Steampunk Award and Poem

This week finds me hard at work on book four of my Clockwork Legion steampunk series, Owl Riders. The novel is set about eight years after the events of The Brazen Shark and takes a look at how the world has changed after the events of the first three books of the series. In Chapter One of Owl Riders, we learn that Ramon and Fatemeh now live in New Orleans with their young daughter. Meanwhile, back in Arizona, Geronimo has captured a large swath of territory using battle wagons suspiciously similar to Professor Maravilla’s javelina mining machine captured by Curly Billy Bresnahan in Lightning Wolves.

I’ve had some great motivation getting started on the new novel this week. novelsteam-2016 On Monday, I learned The Brazen Shark was voted Best Steampunk Novel in the Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll run annually at Critters.org, a critique and workshop site founded by Dr. Andrew Burt, a former vice president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I’m deeply touched by the award and would like to thank everyone who voted for The Brazen Shark. For those who have not read the novel yet, you can get copies at Amazon or Barnes and Noble. An omnibus edition of the Clockwork Legion books written to date is available at Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

As it turns out, “The Steam-Powered Dragon” from the Gaslight and Grimm was in the running for best steampunk short story. Although it didn’t win, it was a top-ten finisher. Of interest, the story that did win the category was “The Complications of Avery Vane” by my friend Bryce Raffle, which appears in Den of Antiquity, another anthology I’m in! You can learn about both anthologies by visiting my short story page.

For a little steampunkery you can read right now for free, go visit the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s online zine Eye to the Telescope. The January 2017 issue, which is available as of this writing includes my poem “The Medicine Show.” I wrote the first draft of this poem when I gave a poetry work at Tucson’s Wild Wild West Con in 2015. The theme of the issue is robots and explores that idea from many angles. In addition to my poem, you’ll find works by Tales of the Talisman contributors F.J. Bergmann, Beth Cato, Mary Soon Lee, and G.O. Clark. I was also excited to see that my poem is followed by a poem by one of my heroes, the extremely talented Jane Yolen.

World Building

This March, I’ll be moderating a panel called “Building Alternate Worlds” at the Tucson Festival of Books. To prepare, I’m reading the books by the authors on the panel and learning about the worlds they’ve built. This topic is particularly near and dear to my heart because I’m going over my notes and getting ready to start work on book four of my Clockwork Legion series.

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In a very real way, books one through three of my Clockwork Legion series were all about building an alternate world. I started my story in a version of 1876 New Mexico that was mostly the world of history. I say “mostly” because the wild west of fiction is an almost mythical place built up through many years of literature and cinema. People come to western stories with certain expectations of the west and it’s hard to ignore those expectations even when they don’t entirely match the world of history.

I then dropped in a catalyst, which was an advanced alien called Legion who had traveled the universe and came to Earth. This alien is the embodiment of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal, which in a nutshell says you can’t observe a phenomenon without affecting it. Legion’s first interactions with humanity are accidental, but then he grows curious and decides to make the world a better place by attempting to unify humanity. The problem is that in the 1800s, much of humanity’s idea of unification is conquest through imperialism.

Over the course of the books, the world changes and we see the development of airships, mining machines, lightning guns, clockwork automata, and ornithopters. Legion influenced the creation of some of these things. Others were created to combat the imperialists who sought to use these inventions. Of course, the interesting story is less that these machines were created, and more how people used these machines. That’s where the world building comes in.

The idea of book four is to drop into this world-that-wasn’t eight years after the events of The Brazen Shark and see what people have done with it. I plan to open the story in New Orleans, where Ramon Morales is working in a law firm and his wife Fatemeh is trying to gain acceptance as an apothecary in a man’s world. Cotton farmers have sponsored the World’s Fair to show off new technologies they’re using in agriculture. This World’s Fair actually existed, but the technologies will be much different. They’ll be showing off the automata used to plant and harvest crops and the airships used in distribution. At the World’s Fair, Ramon will meet none other than Doc Holiday, who will drag him back to a wild west that neither he nor the reader will immediately recognize. I look forward to playing in this alternate world.

For those who wish to see the creation of this world, check out the first three novels of the Clockwork Legion series:

For those who would like a smaller dose of my Clockwork Legion world, short stories featuring these characters can be found in the anthologies Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Tails of the Weird West, Den of Antiquity, and the forthcoming Straight Outta Tombstone.

