R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX

lavinia-portraitRIP9BannerCarl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting another awesome reading event. I have thoroughly enjoyed R.I.P. in the past and look forward to doing so again this year. Anyone can join this event and the primary purpose is to have fun, so no pressure.

This year, the group read is The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. One again, The Estella Society is hosting the group read. Right now, I am planning to participate in this, but I have been having some trouble with my eyes. Don’t worry, I probably just need a new prescription and I see the eye doctor tomorrow, and will hopefully have new glasses within 2 weeks. But because of that, I am hesitant to commit to a reading level this year. Instead, I am just going to keep it open ended and enjoy the fun.

I do have some audiobooks lined up to listen to as I beat out some rugs on a loom.

A few Kathy Reichs books kicking around – Temperance Brennan series

Points of Origin by Darden North

Contamination by T. W. Piperbrook

Double Forte by Aaron Paul Lazar

Provided I simply need new glasses and I can get back into eyeball reading like I am used to:

The Cistern by Lorne Oliver

The Wish List by Gabi Stevens

Vampires of the Scarlet Order by David Lee Summers

Dragon’s Fall by David Lee Summers

Bubonicon 2014: Sunday

David Lee Summers at Bubonicon 2014

David Lee Summers at Bubonicon 2014

On Sunday, the panels and author readings didn’t get started until 10AM, but the Con Suite was open at 8AM. They had donuts, and not just any donuts, but donuts with bacon. Yep, you read that right. You could have a chocolate frosted donut that also had a strip of crispy bacon in it. (I think I heard one of the Con volunteers say the donuts came from Rebel Donut shop). I almost snagged one, but I feared that I wouldn’t like it and then who would I share it with? If my man was at the Con with me, I would just grab one for him, eat half of it, and then tell him how good the second half was. Instead, I stuck with the cheese, crackers, bagels, chips, bottled water, and a regular donut. The Con Suite also had a sizable spread of fruits, but there was a lot of chopped melon, and unfortunately, I am very allergic to melon.

I went to David Lee Summer‘s reading first thing. He read the first chapter from his latest book, Lightning Wolves, which is a steampunky desert Southwest alternative historical fiction that is quite fun and inventive. Then he read an interlude from his vampire novel, Dragon’s Fall. This book appeals to me because of the historical fiction aspect and his reading of the interlude only peaked my curiosity. And I asked my moonlight question. Growing up, I never really paid attention to vampires. But then vampires became a little more popular in the 1980s with The Lost Boys, and then with Interview with a Vampire. And that is when I started to wonder why most vampires weren’t reactive to moonlight, since it is simply reflected sunlight. Summers had a great answer for this in that it really depends on how the author has set up their vampires – is there a scientific basis for this existence (virus, blood defect, etc.) or are they magic based? From there, you can build logical reasons to how vampires do or don’t react to moonlight.

Steven Gould & Walter Jon Williams at Bubonicon 2014

Steven Gould & Walter Jon Williams at Bubonicon 2014

Then it was off to the Co-Guests of Honor Presentation. Steven Gould was the Toastmaster, with Walter Jon Williams helping out. They started off with some trivia questions concerning lizards mating in space aimed at the audience and then moved on to quizzing the co-guests of honor, Cherie Priest and John Hemry. Once the silliness was concluded, important matters were discussed, like the Chad Mitchell Trio song featuring Lizzie Borden. Yeah, that little girl from the nursery rhyme who gave her parents 40 whacks was indeed a real historical person. Priest’s soon-to-be-out book, Maplecroft, features Lizzie fighting Cthulu monsters. Damn! That’s some creepy nursery rhyme turned mysteriously cool yet still creepy all at the same time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wlO-J0v9ZY

John Hemry was asked to talk about retiring from his navy career to become a writer and stay-at-home father. He spoke openly of his three children, all who are somewhere on the autism spectrum and each requiring some amount of special care. I have to admit that this little bit of a reveal on his personal life is why I want to give his books a try. The military SF genre is filled with books written by military/ex-military men and, to me, much of it is interchangeable, lacking distinction from author to author. But since Hemry has been a househusband and a father to challenged children, I expect he has more insight into the human condition than most writers in the military SF genre. With my fingers crossed, I will be plunging into some of his books soon.

John Maddox Roberts on the Secret History/Alternate History panel, Bubonicon 2014

John Maddox Roberts on the Secret History/Alternate History panel, Bubonicon 2014

The first panel of the day for me was The Weird Weird West: SF with Six-Guns, moderated by John Maddox Roberts. He was joined by Craig Butler, Josh Gentry of SnackReads, David Lee Summers, and Walter Jon Williams. This was a fun, fun panel that was part history lesson and part romp through all the weird westerns out there, in print and on screen. Sitting down to enjoy this panel, I instantly thought of Westworld. The discussion started with a bit of history about the Wild West (and how short lived that actually was) to the paranormal side of the Wild West (think ghost stories and native folk lore) and then to the various cultures that have homaged the Wild West – Spaghetti westerns, Samurai 7, and more. For your traipsing through the Weird West, check these out: Joe Landsdale, Jane Lindskold, Emma Bull, Ambrose Bierce, Red Harvest, The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, The Haunted Mesa, and Science Fiction Trails magazine.

Cherie Priest & John Hemry (AKA Jack Campbell), Bubonicon 2014

Cherie Priest & John Hemry (AKA Jack Campbell), Bubonicon 2014

After taking a break to check out the Bubonicon auction, I ended up enjoying the panel Cthulu Lives! Lovecraft’s Old Ones in Today’s Fiction. Moderator Cherie Priest was joined by Yvonne Coats, John J. Miller, Harry Morris, and John Maddox Roberts. The panel spent a lot of time on their love for H. P. Lovecraft and his influence on today’s writers and the entertainment world in general. From the bookish world, check out Caitlin Carrigan, Fritz Leiber, Molly Tanzer, Livia Llewellyn. From the big screen and TV, check out True Detective, Cast a Deadly Spell, Pacific Rim. Then folks got a little serious and discussed the darker side to Lovecraft: his racism and sexism. Miller and Priest had the most to say, and seemed to have studied not only Lovecraft’s works but also his personal life. Morris also pitched in here and there with anecdotes. Priest pointed out that you don’t find hate without fear, and Lovecraft had a great hate of women. Miller pointed out that Lovecraft came from a highly dysfunctional home. It was a very interesting discussion and I think Lovecraft’s biography would be a worthy read. Then Priest told her story of her large framed Lovecraftian poster above her bed, and the squirrel falling down behind the wall late at night as Cherie sat up reading.

