Find the Conflict: Unblocking (or Actually Planning!) your NaNoWriMo Novel

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_Image

Let’s imagine I’m my 20-something self and this is my NaNoWriMo project

Last week, I did a kind of public service announcement about “pantsing”, the “just write” school of  writing — discovery writing — applied to your NaNoWriMo novel.

Truth is, I hate pantsing. Pantsing is why my old hard drive had a dozen first three chapters gathering bitrot. The only thing I discovered in several years of writing this way was the need to outline.

OK, there are pros who do pants. However, there are lots of other pros who swear by planning. Not just minor writers like your’s truly (bows), but rising stars like my mate Hannu who is very much a planner and an outliner (though he drafts by hand — hello, the 17th century called ).

Now, NaNoWriMo is all about literary elan; “Get the words down, doesn’t matter how bad.” And if you’re all about the word count, then it’s probably asking a bit much to get you to metaphorically sit on your hands and sketch out your story before pushing out the paragraphs. Even so, there’s a good chance that you’ll write yourself into a corner, or get stuck, run out of plot. Get blocked. So I thought you might find it useful if I shared an approach I used last year when writing novels to order — professionally, my 2013 was like NaNoWriMo does Groundhog Day.

Just to keep me honest, I went over to the Thrilling Tales Derange-O-Lab, generated random pulp titles, picked one that jumped out and built a cover for it (right).

Let’s imagine I’m my 20-something self and this is my NaNoWriMo project, The Eternal Dome of the Unknowable.

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New Treasures: Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Radiant Karina Sumner-Smith-smallThe surest way to get my attention these days is with an original setting. And I was struck by the darkly imaginative setting of Karina Sumner-Smith’s debut novel Radiant immediately.

Sumner-Smith is a Canadian author of fantasy, science fiction, and young adult fiction. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Nebula award and has appeared in The Living Dead 2, The Best Horror of the Year Volume Three, and other places. Radiant is the first book of the Towers Trilogy.

Xhea has no magic. Born without the power that everyone else takes for granted, Xhea is an outcast—no way to earn a living, buy food, or change the life that fate has dealt her. Yet she has a unique talent: the ability to see ghosts and the tethers that bind them to the living world, which she uses to scratch out a bare existence in the ruins beneath the City’s floating Towers.

When a rich City man comes to her with a young woman’s ghost tethered to his chest, Xhea has no idea that this ghost will change everything. The ghost, Shai, is a Radiant, a rare person who generates so much power that the Towers use it to fuel their magic, heedless of the pain such use causes. Shai’s home Tower is desperate to get the ghost back and force her into a body — any body — so that it can regain its position, while the Tower’s rivals seek the ghost to use her magic for their own ends. Caught between a multitude of enemies and desperate to save Shai, Xhea thinks herself powerless — until a strange magic wakes within her. Magic dark and slow, like rising smoke, like seeping oil. A magic whose very touch brings death.

Radiant was published by Talos Press on October 7, 2014. It is 400 pages, priced at $15.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital version.


Nab the Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic Anthology for Just $4.35 at Amazon.com

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Trafficking in Magic Magicking in Traffic-smallBlack Gate author, blogger, and roving correspondent Sarah Avery reports in with some unexpected news: Amazon.com has discounted her acclaimed new anthology Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic to just $4.35, a steep 73% savings off the $15 cover price.

Sarah and her publisher are not sure how long the sale will last, however, so act fast. Of special interest to Black Gate fans, it contains a brand new story from James Enge — as well as fiction from Elizabeth Bear, Darrell Schweitzer, Pauline J. Alama, and many others. Here’s the complete description.

What do you seek at the end of this road? What have you brought to pay your way? The road is full of hazards, and the marketplace can cost more than you expect.

In Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic, editors David Sklar and Sarah Avery bring you 18 magical tales of travel and transactions, ranging from busking in a train station to walking between the worlds, from doppelgangers for hire to capturing the remnants of the dead.

Ideal to read on your vacation, commute, or flight from vengeful ghosts, this collection features classic stories by Elizabeth Bear, Daniel Braum, George R. Galuschak and Darrell Schweitzer, as well as new work by Pauline J. Alama, Megan Arkenberg, D.W. Carlson, Joyce Chng, M.C. DeMarco, E. Grace Diehl, James Enge, Manny Frishberg, Sara M. Harvey, Scott Hungerford, Deborah Grabien, Deirdre M. Murphy, Rhonda Parrish, Richard Rider, and Heather Stearns.

Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic was edited by David Sklar and Sarah Avery, and published by Fantastic Books on May 23, 2014. It is 264 pages, regularly priced at $15.99 in paperback. There is no digital edition. Order online from Amazon.com.


Game Review: Dead of Winter from Plaid Hat Games

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by eeknight

dead-of-winter-boxColor me rotting-flesh green and call me thunderstruck. I believe I’ve been playing the best board game in my thirty years of dice rolling this week: the Plaid Hat Games survival horror magnificence that is Dead of Winter.