Women Marshals of the Old West

Marshal Larissa Seaton is a character who appears in my novel The Brazen Shark from the Clockwork Legion steampunk series. Brazen Shark-300x450 She also appears in some of my short stories set in the same universe, including the story “Fountains of Blood” which will be in the upcoming Straight Outta Tombstone anthology. In my world, President Rutherford B. Hayes appoints her to be a U.S. Marshal after her work recovering a lightning gun from Curly Bill Bresnahan in the novel Lightning Wolves. It’s a fair question to look back at history and ask whether it’s realistic to imagine a woman marshal in 1877.

As it turns out, Larissa of my fictional world was only appointed marshal seven years before it happened in real life. phoebe_couzins In 1884, John Couzins was appointed marshal for the Eastern district of Missouri and he appointed his daughter Phoebe as one of his deputies. When John Couzins was killed in 1887, President Grover Cleveland appointed Phoebe interim marshal. However, she only held the position for two months before a man was appointed as her full-time replacement. Not only was Phoebe Couzins the first woman to become a U.S. Marshal, she was the first woman in the United States to get a law degree and the first woman to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis. She was an early supporter of both women’s suffrage and the temperance movement. In later years, she actually renounced both and became an active lobbyist for the American Brewers Association.

There were several notable women deputies marshals with longer careers. ada-carnutt Perhaps the most famous was Ada Carnutt of Oklahoma. In 1893, she arrested nineteen men at the Black and Roger saloon in Oklahoma City for perjury. Shortly before Christmas that same year, she single-handedly arrested two forgers and escorted them to jail. The two heavily armed men supposedly scoffed at being arrested by an unarmed woman, but she pointed to the crowd around and told them she was willing to deputize every one of them to help her. Newspapers of the day noted that after the arrest she went back to her favorite hobby: china painting.

Even before Ada Carnutt, Mrs. F.M. Miller was making a name for herself as a deputy marshal in Paris, Texas. Unlike Ada Carnutt, Mrs. Miller had no problem carrying weapons. According to the November 6, 1891 issue of the Fort Smith Elevator, “The woman carries a pistol buckled around her and has a Winchester strapped to her saddle. She is an expert shot and a superb horsewoman, and brave to the verge of recklessness.” The article also noted that she was a “charming brunette” and wore a sombrero.

So, while true Larissa Seaton would have been the first woman U.S. Marshal in history if she existed, it wouldn’t be long before more brave women would stand alongside her. You can find Marshal Larissa in the following books:

The Magnificent Seven

About a month ago, after a meeting in Tucson, I saw the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke. magnificent_seven_2016 Because I was in Tucson for work, I was on my own, but I was pleasantly surprised when David B. Riley, an editor I’ve had the pleasure of working with on several projects walked in behind me. So, we got to enjoy watching the new version together.

In this version of the movie, a mine has opened near the town of Rose Creek. The mine owner, played by Peter Sarsgaard, wants to drive away the townspeople so he can have the entire valley for his mine. A woman played by Haley Bennett seeks out gunmen who will drive out the mine owner. It’s an interesting variation on the premise of a village terrorized by bandits.

The movie is, of course, the latest remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The premise of the 2016 version is a bit different from the others I’ve seen. Overall, the revised premise works. I only had one quibble and that was the mine owner’s implicit statement about America being founded on capitalism. In the 1870s where the film is set, venture capitalism was still a relatively newfangled approach to business. Most businessmen of the day would have been entrepreneurs relying on their own money and not the investments of others.

As for the other remakes, I’ve spoken a bit about the steampunk-flavored, futuristic anime remake, Samurai 7 in an earlier blog post. I was recently reminded of Roger Corman’s low budget science fiction remake called Battle Beyond the Stars, which is interesting because it stars Robert Vaughn, who played in the 1960 Magnificent Seven and featured one of the first soundtracks by James Horner. Sadly the new Magnificent Seven was Horner’s last soundtrack composition before he died in a plane accident.

One of the things that makes Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven compelling is the idea of seven very different people coming together to battle insurmountable odds for little or no reward. I especially liked the very diverse group in the latest movie which included an African-American, a Latino, a Native American, and an Asian. As pointed out by director Antoine Fuqua, this not only represents a cross section of America today, but America as it was in the 1800s.

