Magic, Science, and Vampires

The first time I remember hearing about nanotechnology or nanites was in 1989 in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called “Evolution.” At the time, I was in graduate school at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology working on a way to use an automated telescope to search for dwarf novae. In the episode, nanites were presented as tiny, self-replicating robots used to repair damaged human cells. It was an interesting idea, but one that seemed very science fictional even to me who was working in the field of robotics. My office at the time was on the fourth floor of a building called Workman Center, which I show below. This was actually the tallest building in Socorro, New Mexico at the time. I had this office by virtue of needing access to microwave transmitters and receivers on the tower that communicated with our automated telescope.

Workman Center as it appeared in the 1980s.

Over the next few years, I encountered nanites in other science fictional venues. One was the fine novel Aristoi by Walter Jon Williams where aristocrats use nanites to build their dreams. Another was Mystery Science Theater 3000 where they’re deliberately presented as a deus ex machina. In all cases, nanites seemed like a concept representing Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.”

I first began to understand the real scientific basis behind nanotechnology in the early 2000s when I learned that nanites would likely not be literal robots, but as self-replicating chemicals that could carry instructions like DNA. The idea was exciting and I could definitely see how such chemicals could have the medical applications imagined in Star Trek in the 1980s. I could also see how such chemicals might be tailored to attack certain metals and armor. This gave me the idea that they might start being used in weapons research. As it turns out, New Mexico Tech is the home of an explosives research laboratory which has been featured several times in the Mythbusters TV series.

Vampires of the Scarlet Order

Back when I worked in Workman Tower on that robotic telescope, my graduate advisor was a scientist working at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He got his start there in the 1950s, working on the H-bomb project under Edward Teller. Another professor had been a graduate student of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who ran the Manhattan Project. Of course, I was familiar with Oppenheimer’s famous paraphrase of the Bhagavad-Gita where he said, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Taking all these ideas and putting them together led me to create the physicist Jane Heckman from Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Oppenheimer’s quote brought to mind the history of New Mexico and the little town of Socorro where I lived. Socorro was one of the first places Spanish settlers established a mission when they came into the land that would be the modern United States. I couldn’t help but wonder what if one of those conquistadors who came with the missionaries still lived in the area. If he was a vampire, he would be the embodiment of the phrase, “I am become death.” Jane meeting the vampire Rudolfo became a way for a modern physicist to confront the idea of the death she created by making weapons. By the time I wrote all this, the Workman Center I had an office in had been torn down and rebuilt. Here’s what the new version looks like:

Workman Center Today

This is the building as I describe it in the novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. Throughout the novel, I continue to explore the idea of science so advanced it begins to look like magic. Jane working with nanites for simple destructive reasons becomes a way to make it seem more likely that someone might use nanites to reprogram cells in human beings. While I can see some wondrous potential in that idea, I can also see the potential for things to go horrifyingly wrong.

You can learn more about Vampires of the Scarlet Order at: http://davidleesummers.com/VSO.html

Halloween Reading

In the lead-up to Halloween, I’ve been indulging in a mix of comic books and novels that fit the season. Throughout the year, I’ve been reading the Van Helsing Versus the League of Monsters miniseries published by Zenescope Entertainment. This month saw the release of the finale, so I took time to re-read the entire series. October’s selections for the Vampyre Library Book Club were the first two novels in Charlaine Harris’s “True Blood” series, Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas.

At their roots, Halloween and horror fiction are about humans facing the one thing they can never escape—death. The confrontation can bring out the best and worst in people. They might face death with bravery and dignity or they might do everything they can to run away from it. They may even try to cheat death, but that usually has horrible consequences.

The “True Blood” novels tell the story of telepathic cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse who has started dating a vampire named Bill Compton. In Dead Until Dark, a murderer is stalking women who date vampires. Of course, Sookie would like to see this murder caught before they come for her. Along the way, her grandmother is killed, her brother is thrown in jail, and Sookie must face the real murderer. In the second novel, Bill is asked to bring Sookie to Dallas to help solve the mystery of a vampire’s disappearance. She ends up a captive of a church who wants nothing more than to see all vampires destroyed. I’ve been enjoying these novels because Sookie is an ordinary person who rises to extraordinary heights when confronted by death.

