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.

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis

In 1993, one of my co-workers at Kitt Peak National Observatory introduced me to the Vampire Chronicles of Anne Rice. At that point there were just four volumes in the series. I picked up a set and read straight through them. I loved the way her vampires were able to travel leisurely through history and see things in our modern world with wonder and passion. An example is the way 17th century French vampire Lestat de Lioncourt discovers rock and roll, makes it his own, and wakes the Queen of the Damned herself. This long view of history appealed to me both because of my inherent love of history and my love of science fiction. After all, that’s much of what science fiction is about, looking back at history, understanding how people and technologies change, and then projecting those changes into possible futures. Thanks in part to Anne Rice, I would try my own hand at vampire fiction, gave it a science fictional twist and Vampires of the Scarlet Order was born.

I’ve continued to follow the Vampire Chronicles over the years and it feels like a circle of sorts has been completed with her latest entry in the series. princelestatrealmsofatlantis As Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis opens, we learn that a vampire named Roland has captured a strange, human-looking creature. He can drink all the creature’s blood, which is more satisfying than even human blood, and the creature will appear to die. Despite this, the creature will awaken soon after, its blood regenerated. Roland shows this creature to the ancient and powerful Rhoshamandes, who has fallen out of favor with the vampire court led by Prince Lestat. Roland suggests the creature can be used as a tool for Rhoshamandes to regain power.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, another creature hears a familiar name in the radio broadcasts of the vampires. When he attempts to confront vampire Benji Mamoud who hosts the broadcast, vampires confront him and corner him. The creature then dispatches the two vampires. While all this is going on, Prince Lestat, back at the vampire court, has started having dreams of a great city that fell into the sea. Lestat has become prince of the vampires by becoming the host of Amel, the spirit responsible for the existence of the vampires in the first place.

From the title, it should come as no surprise that Lestat ultimately discovers a connection between the strange creatures, the spirit Amel, and the lost city of Atlantis. Like the vampires, the new creatures, who call themselves Replimoids, have aspects that are both likeable and frightening. This story of the Replimoids and Atlantis is the reason I feel like I completed a circle. The series that led me to my science fictional take on vampires has now taken its own science fictional turn. There’s a simplicity and almost innocence to Rice’s visions of advanced civilizations and their constructs that reminds me of the science fiction from the 1950s and 60s. This might be a little surprising for people used to contemporary SF, or used to some of the dark historical realities presented in the earlier Vampire Chronicles, but it mostly works in the context of the story.

Like the previous entry in the Vampire Chronicles, Prince Lestat, Rice tells the story from multiple points of view and we get to spend time with several of the vampires she’s introduced over the course of the series. In one of my favorite chapters, Lestat meets his old friend Louis de Pointe du Lac in New Orleans. I had fun following their walk through familiar French Quarter landmarks such as Cafe du Monde, Jackson Square, and Pirates Alley. As a long-time fan, this was all great fun, but I could imagine the stream of characters being a little overwhelming for a new reader.

As a fan of the Vampire Chronicles, I enjoyed spending time with Lestat, Louis, Marius, Benji, Gabrielle and the others again. I found this an interesting turn in the story and would be delighted to follow the vampires into another adventure. For people new to the Chronicles, I would suggest they start with the early volumes such as Interview with the Vampire or The Vampire Lestat and read through at least Queen of the Damned before diving into this latest volume.

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:

Twisting History

This month has started off with some good news. I have official word that my story “Fountains of Blood” has been accepted for an anthology called Straight Outta Tombstone tentatively scheduled to appear in summer 2017 from Baen Books. Editor David Boop invited me to submit to the anthology a little over a year ago.

fountain

My story idea came quickly and I was inspired by a tombstone in the cemetery behind my house. No one’s buried underneath this tombstone. Rather it’s a memorial to a former cavalryman, governor of Texas, and attorney named Albert Jennings Fountain who disappeared near White Sands along with his son Henry on February 1, 1896. Among other things, Fountain operated the Fountain Opera House in Mesilla, New Mexico. Although that building no longer stands, his family rebuilt the building in 1905 as the Fountain Theater, which now shows films selected by the Mesilla Valley Film Society. As it tuns out, for a time they used stationary with a letterhead I designed for them, giving me a thread of connection back to Fountain himself.

Perhaps Fountain’s most famous client as an attorney was Billy the Kid. Most sources cite Billy’s real name as William Henry McCarty. In my Clockwork Legion novels, William McCarty’s life path is changed when he encounters Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi. Instead of getting caught up in an ugly feud known as the Lincoln County War, McCarty becomes one of the Owl Riders, helping to defend the United States against the Russians.

Brazen Shark-300x450

Back in our timeline, after defending Billy the Kid, Fountain would go on to launch an investigation into the Lincoln County War. He was on his way home from Lincoln County when he and his son disappeared. In The Brazen Shark, Fountain still defends Billy. This time it’s not for murder, but for helping his friends Ramon and Fatemeh evade soldiers so they could understand why the Russians were invading the United States in the first place. In the Clockwork Legion series, Billy doesn’t die at twenty-one, and Fountain hires him as a bodyguard for his fateful trip. The problem is, even Billy the Kid can’t stand up to the forces out to stop Albert J. Fountain.