Claire Eddy & Connie Willis on the She's My Tardis panel, Bubonicon 2014

Claire Eddy & Connie Willis on the She’s My Tardis panel, Bubonicon 2014

By this point I was fading fast and thinking about that 2 hour drive home. But there was one last panel, She’s My TARDIS, Except She’s a Woman, moderated by John Hemry. He was joined by Connie Willis, M. T. Reiten, David Lee Summers, and Claire Eddy. This started off as a discussion of ships or even planets that became a personality within the story, such as Firefly‘s Serenity, the ship from Farscape, even the planet Arrakis from Frank Herbert’s Dune. Willis recommended the movie Dark Star. And then someone asked the question of why ships are usually referred to as female, which lead to a deeper discussion of animism and the female psyche. Needless to say, the men kept digging themselves into a hole and it was terribly fun to watch. Indeed, I spent much of this last hour of the con laughing out loud (with everyone else, so it was the good kind of laughing out loud).

And there you have it folks. I’ll try to do one more post about the autographing session, the auction, the costume contest, and the art room. I didn’t get to explore the gaming room nor the vendors this year. And there was a late night charity auction Friday night. Really, I should just replicate myself for this event so that I can enjoy everything. Next year’s Bubonicon will be later in August, instead of the first weekend, so I only have a whole year to wait.

Bubonicon 2014: Saturday

ABQ Steampunk Society & Cherie Priest

ABQ Steampunk Society & Cherie Priest

The Saturday of Bubonicon is where the most stuff happens – lots of panels, plenty of readings by individual authors, the mass autographing session, and the costume contest. For this post, I decided to talk about the panels and in another post I will share my crappy photos of the costume contest and talk about all the cool art I saw in the art show room.

First, let me say the Con Suite was awesome. This is my first time partaking of it and I was impressed. The hotel house rules put the Con Suite up on the 16th floor and they have to cover the expensive items (i.e. the TV) and the floor with plastic – which kind of makes you feel like you are walking right into a kill room, except there is all this food and nerdy people having merry geeky conversations. There were simple breakfast burritos that you could dress up with salsa or cheese, plenty of fruit, bagels, various beverages, and all sorts of appropriate con food (minion cheese nips!). And donuts! It’s been months since I had a donut and I was just dreaming about them last week.

Connie Willis on the Ten SF Worlds You Need to Visit panel, Bubonicon 2014

Connie Willis on the Ten SF Worlds You Need to Visit panel, Bubonicon 2014

Then off to my first panel of the day, Secret History versus Alternate History: Splitting Hairs. Since Ian Tregillis couldn’t make it this year (sniffle), Walter Jon Williams filled in as moderator. He was joined by Cherie Priest, John Hemry (AKA Jack Campbell), S. M. Stirling, & John Maddox Roberts. Williams quickly defined the terms ‘secret history’ and the grammatically correct ‘alternative history’ to the panel’s agreement. This panel was part history lesson and part discovery of other great authors of the genre that I need to hunt down and devour. Priest talked about how boiling water, two ladies (Clara Barton & Sally Thompkins), and their insistence to remain in charge birthed the organization we know today as the American Red Cross. There was also plenty of talk about dirigibles (real and fictional), submarines, and the what if photography came around a bit earlier (since all the tech was there but no one had put it together). Stirling highly recommended checking out the memoirs of Anne Lister, a mountaineer & traveler who died in the 1840s. Fredric Brown was also recommended, along with Anno Dracula by Kim Newman.

The ABQ Steampunk Society hosted a tea and chat with Cherie Priest that everyone was welcome to attend. The ladies of the ABQSS were all decked out in their outfits, complete with gadgets and personas. The tea was hot, the room chilly, the conversation excellent. Leah R, the ABQSS Event Organizer, was dressed as Briar Wilkes from Boneshaker (hooray!). Various steampunk touchstones in modern culture were discussed such as the tv series Jack of All Trades (which I need to Netflix!) and the robot Boilerplate (who has a tidy little faux history and website). Beyond Victoriana is a blog that focuses on steampunk, and especially on steampunk beyond the boundaries of England and English culture. I had quite a bit of fun browsing around on this site. Of course, Priest gave us a little history lesson (which is tied to one of her books) concerning Maria Boyd, a spy for the Confederacy in the Civil War. I forget exactly how Maria came up in conversation, but she had a fascinating life starting in her teens with plenty of marriages, internment camps, spying, affairs, etc.

Ernest Cline on the Pop! Culture Influences panel, Bubonicon 2014

Ernest Cline on the Pop! Culture Influences panel, Bubonicon 2014

Alas, the tea was drunk the hour was over and we all had to shove over for the next item on the schedule. I was off to Pop! Culture: Influences of Today’s Life, a panel moderated by Cherie Priest and which included Ernest Cline, Scott Phillips, Gabi Stevens, and Lauren Teffeau. Some of this panel I got, some I didn’t. I am a produce of the 1980s, but it was heavily influenced by country music and nothing but country music (unless I heard it in a movie). Don’t fret; I rectified this somewhat when I escaped to college and discovered all sorts of emo and alternative music. But there are still gaps in my 1980s cultural references as there were plenty of movies/music/tv that I wasn’t allowed to experience. Other parts of the panel, i totally got, like I can completely understand why someone (Cline) would want a DeLorean or two, and why they would trick them out with paraphernalia from Ghostbusters, Star wars, and KITT. There was plenty of talk about Star Trek, MST3K, and Atari to go along with it. Also, I learned an important Star Wars trivia – the gold dice hanging from the Millennium Falcon in the first movie were later stolen from the set and didn’t make a reappearance in the subsequent films.

