Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Thanks for the interview! My name’s David Lee Summers and although I’ve been writing professionally since 1997, I’ve been telling stories as long as I can remember. I met Ray Bradbury in 1983 who encouraged me to submit my writing. Also, when I was a child, my parents took me on several memorable trips around the United States which encouraged an on-going fascination with history.
In addition to being a writer, I’m an astronomer who operates the two largest telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory in the United States. I have a degree in physics from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology. While there, I took an amazing course called “The Paranormal and the Scientific Method.” I’m a skeptic, yet fascinated by the role of the paranormal through history.
Who are some writers that inspire you?
It may sound trite, but I think most writers I’ve read inspire me to some degree or another. If I were to call out a few, I might start with Ray Bradbury, who I already mentioned. He encouraged me to go through life with my eyes open looking for the stories right in front of me. Tim Powers, who arguably is one of the founders of steampunk, helped me articulate the idea that you need much the same attitude when you approach alternate history and steampunk. You do research into the past and you look for the connections not made and have fun imagining what would have happened if the connections had been made. As a child, I read David Gerrold’s 1973 book The Trouble with Tribbles about the making of the famous Star Trek TV episode. That book is the first time I realized that “writer” was a career one could aspire to. Finally, I’ll mention John Nichols, whose novels about life in rural New Mexico convinced me that the stories I see and are interesting to me can be relevant and worth telling.
What have you written? (*Include books, novellas, short stories, poems, blogs, awards or anything of interest.)
At this point, I’ve written and published eleven novels, one novella, about eighty-five short stories and fifty-five poems. My most recent novels are The Astronomer’s Crypt, which is a horror story set at an astronomical observatory, and Owl Riders, which is the fourth novel in my Clockwork Legion steampunk series. Recent short stories include “Fountains of Blood” which is in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone edited by David Boop, “Jackson’s Hadrosaurs” in the anthology Extinct? edited by Dana Bell, and “A Vanishing Past” in the anthology Disharmony of the Spheres edited by J Alan Erwine. I’ve also edited five science fiction anthologies. The most recent is Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales available from WordFire Press. My poems have been nominated twice for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award and once for the Dwarf Stars Award.
Where can we buy or see them?
The best single point to learn about my writing is at my website: www.davidleesummers.com
There, you can read sample chapters of most of my novels, find links to the books, learn about my short stories, watch book trailers, and more.
Give us some insight into your story for the DeadSteam anthology. What makes your story unique? Perhaps you could share a brief excerpt from your story?
My story in DeadSteam is called “A Specter in the Light” and it’s inspired by several real-life events. When one thinks of the Wild West, one often thinks of sheriffs, outlaws, Native Americans, cattlemen, and things of that nature. However, as steam locomotives and industrial mining moved across the country, they attracted scientists and engineers such as Nikola Tesla, whose fluorescent light bulbs illuminated the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Also, land grant colleges were being established, such as my alma mater, New Mexico Tech—or the New Mexico School of Mines as it was known in the late nineteenth century.
New Mexico is a land of many spooky tales of hauntings, witches, and shapeshifters. My goal in “A Specter of the Light” was to tell a story that brought the science of the industrial world in conflict with the spooky, mystical side of the wild west to see what would happen.
Here’s a short excerpt from my story as two mining engineers test a Tesla Coil in an ancient cave under a nearby mountain that foreshadows things to come:
We rode in silence to the base of Socorro Peak and I directed Ike to the cave I’d discovered. We unloaded the generator, then I lit the carbide lanterns. I led Ike into the cave and we looked around.
“This is a surprisingly large network of caves,” commented Ike.
A ways in, we found a place where the cave widened. “This looks like a good spot for your demonstration,” I said.
He nodded. “Let’s go get the equipment, then run a quick test.”
Half an hour later, we had everything set up. He had me turn the crank on the generator while he held the tube. As before, the tube glowed with an eerie light. Reaching to his helmet, he turned the valve on his carbide lantern, shutting off the light.
“Do you think that’s a good idea, Ike?”