Van Helsing Versus the League of Monsters is sort of a cross between a superhero comic and those great Universal Monster Mash-ups of the 1940s like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man or The House of Frankenstein, which adds Dracula to the mix. Zenescope’s title character is Liesel Van Helsing, daughter of the famous vampire hunter. In this set of comics she teams up with other Zenescope heroines such as Robyn Hood and Angelica Blackstone to face off against Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, a group of werewolves and more. As with most comics, the heroines of Van Helsing face death with a quip upon their lips and stylish action, but they are ready to throw their lives on the line for humanity.

Both sets of books are good fun romps. Of course, both have vampires in common. I’ve long been fascinated by the different ways vampires are used in fiction. Sometimes they’re the implacable monsters who have seemingly defeated death. Sometimes they exist as a metaphor for addictive behavior. Some vampires are heroes and many are villains. I’ve long thought an extended life could either be a blessing or a curse. It all depends on what you do with it.

My Halloween reading doesn’t tend to stop on October 31. I’ll keep reading scary stuff well into November. Somewhere around Thanksgiving, I may turn to some lighter fare to get into the spirit of Christmas. Or maybe I’ll keep reading spooky stuff. Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas if there weren’t a few ghosts lurking in the shadows. With that in mind, allow me to present you with a couple of Halloween treats. First is a reminder that Vampires of the Scarlet Order is November’s selection for the Vampyre Library Book Club. You can learn more by joining the Facebook group at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/663608917753704. I’ll be sharing behind the scenes looks at the novel throughout the month, then Vampyre Librarian Steven Foley will interview me at the end of the month. If you attend, you’ll be entered to win some cool prizes.

If you’re more interested in ghostly scares, you can pick up the ebook edition of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt for just $1.00 at Smashwords until November 15. In the novel, astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from the beginning of time collide at a remote observatory during a violent thunderstorm. Use the coupon code YL57J on checkout. The book is at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1025608

Happy Halloween!

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Aaarh, mateys! Today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day and as a writer of space pirate fiction, I would be remiss if I didn’t mark the occasion. In fact, me hearties, I haven’t just written about space pirates, but airship pirates have appeared in my steampunk stories and the real life pirate, Grace O’Malley makes an appearance in my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

According to Wikipedia, International Talk Like a Pirate Day was started by John Baur and Mark Summers (no relation that I know of) who proclaimed September 19 each year as the day when everyone in the world should talk like a pirate. Of course, when they say everyone should talk like a pirate, they mean everyone should talk like Robert Newton who played Long John Silver in Disney’s adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island.

I’m a big fan of Stevenson’s famous pirate novel and I love Newton’s iconic performance as Long John Silver, so I’m happy to celebrate the day. As it turns out, Robert Louis Stevenson and I share a birthday. So, I’ve long thought it appropriate that I should include pirates in my fiction. What’s more, I can see how pirates stir the imagination. despite the fact that they steal from others to make a living and often murder to do so. If you look into the history of piracy—particularly during piracy’s “golden age” of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries—you find that discipline on military and legitimate trading vessels was brutal and crews were paid almost nothing. On pirate ships, the crews had more of a voice in how things were run and the booty was split more evenly.

Aside from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, I’m also a fan of Leiji Matsumoto’s Space Pirate Captain Harlock. In Matsumoto’s stories, Harlock is a pirate mostly in the sense that he turns his back on the corrupt and decadent “legitimate” government of Earth so he can fight to preserve the planet. He fights under the skull and crossbones flag because it’s a symbol that one should fight to the death for freedom.

When I write my pirates, I endeavor to present the same kinds of ideals. My pirates are people who feel disenfranchised and are trying to make the world a better place. It’s possible they’re misguided, but they are trying to make the world—or possibly the universe—a better place.

So, me hearties, when you talk like a pirate today, try to remember the best pirate ideals. If ye find yourself in possession of fine treasure, split it fairly with yer crewmates. If ye see the world as unjust, take a stand to make it a better place. When it’s all said and done, take a nip o’ rum and settle in with a good book. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Space Pirate Captain Harlock by Leiji Matsumoto would be good choice. You could also seek out adventures I’ve written featuring Captain Ellison Firebrandt, the samurai Imagawa Masako, or Grace O’Malley. You can find them in the following books:

Vampires in Space!

Vampires of the Scarlet Order was, in effect, a fix-up novel. The first half was composed of short stories that had been previously published and the second half was new material written specifically for the novel. However, the first time I put the stories together and composed the second half, I came up with something very different than the novel that was published in 2005 and it was all because of one story.