Daniel Abraham moderating the Sidekicks & Minions panel, Bubonicon 2014

Daniel Abraham moderating the Sidekicks & Minions panel, Bubonicon 2014

The fun continued with Sidekick and Minion Cliches & Comic Relief, moderated by Daniel Abraham (who is half of the awesome writing team James S. A. Corey, the other half being Ty Franck). He was joined by John Hemry, Claire Eddy, S. M. Stirling, & Connie Willis. This panel started off with a rousing discussion of the definitions of sidekick, minion, and foil and then friendly banter about the differences, followed by examples – Pinky & the Brain, Harry, Ron & Hermione, Sherlock & Watson, Batman & Robin, Don Quixote & Sancho Panza. Who’s a foil (someone there to constantly screw up and create opportunities for our hero to look good)? Who is a minion (someone forced into assisting our evil empire builder)? Who is a sidekick (and there was tons of discussion on exactly what role the sidekick plays)? And here is another new-to-me author to add to my TBR pile – Sean Stewart. Then someone mentioned a podcast done in the style of old-time radio theater, The Thrilling Adventure Hour.  A few movies/tv shows, such as The Venture Bros. and Grabbers, were also mentioned.

Ten SF Worlds You Need to Visit Before You Die was moderated by Connie Willis, who was joined by Yvonne Coats, T. Jackson King, John Maddox Roberts, and Courtney Willis (Connie’s husband). If you think I blathered on before, well, there was tons of good stuff discussed on this panel, and I could go on and on – but this is already a really long post. So let me say the following books/authors were recommended by the panel: The Wood Wife, H. Beam Piper, Samuel R. Delany, Discworld, Barsoom, Andre Norton, Redshift Rendezvous, Robert Forward, Riverworld, Karen Anderson, Richard K. Morgan, James White, Earthsea, And Flatland. There, if that doesn’t keep you in reading for 6 months, I don’t know what will.

David Lee Summers at Bubonicon 2014

David Lee Summers at Bubonicon 2014

The last panel of the day was What Scares You Now? Horror Today which was moderated by Craig A. Butler. He was joined by Cherie Priest, Scott Phillips, David Lee Summers, & Joan Saberhagen. First, let me say that I was NOT stalking Cherie Priest on Saturday. It just so happens that she was in nearly all the panels I had an interest in. No, the stalking came the next day – just kidding. But we did get to share an elevator (and some morbid humor) with several other ladies. Second, half the panel started off introducing themselves and their fear of centipedes. Hence, there was a fair number of centipede jokes throughout the hour. There was plenty of discussion about vampires and zombies; Priest said an interesting thing that I will attempt to clearly paraphrase: the two are opposite sides to the same coin. One makes you unique, powerful, desirable, and autonomous while the other strips everything unique from you, makes you undesirable, and leaves you no longer in control of yourself. I am sure there is a senior psych paper in that somewhere. Saberhagen was difficult to scare, as she fears none of the made up monsters. She did have bits and pieces to add to psychological terrors, such as when your senses say something is in front of you or happening that your mind says can not be. And of course there were lots of recommendations of what is good in horror now: Salem’s Lot, Manhattan, The Day After, Kate Kerrigan, The Ape’s Wife & Other Stories, The Slenderman.

And there we have most of Saturday. It really is a small convention, but that lets me ride the elevator with book celebrities and ask pesky questions at every panel (if I wanted to). And I get to know some of the regular con goers too. Plus several of the local authors bring their spouses and kids, so that is always cute to see.

Bubonicon 2014: Friday

Walter Jon Williams, T. Jackson King, and Laura Mixon

Walter Jon Williams, T. Jackson King, and Laura Mixon

It’s the start of my yearly holiday, Bubonicon, the scifi convention of Albuquerque, NM. I packed appropriately with books and a fun t-shirt for authors to sign at the big signing party on Saturday. I’m staying at the hotel where the convention is held, which makes it mighty convenient to pop in and out of panels and readings, zipping up to my room here and there for apples and sanity breaks.

This year, the 4pm panel kicked off the convention with local authors. It’s All SF: Sci-Fi & Southwestern Fiction, moderated by Walter Jon Williams, hosted a great discussion on how the desert southwest has been used as location in SFF. Williams was joined by fellow NM authors David Lee Summers, Jeffe Kennedy, T. Jackson King, and Laura Mixon (AKA M. J. Locke).

This panel ranged from the ecological and geographical diversity of the Southwest, to the cultural diversity of region. Of course, this went on to discuss frontier adventures in general and how what we learn from this region can be used to build frontier locations on fictional worlds. Two of the panelists have ties to the Roswell incident, which I found quite amusing. There was a nice discussion of the O.K. Corral and how modern movies make that the climax of the story, when in reality the O.K. Corral event was the beginning of Tombstone violence that went on for several months. Add in side notes about a Santa Fe version of the phantom of the opera and Japanese chili farmers, and you have a pretty amusing panel.

David Lee Summers, Jeffe Kennedy, & Walter Jon Williams

David Lee Summers, Jeffe Kennedy, & Walter Jon Williams

But then Walter Jon Williams had to bring up the (sadly) failed camel corp and the Ottoman trainer, Hadji Ali (AKA Hi Jolly), who was brought over with the camels to train US military personnel in camel riding. Apparently there is a monument to this man in Lake Havasu, AZ which is a pyramid with a camel at the pinnacle. Then Laura Mixon asked if anyone knew the song. No one volunteered, so she sang part of it for us, which was really quite awesome. Check out this LINK for the lyrics.

So, there we have scifi, history lesson, and musical entertainment all within the first panel of the Con.

Then I was off to tea, with two authors (David Lee Summers and Melinda Moore). We met at a nearby Starbucks, which is perfect for me as I love the scent of coffee but greatly prefer slurping down tea. We had a great chat, mostly about books, of course. And Melinda let me be a little book geek and have her sign my kindle.

