Steampunk CommuniTea Weekend

This coming weekend, I’m honored to be one of the participants in a great virtual event and everyone is invited! The event is the Steampunk CommuniTea Weekend, which is presented by the Tucson Steampunk Society, the Tea Scouts, Madame Askew and the Grand Arbiter, and the Temporal Entourage. This will be a weekend full of virtual panels, performances, and sundry adventures. To register for the weekend and receive a complete schedule of events once it’s available, go to: https://madame-askew.ticketleap.com/steampunk-communitea-weekend/

Registration for the event is free and includes access to the Zoom panels and Discord chats. There will be additional performances that will include an extra charge. You can get all the details on the event’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/336440080917274

Guests for this event include a number of my favorite writers, including Gail Carriger, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Karen Carlisle, and Beth Cato. There are also events with makers, artists, and costumers. I see many familiar faces from other steampunk events I’ve attended in the past such as my alter ego, David Lee, the Airship Ambassador, Kevin Steil, and costumer, Tayliss Forge. I’m especially excited to see that there will be a concert by Nathaniel Johnstone, one of my favorite musicians. The concert does cost extra, but it’s a very reasonable price.

You can see a complete listing of the guests along with information about them at: https://madameaskew.com/covidween-2020/

As of this writing, I will be participating in at least three events this weekend. At 7pm Pacific Daylight Time on Friday, April 8, I’ll join a discussion called “Libations with Literati.” I gather this will be a social hour where the guest authors and publisher will be on hand to chat about their work and and be available to ask questions. At 9pm, I will give my presentation “Mars: A Land Across the Aether” as Mars itself sits high in the sky. This has been a popular presentation at several steampunk events and this is a great opportunity for folks who can’t ordinarily travel to events to watch the presentation. At 2pm Pacific Standard Time on Saturday, I’ll join some of the other authors for “The Care and Feeding of Great Steampunk Stories.” I will certainly be sitting in on other events as well through the weekend.

I do hope you will join us for this wonderful, virtual steampunk event. It will be an opportunity to connect with steampunks from around the world and learn more about the fun of steampunk literature, arts, craft, and music.

How I Botched the Acetylcholine Test

I am a textbook introvert. As many sites on the internet will tell you, this is nothing unusual. All it really means is that much as I find interactions with people necessary and even rewarding, I can also find them draining. This would seem to be true of anywhere from 30-50% of the population. An upshot of being an introvert is the holidays can be especially draining with parties and gatherings. You would think I wouldn’t have found this year as draining given that gatherings have been discouraged. In fact, I didn’t go to any in-person events. While I did go to several online gatherings, as I noted in High Tech New Year’s Eve post, those were all pretty comfortable affairs with people I know well.

As a writer, I’m interested in what motivates people. Over the years, I’ve been fascinated to learn how much our brain chemistry affects who we are. I’ve found several articles that suggest that the neurotransmitters acetylcholine and dopamine play a strong role in who is an introvert and who is an extrovert. Simply put, introverts seem to thrive more on acetylcholine which makes us feel good when we turn inward. We feel gratified by long periods of time focused on a single task. Extroverts thrive more on dopamine, which can get released when you have positive interactions with others, such as a phone call that pushes your career forward or a strong romantic engagement.

A beautiful, quiet moment – the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn as seen from outside the WIYN 3.5-meter Telescope.

Now, I’m an astronomer, not a neurochemist, so I can’t vouch for how accurate this is. For that matter, I’ve come across some articles that suggest that dopamine and acetylcholine are far more intertwined in the brain than my simple description above would suggest. Still, it does mesh with my experience of really enjoying quiet tasks where I work by myself for long periods of time. It probably goes a long way to explaining why I like to write. So, I suspect there is some truth to something about my personality liking acetylcholine.

So, how did I botch the test? First off, I should explain that this post’s title is a reference to the classic Star Trek episode “The Immunity Syndrome.” In the episode, Mr. Spock has to fly a shuttlecraft into a giant space amoeba to save the Enterprise. While he’s there, he’s supposed to conduct some tests. Of course, he saves the day and everyone is happy, but Dr. McCoy points out that Spock didn’t do everything right. He tells Spock, “You botched the acetylcholine test!”

