Happy New Year 2017!

Several years ago, I resolved to give up New Year’s resolutions. I’ve been pretty successful so far, though I do have to admit to making a couple here and there since then. Last week, there was an article at Forbes.com that expressed much of what I don’t like about resolutions and further presented a better alternative, parts of which I already do. In short, the article suggests that you visualize the life you want and figure out the steps you need to take to get from where you are to that point. It also encourages you to give yourself permission to learn from mistakes as you continue that journey.

In many ways, I’m pretty happy with my life and I’m growing increasingly comfortable that “not everyone gets my kind of jazz” as author Liz Ryan says in the article. That said, I have several personal and professional goals I hope to achieve in the coming years and here at the beginning of 2017, I’m taking a little quiet time to think about the best ways to make those dreams a reality.

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That said, I’m already committed to several projects that are proceeding toward completion as this year begins. July will see the release of Straight Outta Tombstone edited by David Boop. The anthology contains my weird western vampire story “Fountains of Blood.” I’m excited to be sharing a table of contents with people like Jim Butcher, Kevin J. Anderson, Phil Foglio, and Jody Lynn Nye, as well as old friends such as Bob Vardeman and Nicole Kurtz. I’m both proud and humbled to be in this anthology and I’m not ashamed to say that getting into an anthology of this caliber has long been one of my career objectives. I also have work accepted for an anthology of Arthurian stories called Camelot 13 which will be published by Padwolf Publishing. My story is a science fictional retelling of Arthur’s final battle and looks at how people who love each other can end up finding ways to destroy each other.

In addition to these anthologies, I’ve edited two anthologies that I hope to see released in the coming months. One of those is Kepler’s Cowboys that I co-edited with Steve Howell, project scientist for NASA’s K2 mission. In this anthology we picked stories that imagine the brave men and women that will explore the new frontiers of worlds discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope in its Kepler and K2 missions. I hope to set a formal publication date soon, but I’m tentatively aiming for a release in mid-March to early-April. The other anthology is Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales coming from Wordfire Press. This anthology presents the best three stories from each of the Full-Throttle Space Tales anthologies. This series presented a fun, high octane stories exploring everything from space pirates to space battles. At this point, it looks like the anthology should be released in early summer. I’ll present more information about both books here at the Web Journal in the coming weeks.

I am under contract to write a fourth Clockwork Legion novel tentatively titled Owl Riders. I have an outline and this is the next major writing project in my queue. I can tell you that this novel is set approximately seven years after The Brazen Shark and finds Ramon and Fatemeh Morales working to make a life in New Orleans when the Apache Wars and the arrival of Fatemeh’s one-time betrothed interfere. 1884_fair_octaganal Not only do I plan to write, I have plans for at least one trip to New Orleans to visit locations in the novel such as the site of the 1884 Worlds Fair, where the novel opens. One of its buildings is shown on the right. Also, in the world of the Clockwork Legion, I understand audio editions of the first three books are in production and should be released this year.

Beyond that, I’ve already spoken to organizers about appearing at some events this spring and summer. I expect to attend both Wild Wild West Con and the Tucson Festival of Books in Tucson this March. I’ve signed up for a vendor table at El Paso Comic Con in April and I also plan to be at Westercon in Phoenix over the July 4 weekend.

The article I cited at the top of the post suggests that the big problem with resolutions is that they come from that authority-figure place in your brain that tells you what you should be doing. The realization I came to when I gave up resolutions years ago was that life should be fun and full of adventure as well as challenging. Most of the things I’ve discussed in this post are projects that I’m committed to either verbally or by formal contract. That said, they’re all fun and I’m looking forward to all of them. As I visualize beyond those projects, my goal will be to continue the journey, and so doing, continue my growth as a writer and as a person.

Wishing you the very best in this new year.

2016: A Personal Perspective

2016 has been one wild ride. On the political front, Britain voted to leave the European Union and the United States had the most divisive presidential election I’ve ever seen. We lost a lot of talented people this year ranging from Vera Rubin, the astronomer who discovered dark matter, to entertainers that touched many of us including David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Gene Wilder, and Anton Yelchin. Despite all that, 2016 has actually been a rather good year, personally.

