occupied by America’s first woman astronomer. My fellow research assistants and I would scare each other by telling stories of Maria’s ghost walking through the building. One night, one of my fellow research assistants even climbed on the roof while I was observing, made thumping noises, and sprayed Lysol in the dome to make me think I was smelling the perfume of Maria’s ghost. In a dark, cold dome in the middle of the night, it was pretty effective! This particular incident even inspired a scene in The Astronomer’s Crypt where one telescope operator scares another in a darkened hallway.

4-meter-alcove

Even today, when I walk around the main floor at the base of the Mayall 4-meter telescope, I sometimes feel like I’m being watched. I look up to an alcove at a darkened stair landing shown in the photo to the right, where I think I see someone out of the corner of my eye. It always proves to be empty, and my skeptical mind always knows its just my mind playing tricks on me but every now and then, I wonder if a ghostly presence haunts the dome.

One astronomer was killed at the Mayall 4-meter almost thirty years ago in a tragic accident. Several people have died over the years on the twisting mountain road to the observatory, and a construction worker died while excavating the tunnel for the McMath-Pierce Solar telescope just across the mountain from the Mayall. There certainly is a potential for ghosts at the observatory.

I’ve only discovered one observatory that describes itself as haunted and that’s Perkins Observatory which was built for Ohio Wesleyan University, a small liberal arts college near Columbus. Ohio State University partnered with OWU to run the facility for a number of years, but finally terminated the relationship in 1998. The history page for the observatory tells us that the ghost of Hiram Perkins, the math and astronomy professor who founded the observatory, haunts the site out of frustration that he could never use the site his money funded.

I’m a skeptic who believes science helps us understand our amazing universe and our place within it. However, being a skeptic doesn’t mean I dismiss things like ghost stories out of hand. I believe the paranormal deserves serious investigation. What’s more, I love a good spooky story and believe they tell us something about ourselves.

astronomers-crypt-453x680

The Astronomer’s Crypt is now available as an ebook at the following retailers:

In honor of the season, I’m giving away a copy of The Astronomer’s Crypt for Kindle. Click the following link to see if you’re an instant winner: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/c1ab0e67aed8c0d9 .

The giveaway ends on January 6, 2017.

New E-book: The Astronomer’s Crypt

This week marks the release of the ebook edition of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt which tells the story of astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from the beginning of time colliding at an observatory during a ferocious thunderstorm. Here’s the cover and the back cover blurb.


astronomers-crypt-453x680If you scare easily, don’t read this book.
If you dare to read it, you’ve been warned.

Two years ago on a stormy night, in the dead of winter, Mike Teter experienced something that would change his life forever. Mike was a telescope operator at the world renowned Carson Peak Observatory in New Mexico. We won’t tell you what he saw that night on the mountain nor what happened afterward on a dark stretch of highway, because it would haunt you just as it has haunted Mike. But what we will tell you is that Mike is back at Carson Peak. And what he witnessed that night two years ago is about to become a reality…


This horror novel, of course, was inspired by many nights working as an observing associate at Kitt Peak National Observatory. In fact, cover artist Laura Givens clearly used the Mayall 4-meter as her model for the telescope enclosure on the cover. This is fitting, since the building was the inspiration for the enclosure in the building. The Mayall 4-meter is a labyrinthine building filled with twisting corridors, dark stairways, and darkrooms abandoned when astronomical cameras went digital. People have taken wrong turns and gotten lost in the building. Bats sometimes congregate at the top of the dome. More than once, visiting astronomers have commented the 4-meter would make a great setting for a haunted house.

Clearly the telescope on the cover isn’t in the Arizona desert. The novel is set on a fictional peak in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico. When I first went to work for Kitt Peak, one of its draws was the relative ease of access compared to almost every other observatory I’ve worked at. I wanted to drop the creepy building into a remote and isolated place where help wasn’t just a phone call away.

The idea for this novel came to me during the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio which was held in 2013. My editor asked if I had any ideas for a creepy or suspenseful novel. I pitched the idea of a haunted house story set at a telescope and we tossed ideas back and forth over the course of the weekend. I left WorldCon that year with a nearly complete outline for a novel. Now, three years later, you can read the results. When you visit the retail sites, you’ll see this is Book 1 of the “Wilderness of the Dead” series. Yes, I have plans for at least two more books set in the Carson Peak Wilderness area of New Mexico. Lots of creepy stuff happens in the old towns and surrounding mountains.

You can pick up the e-book of The Astronomer’s Crypt at:

On Turning 50

Over the weekend, while at TusCon in Tucson, Arizona, I celebrated my fiftieth birthday. It’s one of those points in life where I find myself looking back to see where I’ve been as well as looking forward to see where I’m going.

david-at-50

In my first fifty years, I’ve written and published nine novels, eighty-four short stories, and fifty-four poems. I’ve edited three anthologies, plus two magazines for ten years each. I contributed to the commissioning of the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope and the NMSU 1-meter telescope. I’m co-discoverer of two variable stars and I helped take data that contributed to the discovery of dark energy. Most of all, I’m proud to be the father of two incredible young ladies, one in high school, the other in college, who have a wide range of talents in such areas as computer science and mathematics.

Looking ahead, my tenth novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt, is nearing release. I have two anthologies in the publication queue: Kepler’s Cowboys and Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. I have four short stories accepted and awaiting publication. Beyond that, I’m in the early phases of writing a new novel and I have a “fix-up” novel a little over half completed. Plus I have story treatments for four more novels. Presuming no major funding shifts, I expect to be involved in commissioning two new instruments at Kitt Peak in the coming years.