To this day, I’m not sure how Spock botched the test. I “botched the test” at a more personal level. At the moment, my work days at Kitt Peak National Observatory start around 4pm with a Zoom Meeting with various project collaborators. This meeting usually only lasts a few minutes, but then resumes again around 5:30pm with those collaborators who are observing. The Zoom meeting then lasts all the way until sunrise. Now, I’m not talking or interacting with the collaborators the whole night, but they are often interacting with each other and I do have to pay attention to plans for the night. I have no problem with this, but it can keep me from engaging in long, deep periods of concentration.

Also, I had planned a nice quiet period between Christmas and the New Year. I wasn’t scheduled to be at the observatory and I arranged a break from a collaborative creative project I’ve been involved in. As it turns out, I got a call on Christmas Eve from one of my editors, telling me notes on a story would be arriving that night. In short, the week turned into an intensive, albeit productive and gratifying, session whipping a story into shape for publication. I’ll tell you about that story in Saturday’s post. Once that was done, I had the nice New Year’s Eve that I talked about, then went back to work for more long observing nights with their accompanying Zoom sessions. Needless to say, I reached the first break of the new year feeling pretty wiped out.

I was suffering what some people know as an “introvert hangover.” For me, this takes the form of almost every interaction, no matter how benign, getting on my nerves. I try not to get to this point, but it does happen sometimes. Fortunately, we’re a family of introverts and we do our best to take care of each other when this happens. Also, I’ve been able to have some quiet time at the end of this most recent break from the observatory and I’m starting to feel myself again.

I hope your new year is off to a good start and you’re doing your best to stay healthy and well.

2020 Hindsight

Soon after the year 2020 began, I wrote a post called “2020 Foresight,” as a play on the old saw, “Hindsight is 20/20.” The post looked at my publishing plans for the first part of 2020 and, for the most part, those plans ticked off just as I expected they would. Through Hadrosaur Productions, I released Sheila Hartney’s anthology Exchange Students at the end of February, which imagined exchange students traveling between worlds and times. In April, Hadrosaur released Don Braden’s novel Upstart Mystique, which imagined a colony ship from Earth encountering a civilization that had attempted to upload its collective consciousness into a computer. I released the new, revised edition of my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, in July. I’m happy to look back at the year and see all of these plans actually came about as expected.

As we entered 2020, one thing I knew was that the contracts for three of my novels would be up for renewal in March. I knew the publisher had scaled back operations and I suspected they would want to revert the rights to me. I didn’t discuss this in the blog at the time because I didn’t think it would be professional of me to talk about it before my publisher and I discussed the fate of these books. As it turns out, the publishing rights for these books did revert to me right as much of the world began to shut down for the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. The upshot was that I spent much of the spring and early summer working on new editions. I made fairly minor changes to The Astronomer’s Crypt and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires. I decided to re-order the chapters of Vampires of the Scarlet Order, which helped to tighten the novel’s focus. I’m pleased with how these novels turned out and I was especially gratified by the good reaction I received to the new edition of Vampires of the Scarlet Order when it was a featured selection of Boutique du Vampyre’s Vampyre Library Book Club in November.

As we moved from summer into fall, my attention turned to some new writing projects. I wrote a novelette and a novella, both of which have been accepted by their respective publishers. In fact, I spent the last week of 2020 working on edits my publisher requested for the novella. I’m really excited for its release in 2021 and plan to share details about it as soon as I can. I have also continued my work revising the Space Pirates’ Legacy novels. I’m rapidly approaching the halfway point on Children of the Old Stars. You can follow the progress of the Space Pirates’ Legacy project and I’ve been told I can provide an early sneak peek of the novella project if you sign up at my Patreon site.

It seems as each year ends, I hear a chorus of voices bemoaning the terrible year ending and hoping for better times in the new year. The transition from 2020 to 2021 is no different and, arguably, the chorus is more justified this year than they have been in many recent years. That noted, I was pleased to attend a virtual Tohono O’Odham storytelling hosted by the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum on December 30. One of the storytellers shared a traditional song that reminds us, even in darkness, there is light from the moon and stars to guide our way. My readers who have stuck with me have been a bright point of light in the year just past. Thank you. If you haven’t discovered the books I write and publish yet, I invite you to browse the selection at http://hadrosaur.com/bookstore.php and http://davidleesummers.com/.

