Renovations

At Kitt Peak, where I work, the 4-meter telescope is getting a new coat of paint. Also, I now have my first wave of galleys for The Astronomer’s Crypt. 4-meter-painting My editor has made a few new changes—some for the better, some I’m revising further. In all, it’s a time for renovation and renewal.

In the spirit of renovation, renewal, and hoping to make things better, I’ve been thinking about my blogs. In case you don’t know, I have two of them. On Saturday, I blog at davidleesummers.wordpress.com about steampunk, science fiction and writing. I’ve been blogging here on Mondays about horror, vampires, and writing. The lines between the topics often blur, partly because horror and vampires sneak into my steampunk from time to time, while science fiction sneaks into my horror, and so forth.

It seems to me that having two blogs is splitting my energies and my audience. Now, I’m the first to admit that not everyone who likes my steampunk will also like my vampires. Not everyone who dreams of traveling to the planet Sufiro wants to imagine the horrible nightmares I have in store in The Astronomer’s Crypt. Despite that, the lessons I learn from writing and my observations likely have a common audience.

So, my plan is to try an experiment. Starting next week, all my blog posts will be posted at davidleesummers.wordpress.com. I’ll continue on my current schedule with more steampunk and science fiction on Saturdays and more horror and paranormal fiction on Mondays.

Thanks to all those who have followed this site since I started it in 2009. If you don’t already, I encourage you to come over to my other site and follow me there, so you won’t miss a thing. Of course, another way to keep up on all my latest news is to subscribe to my newsletter. I haven’t been sending updates as often as I’d like simply because I’ve been working on several projects all at once. Not only am I working on The Astronomer’s Crypt, but I’m working on two science fiction anthologies and some new short fiction, all of which I’ll be sharing about as it comes out both on the blog and in the newsletter.

These are exciting times! Thanks for joining me on this journey!

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The Inevitable Cycle

This summer, I had a wonderful opportunity to visit Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. It’s 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. Lowell-Crypt 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. As I’ve mentioned in a couple of other blog posts here at The Scarlet Order, it’s also the site of Percival Lowell’s Crypt. In the photo, you see my daughters and I visiting the tomb.

If you look carefully at the tomb, there are two epigraphs, one on each side of the door. The one on the right 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.

Lowell-telescope

Right next to Lowell’s crypt is the telescope where he observed Mars for many years. This visit was my first opportunity to go in, see the telescope and even look through it. We didn’t look at Mars, but the view of Saturn was unreal. 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 certainly hope to scare you when The Astronomer’s Crypt comes out, but 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.

Two Hundred Years of Scares

On Friday, June 10, 2016, I received the manuscript of The Astronomer’s Crypt marked up with my copy editor’s notes. The date is auspicious and perhaps a little ominous, since on June 10, 1816, Lord Byron rented Villa Diodati near Lake Geneva in Switzerland. He stayed there with his physician, Dr. John William Polidori, and invited noted poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Shelley’s fiancée, Mary Godwin to join them. The weather was unseasonably wet and cold that summer and the three were confined indoors. In that time, Mary Godwin wrote the first draft of Frankenstein while Byron started a work that Polidori would finish called The Vampyre. The summer was immortalized at the beginning of James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein. Here we see Mary Godwin regaling Shelley and Lord Byron with a tale of gods and monsters.

Shelley-Godwin-Byron

Essentially the summer of 1816 at Villa Diodati marked the beginning of both modern horror and science fiction. It also marked the beginning of two classic tropes of horror fiction—the man-made monster and the vampire. Sure, the vampire existed in folklore before this, but it’s Byron and Polidori who unleashed the creature’s fictional potential.

In many ways, I see my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order as a tribute to that summer two centuries ago. Vampires of the Scarlet Order It’s the tale of ancient vampires fighting man-made monsters. Of course, as in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the men who create the monsters don’t fully understand the powers they invoke. Like Polidori and Byron’s vampires, the Scarlet Order vampires are at once frightening and seductive. If you haven’t already delved into this world, I hope you’ll click here to learn more about Vampires of the Scarlet Order.

While watching James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein, I realized The Astronomer’s Crypt takes some of its imagery from the movie that reenacts the Villa Diodati gathering. Right in the opening scene, Elsa Lanchester as Mary Godwin talks about Frankenstein creating the monster on a stormy night at his mountaintop laboratory. In essence, The Astronomer’s Crypt is all about a monster running amok at a mountaintop laboratory! I saw other parallels in the movie as well, but revealing them would be spoilers at this early stage.

