LepreCon 42

LepreCon Science Fiction Convention is Arizona’s Annual Sci-Fi & Fantasy Convention with an art emphasis. “Life, the Universe & Everything” is the theme for LepreCon 42 to be held June 23 – 26th, 2016 at the Park Terrace Suites in Phoenix, Arizona. The guests of honor include Jennie Breeden, creator of the webcomic The Devil’s Panties and D.C. Fontana, who wrote for Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Bonanza. For more information about the convention visit the LepreCon Website. Below, is where you can find me at the convention.

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Thursday, June 23

    9:00-10:00pm. What Is Steampunk? Suite C. Steampunk is often referred to as the “greatest era that never was.” Our panel discussion will open the door to what Steampunk is for those new to the genre. On the panel with me are Ben Woerner and Johnna Buttrick.

Friday, June 24

    1:30-2:00pm. Autographing. Suite E. You’ll find me happy to sign your wares. I’ll have a selection of my books available to purchase.

    5:00-6:00pm. Future of Steampunk Literature. Suite E. A brief look at the history of Steampunk literature and where the future might lead us. On the panel with me is Scott Wilke.

Saturday, June 25

    11:00am-Noon. Responding to Reviews. Suite C. Learn how creators can best respond to the good, bad, and funny reviews they receive online. On the panel with me are Ben Woerner, Elizabeth Leggett, KellyAnn Bonnell, Shanna Germain, and Jennie Breeden.

Sunday, June 26

    9:30-10:30am. Surveying the Universe. Suite E. Kitt Peak’s mission is evolving. A new large spectrographic instrument is being deployed on the Mayall 4-meter and a new Doppler Spectrometer is being deployed on the WIYN 3.5-meter. What are these instruments and what do we expect to learn? What’s different about this science than the astronomy that’s been done at Kitt Peak in previous years.

    Noon-1:00 pm. Steampunk Before It Was Steampunk. Suite C. A discussion of film, TV and books that had steampunk elements before the term “steampunk” was coined. On the panel with me are Michael Flanders and Hal Astell.

In addition to these events, there’s a masquerade, a terrific art show, demos and gaming. If you’re in Phoenix, Arizona this coming weekend, I hope you’ll come in out of the heat and join us at LepreCon!

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Visiting Edgar

I must have been about eleven years old when my brother pulled a book off the shelf and took it outside to read a poem that immediately captivated me. Although it was a bright and sunny day in Southern California and we sat in the shade of an orange tree, I was carried to a dark and dank chamber where I saw a frightening apparition atop a bust of Pallas Athena mouthing the word, “Nevermore.” Of course the poem was “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe. Just a few years later, I would meet Poe again when a high school English teacher assigned “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Those two events turned me into a fan of Poe for life.

Poe-0530-Nicki

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I attended Balticon, a science fiction convention in Baltimore. The convention was held at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, which is just around the corner from the place on Lombard Street where Poe was found “in great distress” by Joseph W. Walker on October 3, 1849. It’s not entirely clear what Poe was doing in Baltimore or why he was outside the public house on Lombard Street where Walker found him. What is known is that Poe died in the hospital just four days later at age 40. He was then buried in an anonymous grave at Westminster Hall. In 1865, a movement began to create a more fitting memorial for Poe and by 1875, that culminated in the creation of the Poe Memorial at Westminster Hall where Poe is now interred along with his wife and mother-in-law. While in Baltimore, my friend Nicki Fatherly took me to see the Poe Memorial.

Poe’s interests were far-ranging. He wrote criticism, contemplated scientific discovery, imagined detectives, and was fascinated by the darker sides of human nature. He wrote poetry, essays, and prose. That range has influenced me to explore many topics and forms in my writing. Because of Poe, and authors he influenced such as Ray Bradbury, I’ve felt encouraged to write science fiction, horror, and fantasy. It’s why I write poetry, short stories, and novels. I’ve even written a few reviews. I was glad to visit Poe’s memorial in Baltimore and pay tribute to a man who continues to influence so many over a century and half after his mysterious and untimely passing.

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the United States, when we remember those men and women who fell in the service of our country. I’ve been fortunate that all my close relatives who went off to war came home again, though not all of them were unscathed. My grandfather, who served in the Army Air Corps in World War I had his arm shattered and nearly removed by a biplane propeller. Because of his service and his injury, he received a veteran’s benefits. Sadly, during the Great Depression when those benefits were sometimes his only source of income to feed and house himself and his three children, members of his own family accused him of taking handouts from the government.

I really didn’t know much about my grandfather while I was growing up. He died when I was only three-years old. Just about ten years ago, my mom came for a visit and wanted to see the town she grew up in. It’s a small town called Des Moines, New Mexico, in the far Northeastern corner of the state near Capulin Volcano. We walked through town and then went out to show my daughter the volcano. We discovered the ranger manning the desk actually knew my grandfather when he was alive, and she told us several stories about him. It turned out to be an unexpected treat!

