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Not A Visit From The Suck Fairy

Friday, July 25th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

My Real Children Jo Walton-smallA while ago, I was reminded of Jo Walton’s post on the “Suck Fairy.”

You should look at the whole post yourself, here, but let me give you a quick recap: when you reread something you once loved, that had a significant impact on you, you sometimes find that it has deteriorated considerably from what you recall.

Don’t worry, says Walton, it’s not you, it’s just that the book has been visited by the Suck Fairy, who has endowed it with… well, you get the idea.

This is an experience we’ve all had, I’m sure, but being reminded of it started me thinking about why we reread books in the first place, and, if we do, what books do we re-read?

Of course, the Suck Fairy can only affect beloved books which haven’t been revisited in some time, though they may have been read and reread often in the past. For example, I read LOTR at least fourteen times between the ages of eleven and twenty-one, but I haven’t reread it in its entirety since. I’m not afraid of the Suck Fairy – I’ve written papers on LOTR, and if that doesn’t bring on the Suck Fairy, nothing will – I’ve just been a bit busy.

No, I’m talking about books you might reread or re-visit maybe only once, maybe twice, as well as those you might regularly reread. I reread the novels of Jane Austen every year or so, for example, and the Sherlock Holmes Canon every two or three years.

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Welcome To The Commonwealth: John Myers Myers’ Silverlock

Friday, July 11th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Silverlock Ace paperbackLast week, I was talking about L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s Compleat Enchanter and it occurred to me that one of the great pleasures of that work is encountering familiar myths, persons, and fictional events in a new guise and from a new perspective. It’s also a bit intimidating, from the point of view of a writer, to realize just how thoroughly de Camp and Pratt had to know their source materials.

It doesn’t take very long to go from these thoughts to the great masterwork of this type, John Myers Myers’s Silverlock. On the surface, the book tells the story of  A. Clarence Shandon – re-christened Silverlock due to a white streak in his hair –  on his journey of self-discovery after being shipwrecked on the shores of the Commonwealth.

It doesn’t take long, in fact he’s still in the water,  for the well-read person to begin to find a certain quality of familiarity in the narrative, to figure out that Shandon has made landfall in the Commonwealth of Letters. From the very first, every  person he meets, every place he goes, everything that happens to him, alludes to some piece of literature. Every single person, place, or thing. What adds to the pleasure is that Shandon himself has no idea of what’s happened to him. His degree is in business administration.

Now this might strike you as a bit overwhelming, or even a bit tedious, but it isn’t. Shandon himself, without being aware of it,  provides the key to enjoying the book:

At times the mind works on two levels at once, and it was so with mine on this occasion. Half of it was giving itself gleefully to the moment, while the other half was revolving a new idea. What had impressed me was that this friar was well-informed and had a lot of fun out of that fact alone…  I glimpsed the concept that to know a thing for itself could be a source of joy. Take the song we were bellowing. It was easy to appreciate, but I would have had more chuckles out of if I had known, as the others did, about the personages involved.

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Mark Lawrence and the Prince of Fools

Friday, July 4th, 2014 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Mark Lawrence-smallI’d been wanting to talk with the talented Mark Lawrence about his writing process for a long time and the occasion of his release of Prince of Fools (not to mention the wining of a certain prestigious award) seemed like as good a justification as any, and Mark kindly answered all of my questions in detail. I hope you’ll find them as interesting as I did.

Howard Andrew Jones: Congratulations on winning the David Gemmell Legend Award. What was the ceremony like?

Mark Lawrence: Thanks, it was the only award I’ve ever been interested in winning, so it was very gratifying to do so!

I couldn’t tell you what the ceremony was like. I’ve only been further than ten miles from my hometown once in the last ten years. My youngest daughter (10) is very disabled and I’m needed to look after her. Even when we have carers in I still need to be around to lift her. So getting away is very difficult indeed. Add to that the fact that I was sure I had zero chance of winning!

I do know the event was held at the headquarters of the Magic Circle in London which is a very nice venue and it was well attended. My agent received the award on my behalf. I would loved to have been there.

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The Magic Gets Measured

Friday, July 4th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Wolfe KnightIn a recent Facebook posting, horror writer Jason S. Ridler had this to say about the kind of magic he prefers in fantasy novels:

If it’s not attached to emotions and mythical forces, I don’t care. Complex magic systems that are just science by another name, with lots of rules, and comparable to other magic systems with more rules, and don’t have elements of mystery , or the bizarre or the sublime… don’t interest me… I like my magic attached to the  unknown and the mysterious, not the quantifiable.

