Long and Short Reviews welcomes back David Lee Summers. David has a new short story, “Jump Point Blockade,” coming out April 18 in Space Battles, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. Space Battles is the sixth anthology in the Full-Throttle Space Tales series, and David’s story features pirate captain Ellison Firebrandt and the crew of the Legacy.
“This time they have a rematch with Captain William R. Stewart of the New New Jersey, who they first met in the story ‘Hijacking the Legacy‘ from Space Sirens. Several of these characters are also featured in my Old Star/New Earth series,” he told me.
Along with writing, David has been editing Tales of the Talisman magazine for the last eight years. It’s a magazine of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. David has two reading periods each year—one beginning January 1 and the other July 1.
“I’m often amazed by the good quality and variety of stories I receive,” he said. “For those who would like to know more, the magazine’s website is http://www.talesofthetalisman.com.”
“What advice would you give a new writer just starting out?” I asked.
“New writers need to be persistent. This is a competitive business that requires a strong sense of craftsmanship. Write a lot and get it critiqued by peers. Send your work into magazines and if an editor responds, listen to what they say. When you finish one story, send it out. While waiting for replies, write another story or start a novel. Also, keep in mind that the field is in a state of flux right now. E-books have an important niche. The roles of online and brick-and-mortar bookstores are shifting. An investment banker will tell you to diversify your investments. In that same vein, I’d advise keeping an eye on the different roads to publication. Send your stuff to New York for consideration, but also learn how to self-publish successfully. Learn about the good small presses. Don’t limit yourself to one path to publication. Explore as many paths as possible. Even if you find success with one of those paths, consider pursuing another with a different work.”
David’s home office is a bit of a cave-like rooms where he’s surrounded by books, artwork, and toys—images that serve as inspiration to him. He usually uses his laptop for writing, but if he’s in a truly remote location he will use a pen and paper. However, a lot of his plotting and character development is done when he’s out on long walks or on long-distance drives.
“After such a walk or drive, I often pull out my laptop and write furiously for a couple of hours, getting the thoughts that came to mind into the computer before I forget them,” he said.
When he was growing up, he wanted to a writer, but that wasn’t the only thing he wanted to be. He imagined being an airplane mechanic, a paramedic, an astronaut, and much more.
“I think imagining myself in these different roles played a vital role in my ability to build characters and imagine them in different jobs. I still play pretend, I just do it in my head. Two of the things I wanted to be when I grew up were a writer and an astronomer,” he said. “I’ve managed to achieve both of those dreams. Not only do I write novels and short stories, but I operate telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory.”
The way David approaches research for his books depends on what he’s writing. If he’s writing science fiction, the main facts he’ll look into are things like stellar types, planetary distances, orbits and that sort of thing. He often turns to his own library of astronomy and physics books , since he has a degree in physics with a specialty in astronomy. He also has colleagues at the observatory he can talk with if he’s unsure about something. However, for historical fiction, like his vampire novels, research often starts at the local library.
“When I outline, I know generally where some of the action of the story will be set. I find the section of the library that covers the region and time period I want to write in and browse books, gleaning information about the clothes, lifestyles and important events of a particular age. I spend a lot of time pouring over maps to make sure I understand the geography of an area I’m writing in. Google Earth is a wonderful tool for that kind of research,” he told me. “If I’m writing something in an area I can travel to, I like to go there and visit, get a sense of the area’s ambiance. Barring that, travel books that describe an area in detail can prove to be an important resource.”
David absolutely loves New Mexican food of all sorts, but his very favorite is enchiladas Christmas style. I asked him what those were.
“They are tortillas in both red and green chile sauce, usually with some cheese and meat. I love the earthiness of the red chile sauce and the fresh spiciness of the green chile sauce. The two combined just make a fun, festive plate that’s delicious and exhilarating to eat. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. I often mention some of my favorite foods in my books. Chilaquiles, sort of a precursor to nachos, appear in The Solar Sea. Atole, a thin, chocolate, cinnamon porridge, appears in Owl Dance. I like good food and hope people who learn about a dish from my books will look it up and try it for themselves,” he explained. “My least favorite food… I’d say anything that’s been overcooked and become flavorless and lifeless. There were some specific things I avoided for years like Brussels sprouts and asparagus, but I’d recently discovered that I hadn’t had them cooked well. When done nicely, I found I actually liked some of those foods that I avoided as a kid.”
David was born in Barstow, California, out on the high desert.
“My family left when I was four, so I barely remember it, but I love the fact that it’s mentioned in the opening of Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels, he explained. “Most of my early years were spent in San Bernardino, California. I love many of the people there. I love its proximity to Los Angeles and the museums and attractions there. Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm did a lot to spark my imagination. Griffith Park Observatory and the Museum of Science and Industry inspired my love of science. Even more than that, I loved the fact that San Bernardino was only a short drive from both the Pacific Ocean and the mountains. Visiting the beach or going for hikes in the forest were both things that gave me a strong appreciation for nature and the fact that humans are only a small part of the grandeur of the universe.”
When it comes to e-books vs. print, David admitted that he still leans toward print because it’s what he grew up with.
