Remembering David B. Riley

I was saddened to learn last week that my friend and long-time Hadrosaur Productions contributor David B. Riley passed away unexpectedly at the beginning of the month. I first discovered David’s work when he submitted his story “The Brother” for publication in Hadrosaur Tales 2 way back in 1997. It told the story of a vampire monk, an idea I loved and I remember being pulled in by his clean, unpretentious prose.

Although David’s first submission to me involved a vampire monk, he soon started submitting stories featuring the character I believe will be his most enduring, Miles O’Malley. Miles was a down-on-his-luck cowboy in the old west who managed to get caught up in a feud between Nick Mephistopheles (AKA Satan) and Ah Puch, Mayan god of death. These stories were a lot of fun and David ultimately turned them into a novel called The Two Devils. I edited the first edition for LBF Books.

David continued to submit to me over the run of Hadrosaur Tales and his work appeared in many issues of Tales of the Talisman starting with issue 2 of that journal. From the time David first started submitting to me, I became aware of his interest in weird westerns. I knew he ran a zine called Trails: Intriguing Stories of the Wild West. I submitted a couple of stories and I was pleased when David liked them enough to publish them. This zine was just a few sheets of paper stapled together. In 2006, he decided to put together a nice, perfect bound anthology of the same name. I was delighted to appear in the anthology alongside such friends as Uncle River and Robert E. Vardeman. Not only did that prove a nice anthology to appear in, that was the first appearance of my characters Ramon Morales and Fatemeh Karimi who would headline my Clockwork Legion novels.

Although I had been corresponding with David since 1997, I first met him in person at MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado. I think that would have been in 2002. We would see each other at many conventions after that. Often we would be on panels together discussing the weird west, how the weird west intersected with steampunk, or a topic of common historical interest such as observations of Mars in the nineteenth century. David and I didn’t always agree on panels or in personal conversations, but I think we both came away from our conversations with something to think about and we took those opinions to heart.

I appeared in a few other books David edited, including Six-Guns Straight From Hell. David continued to write stories featuring characters he introduced in his Miles O’Malley Stories. I published two of his novellas in this world. One is Fallen Angel, which features Miles and the Angel Mabel. I also published his novella “The Venerable Travels of Ling Fung” as part of the collection Legends of the Dragon Cowboys.

After David retired from working in the hotel business, he moved to Tucson, Arizona. I was pleased to give him and his family a tour of Kitt Peak. Also, David became a regular speaker at Wild Wild West Con. While passing through Tucson one time, I decided to stop at a movie theater to see the latest remake of The Magnificent Seven. I was surprised when David came in. He joined me and we had fun discussing the movie afterward. I was especially gratified when David Boop, who also appeared in Tales of the Talisman and Six-Guns Straight From Hell dedicated the collection Straight Outta Dodge City to both David and me.

I’ll miss David and our discussions about the weird west. I’ll miss his comments on this blog. If you haven’t discovered his writing, I encourage you to look him up on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or wherever you buy books.

Sisters of the Wild Sage

My parents loved to watch western movies on weekend afternoons when I was a kid. As I’ve mentioned before, I never really saw the appeal until I happened upon the TV series, The Wild Wild West starring Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. Ostensibly, the show was a mashup of the western with spy shows that were popular in the day, but it also introduced science fictional and magic elements to the western. The Wild Wild West was my first real exposure to the weird western genre.

Another show that changed my mind about the western was the mini-series adaptation of James Michener’s Centennial. The series and book told the story of a Colorado town, showing the continuum of history from the Native Americans who lived in the area through the fur trappers to the early settlers, the farmers, the cattlemen, and ultimately finishing up in the present day, which was 1976 when the book came out. The classic western story exists in a brief moment in history, typically somewhere between about 1870 and 1890 and tends to ignore what led up to that time and what came after.

When Nicole Givens Kurtz asked me a few days ago if I’d like a preview copy of her new weird western story collection, Sisters of the Wild Sage, I jumped at the chance. I already knew Nicole’s talent. I’d published two of the collection’s stories in Tales of the Talisman Magazine. What’s more, her story “Justice” appeared in the anthology Six-Guns Straight from Hell alongside one of my stories and her story “The Wicked Wild” is in Straight Outta Tombstone.

Many of this collection’s stories are set in the mythic old west in a fictional town called Wild Sage, New Mexico. It’s not exactly that 1870-1890 time period. Instead the setting is the very early twentieth century, around the time my own family came to New Mexico, and still a time when New Mexico was very much the Wild West. These stories often tell about African American women just trying to find a peaceful existence in the world but having to deal with men who want to pull them back into the slavery they or their parents had just left behind. Fortunately, these women are often empowered by magical gifts that help them fight injustice.

My favorite of these “traditional” weird western tales was “Belly Speaker” which provides some truly scary twists to the spooky ventriloquist dummy story. “The Wicked Wild” is also a strong story about a cleaning woman who can summon wind having to battle a demon-possessed cowboy. In the collection’s title story, men come to run a pair of sisters from their land. Fortunately, one of the sisters can control plants and the other has a magically accurate aim with her six-gun.