As I reach fifty, I’m arguably in the best health I ever have been. The arthritis that plagued me for years is in remission and I regularly take long walks through my neighborhood. Nevertheless, one specter looms over me. My dad was only fifty-two when he died suddenly of a heart attack. In the plus column, my doctor is helping me watch my heart health and both of my brothers have now outlived my dad by over a decade. I have no immediate reason to fear for my imminent demise. Nevertheless, I find myself grieving for how truly short my dad’s life was cut and watching my health has taken on a new urgency.

In short, as I turn fifty, I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. My regrets are minimal. While there are some harsh words and rash actions I’d take back if I could and some friends I’ve lost touch with over the years, it’s hard to say I’d have a better life if I’d taken a different path. I have several exciting things to look forward to in the coming months and years, plus plans and goals for the years beyond that.

Thanks to my readers for sharing some of this fifty-year journey with me. I look forward to sharing the coming years with you as well.

Too Early for Halloween Decorations?

As long as I can remember, people have complained about Christmas decorations appearing in stores earlier in the current year than the previous year. This year is the first time I can remember people commenting—mostly in a lighthearted way, it seems—about Halloween decorations appearing early. As it turns out, I actually don’t mind a little lead time on the Halloween season. I love Halloween, but because of my observatory job, I only get a couple of weeks at home in a month. If I’m working on a writing or editorial deadline, I might not get to a store that has decorations to remind me Halloween is approaching until very close to the date. fsf-sep2016 Also, although I attend several science fiction, steampunk, and comic conventions each year where cosplay is encouraged, I don’t often get to go full-out since I’m appearing as a professional on panels. Halloween is a definite chance to play.

Speaking of conventions, when I was at Bubonicon in Albuquerque a couple of weeks ago, I picked up a copy the David Gerrold Special Issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction from Gerrold himself. He was kind enough to sign it for me. The issue has proven to be worth the money just for Gerrold’s fine science fiction novella “The Further Adventures of Mr. Costello” and Peter S. Beagle’s “The Green-Eyed Boy,” which is a prequel to The Last Unicorn. However, I’ve also been enjoying the fact that the issue contains several spooky tales about ghosts and murder most foul. It’s done a great job getting me into the Halloween frame of mind!

2020-visions As an aside, David Gerrold is actually the first professional science fiction author I met. We met at a convention in California circa 1981 and he signed my copy of his book The Trouble with Tribbles which told how he created the Star Trek episode of the same name. I was honored to appear alongside Gerrold in the anthology 2020 Visions edited by Rick Novy. The anthology tells stories set in the year 2020. You only have a little more than three years to find how good we did predicting the future!

Back on the subject of Halloween, this is one of those years where I have to work at the observatory on the big day itself. Unfortunately, that means I can’t really go all out on costuming this year, but I’m still thinking about dressing up. Perhaps I’ll go as an astronomer’s ghost in honor of my forthcoming novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt!

The Robots Are Taking Over

I spent this past weekend at Bubonicon in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Yesterday, I moderated a panel called “Are Robots Still Scary? Danger Will Robinson!” As it turns out, I suggested this panel to the event organizers because it occurred to me that I work with a robot quite a bit at Kitt Peak National Observatory and it’s a far cry from the anthropomorphic robots of pulp sci fi and probably more irritating at times than scary. The robot I’ve spent most of my time with is called the Hydra gripper. The reason it can be irritating, is that I’m one of the guys who has to go fix it when it breaks down!

hydra

The gripper is on the right-hand side of the photo above. Its job is to pick up the fibers on the left side and position them on the plate so that they line up with objects on the sky. When the telescope is pointed at the target, light from the objects will go downstairs to a spectrograph, where it will be broken into a spectrum and projected on a camera. Astronomers can take that light and analyze it to understand the chemical composition of the objects they’re studying. These objects can range from stars, to galaxies, to nebulae. Some objects are nearby, others are among the most distant in the universe.

The reason for this post’s title, is that we’re about to get another robotic spectrograph at Kitt Peak. This one is called DESI (which stands for Dark Energy Spectrographic Instrument). Hydra allows us to take spectra of upwards of 200 objects at a time. DESI will let us take spectra of 5000 objects. You can read more about DESI in this press release from the Department of Energy’s Berkeley Lab. The goal of the instrument is to get spectra of all the known galaxies obtainable by the 4-meter in order to understand the phenomenon that’s been dubbed “dark energy.” Along the way, we’ll build an incredible database of spectra available to the entire astronomical community.

This week, I’ll be helping to test a prototype of DESI on the Mayall 4-meter telescope. The fibers of DESI are so closely packed that they aren’t moved around by a system like a gripper. Instead, each fiber is a little robot that turns on its own to optimize its position on the sky. Because of this project and the number of people it takes to get a project like this off the ground, DOE has helped to fund a new, larger control room for the Mayall. You can see the original on the left below. The new control room is on the right.

New-Old Control rooms

As it turns out, ghosts and stories of haunted observatories feature prominently in my forthcoming novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. Our new control room is one of the “haunted” spaces in the Mayall. It used to be an old lounge and there were two rocking chairs that would sometimes be seen to rock on their own even when no one is in there. It remains to be seen if there are any ghosts, or if this motion was just due to sway of the building. If there are ghosts in the building, I hope they like company, because there’s going to be a lot of it in the coming years!