In 2001, my wife, daughter, and I made a trip to Carlsbad Caverns followed by a short jaunt to Roswell, to check out the UFO museum there. We had a lot of fun, and I came away with a story idea. It really started at the UFO museum and thinking about accounts of alien abduction and how similar they were to the way vampire attacks are often described. The aliens come into your bedroom and there’s a good chance they’ll violate you in some way. Of course, at Carlsbad, we also had the opportunity to watch the bats leave the caverns at night and I had thoughts about a vampire who decided to hide among the caverns during the day and fly out to hunt her prey at night. What if a vampire was abducted by a UFO? This whole line of thought led me to a story called “Bat Flight South of Roswell” which was published as a standalone chapbook by Anxiety Publications in 2002.

When I assembled Vampires of the Scarlet Order, I realized I had three story arcs that all pointed to some big mystery happening. I also realized the biggest mystery of all happened in the story “Bat Flight South of Roswell.” What were the aliens doing? Were they about to do something bigger? So when I first wrote the ending of the book, I set out to resolve that issue. The vampires find they have some latent ability to move between universes and can use that as a way to travel great distances. The vampires gather and travel to the aliens’ home world and stopped the threat.

I read it and I mostly liked it and I even mostly believed what I wrote could have happened in the context of the story. The problem was “mostly.” I didn’t quite believe it all the way. I wasn’t quite pulled fully into the story. A little voice in the back of my mind kept saying “this is silly.” One of the challenges as authors is knowing when to listen to that voice and when to tell it to shut up. This time I listened.

For the novel, I rewrote the alien abduction chapter. Instead of aliens abducting the vampire, it’s the military for a secret operation. It made a much stronger novel and much of that is because the settings involved were places I’d been and worked at. Much of the action is actually the same as it would have been, but it’s set at Los Alamos National Laboratory where my graduate advisor worked. There’s still some alien tech so advanced it’s almost magic, but instead of being wielded by aliens, it’s being wielded by humans who don’t fully understand it. Not only was I able to willingly suspend my disbelief, I found a way to give the book a stronger theme, and I could write about places I knew.

I also left in a hint that perhaps vampires might one day travel to the stars. After all, if vampires with all their strength and abilities would make good mercenaries, wouldn’t they make awesome astronauts? Just gotta make sure they’re well stocked with blood for the journey!

As it turns out, I ultimately wrote a story about a member of the Scarlet Order investigating a mystery in deep space in the distant future. It was called “Dark Matter” and it was published in Hungur Magazine in 2012. Unfortunately, the story is no longer in print, but I do plan to share the story with my Patreon subscribers later this week. What’s more, subscribers can go to an earlier post and get a copy of Vampires of the Scarlet Order. If that isn’t incentive enough, I’ll mention that subscribing to my Patreon helps support this blog. So what are you waiting for? Click the button below to visit the site and learn more.

Clearance Sale

As noted in the last two posts, I’ve released new editions of two of my novels over the last week. Unfortunately, the timing of these new editions has coincided with the Coronavirus pandemic, which means I’ve had canceled and delayed events. El Paso Comic Con has been delayed until October and Albuquerque’s Bubonicon has been canceled altogether this year. Because of that, I have a stock of the first editions of my novels that I’d like to clear out to make room for the new, updated editions and this means you can get a great bargain.

The first novel I have available is The Astronomer’s Crypt. This is my story of astronomers, drug dealers, ghosts, and a monster from Apache legend colliding on a remote mountain top during a ferocious storm. It draws a lot on my experience operating telescopes around the southwest and while it’s a good spooky story, it also gives you a sense of what it’s like behind the scenes at an observatory. There are few changes in the novel’s actual text between the two editions. The primary change in this book is a new round of proofreading. The copies I have are brand new and only have a little shelf wear from carrying them around to conventions. You can pick up a copy of the first edition for the bargain price of $4.50 plus shipping (that’s 70% off the cover price) at: http://hadrosaur.com/AstronomersCrypt.php

