After NaNo

I’m sorry to say I didn’t get a chance to participate in this year’s National Novel Writing Month. My daughter did give it a try and I’m proud that she managed to make good progress on a project she’s working on. For those who don’t know about the National Novel Writing Month, every November writers are challenged to write 50,000 words in a month. Because I’m in the midst of commissioning two instruments at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I didn’t think I could commit to that amount of writing during November this year. However, I have participated twice before and both of my NaNoWriMo novels ultimately became published works.

While 50,000 words is a good amount of a novel, it’s shorter than what most genre publishers are looking for. Some publishers are happy to see young adult books around this length, but even they tend to want at least slightly longer. Also, the organizers of NaNoWriMo encourage authors not to spend time revising their works during the month. The goal is just to get 50,000 new words down on the page. So, how do you go from 50,000 unedited words to a novel you’re willing to submit to a publisher?

I first learned about NaNoWriMo from Jackie Druga, who owned LBF Books, which had just purchased my novels Vampires of the Scarlet Order, The Pirates of Sufiro, and Children of the Old Stars. She challenged me to try my hand at writing a novel in a month. I decided it was time to actually write a novel I’d started twice before, but gave up on called The Solar Sea. The reason I’d given up on this novel twice before is that I didn’t know quite what it wanted to be. Was it an adventure novel? Was there more of a suspense element? Should it be for adults? The 50,000 word length and being a parent of two young daughters inspired me to approach this new start as a young adult novel. I’d thought about it so much over the previous fifteen years, I had really clear pictures of the characters, so writing it was easy. When I got to the end of the month, I had a more-or-less complete novel. It needed spelling and grammar cleaned up. It needed details fleshed out. I ran it by three or four beta readers. I even read it aloud to my daughters and was pleased to see how much the story held them, but even at a young age, they pointed out places where they wanted more. By the time all was said and done, I had a 65,000 word novel and LBF said they were willing to publish it. If you want to see the result, you can learn more about the current edition at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

Because things had gone so well, Jackie encouraged me to participate in NaNoWriMo again the next year. This time, my project was much less defined. I knew I wanted to write a prequel to my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order and I had a rough idea of what the story would be. I set out on the journey to create the book that would ultimately become Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. I did finish 50,000 words, but I was left with the feeling that I had far from a complete novel. I liked the opening, but felt like the book was beginning to meander toward the end. I also didn’t feel like it had a good focus. In this case, I set the novel aside until I had some idea of what to do with it.

I believe about two years passed. I made a few half-hearted attempts at editing, but was never quite sure what the book was missing. By that time, LBF Books had been purchased by Lachesis Publishing and LeeAnn Lessard approached me with the idea of writing five vampire novellas with erotic overtones. It occurred to me that my NaNoWriMo attempt to could be adapted into three of those. As I thought about what the other two novellas could be, I found a new opening that gave the whole project focus and an overarching theme. With that in mind, I was able to find an ending that became the final novella. Ultimately, those five novellas were published under one cover and called Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Each of the novellas is a part of the story set in a different time period. As the story evolves, the vampires of the story become romantically involved. In this case, it helped to give myself some distance from the original creation and to get some input that gave me a slightly different approach. By the time I fleshed out the middle and added a new beginning and end, I had a 94,000-word novel. If you’d like to learn more about this novel, visit http://www.davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

To all of you who made good progress on a project this year during NaNoWriMo, I salute you! I wish you the best as you polish your work and help it find its final form.

Lovely Angels

I’m a fan of stories featuring strong women. While I recognize that physical strength or proficiency with weapons is not the only way to be a strong person, my love of action stories does mean I enjoy a story with women who fall into this category. While in Bisbee, Arizona’s wonderful Meridian Books and Comics a few weeks ago, my wife’s eyes happened to fall on the book, The Great Adventure of the Dirty Pair.