Ron Burgundy “That’s No Lie” seal of approval. I know I often write here with tongue probing my cheek, but this time I’m undeadly serious. Maybe it was just the subject matter, or how dark the game can get as desperation builds, but I found it my most enjoyable gaming session in memory.

I’m not just trying to squeeze in another gore-dripped Zombie-related post before Halloween, either. I was perfectly willing to let my one sad little movie post for the month be my fall contribution, but honestly, this game has taken over my brain like a Venusian virus brought back to Earth and I must write about it.

Like tabletop gaming with friends? Like Zombies? If either of these conditions = TRUE, you can read through all my blah blah questionable-humor blah blah blah, or you can get off the Internet, utilize your preferred mode of transport (I don’t care about your hair, that’s why God created baseball hats), go to your Friendly Local Game Store and grab this jewel so you can read the rules and play it over the course of Halloween all the more quickly.

You’re welcome.

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See Westeros the Way George R.R. Martin Intended in The World of Ice & Fire

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dragonstone

Dragonstone

If you’ve been watching HBO’s Game of Thrones, then you’ve already been treated to some spectacular sights.

It seems George R.R. Martin is not content to let HBO be the final word on the visual splendor of Westeros, however. His new book The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones, released this week, gives Game of Thrones fans the chance to see visions of Martin’s world that are much closer to what he intended.

In an interview at The Huffington Post, Martin explains why there are so many pictures of castles:

I wanted accurate versions of these castles. We’ve had a number of different artists draw them on covers and on the fantasy like cards and games, and some of them have been beautiful images but not necessarily accurate to what I described.

The World of Ice & Fire, co-authored with Elio M. García, Jr. and Linda Antonsson, who run the site Westeros.org, isn’t just an art book, however. It’s a comprehensive history of the Seven Kingdoms — all the battles, betrayals, and back-room deals that lead to the events of Martin’s novels. It includes full family trees for Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen; detailed histories of the cultures of Westeros; and more than 170 pieces of original art and maps, many in full-color.

See five high-resolution images from the book at The Huffington Post article here. The World of Ice & Fire was published on October 28 by Bantam Books. It is 336 pages, priced at $50 in hardcover and $19.99 for the digital edition.


Art of the Genre: Owning a Time Machine

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Working with artist Den Beauvais on a new Chess cover was a thrill beyond words for an old art geek like me!

Working with artist Den Beauvais on a new Chess cover was a thrill beyond words for an old art geek like me!

It’s true, in a sense. You see, I work as the Art Director for Gygax Magazine, and as such I’m tasked with trying to recreate the artistic feel of Dragon Magazine circa 1984. So, I spend my days not only going over old art, but also trying my best to discover new talent that somehow reflects some of the best aspects of the OSR.

Certainly, there have been others that have tried this type of nostalgia-based marketing. Goodman Games comes to mind with their initial line of Dungeon Crawl Classics, and the same could be said for Rob Kuntz and his Pied Piper Press in the mid-2000s.

Still, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can’t simply plug in old artists and make everything perfect. Talents evolve, and in some cases erode, and working with established artists who have trademark styles sometimes limits your ability to direct them inside a product.  Egos must be taken into account, as well as their vision versus yours, and finally how a price point that satisfies everyone can be achieved.

It can be a position of highs and lows, and I’ve had some great successes as well as failures along the way, but never once did I say ‘this just isn’t worth it.’

Why?  Because I love the art.  I love the artists, and having gone so deep into their world, I understand all too well the struggles they face on a daily basis. Each time I get the opportunity to pick up a phone, call an artist, and offer them work is what gives my job meaning.

Gygax provides this incredible vehicle to do just that, and when you finally get to hold the magazine in your hands, feel it just like you did that Dragon Magazine when you were in your teens, you understand just how special it really is.

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On the Road to Khurdisan: Brak the Barbarian by John Jakes

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_2702648M0L78hhBFor people of a certain age (the pushing-fifty crowd) John Jakes is probably best known for The Kent Family Chronicles, his massive series of massive books about American history and the mini-series made from the first one, The Bastard. Hearing that title said out loud on TV was a pretty shocking thing for us kids back in 1978.

It wasn’t until I was a little older that I discovered John Jakes had started his career as a real journeyman pulp writer. While working in advertising, he wrote science fiction, westerns, mystery, and horror stories for all the major genre magazines. His name appears on the contents page of Fantastic Adventures and Amazing Stories, as well as Tales of the Frightened (easily one of my favorite titles for anything ever).

While Robert E. Howard had created the basic template for swords & sorcery back in the 1930s, it wasn’t until several decades later that the genre really exploded. Fritz Leiber and Sprague de Camp labored throughout the 50s, but it’s in the early 60s that S&S really takes off. Suddenly, Lin Carter’s writing his Howard/Edgar Rice Burroughs mashups, Michael Moorcock’s inverting and mocking many of the field’s cliches while still writing exciting tales, and Andre Norton is expanding S&S’s vison beyond the too-common male thud and blunder.