NaNoWriMo-ish

November is the National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. During the month, many authors endeavor to write 50,000 words. While that won’t count as a complete novel for most publishers these days, it’s a large chunk of a novel. To reach 50,000 words in one month, you have to write about 1,667 words per day. You can even sign up to participate at nanowrimo.org and to find tools, structure, community, and encouragement to help you succeed. My daughter has signed up and participated for the last couple of years. Although I didn’t officially sign up to participate in NaNoWriMo, I wrote two novels as NaNoWriMo challenges when LBF Books was publishing my novels.

The Solar Sea

The first of my NaNoWriMo novels was The Solar Sea, which I wrote in 2004. This is a novel I’d tried to write twice before, but abandoned both times partway through. The first time I abandoned the novel, it was because I was a young writer who lacked the discipline to see the story through. The second time, I had a sense of the plot, but hadn’t really nailed down the themes I wanted to explore. Between that and not being really certain what I audience I was writing for, the novel bogged itself down. In 2004, I had two young daughters who I wanted to excite about math and science. That and the 50,000-word goal of NaNoWriMo encouraged me to write The Solar Sea as an adventure story primarily for a young adult audience. I calculated my daily word goal and set myself a time to write each day after my daughters went to bed. Once I got into the routine, I found I could meet my writing goals pretty well each day. It taught me the value of writing each day at a set schedule. You can learn more about the novel at: http://davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html

Dragon’s Fall:
Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires

I wrote my second NaNoWriMo novel in 2005. This was intended to be a prequel to my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order which had recently been published by LBF. In this case, I knew 50,000 words would only be a little more than half the novel. When I wrote The Solar Sea, I had a clear idea of the plot and I had been thinking about certain story elements for almost fifteen years before I started NaNoWriMo. When I wrote Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order Vampires, I had a one-page synopsis. So, my 50,000 words were much more stream-of-consciousness than The Solar Sea. At the end of the month, I really liked the beginning of what I wrote, but felt the stuff I wrote at the end of the month lacked focus. Still, this gave me a solid core that I could work on and develop. It took about two years, but the novel did take shape. I added a few chapters before the original opening and then tightened the latter sections and added a solid ending. This experience helped me see that I could be disciplined while writing by the seat of my pants, and I was ultimately happy with my tale of three vampires who come form a band of mercenaries. You can learn more about Dragon’s Fall at: http://davidleesummers.com/dragons_fall.html

This year, NaNoWriMo occurred right as Kitt Peak National Observatory reopened from being shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo this year. That said, I was given the assignment of writing a novella in early September. At the time, I knew Kitt Peak would likely reopen around mid-October to early November, so I wanted to get as much of the novella written as possible before work resumed and I had to settle into a regular work routine at the observatory again. To accomplish the task, I used the skills I had gained in NaNoWriMo. In this case, I wrote a detailed outline and I set myself a clear word-count goal for each day. Even though I had an outline, my characters did their own thing at parts of the story and I did have to re-outline, but I’m used to this. I managed to finish my novella by the time I returned to work at Kitt Peak. I have since turned it in to the publisher who assigned me the project. Just this past week, the publisher sent me the contract for the story. I’ll share more details about this novella soon.

Although I haven’t participated in NaNoWriMo this month, I did assign myself the project of writing my first comic book script. In honor of being NaNoWriMo, it’s an adaptation of one of the scenes from Dragon’s Fall. I’m currently working with an artist to bring “Guinevere and the Stranger” to life and hope we’ll have something to show off by spring 2021.

Rhythms and Transitions in Writing

As I mentioned during Saturday’s blog post, I spent the summer in a particular daily rhythm, but now that we’re transitioning into autumn, I’m making some changes to my routine both because of external factors like the weather and also because of the projects I’m working on. One of the projects I’m working on is a new piece of writing. Another is revising a novel I first wrote twenty years ago.