The other novel I have at a bargain price is Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll notice that I’ve tacked on the word Vampires to the novel’s subtitle to help audiences know more what the book is about at a glance. Dragon’s Fall tells the story of three vampires, one of them known as “the Dragon” who form a band of vampire mercenaries. Staring in ancient Greece, we follow their adventures through the Middle Ages until they find themselves in the employ of Vlad the Impaler. I edited Dragon’s Fall a little more heavily than The Astronomer’s Crypt. Part of the reason is that I have learned a little more about the Arthurian lore that forms part of the story’s background and used that to enhance the mystery surrounding the vampire Roquelaure. As with The Astronomer’s Crypt, I put effort into a new proofread of the novel and I think the prose is a bit stronger, but this first edition tells substantially the same story in the same way as the new edition. You can pick up a copy of the first edition for the bargain price of $4.50 plus shipping (that’s 72% off the cover price) at: http://hadrosaur.com/DragonsFall.php

In both of these cases, I’d be delighted to autograph the books. These autographed first editions would be a great way to treat yourself in tough times or make a great gift for someone special. To request an autograph, just click the “Contact” link at the top of hadrosaur.com after you place your order and tell me you want your book autographed. If you’d like it personalized just tell me the name to sign it to.

Anniversaries and Milestones

May 2020 is a month of numerous milestones and anniversaries for me. Today, May 19, I celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of my marriage to Kumie Wise. I’ve dedicated two of my novels to her. The first is The Pirates of Sufiro which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary this year and the second is Vampires of the Scarlet Order which celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this month. To commemorate both our anniversary and the anniversary of Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the dedication of which reads “To Kumie, enchantress of my heart forevermore,” I share this fun photo the two of us had taken at the Arizona Renaissance Fair circa 1994. In other milestones, my youngest daughter graduates from high school later this week.

The fifteenth anniversary of the release of Vampire of the Scarlet Order coincides nicely with the upcoming release of new editions of both that novel and it’s prequel, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. I hired artist Chaz Kemp to create new covers for the novels. He’s turned in the cover for Dragon’s Fall and I’ll unveil that on Saturday. For those of you who don’t know Chaz’s work, I encourage you to learn more about him at https://www.chazkemp.com/

In working with Chaz, I’ve been thinking about the characters of Dragon’s Fall and how they’ve been portrayed by other artists. The “dragon” of Dragon’s Fall is a vampire named Desmond, Lord Draco. As a human, he was one of the Dragon Lords of Duke Ambrosius Aurelianus in Britain circa 570 AD. He’s sent to raid a Saxon village. Downed by a Saxon arrow, he falls prey to a vampire who has been following the Saxons. Not one to take such an attack lying down, Draco fights back. So doing, he manages to swallow some of the vampire’s blood and becomes a vampire himself. The Saxon vampire, Wolf, takes him under his wing. Wolf leads Draco and the other Dragon Lords on a quest for the one thing Wolf thinks can bring forgiveness to a vampire: the Holy Grail. As Draco nears the quest’s end, he learns he has the ability to transform into a beast, as many vampires can. In Draco’s case, the “beast” proves to be a swarm of flies. In the years after the hunt for the Holy Grail, Draco goes on to become one of the founding members of a band of vampire mercenaries called the Scarlet Order. Here we see Draco as imagined by Steven Gilberts. I like Steve’s vision except for one minor nitpick. He gave Draco a shave! Draco should have a beard.

Dragon’s Fall actually opens with the tale of a vampire even older than Draco. This is the vampire Alexandra. When I first started drafting Dragon’s Fall during a NaNoWriMo session, I started with Draco’s story. However, Lachesis Publishing came to me and asked for a series of five vampire novellas. To make the series work out, I added Alexandra’s origin story. I entitled the novella A Gorgon in Bondage, but given that Lachesis wanted to sell the novella as erotica, they shortened the title. Still, my longtime cover artist, Laura Givens gave me a nice version of Alexandra for the cover of the novella. This novella will appear as part of Dragon’s Fall under its original title.

The final vampire who helped to found the Scarlet Order is the mysterious Roquelaure. Roquelaure is a word from the French and it refers to a type of hooded, knee-length cloak that European men wore in the 18th and 19th centuries. The cloaks were named for the French marshal Antoine Gaston Jean Baptiste, Duc de Roquelaure. Roquelaure is also the nom de guerre of a mysterious vampire that I introduced in the story “Pat, Marcella, and the Kid” first published in 2002. Until the upcoming cover for the new edition of Dragon’s Fall, no artist has illustrated the mysterious Roquelaure, so it was fun to work with Chaz to imagine what he looks like. Be sure to return on Saturday to see Chaz’s version of these three characters who appear on the new edition of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires.