I immediately recognized the title and the women on the cover from an anime series of the mid-1980s. What I didn’t realize is that the anime series was inspired by a series of novels by Haruka Takachiho. The book my wife found was an English translation of the first two novels published in 2007 by Dark Horse Books. For those not familiar with the books or the anime series, the “Dirty Pair” are Kei and Yuri, two young interplanetary agents in the distant future who investigate crimes for the World Welfare Works Association or WWWA. They’re essentially female James Bond types who travel in their own space ship with their pet Mugi, which is essentially an intelligent, alien cat. Their code name is “the lovely angels” but because they’re famous for leaving death and destruction in their wake, they’ve come to be known as “the dirty pair.”

Unlike many anime series, each episode of Dirty Pair is a self-contained adventure. Kei and Yuri often find one mystery that leads to a bigger mystery or find that a tactical situation has gone out of control and they must go in guns blazing while wearing their battle bikinis. At least the novels explain that their outfits do include a transparent polymer that protects them while giving them the appearance of lots of exposed skin.

What I love about the series and the books is that Kei and Yuri are strong, well defined characters. Kei is more hot-tempered and impulsive while Yuri is more thoughtful. It’s fun to see their camaraderie and how the situations regularly blow up for them to cause damage worthy of a contemporary superhero film. What I find a little annoying is that at times it feels like Kei and Yuri are Betty and Veronica from Archie comics each competing for the next cute boy, even in the midst of worlds blowing up around them.

One key difference between the novels and the anime series is that in the novels, Kei and Yuri have clairvoyant powers. If they concentrate and then hold hands, they can get a precognitive clue to the mystery they’re trying to solve. The only time I know this appears in the anime is in the movie, Affair on Nolandia. Of some note, this movie seems to be one of the least popular Dirty Pair stories, but it does feel like it takes most of its beats from the books.

The first Dirty Pair novels were serialized in 1979 in the Japanese magazine SF Magajin. This means Kei and Yuri started kicking butt the same year as Ripley in the American Alien franchise.

The Dirty Pair novels are fun if you’re a fan of the anime and curious about the story’s history. The anime is fun if you like diverting science fiction stories with plenty of gun battles and explosions. Just don’t go in expecting a lot of depth. You can find strong women who will tell more thoughtful stories in other places.

If you want to explore some of the strong women characters in my stories, you might enjoy meeting Fatemeh Karimi and Larissa Crimson in my Clockwork Legion Series. You might also enjoy meeting Suki Mori, Fire Ellis, and Kirsten Smart in my Space Pirates Legacy Series or Marcella DuBois, Jane Heckman, and Mercy Rodriguez from my Scarlet Order Vampire Series.

The Vampire Lovers

In my story “Fountains of Blood” that appears in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone, the vampire Marcella hands the protagonist, Billy, a copy of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla to help him understand what vampires are. I used Carmilla partly because the story my story is centered around the 1896 Albert Fountain disappearance and Dracula was still a year away from publication. I also chose it because I thought this story of a female vampire would resonate well with my vampire character, Marcella.

Because Carmilla predates Dracula, it does not contain many of the tropes we often associate with vampires. Like many vampires of folklore, Carmilla has ghost-like qualities. She can move through locked doors and haunt people’s dreams. If she’s bothered by religious iconography, LeFanu doesn’t say. I have wondered if any good films were made of LeFanu’s story and I recently discovered that Hammer Studios produced one in 1970 under the title The Vampire Lovers. Just to note, the poster reproduced on the Blu-Ray case does not reflect the film’s content. We never see a hapless male victim chained up and being ravaged by a horde of female vampires.

Overall, the film is remarkably faithful to LeFanu’s novella. The story is more linear. The novella opens when a carriage topples. The passengers prove to be Carmilla and her mother. The mother pleads with an English gentleman to allow Carmilla to rest and recover while she continues her journey. The gentleman agrees and Carmilla enters his home where she seduces the gentleman’s daughter, Laura. Over time, Laura begins to succumb to a mysterious illness. Later, we learn that a similar incident happened in the home of General Spielsdorf when Carmilla, then calling herself Millarca, seduces his ward Bertha. Over time, Bertha grows pale and weak and eventually dies. In the movie, we see the incident in General Spielsdorf’s house first followed by the second incident. For some reason, the filmmakers named General Spielsdorf’s ward Laura and gave the second young lady the name Emma.

That noted, there are more than a couple of superficial changes. For some reason, we get a lot more men in the filmed version. There’s a male vampire overseeing the Countess and Carmilla. There’s a love interest for Emma who comes riding to the rescue at the end, although he doesn’t seem to do much else in the film. The characters of Madame Perrodon and Mademoiselle De LeFontaine from the novella are combined into the character of “Mademoiselle Perrodon” and a male butler is introduced. What’s more, at the ending of the Victorian novella, Laura, Madame Perrodone and Mademoiselle De LeFontaine are all out hunting the vampire with General Spielsdorf and Laura’s father. In the movie, Emma is wasting away at home while the men are out hunting.

Carmilla is very much a story of a female vampire seducing young women and it feels like the filmmakers in 1970 were trying to imply that the victims needed real men to both defend them and show them how much better love would be with a man. It’s interesting to see that the Victorian author didn’t do this, though LeFanu often nods and winks to his audience telling us how scandalous the women’s behavior is.

If you’re as fascinated by vampire stories as I am, you definitely should not miss Carmilla. It’s a short read and available for free at Project Gutenberg. The movie is also worth a watch and features notable performances by Ingrid Pitt as Carmilla, Peter Cushing as General Spielsdorf, and Kate O’Mara as Mademoiselle Perrodon. Be aware this is the era when Hammer started undressing its female leads at any opportunity, so if that offends, you might want to skip this film. If you want to know more about my vampires and the history of Marcella, be sure to read Vampires of the Scarlet Order. You can find more details and the first chapter at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html.

2018 Publishing Year in Review

As we approach the end of 2018, I wanted to take the opportunity to look back at my books and stories released over the previous year. First and foremost, is my novel Owl Riders, which is the fourth novel in my Clockwork Legion steampunk series. When Fatemeh Karimi married Ramon Morales at the end of Lightning Wolves, she neglected to share one small detail. She was already betrothed to a merchant named Hamid Farzan. She had no interest in Hamid or an arranged marriage. She wanted to live life on her own terms. Eight years after marrying Ramon, she assumed Hamid had long forgotten about her, as she had him.

Settled in New Orleans, Ramon works as an attorney, Fatemeh owns a pharmacy, and they’re proud parents of a precocious daughter. Out west, Apaches armed with powerful battle wagons have captured Fort Bowie and threaten Tucson. Businessmen with an interest in a peaceful solution ask Ramon to come west and settle the conflict. Meanwhile Hamid arrives in New Orleans and he has not forgotten Fatemeh or her vows to him. Now, the famed Owl Riders must assemble once again to reunite Ramon and Fatemeh so they can tame the Wild West. You can learn more or get your very own copy of Owl Riders at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html.

2018 also saw the release of a new edition of my novel The Solar Sea. This novel is set in the universe of my Space Pirates’ Legacy series and serves as an origin story of sorts for that world. As the novel opens, scientists announce the discovery of powerful new particles around Saturn’s largest moon which could solve Earth’s energy needs. At the same time, whales around the world change their songs. The Quinn Corporation rushes to build a solar sail space craft to unlock the secrets of these strange new particles. They gather the best and brightest to pilot the ship: Jonathan Jefferson, an aging astronaut known as the last man on Mars; Natalie Freeman, a distinguished Navy captain; Myra Lee, a biologist who believes the whales are communicating with Saturn; and John O’Connell, the technician who first discovered the particles. Charting the course is the mysterious Pilot who seems determined to keep secrets from the rest of the crew. Together they make a grand tour of the solar system and discover not only wonders but dangers beyond their imagination. You can learn more and purchase your own copy at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html.