“I like the feel of a print book. I like seeing that I’m making progress as I read. I like the smell of the paper. I like having authors sign my books when I get a chance to meet them. However, I’m growing to love ebooks more as the years go by. I like their portability and grew to appreciate it even more after I moved into a new house a couple of years ago and had to move all my books! Frankly, I think the ebook is becoming the new mass market paperback. It’s the place people are going when they are looking for new authors and when they want something to read on the fly. I’ve always loved mass market paperbacks. I’m growing to love ebooks despite my long romance with print.”
One of David’s favorite characters is Jonathan Jefferson, from The Solar Sea.
“Jonathan Jefferson was the last man to step foot on the planet Mars before NASA was shut down. He has returned to Earth and has a good, reliable, but boring job. We all know Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, but how many of us can remember the astronauts from the last Apollo flights? I began to wonder what it’s like to have achieved one of the great accomplishments of humankind, then be largely forgotten. When the Quinn Corporation builds the solar sail Aristarchus in The Solar Sea, they seek out Jefferson to be the mission commander because he’s the youngest of the original astronauts. Of course he leaps at the opportunity. However, as time goes on, he finds that the Quinn Corporation is all about accomplishing the mission in the least amount of time with the lowest amount of money. It’s very different from the culture Jefferson knew from NASA. I loved exploring the difference in military, industrial and governmental culture through Jefferson. Over the course of the novel, he learns new ways to do some things. Others also learn they should have listened to the voice of experience.”
It seems counter-intuitive to David that science fiction or fantasy could be seen as derivative and stale, because there is theoretically no limit what an author can do in those genres as long as he can get his audience to willingly suspend their disbelief about the story in question.
“That said, science fiction and fantasy fandom is a very tight-knit community and a lot of in-jokes and tropes have built up over the years,” he admitted.”Despite that, the internet has allowed for a breaking down of genre boundaries. Fans who don’t attend science fiction conventions are talking to those who do. Moreover, internet bookstores don’t force books to be pigeonholed, allowing more cross-genre books to be written and allowing readers more freedom to cross genres. I’ve long recommended that prospective science fiction and fantasy writers read outside their genre. It’s one of the best ways to keep the genres vibrant and expanding.”
He also thinks another trap science fiction writers get caught up on is paying too much attention to scientists who say that something is not possible.
“In this sense, science fiction writers need to learn to actually think more like scientists and engineers than like writers who do research on ‘facts’. They need to ask, why is something not possible? From there, they can speculate on ways they can make things possible. If you do that, then science fiction really can be vibrant and expanding. Even fantasy can learn a lesson from this. Why not bring some science into your fantasy world or some magic into the real world? In that way, there really are no boundaries to these genres.”
“What are you passionate about these days?” I asked.
“I’m feeling very passionate about cancer research. My wife recently went through breast cancer surgery and chemotherapy. It was a difficult year, but she’s feeling much better and is moving forward with life. I’m thoroughly convinced that she’s not only alive, but well because of the advances that have been made in cancer research in the last few decades. Despite that, it’s clear more needs to be done. More lives need to be saved. The research needs to continue,” he said. “My passion for this particular area is personal, but it is an extension of my more general passion for science. One may ask why should we fund things like physics and astronomy when cancer is clearly such a priority. The thing is, there is a connection. The detectors we develop for astronomy also help to develop more advanced detectors for the medical professions. Advancements in particle physics play an important role in understanding the chemistry and biology of cancers. All of these areas of research and development are interconnected. I encourage you to keep abreast of science. Let your elected officials know that science is important to you. Encourage any interest your children have in science. No matter what specific field it happens to be, they will make the world a better place through their involvement.”
About the Author:
David Lee Summers is the author of seven novels and over one hundred short stories and poems. His writing spans a wide range of the imaginative from science fiction to fantasy to horror. David’s novels include The Solar Sea, which was selected as a Flamingnet Young Adult Top Choice, and Vampires of the Scarlet Order, which tells the story of a band of vampire mercenaries who fight evil. His short stories and poems have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as Realms of Fantasy, Human Tales, Six-Guns Straight From Hell, and Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory. In 2010, he was nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award and he currently serves as the SFPA’s vice president. In addition to writing, David edits the quarterly science fiction and fantasy magazine Tales of the Talisman and has edited two science fiction anthologies, Space Pirates and Space Horrors. When not working with the written word, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory.
You can find the author online at:
Humans settled the Moon and satellites orbiting the Earth were a common sight, but with the abolition of NASA, humans had no desire to go further and space exploration died. Then, a technician from the Very Large Array, a radio telescope in New Mexico, discovers powerful particles orbiting Saturn’s moon, Titan, which could be a new energy source. Strangely enough, following the discovery’s announcement, whales around the Earth changed their songs overnight. As scion of the powerful Quinn Corporation, Thomas Quinn builds a solar sail—a vessel pushed by sunlight itself—to find the source of these particles in Titan’s orbit. He gathers the best and brightest team to pilot his craft: Jonathan Jefferson, an aging astronaut known as the last man on Mars; Natalie Freeman, a distinguished Navy captain; Myra Lee, a biologist, specializing in whale communication; and John O’Connell, the technician who first discovered the particles. All together they make a grand tour of the solar system and discover not only wonders but dangers beyond their imagination.