Beautiful Sunsets

My work “day” at Kitt Peak National Observatory gets going in earnest when the sun sets. We have a saying at the observatory that beautiful sunsets mean poor observing. For better or worse, we’ve had some beautiful sunsets this past week.

There is some truth to the notion. Clouds can make dramatic sunsets, but they also obscure the view of even the most powerful optical telescopes. Red sunsets are often caused by dust or smoke in the air. Both are bad for observing in their own right. They make the sky hazy, but they can also settle out on telescope optics, which then becomes a problem when the weather gets even better. Unfortunately, big telescope optics are not easy to clean and the particulates can even damage them.

The wind that kicks up particulates or dries out the brush, giving us fire conditions, can also be a problem for observing. An unsettled atmosphere can make objects magnified with a telescope look fuzzy and distorted. It’s what we call bad “seeing.”

Nights with these kinds of poor, but not stormy conditions, can be the most difficult in my work life. We have to be ever vigilant to make sure the winds don’t get too high to safely operate the telescopes or the clouds don’t build up to ones that might drizzle. Even a little bit of water on telescope optics can ruin a telescope operator’s night. The wind can actually blow the telescopes around enough that we have a difficult time tracking targets precisely.

Our best nights are those when the sky is clear and calm at sunset. A few high clouds on the horizon aren’t ideal, but they’re not necessarily terrible. This was a sunset taken on a pretty good night.

This sunset’s pretty cool because I caught just a little of the “green flash” effect. I was just using the camera on my Kindle, so it doesn’t look as green as it did watching it, but you can see the after image of the sun just above the setting sun itself. That’s caused by atmospheric dispersion stretching the image of the sun like a prism or a rainbow. So you see the green/blue light of the sun set after the yellow light.

So, yeah, you can have pretty sunsets on good nights, too. They may just be a little less dramatic than the sunsets on the difficult nights.

If you want to see what happens when I imagine a truly dramatic night at an observatory, read my book The Astronomer’s Crypt. You can learn more about it here: http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html.

Like telescope operators, vampires also come out when the sun sets. I imagine a vampire telescope operator in my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Read a sample chapter and learn more at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html.

Why Write Vampire Tales?

Perhaps one of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve heard is don’t chase trends. In other words, don’t write a genre just because it’s popular and you expect to make a quick sale or lots of cash. Odds are, you’ll be sorely disappointed. SummersDragon'sFall By the same token, you should care a great deal about those subjects you do write about. After all you’re going to spend a lot of time with that subject writing, researching, and editing. If you have a measure of success, the book or story could be with you for some time after it’s written. You should be passionate about the subject.

I wrote my first vampire story in 2001 and I just sold my most recent vampire story this year, 2016. Vampires were popular when I started and continue to be popular. Even when my vampire novels reach relatively good sales ranks at Amazon, it’s not uncommon to see two or three hundred vampire novels with even better sales ranks. I think this shows both the popularity of the genre and explains why people at science fiction conventions often complain about how saturated the market is with vampire fiction. Of course, this is just another reason why passion is required. If you want to write a bestseller in a particular genre, it’s easiest to do so in a less popular genre than a more popular one!

So, why am I passionate about vampire stories? For me, they touch several themes near and dear to me. Growing up in urban Southern California, I was taught the night is a dangerous place with people lurking in shadows waiting to do me harm. I then went on to discover a love of astronomy and started spending a lot of time outdoors at night. I did learn to be careful and watchful at night, but I also learned that the night can be quiet and peaceful. Writing about vampires is like writing about kindred who are as passionate about the night as I am. I’ll note, the one time someone stole something from me, it was in broad daylight and I saw them coming. While I don’t fear the day, I can’t say it gives me more comfort than the night does.

What’s more, my dad died when I was young, forcing me to confront mortality head on early in life. There is admittedly a certain aspect of wish fulfillment in the idea of becoming a creature that circumvents death. However, living forever would come with costs. Among them, is the question of whether or not immortality is really all it’s cracked up to be and how one deals with hunting others to maintain an immortal existence.

I’m not only passionate about vampires, I’m passionate about history. Vampires of the Scarlet Order Writing about immortal vampires allows me to take a long view and write about people who get to see different periods of history and watch the world change. Of course, one of the consequences of being a vampire is that you can never really grow close to anyone other than a fellow vampire. Humans just grow old and die too quickly.