After getting ambushed near White Sands and left for dead, Billy awakens and goes for help. After the long journey, he seeks solace from a “soiled dove” in Las Cruces named Marcella who turns out to know more than he would have suspected and provides Billy with essential clues about the disappearance. Those familiar with my books may recognize Marcella from Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

Of course, my short story stands alone and you will be able to read it without being familiar with my novels. However, for readers who want the fun of seeing the connections and how I’ve bent and twisted history in both universes, I recommend starting with the first books in each series Owl Dance and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Of course, I’d love it if you would keep right on reading all the books in the two series. That would keep you busy for the months waiting for the new anthology. I hear the author list is pretty amazing and hope I can share the full table of contents soon.

Den of Antiquity

Today is the release day for an exciting new anthology I’m proud to be part of called Den of Antiquity. This anthology was dreamed up by members of an online writing community I belong to called The Scribbler’s Den, which is part of The Steampunk Empire. The project was curated and edited by the group under the direction of Scribbler’s Den member, Bryce Raffle. Volunteer members peer reviewed the stories and other volunteers proofread the book. I’m writing this just as I finished reading the book in a breathless rush and I have to say, I think it turned out well. It was a lot of fun to see the worlds dreamed up by my fellow steampunk writers and people I’ve come to think of as an online family over the last year and half.

printmockup

Here’s the blurb from the back of the book:

    When one thinks of a den, one tends to think of comfort. A cozy room in the house—a quiet, comfortable place, a room for conversation, reading, or writing. One doesn’t tend to think of high adventure, dragons, vampires, airships, or paranormal creatures. And yet, that’s just what you’ll find in these pages. Stories of adventure and mystery! Paranormal, dark, and atmospheric tales! The fantastical and the imaginative, the dystopian and post-apocalyptic, and everything in between! So settle in to the coziest room in your house, plop down into your favourite armchair, and dive in to the Den of Antiquity.

    Featuring stories by Jack Tyler, E.C. Jarvis, Kate Philbrick, Neale Green, Bryce Raffle, N.O.A. Rawle, David Lee Summers, William J. Jackson, Steve Moore, Karen J. Carlisle, B.A. Sinclair and Alice E. Keyes.

My story in the anthology is a brand new Clockwork Legion story. Someone has taken one of Professor Maravilla’s mechanical jackalope harvesters and turned it to evil purposes, robbing banks. Can Marshall Larissa Seaton stop the machine before it absconds with all the gold in the New Mexico Territory? Be sure to read Den of Antiquity to find out! What’s more you’ll get a lot of other great stories as well.

I loved the fact that this anthology spanned the world, had protagonists of many different social classes, and really showed the diversity that makes steampunk a wonderful world to play in as a writer. Not only were there vampires, dragons, and airships, but paranormal investigators, dinosaurs, superheroes and gods. Some stories depicted worlds I’d enjoy living in, others not so much, but I general enjoyed making the acquaintance of the characters inhabiting those worlds and whether you’re an ardent steampunk or new the genre, I bet you’ll agree.

Proceeds from this anthology will be donated to help disaster relief, because even though we’re writing about the most comfortable room in the home, we recognize that people going through a disaster no longer have comforts.

You can order Den of Antiquity at the following online bookstores:

What Is a Monster?

This past weekend, I was on a series of three panels with Gail Carriger at Gaslight Gathering in San Diego where we discussed a spectrum of topics ranging from Gothic literature to monsters in steampunk. Gail is the author of the well loved Parasol Protectorate steampunk series. On one of the panels we were joined by Dru Pagliasotti, author of the novel Clockwork Heart. The other two panels were moderated by DeAnna Cameron, author of the novel The Girl on the Midway Stage. In addition to these panels, I gave a presentation on the paranormal as it was perceived during the Victorian Age. Below is a photo from the first panel session.

gail-dru-david

The overall experience proved to be a very in-depth discussion that started with our love of Gothic Literature and for many of us, how it got us started thinking about being writers and how the Gothics influenced almost all modern genre fiction from science fiction to horror to mystery to romance. We then moved on to a discussion of how monsters allow us to explore topics we might not otherwise get to explore in fiction. For example, werewolves allow us to explore the monster within. Vampires give us creatures who have a long-time outlook on humanity and can make observations that might seem trite coming from another creature. Of course mad scientists allow us to look at the morality of science itself.

What was perhaps the most interesting point of discussion for me came near the end of the three panels. One of the audience members asked us simply “What makes a monster?” The answer we came up with was that a monster must be corporeal, because monsters must have a physical, perhaps even visceral component. Monsters must be dangerous to humans in some way. In this sense, this allows for someone like Jack the Ripper, who is arguably a monster, though clearly in the form of a human. A monster is no longer monstrous when they are fully allied with humanity and pose no threat to the people they’re around.

One monster who seemed to show up in all the panels was Spring-heeled Jack, who I spoke about at length about a year and a half ago at The Scarlet Order Journal. It was even suggested that I should create a Spring-heeled Jack costume for a future steampunk event. I actually think such a costume would be a lot of fun to create, but it would be a challenge to figure out how to portray him. After all, he really was pretty monstrous in his earliest incarnation, attacking women with his metallic claws and breathing fire, which blinded a girl. Nevertheless, this is a challenge I’ll definitely consider.

Finally, despite Gaslight Gathering being a steampunk convention, it seemed my books which did the best in terms of sales were my Scarlet Order vampire novels, no doubt as a result of the theme. The vampires were pleased to get a chance to shine, though they do remind my readers that they will never, ever sparkle.

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.