I also had two new short stories appear in anthologies. My story, “The Sun Worshiper,” is about a spiritualist named Dinela Stanton who is invited to a mummy unwrapping party in London hosted by a prominent scientist. When she arrives, she finds all her fellow guests are scientists who have denounced her as a fraud. To make matters worse, it would appear that the scientist who invited Dinela is attempting to perpetrate a deception of his own. The story appears in the anthology After Punk published by eSpec Books.  Featuring stories by Jody Lynn Nye, David Sherman, Gail Z. Martin and Larry N. Martin, James Chambers, Michelle D. Sonnier, Jeffrey Lyman, Bernie Mojzes, and more, these tales explore voodoo death cults to the Day of the Dead, mummy parties, the wheel of reincarnation, the practice of death portraits, and so much more. No gravestone is left unturned. Check out the book at: https://www.amazon.com/After-Punk-Steampowered-Tales-Afterlife-ebook/dp/B07CW3S8R8/.

My second short story that appeared this year is “The Power in Unity” and it’s the first new story I’ve written set on the planet Sufiro since the publication of Heirs of the New Earth in 2007. The events of this story take place between the end of part 2 and the beginning of part 3 of The Pirates of Sufiro. In Pirates I mention an incident where the people of the Tejan continent attempt to capture people from the New Granadan continent to work in their mines. When the Tejans attempted to take the New Granadans by force, a lawman named Manuel Raton stopped them at a place named for the final battle of Arthurian legend, Camlan Pass. This is the story of how Camlan Pass got its name. The story of Manuel Raton and Mary Hill bears a striking resemblance to the story of Mordred and Arthur as told in The History of the Kings of Britain written by Geoffrey of Monmouth. In that story, Mordred married Guinevere while Arthur journeyed across Europe. I hope you’ll pick up a copy of the anthology to see how I twisted this tale from the dark ages into one of interplanetary intrigue, mining rites, and strange aliens with tentacles. Camelot 13 features stories by Michael A. Black & Dave Case, John G. Hartness, Hildy Silverman, Diane Raetz, Russ Colchamiro, Austin Camacho, Quintin Peterson, Patrick Thomas, D. C. Brod, Susanne Wolf & John L. French, Edward J. McFadden III, and Robert E. Waters. You can pick up your own copy at: https://www.amazon.com/Camelot-13-Celebrating-Knights-Padwolf/dp/1890096776/.

Finally, I wrap up this report with mentions of two important reprints. The first is a reprint of my story “A Specter in the Light” which tells a story of mysterious experiments with Tesla Coils and things raised from the dark in the early days of the New Mexico School of Mines. That story appears in the anthology DeadSteam, edited by Bryce Raffle. It’s available at: https://www.amazon.com/DeadSteam-Bryce-Raffle/dp/0995276749/.

Last but not least, is the mass market release of Straight Outta Tombstone edited by David Boop, which includes my vampire story “Fountains of Blood.” This anthology features so many authors I admire, including Alan Dean Foster, Robert E. Vardeman, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Phil Foglio, Jim Butcher and more. This book is almost certainly on the shelf of a store near you. Otherwise, you can pick it up at: https://www.amazon.com/Straight-Outta-Tombstone-David-Boop-ebook/dp/B071JGTN3H/.

Thank you to all the readers out there who have supported me and helped to make 2018 a great year!

Blood Communion

One of my birthday presents this year was Anne Rice’s latest Vampire Chronicle, Blood Communion. By my count this is her thirteenth vampire novel if we count both the official “Vampire Chronicles” and “The New Tales of the Vampires.” This is one of the few series I’ve made a point of keeping up with over the years. The first two books in the series, Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat were recommended to me by one of my co-workers at Kitt Peak National Observatory circa 1994. My co-worker used to refer to those of us who worked at night as the “vampires of the mountain” because you rarely saw us before sunset and after sunrise. I bought a boxed set of the first four novels and read them straight through, a little before Neil Jordan’s film of Interview with the Vampire was released.

Blood Communion is told in the voice of Lestat, who is now prince of the vampires living in his restored estate in France. In many ways, this is the tale of Lestat settling into his role as leader of the vampires. The biggest threat to that rule is an ancient vampire named Rhoshamandes who has shown himself to be a real danger in previous volumes of the series and now intimates violence against vampires and their allies he believes have done him wrong. Lestat wants to believe the best in Rhoshamandes, but must take action when the ancient vampire ups the ante. The problem is that it’s not altogether clear whether or not this is a battle Lestat can win.