Rhythm is something we associate primarily with song or music. However, it’s easy to see how it relates to writing when we think of structured writing such as formal poetry. The formal poem will have a meter and a rhyme scheme. When you read it aloud, you’ll hear the rhythm at work. You might deliberately break the meter or the rhyme scheme if you’re trying to jar the reader or make a point.

A manuscript on the screen marked up by my editor

When writing a story or a novel, words still have rhythm. Your goal is to put words together that flow one into the other until you have completed your thought. You can check whether your word rhythms work by reading your story aloud. That helps you hear whether your sentences are clunky or too repetitive.

When I was in elementary school, and first learned about paragraphs, they gave us a rigid definition. I was told a paragraph is five sentences. For a long time afterward, anytime I wrote a paragraph it was exactly five sentences. The reason the teacher told me that is that they didn’t want us to give up on an idea after only one or two sentences. They wanted us to practice putting sentences together and make sure we followed one coherent sentence with another.

That’s not really the way it works in fiction. You write out the bones of a thought in a sentence. You put some flesh on those bones in the next sentence. You might explore how they all function as a unit and the direction they’re moving.

Until something happens. That something breaks the rhythm and becomes a new paragraph. The transition is how one paragraph ends and the next begins. In the previous paragraph, we explored how to build a complete paragraph and this one talked about moving on to a new one.

Of course, transitions aren’t just from one paragraph to another. They happen at the end of a chapter and the beginning of the next. They also happen at scene breaks. Those are the places in a book where you might see a blank line between paragraphs and the point of view or setting shifts.

As a writer, I like exploring multiple points of view. When you see a scene from one character’s perspective and then move into another character’s perspective, the reader can gain new insights. That said, some editors I’ve worked with have suggested I can be a little too in love with multiple points of view and they have suggested that I reign in the number of point-of-view characters and scene shifts. This is one of the things I’m looking at with the twenty-year-old novel I’m delving into. There are some chapters with many scenes. The goal is to make sure each scene contributes to the story as a whole, that I transition cleanly from one scene to another, and that the scene is long enough that reader forms a complete picture and has an idea about how the scene relates to the rest of the book’s actions.

It’s all about finding a good rhythm.

The Literary Bond

Bond. James Bond.

The name is a fixture of the English-speaking pop culture landscape. Films featuring Ian Fleming’s famous spy are so ubiquitous, I find it hard to think of spy thrillers without “hearing” the iconic theme from Dr. No in my head.

This past week, I’ve been working on a short story that’s something of a spy thriller with notes inspired by James Bond. I can’t say much yet about the story or the anthology series it’s written for. The editor wants to keep things under wraps until closer to release and I don’t want to jinx things by saying too much too early. I will say that I do have one story accepted for this series of anthologies and the story I’ve been working on this past week would be the second for the series, presuming it’s accepted.

Writing this story has required a fair bit of research. I’m thankful to live in an age where I can sit at my desk and watch videos that take me aboard an aircraft carrier or let me walk the streets of a land I haven’t visited before. However, there’s another aspect of research that’s not always appreciated and that’s getting the right tone for a story, especially when the guidelines specify an established tone like the one in this series.

Although I’ve seen large portions of most of the James Bond films, catching bits and pieces here and there when they aired on television, I can only recall sitting down and watching five of the films from beginning to end. What’s more, I’m sad to say that until a few days ago, I’d never actually read any of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels. The only Ian Fleming novel I’d ever read was Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and that was only a year ago. I did find Chitty Chitty Bang Bang an utter delight and had been wanting to explore Fleming’s Bond novels since then.

I settled on Moonraker as the novel to start with. I picked it because I wanted a novel early enough that Fleming wasn’t being influenced by the films but late enough that he’d established his voice. I also wanted a novel that included a certain technological aspect because of the type of story I was writing. Also, although I enjoy a good card game now and then, I wasn’t sure if I was passionate enough about cards and gambling to stay glued to a novel like Casino Royale.