Vampires on the UnXplained

Another great coincidence unfolded this past weekend when the A&E Network aired an episode of its series The UnXplained which discussed vampire and werewolf legends. The coincidence goes beyond this happening as I’m creating new editions of my vampires novels. I made a special point to watch the show because Marita Woywod Crandle was interviewed. I know Marita from doing signings in her shop, Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans. What’s more, Marita honored me by providing a cover quote for the new edition of Dragon’s Fall. Marita is not only the owner of a wonderful New Orleans boutique but an author whose work I admire. I loved her New Orleans Vampires – History and Legend and I really look forward to her forthcoming book about the infamous Carter Brothers of New Orleans.

Another aspect of the coincidence is that the show is hosted by William Shatner. Until it was postponed due to the Corona-19 pandemic, I was scheduled to speak at El Paso Comic Con this past weekend, where William Shatner was scheduled to be one of the featured celebrity guests. So, I ended up seeing William Shatner speak, even though the convention didn’t happen!

I enjoyed the show itself. As with most shows of this type, it didn’t delve very deeply into any of the legends discussed and given that this was a subject I’ve researched, there was little I didn’t know. What I found the most interesting was how much their summation of vampire and werewolf legends tracked themes I explore in both Dragon’s Fall and Vampires of the Scarlet Order. They discussed the appeal of immortality and the dark romanticism of some vampire stories. They made an interesting connection between vampires and werewolves in that both types of stories explore elements of our animal selves. Marita also talked about how vampires have almost become heroic figures and protectors. Humans may be prey, but a vampire can be a good steward of those it feeds upon.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the show to me was a story Ryan Skinner told about an experience he had on Utah’s Skinwalker Ranch. He tells a story about seeing balls of light over a field that moved around and changed size. Suddenly one of the balls of light exploded and there was a wolf very near to them. One of the aspects of my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order is that my vampires are tied to ancient and powerful technology indistinguishable from magic and this technology can allow vampires to cross dimensional planes if they know how to tap it. Whether you believe Mr. Skinner’s story or not, it struck me how much it sounded like a scene that could happen in my vampire universe.

Toward the show’s end, author David Skaal summed up one of the reasons vampires do compel me by citing the idea that vampires can’t see their own reflections. As he says, if a vampire did see their reflection, it would be you.

If you missed the episode in first run, it’s available through various streaming services. I downloaded a copy of the episode via iTunes. Times right now are tough on small businesses. I do encourage you to support those you can. Boutique du Vampyre’s storefront in New Orleans is closed, but their mail order business continues. You can get signed copies of my vampire novel from them as well as Marita’s book. If you can’t decide what you want, you can order a vampire mystery box filled with goodies from the boutique. Here are a few links to get you started:

The Vampires of Penny Dreadful

Just before the COVID-19 pandemic closed down businesses in New Mexico, I found copies of the first two seasons of the Showtime series Penny Dreadful on the shelf of one of my favorite local businesses, COAS Books. I had watched the first season back in 2016 and enjoyed it. You can read my thoughts on my old Scarlet Order Web Journal. I’ve finished re-watching the first season and I’ve just started watching the second.

It was interesting to re-watch Penny Dreadful while re-editing and re-formatting my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires for republication this summer since the first season is ostensibly the story of how Sir Malcolm Murray and Vanessa Ives attempt to rescue Sir Malcolm’s daughter Mina from a nest of vampires. Sharp eyed readers will likely recognize Mina Murray as the woman seduced by Dracula in Bram Stoker’s famous novel, which fits since the series is full of references to Victorian horror. However, this time around, I realized there is no explicit reference to Dracula at all. Mina only ever refers to her captor as “the Master.”

When I’m at book signings, readers often ask me about my particular vampire mythos. They’re curious about the “rules” my vampires follow. Do they only go out at night? Are they bothered by crosses? Can they transform into other creatures? Are they more monstrous, or more romantic? One of the things I found interesting in Penny Dreadful was that in addition to never bringing up Dracula, they never discuss the vampires’ “rules.” The closest they come to this is a brief appearance by Van Helsing, played wonderfully by David Warner. One of my favorite moments in the show comes when Van Helsing is talking to Dr. Frankenstein about vampires and hands him a copy of the first installment of the penny dreadful, Varney the Vampyre.

