David Lee has had more than one career that may make some envious. In addition to being an author and editor, he’s also an astronomer. He currently works at Kitt Peak Observatory in Arizona and frequently travels to New Mexico where his family lives. So, I asked him what the best thing he has in his life. Aside from being blessed with his family, he started telling me about his time at Kitt Peak. He came back to work there about seven years ago and suspected that it would be short-lived due to the funding situation. But in the past seven years, both Department of Energy and NASA have stepped in with new projects that really need the resources at Kitt Peak. It’s been very exciting for him to be one of the people involved in this renewal. One of the projects is the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) which will measure the effect of dark energy on the expansion of the universe. The word “dark” isn’t a reflection of the darkness of space but rather that the energy effect is mysterious. The Department of Energy is sponsoring this program to begin in 2018. To be facetious, this program is going to create a GPS of the universe.
With successes in writing, editing and working at a significant observatory, what did he feel he does best? He explained that while he loves what he does at the observatory, he isn’t the Ph.D astronomer who writes the papers but more of a technician behind the scenes. So, it’s the writing, he said, that gives him the greatest satisfaction since it’s all coming from him. When did he start writing? As long as he can remember, he related. David Lee grew up as a Trekkie and, at one point, he read the “The Trouble with Tribbles” by David Gerrold which was an exposition of how Gerrold wrote the famous screenplay and his experiences with the TV show. This was to be very influential on David Lee. He also credits Ray Bradbury with his advice to the young struggling writer. But he realized he needed a day job while he was writing and since he loved science, he went for a physics degree. Since life tends to happen while you’re making other plans, he never did get his Ph.D; but he doesn’t regret it. He really loves the work he does at the observatory and it allows him the time to also do his writing.
Has he ever used his experience in the sciences in his writing? He had a lot of fun editing an anthology with Steve B. Howell, a project scientist for the Kepler Mission. It’s titled “Kepler’s Dozen” and has thirteen stories about the real exo-planets that Kepler has found but keeping the stories very realistic on the science that is known now.
David’s first published book was “Pirates of Sufiro” in 1997. He told an interesting story in that it was initially published by a Canadian company that actually used his success as a lure for amateur writers into what was really a vanity press. He since regained the rights and the book and subsequent novels are being published by Lachesis Publishing who are treating him very well. So when did he develop an interest in steampunk of which he has also written? He laughed and said he thought his interest started way before he ever heard the term. He always liked the retro and related a story dating back to 1987 when he was an undergrad working at the Maria Mitchell Observatory on Nantucket Island. He worked with a 1910 Clark camera photographing variable stars on glass plates it was real old-fashioned, and there were even ropes and pulleys to open the dome it was a great opportunity to work with 19th-century technology. This experience served to spark a lot of David’s interest combined with his father’s work as a locomotive foreman on steampowered trains. He actually sold a story, The Slayers, in 2001 that has elements of steampunk; but it wasn’t until probably 2010 before it jelled in his mind that he was actually interested in steampunk when he discovered Cherie Priest and Gail Carriger. A lot of his fantasy is like that stuff and his first real steampunk story was Owl Dance followed by Lightning Wolves (with some really fine cover art, BTW.)
How about social media? How much does that influence his success? Oh, yes…he posts on Facebook and Twitter and has a pretty good following on his blog (davidleesummers.wordpress.com). He sees the process as a freedom for people to open up and connect. He marvels about how much of an explosion it’s been where so many people can come together to chat and comment online.
So, what’s he working on now? He just turned in “The Brazen Shark,” the third in his steampunk series. He also recently signed a contract for a horror novel with an astronomy angle, to be titled “The Astronomer’s Crypt.” The idea came to him when he was the only one working at the observatory once when the plumbing was broken and the power was turned off. He experienced the aloneness and all the creaks and groans of the building. Aside from some horror elements present in some of his works, this will be his first straight-out horror novel.
I asked him what was most important to him when he writes: setting, plot, characters? It all starts with the characters for him; he either starts with the ‘who’ or the situation which leads to ‘who’ he’ll put into the situation. How does he write? He’s an outliner; he usually writes a chapter-by-chapter outline which, of course, doesn’t mean he won’t have to redo it when his characters hare off in a different direction. He doesn’t have much of a routine schedule since he has a day job so he generally gets most of his work done when he’s off office hours.
And what about the editing career? How did that start? When his wife was working on a Masters degree in business administration she worked out a small business plan and they later decided to use it to actually open their own business. David had built up some experience in editing on astronomy journals and they ended up with a fanzine called “Hadrosaur Tales.” Originally, they were going to publish audiobooks but it was a lot of work and they didn’t really have the professional equipment to turn out a quality product. So they decided to use Hadrosaur Tales to showcase other authors in anthologies and it ran as a magazine format for ten years. Then they decided to crank it up a notch and create a real professional magazine that was illustrated as well and “Tales of the Talisman” was born. What’s in the future for “Tales of the Talisman?” It’s currently in hiatus as David is juggling both his day job and his own writing so he’s thinking about changing the format to maybe an annual. He’d like to be able to move it into an ebook format as well.
David is something of a Renaissance man to my way of thinking. He manages to juggle so many important elements in his life to the benefit of all, and make it look easy. Kudos to you, my friend. May you live long and continue to prosper.