A Day in the Life Presents an Interview with Author David Lee Summers

Photo of David Lee Summers Courtesy of the Author

Terrie Leigh Relf: What are your daily writing rituals? How do you prepare your space for these activities?

David Lee Summers: I start by brewing a pot of coffee, then I read a chapter of a good book during that first cup. I feel like good reading begets good writing! I then move on to my first session of writing. After that, I’ll typically go for a walk, then write some more in the afternoon. I find walking helps me to visualize scenes or work through sections I’m having a difficult time with.

TLR: With what media – or genres – do you work? How did you come to this?

DLS: I generally write science fiction, horror, and steampunk. My love of science fiction and space opera grew out of being a Star Trek fan as a kid. I would notice the writing credits and get interested in what things people like Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison, and David Gerrold wrote, when they weren’t writing for television and that led me into the wider world of science fiction literature.

Steampunk actually has a similar background for me. As a kid, one of my other favorite shows was The Wild Wild West with Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. What’s more, my dad was a locomotive foreman for Santa Fe railroad and apprenticed at the end of the steam era. Also, we would take trips around the United States when I was a kid, which gave me a real appreciation for history. When I started a career in astronomy, one of the first telescopes I used was from the nineteenth century. It had a wind-up clock drive and glass photographic plates. I was amazed at the results you could get with such old technology. As a writer, I love exploring that world in fiction.

Horror was a bit more accidental, since I never really considered myself a horror fan as a kid, though I do remember watching scary, late-night movies with my dad. What really set me on that path was working at Kitt Peak National Observatory where one of my colleagues referred to those of us who operate telescopes as “the vampires of the mountain.” She was also a fan of vampire books and turned me on to Bram Stoker’s original Dracula. I read it during a dark and stormy night at the observatory and it struck me how effective the genre could be. I started by dabbling occasionally, but I’m now thoroughly hooked.

TLR: Do you have a “day job” in addition to being a writer—or is that your day job? How do you balance your creative and work time?

DLS: I operate the Mayall 4-meter telescope and the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory. This is a pretty intensive job in that I work from about 4pm until sunrise most days. However, I only work about six nights out of every fifteen, so that gives me eight free days to write, when I account for travel time. I do my best to make the most out of those free days and get as much writing done as possible.

TLR: What tips do you have for other writers? 

DLS: Find a day job you love. I don’t mean that in the usual sense of having something to fall back on if the writing doesn’t work out. On the contrary, having a “day” job in astronomy has been very inspirational to my writing. I think you can imagine how it inspires science fiction and I’ve spoken a little about how it inspires my steampunk, but it also inspires my horror. After all, I work in big empty, industrial buildings on a lonely mountaintop. Some days, it’s hard to keep from getting creeped out! Also, astronomy gives me something to talk about at places like science fiction conventions besides my writing, which in turn helps me to stand out a little from the crowd. If I didn’t have the astronomy job, I’d volunteer somewhere doing something I love. I think positive, outside stimuli are essential to being relevant as a writer.

TLR: What are your thoughts on the creative process in general and your creative process in particular?

DLS: I see the creative process as a big game of free-association. You start by laying out a set of conditions and asking “what if?” Then you do your best to answer that question, making sure to explain the circumstances and people involved in the answer to the best of your ability.

For example, in my latest novel Lightning Wolves, I ask: What if member of Tombstone, Arizona’s Clanton gang obtained an unstoppable juggernaut of a mining machine? It’s then my job to figure out who built the machine? What was the landscape like? Why was the machine built? Why would they be interested in obtaining the machine?

My personal process is to approach answering those questions the way a storyteller tells stories. I do my best to imagine the situation completely, to the point that it’s like a memory. That’s the point where I’ll sit down and write. That’s one reason my morning walk can be so valuable to me. It’s time to internalize a scene and understand my characters and why they take the actions they do. My long commute to the observatory also helps me with this part of the process, simply because I have time to imagine without the pressure of having a keyboard and blank page in front of me.

TLR: Where do your ideas come from? What inspires you? Intrigues you?

DLS: It’s almost a trite answer, but my ideas come from all around me. I’m inspired by the books I read, the television shows and movies I watch, the places I visit, and the people I know. The idea for my novel Lightning Wolves almost literally came from my commute to work. I drive from Las Cruces, New Mexico to an observatory west of Tucson, Arizona. Las Cruces on the Rio Grande is a farming town that attracted people from around the world. I pass by Council Rocks, where Cochise and Geronimo once camped. I pass the turnoff to Tombstone, site of the gunfight at OK Corral. Near there are the ruins of Presidio Santa Cruz de Terrenate, one of the only surviving Spanish presidio sites in Arizona. I was inspired to write about those places and the people who inhabited them.

My ancestors were among the earliest people to both move from Europe to America, then move across the United States. I’ve long been intrigued by what motivates a person to explore and seek new places. Given my background in science, I’m also inspired and intrigued by the natural world. Although I’m a skeptic, I recognize that science is a process of learning. I’m intrigued by those things which look magical, but prove to have completely rational explanations. By the same token, I’m intrigued by those things people think they understand perfectly, but turn out to be far more complex than they possibly imagined.