ABQ Steampunk Society

ABQ Steampunk Society

Then back to Con in time for Steampunk 101: Queen Victoria Doesn’t Own It. This panel was hosted by ABQ Steampunk Society, and they were all dressed up. It was pretty cool to variety in their costumes (which I didn’t do a good job of photographing). Of course, plenty of steampunk literature was discussed – Scott Westerfeld, Cherie Priest, Jules Verne, K. W. Jeter, David Lee Summers, and plenty of others. Alternate history writers were pulled into the discussion (Harry Turtledove, Eric Flint). The aesthetics of steampunk were also discussed especially in relation to steampunk societies that have popped up around the world in places where there isn’t necessarily a body of literature int he native tongue to draw upon.

Bubonicon fun & swag

Bubonicon fun & swag

Then I was off to the dealer room to pick up a book I have been meaning to since the last Bubonicon – A Kepler’s Dozen. 99% of the time, I love living on the farm. But I do sometimes really miss being near a bookstore.

So, what do I have loaded on my kindle? Lightning Wolves by David Lee Summers. What audiobook do I have loaded on my laptop? The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis. I have so been looking forward to this event for months now and this kickoff doesn’t disappoint.

Interview: David Lee Summers, Author of Lightning Wolves

SummersLightningWolvesFolks, please welcome David Lee Summers to the blog once again. He’s previously gifted me with a bit of his time in this other interview. Today we chat about fairy tales, Star Wars, Cherie Priest’s works, awkward fan moments, and question over the correct use of the term ‘parsec’. I had quite a bit of fun in reading through David’s answers and I expect you’ll be as entertained as I am.

Myths and beliefs that we would consider fiction or fantasy in modern literature once upon a time shaped history (think of all the hunts for unicorns & dragons). Do you see modern fantasy fiction affecting human cultures today and how?

One of my favorite poetry collections is Jean Hull Herman‘s Jerry Springer as Bulfinch or Mythology Modernized. Throughout her collection, Ms. Herman recounts stories of Greek myth and recounts similar episodes from the Jerry Springer Show. It all goes to show that we not only project our hopes and aspirations into our myths, we also reflect who we are as human beings on our myths and sometimes we don’t always come off in the best light.

No matter what genre a writer tackles, they’re going to react to those things around them. Now a science fiction writer might either add some wish fulfillment and create the world she hopes will come about, or she might create the world she fears. The same is true for fantasy. We’ll raise up our better selves in the form of heroes and noble creatures while also dashing ourselves through villains and monsters. In answer to your question, I think modern fantasy fiction simply gives us a lens by which to view the modern world and attempt to make the best choices as human beings. A century from now, people will look at our fantasy in much the same way as we look at Grimm’s Fairy Tales, as a window into past times.

HowellSummersKeplersDozenGiven the opportunity, what fantastical beast of fiction would you like to encounter in the wild? Which would you avoid at all costs?

The fantastical beasts of fiction I would most like to encounter would be any Maurice Sendak‘s wild things of Where the Wild Things Are. They look vicious, but really, all they want to do is play and I could be their king by simply being fierce at them.

Although I love dragons and gryphons and would love to see one from a safe distance, I’d probably also want to avoid them at all costs because I’m not sure there would be a safe distance.

What book should be made into a game (card, PC, board, etc.) and why? Is there a specific character who you would want to play in this game?

I would love to see a PC game based on Cherie Priest‘s Clockwork Century novels. It would be fun to see a lot of the different locations and situations visualized. It could be done as a quest game with different objectives. I’d love to campaign through her alternate Seattle underground, or aboard the speeding train of Dreadnaught, or through the streets and swamps of her steampunked New Orleans from Ganymede. For my part, I would like to play the part of airship pirate captain Andan Cly, but there are plenty of great characters that a player could choose to be in this world.

SummersOwlDanceWhat nonfiction works have you found useful in building fictional worlds, cultures, and plots?

One of the go-to books in my personal library is The Atlas of Past Times. It was a book I found on remainder on a shelf outside a bookstore, but I find it a great quick reference when I’m checking where boundaries were at a given point in history or who was in charge of what, which can then point me to other historical reference materials. This is very useful if I’m working on a historical story, alternate or otherwise. It also reminds me about how fast boundaries have changed in human history.

In general, I think the most useful books for building cultures are collections of folk tales. I’ve used Grimm’s Fairy Tales, American Indian Myths and Legends by Erdoes and Ortiz, and Vampire in Europe by Montague Summers. There are also a lot of good projects where people have collected folktales on the web. These tell you a lot about people’s hopes and fears, their morality, and their taboos. Reading folk tales along with books from other times and places can open your mind and help you consider what future or fantastic cultures might be like.

NASA has many great online resources not only for their discoveries, but the spacecraft and vehicles that made them. This can be helpful when you’re thinking about how vehicles work in space. Plus, they often give you references for places to look for more information.

The way I approach any story at the beginning is to think about what building blocks I need for the story. Will I need to know about a certain region of the world? Do I want to build a culture that’s analogous to a culture that has existed? Sometimes I have books that will help answer those questions in my library. If not, I’ll go to the online card catalog for the local library and see what kinds of books they have on those subjects.

SummersTheSlayersWhich ancient or historical works have you not read and periodically kick yourself for not having made time for them yet?

Paradise Lost by John Milton is one I’ve always wanted to sit down and work my way through because it inspired so much of the modern lore about angels and demons—things people think are Biblical but aren’t. I’d also love to read the Iliad and the Odyssey all the way through. I’ve read large chunks of the latter, but it’s been a long time. On a somewhat lighter note, I’ve been looking for a good translation of Jules Verne‘s ‘Round the Moon, the sequel to From the Earth to the Moon. Verne ends the first book on a cliffhanger, with his crew going to the moon, but we don’t find out what happens until the second book and I haven’t tracked down a copy yet!

From your own writings, are there any characters you would like to cosplay? Have others dressed up as characters from your books?

In fact the outfit I often wear to steampunk events is inspired by the clothes I describe for the inventor, Professor Maravilla in Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves. It’s a cravat, brightly colored waistcoat, and tailcoat. The bounty hunter, Larissa Crimson, was created by my daughter as her steampunk persona for events. As it turns out, she appears as Larissa on the cover of Lightning Wolves.