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Afterwards, images of the real-life horror that would result if a volcano like Capulin erupted today haunted me. They swirled around with stories of my grandfather, and I wrote a story I called “Cherry Blossoms in the Springtime.” About a year later, it was picked up for an anthology called This Ain’t No Rodeo edited by Carol Hightshoe. This was a benefit anthology to raise money to assist injured rodeo bull riders. I’ve given a few stories to benefit anthologies over the years and I rarely know how effective they proved to be. I just discovered that the anthology raised $700 for it’s cause. I’m proud to have helped with that and I’m pleased that it happened through making a closer contact with my grandfather through the power of stories.

In the story, I imagine a veteran of World War I who happens to be a champion rodeo rider who fell on hard times due to the Great Depression. To make matters worse, a geologist arrives, announcing Capulin Volcano is about to erupt. The veteran enlists a friend to help save the town. The solution was based on a story my graduate advisor used to tell about saving a town by venting a volcano through explosives. My grandfather wasn’t a rodeo rider, nor has Capulin Volcano been active in recent memory, but I think it was a fun story. I’m sorry to say This Ain’t No Rodeo is out of print, so I may have to find it a new home.

At any rate, the story was intended not only as a way to remember my grandfather, but as a way to honor the bravery of those men and women who have served in the armed forces. Of course, many of those men and women made the ultimate sacrifice and never made it home. Memorial Day is often considered the unofficial start of summer, which includes fun and games. Sports like rodeo may not be limited to summer, but can certainly be part of the season. Before we dive into the fun, let’s take a moment and remember those folks who made that ultimate sacrifice and have given us the freedom we enjoy.

When Only the Moon Rages

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labor by singing light

These are the opening lines of the poem “In my craft or sullen art” by Dylan Thomas. I’ve long thought they beautifully express what its like when a writer, and particularly a horror writer, is developing a story or a poem. I turned to these lines when I was looking for a title for a collection of short stories and poetry I published back in 2001.

When Only the Moon Rages is a collection by Wayne James. Moon_Rages There are stories about creatures of the night, people of the stars, and individuals who dare to live in those dark places few have the audacity to tread.

One story features Lieutenant Lawry, an ordinary soldier on an alien world who must fight to keep an unknown, violent creature from killing his men. In another story, Sergeant Frank Blacklin strives to keep children alive against insurmountable odds on a hostile planet. Turning his attention to Earth, Wayne James tells the story of Robert, a man who lives in a nightmarish United States gone mad, where the enemies of the State are so numerous, their bodies are pushed into a gaping trench.

Other stories are set in the present day. In one, a respectable businessman falls for a woman turned on by crime. In another, a lonely man deals with the odd neighbors down the street by buying an assault rifle. It’s clear to me Wayne James spent many hours honing his craft “when only the moon rages.” The result might be expressed in one of his own poems:

Metallic bones shoot music—
notes flash across the hypersphere,
dance between magenta nebulae.

Although the collection is fifteen years old now, I think there’s still a lot of relevance in Wayne’s writing. I hope you’ll join me on a journey to the land when only the moon rages. The collection is available at Amazon.com and Hadrosaur.com

A Vanishing Past

I’ve been working on a new short story that deals with a topic that’s at once close to my heart and more than a little frightening in a real-world sense. Set in the world of my Old Star/New Earth series, it tells a story of space pirate Captain Ellison Firebrandt and his father. Unfortunately, his father suffers from dementia. This part of the story is inspired by my mom who suffered the same thing. Despite my mom’s dealing with dementia, I never really realized that it wasn’t “just” brain chemistry but involved a physical alteration of the brain. This public domain image from Wikipedia provides a pretty dramatic illustration of the effects that can happen.

Alzheimer's_disease_brain_comparison

In the last years of my mom’s life, she lived in fear of forgetting who she was. Her short term memory became quite poor and she would forget whether or not she’d taken medications without assistance. Although she would remember events in her distant past with some clarity, I found that she started to forget events from my past, including many of the friends I’d had in high school and college. In a way, it felt as though my own past were being slowly erased, which I think was scary for both my mom and I.

One of the challenges of the anthology I’m writing for is that I have to show the person finding a path through the disorder. Unfortunately, no cures have been identified and there are few medications or therapies that can help, which makes finding a path out difficult. Fortunately, I’m writing science fiction, so I can imagine some hope in the future.