In 1963, with “Devils in the Walls” published in Fantastic, Jakes introduced his own barbarian hero, Brak. In a 1980 preface to a new editon of the first collection of stories, Brak the Barbarian (1968), he wrote:

It was in the role of dedicated Conan fan that I wrote the first Brak tale, Devils in the Walls. In spirit, anyway, the story was a Howard pastiche, and I have acknowledged the fact more than once.

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Film Review: The Conjuring (Hallowe’en Post # 1)

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

the conjuring doll“Before there was Amityville, there was Harrisville.”

Whatever you think of the Warrens as real people, they do make mighty fine fictional characters.

Ed and Lorraine Warren — dark-forces-battling demonologists associated with such notoriously famous cases as the Amityville Horror — provide us with supernatural sleuths who fit comfortably in the tradition of such occult detectives as Doctor Abraham Van Helsing, Carnacki the Ghost Finder, and John Thunstone. That the Warrens are real people and the cases they have investigated are allegedly true does add another compelling dimension to the whole enterprise.

But I’m not here to debate whether the Warrens’ adventures were bona fide excursions into paranormal realms or just elaborately staged (and profitable) hoaxes. I’m here to review The Conjuring — the 2013 horror film purportedly based on the Warrens’ 1971 investigation into the Perron family’s troubled Rhode Island farmhouse. I am meeting it on its own terms, not as a docudrama, but as a fright flick.

Still, I’ll make a few observations about the “based on a true story” conceit, which is wrung for full effect in opening and closing montages. Judging from interviews, the scriptwriters — twin brothers Chad and Carey W. Hayes — certainly give the impression that they buy in to the Warrens’ whole shtick, or are at least pretty open-minded to it. However, that clearly did not constrain them only to crafting a straight-ahead historical re-enactment. To the contrary, their prime focus is to use the original case as a springboard for launching wall-to-wall scares at an audience hungry for terror of the supernatural kind. They start out eerie, sprinkling in events that may well be straight out of the case file, and then liberally follow those up with any tried-and-true horror effect that will “get” the audience. It is a film full of “gotchas.”

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Black Gate Interviews C.S.E. Cooney: From Metaphor To Manticore

Monday, October 27th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

C.S.E. CooneyWriter C.S.E. Cooney has published two stories in the mighty trove of Black Gate‘s online fiction catalog, “Life On the Sun,” and its prequel, “Godmother Lizard.” For the following interview, she and I met in the cavernous vaults of Black Gate‘s Indiana compound, where we lounged on Ottoman divans surrounded by steampunk tapestries and several thousand of John O’Neill’s second favorite sci-fi paperbacks. The results, transcribed by a Silicon Valley drone powered entirely by herbal tea, are as follows:

What do you write? Or, if it’s easier, what do you not write?

Well, I’ve never written a tech manual for aeronautics and robotics. Man, but if I did, then I could write all sorts of cool sci fi with my awesome SCIENCE KNOW-HOW!

I generally say I write Fantasy when people ask. With the understanding that I think “Fantasy” is a great umbrella term that tucks, um, ALL OF FICTION under its shadowy wings. But mostly I mean I write Secondary World Fantasy. With a bit of urbanish fantasy thrown in. And maybe a wee slice of sci fi when I’m feeling daring. And an even weesomer slice of horror, usually in the autumn. Oh, and a dollop of the Weird, when I’m in my Gabriel Garcia Marquez mood. Oh, and that one time I tried to write a Steampunk story but I’m still not entirely sure of the outcome…

Every story I write seems to require a whole different set of tools than the last story. One is constantly reinventing one’s toolbox. Thankfully, the good old standbys like “assonance” and “simile” don’t really change. Only get better. Or subtler. If subtle is better. I don’t do subtle very well, so I naturally think it IS better, mostly because it’s this mysterious thing.

Subtlety. I’m a big fan of it.

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The Best One-Sentence Reviews of H.P. Lovecraft: Announcing the Winners of The Madness of Cthulhu

Monday, October 27th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Madness of Cthulhu-smallEarlier this month month, we invited Black Gate readers to send us a one-sentence review of their favorite H.P. Lovecraft tale.

In return, we offered to give out two copies of S.T. Joshi’s major new horror anthology, The Madness of Cthulhu, Volume One, on sale this month from Titan Books. The winners were randomly drawn from a list of all qualified entries.

And what entries they were! This was the most popular contest we’ve run in some time — by a wide margin. Before we announce the winners, let’s have a look at some of the best entries. We can’t reprint them all, but we can share the Top 20 or so with you. (But fret not — all qualifying entries received before October 21 were included in the drawing.)

We left the choice of what story to review up to you, and we weren’t too surprised to find most of Lovecraft’s most famous stories represented — starting with one of the most famous horror stories in the English language. A reader who went simply by “Bob” kicked off the contest with his brilliantly concise entry:

What could possibly be better then rats…..in the walls?

The Rats in the Walls

Rich Miller beautifully sums up the appeal of this classic tale with his entry:

For fans of large rodents, ruined estates, underground caverns, degenerate humanity, and dark family secrets better left undiscovered, you can’t go wrong with this classic Lovecraft tale from 1924.

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