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.

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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.

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:

Join the Clockwork Legion!

I need your help. I’ve written nine novels and I have a tenth on the way later this year. I Want You The objective is to get those novels into the hands of the people who will enjoy them. There are lots of ways to help. People on Twitter can tweet and retweet about books. People on Facebook can share my posts. Readers can share their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Several of you reading this post have done so already and for that I am extremely grateful. As long as I’m writing books you like, please continue.

That said, I’m hoping I can encourage a few of you to step up for an additional challenge and commit to helping me spread the word about releases and events as they happen. Perhaps you could help recruit people to sign up for my newsletter. Maybe we could create a group on Facebook where I can share news and ask for you to share it among your friends. If you attend conventions, perhaps I could send bookmarks or postcards to you. Perhaps you have an idea you’d be willing to share in the comments. There would be rewards for those committing to the promotional effort, such as the hand-crocheted airship I’m holding, courtesy of my wife. If you think joining the Clockwork Legion and helping me get the word out would be fun, send me a message or leave me a comment and we’ll discuss it further.

Apocalypse 13

For those who might have missed it, I was featured this week in Padwolf Publishing’s March of Authors event on Facebook. My story “A Garden Resurrected” appears in the anthology Apocalypse 13, which is available at Amazon. During the event, they asked me if my story were to be made into a movie, who would direct it and who would star in it. Here’s what I answered: “My Padwolf story ‘A Garden Resurrected’ is being made into a movie with Joss Whedon directing. It stars Bill Murray as the vampire Graf Schaefer with Karl Urban as the Burgermeister and Emma Watson as his daughter Heidi. By turns, funny, thoughtful, and frightening, ‘A Garden Resurrected’ tells the story of a Burgermeister who fights to save his idyllic mountain village as an asteroid plummets toward the Earth. He dares to wake an ancient vampire who once saved the town from plagues and invasion, but what is the cost of such a savior?” Hope you’ll take some time and check out this great little anthology.

Wild Wild West Con 5

Next weekend, I’m honored to be a guest at Wild Wild West Con 5 held at Old Tucson Studios just outside Tucson, Arizona from March 4-6, 2016. Click on the link above for more details. This year’s theme is Journey Around the World. Among the honored guests are Steam Powered Giraffe, Thomas Willeford, Unwoman, Kato, Aiden Sinclair and many more. Below is my schedule for the event.

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Friday, March 4

  • 2pm – Wagon Stage – History Meets Fiction. Join me for a special multi-cultural steampunk reading. I’ll present accounts of New Mexico witches and Japanese spirits, then share sections from my novels these stories inspired.

Saturday, March 5

  • 2pm – Arizona Theater – The Wild West: Real and Mythical. A look at the real West vs the West that Hollywood has given us with an emphasis on Native American, Latin American, and Asian cultural contributions and influences. Joining me on the panel will be David Grasse, Julia Arriola, and Mark Cantwell.
  • 5pm – Sheriff’s Office – Astronomy Around the World. People all around the world have looked up at the stars. I’ll you to such places as Ecuador, Korea, and the Middle East to see how astronomy changed the world and perhaps provide some inspiration for new types of steampunk stories and gadgets

Sunday, March 6

  • 11am – Courtroom Central – Multicultural Steampunk Literature. The ever delightful Madame Askew and I will lead a discussion of steampunk books set in other cultures. Who does their homework and presents the most interesting insights into parts of the world that aren’t just Victorian England or the Wild West?

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When I’m not on panels, you’ll be able to find me over at the Stage 2 Vendor Area at one of the artist tables. This event is particularly special because it also is my debut signing for The Brazen Shark. If you already have a copy, be sure to bring it by for me to sign it. If you don’t have a copy yet, never fear, I’ll have plenty of copies available for sale.

The Brazen Shark Available in Print

My third Clockwork Legion novel, The Brazen Shark is now available in print from Amazon.com. Here’s what Drake and McTrowell have to say about the novel: “Pack your goggles and your telescope and your atlas because the Clockwork Legion is taking us on another whirlwind adventure. And this one covers the globe in the air, on the sea, on terra firma, undersea … and even into space!”

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Drake and McTrowell know their globe-spanning adventure. In the photo above, I crossed their path aboard the Queen Mary as they were bound for another exciting destination. You can read about their adventures at drakeandmctrowell.com. There, you’ll find five books of their adventures available to read on-line absolutely free. However, if you’re willing to send them some money, and I strongly recommend you do, you can pick up the hardcover edition of their first book featuring illustrations by Brian Kessinger and an introduction by Professor Elemental, or you can buy the audio version of their first adventure, which is fabulous.

Brazen Shark-300x450 The Brazen Shark is the third novel of my Clockwork Legion series. However, if you haven’t read the first two books, feel free to dive in right here. If you like what you read, you can always go back and read the first two! Set in 1877, this novel tells the story of a one-time sheriff named Ramon Morales who gave up his career in law enforcement to save an outspoken Persian healer named Fatemeh Karimi from a witchcraft trial. We’ve watched their romance develop over the last two books and this is the story of their honeymoon. However, it’s a honeymoon unlike any other when they find themselves embroiled in a plot by samurai warriors who have stolen a Russian airship to overthrow the Japanese emperor. The cover art is by the ever-talented Laura Givens.

