I had the privilege to interview David Lee Summers. I met him at Phoenix Comicon and asked for his help in promoting my Kickstarter and since then have emailed each other several times. He is one of many writers I respect and look up to, hoping to one day match his level of success.
David has broke the mold of traditional writers by writing outside his genre and being quite successful at it. He is known for his Vampire tales and is currently doing a Steampunk western-era story. Join me in welcoming David and hearing the great advice he has to offer.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself.
When I was a kid, my parents used to take these amazing cross-country trips, which instilled in me a real love of history. I’m married and have two amazing children. I’ve been writing seriously since high school. I have a degree in astrophysics. My first job in astronomy was at an observatory on Nantucket, observing variable stars with a nineteenth century telescope. My second job was helping with site survey work for the telescope that would become the ALMA array. I was lured out of graduate school by a job maintaining and operating telescopes. I voluntarily left astronomy in 2001 and spent eight years as a full-time writer and editor. I returned to astronomy in 2009 when my one-time boss at Kitt Peak called and said they were having difficulty finding people qualified to operate the observatory’s telescopes. Besides astronomy and writing, I love to cook and explore new places.
2. Do you consider yourself a character driven writer, or a plot driven writer?
I usually start by creating and envisioning my protagonists and the people who surround them. I ask myself what drives them and what their immediate problem is at the beginning of a given story. Once I know that, I move into a phase of intensive plot development. I like to outline my stories and know where the characters are going and how the novel will end even before I start writing. In that sense, you could call me a plot-driven writer. However, my characters have been known to steer me away from my outline, and I’m happy to let them. That’s when I know my characters have taken on a life of their own.
3. What is your favorite sport and team?
I have to admit I’ve never been a big fan of spectator sports. I do watch the Olympics and the occasional football, basketball, and baseball game. I love to play basketball and volleyball, although I’ll admit I’m not great at either of them. I was actually asked to try out for my high school football team, but that probably speaks more to their desperation than any skill I had. At the time, they had more losses than any high school team in the country! I do have a soft spot for both the New Orleans Saints and the Seattle Seahawks, but that’s more related to my love of those cities than anything else
4. Where were you born, where did you grow up, and where do you live now?
I was born in Barstow, a small town in California’s high desert. I grew up in San Bernardino, California, where my dad worked for the Santa Fe Railroad. I left home for college in Socorro, New Mexico when I was 17. I’ve lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico since 1995. For the last six years, I’ve had a second residence at Kitt Peak, outside of Tucson, Arizona.
5. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
That’s a tough question because there are a lot of places I would love to live at least for a while to really experience those places and get the feel of them: New Orleans, London, Glasgow, Munich, Athens, Tokyo — they all hold a very real fascination for me. That said, I’m really quite happy in Southern New Mexico. Las Cruces is small enough that I know my neighbors but big enough that they aren’t in my business. It’s a quiet town, but with enough things to do that I’m never really bored. We have an outstanding used bookstore called COAS and three great libraries. The climate has just enough variation to know there are seasons without going to extremes. So, yeah, if I were rich, I’d probably have homes all over the world, but the place I’d return to so I could recharge my batteries would be Las Cruces.
6. What writers inspire you?
Stephen King inspires me because he captures people and places better than many “literary” authors while at the same time scaring us. Anne Rice inspires me because of how well she views humanity through the lens of vampires. A. Bertram Chandler inspires me because of the way he mashed up the fictional Horatio Hornblower and the real William Bligh into the space captain John Grimes. John Nichols inspires me because he writes about people very much like my family and neighbors and shows me how it can be magical. Cherie Priest inspires me because she was the first author who showed me how much fun steampunk could be. I could go on and on with this list, but that’s a good start!
7. What is your favorite food, color, and ice cream flavor?
My favorite food is New Mexico red chile enchiladas, which are served flat or “pancake-style”, often with an egg on top. My favorite color is turquoise. My favorite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip.
8. When you write, what is your drink of choice?
My writing ritual starts with brewing up a pot of coffee. That’s absolutely my drink of choice when I’m writing. We have a place in Las Cruces that roasts their own beans, which results in a wonderful, aromatic brew.
9. Tell us about your current books and future releases?
Currently, I have eight novels.
The Pirates of Sufiro, Children of the Old Stars, and Heirs of the New Earth form the Old Star/New Earth series. The books are told from the point of view of pirate captain Ellison Firebrandt and his descendants. They watch as an alien machine/being called the Cluster arrives in our galaxy and begins destroying starships indiscriminately as part of a mysterious quest. As they solve the puzzle, they learn there are horrifying consequences for the galaxy if the Cluster isn’t stopped.
The Solar Sea is set in the Old Star/New Earth series and tells the story of humanity’s first voyage to the outer planets aboard a solar sail spacecraft.
Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order and Vampires of the Scarlet Order are the Scarlet Order vampire novels. They tell the story of a band of vampires who come together in the middle ages to work as mercenaries for humans. In the modern day, humans have found a way to engineer more efficient super soldiers than vampires, but to do so, they are tampering with powers they can’t understand. It’s up to the vampires to save humans from themselves.
Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves are the first two books of the Clockwork Legion steampunk series. In 1876, an invisible superbeing comes to Earth and decides to save humanity by encouraging the Russian Empire to take over the United States. Sheriff Ramon Morales and his girlfriend, Fatemeh Karimi, understand that something has caused this invasion and recruit a band of pirates, outlaws, and a mad inventor to get to the bottom of the problem before the armies of the world destroy each other.
Late in the spring I finished the novel The Astronomer’s Crypt which is a modern-day horror novel set at a fictional observatory in the Sacramento Mountains of New Mexico. It tells the story of how a disgruntled technician unleashes a terrible evil on the observatory.
I’m currently working on The Brazen Shark, which is the third novel in the Clockwork Legion series. In the novel, Ramon and Fatemeh travel to Japan where they are caught up in a new conflict with the Russians.
In addition to the novels, I’ve edited three anthologies: Space Pirates, Space Horrors, and A Kepler’s Dozen. Not surprisingly Space Pirates explores themes of piracy in space and Space Horrors explores what happens when you introduce supernatural elements into stories of space exploration. A Kepler’s Dozen presents thirteen stories set on planets discovered by NASA’s Kepler Space Probe. My co-editor on the project was Steve Howell, NASA’s project scientist for Kepler.
10. How much control do you feel you have on the outcome of your story? Do you have complete control or are you along for the ride?
I do outline a lot, which makes it sound like I’m in control, but really, I view it as a process of asking what happened next and getting an overview of the story, doing my best to let the characters lead me where they will. Even once I have an outline and start following it, the characters sometimes lead me in different directions than I expected. It happens less now than it once did, but I think that’s only because I’m better at paying attention to my characters during the outlining phase!
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, Dragon’s Fall: Rise 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 edits the quarterly science fiction and fantasy magazine Tales of the Talisman and has edited three science fiction anthologies: A Kepler’s Dozen, Space Pirates and Space Horrors. When not working with the written word, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Learn more about David at davidleesummers.com
More information about David Lee Summers
Science fiction and steampunk blog: http://davidleesummers.wordpress.com
Vampire and horror blog: http://dlsummers.wordpress.com
Most recent novels:
Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009TJV65G/
Lightning Wolves: http://www.amazon.com/Lightning-Wolves-Clockwork-Legion-Book-ebook/dp/B00LI3LO80/
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