For me, this reopened the discussion we often see here in Black Gate on magic as it’s used in Fantasy.

I haven’t had a chance to have this discussion with Ridler himself – since he’s in California now, and I’m still in Ontario, we no longer meet regularly for afternoons in the pub – so I don’t know which works in particular make which of his lists, but I’d have to say that the type of magic system he dislikes is the more prevalent one. Which probably explains why he’s not a mad-keen fantasy reader.

Not that there aren’t plenty of examples of the kind he does like. LOTR immediately comes to mind; as does Roger Zelazny’s early Amber novels, though I think his Dilvish the Damned stories might come closer. Slightly more up-to-date examples might include Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law series or Gene Wolfe’s Wizard/Knight.

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The Life and Times of a Midlist Author

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014 | Posted by D.B. Jackson

A Plunder of Souls-smallLate last summer, I was interviewed by Garrett Calcaterra for a Black Gate article on the writing life of midlist authors. That article, which also drew upon interviews conducted with Patrick Hester, Wendy Wagner, and M. Todd Gallowglas, can be found here and is still worth reading.

But I thought it might be interesting, a year later, to revisit the life of at least this midlister to see how things are going. A bit of background first: Under my own name, David B. Coe, I have been writing professionally for twenty years now, and I’ve been a published author for seventeen. “What’s the difference?” you ask. Well, I signed my first publishing contract and received my first (microscopic) advance in the summer of 1994. But that first book needed to be edited, revised, edited again, revised again, copyedited, and proofed. And it needed to be fitted into the already crowded publishing schedule of Tor Books. It finally was released in May 1997.

Which brings us to the first of many hard truths about the publishing industry: It moves at its own, sometimes glacial, pace. Yes, this is one reason why some writers grow so impatient with the business that they turn to self-publishing, which offers more immediate gratification for those who are eager to see their work in print. But for more reasons than I can go into today, that is not a path I have chosen to follow.

Writing now as D. B. Jackson, I am the author of the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy series set in pre-Revolutionary Boston. The first two books, Thieftaker (Tor Books, 2012) and Thieves’ Quarry (Tor Books, 2013), have been received very well critically and did well enough commercially that Tor bought two more books from me. The first of these, the third in the series, is called A Plunder of Souls and it drops on July 8, 2014. (Please buy it. In fact, feel free to buy a few copies; they make great gifts and come in an attractive package complete with artwork by Chris McGrath. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog post . . .)

The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, will be out next summer. And here we come to hard truth number two: For most full-time writers not named Martin, Gaiman, or Rothfus, one release per year is not enough to make a living. Most of the writers I know have a couple of projects going at once. I’m no exception.

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Heroes and Antiheroes

Friday, June 27th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Kerdark grabs a chance at the original Black Company cover

Kerdark grabs a chance at the original Black Company cover

We’re all familiar with heroes. They claim the central role in most fantasy stories. They are, well, heroic — usually noble, brave, and good. They are often the kind of people we wish we could be in real life. Superman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America are iconic heroes. So is Luke Skywalker. The good guys.

Antiheroes are also the leading characters in their stories, but they lack some (or all) of those traditional heroic traits. They have flawed personalities. The new Dark Knight and Wolverine are comic book antiheroes. In Star Wars, Han Solo is the antihero, always looking out for himself (until he finds love and changes his ways).

In fantasy, we have been treated to a plethora of both kinds of heroes. For every Conan, there is an Elric of Melnibone. For every Rand al’thor, there is a Thomas Covenant. Heck, The Black Company by Glen Cook features antiheroes almost exclusively.

When I begin preparing to write a new book, one of the first things I do is decide who my main character will be. In that process, I work out whether I’m going to feature a hero or an antihero. And it’s a big decision. Massive, in fact, because it affects every other aspect of the story.

The main character in Shadow’s Son is an assassin. I gave him some heroic traits—physical courage and stamina — but he’s not a nice guy. Instead of brooding about his life as a professional killer, he accepts it. As a result, we see more of the underbelly of society in that series, from Caim’s perspective.

Whereas if I had chosen an idealistic young knight or captain of the guard as the main character, the entire series would have been portrayed in a different light. Indeed, in the later books I use just such a character (Josephine) as a counter-balance to Caim’s story.

So which is better, the hero or antihero?