The Brazen Shark is available in paperback and ebook. The paperback is ready to ship now. The ebook will be sent to your Kindle on February 1, 2016.

While I’m discussing steampunk writing, I’ll remind you there’s still time to support the Kickstarter for Gaslight and Grimm. This awesome anthology project is already funded, so there’s no risk in supporting it at any level. The book features my story “The Steam-Powered Dragon and His Grandmother.” It also features steampunked retellings of “The Three Little Pigs,” “The Nightingale”, “Red Riding Hood” and more by such authors as James Chambers, Jean Marie Ward, and Christine Norris. Lots of great stretch goal bonuses have been added already and if we receive enough funding, we’ll also have stories by Jody Lynn Nye and Gail Z. Martin in the anthology as well. So drop by and reserve your copy of Gaslight and Grimm today!

The Brazen Shark Available for Pre-Order

Brazen Shark-300x450 I am proud to announce that the ebook edition of my ninth novel, The Brazen Shark, is now available for pre-order from Amazon.com! The Brazen Shark is the third novel of the Clockwork Legion series which began in Owl Dance and continues in Lightning Wolves. In this latest chapter, pirate captain, inventor, and entrepreneur Onofre Cisneros sweeps his friends Fatemeh and Ramon Morales off to Hawaii for their honeymoon. Once there, a British agent makes Cisneros an offer he can’t refuse and the captain must travel to Japan. Wanting to see more of the world, Ramon and Fatemeh ask to accompany the captain only to find themselves embroiled in a plot by samurai who steal a Russian airship, hoping to overthrow the Japanese emperor. I hope you’ll join me for this thrilling ride!

Back when the first Star Trek movie came out, Pocket Books acquired the rights to release the tie-in novels. I read each new one ravenously and one of my favorite authors was Robert E. Vardeman. In the years since, I’ve discovered Bob’s other series and my respect for his work has grown. He’s written more than fifty science fiction and fantasy novels and he writes amazing historical westerns under the pen name Karl Lassiter. He’s combined his love of science fiction and history in his steampunk novella Gateway to Rust and Ruin and you can find his story “The Transmogrification Ray” in Steampunk’d edited by Jean Rabe and Martin Greenberg. I was honored when Bob agreed to read The Brazen Shark. This is what he says: “Airships battling! Samurai fomenting war with Russia! Historical characters and powerfully drawn fictional ones mixing it up with political intrigues make David Lee Summers’ The Brazen Shark a steampunk novel not to be missed. Put it at the top of your reading list. Now!”

In the last few months, well-meaning folks have asked if it matters when they buy my book, or in what format. For the most part, the money to me is about the same no matter how you buy it, but this is one of those times it does matter. When you pre-order a book it sends a message to my publisher, Amazon, and really the entire industry if the sales rank goes high enough, that this is a book that matters to you. So, if you were going to buy the ebook and you’re a fan of the series, I hope you will pre-order the book. It’s only about the cost of a grande or venti mocha at Starbucks, and it’ll last longer!

Here are the links to all the books in the series:

And, if you want any of these autographed, I can! There’s a cool, free service called Authorgraph and you can find all my novels there. If you request an autograph through them, they will send me an email and I’ll send you a personalized PDF inscription you can store on your ereader. How cool is that! Request an Authorgraph today!

Now, I know a number of you out there don’t do ebooks and that’s cool. I love print, too! Never fear, the print edition is on its way. A little owl told a friend of mine that it might even be out a little before the February 1 ebook release. I’ll be sure to announce here when the print edition is available.

Happy New Year 2016!

A new year has just started and I hope yours is off to a terrific start! As it turns out, I rang in the new year by myself in my dorm room at Kitt Peak National Observatory. My shift started the night of the first and I wanted to get up the mountain before Tucson traffic got too crazy. What’s more, the thermostats in our rooms are set to go into a power saving mode after 12 hours, so my room was only 45 degrees Fahrenheit. I wanted it a little warmer than that when it came time to sleep!

Despite the new year’s humble start, I did have some fun during the day of New Year’s Eve with my family. We spent the day in Tucson and visited the Yume Japanese Gardens. One of the things I like about the gardens is that they have a traditional Japanese house. Here, my daughter and I sit on the floor by the table.

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In my novel The Brazen Shark which is scheduled for release on February 1, 2016, I imagine nineteenth century Japanese airships and the cabins look very much like what you see here. So, in essence, this visit to the Japanese Gardens allowed me a chance to get a taste of what life might be like aboard one of the airships.

Another exciting book coming out this year is the anthology Gaslight and Grimm: Steampunk Faerie Tales edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine. It will be published by eSpec Books. They will be starting a Kickstarter campaign on January 5. If you click on the link, you will be taken to the preview page where you can ask to be notified when the Kickstarter goes live. The anthology includes steampunk retellings of “The Three Little Pigs” by Christine Norris, “The Nightingale” by Jean Marie Ward, and “The Goose Girl” by Bernie Mojzes. If stretch goals are met, we’ll also see stories by Gail Z. Martin and Jody Lyn Nye!