The novel Moonraker is quite a bit different from the movie. This is perhaps no surprise since the novel dates from 1955. The premise of the novel is that Sir Hugo Drax has been supervising a bunch of German scientists who are building England’s first intercontinental ballistic missile. Drax has become something of a national hero and the first test is imminent. The problem is that Drax is suspected of cheating at cards at the elite gambling club he belongs to. Bond is brought in to tactfully expose the cheating and quietly get it to stop before scandal taints Drax and his project. So, the first third of the book ends up being about Bond figuring out how Drax cheats and then turning the tables on him. This was compelling enough that I may have to give Casino Royale a try after all.

On the same night as Bond is working to prevent a scandal, one of Drax’s German employees shoots the head of security for the Moonraker project then shoots himself. The coincidental timing is enough for higher echelons in the British government to decide Bond should lend a hand to the investigation. It was all a good thrill ride of a novel that reminded me of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, especially when Fleming speaks passionately of good food or fast cars. I was also reminded at times of Robert A. Heinlein’s young adult science fiction novels, especially with the fear that Nazis may be hiding in the woodwork, getting ready to unleash some dastardly plan.

I liked how Fleming’s Bond has a little more self-doubt than his onscreen counterparts and while 007 definitely pursues a woman in this novel, she proves to be a force to be reckoned with. I’m delighted I had the chance to read Moonraker and I suspect I’ll be diving into more of Fleming’s Bond novels soon. After all, I need to make sure I get the tone right in my story!

Beards and Horror

Let’s face it, some people think bearded men are scary. In this post, I’ll introduce you to some scary, bearded men. However these men aren’t scary because of their beards. They’re scary because of the stories they’ve created.

I grew my own beard while working on my physics degree in the late 1980s. My older brother had grown a beard during his college days and I always liked way it looked. In addition to that, I attended a technical university where many of my classmates grew beards. All those factors combined to make growing a beard an easy choice.

A decade after I first grew my beard, I experimented with writing horror. I also decided to experiment with my beard and I shaved it down to a goatee. I liked the way it looked and have, for the most part, kept it that way ever since. Some people say beards obscure a man’s appearance, but my beard has always seemed a natural part of my face. Trimming it to a goatee is a minor concession to fashion.

To write well, you must read well. Over the years I’ve read a lot of horror fiction, including many classics of the genre. It was fun to discover that many of the authors whose work influenced me and shaped the genre also had the good taste to grow beards. Without further ado, allow me to introduce you to some of the pioneers and greats of the field.


Sheridan Le Fanu

Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu was an Irish writer who lived from 1814 to 1872. His specialty was writing mysteries and ghost stories. His most famous work was undoubtedly the vampire novella “Carmilla” which he wrote in 1871 and predated Bram Stoker’s Dracula by twenty-six years.

I pay tribute to the story in my tale “Fountains of Blood” which appears in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone edited by David Boop. In most pictures of Sheridan Le Fanu, he rocks the neck beard. However, later in life he grew a full beard. You can learn more about Straight Outta Tombstone at: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1481482696/


Lafcadio Hearn

Lafcadio Hearn was a journalist who lived from 1850 to 1904. Born in Ireland, he immigrated to the United States, lived for a time in New Orleans, and finally moved to Japan. I write a lot of stories set in the nineteenth century and I find Hearn a valuable resource. He makes the people he knew and the places he saw come alive on the page.

The reason he earns a spot on this list was that he not only wrote the obituary for Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, he also assembled collections of frightening Japanese stories. One of those collections was made into the 1965 movie Kwaidan. Most photos and illustrations of Hearn show him with only a mustache, but while in New Orleans, Hearn waxed his mustache and sported a goatee. He appears as a character in my novel Owl Riders, which you can learn about at: http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html


Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker, who lived from 1847 to 1912, gave us Dracula. I first read his most famous novel while working at Kitt Peak National Observatory in 1994 during a fierce storm. I particularly remember reading the scene where the ship Demeter comes into Whitby harbor and the vampire, in the form of a large wolf, runs from the ship. My duties required that I had to leave my nice, comfortable reading nook periodically to check on the weather. Every time I stepped outside, I imaged the creature would run out of the shadows to attack me.

The experience of reading Dracula first led me to write my novel of vampire mercenaries called Vampires of the Scarlet Order. You can learn about this novel at http://www.davidleesummers.com/VSO.html. Years later, I would write a novel of a monster that prowled an observatory’s grounds called The Astronomer’s Crypt. You can learn about this novel at http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html. Mr. Stoker maintained an epic, full beard worthy of admiration!