Blood Communion is a thin volume in terms of page count. The hardcover is only 256 pages. Despite that, it addresses one of the more difficult subjects today, bullying and unchecked anger that turns into violence against one’s coworkers and friends. Without spoiling the novel’s plot, I think it’s fair to say that Rice’s answer is that such behavior can’t be allowed to continue unchallenged. On a lighter note, I enjoyed spending more time with other fictional friends from previous volumes such as Louis, Gabrielle, Marius, and Pandora. Also, the hardcover featured lovely illustrations by Mark Edward Geyer.

One interesting moment in the novel came when Lestat is presented with a Medusa ring. I don’t remember Medusa playing a role in the Vampire Chronicles before this. The ring’s significance isn’t really explained and I’d be interested to know more about its significance to Rice’s vampires. In my own novel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order, the vampire Theron is fascinated by stories of Medusa. In particular he sees stories of her turning people to stone as being akin to his ability to subdue prey with the power of his mind. Also, he’s captivated by versions of the Medusa legend that portray her as so beautiful she made Athena jealous and it was Athena who turned her monstrous.

Interview with the Vampire was one of the novels that cultivated my interest in New Orleans. When my daughter went to Tulane University to study, it gave me an opportunity to know New Orleans and the state of Louisiana. While most of Blood Communion is set in France, I enjoyed the brief foray, Lestat took to visit a vampire in Louisiana.

Speaking of New Orleans, if you like the little Nosferatu next to the novel in the photo above, you can order them from Boutique du Vampyre in the French Quarter. Clicking the shop’s name will take you directly to the page. While you’re visiting the Boutique, you can also pick up a signed copy of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order as a gift for this holiday season. Clicking the book title will take you right there.

October Adventures Continue

In my last post, I shared some of my adventures traveling around the country this month. Admittedly, a travelogue may seem a little out of place for a post appearing just two days before Halloween, but I’ll share a book at the end to put you in the spirit of the season and it’s even a quick read.

I left Kansas City on the train on Sunday night, October 14. By the time I woke up on Monday morning, the ground was covered in snow. I like traveling by train when I can. It’s a great way to see the countryside and although it takes longer than traveling by plane, it feels much more civilized. I enjoy flying, but the hassle of crowds, airport security, and flights filled to the brim take away much of the fun. Besides, my grandfather, dad, and brother all worked on the railroad, so I feel a certain family connection when I travel by rail.

I met my wife in Albuquerque where she brought my faithful Smart Car in for a service. We then drove down to Las Cruces with a brief stop in Socorro for some chicken mole enchiladas. For me, chocolate and chile come together to form the ultimate comfort food. After a four-hour sleep, I then drove to Tucson for a daytime shift at Kitt Peak where we’re continuing to refit the Mayall 4-meter for the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Survey.

After three days on the mountain, I gritted my teeth for another short sleep, got up early in the morning to drive to the airport where I caught a plane for Denver, Colorado. There, I celebrated MileHiCon 50. The highlight of the event was that every living convention guest was invited back as a guest. Here you see them assembled at opening ceremonies.

MileHiCon is always a special for me because I get to connect with so many people I’ve worked with over the years. These include Bob Vardeman who was one of the honored guests and who created the Empires of Steam and Rust Series,  David B. Riley one of the co-authors of Legends of the Dragon Cowboys, J Alan Erwine and Carol Hightshoe who have edited many anthologies I’ve been in and who appeared in A Kepler’s Dozen. Denver is also home to Laura Givens, the talented artist who has done many of my covers, and also the co-author of Legends of the Dragon Cowboys.

A particular high point of MileHiCon was the annual poetry reading. This year it was moderated by Stace Johnson. Ronnie Seagren joined us and read poems by several different people. Sadly, Gail Barton, a staple of past MileHiCon poetry readings had passed away, but I was fortunate enough to have a copy of the poetry journal she often handed out at the event, which allowed me to share some of her poems. It was lovely to have her voice at the event at least one more time.