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This year, I published two novels. In February, Sky Warrior Publishing released the third of my Clockwork Legion series, The Brazen Shark in which a ship captain takes two dear friends on a special honeymoon getaway, only to have it interrupted by samurai air pirates attempting to overthrow the Japanese emperor. In December, Lachesis Publishing released my horror novel The Astronomer’s Crypt, which tells the story of astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from the beginning of time who collide at a remote observatory during a violent thunderstorm. You can learn about both novel on the books page at my website.

In addition to the novels, four of my short stories appeared in anthologies. “Arachne’s Stepchildren” about the potential hazards of discovering new life appeared in The Martian Anthology. “Reckoning at the Alamo” which tells about Marshall Larissa Seaton and Professor Maravilla battling a Lovecraftian entity from across space appeared in Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West. “The Jackalope Bandit” which tells about one of Professor Maravilla’s jackalope harvesters being used to rob banks and payrolls appeared in Den of Antiquity. Finally, my retelling of Grimm’s “The Dragon and his Grandmother” appeared in the anthology Gaslight and Grimm which was funded through a very successful Kickstarter campaign. You can learn about all these books at the short story page of my website.

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I feel privileged to continue my work at Kitt Peak National Observatory where I operate the Mayall 4-meter and the WIYN 3.5-meter telescopes. This year, preparations began for the installation of a new cutting-edge instrument at the Mayall. This will be an instrument that will take spectra of 5000 objects at one time. Starting in 2018, the telescope will be used to survey the entire sky in hopes of better understanding the phenomenon known as dark energy. Part of this year’s preparations included deployment of a prototype instrument, the beginning of a new imaging survey to identify targets for the spectrographic survey, and work on a new control system for the Mayall. As it turns out, I’ll be ringing in the new year at the Mayall, helping with a program looking at a sample of galaxies from the early universe.

Over the course of the year, I had the opportunity to make several nice trips. In April, I spent time with two friends at Vermillion Cliffs in Northern Arizona. In May, I traveled to Baltimore for Balticon and the release of the Gaslight and Grimm anthology. In July, I traveled with my family to California for my nephew’s wedding.

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Speaking of family, my oldest daughter started a paid computer internship at Tulane University this year and opened her own Etsy shop. Meanwhile my youngest daughter has embarked on the adventure of high school. I couldn’t be more proud of these two young women.

Perhaps the year’s scariest moment came in November when my wife’s tire blew out on the way home from TusCon in Tucson, Arizona. The car spun on the interstate and went into the mesquite bushes between Texas Canyon and Wilcox on I-10. Fortunately my wife and youngest daughter who were in the car were all right, but the car was totaled. The story had a happy ending when my wife was able to use the insurance money to pay for a nice, albeit used, replacement car.

As I say, this year has been something of a wild ride. Although I am admittedly apprehensive about some things happening on the world and national stages, I have several good things on the horizon as well. Come back on Monday and learn about some things to look forward to in 2017. In the meantime, I wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year.

Surviving At All Costs

I was born in Barstow, a small town in California’s high desert. Nearby is a ghost town called Calico purchased and restored by Walter Knott, better known as the founder of Knott’s Berry Farm in Orange County, California. Calico is now managed by San Bernardino County and serves as a tourist attraction. This weekend finds me in Southern California for my nephew’s wedding. On my way, I stopped off at Calico, which I last visited some thirty-five years ago.

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Visiting places like Calico can help inform not only my steampunk and weird westerns, but my science fiction as well. It reminds me how people moving to new places must use their wits to survive by any means necessary, sometimes in harsh conditions. I was especially impressed by a few remaining examples of miner’s quarters clinging tenaciously to the hillside. This put the miners both close to work and gave them somewhat cool housing in the fierce desert heat.

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People lived in Calico until the silver mines played out, then for the most part, moved on to other places where they could continue surviving by any means necessary. Most of what survives in Calico today is the former downtown area. With a few exceptions, most of the residences, including a small “Chinatown” have vanished into the desert. An $8 admission gets an adult access to a set of small shops and eateries. A short train ride and a brief self-guided tour through a mine on the town site give a little bit of history. There are campgrounds on site and campsite fees give access to the town. If I returned, I would probably camp and then visit. You can learn more by visiting the Calico Website.

Among the shops is a small saloon. This venue served a variety of soft drinks and a few local beers. The one I tried wasn’t bad and proved a nice way to cool off after hiking up the town built along a mountainside in the summer heat. It also provided some possible inspiration for a weird western story. Here, my daughters drink sarsaparilla, play poker, and enjoy music performed by a skeletal piano player. At the time I took the photo, “Ghost Riders in the Sky” was playing.

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Watching Western films, it seems as though the wild west must have lived forever, but it was a very transitory time and place as people moved in, found ways to make a living, and moved on. It was a very diverse place populated not just by white people, but Native Americans and Latinos who had lived in the region for centuries. Asians had a strong presence in the old west as did African Americans trying to find a life after the end of slavery. I’ve tried my best to capture the transitory and multi-cultural aspects of the old west in my writing. You can see how well I’ve succeeded by reading Owl Dance, Lightning Wolves and The Brazen Shark which are available at Amazon, and as a special combination edition from Barnes and Noble.

Weird Westerns as Fairy Tales

Today finds me at the 2nd Annual Steampunk Invasion of Bookmans on Speedway Blvd in Tucson, Arizona from 10am until 4pm. I’ll be signing my novels plus I have a couple of anthologies including my stories. The link takes you to more information. If you’re in Tucson, I hope you’ll drop by. There will be other authors, tea dueling, craft panels, movies, raffles and more.

Last night, I watched a 2010 New Zealand-South Korean film called The Warrior’s Way. It tells the story of the greatest swordsman in the world who defeats his enemies, but doesn’t have the heart to kill the enemy clan’s last princess. The_Warrior's_Way_Poster He flees with her to the heart of the wild west. There he finds a desolate, broken town. At one end of town is a traveling circus that stopped and put down roots. In fact, many of the town’s residents are the circus performers. Our hero, Yang, discovers that he prefers making beauty to constant destruction. Despite that, western outlaws and assassins from his country have other thoughts. The movie has elements of acid westerns, which I’ve discussed, and weird westerns which I write. Filmed on green screen with Geoffrey Rush’s narration, the story has a distinctly fairy tale quality and perhaps that’s the best way to describe The Warrior’s Way.

My Clockwork Legion novels straddle the boundary between steampunk and weird westerns. A “weird” western is basically a western story with some element of science fiction, fantasy, or horror. I’ve heard it said that westerns are America’s mythology. There are numerous stories of daring and villainy and they often are metaphorical for the American experience in much the way classical mythology provided metaphor for the lives of those in classical civilization. With that in mind, I’d argue that weird westerns are a uniquely American brand of fairy tale.

Wikipedia defines a fairy tale as “a type of short story that typically features folkloric fantasy characters, such as dwarves, elves, fairies, giants, gnomes, goblins, mermaids, trolls, or witches, and usually magic or enchantments.” The American Heritage Dictionary says a fairy tale is “a fanciful tale of legendary deeds and romance.” I think it’s clear that many westerns include tales of legendary deeds and romance. If you throw in any of the characters such as Wikipedia mentions, you’d easily have a weird western. Furthermore, I’d argue that America has often mythologized its innovation and technology to the point that they really fit alongside the magical and supernatural elements found in classical fairy tales, especially when those ideas are carried to extremes not realized in history.

Clockwork-Legion

If you want to experience my brand of American fairy tale, you can check out the Clockwork Legion Series:

Also, coming soon will be my short stories “Reckoning at the Alamo” which will appear in Lost Trails, Volume 2 from Wolfsinger Publications and “The Jackalope Bandit” which will appear in the anthology Den of Antiquity published collectively by the members of the Scribbler’s Den writing group on The Steampunk Empire. Do you have a favorite American Fairy Tale? If so, let me know about it in the comments!

Artistic Inspiration

As a writer, I sometimes turn to artwork for inspiration. Danforth-painting A number of years ago, I bought the painting at the left from the wonderful artist Liz Danforth. As I recall, this was painted as an illustration for a collectable card game, but I liked the mysterious western story it implied. I asked myself who the lawman was and who was the mysterious figure lurking outside the window. Over time, as I worked with the characters and made them my own, the lawman became the owl-like, bespectacled sheriff, Ramon Morales. The figure outside the window seemed perhaps Arab or Persian, could be male or female. I imagined a witch, but as the character came to life in my mind, I realized she was really a healer who was misunderstood. If I were to describe Ramon and Fatemeh from Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves, I don’t think you’d see the characters in this painting, but the painting started the creative process rolling.