Around the beginning of the twentieth century, beards tended to fall out of fashion. I’ve often wondered why that happened. A recent article at Vox.com suggests that beards fell victim to the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Claims were made that beards were unsanitary and led to greater rates of infection. According to the article, this isn’t necessarily true. It says shaving abrades the skin and can slightly raise the risk of infection. You can read the full article here: https://www.vox.com/the-goods/2020/3/30/21195447/beard-pandemic-coronavirus-masks-1918-spanish-flu-tuberculosis.

Of course this all makes me wonder whether the current pandemic will have an impact on beards or fashion in general. Do you have any predictions? Any favorite bearded writers? Share them in the comments.

Reading, Writing and Yard Work

This week has flown by for me. Like many people around the world, I’ve been spending all my time at home to help stem the spread of the Coronavirus, but that hasn’t kept this from being a busy week. I’ve been doing lots of reading, I have a handful of writing projects in process and I have yard work to get me outside a little. I have lots and lots of yard work. It seems like February and early March were rainier than normal in the desert southwest this year and when it rains here, things grow fast. I was able to clean up the front yard and now I’m slowly making headway in the back yard.

When I’m not doing yard work, I’ve been doing a lot of reading. March is the month when the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America announce the nominees for the Nebula Award. The Nebulas are given for the best science fiction or fantasy novel, novella, novelette, and short story of the previous year. Along with the Nebulas are the Norton Award for best young adult novel and the Bradbury Award for best screenplay. I like to read as many of the Nebula and Norton works as I can before voting. It’s a way for me to read several of the works that my peers consider to be the best writing of the past year.

I usually make it through all the shorter works before voting. The novels of both categories are more challenging. At a minimum I read the first chapter of each nominated work along with the description of the book at Amazon. This way, I get a sense for the writing style and I have a good idea of what the book is about. I then pick the ones I like the most and read them as far as I can. This year, it looks like I’m going to make it through more of the novels than I have in years past. I’m glad about that. I also was able to see all but one of the Bradbury-nominated works. I have choices in most of the categories, but it’s been tough. There are several great works in the running this year. Still, what I like best is what I learn from reading these very good writers. I hope I can find ways to spark my readers’ imaginations the way these writers have sparked mine.

I finally cleared my slate of some of the big editing projects I’ve been doing for other writers. I’ll have some announcements to make on that front soon, but this has allowed me to focus more of my time on my own writing. I’ve written down a treatment for a short story that was solicited by an editor and run it by him. He sent back some suggestions and I think we’ve converged on a story treatment that I will develop into a short story. I’m also glad to be back at work on The Pirates of Sufiro. I’m giving it another round of editing based on some early feedback of the new edition. I’m hoping to finish that task before it’s time for me to take my turn watching over Kitt Peak National Observatory for a few days in April. If you want to get an early peek at this work, please consider supporting me at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers.

I know this has been a tough time for many people. The unemployment numbers out this week are just staggering. I am hoping things will recover when people are allowed to return to their jobs. That said, I doubt the world will be quite the same as it was before. It makes me wonder about the world science fiction writers will imagine after this is all over.

Remembering My Mother-in-Law

This past week, we received the sad news that my wife’s mom, Violet Oliver, passed away quietly in her sleep while in hospice care. She was 80 years old. I remember when I first met her. My wife, Kumie, and I went to Albuquerque to pick her up at the train station. Kumie went on to meet her mom while I stopped off at the restroom. When I came out, I saw a lady with the same smile and the same sparkle in her eye as my wife, but who was not my wife. She asked if I was Dave and when I said yes, she introduced herself. It turned out, Kumie also needed to make a trip to the restroom and Violet was waiting for us.

The photo above was taken of Kumie and Violet the night my wife received her master’s degree from the University of Arizona in 1994. One thing I remember on that trip was giving Violet a copy of my first novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, to read. Like many members of a writer’s extended family, I think Violet was a little skeptical of my prospects. However, after she read the manuscript, she became an earnest supporter of my writing career. Her early support meant the world to me and she was always happy to share news of my writing accomplishments with her friends. When she had enough money, she even bought books for others and shared them.

