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!

The Waiting Game

Two weeks ago, I mentioned that I’m about to wrap up three book projects. One is the novel Upstart Mystique by Don Braden, which I’m editing and publishing. One is the anthology Exchange Students edited by Sheila Hartney that I’m publishing. The third is my novel, The Pirates of Sufiro, which I’ve revised for its twenty-fifth anniversary release. Over the last couple of months, each of these projects has involved a lot of time at the computer. I’ve been reading, revising, sending emails and making sure that everything is ready for typesetting and final cover creation. I have completed preliminary typeset copies of Upstart Mystique and Exchange Students and I’m just waiting for the covers to proceed. The Pirates of Sufiro is out with early readers. And so now I wait…

Okay, my cover artist, Laura Givens, works fast enough, I don’t imagine I’ll be waiting long, but finishing the typesetting does depend on having a finished cover. That might surprise some readers, but the reason for this is to assure the book has a cohesive look. I like to make sure the fonts used in the headers and on the chapter titles is a close, if not exact, match for the fonts used on the cover. This is certainly not an absolute requirement for publication, but I think it gives the book a much more polished and professional look.

For me, the transition from being very busy to waiting for stuff I need to complete projects is always a bit of a challenge. I wonder what my early readers are going to think about that stuff I’ve been slaving over for the past year. Are they going to like it or tell me I was wasting my time? I always look forward to seeing the covers Laura comes up with for work. Waiting for those is more akin to waiting for Santa on Christmas Eve. I know good stuff is coming, I just don’t know exactly what it is. Of course, it’s not productive to sit around fidgeting about either of these. I think the very best things a writer can do while waiting to hear back from people is write something or read something. In that spirit, I’ve been catching up with some fun reading and will share some of that over the next couple of posts. I also started working on a model of the Enterprise from Star Trek: Discovery that I received as a Christmas present. You can see the work in progress in the photo.

I spent a day during my first break of the new year making sure I had everything I needed to complete the model. I planned to start it once these projects were all complete as a sort of reward to myself, but I decided to get an early start. It turns out this model is a very simple build, but it has a LOT of decal work. I decided that I really needed to invest in a product I’ve seen recommended to me on several modeling forums and by some friends called “Micro Sol” which really helps the decals settle onto the surface of the model. Of course, this is the one thing I needed I couldn’t find locally, so I had to order it. So, I’m waiting on that project as well! So, I’m back to reading and thinking about what writing projects are next for me. I do a lot of my thinking by walking, so I am getting some exercise in while I wait. If people keep me waiting long enough, who knows? I may just get that next writing project started.

A Stormy Holiday

This year, I spent Thanksgiving on the job at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Because my daughter had the week off, we opted to have our family celebration at home on Monday before my work week began. Over the last dozen years, I’ve spent several Thanksgivings on the job. It’s not necessarily a bad way to spend the holiday. My co-workers and I get to share a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving.

Of course we have diverse political views, so sometimes we find ourselves skirting those topics just like many families around the country. In many ways, those of us who work at the observatory are like a family, bound by a common passion for exploring and understanding the universe around us. Moving that mission forward is one of the things that makes working at the observatory on a holiday worthwhile.

Then again, working at a ground-based observatory, we’re subject to the wiles of the weather and this holiday weekend has proven to be a stormy one. Times like this do give us awesome sunsets like the one above, but not much time looking at the stars. We had rain, fog, and wind gusting upwards of 70 miles per hour. These are not conditions one should subject precision scientific instrumentation to. So, why do I have to hang around on nights like this?

First and foremost, there’s the chance the weather may improve enough for us to open. In fact, on my first two nights of this shift, even though the weather looked hopelessly bad, we did manage to get about two hours of data each night when the weather calmed and dried out briefly. Another reason I have to be available is that some of the instrumentation will be damaged if we lose power. On a remote mountaintop in the Arizona desert with 70 mile per hour winds and rain and snow, that’s a real possibility. If power goes out and doesn’t come back before battery backups drain, I may have to jump into action to start an emergency generator. What’s more, we have had circumstances where the weather has damaged buildings and I may need to take action to protect the telescopes or instrumentation.

Fortunately, our buildings and power systems are designed well enough, I don’t have to spend my entire night actually saving the telescope. So, while I’m waiting to see if my services are needed, I get a chance to do some proofreading. This weekend, I’m proofreading the novel Upstart Mystique by Don Braden, which my company Hadrosaur Productions will be publishing in early 2020. It’s a great science fiction novel about a group of colonists who are pulled off course and are forced to land on a planet they didn’t intend to settle before their ship is destroyed. The novel explores fascinating questions about human and machine intelligence.

I became a writer because I love to read. Hadrosaur Productions exists, in part, as a way to give back. The company allows me to seek out writers whose voices deserve to be heard and bring their books to readers. I know many people who read this blog are fans of my writing, but I encourage you to check out the works of the other people I publish as well. This holiday season, I’m especially thankful for writers like Greg Ballan, Joy V. Smith, and David B. Riley who have given me the privilege of editing their stories and I’m thankful to all the readers who are eager to find new, exciting fiction. As we enter this holiday season, please take a look at http://www.hadrosaur.com. I bet you’ll find a good book to share with the adventuresome readers in your life.