Clockwork-Legion

In thinking about The Magnificent Seven, I’ve come to realize how much it and versions of Seven Samurai have influenced my Clockwork Legion series. In retrospect, it’s especially cool that I watched the movie with David Riley, who published the first of my stories featuring Ramon and Fatemeh in his anthology Trails: Intriguing Stories of the Weird West. In the Clockwork Legion series, I bring together seven heroes, more or less: Sheriff Ramon Morales, Healer Fatemeh Karimi, Captain Onofre Cisneros, Professor M.K. Maravilla, Bounty Hunter Larissa Crimson, Rancher Billy McCarty, and Samurai-turned-farmer Masuda Hoshi. They fight against the insurmountable odds of the Russian Empire aided by an intelligence from the stars. In The Brazen Shark, I even include a few direct homages to the original Seven Samurai. It opens when a village is attacked by samurai bandits and several minor characters in the novel are named after the original seven samurai.

Despite a few similarities, I see Seven Samurai and its successors as just one of many inspirations for my series. I hope you’ll saddle up and come along for the ride. You might just discover a few inspirations I didn’t even see!

Las Cruces Comic Con and a Birthday Sale

Next weekend, I’ll have a table at Las Cruces Comic Con in my home town of Las Cruces, New Mexico from September 9-11, 2016. I’ll be selling my novels plus copies of recent anthologies I’ve been in. New products available this year include my novel The Brazen Shark and the anthologies Gaslight and Grimm, The Martian Anthology, and Gears and Levers 2. I’ve also been thinking about a special autumn giveaway to hold at the convention to whet people’s appetites for The Astronomer’s Crypt.

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The guests of honor this year include: Seth Gilliam from Starship Troopers, Teen Wolf, and The Walking Dead; Casper Van Diem, from Starship Troopers and Sleepy Hollow; plus I’m excited to see that Camille and Kimerly Kitt, the Harp Twins will be performing this year. If you’re in Las Cruces next weekend, I hope I’ll see you at Comic Con! You’ll find me at booth E23 in the Exhibitor Hall.

LACHESIS PUBLISHING SALE POSTCARD 2

Also, this month, Lachesis Publishing celebrates its 11th birthday! All of their books priced above 99 cents are on sale for 50% off. This includes two of my science fiction novels.

The Solar Sea The Solar Sea tells the story of humanity’s first voyage through the solar system aboard a solar sail spacecraft. As it turns out, solar sails are real technology that organizations such as NASA and the Planetary Society are testing now. In my story, the Quinn Corporation discovers particles orbiting Saturn’s moon Titan that appear to travel through time. They build a solar sail to investigate these particles, which could have strong implications for humanity’s future. On their way to Saturn, they stop off at Mars and Jupiter and find clues that humanity may not be as isolated as SETI scientists have led us to believe. Author Nicole Givens Kurtz says, “The Solar Sea captures the thrill, threats, and theories of exploring the unknown. Summers does what explorers have done for centuries, inspire us to look beyond our own backyards out into the vast possibilities of our imaginations.” All month long, The Solar Sea is only $1.49 at Lachesis Publishing.

Heirs of the New Earth In Heirs of the New Earth, Earth has gone silent. John Mark Ellis and the crew of the Sanson are sent to investigate. When they arrive, they find vast alien machines known as Clusters in orbit. Fearing the worst, they land and discover that the once overcrowded, polluted Earth has become a paradise of sorts. The problem is over half the population is dead or missing and the planet’s leaders don’t seem to care. As Ellis works to unravel the mystery, sudden gravitational shifts from the galaxy’s center indicate something even worse is in the offing. Author Greg Ballan writes, ” A warning to every reader…block off a good chunk of time, pour your favorite beverage and sit down in your favorite comfort space. Once you start reading, the story jumps out and grabs hold, drawing you into a world one thousand years in the future where mankind has spread across the universe, contacted other intelligent life and colonized new worlds.” Although this is book three of a series, it is designed to stand alone. You can pick it up for $1.49 for the entire month of September.

If you do want to get the entire series, the first book, The Pirates of Sufiro, is Free at Lachesis Publishing while the second, Children of the Old Stars, is 99 cents. That’s a three-book series for just $2.48!

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.

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.

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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.

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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.