So far, I haven’t encountered anyone outside my family dressed up as a character from my books, but I’d be absolutely delighted if they did. They’d get a free book and I’d have to take a picture with them!

SummersSolarSeaIf you could sit down and have dinner with 5 dead authors, who would you invite to the table? What would they order?

I would start with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. After all, she pretty much invented both modern science fiction and horror with Frankenstein. Next would be Arthur Conan Doyle. It would be great to meet the man behind Sherlock Holmes and see if I could get him to recount stories of some of his famous hoaxes. Another British author of the period who would be fun to have at this table would be D.H. Lawrence, to discuss both poetry and his perspective on northern New Mexico at the time my grandparents were doing their best to make a life there. Leigh Brackett would have to be on the list for both her role in early pulp science fiction, but for a Hollywood writing career that ranged from working with Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep, to John Wayne in Rio Bravo, and finishing with the screenplay for The Empire Strikes Back. With Leigh Brackett there, I would have to invite Ray Bradbury. Even though I got to meet him before he died, there are so many more things we could talk about and discuss now than when I met him in the early days of my career.

Who knows what they would order if left to their own devices, but with three people from England and two of them from the late Victorian period, I’d be inclined to invite them over to a sumptuous holiday meal of turkey and all the trimmings. If I were preparing it, it would be a smoked turkey with mole sauce on the side. I’d make sure there was plenty of wine and beer available. The one time I was with Ray Bradbury that he ordered something, it was a Heineken.

SummersDragon'sFallIf you were asked to create the syllabus for a college class in SFF literature, what books would be on there as required reading? As passing discussion?

The hard part of this question is that a college semester is only going to have limited time and you can’t read all the greatest, best, or the most influential works. My inclination would be to use Frankenstein to discuss science fiction’s beginning as cautionary, morality tale. I would move on to Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon to discuss the rise of science fiction as an optimistic genre. Starship Troopers would probably serve as classic military, hero-driven science fiction and as a jumping off point for the role of politics in science fiction. Dune would probably come next to show a continuation of the heroic saga, but subverted by the sensitivity of ecology and drug culture at the time it was produced. The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester would probably come in there, too, to show how heroic science fiction could be completely subverted, allowing for the rise of cyberpunk and other genres. A novel like Paolo Bacigalupi‘s The Windup Girl would serve to show the return to science fiction as cautionary tale, the introduction of steampunk and a jumping off place for a discussion of the future.

Lots of other books would certainly be mentioned, if not substituted for these. Certainly Ray Bradbury’s novels and stories would be discussed. Lois McMaster Bujold and the Miles Vorsagian novels would be good examples of character and plot almost becoming primary to any particular science fictional element. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy could come in as part of a discussion on the role of humor in science fiction. So many books so little time!

SummersRevolutionOfAirAndRustCare to share an awkward fangirl/fanboy moment, either one where someone was gushing over your work…..or one where you were gushing over another author’s work?

It was more cool than awkward, but last year at Phoenix Comicon, a fellow bought a copy of Revolution of Air and Rust. He was nice enough, but said he’d read it over and let me know what he thought. The next day, he came back to the table with one of his friends and he immediately bought Owl Dance and told his friend, he absolutely had to buy Revolution of Air and Rust. “That’s one of the best things I’ve read.” That just made my day.

As for awkward fanboy moments on my part, I went to see Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan on the day of release with friends of mine from across town. We were all in high school at the time. They introduced me to their friend Jan Bixby. We were having a great time in line talking Star Trek, science fiction, and generally geeking out when an older man built like a bantam rooster with hair that looked like it put combs in their place walked up and had a few words with Jan. One of my friends pulled him aside and introduced me to him. “This is Jan’s dad, Jerome.” I shook his hand, then said something like “Pleased to meet you, sir”, then he went on his way. A beat or two later, I put it together. Jan Bixby’s dad was Jerome Bixby, the author of such original Star Trek episodes as “Mirror, Mirror” and “Requiem for Methuselah” plus the great, great horror story “It’s a Good Life” which was made into a Twilight Zone episode starring Billy Mumy. I think I was speechless and muttering incoherent syllables for a while afterward. One of my friends had to point out in typical high school fashion, “Yeah, but he’s just Jan’s dad.”

SummersSpaceHorrorsWhat is a recurring or the most memorable geeky argument or debate you have taken part in?

One argument that seems to crop up from time to time is whether or not soft science fiction has any value influencing scientists. For example, someone might point to the infamous line from Star Wars where Han Solo says the Millennium Falcon “made the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs.” In the context of the movie, it’s clear he’s referring to parsecs as a unit of time, when in fact, they’re a distance that was initially based on the size of an arcsecond of angle on the sky. The claim is often made that not only is this bad science, it’s going to lead kids away from the sciences and we’re going to raise a generation of idiots. Therefore, this kind of terrible science needs to be eliminated from science fiction at all costs.

However, most astronomers I’ve known have gone into science precisely because soft science fiction got them thinking about the adventure of space at an early age. Carl Sagan famously fell in love with Mars because of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who got almost everything wrong about Mars. I’ve known generations of scientists who got interested in science because of both Star Wars and Star Trek. In my case, I remember hearing Han Solo’s line from Star Wars and wondering what a parsec was. Was it anything real? When I looked it up, I found out they got it wrong. So what? I still loved the adventure of Star Wars, but I have to admit, I felt a little bit superior to the writers of Episode IV. A whole new world opened up to me and I started looking up even more stuff.

So my side of the argument usually runs something like this: Science fiction influences scientists not because it’s right but because it’s fun. Sure as writers, we should do our best to get it right, but it’s the fun that makes people care. I’ve yet to meet anyone who stopped having an interest in science because George Lucas didn’t know what a parsec was.

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2014: What’s Next?

Here is an artsy wool rug. Sky Stones - because you have to name such pieces something.

Here is an artsy wool rug. Sky Stones – because you have to name such pieces something.

2013 was an extremely busy year for me, so some of my book commitments fell to the wayside. I had ankle surgery in February and that took forever to heal enough to be fully mobile. My man took an EMT course over the summer, while continuing to work 40 hours/week, and hopefully soon he will be licensed (still waiting on the ambulance ride alongs to be scheduled). Several small, intense events also happened over the summer and having them all stacked up like that took a toll. Then there was cubicle land. Yep. The office. I saw myself going down the path that leads to Dickhood and I decided I didn’t want to be just another disgruntled employee who was spending every ounce of concentration trying to hide it. I was tired of listening to my coworkers cry at work and my managers being yanked around by yet more managers. So, I looked around at what else I could do and I spotted a loom and weaving supplies. Yeah. You didn’t see that plot twist coming, did you? So on top of all the summer madness, I started a home business (Woven Hearth) while still employed at the the Cubicle Dungeon. Craziness.

In October I put in my 2 weeks notice, and my last day at the Dungeon was Halloween. It’s always been my favorite holiday, and now I see it in a liberating light also.

Picabuche - Just a smidge demon?

Picabuche – Just a smidge demon?

What does all this babbling mean about my reading life? Well, now I have a full-time job where I listen to audiobooks all day while weaving. Hooray! So I am tearing through those like Granny Margaret tears through pantyhose (don’t ask).

I also took up free-lance editing. I love this side job. I love being paid to take apart (politely, always politely) someone’s work. I love double checking their facts. Do herons really nest on the Nile banks in summer? What kind of trade was going on in 1580s Europe? If she’s holding a knife and a gun, where do they end up when she lunges to strangle the good guy?

You get the idea. But the other side of that shiny coin is that I now have difficulty reading ANYTHING without mentally editing it. My eyeball reading has decreased even as my audiobook listening has increased. So I am trying to get my eyeball reading groove back. Hence, the pileup of review ebooks that still need reading.

As many of you already know, I will be participating in Little Red Reviewer’s Vintage SF and in Stainless Steel Droppings’ Science Fiction Experience 2014. The Wheel of Time read along is ongoing (and lots of fun!). We’re just starting Book 7, A Crown of Swords. Also, for 10 glorious weeks we will be dissecting Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings in a read along cooked up by On Starships & Dragonwings and myself. I’ll also be participating in the February The Book of Apex Anthology blog tour organized by Little Red Reviewer. Starting up next week is the continued read a long of N. K. Jemisin’s The Inheritance trilogy with Book 2, The Broken Kingdoms with Books Without Any Pictures and Violin in a Void. I also have about dozen books from last year to review so that I am all caught up. Beyond that, we’ll see what happens.

HowellSummersKeplersDozenThere were so many books and authors I didn’t get to last year, so they role over to this year. David Lee Summers still has plenty of books for me to explore. Jacqueline Carey has put out one or two books in the YA genre. Of course, Brandon Sanderson‘s sequel to The Way of Kings will be out in March (Words of Radiance). I’ve been meaning to read Jay Kristoff for 2 years now. James Maxey, I’m an ass for not having listened to Bitterwood yet. Kick me in the britches if we ever meet. Since listening to Wil Wheaton read John Scalzi‘s Redshirts, I want to read Wheaton’s book, Just a Geek, and also more Scalzi. I love Mary Roach‘s investigative reporter books and I NEED, yes it is a need, to read her latest, Gulp. I’m feeling a deep, deep need to reread The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and to follow that with reading Wise Man’s Fear (which I haven’t read yet). I also need something dark, magical, and WWII, which means Ian Tregillis and his Milkweed Triptych series.

MaxeyGreatshadowHeldigYou get the point. I will be foregoing sleep.

What’s on your reading goals for 2014?

TregillisBitterSeeds

Interview: David Lee Summers of Hadrosaur Productions

David Lee Summers giving a reading.

David Lee Summers giving a reading.

Everyone, please welcome author, editor, & publisher David Lee Summers to Dab Of Darkness once again. This time, he graces us with his knowledge on publishing, small presses, and the mysterious hadrosaur mascot of Hadrosaur Productions.

1) Often in the publishing world, we see that cover art and even illustrations may be wide interpretations of the actual story. As a small publisher, how do you match art to the story?

First off, as a writer, I find it exciting to see how an artist envisions one of my stories or novels.  I even love it when the artist’s vision doesn’t precisely match the vision I had in mind, as long as it’s a valid interpretation of what I wrote.  It’s the process of seeing what I wrote through a reader’s eyes.  I love seeing the elements of the story the artist found important.

TalesTalisman8-4-coverThe way the process works at Tales of the Talisman Magazine is that I send the stories that require illustration to our art director, Laura Givens, along with summaries of the stories.  Laura then does her best to match the stories with the artists she works with, typically looking at how the “mood” of a story will match the tone and flavor of an artist’s work.  Once the artist has the story, they’re free to go off and interpret it how they want.  Laura works with them to create a technically good piece of work and then she sends it to me and I pay the artist.  I very rarely interfere with the process.  I only send something back to Laura if I feel an illustration gives away too much of a story’s ending, if I feel something could be interpreted as a copyright violation, or if I just can’t understand how the illustration relates to the story at all.  I think I have only sent three or four illustrations back in eight years.

As for the covers of Tales of the Talisman, or an anthology like A Kepler’s Dozen, I really just tell Laura the mood or feeling I want to convey in the cover.  Most of the time, she goes away and about 48 hours later has something for me.  I swear, Laura Givens is a mind reader.  Most of the time, what she sends me is perfect.  In the few times I’ve asked for a change, it’s usually some detail that I don’t think was quite right and often it’s fixed the same day.

2) Concerning publishing etiquette, are unsolicited manuscripts a welcome treat or something that immediately goes to the bottom of the pile?

Let’s start by defining terms.  A solicited manuscript is one that an editor has asked for.  We often think of those as being equivalent to submissions made through an agent.  Well, sorta.  The way that happens is that the agent goes to the editor, makes a pitch and then the editor invites the agent to submit, hence the solicited part.  Magazines, even big-name magazines like Asimov’s or Cemetery Dance, rarely solicit work through agents.  They tend to buy short stories directly from the authors.