Writing science fiction, I do give the story a bit of an additional horror angle. The company Bradbury Firebrandt works for uses nanotechnology to keep him strong. He’s been an asteroid miner for so many years, he can do it even with the impairment of dementia and the company uses technology to keep him working, almost like an enslaved zombie. This is a future that I don’t want to see, but can imagine all too easily.

As for how our character saves himself, I’ll leave that as something you can read about if and when the story gets published—and I’ll be sure to share that news. What I will say is that I’m very thankful for the final years when I got to spend time with my mom and hear the stories of the early years of her marriage to my dad and spending time living with her cousin in post-World War II Los Angeles. My own past may have vanished somewhat from her life, but I still got to know her better and hopefully as I work through the story, I’ll be able to convey at least a few of the complex emotions that go with helping an older relative through the difficulties of dementia.

Sharks and the Walking Dead

Today is release day for my steampunk novel The Brazen Shark! It tells the story of samurai who steal a Russian airship in 1877 to foment war with Russia so the Shogunate will be reinstated. Meanwhile, a couple from New Mexico Territory on their honeymoon work to reveal the plot so the world won’t fall into chaos. This is the third of my Clockwork Legion series and it’s available at Amazon as an ebook and in print.

Admittedly, The Brazen Shark is not a horror novel, and this blog focuses on my horror fiction along with horror that I find engaging and worth recommending. Acheron Highway As it turns out, Sky Warrior Book Publishing, who publishes The Brazen Shark does have a number of fine, frightening novels and anthologies. About a week ago, I listened to the audiobook edition of the dark urban fantasy novel Acheron Highway by Gary Jonas. The novel opens when Miranda Hammond walks into the office of Jonathan Shade. The thing that makes this remarkable is that a stalker literally stole Miranda’s heart. She has an incision in her chest and the heart is just plain missing. Shade himself is no stranger to death, having defeated it once himself. He takes the case and while he does, he must contend with zombies who have been raised by the lovesick goddess Persephone who is seeking the man of her dreams, Charon, the ferryman who has gone missing. Shade reminds me a bit of Jim Rockford from The Rockford Files. He’s the kind of detective who does his best to stay out of the trouble he gets himself into. In one scene worthy of a Ray Harryhausen movie, Shade must fight animated skeletons in a bowling alley. The ending is by turns frightening, shocking, and set up perfectly. If you like dark urban fantasy, be sure to check out the Jonathan Shade novels by Gary Jonas. Acheron Highway is available at Amazon.

Sky Warrior also publishes These Vampires Don’t Sparkle and the Zombiefied series edited by Carol Hightshoe. These Vampires Don’t Sparkle includes my Scarlet Order vampire story “Luftgeist” which tells about Lord Draco’s fateful voyage aboard the Hindenburg. The anthology Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie includes my story “The Zombie Shortage,” which tells the story of a community that has recovered after the zombie apocalypse but find finds it has become too dependent on zombies. Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials includes my story “Born-Again Miners,” which is set in the same world as The Brazen Shark. It tells the story of mine owner Randolph Dalton who discovers a cheap source of labor. Dalton was the antagonist in the first novel of the Clockwork Legion series, Owl Dance. So yeah, turns out there’s some scary potential in my steampunk books after all!

Villains as Heroes

This last week saw the launch of a new trailer for Suicide Squad based on the DC Comic. For those not familiar with the comic, it imagines many of the worst villains working as a deniable covert operations team for the U.S. Government in exchange for a chance to get out of prison. I haven’t read many issues of the comic, but the trailer looks interesting and I’ll likely go see the movie.

I think the appeal of a movie and a comic book like Suicide Squad comes from the fact that none of us are entirely good or entirely bad. We all have done things we regret, but we also don’t want to be remembered as villains. Stories about villains becoming heroes reminds us that we’re all capable of great things and of being heroic.

Scarlet Order

In many ways, that’s exactly the premise of the Scarlet Order novels. The protagonists may be vampires but they have to live in the world, so they become mercenaries as a way to do good. Now, you may question whether mercenaries are capable of doing good since they, in principal, fight for the highest bidders. However, the Scarlet Order fights for causes the believe in. They are mercenaries because, as vampires, governments are typically less permanent than they are. So, while they may not have loyalty to a country, they do have loyalty to ideals.

I also explore the idea of redemption in the forthcoming The Astronomer’s Crypt. Early in the novel, we meet several unsavory characters ranging from villains to just plain jerks. Through the course of the novel, some of them have opportunities to show their better nature. One of the things that excites me about that novel is finding out which ones choose to be helpful and which ones choose to remain villains.

While you’re waiting for The Astronomer’s Crypt, you can follow the adventures of the Scarlet Order vampires and find out what causes they will fight for in Vampires of the Scarlet Order, Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order, and even in the anthology These Vampires Don’t Sparkle. Who are some of your favorite villains who have found opportunities to show a heroic side?