eSpec Books interviews David Lee Summers, contributor to After Punk: Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Greg Schauer, funding now on Kickstarter.
eSB: What can you tell us about the story you have written (or plan to write) for After Punk?
DLS: My story is about a spiritualist who is invited to a mummy unwrapping party. When she arrives, she finds the place is swarming with scientists, some of whom have called her a fraud. She soon begins to thinks they may be playing her for a fool, but it turns out the party’s host has an experiment in mind and she’s a key element.
The story was inspired by panels I’ve done with magician Dyno Staats at a few different steampunk conventions. Ostensibly we’d talk about how Victorian science was incorporated into magic shows of the period, but no topic related to science and the mysterious was off limits. Mummy unwrapping parties and séances often found their way into our discussions.
eSB: Why did you choose that particular aspect of the afterlife to ‘punk up? How did it lend itself to the theme?
DLS: Mummy unwrapping parties were, strangely and sadly, a thing during the Victorian period. Strange because it involved inviting people over to your house to unwrap an ancient, dead body. Sad because of the total disregard it represented for another culture. Of course the whole point of Egyptian mummification was to send the dead to the afterlife with body and soul. Mummies are so lifelike, I can see where it would be tempting to think one could wake them and talk to the dead.
There’s also an aspect of the story that has to do with hauntings and ghosts, as one might infer from having a spiritualist character. Although I’m a skeptic where ghosts are concerned, I have seen and experienced things that I can’t easily explain and I wanted to bring some of that mystery to this story. Of course, spiritualists and séances were a big part of the Victorian era.
eSB: Does you story introduce new characters, or are they old friends you revisit often…to torment mercilessly?
DLS: My story introduces new characters. However, I have to admit, that prim and tormented spiritualist Dinella Stanton and showman-like chemist Augustus Harriman grew on me in their short tale and they may well have to appear again. Harriman especially has a kind of arrogance that deserves further torment.
eSB: What traditions or beliefs were you raised on regarding death or the afterlife? Did that influence your story at all?
DLS: I was raised in an evangelical Christian household with an idea that faithful Christians would have everlasting life in a paradise. To be honest, that idea didn’t much influence my story. A bigger influence from my upbringing was visiting the Tutankhamen exhibit that toured the United States when I was in elementary school. It engendered a fascination with Ancient Egyptian culture and funerary practices.
eSB: Describe your ideal vision of the afterlife.
DLS: In addition to being a writer, I’m a professional astronomer and I’m confronted by the sheer enormity of the universe on a day-to-day basis. My ideal vision of the afterlife would be to come into the presence of the mind that set all that in motion. I’d also hope that I could somehow use an eternal, spiritual existence to explore the vast multiverse in some form.
eSB: How would you ‘punk the grim reaper?
DLS: Forget the scythe, I’d give that boy a steam-powered combine harvester. His wardrobe is also a bit medieval. Maybe ditch the robes and give him a black tuxedo and top hat combination with a red waistcoat.
eSB: The coffin or the pyre, which one for you and why?
DLS: I always liked the fate Captain Kirk had planned for Spock at the end of The Wrath of Khan, launched into the atmosphere of a planet to go out as a shooting star. Barring that, I lean toward the pyre. Once I’m done with my body, I don’t need it anymore. It seems the easiest way to deal with what’s left behind.
eSB: What are some of your own works readers can look for?
DLS: Readers can look for my horror novel set at an astronomical observatory called The Astronomer’s Crypt. My Clockwork Legion steampunk novels are Owl Dance, Lightning Wolves, The Brazen Shark, and Owl Riders. I’m one of the editors of Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales which features a story by eSpec’s own Danielle Ackley-McPhail.
eSB: What projects of your own do you have coming up?
DLS: My fourth Clockwork Legion steampunk novel, Owl Riders, is due out this spring. I also have a spooky story about electricity rousing the dead in the anthology DeadSteam coming out this October from Grim and Grimmer Books. My ghost story “Evicted from Heaven” will appear in the anthology Hotel Haunted coming from Wolfsinger Publishing later this year.
eSB: How can readers find out more about you?
DLS: The easiest way for readers to learn more about me is to visit my website at http://www.davidleesummers.com and read my blog at http://davidleesummers.wordpress.com
David Lee Summers is the author of eleven novels and numerous short stories and poems. His most recent novels are the global steampunk adventure, Owl Riders, and a horror novel set an astronomical observatory, The Astronomer’s Crypt. His short stories have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as Cemetery Dance, Realms of Fantasy, Straight Outta Tombstone, and Gaslight & Grimm. He’s one of the editors of Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales from WordFire Press. He’s been nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Awards. When he’s not writing, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory. Find David on the web at http://www.davidleesummers.com.
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