Speaking of the novel I’m writing, I managed to get stalled out over the holidays. It wasn’t really writer’s block or anything of that sort, just life getting in the way and being busy. I had to push past the inertia to get writing again. ornithopter While at Her Royal Majesty’s Steampunk Symposium in Long Beach last month, my artist’s table was next to the Nathaniel Johnstone Band. Nathaniel’s wife is the amazingly talented Laura Tempest Zakroff. I came to admire her artwork and asked if I could pay her to do a rendition of the owl ornithopters from my steampunk books. The illustration at right is the result. The feeling of adventure inspired by the mechanical owl in flight made me want to leap back into that world again and continue on.

For Valentine’s Day, my wife gave me a lovely knitted turquoise Jackalope. jackalope His contented expression and metallic antlers speak to me and suggest story ideas. I don’t know yet where a jackalope or something like one will appear, but I’m guessing it will happen sooner or later and it might well happen in the book I’m writing now.

If you’d like to meet Ramon and Fatemeh and see the owl ornithopters in action, try out a copy of Owl Dance or Lightning Wolves. Following the links will take you to pages where you can read sample chapters and find a variety of buying choices.

Has a piece of art inspired you? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Book Trailers

Although the books have been out for a little while, I spent some time this past week working on book trailers for my novels Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. I’ve wanted to create trailers for these books for a while, but my visions have typically been grander than my time or budget allowed. That said, people often compliment me on the covers of the books. Of course, those compliments really belong to the artist, Laura Givens, but the covers almost tell a story in their own own right and I realized I could use that idea to create teasers that give the reader an idea of where each book begins. Here’s the trailer for Owl Dance:

In this case, it helps that Laura was willing to let me work with the layered Photoshop files, which allowed me to isolate each of the elements on the cover. The painting used in the first frame is a public domain painting by Léon Trousset, a French painter who painted numerous scenes from around the Southwest. What’s especially exciting about this one is that it depicts one of the locations from the novel’s opening chapter.

The music comes from the generous Kevin MacLeod, who allows people to use his music through a Creative Commons license. You can find his music at Incompetech.com.

In the trailer for Lightning Wolves, I went for a slightly more subdued tone, trying to capture the mystery and suspense of the novel.

The photograph at the start of this video is one I took and shows one of the washes near Tombstone. It’s very much the terrain that the characters encounter in the novel and I think the scraggly branches tie into those Laura had in the background of the cover very well.

Follow these links to learn more about the novels:

Lightning Wolves Unleashed

Lightning Wolves

It’s 1877 and Russians forces occupy the Pacific Northwest. They are advancing into California. New weapons have proven ineffective or dangerously unstable. The one man who can help has disappeared into Apache Country, hunting ghosts. A healer and a former sheriff lead a band into the heart of the invasion to determine what makes the Russian forces so unstoppable while a young inventor attempts to unleash the power of the lightning wolves.

It’s official! My eighth novel has just been released. Lightning Wolves is the sequel to my wild west steampunk novel Owl Dance. This particular novel was inspired by my love of Tombstone, Arizona and its surrounding areas. Although this novel is set around Tombstone, you won’t find Wyatt Earp or his brothers. This is a few years before the Earps arrived, when prospectors were exploring for silver and rustlers went south of the border to steal Mexican cattle. In my world, the Russians have invaded America and occupy the west coast, changing history as we know it. What if a mad inventor built a mining machine that could also be used as a powerful weapon? How would you defeat it? That’s the story I tell in Lightning Wolves.

If you visit the Lightning Wolves page at davidleesummers.com you will find a sample chapter and links where you can order the book. What’s more, because this is July and my publisher, Sky Warrior Books is awesome, you can get the book for half off at Smashwords by using the code SSW50 when you check out.

You say you haven’t read the first book in the series? Well Owl Dance is also 50% off at Smashwords this month. Just remember to use that SSW50 code when you check out!

Finally, a reminder that I now have a mail list. To sign up, please visit http://eepurl.com/XEWqn