Tales of the Talisman takes submissions from anyone during its open reading periods.  As long as the stories conform to the guidelines, these unsolicited manuscripts are absolutely a welcome treat.  Our reading periods typically start on January 1 and July 1 of each year and we read until full.  (Note, we did cancel our July reading period this year to allow us to get back on track with our publishing schedule.)  The guidelines are available on the web at http://www.talesofthetalisman.com/gl.html

HowellSummersKeplersDozenThe anthology A Kepler’s Dozen presents thirteen stories set on exoplanets discovered by NASA’s Kepler Mission.  In this case, we wanted each story to be set on a different exoplanet.  Because of that, writers had to tell us which star system they were going to feature in their story and then they were given the go-ahead to write their story.  So, in this case stories were “solicited” even though they didn’t come through an agent.  What this meant was that an “unsolicited” story was unlikely to be used.  Even though I say that, we did get a submission for Tales of the Talisman that was perfect for the anthology, so I asked to buy it for the book instead of the magazine and fortunately the author was happy to oblige!

3) When considering a short story or even a novel for publication, are tales that fit snugly into a well-established genre preferred over tales that are cross-genre?

As a reader, I absolutely love it when authors play with genre boundaries and tropes to create something fresh and unique.  The only real requirement is that everything works in the story’s internal logic.  No surprise, then, that I love doing the same thing as a writer.

The reasons for genre compliance are really to give bookstores a place to shelve books and to give readers a sense of what to expect.  Being a magazine of science fiction and fantasy, Tales of the Talisman doesn’t have to worry much about either of those things.  When we’re lucky enough to be on a bookstore shelf, we’re shelved with the other science fiction and fantasy magazines.  Because we are a magazine of multiple stories and poems, people expect a potpourri.  So, in fact, I love to see cross-genre stories.  That said, my preference is generally for good stories regardless of where they fit in genre definition.  So, I usually buy a mix of stories that fit in well-established genres and ones that cross genres.

I don’t consider novels for Hadrosaur Productions, but I have considered them when I’ve worked as an editor for other publishers.  My sense is that small presses are a bit more open to cross-genre works than bigger presses simply because they’re selling more of their works as ebooks or through online retailers and again don’t have to worry so much about how the books are going to be shelved at the local big box bookstore.

4) Do small publishers locate beta readers for their works, or is that generally left up to the author?

Again, I think a definition could be handy.  A beta reader is someone who reads an author’s manuscript and provides an early critique.  I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of any press, big or small, finding beta readers for books.  Typically that’s something left up to the author.

Generally, a publisher will run a manuscript through three levels of editing.  First is acquisitions, where the manuscript is selected. Second is line editing, where someone will read for plot holes, characterization issues, factual problems, problems with sentence structure and so forth.  This is probably the closest a publisher will get to a beta reading phase.  Finally there will be copyediting or proofreading, where the basics like spelling, punctuation and grammar will be fixed.  Depending on the size of the press these jobs may be handled from anywhere from one to three or more people.

Some small publishers will send a novel out for review blurbs.  These are the little quotes you may see on the front or back cover of the book that tell how wonderful it is.  This really isn’t the same as a beta reader.  If the blurb writer loves the story, they will generally send you a short paragraph telling what they loved.  If they don’t like story, they generally won’t provide a detailed report.  They’ll just decline to provide a blurb.

5) Series versus stand-alones: What are the pluses and the possible pitfalls?

When a situation and a set of characters click, readers and publishers love series.  Readers love them because they can come back and spend more time in a beloved world.  Publishers love them because they have a ready-made audience for the next book in the series.

An author should only agree to do a series if they absolutely love spending time in the world.  If not, they’re not going to create a series that readers will come back to.  Ideally, a writer should also treat each book of a series as possibly the last, and wrap up the plot sufficiently that if the publisher cancels the series, readers won’t feel cut off.  By the same token, writers should recognize that a reader may start a series in the middle.  So, the book has to be able to function as a first book as well.  In other words, the perfect series book is a stand-alone that functions in the context of a larger story arc.

In fact, as a writer, I’ve never set out to write a series.  I always started with a standalone book, because a new set of characters and a new world is an experiment.  That’s the beauty of the standalone.  It’s a chance to try new things out.  Sometimes those new things are wonderful and need to be explored in more books.  Sometimes, that first book will prove sufficient.

On a related note, Tales of the Talisman did try publishing serialized fiction in some of its early issues.  A few readers were enthusiastic about the serials, but generally these were people who were already loyal subscribers.  New subscribers generally didn’t go back and look for past installments, and single-issue buyers didn’t rush to buy subscriptions to find out the next installment.  Perhaps this was a reflection on the specific serials we bought, but it didn’t seem like this was the path to creating loyal subscribers and it kept us from buying as many wonderful stand-alone stories as we would have liked, so we ultimately decided to drop serials from the mix.

6) How important is self-promotion for an author that has signed with a small publisher?

I’m going to say something completely heretical in this day and age.  Forget what you’ve been told about “self-promotion.”  Figuring out how many tweets per day to send out about your book is a fool’s errand.  Intentionally trying to build buzz is just going to get you put in people’s spam filters.  What sells books is word of mouth by engaged readers.

The job of an author is to come up with an idea so wonderful, a story so eye-poppingly well told, characters so dynamic that readers will have no choice but to gush about the book.  In fact, the book is going to be so terrific, you’re not going to be able to help yourself as you geek out about it to your friends on Twitter, Facebook and at conventions and book fairs.  When you’re done with the first book, your job is to go on to the next book.  It’s going to be so great, you’re going to have no choice but to talk about that one, too.

The best publishers, large or small, have always worked with the author to help share the enthusiasm, but all publishers have limited resources.  Small publishers in particular are going to be people just like you, struggling to make ends meet with a day job, but who have a passion for the craft.  On top of that, they also have a bunch of other authors they’re working with.  If there is one specific promotion job I can encourage you to do, it’s to work with your publisher to figure out how best to dovetail your energies spreading the enthusiasm about the book, but do it with a spirit of partnership and cooperation.