I think both horror and science fiction got off to an auspicious beginning two centuries ago. I hope the next two centuries will continue scare us and challenge us even as we dream of the future.

The Other Scarlet Order

About a year ago, I posted that I’d discovered another Scarlet Order title about vampires. At this point, all four volumes of Dance in the Vampire Bund II: Scarlet Order have been released in English and I’ve just finished reading the set. Here we see them pictured with my two Scarlet Order novels.

Scarlet Order Books

As it turns out, there are some interesting ways Nozomu Tamaki’s Scarlet Order manga are similar to my novels. In his story, the queen of the vampires, Mina Tepes, starts finding clues to the origins of vampire kind. In much the same way, the origins of vampires plays an important role in my Vampires of the Scarlet Order. In the manga series, nanotechnology is used to attack Mina’s headquarters. In Vampires of the Scarlet Order, nanotechnology also plays an important role, but it’s more directly related to the origin of the vampires. Likewise, both series involve mysteries that span the ages.

In my series, the Scarlet Order refers to the team of vampire mercenaries led by Desmond Drake. I think I can say without spoiling anything that Nozomu Tamaki’s Scarlet Order refers to a new direction for vampire kind as a whole.

It’s worth noting that in the manga, although Mina Tepes is several hundred years old, she maintains the form of a young girl. Since she’s romantically interested in the werewolf Akira Regendorf, this creates more than a few scenes that I found uncomfortable to read and see in drawn form. That said, my Scarlet Order vampire Mercy Rodriguez was turned as an older teen—albeit one who had already borne two children—and retains that form. After all, the Scarlet Order vampires remain as they were when they become vampires. I could imagine some readers might be just as uncomfortable reading about Mercy as I was about Mina at some points.

Despite this one issue, I would recommend Dance in the Vampire Bund II: Scarlet Order to mature vampire fans. What’s more, it would be interesting to see a crossover between the two series. I think a meeting between Mina and Desmond could prove quite interesting!

You can find out more about my Scarlet Order novels at:

Finally, I’ll wrap up with some news. I just completed reviewing my editor’s second pass of The Astronomer’s Crypt. The book should be moving on to copy edits soon. I hope I’ll have a release and a cover reveal before long. Be sure to stay tuned!

Monitoring the Skies

My editor wrote this past week to let me know she’s back at work on The Astronomer’s Crypt, my tale of what happens when frightening humans, supernatural creatures, and astronomers collide at an observatory during a terrifying storm that knocks out all the power. I’ve spoken a bit about ghost sightings at the observatory, but sometimes we deal with things even more frightening than ghosts. This last week, I spent a night working a team from the University of Arizona’s Spacewatch program, who came up to the Kitt Peak 4-meter to look for Near-Earth Objects or NEOs. Tame as that name is, NEOs are basically those objects that could collide with the Earth, ending life as we know it. Here’s the team at work in the control room.

Asteroid Hunters

The folks in the image are Bob McMillan and Jim Scotti. We were working on a full-moon night, which really isn’t optimal, but because we had a large telescope with good image resolution, we could look objects when other telescopes might not. This allows Bob and Jim to calculate more precise orbits than if they only observed closer to new moon.

The Spacewatch Program is part of a nationwide search trying to identify all objects in the solar system 140-meters or bigger. As it turns out, small asteroids present a hazard just because they’re numerous. Large asteroids are a hazard because of the amount of damage they can cause. 140-meters was determined as an intersection between these classes of asteroids. There’s no question a 140-meter asteroid would do damage. To give you an idea of how big that is, it’s about three times the size of the 17-story tall building we were sitting in:

4-meter

As it turns out, I have written a story about Spacewatch identifying an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. In this story set in the not-too-distant future, our heroes successfully destroy the asteroid, but there are unintended consequences. The story was featured in Wondrous Web Worlds, Volume 7, which you can find at Hadrosaur Productions or the Alban Lake Bookstore while you’re waiting for The Astronomer’s Crypt. I hope to have more news soon!

How My “Day” Job Inspires My Writing

This past week, I wrote a guest post for Lachesis Publishing about how my “day” job in astronomy inspires my writing. I put day in quotes because I work from sunset to sunrise at an astronomical observatory. You can read the post at http://lachesispublishing.com/?p=7256.