Like Centennial, this collection spans time, giving a more complete view of the west. Stories like “Kq'” feature Native Americans, possibly even before people of European or African descent arrived in the west. Stories like “Los Lunas” and “The Trader” feature magic in the contemporary west. Nicole even takes us to the future in stories like “The Pluviophile” and “Rise.”

I highly recommend Sisters of the Wild Sage. The anthology will take you on a tour of the weird west not only as it existed in the past, but as it might exist in today’s dark shadows and also as it might exist in the future, especially if we don’t take steps to change the world we live in now. You can pre-order Sisters of the Wild Sage at: https://www.amazon.com/Sisters-Wild-Sage-Western-Collection-ebook/dp/B07PBP3S7X/

Wild Wild West Con 6

Next weekend, I’ll be a participating author at Wild Wild West Con in Tucson Arizona! The event is being held from March 3-5 at Old Tucson Studios. Among this year’s guests are Thomas Willeford from the TV show Steampunk’d and Sam Jones from the movie Flash Gordon. There will be workshops, panel discussions, and evening concerts. The bands performing include The Cog is Dead, Frenchy and the Punk, and Celtica – Pipes Rock. For more information about the event be sure to visit the convention’s web page at: http://wildwestcon.com

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This year’s theme is “Cthulhu for President.” My schedule for the weekend is as follows:

Friday, March 3

  • Noon-1pm – Aristocrat Lounge – Reading. I will be in the Aristocrat Lounge to entertain people with a steampunk story inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • 2pm-3pm – Arizona Theater – Invaders from the Depths of Space. Percival Lowell’s observations of canals on Mars led to stories of invasion from space and ultimately helped to lay the foundation for the Cthulhu Mythos. A look at the science that gave rise to a literary movement.
  • 4pm-5pm – Courtroom Center – Steampunk Authors. The authors attending Wild Wild West Con talk about their process creating the steampunk stories you love.

Saturday, March 4

  • 11am-Noon – Chapel – Steampunk and the Cthulhu Mythos. Writers discuss the Cthulhu Mythos, the works of H.P. Lovecraft, and how they can be brought together with the steampunk aesthetic to create new tales of terror.
  • 1pm-2pm – Aristocrat Lounge – Reading. A special event for those who purchased Aristocrat tickets, Diesel Jester and I will read from our works. This reading is flagged for adults only.

Sunday, March 5

  • Noon-1pm – Sheriff’s Office – The Weird Wild West. Weird Westerns are stories that imagine strange happenings in the Wild West. Authors discuss how they are they similar and different from steampunk stories. Can they be one and the same?

If you’re in Southern Arizona next weekend, I hope to see you at Wild Wild West Con. When I’m not on panels, you can find me at High Chaparral where I’ll be selling my books.

World Building

This March, I’ll be moderating a panel called “Building Alternate Worlds” at the Tucson Festival of Books. To prepare, I’m reading the books by the authors on the panel and learning about the worlds they’ve built. This topic is particularly near and dear to my heart because I’m going over my notes and getting ready to start work on book four of my Clockwork Legion series.

Clockwork-Legion

In a very real way, books one through three of my Clockwork Legion series were all about building an alternate world. I started my story in a version of 1876 New Mexico that was mostly the world of history. I say “mostly” because the wild west of fiction is an almost mythical place built up through many years of literature and cinema. People come to western stories with certain expectations of the west and it’s hard to ignore those expectations even when they don’t entirely match the world of history.

I then dropped in a catalyst, which was an advanced alien called Legion who had traveled the universe and came to Earth. This alien is the embodiment of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal, which in a nutshell says you can’t observe a phenomenon without affecting it. Legion’s first interactions with humanity are accidental, but then he grows curious and decides to make the world a better place by attempting to unify humanity. The problem is that in the 1800s, much of humanity’s idea of unification is conquest through imperialism.

Over the course of the books, the world changes and we see the development of airships, mining machines, lightning guns, clockwork automata, and ornithopters. Legion influenced the creation of some of these things. Others were created to combat the imperialists who sought to use these inventions. Of course, the interesting story is less that these machines were created, and more how people used these machines. That’s where the world building comes in.

The idea of book four is to drop into this world-that-wasn’t eight years after the events of The Brazen Shark and see what people have done with it. I plan to open the story in New Orleans, where Ramon Morales is working in a law firm and his wife Fatemeh is trying to gain acceptance as an apothecary in a man’s world. Cotton farmers have sponsored the World’s Fair to show off new technologies they’re using in agriculture. This World’s Fair actually existed, but the technologies will be much different. They’ll be showing off the automata used to plant and harvest crops and the airships used in distribution. At the World’s Fair, Ramon will meet none other than Doc Holiday, who will drag him back to a wild west that neither he nor the reader will immediately recognize. I look forward to playing in this alternate world.