She came out west several times. Notable visits happened soon after each of our daughters were born so she could help out and get to know her grandchildren. She was an avid reader and when she visited she would read to the girls. When she had quiet time, she could often be seen reading a book she’d brought with her. She was often opinionated about the books she read and she didn’t always agree with my assessment of some novels, but that only made me appreciate her support of my writing all the more. I knew she wouldn’t hold back if she hadn’t liked the writing.

I’m told Violet suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when she was a child and her parents were told she would be in a wheelchair by the time she was 18. Despite the diagnosis, she remained mobile throughout her life until near the very end. Her willpower to keep going even when others didn’t necessarily believe she could proved to be an inspiration.

I’m sorry I won’t get another chance to talk about books, or family, or even just share another holiday with my Mother-in-Law. I hope she’s found peace and perhaps even a joyous reunion with those loved ones who passed on before her.

Why Pirates?

During a quiet moment at 2018’s MileHiCon, author Jane Lindskold and I sat down and had a nice conversation. In that conversation she asked why an apparently law-abiding, nice person like me would be interested in writing about pirates. After all, I’ve not only written about space pirates, but I’ve written about airship pirates in my steampunk fiction, and pirates have appeared in my vampire fiction. The drug traffickers in The Astronomer’s Crypt could also be seen as pirates of a sort. I have a two-part answer to the question. One part is related to story potential and the other is more personal.

To summarize the United Nations definition of piracy, it is a criminal act of violence, detention or depredation committed by the crew or passengers of a ship or aircraft directed against another ship or aircraft—or directed against a ship, aircraft, persons or property outside the jurisdiction of a country.  Apply that idea to any vessel that is either in space or operating on a distant world, and you open up tremendous story potential.

In fact, when I first wrote my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, the working title was simply Sufiro. The novel really is about the history of a planet founded by pirates, the disaffected people who follow, and the unscrupulous people who find resources on the world they can exploit. I added “Pirates” to the title because the planet is not only founded by pirates, but those unscrupulous people who come later are committing acts of violence, detention and depredation against their fellows outside the jurisdiction of a country. In a very real way, they are even more piratical than the story’s avowed pirates.

On a more personal level, 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.

Today, in the 21st century, we find ourselves in a world where companies monitor our e-mails and website usage. People can be fired for saying the wrong thing in the heat of the moment. In point of fact, the corporate world of today has nothing on the day when you could be flogged to within an inch of your life for a perceived insult. Still, the idea of setting out to sea or the stars with no one watching your every move and not having to watch your every word does have a certain appeal.

In Leiji Matsumoto’s famous Captain Harlock anime series and manga, the titular pirate captain fights under the skull and crossbones flag because it’s a symbol that one should fight to the death for freedom and that one shouldn’t be subject to corrupt and decadent governments. I wrote The Pirates of Sufiro before I got to know Harlock as any more than a cameo character in Galaxy Express 999, but the idea does capture some of what I tried to capture in my novel.

As it turns out, The Pirates of Sufiro was the first novel I ever wrote and I think it’s fair to say the idea was more ambitious than my skills were ready for almost twenty-five years ago. I’ve been spending much of the last year revising The Pirates of Sufiro for a new edition. I think I’ve made it much better, but I’m in the process of taking a good hard look and deciding whether or not I’ve succeeded in making it the book I want it to be. Much of that is making sure the characters are true to themselves as they developed in the books I wrote after Pirates.

You can help me in my quest to make The Pirates of Sufiro the book it should be by joining my Patreon campaign. My fix-up novel Firebrandt’s Legacy may be read in its entirety. Also, you can read the last published edition of The Pirates of Sufiro and the draft as it stands now. It’s likely there will be even one more draft before the book is published. Once it is published, I’ll give download codes for all the novels in the Space Pirates’ Legacy universe that are in print: The Solar Sea, Firebrandt’s Legacy, and The Pirates of Sufiro. Of course, I love to hear feedback from my patrons and it’s a great way to weigh in on what you think of the books. You can become a patron for just $1.00 a month. To learn more, click the button below. It’s time for some piracy!