4-meter

In the article, I mention three ghost stories that have rational explanations. In the first one, the police called the observatory saying they had received a 911 call. When the telescope operator checked the number where the call originated, it turned out it was from an empty elevator, locked down and closed for the night. Only someone who knew where the elevator’s power was could have made the call, which was unlikely. Needless to say, the operator was pretty freaked out and thought it must be a ghost. It turns out, what the operator didn’t know is that several of the phone lines on the mountain had recently been slaved together in a phone upgrade. The 911 call came from some kids playing a prank, who I heard ultimately ended up in a lot of trouble!

The second story was about a breaker in one of the spookiest hallways being thrown. Turns out that one wasn’t so mysterious. There were more observers than normal in the control room and they were brewing coffee, making bagels in the toaster and running the microwave all at the same time on the same circuit. Most likely they just popped the breaker from all the cooking they were doing! Still, it was awfully spooky going down that hall looking for that switch.

The third story was about a rocking chair in the lounge rocking all by itself. This one is the hardest one to be sure about. The dome at the top of the 4-meter enclosure rotates so the telescope can look out and weighs some 500 tons. When it moves, it’s like a freight train. If the dome moves, things vibrate, so I could believe the chair would rock if that happened. That said, the people who’ve seen this say the dome was not moving. It’s hard to miss, so I don’t doubt them. If I had to guess, it has more to do with the building being something of a skyscraper, as you can see in the photo above. When the wind blows, it sways slightly, which might have set the chair to rocking. This is the one incident that I don’t have direct personal knowledge about, so who knows. What I do know is that they’re moving our control room into that room, so there will be plenty of opportunities to see if chairs move on their own.

As you can no doubt tell from this post, I am something of a skeptic. However, at the observatory we often look at stars hundreds of light years away, to see how their atoms and molecules behave. Some people who first learn about the vastness of the universe begin to wonder at how insignificant we humans are. However, if you look long enough, you really begin to wonder where we came from and what happens to the little spark of energy that keeps us alive after we go. When stars blow up, they don’t vanish. Their material is recycled and becomes the material for a new generation of stars. Does our life force simply vanish? It’s not so hard to believe it might still exist in some form. Being a skeptic only means that I require hard evidence to believe in ghosts and I haven’t seen that evidence yet. Nevertheless, I’ll keep wondering and I’ll keep exploring these ideas in my fiction.

The Weather as Monster

Happy New Year! This year, I rang in the new year at Kitt Peak National Observatory. My shift started on the first and I wanted to get to the observatory before too many people who had been up late celebrating hit the road. Also, this time of year, there can be ice patches on the road to the observatory, which meant that I wanted to be as alert as possible during my drive. Up here at the observatory, the weather is force we have to contend with regularly. The photo below shows a rain storm happening in the valley below the observatory. Imagine what it’s like when a storm like that is on top of us!

Rain-120819

Clouds that threaten rain or snow keep us closed not only because optical telescopes can’t penetrate such a layer, but also because the precipitation will damage the equipment. One job of a telescope operator is to make sure the equipment remains functional and observers stay safe.

Rain and snow actually can present a bigger hazard than simply stopping observing. Rain can cause rock slides on the road to the observatory and has been known to unseat boulders larger than my car! The wind up here can blow strong enough that it’s almost impossible to open the door to the telescope enclosure. In fact, one night we had a wind gust so strong that it caught the door and slammed it into the back of a co-worker’s head, stunning her! She went to the emergency room, which is over an hour away, but fortunately she proved to be okay.

Sometimes when we get snow at Kitt Peak, it builds up on the catwalk that surrounds the outside of the building, where we can walk around and get an unobstructed view of the surroundings. If temperatures freeze that snow becomes chunks of ice which can plummet fifteen stories to the ground below. One of those hit my boss’s car, destroying his trunk.

Stephen King wrote about monsters lurking in a mysterious fog in his novella The Mist. However, sometimes I find the weather itself can be as scary as any monsters I might imagine out in it. I explore that idea in my forthcoming novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. When I write about weather trapping people in buildings and doing damage because something large has been hurled into a dome, I’m writing from experience!

I hope the weather doesn’t get too severe for you in this new year. If it does, I hope you can relax somewhere in warmth and safety with a good book. Until The Astronomer’s Crypt comes out, I might suggest Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order or Vampires of the Scarlet Order. All best wishes for the new year!