For those who wish to see the creation of this world, check out the first three novels of the Clockwork Legion series:

For those who would like a smaller dose of my Clockwork Legion world, short stories featuring these characters can be found in the anthologies Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Tails of the Weird West, Den of Antiquity, and the forthcoming Straight Outta Tombstone.

Straight Outta Tombstone Cover Reveal and Pre-Order

In recent posts, I’ve been talking about my Clockwork Legion story “Fountains of Blood” which will appear in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone coming from Baen Books. At last, I can reveal the book cover and the table of contents. I am honored and thrilled to share the table of contents with so many people whose work I admire and feel privileged that many of them are friends.

straight-outta-tombstone Tales of the Weird Wild West. Top authors take on the classic western, with a weird twist. Includes new stories by Larry Correia and Jim Butcher!

Come visit the Old West, the land where gang initiations, ride-by shootings and territory disputes got their start. But these tales aren’t the ones your grandpappy spun around a campfire, unless he spoke of soul-sucking ghosts, steam-powered demons and wayward aliens.

Here then are seventeen stories that breathe new life in the Old West. Among them: Larry Correia explores the roots of his best-selling Monster Hunter International series in “Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers.” Jim Butcher reveals the origin of one of the Dresden Files’ most popular characters in “Fistful of Warlock.” And Kevin J. Anderson’s Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., finds himself in a showdown in “High Midnight.” Plus stories from Alan Dean Foster, Sarah A. Hoyt, Jody Lynn Nye, Michael A. Stackpole, and many more.


Here’s the full table of contents for the book:

  • Foreword by David Boop
  • Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers by Larry Correia
  • Trouble in an Hourglass by Jody Lynn Nye
  • The Buffalo Hunters by Sam Knight
  • The Sixth World by Robert E. Vardeman
  • Easy Money by Phil Foglio
  • The Wicked Wild by Nicole Kurtz
  • Chance Corrigan and the Lord of the Underworld by Michael A. Stackpole
  • The Greatest Guns in the Galaxy by Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Ken Scholes
  • Dance of Bones by Maurice Broaddus
  • Dry Gulch Dragon by Sarah A. Hoyt
  • The Treefold Problem by Alan Dean Foster
  • Fountains of Blood by David Lee Summers
  • High Midnight by Kevin J. Anderson
  • Coyote by Naomi Brett Rourke
  • The Key by Peter J. Wacks
  • Fistful of Warlocks by Jim Butcher

I hope you’ll ride into the weird wild west with us this summer. You can pre-order the book right now from Amazon.com and it will ship to you as soon as it’s available in July.

Remembering the Dead and Celebrating Life

My last shift at the observatory finished the night before the Tucson Steampunk Society was scheduled to meet at Antigone Books and discuss Eric Brown’s novel Jani and the Greater Game. I thought that sounded like a great excuse to spend some time with friends and maybe grab a bite to eat before driving home. I had purchased the book the week before and read it during my shift at the observatory. The novel tells the story of a young woman named Jani who is on her way home to India from England, when her airship is shot down by Russians. Jani soon learns that England gained its power in the world by exploiting a creature from another world. The stakes increase when Jani must work with that alien to help thwart an invasion. The book was a delight and I had the opportunity to share some updates about my forthcoming novel The Brazen Shark with the book society.

Once I finished dinner and walked around to my car, I discovered I’d inadvertently parked in the staging area for the Tucson All Souls’ Day Procession. Skeleton Crew It actually gave me the excuse to stay around and watch as the parade got ready to start. All Souls’ Day is a celebration remembering those who have departed, as well as a celebration of life itself. I stopped off at one of the vendors and had a sugar cookie shaped like a skull and crossbones and admired the costumes, floats and puppets assembled for the procession. It seemed a fitting transition into this week. Now that The Brazen Shark is turned in, I’m hard at work on The Astronomer’s Crypt.

What’s more, on the last night of my shift, we had some new observers at the telescope. One of them went down to the restroom and got lost on the way back to the control room. Fortunately, he called and we were able to direct him back. It turns out this almost exactly mirrored the incident that kicks off the action in the second part of The Astronomer’s Crypt. Fortunately, the power didn’t then go out and we didn’t have strange monsters and ghosts roaming the hall…at least that I know of!

Anyway, I mentioned the novel to the observers and they readily chimed in with what a spooky place the telescope is at night. One of them imagined a scenario of riding up in the elevator only to see an open door and someone standing outside the cage doors holding a severed head. That incident doesn’t happen in the novel, but it does go to show the kinds of things that go through your mind when working in a spooky, dark building!

Speaking of weird and wonderful things, I was a guest at Nicole Givens Kurtz’s blog this past week. Be sure to read my post entitled “Discovering the West, Weird and Real.” I discuss how living in the southwest and my love of anime has informed my steampunk writing. Also, be sure to drop by The Steampunk Journal, where you can read chapter one of Owl Dance in its entirety.