The vampires themselves were essentially portrayed as a nest of vermin. The vampire we are led to assume is the master seemed inspired by F.W. Murnau’s famous Nosferatu, but with fewer clothes. This vampire is surrounded by a number of women, all with light hair, red eyes and similar white dresses. For the most part, they are portrayed like a rat pack. The only “power” they seem to possess is either some ability for rapid movement or projecting their image over long distance. Mina in her vampire form appears to Vanessa a few times, then rapidly is pulled away.

Both Murnau’s original Nosferatu and Werner Herzog’s 1979 remake not only inspired the producers of Penny Dreadful, but they have inspired my Scarlet Order vampires. In Dragon’s Fall, some vampires shave their heads, making them look a little like Max Schreck in the original movie. In the novel, it’s a practical decision since the vampires can’t be out in sunlight. In primitive times, often their best defense is to bury themselves in the ground. Can you imagine what state your hair would be in if you had to do that?

In Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the antagonists are creating their own vampire-like super soldiers. These creatures end up looking like Max Schreck and Klaus Kinski’s interpretation of Nosferatu. To me, that image of the vampire is still one of the most frightening and I like using it when I want a creature that poses a real threat to my heroes.

Will we learn more about the vampire mythology of Penny Dreadful in the second season? I’m three episodes in as of this writing and while our primary villain does seem inspired by Elizabeth Bathory, she’s portrayed as more of a witch. I suspect the vampires and witches are more an extension of the greater evil the heroes are facing than separate forces. If you’ve seen the rest of the series, please don’t send me spoilers. I’ll likely write a review of the second season once I’ve finished.

In the meantime, you can explore the world of the Scarlet Order in the current editions of the books:

Or, you can help me bring the new editions to life by supporting my Patreon campaign. If you join, you will be among the first to get downloadable copies of the novels, sneak peeks of the new covers, and I’ll be sharing a way for you to shape the tone of the new editions soon. Click on the button below to learn more about my Patreon campaign.

Christmas Vampires

As we approach Christmas, I’ve been having fun reading social media posts from my friends at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans, Louisiana. I gather the entire season from Halloween through Christmas is quite busy for them. They’ve been getting in some fun vampire-themed ornaments, Krampus dolls and ornaments, and Voodoo-themed ornaments. If you want to check out what they have, visit their website at http://feelthebite.com.

When I think of vampires and Christmas, one movie that comes to mind is The Nightmare Before Christmas. In the movie, Jack Skellington, the skeletal Pumpkin King, learns about the joy of Christmas and convinces his fellow residents of Halloween Town to hijack it for themselves. Halloween Town is populated by many colorful characters, but among them are four vampires who gleefully create ghoulish presents for Jack to deliver on Christmas Eve. They are portrayed as a band of brothers who go around with umbrellas to protect them from the sun during the daytime.

Even my Scarlet Order vampires enjoy getting into the Christmas spirit. Despite my earlier examples, it may seem counter-intuitive to imagine vampires celebrating Christmas. However, as the novel progresses, the leader of the Scarlet Order vampires, Lord Draco, goes on his own quest for the Holy Grail, hoping the cup of Christ might prove a source of redemption to vampires. As part of the quest, he encounters a powerful being and learns that Christians refer to beings like it as angels. He’s not certain what this means from a theological standpoint, but it does convince him that Christ is worthy of great respect. I imagine that Draco would at least pay homage to the holidays of Easter and Christmas.

In order to better understand his immortal existence, Draco continues his quest and ultimately meets a vampire thief named Alexandra. She loves Draco, but she also loves her freedom and travels the world. As she travels, she looks for books that Draco will enjoy and she brings them to him as gifts. She even brings him books as Christmas presents. This ultimately forms the basis of Draco’s library which continues to grow as the centuries progress.

Of course, I wrote this as I did because books are among my favorite gifts to give and receive. My library isn’t as impressive as the one Lord Draco builds over the centuries, but sometimes I think I’m working on it. At some level, I’m grateful for ebooks, otherwise I might run out of room to actually occupy my house! If you’re like me and a fan of good books, you find a lot of them at the Boutique du Vampyre link in the opening paragraph. You can also find both electronic and print editions of my novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order at: http://www.zianet.com/dsummers/dragons_fall.html and learn more about Draco, Alexandra, and their quests.

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.