So, yes, self-promotion is vitally important to an author who has signed with a small press, but the idea I want to get across is that if you’ve done your job as an author, the enthusiasm will flow naturally.  It will be infectious.  A few curious people will see and check out the book.  If the book really is great and strikes a chord, word will spread quickly.  If the book’s greatness eludes people, it doesn’t matter.  Even though you’re enthusiastic and spreading the word, you’ll already be working on the next great book.

7) How did the hadrosaur come to be the mascot?

My wife, Kumie, and I both love dinosaurs.  There’s one dinosaur in particular that we found particularly striking.  It’s a Chinese hadrosaur called tsintaosaurus.  It’s a duck-billed dinosaur that had a strikingly unicorn-like crest, in effect making it the creature of science and the creature of fantasy.  Here’s a good page describing the dinosaur:  http://museumvictoria.com.au/melbournemuseum/discoverycentre/dinosaur-walk/meet-the-skeletons/tsintaosaurus/

What’s more, when Kumie was going to graduate school for her Masters in Business Administration at the University of Arizona, her final project to create a company.  That company became our small press.  While working on her project, hadrosaur fossils were discovered near Tucson.  We took it as a sign and named our small press hadrosaur after the creature of science and fantasy, and we use the tsintaosaurus in our logo.

8) In this electronic age, is distance between author, cover artists, illustrators, and publisher an obstacle?

The distance between people really isn’t much of an obstacle at all.  These days I do the majority of business by email and it really doesn’t matter if the person I’m working with is across town or half a world away.  Editing stories is largely a visual exercise, and emailing manuscripts marked up in Microsoft Word is very simple.  Paypal has generally made it very easy to pay people, no matter where they live.  The only thing that can be a very slight obstacle is that it costs more to mail contributor copies of physical books to people in other countries than it does to mail them to someone in the United States.

SummersSolarSea9) What is your take on book trailers and their effectiveness in promoting a single book or a catalog of books?

I think book trailers can be very eye-catching if done well.  Like a good book, a good book trailer needs to be able to stand out from the pack and do something memorable.  There are a lot of sites for sharing book trailers and it becomes another way for an author or a publisher to share their enthusiasm for a particular title.  However, I’ve seen some book trailers that look like amateur YouTube videos.  Nothing about them really captures my attention.

If you’re going to take the time to make a book trailer or spend the money to have one made, make sure it’s done right.  Don’t just do it because it’s the “in thing” to do.  Do it because it’s something you’ll be proud to show off.  I haven’t assembled any book trailers lately simply because I haven’t had the time to make one of the quality I’d find satisfactory.   The last one I did was for my novel The Solar Sea.  It’s a little dated, but I think it still stands up, largely due to Laura Givens’ excellent artwork.  I even made an animation for the video.  It’s at http://thesolarsea.com

10) When you are actively scouting for new authors or artists, what are some things you look at for compatibility?

The process of “scouting for a new author or artist” is largely one of putting up a notice saying we’re open to submissions.  An author will send a story or a novel (depending on what we’re looking for).  An artist might send us a link to their online portfolio.

In the case of short stories, the process is simple.  If they send me a story I love, I most likely will send them a contract.  As long as they handle the contract and payment process in a business-like way, I’m happy to continue doing business with that author in the future.

In the case of artists for Tales of the Talisman, generally Laura Givens looks at the artist’s portfolio to see if the work fits the kind of tone and quality she wants to maintain.  If it is, she emails the artists to make sure they’re happy to work for the pay we can offer and deliver the illustrations we need in a timely fashion.  She’ll generally try them out with one piece.  If all goes well with that first assignment, she’ll contact them for a future assignments.

Most of my experience with novels comes from acquiring books for other companies.  Still, when a publisher commits to buying a book, it’s a relationship that will need to last at least a few years to be successful.  I generally start by evaluating the cover letter to see if the author presents herself in a businesslike and professional manner.  From there, I like to see what kind of track record the author has.  Ideally, I’d like to see a few story sales or at least some indication that she knows how to work well with an editorial team.  I also like an author who can carry on a conversation either online or in person.  Conversely, I don’t want someone who will dominate a conversation or whose ego is so big, I don’t feel like I fit in the same room with it.  I also like to know what an author plans next.  Do they have another book planned?  Is it a sequel or another standalone?  There’s not necessarily a right answer to those questions, but I don’t want an author who has invested all their hopes and dreams in the one work sitting in front of me.  Those authors are invariably disappointed when their baby didn’t make them a millionaire overnight or someone gave them a one-star review on Amazon.

11) As a well-established small publisher, what are a few pieces of advice for folks thinking of founding their own publishing company or joining one?

If you’re thinking of joining a small publishing company, look at their track record.  Do their books look like they’re professional quality?  Do they pay royalties on time?  Do they treat their authors well?  Do they have clear guidelines for the work they expect you to do?  Talk to other people working with that press to find out if they’re happy or not and why.

If you’re planning on founding your own company, plan for the long haul.  It can take years for a small publisher to find their niche and be successful.  Stay within your means.  Don’t publish more books than you can afford to.  Don’t take on more projects than you can handle in a timely fashion.

Educate yourself about the process.  Understand the workflows needed to create the products you plan to sell.  For example, if you plan to publish both print books and ebooks, learn how to manage your workflow so you can do both in a timely manner.  Understand how to create a print book and how to create an ebook.  Even if you ultimately plan to contract these jobs out, it’s the best way to know whether you’re getting a fair price for the jobs performed.

Educate yourself about the marketplace.  Where are you going to sell your books?  How do you place those books with those vendors?

As a small publisher, treat your authors well.  Pay your royalties on time.  Keep clear channels of communication open with your authors and your staff.  That said, remember, the readers always come first.  Fill your orders in a timely fashion and pay attention to what your readers like and don’t like.  They’re the source blood of any publishing venture and your mission will always boil down to finding the best way to get good books into their hands.

Thanks again David for sharing your time and knowledge!

Places to find David Lees Summers and Hadrosaur Productions

Hadrosaur Productions

Tales of the Talisman

David Lee Summers: Wrong Turn on the Information Superhighway

David Lee Summers’ Web Journal

Goodreads

Amazon

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