The website TVTropes.org has a very good page of suggestions for people who are interested in trying their hand at vampire fiction. One thing they discuss is that you should be genre savvy. This allows you to use and subvert tropes with knowledge of how others have approached the subject. Of course, this is another reason to be passionate about anything you wish to write about. If you’re doing it right, you’ll be spending a lot of time reading books and watching movies in the same genre you want to write. If you’re not passionate about it, that exercise will get old real fast.

If you’re passionate about vampires, or even just mildly curious, I hope you’ll spend some time getting to know some of my fictional friends in the following books:

Don Quixote

This past week, I finished one of the novels that’s been on my to-read list for a long time: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. don-quixote For those not familiar with the plot, Don Quixote tells the story of Alonso Quixano, a huge fan of tales about knights errant. He decides to cosplay a knight errant and convinces his tenant Sancho Panza to cosplay his squire and the two sally forth only to discover that no one has invented comic cons much less any other safe space to cosplay in seventeenth century Spain.

Two things prompted me to pick up Don Quixote when I did. First of all, I learned that we just passed the novel’s 400th anniversary and I felt this was a milestone that should be celebrated. What’s more, Don Quixote is very much a novel of a man reaching his 50s, facing mortality, and asking if he’s made everything he could of his life. As someone who has just reached his 50s, it seemed apropos.

For the most part, this novel, which is contemporary with Shakespeare’s plays, holds up remarkably well. Much or the humor still works, though occasionally it seems a little too cruel for my taste. I read the Penguin Classics translation by John Rutherford, which I found very readable.

The novel’s thematic arc reminds me a bit of the “Tooter Turtle” cartoons of the 1960s in which Mr. Wizard would send the titular turtle to another time and place to try on a new, more exciting life only to discover he wasn’t cut out for it after all and beg to come home. I have to admit, those cartoons always annoyed me a bit. Even as a kid, I recognized that one of the great things about life was the opportunity to experience new things and to challenge oneself. Yeah, sometimes things don’t work out so well, but other times you succeed splendidly.

Fortunately, Cervantes’s presentation is more nuanced than a Tooter Turtle cartoon. Cervantes himself was a veteran of the Battle of Lepanto (which, by the way, appears in my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order). Afterwards, Cervantes was captured by pirates and sold as a slave. He finally returned to Spain five years later when he was ransomed by his parents. He tried his hand at writing plays and though they were produced, received little notice. He also worked as a tax collector and was jailed multiple times for irregularities in his accounts. Cervantes knew what it was to try and fail, then try again. The upshot is that Don Quixote is more cautionary about going into situations with open eyes and being careful about being overly nostalgic about the past.

A figure I’ve seen repeated quite a bit lately is that there are 4500 new books being published every day. In that environment, being a writer can feel like a quixotic exercise in its own right. However, even Don Quixote found an audience in the duke and duchess who took him in for a time. I hope you’ll take a moment to browse my selection of books and perhaps bring one home to entertain you for a few nights.

Scarlet Order Vampire Novels Half Off

This month, the Scarlet Order Vampires raise a toast to Lachesis Publishing, which celebrates its eleventh birthday! This is a great opportunity to pick up ebooks of the Scarlet Order novels, which are both discounted 50%. That means you can get the entire series for under $2.00!

LACHESIS PUBLISHING SALE POSTCARD 3

The Scarlet Order is a team of vampires who came together to fight as mercenaries in the year 1067. Although these vampires must exist at night, they do wish to live in the shadows. Fighting as mercenaries allows the vampires to use their natural strength and predatory abilities to serve human causes.

SummersDragon'sFall Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order tells the origin story of the Scarlet Order vampires. Bearing the guilt of destroying the holiest of books after becoming a vampire, the Dragon, Lord Desmond searches the world for lost knowledge, but instead, discovers truth in love.

Born a slave in Ancient Greece, Alexandra craves freedom above all else, until a vampire sets her free, and then, she must pay the highest price of all … her human soul.

An assassin who lives in the shadows, Roquelaure is cloaked even from himself, until he discovers the power of friendship and loyalty.

Three vampires, traveling the world by moonlight—one woman and two men who forge a bond made in love and blood. Together they form a band of mercenaries called the Scarlet Order, and recruit others who are like them. Their mission is to protect kings and emperors against marauders, invaders, and rogue vampires. In the end, they must confront their ultimate nemesis, Vlad the Impaler.

Author and publisher Stephen C. Ormsby writes: “At the heart of this origin story is dark, descriptive writing that makes you believe that real vampires, not sparkly ones, do actually exist. An exciting novel that made me love a good vampire novel again.” The ebook edition of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order is available for $1.49 from Lachesis Publishing for the month of September.

Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Vampires of the Scarlet Order picks up the story of the Scarlet Order vampires in 1492 as they fight alongside the forces of Queen Isabella to rid Spain of the Moors. We follow their adventures into the present day when the United States government had decided to dabble in forces they don’t understand to create their own vampire-like super soldiers. At that point, it’s up to the Scarlet Order vampires to save humanity from themselves. In the process, the vampires learn about the origin of their kind and discover exciting possibilities about their future.

Author Neal Asher calls Vampires of the Scarlet Order “A novel with bite. An amalgam of Blade and The Name of the Rose with a touch of X-Files thrown in for good measure.” The ebook edition of Vampires of the Scarlet Order is available for just 49 cents from Lachesis Publishing for the month of September.

Blade the Anime

Back when my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order came out, science fiction writer Neal Asher wrote a blurb that described it as, “A novel with bite. An amalgam of Blade and The Name of the Rose with a touch of X-Files thrown in for good measure.” Vampires of the Scarlet Order At the time, I was familiar with X-Files and I’d read The Name of the Rose in college, but I actually wasn’t that familiar with Blade, the vampire hunter who cropped up from time to time in Marvel Comics and was portrayed by Wesley Snipes in three movies.

I immediately went out and watched the first movie, and for the most part loved it. I learned that Blade himself is a half-vampire known as a daywalker, fighting to save humans from those vampires who would use them as mere food. In Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the Scarlet Order vampires are brought together to fight human-created vampire super soldiers. It struck me that Blade and the Scarlet Order vampires could come to an accord. Of course, in true comic book fashion, they’d probably have to start their relationship with an epic smackdown fight, but they’d soon come to see they were more similar than different.

Recently, my daughter, home from Tulane University in New Orleans, pointed out that in 2011, four Marvel titles were produced as anime in Japan. One of those was Blade. As a fan of Blade and anime, I had check it out. Blade Anime The series starts off on a promising foot. Blade is in Japan hunting his old nemesis, the vampire Deacon Frost. He teams up with his mentor Noah Van Helsing and Noah’s dog Razor. He also teams up with a Japanese woman who is also a vampire hunter named Makoto. Frost leads our heroes on a chase throughout Southeast Asia. Along the way, we meet such creatures as the Filipino Manananggal which splits at the torso, it’s upper half flying around, dragging it’s entrails behind it. Another disturbing vampire Blade and Makoto must face is the Polong from Malaysia—just add a drop of blood and one tiny, ugly vampiric creature becomes a dozen large, vicious vampiric creatures!

I’m sorry to say that I was a bit disappointed in the ending of the anime Blade. Without delving too much into spoiler territory, nothing much unexpected happens except for one big gut-punch, which actually felt like a cop-out. Despite that, I’m still glad I watched the series. I liked the way the heroes were portrayed and I liked spending time with them. Also, I liked the quest through Southeast Asia.

Watching the anime did encourage me to look up some of the Blade comics I missed and I did find a very nice one-shot comic called Crescent City Blues where Blade battles Deacon Frost, Marie Laveau, vampires and zombies in New Orleans. Here we see Blade teamed up with his former partner and now vampire Hannibal King. So yes, I do think Blade could make peace with the Scarlet Order vampires long enough to work with them!

For those who want to see the book that reminded Neal Asher of Blade, you can find a selection of places to purchase Vampires of the Scarlet Order at my website. The ebook editions are only 99 cents. For those who want a collectible, signed edition, you can get it from the country’s premier shop for vampire merchandise, Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans!

Summer at Kitt Peak

In a typical year, July and August bring monsoon rains to Arizona and New Mexico. The rain is much needed in the desert, but it does mean poor observing conditions for most of those two months. Because of that, the observatory typically shuts down its major telescopes for ongoing maintenance and upgrades that help keep them state of the art.

WIYN in Rain

Those of us who work principally at night, often get a more relaxed schedule, which enables us to take vacation time. When we’re at work, we often get a chance to lend a hand on projects around the observatory. This past week, I worked during the daytime, helping with a couple of projects at the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope. One of those projects was cleaning, tuning, and testing the actuator control cards on the back of the WIYN telescope.

Actuator Work

Here you see the back of the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope. Each of those disks at the back are attached to a motor and a rod, which deform the telescope’s primary mirror so it has the optimal shape, no matter where it’s pointed in the sky. With time, the electronics in each of those actuators becomes less reliable.