“As long as you keep turning the crank on the generator,” he said with a wry grin. He looked around. “I’m going to see what’s down there.” He pointed at a tunnel that led away from the entrance.
“Just don’t go too far,” I said. “I don’t know how long I can keep cranking.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be right back.” With that, he stepped down the tunnel and out of sight.
I don’t know how long I sat there cranking that generator. I just know it felt like an awfully long time. Other than the squeak and whir of the rotating magnets and an occasional pop and crackle of sparks from the coil, it was utterly quiet there in the cave.
A long, low moan issued from somewhere deep within one of the tunnels.
Without thinking, my cranking slowed. “Ike, is that you?” My voice was little more than a whisper.
The moan sounded again.
I stopped cranking.
When I heard Ike’s voice, I realized I’d shut off his only source of illumination. I fumbled around for the hand crank. Finally, my sweating palms latched on and I began turning it again. A few moments later, I saw a spectral glow from the tunnel Ike had disappeared into. When Ike appeared shortly after, holding his tube, I breathed a relieved sigh.
“Is there some kind of animal down there?” Ike set the glass tube down behind some rocks.
“Not that I know of,” I said, still turning the crank. “But, I suppose there could be.”
He shrugged, then relit his carbide lantern.
“Sorry about letting go of the crank earlier,” I apologized once Ike had the helmet back on his head.
“Don’t mention it.” He grinned. “Just don’t stop during the demonstration tomorrow.”
With both of our helmet lights on, I stopped cranking. “You bet.” I stood and we returned to the entrance. Just as we stepped into the daylight, I thought I heard another moan from the depths of the cave.
What are you working on at the moment? What’s it about?
I just finished a short story titled “The Scientist, the Spiritualist, and the Mummy” in which a scientist in Victorian London finds a way to reanimate an Egyptian mummy, but he needs the help of a noted spiritualist to give it thoughts and speech. Thematically, it’s similar to “A Specter in the Light” in the sense that it’s all about the meeting of science and the paranormal.
I’m also collecting stories for a volume of space pirate tales called Firebrandt’s Legacy. I’ve been writing my space pirates since the late 1990s and they have a vibe similar to Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Captain Ellison Firebrandt is a privateer with a moral compass, raiding ships for Earth. The stories in the collection tell the story of his romance with computer scientist Suki Mori and their discovery of a remarkable engine that lets them travel faster than the speed of light without established jump points, giving them a significant advantage over other star vessels. Of course, those who built the engine will stop at nothing to get it back. I’m releasing each story as I re-edit or write them for the collection at http://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers
What genre are your books, mainly? Are you new to the dreadpunk or steampunk genre, or have you written in the genre before?
I sold my first steampunk story to Realms of Fantasy magazine in 2001. It was called “The Slayers” and told the story of an airship crew who hunted dragons. I like to say I was writing steampunk even before I knew what steampunk was!
As for the books, my four Clockwork Legion novels are steampunk. I’ve also written four science fiction adventure books. (Actually that’ll be five once Firebrandt’s Legacy is complete.) I’ve written two historical vampire novels and one contemporary horror. By the numbers, I’ve probably written more science fiction adventure than anything else, but I think my science fiction adventure has enough “space cowboy” to qualify it as a distant cousin of steampunk!
What compelled you to write or submit a story to this particular anthology?
I grew up on the Gothic tales of the nineteenth century, including stories by Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Bram Stoker. Optimism about science was tempered by a little healthy caution about the future. Likewise fear of the supernatural was tempered by some optimism that science could shed light on those mysteries. I love those classic tales of science and supernatural meeting and jump at the chance to write in that kind of world when I can. DreadPunk seemed a great anthology to explore these kinds of Gothic themes.
Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors? Do you enjoy reading the classics or do you tend to read more contemporary writers?
I started tracking this last year on Goodreads and found out I read an average of a book a week. I enjoy both classics and contemporary authors. Among the classics, I love Edgar Allan Poe and Jules Verne. Among more contemporary authors, I enjoy Stephen King and Gail Carriger. I mentioned Ray Bradbury earlier and I do have to mention that I really love some of his darker works like Something Wicked This Way Comes and From the Dust Returned.