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The Editor As Author: Donald A. Wollheim’s The Secret of the Ninth Planet

Friday, June 27th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Wollheim2As a publisher and editor, Donald A. Wollheim (1914-1990) is arguably the most important single figure in the 20th-century SF and Fantasy community. SF in paperback? SF anthologies? He started them – including The Pocket Book of Science Fiction, the first book with the words “science fiction” in the title.

Aside: for those who don’t already know, what we now call a “paperback,” used to be called a “pocket book.”

As the editor at Avon (1947-1951), he was responsible for introducing the likes of Lovecraft and Lewis to the mass market. At Ace Books (1952-1971), he created the now legendary Ace Doubles, reintroduced then out-of-print writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, and bought the paperback rights to Dune.

He was also responsible for bringing Lord of the Rings to paperback, and thus launching, however controversially, the modern Fantasy publishing world. It’s not my intention to discuss the controversy right now, but you can get a good look at both sides of it here and here.

Considering all this, it’s not surprising that Wollheim isn’t well known as an author – and a fairly prolific one if you remember that he also wrote under seven pseudonyms. So today I’d like to introduce you to The Secret of the Ninth Planet.

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Why Pure Historical Fantasies Never Seem to be Bestsellers

Thursday, June 19th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page


Robert E Howard does Clark Ashton Smith with a setting by Harold Lamb

One of the best modern Heroic Fantasy books I’ve read — one of few modern ones I’ll reread — is Howard Andrew Jones’s The Desert of Souls. I’d describe it as “Robert E Howard does Clark Ashton Smith with a setting by Harold Lamb.” It’s an awesome Heroic Fantasy adventure set in the authentic Near East of Harun Al Raschid. I note, however that Howard only got two novels into the series before being forced to move on.

Another book I loved was Matthew Woodring Stover’s Iron Dawn and its sequel Jericho Moon. This time we’re following a party of Trojan-war veterans as they battle necromancers and killer deities. These yarns should have kicked off a series and perhaps a movie or two, but they didn’t and Stover seems best known now for Star Wars novels.

Other otherwise successful writers have tried their hand at Fantasy in a straight historical setting, for example Barbara Hambly has romped around Early Renaissance Italy. Nobody, however, seems to have made a fortune writing “pure” Historical Fantasy, that is Fantasy tales set in an accurately depicted historical setting.

I find this depressing.

Partly it’s selfish reasons; I’m a historian by academic background and have an interest in historical magic. This is a tune I would love to play. Mostly though, I’d love to read more about Dabir and Asim, and about Princess Bara and her misfits.

Why is an authentic historical setting a kiss of death?

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The Economics of Short Fiction Writing

Saturday, June 14th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


Jim Hines

I am a writer, and have been for some time, although I live on a busy full-time job and I only started getting paid for writing in 2006. I feel like I had a long training wheel stage, although maybe because I’m only comparing myself to my expectations. My dreams of writing as a living, like those of many, started when I was a teenager.

There’s a lot of talk out in the world about making it as a writer, whether through traditional publishing, self-publishing, large press, or small press: how much marketing is needed, how much it costs, and whether it has any effect. It becomes a bit dizzying and pretty much bereft of data.

One bright light of hard data is Jim Hines’s yearly “Writing Income” on his blog. Hines is a fantasy writer and he’s blogged very frankly about his income since 2008, partly inspired by a John Scalzi post at that time. Scalzi admits he’s an outlier, but many of the financial points he makes are very good for anyone, including me.

The yearly Hines blog posts are also very instructive for anyone hoping to make a living as a writer. If you’re thinking (or dreaming) of making a living as a writer through the traditional publishing route, these kinds of posts are super-important for you to read. Here they are by year:


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Can Writing Be Taught?

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

Can Writing be Taught-smallFor those who regularly read articles and blogs about writing, this is probably a question you’ve seen raised before. Can a person be taught how to write well, or is it an inborn talent? Good old nature-vs-nurture.

Once upon a time, I firmly believed you’re either born with writing talent or you’re not, and I was afraid my own skills were only mediocre. Oh, I could spin out some decent prose and even a little poetry, but I didn’t feel I was a good storyteller and that meant I never would be.

Mainly that was because I’m a self-made author. I took a couple creative writing courses in college, but they didn’t help much, and so I kept on believing that writers were born, not made.

This view changed slowly, reflecting my own path. It took me almost twenty years to go from bright-eyed kid writer to published author with a multi-book contract, and often that progress was hard for me to see. But the difference between my first attempted novel and my first published novel, almost two decades later, is like night and day. Somewhere along the line, I had learned how to tell a complete story, and well enough for someone to pay me to publish it.

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