TLR: What interview question would you most like to be asked? Least? Respond accordingly.

DLS: The interview question I most want to be asked is this: What’s next after the projects you’re currently working on? Well, I’m glad you asked! I’m already under contract for a fourth book in the Clockwork Legion series. That novel is tentatively titled Owl Riders. It jumps ahead ten years after the events of The Brazen Shark and shows a world where the United States, Russia, and Japan command great technology and other countries have grown jealous and will try to steal that technology. When Fatemeh Karimi becomes famous as Harvard Medical School’s first female medical student, the man she was once betrothed to comes to reclaim her.

Presuming things go well with The Astronomer’s Crypt, I have tentative plans for two more books in the series called The Miner’s Tomb and The Hiker’s Grave. Those books are set in the same wilderness area and will continue the story of the mysterious collector named Mr. Vassago, who is unleashing ancient Apache monsters.

I am slowly compiling a collection of short stories called Firebrandt’s Legacy, which chronicles Ellison Firebrandt’s career as a space pirate before the events of my science fiction novel The Pirates of Sufiro.

Finally, I have synopses for three more Scarlet Order vampire novels I’d like to write once these other projects are completed. What’s more, I have a couple of other projects in the works that I can’t really talk about yet. That said, be sure to follow my blogs at http://davidleesummers.wordpress.com and http://dlsummers.wordpress.com for updates.

The interview question I least like to answer is: Which book by another author is your favorite? Okay, it’s a fair question because authors should read and they should read critically. The problem is that I have such a wide range of genre tastes and there are so many books I’ve truly enjoyed that it’s very difficult to pick a single favorite. Some books are sentimental favorites from my youth. Some books are technically flawed, but resonated with me on a personal level. Some books are technically proficient and seem to resonate with others, but fall flat for me.

In this modern era, we’ve become so caught up in the collective determining good and poor books through five-star rating systems that we forget the real magic of a book happens in that silent space where an author connects with a reader. I’ve been fortunate to experience that magic with many wonderful books, not all of which are well known. I hate to single out one book or one author and say they were the best because tomorrow, I’ll remember an even more magical book. Go read your favorite authors, read authors your friends recommend, but also take chances and read authors you’ve never heard of. Be open to the magic they have to offer.

TLR: What about upcoming publications? Awards and other accolades?

DLS: My story “Reckoning at the Alamo” was recently accepted for the second volume of Lost Trails, an anthology of culturally diverse weird western tales edited by Cynthia Ward and scheduled to be published by Wolfsinger Publishing. My novels The Brazen Shark and The Astronomer’s Crypt are working their way through publication. I’ll say more about them in my answer to the next question.

I have several events scheduled for the late summer and fall. I’ll be signing my novels Vampires of the Scarlet Order and Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order at Boutique du Vampyre in the New Orleans French Quarter on August 22, 2015 from 3-6pm. You can get more information about the signing and the store at http://feelthebite.com

I’ll be a participating author at Bubonicon in Albuquerque, New Mexico from August 28-30, 2015. You can find more information at http://www.bubonicon.com

I’m tentatively scheduled to be a participating author at MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado from October 23-25, 2015. More information about MileHiCon at http://www.milehicon.org

Finally, I will be a participating author at TusCon, in Tucson, Arizona from October 30-November 1, 2015. To learn more about that event, visit http://tusconscificon.com

TLR: What are you working on now?

DLS: I’m hard at work with my editors on The Brazen Shark, which is the third of my Clockwork Legion steampunk series, and The Astronomer’s Crypt, which is a contemporary horror novel set at an observatory. In The Brazen Shark, samurai warriors steal a Russian airship hoping to foment a war between Russia and Japan. They hope the emperor will be overthrown and the people will seek a return to the shogunate. In The Astronomer’s Crypt, a mysterious collector named Mr. Vassago entices a disgruntled electronics tech to steal a mysterious talisman, which unleashes one of the Apache monsters from the beginning of time on the grounds of a premier astronomical observatory.

TLR: Anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked?

DLS: I haven’t really spoken much about Tales of the Talisman Magazine. I’ve just put the magazine on hiatus after ten years of publication. As you can see from what I’ve said in this interivew, I have a lot going on in my life and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the demands of a quarterly magazine. I do intend to find a way to publish short fiction in a way that’s sustainable with the demands of my schedule. Stay tuned! In the meantime, please visit http://www.talesofthetalisman.com — most of the back issues are still available and there’s lots of good reading!


Lightning Wolves 600x900

David Lee Summers is the author of eight novels and numerous 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, Vampires of the Scarlet Order, which tells the story of a band of vampire mercenaries who fight evil, and Lightning Wolves, which is a wild west steampunk adventure. His short stories and poems have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as Realms of Fantasy, Cemetery Dance, and Apocalypse 13. In 2010, he was nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling Award. In addition to writing, David has edited three science fiction anthologies, A Kepler’s Dozen, Space Pirates and Space Horrors, and the magazine Tales of the Talisman. When not working with the written word, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Learn more about David and find out where to purchase his books at http://www.davidleesummers.com

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