Where do your ideas come from?
My ideas come from everywhere and anywhere. Working at an astronomical observatory is a great source of inspiration. I get science fictional ideas there, but it can also be a spooky place in the depths of night, which can lead my brain down paths that result in scary stories. I live in the Southwestern United States. Billy the Kid’s trial was held near my house and Pat Garrett, the man who shot Billy, is buried in the cemetery behind my house. I drive by Tombstone, Arizona every week. My daughter goes to university in New Orleans. Living in these places and going through life with my eyes open as Ray Bradbury advised, it’s almost impossible not to be inspired to write.
Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
If I have a story idea but I’m not in a position to write it out immediately, I will write down one or two paragraphs to jog my memory. Most of the time, as I prepare to write a story, I’ll go for a walk and allow my brain to turn ideas over and play with them for a while until I see the story. Then when I sit down to write, it’s as though I’m telling a familiar story that actually has happened. Revision is the process of filling in the details and making sure the reader “sees” everything I see. On longer works, like novels, I do regularly outline. However, my outlines are pretty simple. Pretty much just a sentence or two that covers the major plot point I want to get across in the scene. That allows me a lot of freedom to create when I actually sit down to write the scenes in the novel. In fact, sometimes I go far enough away from my planned plot point that I need to re-outline sections of the book.
If your story is part of a series, could you tell us a little about the series?
Although my story is meant to stand alone, it was envisioned as an incident that occurred parallel to events in my novel Vampires of the Scarlet Order. The Scarlet Order vampires are a team of vampire mercenaries who formed in the late Middle Ages. The core members of the group are Lord Draco, a vampire who dates from King Arthur’s time, Alexandra, a slave-turned-thief from ancient Greece, and Roquelaure, a mysterious vampire who has been working as an assassin for the crowned heads of Europe. Who or what lurks in the caves nears Socorro, New Mexico? That actually gets answered in more detail in the novel.
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
I like both about equally. I grew up with paper books. I like the convenience of just putting in a bookmark and closing the book when I have to stop. I can get my paper books signed by my favorite authors. On the other hand, when I dive into a really thick tome, my wrists really appreciate not having to carry all that weight. I also like the fact that I can have a whole library of books ready to go on my ereader.
What book/s are you reading at present?
I just finished The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer, which is a story about a neurosurgeon who travels back to medieval Italy just before the Black Plague. I’m just starting Prudence by Gail Carriger. I’m also working my way through The Coming of the King by Nikolai Tolstoy. It’s a novel about Merlin, heavily inspired by Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain and Celtic lore. You’ve got to love a novel where the Salmon of Llyn Llyw is a major character.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/David-Lee-Summers/e/B003LLIC3C/
The individual book pages contain purchase links for all formats and most retailers that I know.
Clockwork Legion Series:
Owl Dance – http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_dance.html
Lightning Wolves – http://www.davidleesummers.com/lightning_wolves.html
The Brazen Shark – http://www.davidleesummers.com/brazen_shark.html
Owl Riders – http://www.davidleesummers.com/owl_riders.html
Wilderness of the Dead Series:
The Astronomer’s Crypt – http://www.davidleesummers.com/Astronomers-Crypt.html
Space Pirates’ Legacy Series:
Firebrandt’s Legacy – http://www.davidleesummers.com/Firebrandts-Legacy.html
The Pirates of Sufiro – http://www.davidleesummers.com/pirates_of_sufiro.html
Children of the Old Stars – http://www.davidleesummers.com/children_old_stars.html
Heirs of the New Earth – http://www.davidleesummers.com/heirs_new_earth.html
Stand Alone Novels and Anthologies:
The Solar Sea – http://www.davidleesummers.com/solar_sea.html
Revolution of Air and Rust – http://www.davidleesummers.com/Air-and-Rust.html
A Kepler’s Dozen – http://www.davidleesummers.com/Keplers-Dozen.html
Kepler’s Cowboys – http://www.davidleesummers.com/Keplers-Cowboys.html
Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales – http://www.davidleesummers.com/Maximum-Velocity.html