My story in the anthology is based on a little-known Grimm Fairy Tale called “The Dragon and His Grandmother.” The title is sometimes translated as “The Devil and His Grandmother.” I translated the story from German for Tales of the Talisman back in 2003. In this new version, I’ve sprinkled in a dash of Kipling and moved the action to India, mechanized the dragon, and gave my wayward soldiers an interesting lesson to learn. Among the Kickstarter rewards are signed copies of my steampunk novels and an opportunity to appear as a character in “The Steampowered Dragon and His Grandmother.” Be sure to visit the link to find out about the other cool rewards and be notified the minute the campaign goes live!

Here’s wishing you a wonderful 2016!

Brazen Shark Cover Reveal

It’s now official, I have a cover and a release date for the third novel in my Clockwork Legion steampunk series. The Brazen Shark is scheduled for release on February 1, 2016. Brazen Shark-300x450 In The Brazen Shark, pirate captain, inventor, and entrepreneur Onofre Cisneros sweeps his friends Fatemeh and Ramon Morales off to Hawaii for their honeymoon. Once there, a British agent makes Cisneros an offer he can’t refuse and the captain must travel to Japan. Wanting to see more of the world, Ramon and Fatemeh ask to accompany the captain only to find themselves embroiled in a plot by samurai who steal a Russian airship, hoping to overthrow the Japanese emperor.

Not only can you get a look at the cover, but you can click here to read the novel’s entire first chapter. This is a bit of a departure from the first two books in the series in that it’s not set in the wild west. However, I assure you, Ramon Morales can’t travel overseas without taking his brand of wild west justice along with him even as he confronts such historical figures as Katsu Kaishū and Czar Alexander II. His new wife Fatemeh will encourage him to seek peaceful solutions, but her resolve will be strongly tested by the samurai Imagawa Masako.

If you haven’t read the other books in the Clockwork Legion series, this is a great time to start. The links below take you to the books’ pages on my website, which include links to most popular retailers.

Here’s wishing you and yours a very happy holiday season!

Music-Evoked Imagery

This past week my editor handed The Brazen Shark off to the publisher for final formatting. This puts book three of the Clockwork Legion series one step closer to publication and I hope to have a release date soon. What’s more, I’ve seen a really cool cover concept from artist Laura Givens, so I’m hoping I’ll get to do a reveal soon.

In other posts, I’ve mentioned that when I write, I’m an outliner. However, I’ve noted that being an outliner doesn’t mean that I don’t find myself writing by the seat of my pants some times. A great example of how that works happened while writing The Brazen Shark. At one point, the outline had the wonderfully helpful phrase, “Fatemeh and Imagawa have a chance to discuss Imagawa’s future.” Fatemeh is one of the protagonists of the Clockwork Legion series. She’s a healer from Persia who immigrated to America where she met a Sheriff named Ramon Morales. The two married at the end of book two and book three tells the story of their honeymoon. Imagawa is a samurai warrior who stole a Russian airship as part of her conflict with Japan’s Meiji government.

By the time I reached that line in my outline it had become crystal clear that this scene was not a “discussion.” This scene was a confrontation that would resolve one of the novel’s central conflicts. The problem was, I had no idea how that conflict would play out until I heard this song, which was performed by Kokia for the end credits of a few episodes of the series Space Battleship Yamato 2199.

I was driving home from work when the song cycled around on my mp3 player and chills went up my arm. I “saw” the climactic scene form in almost synesthetic clarity. As soon as I got home, I sat down and wrote the scene. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how it actually plays out without giving spoilers. What I can say is that Fatemeh was pushed to an extreme I didn’t expect and Imagawa demonstrates what makes her the kind of villain you can’t help but respect. I look forward to hearing your thoughts about the scene when it’s released.

By the way, you can find a translation of the lyrics at the Sound of Harmony website. Those who listen closely may notice the word Hoshi, which means stars, but is also the name of the samurai character introduced in Lightning Wolves.

Denizens of Steam

Now, I can’t drop big hints about my forthcoming novel without giving you something for your trouble. Halloween weekend saw the release of the flash-fiction anthology Denizens of Steam which is completely free over on Smashwords. Just click the link to get a copy. My story in the antho jumps past The Brazen Shark and gives you a sneak peak at book four, Owl Riders. I can’t promise the scene in Denizens of Steam will appear unchanged in the upcoming novel, but it will give you an idea of what I have planned for Ramon and Fatemeh. What’s more, you’ll get splendiferous flash fiction from people like Bryce Raffle, Karen J. Carlisle, William J. Jackson, C.L. Zeitstruck, and Steve Moore. The anthology was created to commemorate the one year anniversary of The Scribbler’s Den group at The Steampunk Empire. It has been one of the most engaging writing discussion forums I’ve encountered on the web. If you’re interested in discussing steampunk writing, please come by and join us!

For those who have no idea who Ramon and Fatemeh are, you can grab Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves which are books one and two of the Clockwork Legion series while you’re over at Smashwords!