Lightning Wolves on Audible

Lightning Wolves, the second novel in my Clockwork Legion steampunk series, is now available as an audiobook at Audible.com. In the novel, it’s 1877 and Russian 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.

One thing that makes this release special is that I love to listen to audiobooks while I’m driving from my home in New Mexico to the observatory where I work in Arizona. Elements of this novel were inspired by the very same commute. Almost every week, I pass the Whetstone Mountains which house Kartchner Caverns State Park. I drive by the turnoff for Tombstone, famous for the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. I drive through the Dragoon Mountains where Apache warriors made camp. All of these locations feature in Lightning Wolves. I look forward to giving the book a listen during a couple of my upcoming commutes through the region. Here we have a look at one of the real-world settings in the novel.

As it turns out, I’m revisiting a lot of these same locations in the novel I’m currently writing. I left a few plot threads dangling at the end of Lightning Wolves which didn’t get resolved in The Brazen Shark because pirate captain Onofre Cisneros took my protagonists Ramon and Fatemeh first to Hawaii and then to Japan. Also, it seemed like it would be fun to leave those dangling plot threads alone for a few years worth of story time and see how they develop. The result is that Southern Arizona is in quite a mess by the opening of Owl Riders and you know Ramon and Fatemeh will be right in the middle of it, presuming other aspects of their life don’t get in the way.

The audiobook is narrated by Edward Mittelstedt who did a terrific job on Owl Dance. What’s more, Lightning Wolves was a top ten finisher in the best steampunk novel category of the 2014 Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll. My daughter Autumn created Larissa, the young inventor mentioned in the story’s description. She served as the model for Larissa on the book’s cover.

You can listen to a sample and buy a copy of the Lightning Wolves audiobook at: https://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Lightning-Wolves-Audiobook/B0716QC53Y

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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.

Gun Frontier

First off, Happy Halloween! I’m in Tucson, Arizona at the TusCon Science Fiction convention this weekend. There are lots of great panels and good people. If you’re in town and free, I hope you’ll drop by. There are details at the link above.

Gun Frontier

This month, I’ve been watching Leiji Matsumoto’s anime series Gun Frontier. It may not seem your usual Halloween fare, but it’s been an interesting way to wind down after days of working on my steampunk novel, The Brazen Shark, which is now back with the editor. I’ll have to admit, the first time I watched an episode of Gun Frontier, I wasn’t impressed. I came across the series in an article about Matsumoto’s famous Space Pirate Captain Harlock. Matsumoto is famous for recycling his characters into different situations to create new shows. In this case, he told a story about Harlock and his best friend, Tochiro, in the old west. This sounded like it would be right up my alley. What I got was a show, that to be honest, was rather crude with offensive humor and nonsensical situations.

So, why did I go back? I realized that Matsumoto was actually doing something in Gun Frontier very similar to what I’m doing in The Brazen Shark. In my novel, I imagine my characters from the western United States visiting Meiji-era Japan. In Gun Frontier, Tochiro is a samurai who has come to the western United States looking for settlers from Japan along with his long lost sister. I had the chance to see what it was like to view the Wild West of my ancestors through the lens of a Japanese writer and artist.

What I found after I watched several episodes was a rather interesting example of an acid western. The term “acid western” was coined fairly recently by critic Jonathan Rosenbaum to describe the Johnny Depp western Dead Man. Acid westerns are said to have a hallucinogenic quality with aspects derived from 1960s counterculture, which often includes a more contemporary score. In the traditional western, the west is often viewed as an optimistic place. In the acid western, the west is often seen as an almost nightmarish place. Other examples of acid westerns include Alejandro Jodorowsky’s El Topo and Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.

Gun Frontier shows us a bizarre west. In one town, everyone can do what they want, no matter the consequences. This includes one gentleman perched on a toilet in the middle of the street. In another episode, the town has imposed a limit on the height of the people who can enter. Each of our primary characters has a superpower of sorts. This Harlock is a former sea captain, good with his guns. Tochiro can’t see worth a darn, but he’s an amazing swordsman. They travel with a woman named Sinonora, who uses her sex appeal like a weapon and wastes little time getting out of her clothes in many episodes. The score is Japanese pop, similar to many other anime series of the early 2000s.

I gather the Gun Frontier manga was actually the first time the characters of Harlock and Tochiro appeared in print. It was published in 1972, six years before we would meet Harlock as a space pirate, but only two years after the release of El Topo and a year before the release of Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. It was prime time for the acid western.

What kept the series together and kept me watching was the ongoing quest and the hope that Tochiro would be reunited with his sister. Also, the Harlock and Tochiro of this series are still fundamentally the same characters as their space pirate counterparts and there are some nice scenes where they imagine themselves traveling the stars. Because I enjoyed the characters, I found Gun Frontier more enjoyable than its contemporary acid westerns. I also found it fascinating to see Matsumoto’s portrayal of the west, which looked more like Sergio Leone’s than John Ford’s.

Gun Frontier is crude, nonsensical, sometimes homophobic, but interesting. It’s clearly not a western for everyone but fans of acid westerns and Matsumoto will likely be transported back in time, if not to the old west, at least to the west as it was envisioned in the 1970s.

Wild Wild West Con 4

The Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention 4 will be held in Tucson, Arizona from March 6-8, 2015 at Old Tucson Studios. In 2014, it received the Steampunk Chronicle Reader’s Choice Award for Best Steampunk Convention in the Southwest. I’m honored to be one of the featured guests alongside such people as Abney Park, Steam Powered Giraffe, Drake and McTrowell, Brian Kesinger, Thomas Willeford, Eric Burton, and David Grasse. Visit www.wildwestcon.com for more information.

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I’ll be giving several panels and workshops over the weekend. Here’s my schedule:

Friday, March 6

  • 1:00 HIGH CHAPARRAL: Victorians and the Paranormal – Ghosts, séances, vampires, you name it, the Victorians probably believed in it. An exploration of Victorian encounters with the dead.
  • 5:00 COURTROOM CENTER: Building a Steampunk Telescope – I show you how to build a telescope that’s not only fashionable, but functional and easy to use. I present tips on where to buy optics and detailed construction information.

Saturday, March 7

  • 12:00 CHAPEL: Steampunk Flash Fiction – Compose an entire story of 200 words or less? Surely it can’t be done! I presents a make and take workshop where you compose a very short steampunk tale.
  • 3:00 COURTHOUSE: Drake and McTrowell’s Hot Potato School of Writing. The authors of Drake & McTrowell will lead two guest authors (of which I will be one) and the audience in a madcap improvisational writing game show reminiscent of their signature “Hot Potato” team writing style.
  • 5:00 HIGH CHAPARRAL: Writing Steampunk – Steampunk writers gather to discuss the research that goes into their writing, what makes Steampunk special to them, and how they get their work published. With me on the panel are David Grasse and Stephen Chapman.

When I’m not giving a presentation, you can find me in the Vendor Barn sharing a table with Dr. Sparky McTrowell and Chief Inspector Erasmus Drake. I’ll have all of my steampunk books, plus an assortment of other fun reading materials. Be sure to stop by and say “hi!”

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: