Web Articles

Sunday, September 30th, 2007 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

CAS and Robert Jordan

We almost never discuss them here on the blog, but I wanted to point everyone once more to the weekly web articles at the Black Gate site. Every week there’s something of interest going up.

Last week Leo Grin uploaded the final installment of Ryan Harvey’s survey of Clark Ashton Smith. Ryan always writes with great skill and insight, and these four articles are likely to establish him as an acknowledged expert on CAS. He’s currently working away on an essay about Leigh Bracketts Eric John Stark, that I’m very much looking forward to reading.

This week, Black Gate’s Leo Grin posts his own work for the first time, a fine essay on the death and legacy of Robert Jordan. Like Ryan, Leo writes extremely well; both men have an excellent command of the language. They are critical but fair, scholarly but eminently readable. Frequently those sets of poles are unrelated.

You can find both articles, as well as other reviews, essays, and interviews, at www.blackgate.com. New web content appears every Sunday.

If you get a chance to read them, I hope you’ll drop by one of the Black Gate forums and discuss them:

SFReader Black Gate Forum

SFF.Net Black Gate Newsgroup


My friend Eric and I are both in the midst of novel-length edits, so when he posted the other day about things to keep in mind while editing, I was all ears. Boy, some of the issues he mentioned are familiar to me! Take a look at his helpful hints by following this link.

That’s all for now. I hope everyone’s having a good weekend.


The Death and Legacy of Robert Jordan

Sunday, September 30th, 2007 | Posted by Web Master

James Oliver Rigney, Jr. (1948–2007) was one of the most popular authors in the fantasy field for decades. Writing under the pseudonym Robert Jordan, he continued the adventures of Robert E. Howard’s Conan in a series of pastiches in the ’80s, and built a name as a new fantasist worth watching. This was followed by his epic series of unprecedented scope, The Wheel of Time, which became a monstrous bestseller that delighted legions of fans — even as some began to fear that Jordan’s popularity and style would corrupt the genre’s soul. Now he’s suddenly gone, leaving his immense masterwork unfinished.

What will Robert Jordan’s enduring impact on the field be? Have we lost a revered master? A prodigious hack? Some combination of the two? Black Gate‘s Leo Grin analyses the meteoric rise and tragic fall of one of the most influential fantasists of modern times.


Black Gate E-Submission Responses

Friday, September 28th, 2007 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Today I wrote the final e-submission response for the final batch of e-submissions. By now, if you’ve sent an e-sub to Black Gate, there are five possible results:

  1. 1. I’ve let you know that I’ve forwarded the story on to John O’Neill for serious consideration and he’s purchased your story.
  2. 2. I’ve let you know that I’ve forwarded the story on to John O’Neill for serious consideration and he’s passed on your story.
  3. 3. I’ve passed the story on to John but you haven’t heard from him yet. John’s steaming along and should get to your tale soon. I apologize for his delay — we had to send his nephew to Tijuana to pull John out of the gutter, so he’s a week or so behind yet. He didn’t have any manuscripts with him, though, so nothing important got soiled.
  4. 4. I’ve rejected the story and sent you a note.
  5. 5. I’ve sent a rejection but you haven’t received it because your spam filter blocked me or because your address changed. 

If you’ve sent me something and haven’t heard back yet, drop me a line. Do remember that when I came on board John took the physical slush and I took the electronic slush, so I can’t answer any physical slush questions, other than that I know John is still working his way through some, alternating between reading those and reading the stories I forwarded on to him for serious consideration.

When we re-open for submissions again we are likely to employ reading periods to help keep things under control. Those reading periods will, naturally, be announced both here and on the web site.

To celebrate, this weekend I will unload some 160 bales of hay into my barn, grade a bunch of papers, and, hopefully, finish the polishing pass on my novel.

My best to all! Have a great weekend.



Wednesday, September 26th, 2007 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Eric Knight’s posted an excellent article on working backstory into one’s plot. Lord knows, I see a lot of ham-handed back story creation and have written some myself; it’s a subject that all world builders need to consider carefully. Just because you know all the names of everyone in Ravenclaw House doesn’t mean that you need to tell us those names. J. K. Rowling, incidentally, DOES know the names of everyone in Harry Potter’s year. But the action doesn’t stop so that we KNOW that she knows all the names. The information just gets used.

Anyway, here’s the article. Writers out there, take note.


Catching up on E-Subs

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

I’ve finished reading all the Black Gate e-submissions. I have a dozen or so responses left to write and a few decisions to make; everyone awaiting e-sub information should know the fate of their story within the next few days.


The Fantasy Cycles of Clark Ashton Smith Part IV: Poseidonis, Mars, and Xiccarph

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007 | Posted by Web Master

In this, the final chapter of Black Gate‘s deep, rich look at the extravagant worlds of the writer fondly remembered by his Cthulhuoid nickname Klarkash-Ton, explorer Ryan Harvey takes us on a tour of several of the prose-poet’s more obscure creations. From a fast-sinking Atlantis to a dying Red Planet to an extra-solar world unlike any ever put to paper, these imaginative visions may have been seldom used by Smith, but they ultimately would play host to some of his most memorable and well-regarded tales.


Submissions, Rejections, Revisions, and Technique

Thursday, September 20th, 2007 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

John and I are making big strides into the submission pile. John still has some older physical subs to get to before he can get to the (relatively) newer e-subs I set aside for him. I think, however, that things will soon be under control. When I came on board we split the subs down the middle, with me taking the e-subs and John taking the physical subs. The one was a lot easier to send me than the other.

I’m almost to the end of the e-subs, and have begun to send forth responses. I have about a dozen left to read, and one or two I’m considering as I sort through these rest. A few of those left to read are longish and well-written, so they alone will take several hours.

Lest you think that you’re alone out there with your rejection pile, I’ve been accumulating some rejects lately myself. A while back I fashioned a new protagonist and a new setting, but despite my own sense that I’m making new strides and charting new ground — and despite an excellent reception from one of my most trusted first readers — the market has not been interested. Frustrated genius? Bitter hack? I’m more puzzled than bitter. I hope I’m not a hack; I’m danged sure I’m not a genius. Anyway. As I did with Dabir and Asim, I will continue to write these stories from time to time, just because they please me. Maybe a market will open up. My focus right now, though, is on novel writing.

I think I mentioned that I was working on a polishing pass of my mist world novel, which is sitting now at about 93 thousand words. I was shooting for between 90 and 95k, so I’m pretty happy with that. I’m trying something new with this pass, which is to focus on getting ten pages revised a day. Some days I’m doing more, but most days I’m just combing back and forth over the ten pages, slowly. I think the prose is getting stronger for it. I’m currently about a third of the way in, and should be done around the first of next month. And here my goal was to get it done by mid summer! Ah well. Better a late strong draft than a cruddy one on time.

Two other folks I regularly direct vistors to have posted some interesting writing tips lately. Eric Knight has one on a Jackie Collins novel he stumbled across — rather than rolling his eyes he points out some strengths to learn from, and James Van Pelt is teaching some creative writing to high schoolers. I think it’s important to go back and revisit basics — they’re far too easy to forget.


Birthday Memories

Monday, September 17th, 2007 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

My father would have been 75 today.

I can’t help thinking about him on the day of his death, in May — I think about him most days, although after seven years the pain of his absence is no longer an ever-present ache — but I forcibly choose to celebrate his memory on his birthday.

I don’t do anything elaborate. Dad’s birthdays were never elaborate occasions when he was alive, though sometimes finding a gift could be. There wasn’t much he really lacked; he took comfort and pleasure in the people he loved and the things he already had. On his birthdays these days I take down his picture, light a candle, sit down with a good drink, and think out loud. Those steps are likely some kind of tradition, somewhere. I’m sure I didn’t make them up out of whole cloth.

A few years back I used to get choked up whenever I talked to my children about my father, and I was so obviously affected that my son said, one day, that he’d stop asking about his grandfather because the topic so clearly upset me. That obviously wasn’t the route I meant to travel. Today I can tell my children all sorts of tales about their grandfather.

Regular visitors will note that I usually talk about either Black Gate or writing matters. This may be the first time I’ve strayed into more private concerns for any length of time, but then my parents were instrumental in a lot of my interests. It was my friend Mike Boone who really introduced me to science fiction; he gave me my first phone call ever (I was 5) to let me know that the “new” show he’d told me about was on (the original Star Trek, in reruns). Dad wasn’t a fan, but he turned over whatever he was watching just in time for me to see Kirk and Spock beaming down. I was hooked immediately. My mother loves science fiction and fantasy, and as I grew older she handed me book after book, series after series. Neither genre was Dad’s thing, but he loved to talk writing. Once he was discussing Jungian archetypes and their influence on mythology, indeed, upon all stories, and I asked him to perform an analysis of Star Trek. Dad said that Kirk was obviously the hero, and his internal dilemmas were played out between Spock, his reasoning half and McCoy, his emotional half. “What about Scotty?” I asked.

Dad thought for a moment. “He’s some aspect of the physical.”

His analysis impressed young teenage Howard — moreso, apparently, than most of our other talks about writing, which my feeble memory has already garbled or forgotten, just as it has confused my recollection of where we had that particular talk. In the living room, whilst standing on our brown carpet, or did the whole thing take place while we were jogging north from the park? All I recall now are the words, and I curse myself for not remembering more.

All this talk of Dad and story theory may leave you with the impression that he was an egghead, or ivory tower intellectual. He wasn’t. At Dad’s funeral, one of his best friends called him the most unassuming intellectual he ever knew. Dad never trumpeted his knowledge. If you wanted to talk Moby Dick or Hawthorne he was all for it, but he was just as happy to talk golf swings or basketball or car repair.

He took early retirement and left the university to master piano tuning. I was married and living in Kansas by then, and the thought of him tuning anything professionally horrified me. He’d always used me rather like a sound meter before playing his guitar, and over the years his ear never seemed to improve. I was under the impression that you either had a good ear or you didn’t and there wasn’t much you could do about it. Dad proved me wrong. Soon he was not only tuning pianos, he was rebuilding and refurbishing them. The last time we talked, however, he had been playing piano. The keyboards had always been my instrument and Dad came to it later in life. He was asking me advice about improvising good bass lines.

When I heard from Mom a few days later I assumed she was calling to check up on my three-year-old, who’d just had his tonsils removed. No. Dad had died, instantly, of a heart attack. The only mercy was that someone saw him fall and CPR assistance was almost immediate. We know, then, that if there was anything that could have been done, the help was there to do it. It was already too late.

I miss him terribly.


A Review of The Book of the Ler

Sunday, September 16th, 2007 | Posted by Web Master

Every once in awhile a long-forgotten genre classic is unearthed and reintroduced to a new generation of readers. Such is the case with M. A. Foster’s Ler trilogy of sci-fi books. But does the series’ classic status hold up after three decades of out-of-print neglect? Black Gate reviewer D. K. Latta explores all 928 pages of Foster’s mind-bending “genetic evolution and manipulation” to find out.


More Tavern Thoughts

Thursday, September 13th, 2007 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

I mentioned taverns in the last post, particularly stories that start in them. I want to expand on that. It’s not that BG has solemnly declared that a good fantasy story can’t start in a tavern. I’m no fan of those kind of absolute declarations, as though we or anyone else speaks from on high, so I thought I should make myself clear. I spoke to John Hocking about this tavern issue the other day and he summarized my ramblings into some succinct statements; together we managed a coherence I’ll do my best to paraphrase.

In many, many hands, the character type and location are a shorthand way to describe a thing without bothering to fashion any originality. When John O’Neill and I complain about stories starting in taverns, what we mean is a tavern that’s just a cardboard movie set. Here’s the tavern. Here’s the ranger. Here’s the elf. Here’s the wizard. There’s no real invention going on here, no innovation. The tavern and the characers from central casting who’ve walked inside are just ciphers for original work.

Can you start a story in a tavern? Sure! One of the greatest of all sword-and-sorcery stories begins with a scene in a tavern. Well, truthfully it begins with a cinematic overview of what’s going on in the area outside the tavern; the action, though, begins within a tavern… hey, I’ll shut up and let Robert E. Howard work his magic:

Torches flared murkily on the revels in the Maul, where the thieves of the east held carnival by night. In the Maul they could carouse and roar as they liked, for honest people shunned the quarters, and watchmen, well paid with stained coins, did not interfere with their sport. Along the crooked, unpaved streets with their heaps of refuse and sloppy puddles, drunken roisterers staggered, roaring. Steel glinted in the shadows where wolf preyed on wolf, and from the darkness rose the shrill laughter of women, and the sounds of scufflings and strugglings. Torchlight licked luridly from broken windows and wide-thrown doors, and out of those doors, stale smells of wine and rank sweaty bodies, clamor of drinking-jacks and fists hammered on rough tables, snatches of obscene songs, rushed like a blow in the face.

In one of these dens merriment thundered to the low smoke-stained roof, where rascals gathered in every stage of rags and tatters — furtive cutpurses, leering kidnappers, quick-fingered thieves, swaggering bravoes with their wenches, strident-voiced women clad in tawdry finery. Native rogues were the dominant element — dark-skinned, dark-eyed Zamorians, with daggers at their girdles and guile in their hearts. But there were wolves of half a dozen outland nations there as well. There was a giant Hyperborean renegade, taciturn, dangerous, with a broadsword strapped to his great gaunt frame — for men wore steel openly in the Maul. There was a Shemitish counterfeiter, with his hook nose and curled blue-black beard. There was a bold-eyed Brythunian wench, sitting on the knee of a tawny-haired Gunderman — a wandering mercenary soldier, a deserter from some defeated arm. And the fat gross rogue whose bawdy jestes were causing all the shouts of mirth was a professional kidnapper come up from distant Koth to teach woman-stealing to Zamorians who were born with more knowledge of the art than he could ever attain.

That’s “Tower of the Elephant,” in case you didn’t recognize it, text courtesy of the Del Rey The Coming of Conan collection.

See, all you have to do is create cinematic imagery in an original setting with brilliant prose. Okay, maybe it’s not that easy. Here’s how Lin Carter advised his friend Poke Runyon to bring a tavern scene to life:

The scene in the inn: low rafters, a-dangle with hams and dried onions; roaring fire in huge stone fireplace with roast moofobar turning on creaking spit; sailors with bristling beards and told rings in ears sprawling on low benches wrapped in black cloaks stiff with dry salt; roar of son, scuffle of argument, rich smells of hot steaming meat and spilled grog, etc; wavering orange light splashing over everything, casting huge black flapping shadows on the walls.

(from a letter of Lin Carter to Poke Runyon, published in Poke Runyon’s novel Drell Master.)

This seems excellent advice to me. In short, if you’re going to take your readers somewhere, take them somewhere interesting. Bring the place to life. Even some place as ordinary as a tavern.

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