So, for example, the WIYN primary mirror weighs about 4200 pounds. When working properly, the actuators should measure that weight pretty accurately. However, with wear and tear, they reached a point where they were measuring the weight as 4570 pounds. As I write this, we’ve tuned about about one third of the cards and now the weight is reading 4370 pounds, much closer and an indication that we’re doing much-needed work. Here’s one of the control cards in its test bench setup.

Actuator Card

Another project I helped with this week was upgrading the drives for the filter arms on the One-Degree Imager at WIYN. In essence, the whole objective of having a camera on a telescope is to accurately measure the amount of light coming into it from distant stars and galaxies. However, visible light is made up of all the colors of the rainbow. Red light, blue light, and violet light are all jumbled together. So, the best way for us to measure light accurately is to take black-and-white pictures with colored filters in front that allow light of precise frequencies to pass through.

The One-Degree Imager has filters that are approximately one-foot by one-foot square. It takes a lot of force to move those pieces of glass and hold them rigidly in place.
ODI-Filters In the photo on the left, you’re looking down on the filter arms. The filter arms used to be held in place by a series of gears. However, the force required to move those arms was so great, the gears were literally grinding themselves to dust. So the gear system has been replaced by a system which utilizes a chain drive like that you might find in a motorcycle! You can see the chain on the bottom of the photo. I’m looking forward to the new observing season when we get to use this new filter drive system. It promises to move and hold the filters much better than the old system.

Another project that’s moving forward is the Extreme Position Doppler Spectrometer which NASA is contracting for the WIYN telescope in order to support space missions searching for planets around other stars. This week, I was asked if I would provide input into how to practically operate this device. It sounds like I’ll learn more this autumn, but I’m looking forward to the challenge and hoping I’ll have something good to contribute which will both help achieve the mission objectives and make it a user-friendly instrument.

In the meantime, I have not forgotten my literary endeavors. I just finished editing a four-short story collection called Sugar Time written by Joy V. Smith. Hadrosaur Productions published an audio book edition some years ago, but this will be an ebook and chapbook containing the four original stories with new cover art by Laura Givens. Look for more details in next week’s blog post.

Also, if you live in New Orleans or will be visiting on the weekend of August 22, please drop by Boutique du Vampyre in the French Quarter between 3 and 6pm, where I’ll be signing copies of Vampires of the Scarlet Order and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order.

The Scarlet Order Vampires at Lachesis

As I mentioned in last week’s post, Lachesis Publishing has unveiled a brand new website. In addition to publishing my Old Star/New Earth science fiction series, they also publish my Scarlet Order vampire novels. For better or worse, vampire and paranormal romance novels seem to be everywhere these days. While it’s true the Scarlet Order vampire novels have their share of romance along with beautiful and dangerous vampires, I believe they offer something a little more. The Scarlet Order is a band of vampire mercenaries. They use their speed, agility, and strength to aid the world’s countries. What’s more, I find it interesting to look at the modern world through the eyes of creatures who have seen the world grow and change. Without further ado, here are the novels in the Scarlet Order series.

The Scarlet Order Vampire Series

Dragons Fall

Three vampyrs. Three lives. Three intertwining stories.

Bearing the guilt of destroying the holiest of books after becoming a vampyr, the Dragon, Lord Desmond searches the world for lost knowledge, but instead, discovers truth in love.

Born a slave in Ancient Greece, Alexandra craves freedom above all else, until a vampyr sets her free, and then, she must pay the highest price of all … her human soul.

An assassin who lives in the shadows, Roquelaure is cloaked even from himself, until he discovers the power of friendship and loyalty.

Three vampyrs, traveling the world by moonlight—one woman and two men who forge a bond made in love and blood. Together they form a band of mercenaries called the Scarlet Order, and recruit others who are like them. Their mission is to protect kings and emperors against marauders, invaders, and rogue vampyrs until their closest friend, Vlad the Impaler, proves to be their ultimate nemesis.

Click here to learn more about Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order at Lachesis Publishing.


Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Vampires of the Scarlet Order is an action-adventure novel about an elite cadre of vampire mercenaries who have worked throughout history as pinpoint assassins. Under the command of Desmond, Lord Draco, the Scarlet Order was involved in wars with the Ottoman Empire, The French Revolution and even the conquest of the Americas. Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, vampires are too expensive, too untrustworthy, and frankly, too passé for governments to employ any longer. Nanotechnology can be employed to engineer more reliable super soldiers. What’s a vampire to do?

Click here to learn more about Vampires of the Scarlet Order at Lachesis Publishing.


If these novels intrigue you, I invite you to drop by my other on-line journal, The Scarlet Order, where I regularly discuss horror writing, vampires, and other matters of interest to night creatures.