Once MileHiCon was finished, I returned to Kitt Peak to continue work on the DESI spectrograph. This time, I helped a team from Ohio State University build the racks that will hold the spectrographs themselves once they all arrive. I have to admit, building the racks was a process not unlike assembling a piece of Ikea furniture!

At last, I am back home for Halloween. I’m turning my attention to some editorial projects, including a new novella from David B. Riley and two great books from Greg Ballan. In my off hours, I’m reading some spooky comic books and watching a few hair-raising films.

If you’re looking for something good to read between trick-or-treaters on Wednesday night, may I recommend the collection Blood Sampler? This book collects thirty-five vampire flash fiction stories written by Lee Clark Zumpe and me. The cover is by Laura Givens and the book features interior illustrations by Marge Simon. Chris Paige, writing for the fan newspaper ConNotations in Arizona said, “If you like vampire stories, this may be the best seven dollars you can spend.” Admittedly the new edition of the paperback went up to $8.00, but the ebook is only $4.00. You can learn how to get your claws on a copy by visiting  http://www.davidleesummers.com/Blood-Sampler.html

My Life With Vampires

Today finds me in Denver, Colorado at MileHiCon 50! If you’re in town, I hope you’ll drop by. You can get more information about the event at: http://www.milehicon.org.

As we approach Halloween, I find myself looking back at how I developed an interest in vampire fiction. I think the first vampires I encountered were the Scooby-Doo episodes “A Gaggle of Galloping Ghosts” and “Vampire Bats and Scaredy Cats.” At the risk of spoilers, we find that both vampires are really criminals engaged in a scam. Somewhat scarier to me was the 1979 version of Dracula starring Frank Langella. That opened up an interest in Bram Stoker’s novel, which I remember starting, but not finishing at the time because I was 12 and easily distracted.

Illustration for Vampires of the Scarlet Order by Steven Gilberts

It was another 1979 film that really got me thinking about vampires and that was Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu, which I saw in 1984. The film’s atmospheric quality and Klaus Kinski’s genuinely creepy portrayal of Dracula set a standard for me. Even so, I didn’t really get captivated by vampires until I started working at Kitt Peak National Observatory in 1992. At the time, the observatory had both solar astronomers working at the McMath Solar Telescope (as it was known then) and “stellar” astronomers working at night on the other telescopes. Those of us who worked at night jokingly referred to ourselves as the vampires of the observatory because we weren’t seen before sunset and went to bed before sunrise.

As it turns out, one of my co-workers at the time was a fan of vampire fiction. She encouraged me to finally read Dracula from start to finish. I read much of it during a stormy night on the mountain. Periodically I had to go check conditions outside and I kept imagining that predatory eyes were upon me. This really hooked me on vampire fiction. Soon after this, she encouraged me to read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. From there, I dove right into The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. Even so, I didn’t really think about writing my own vampire fiction until nearly a decade later.

In 1995, I had moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico and soon got involved with the Border Book Festival. I hosted a panel in 2000 and afterward, my friend Janni Lee Simner asked, “What do you suppose a vampire would make of Las Cruces, the city of crosses?” She followed that with a comment by telling me if it sparked a story idea, I was welcome to it. A few days later, while driving to Apache Point Observatory, I had an idea for a story about a vampire astronomer who moved to Las Cruces. That story became “Vampire in the City of Crosses” and I sold it a few weeks later to the magazine The Vampire’s Crypt.

The story and those that followed suggested that the vampire was on a quest. His quest led him to discover the vampire mercenaries who called themselves the Scarlet Order. Those stories all came together to become the novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Once I got that far, I wanted to explore how the vampires decided to fight for human kings and that led me to the prequel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. As mercenaries who fight for human causes, my vampires aren’t the kind to sit around and brood about their immortal existence, seduce mortal girls a fraction of their age, or sparkle in the sunlight. In short, I’ve enjoyed spending time with them these last seventeen years. They make great companions in the Halloween season. If you’re looking for a good read this time of year, learn more about the books at http://www.davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order.