Fantastic Settings

Today, I’d like to welcome author Deby Fredericks to my blog. I’ve had the honor of editing her novels The Grimhold Wolf and Seven Exalted Orders. I enjoy her writing and she has a new book out called Dancer in the Grove of Ghosts. In today’s post, she discusses the importance of setting in science fiction and fantasy.


One thing that sets fantasy and science fiction apart from other literature is the incredible worlds we set forth in our pages. While stories in other genres will take place in the real world or something close to it, fantasy really takes you away. Whether to dream lands and magic kingdoms, or to domains of our nightmares, we show our readers sights they’ve never seen before.

In creating my high fantasy novella series, Minstrels of Skaythe, I’ve been showing a landscape that is fairly natural, yet nevertheless woven through with magic. Enigmatic, silvery roads criss-cross the dusty plains, leading nowhere. Pockets of gloom linger where nothing should cast a shadow.

During the first novella, The Tower in the Mist, the characters explored the Hornwood, an ancient woodland shrouded in mystery. For the latest novella, they only pass through the Hornwood to reach another legendary site.

One hundred years ago, the evil Dar-Gothull laid a curse on Seofan Holl in the form of a drakanox. This beast was so poisonous that its breath made stone crumble, metal rust, and it killed every living thing, from the magnificent oleya trees down to the fleas in the pelts of dogs. No life has recovered there in all the time since.

My heroine, Tisha, is an extraordinarily gifted healer. She is driven to discover whether the curse is like an illness that she can heal. Here is what she finds in Seofan Holl:

Gray — that was her first and most striking impression. The land formed a shallow bowl, rather oval and slightly curved to the north. This was filled with pale gray, lacy clouds that Tisha quickly recognized weren’t clouds at all. They were the leafless twigs and branches of a vast orchard. Tree trunks stood in orderly rows, spaced just so, a formation stretching as far as she could see.

Beneath those ghostly groves, the soil was pale and dry, covered with ashy dust. Even the least breath of wind raised a thin haze to muffle the sky. Rickety fences stitched between sections of orchard. On the wall above, moss had been growing on every stone. Here was none at all.

I hope you’ll journey along with Tisha to the desolate Seofan Holl, and see if she can restore life to the grove of ghosts.


Dancer in the Grove of Ghosts

“He’s dead. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

Mortally wounded, Cylass is abandoned on the battlefield by comrades who would just as soon have him out of the way. But as he waits for death, a strange savior appears. The dancer, Tisha, heals him with her forbidden magic, but also draws the wrath of his cruel former lord.

Soon guardsman and renegade mage are on the run. Will Cylass help Tisha, as she helped him? Or will he do the smart thing, and turn her over to the vicious Count Ar-Dayne?


Amazon e-book:
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ZXLHC62

Other e-book formats:
https://draft2digital.com/book/496360

Author website:
http://www.debyfredericks.com

Author newsletter:
http://eepurl.com/geV_nX

The Inevitable Cycle Revisited

This past summer, I paid a return visit to one of my favorite places, Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. In light of that visit, I thought I’d revisit a post I originally wrote for my Scarlet Order Journal three years ago on the occasion of another visit and share some new photos. Lowell Observatory is famous as the site where Percival Lowell observed Mars for many years, recording his observations of the canals he—and most mainstream scientists of the day—believed they saw. It’s also the observatory where Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto. Of course, in mythology, Pluto is the Roman god of the underworld and a figure closely associated with the spirits of the dead. Lowell Observatory on Mars Hill is also the site of Percival Lowell’s Crypt. The photo here is from my 2019 visit.

If you look carefully at the tomb, there is an epigraph, to the right of the door. It reads, in part, “Everything around this Earth we see is subject to one inevitable cycle of birth, growth, decay … nothing begins but comes at last to an end … though our own lives are too busy to mark the slow nearing to that eventual goal …” The words on this astronomer’s crypt go a long way to explaining what draws me to horror. Birth, growth, and decay are not only inevitable, but all can be frightening. Horror provides a mechanism for taking a look at the things that frighten us and getting a handle on them.

The epigraph continues: “Today what we already know is helping to comprehension of another world. In a not distant future we shall be repaid with interest and what that other world shall have taught us will redound to a better knowledge of our own and of the cosmos of which the two form a part.” The quote comes from Percival Lowell’s book, The Evolution of Worlds. Horror might be scary, but it reminds me that humans can overcome even the worst terrors to accomplish great things. In fiction that can be defeating a villain or a monster. In real life, we might conquer our fears to expand the borders of human understanding.

Right next to Lowell’s crypt is the telescope where he observed Mars for many years. This year, we arrived on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was my second opportunity to go in, and see the telescope. I got to ask questions about the building, the original clock drive and whether the original f-stop is still on the telescope. My daughter even had a chance to move the dome around. They had a public night scheduled, but our schedule didn’t allow us to return. Back in 2016, we were able to visit at night and we had a terrific view of Saturn. We could see resolution in the clouds and the rings were sharp and beautiful. If the ghost of Percival Lowell wanders the observatory grounds, I suspect he’s proud of the job the people there do of giving the public a glimpse at the universe, which can be at once scary and beautiful.

I hope my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt scares you when you read it. I also hope you’ll see how people overcome fear and accomplish great things. Even though I hope to show you scary things in that novel, I also hope to show you some of the beauty that this universe and the people who inhabit it possess.

The Astronomer’s Crypt is on sale for just 99 cents this month of October 2019. You can get copies at: