Weird Tales 356 Arrives

Weird Tales 356 Arrives

wt356The latest issue of the Grand Old Lady of dark fantasy, Weird Tales, arrived at the Black Gate rooftop headquarters last week. This is issue 356, Summer 2010, of a magazine that’s been published semi-regularly since 1923.

This issue’s theme is “Uncanny Beauty: A celebration of the eerily sensuous.” Fittingly, it includes fiction from the eerily sensuous Catherynne M. Valente, as well as a tarot card riff on an eerily sensuous Lady Gaga video, written by the entirely sensuous Amal El-Mohtar.

Plus — there’s more fiction from Ian R. MacLeod, Kat Howard, L.L. Hannett, Mike Aronovitz, and poems by Natania Barron and the extremely cool F.J. Bergmann. Non-fiction includes an article on “Strange Faces” by Theodora Goss, a look at Weird Tales pulp cover artist Margaret Brundage by Paula Guran, a fine remembrance by Senior Editor Stephen H. Segal of long-time WT editor George H. Scithers, who recently passed away, a column about H.P. Lovecraft by Kenneth Hite, and the usual book reviews.

Editor Ann VanderMeer continues to collect sniffs from some of the old guard, who seem to find insufficient sword & sorcery in this incarnation of the new weird, but so far I find little to fault with the authors she has gathered around her banner. And the design and artwork remain top notch.

Cover price for the issue is $6.99. It is 80 pages; cover art is by Alberto Seveso. The website is here.

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John R. Fultz

No comment.

Amal El-Mohtar

Thanks for the kind review, old chap. Do I get to be entirely EERILY sensuous, or do I need to elongate my limbs and sharpen my teeth some? Mm? I hear you’ve a predilection for placing thorns ‘twixt yours.

C.S.E. Cooney

Amal! You could drink a Cosmo and be BLEARILY sensuous!

Or, you could find someone to tickle you and be CHEERILY sensuous!

Or, or — you could put on your Goblin Queen mask and be FEARILY sensuous!

But eerily-schmeerily! Why put on the adverb everyone else is wearing, after all?

Not that you wouldn’t look good elongated, mind. And I have often admired females with sharp teeth. But don’t let O’Neill’s shenanigans drive you to EXTREMES! You already live on the edge of elsewhere.

Amal El-Mohtar

Mm, the edge of elsewhere! Is that adjacent to the outside of enough?

C.S.E. Cooney

Like a PANTHER kitten with a mouse named John O’Neill.

John R. Fultz

Hey, John:

It’s important to note that the “old” WEIRD TALES was NOT a sword-and-sorcery magazine. Sometimes it did publish S&S tales–usually very good ones. But it kept its primary focus on “weird horror” fiction. It was the mag primarily responsible for Thomas Ligotti’s rise to legendary status.

It wasn’t the Schweitzer/Scithers editorialship that brought the mag to the brink of bankruptcy. We must remember that theirs was the editorial team that WON A WORLD FANTASY AWARD. And though the new incarnation has won a Hugo Award, it’s not selling in vastly greater numbers than the old version. The main thing that increased sales for the new version was that the publisher started soliciting it through Diamond Previews–which goes out to every comic shop in America. A whole new market was explored and tapped. Also I have to point out that the “new” WT decreased its output from monthly to bi-monthly. Also, it has been plagued with the same long lapses between issues as the “old” version.

What we have here is a conversion of style, tone, and editorial taste, NOT a commercial triumph of one taste or strategy over another. Are there certain authors who are no longer welcome at WT? Yes, without a doubt. Are there certain TYPES of stories that wont’ be seen in that mag again? Yes.

Is the new mag a “good ficton mag”? Yes. However, it has an entirely different flavor than the “old” WT. Many people miss that classic flavor (Classic Coke), while many people enjoy the new flavor (New Coke).

Like ALL art, it all boils down to a matter of taste. It’s an editor’s taste (and to a large degree a publisher’s taste) that determines what a magazine is. For those who dig the new WT–more power to you. For those that don’t–they’re entitled to their opinions.

To buy or not to buy, that is the question.

Let each man vote with his wallet.

Mister_Alex

Weird Tales is one of two magazines that I subscribe to. (Black Gate’s the other). It’s a great magazine, with tales like The Garbacologist, but I don’t go for some of the vulgar sex most of the stories have had, like the one with the elephant ‘perfume’.
As a writer it’s unsettling to see just how freaky a story I’ll have to write to get into this legend of a magazine. Yes, it it were easy everyone would do it, but today’s Weird Tales are a far cry from The Professor’s Teddy Bear and The Shadow Kingdom.

By the way, what is this Goblin Mask everyone’s talking about?

John R. Fultz

Hey, John O.,

You know I love ya man, but I feel like you’re kinda puttin’ words in my mouth here. I NEVER said the “new” WT doesn’t deserve support from readers. In fact, I said it was “good fiction magazine.” I also did not encourage readers of the blog to not support WT. Even if I did that–who the hell am I? I have exactly zero influence over what the reading public will or won’t support. But for the imaginary masses who take my words to heart, I say this:

If you dig WEIRD TALES, then buy it, read it, and enjoy it! If you don’t like the magazine, don’t buy it. Which may amount to saying nothing whatsoever at all worth anyone’s time.

One thing’s for sure: The old WEIRD TALES is dead. There are many who mourn that loss, and will continue to do so. But I would never organize some kind of troll-war to ask people NOT to support a magazine they enjoy.

Will I personally be buying any more issues? Honestly…it depends on the issue. (As it always has.)

John R. Fultz

Before I buy a fiction mag I take a look through it and try to spot a story that “grabs” me. Usually all it takes is ONE story that seems intriguing, and I’m sold. (Of course, if I see the name Tanith Lee or Thomas Ligotti on the cover, I usually buy the issue without even looking inside.) However, I’ve always done this: I buy magazines based on the STORIES…my philosophy is that a story should hook its readers with the first few paragraphs. If it doesn’t do that, I probably won’t read it. There simply too much to read in my life and too little to read it all. (Not surprisingly, one of my pet peeves in short fiction is a boring opening.)

In other words, unless I have a subscription, I buy fictions mags one-issue-at-a-time based on a single question: Are there any stories in here I simply have to read?

Of course, being a writer, I’m not the “average reader”–writers are notoriously picky, finicky, exclusive, and downright weird in how they pick their reading materials.

As for subscriptions, I have to be impressed by a successive number of issues of any magazine in order to make the “jump” to subscriber. I prefer to judge each issue individually, buying it or not buying it based on the quality of stories. And I freely admit that my definition of “quality” is entirely subjective. As is everyone else’s.

One last thing: As a writer, I’d rather support a magazine by contributing fiction than buying issues.

Scott Taylor

Wow… its like John V John in here with a beautiful woman lying in a goblinerrific pose among the burnt landscape of short fiction publishing. You should charge for this 🙂 Now that is something I’d buy.

Amal El-Mohtar

My my, a day away and so much missed.

John-O, m’Johnny-O — funny you should mention the dress. I was remarking today to Cooney that it seems to be my Black Gate uniform. The mask-pics and cocktail-pic were taken two years apart. Funny, that.

John and John F: It’s fascinating to me to read your discussion. I first discovered Weird Tales at World Fantasy in 2007 (where John O, bless his little cotton socks, doesn’t remember meeting me for the first time, in spite of my brazenly introducing myself and mentioning a mutual friend. Clearly, if I’m not wearing a sleeveless black dress, I am eminently forgettable), where Stephen Segal threw a party featuring a Cask of Amontillado and the new artistic direction of the covers. I’d never seen WT before, but bought a subscription right then because I really respected what he was doing with it, and was excited to see where it would go. It’s really neat to get a perspective on what the magazine used to be, and how it’s changed over time.

Mind you, that’s something I love about issue #356 in particular — that we get that Brundage retrospective in stark contrast to its New Weird surroundings. For me, looking at the old covers and seeing the cover of this issue, as well as its theme, I see the change as immensely positive and self-aware where representations of women are concerned.

Scott: Dear sir, perhaps you’ve not encountered many Goblinerrific poses. We do not lie on the fields of battle, supine and silent. We stand crouched above them, teeth bared, cackling delightedly at the vision of all we have wrought.

Mm. Battle.

John R. Fultz

Hey, John O.: Thanks for the kind words, O, Master of the Gate!

That’s a great quote from the great Gene Wolfe, yet I wonder what year he said that. I’m thinking it was from several decades ago when writers could actually earn a LIVING selling short stories. Alas, those days are over. Nobody can earn a living writing short stories anymore. The cost of everything went UP since the pulp era, but the pay rate of short stories stayed exactly the same–or went down. Hell, even most NOVELISTS these days usually don’t quit their day jobs. You have to write a HIT novel in order to do that. But the days of writers making a significant income from short fiction are long gone. There are many, many writers these days who directly to novels without ever publishing a short story. Personally, I think short stories help you hone your storytelling craft, and are a terrific medium for exploring ideas that won’t work in a novel-length work.

Amal: If you never read the “old” WEIRD TALES, it’s much easier NOT to compare it. You can enjoy it for what it is without any sense of missing the old style, the old authors, or the old sensibilties. However, it’s great because you have so many decades worth of “old” WEIRD TALES issues to discover…I envy you! 🙂 I recommend any issue with a Tom Ligotti, Tanith Lee, or Darrell Schweitzer tale (among others). Meanwhile, enjoy the contemporary weirdness of the “new” WEIRD TALES. Peanut butter, chocolate…two great tastes that taste great together. 🙂

Amal El-Mohtar

John F: About making a living from writing short stories, I quite enjoyed this response of Catherynne Valente’s to a post of John Scalzi’s on the topic of pay rates for short fiction.

Agreed about PB & C!

C.S.E. Cooney

John F: As far as the Gene Wolfe quote goes, he has said that several times in my hearing, and all within the last ten years.

Amal: How could anyone forget you, in or out of your black dress? He was probably just being coy.

Scott: That’s absolutely spot on. Just you lie there and dream of the Goblin Queen lounging on the battlefield all splendiferously, exuding innocence and indolence and no-harm-at-all.

Right up until she tears out your spleen and makes it into a winter jam.

Amal: And SPEAKING of jam!

I should go read that Cat blog. I think I did when she first wrote it, but I should remind myself.

John R. Fultz

John O: Thanks for the clarification on the Wolfe quote.

When I have extra money (which is slightly more often the Haley’s Comet comes around), I go on “subscription sprees” where I subscribe to my favorite fiction mags. Perhaps one day when I’m rolling in dough I’ll be able to keep ALL my favorite mag subscriptions current. Until then I’ll be buying issue-by-issue. It’s true what they say: Nobody becomes a teacher for the money…

C.S.E. Cooney

Gosh. Imagine the things I could do in a little black dress.

…Nah. Never mind. Some things we’ll leave to the experts. Like Amal. AKA International Woman of Mystery. AKA Bond. Jane Bond.

I have been away for almost a week, with only intermittent access, so I’m late coming to this post.

John O: I think it’s already been pointed out by John F that even back in the day Weird Tales wasn’t a haven of adventure fiction. I don’t happen to be a fan of new weird or slipstream, but I haven’t read the new magazine enough to speak with any kind of authority about its contents and it may be that the new Weird Tales isn’t about those genres as much as I’ve been told. Certainly I don’t wish it dead any more than I wished Realms of Fantasy dead, or undead, or whatever exactly it is.

It still saddens me today that short fiction venues in general turned their back on adventure stories many years ago. I collected numerous rejections from the previous incarnation of Weird Tales, for example. Many of them say, or said, that they were open to heroic fiction or sword-and-sorcery but they weren’t, really. At least not from me and not from other adventure writers with whom I spoke.

For years and years there was no place for adventure writers to go, except for the very, very small press. It wasn’t that I or any of the other writers of my generation were anti Weird Tales or any of these other magazines, though you might have heard us grousing, it was that we resented that there were no magazine homes left for the kind of fiction we liked to write and that we knew others wanted to read, because you could by-God find novels with heroic fiction elements.

John, I don’t think you can safely say that the previous incarnation of WT failed because it welcomed heroic fiction. I bought it off and on for years and I almost never saw any within its pages. I personally think that if there were more short story mags that printed adventure stories, more magazines might be doing better. Certainly Realms of Fantasy continued to lure the unsuspecting in for years with the promise of sword-and-sorcery heroes, so they had to have known of the interest in sword-and-sorcery. They fooled me for a couple of years of subscriptions with those exciting covers. I have heard that in recent years there has been more adventure within their pages; I know that Euan Harvey has appeared within — he writes cracking good heroic fiction. Keep in mind; I LIKED some of the fiction within RoF during the years I read it. I just thought that the covers were disingenuous, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

But do John F or I or any of the old guard want these mags to fail? No. We just wanted the chance to write short adventure stories. We wanted more markets that welcome them. You know how James Enge’s stories were bounced from magazine to magazine until you pulled one out of the slush and found it so brilliant you wondered if the author had pinched an obscure Jack Vance story.

So long live Weird Tales, and Realms of Fantasy, but long live Black Gate.

John R. Fultz

Howard: So glad to see you weigh in on this topic. You mention sending adventure stories to WEIRD TALES for years without getting an acceptance. Well, I think I’ll go ahead and tell MY “Weird Tales story” that I’ve been holding back on:

I started reading The Unique Magazine (WT) back in college (circa 1989)–this was a couple of years into the mag’s Terminus Publishing phase under the editorship of Scithers and Schweitzer. My creative writing course at the University of Kentucky had my imagination firing on all cylinders, so I started submitting stories to WT. I got rejection after rejection from Darrell Schweitzer, but always with terrific hand-written comments about how to improve my writing. Great, indespensible advice.

Cut to 15 years later: I finally sold my first story to WEIRD TAlES. This was January of 2004. Yes, it took me FIFTEEN YEARS to get my writing up to the high standards set by Schweitzer (and Scithers). This was the story “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” which appeared in WT #340.

I was so elated (having told myself “One day I’ll write a story that will make it into Weird Tales, and THEN I’ll be a real writer.”) that I quickly wrote a mess of tales further exploring the world of Artifice the Quill. Schweitzer/Scithers bought TWO more tales of Artifice’s world during the next two years. Only one (the first) would ever see print (in the aforementioned #340).

Shortly after this I sold my second pro sale to BLACK GATE, “Oblivion Is the Sweetest Wine”, which was set in Artifice’s world but focused on the smuggler known as Taizo of Narr.

Suddenly (or so it seemed) BAM! the Old Guard was let go, the new editorial team was installed, WT was re-designed and re-focused and re-combobulated to its current incarcnation. My second and third stories had already been bought, so what had I to worry? Surely they would appear eventually? I’d even signed off on the page proofs.

After THREE YEARS of sitting in a drawer at the “new” WT headquarters I contacted the new editors and was told that my stories probably wouldn’t run, and if they did it could be several more years before they did. In short, I got the polite brush-off. To the credit of the new WT editors, they allowed me to PULL these two tales and send them to other markets.

So I did. John O’Neill purchased the second Artifice the Quill story, “When the Glimmer Faire Came to the City of the Lonely Eye” (as well as two other tales that WT had never accepted, “Return of the Quill” and “The Vintages of Dream,”…”Return” appeared in a recent issue). The third Artifice tale, “The Bountiful Essence of the Empty Hand” remains unsold (unless you count the re-negged sale to WT).

So, to put a cap on this overly long story that very few people will even care about: It took me 15 years of writing dedication, practice, and rejections to get ONE story told to WEIRD TALES. I had zero interest in selling to ANY OTHER MAG…I wanted my first story to be published in The Unique Magazine, and it took a decade-and-half to make it happen. I was hoping that my Artifice tales would become a recurring series. But we all know that wasn’t to be.

After working for so long to finally be accepted by the mag’s demanding editorial standards, I was chagrinned to watch my status go back to zero. I had another 15 years of “proving myself” to do. Well, so far it’s been about five years of “near-misses” with Ann Vandermeer. Kind replies, but “no thanks.” I’m asked to keep submitting, and I have.

But I’ll be frank. My last submission to Ann at WT sat on her desk for ELEVEN MONTHS before being politely rejected. That’s one month shy of a year just to get a “good writing, but not for us.” Frankly, I don’t have time to let my stories languish in limbo for a year-at-a-time. When I get a timely rejection, I can try that story at another market, and so on, and so on…until it sells or it becomes clear that NOBODY wants it. So I won’t be submittign to WT again.

John R. Fultz

A quick follow-up:

To those who enjoy the modern incarnation of WEIRD TALES: Rock on!

To those who submit stories: Good luck to you!

I’ll be content to see my tales published elsewhere. And I’ll read WT when an issue “grabs” me.

Pardon me, one and all, for being Unfashionably Honest.

Peace!

John R. Fultz

> And Weird Tales’ loss is Black Gate’s gain.

Thanks, John! That’s EXACTLY how I feel.

Viva La Gate!

Cheers,
John

Hey John O,

I’m not lobbying WT to include more Heroic Fiction. I am likewise in no position to complain about what Ann has done with the editorial direction, as I know virtually nothing about it. I stopped studying the short fiction market at about the time she took over the reins. She’s the editor — she’s trying to find a new vision for the magazine, and it will probably take more than a few issues to get it all sorted out. Of course she will make changes — every editor will come with a slightly different vision. Even you and I, who have a lot of overlap as to taste, would choose slightly different stories. I’ve forwarded some slush on to you that you decreed too purple, and I’ve groaned at a few things you’ve shown me because I thought they were too unstructured.

I speak in general when I say that I just wish that there were more print venues open to heroic fiction out there. I get that people got tired, some decades ago, of finding nothing BUT tales of adventure in their magazines, and that they wanted something different. Now the pendulum has swung the other way. I could go on, but I would simply be repeating the arguments I’ve gone on about for years. There really aren’t enough markets for it.

John F, as for response times, I can only imagine that WT is deluged, just as Black Gate is, and that it is not a full-time gig for the editor, but a labor of love, just as it is with John O’Neill, who puts in 60 some work hours on the regular job before he turns to slush. I just can’t hold long response times against editors anymore. It’d be different in the old days, when people could make a living editing and writing for these magazines. I wish that were different, too.

John R. Fultz

Hey, Howard,

To clarify: It’s not just the 11-month turnaround, it’s the 15-YEAR PROCESS that suddendly became irrelevant in one fell swoop. It’s the shelving of THREE STORIES ALREADY PURCHASED AND FORMATTED. It’s the GENERAL LACK OF RESPECT for existing authors. I’ve done my level best to “get on board” with the new direction. I’m done. There are plenty of other markets for short fiction…and I’m more interested in long-form works these days anyway.

John R. Fultz

Oops, sorry, that should have read “…TWO STORIES ALREADY PURCHASED AND FORMATTED…”

Cheers,
John

[…] other exciting news, Black Gate reviews Weird Tales 356 — the Uncanny Beauty issue – which sees me rubbing elbows with some of speculative fiction’s most ‘eerily […]

Douglas Cohen

Hi All,

A little late to the party, but I just finished reading this thread with great interest.

I agree that there is an unfortunate dearth of markets these days that are publishing good old-fashioned heroic fantasy/S&S tales.

So I can see how some people would be upset with the change of editorial vision at Weird Tales, though I am of the opinion that even if they’re reinventing themselves, it’s a good thing that they’re still around and promoting new short fiction.

Beneath Ceaseless Skies seems to be doing some interesting things these days with secondary fantasies, so that’s encouraging. And we still have Black Gate, so thank goodness for that.

I guess it’s worth pointing that I published a story with Interzone that–as best as I can define it–could be termed as post-apocalyptic sword & sorcery, and my strongest influences in writing this story were the great Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith. The central conceit behind the story was arguably science fictional, but as I haven’t seen IZ mentioned here, I thought I’d give them a shout-out.

As to my beloved Realms of Fantasy …

It’s true that many of their covers during the 90’s and early 00’s suggested stories of high fantasy/heroic fantasy/sword & sorcery. And it’s equally true that you found very few stories of this sort within the magazine’s pages.

This was before my time with the magazine, but I’ve gained some knowledge of the situation over the years. First, it was clearly a marketing tactic. High fantasy was at its peak during this time, and the original publishers at RoF were clearly capitalizing on this interest. From a financial standpoint it makes perfect sense. From a creative/editorial standpoint? Not so much.

Shawna McCarthy–the magazine’s founding editor and current fiction editor–was not thrilled with many of those covers, because they didn’t accurately reflect the content of the magazine. But as she wasn’t overseeing the artwork, it was out of her hands.

However, in recent years, the magazine has gotten away from such covers. This started back toward the end of the magazine’s run under Sovereign Media and the cover evolution continued under Tir Na Nog Press. It’s still ongoing, but I think the magazine is starting to find its niche regarding covers. Time will tell of course.

On our fiction content, my personal preference is actually for high fantasy and sword & sorcery. Since I’ve joined the magazine, I do believe there has been a bit of a spike with these sorts of stories. The aforementioned Euan Harvey was someone I pulled out of the slush. I’ve pulled stuff from the slush by other writers of S&S and high fantasy and related sub genres, including Christoper Kastensmidt, Renee Bennett, Ken Scholes, Jon Hansen (who gave us a sword & planet tale), and probably a few others I’m not thinking of at the moment. I remember there was a high fantasy story (not slush) I once went gaga over, so much so that Shawna ended up buying it for the magazine because of how much I praised it.

Here’s the thing though with what we publish: we’re open to all sorts of fantasies, but Shawna and I are very critical of a lot of high fantasy and sword and sorcery. The truth of the matter is that most of what we receive in these veins aren’t very good.

I say this as someone who loves this stuff. These areas are my PREFERRED forms of fantasy. I’d like to see us publish more of it. But it’s not Shawna’s fault that we don’t. As I said, most of the high fantasy/heroic fantasy/sword & sorcery/etc. that’s sent to us isn’t very good.

I say this as someone who was introduced to the genre through Robert E. Howard’s Conan. I’ve numerous other works by REH, Clark Ashton Smith, and Leiber. I’ve read Tolkien, GRRM, Tad Williams, Guy Gavriel Kay, Ursula K. Le Guin, Michael Moorcock, Robin Hobb, Jack Vance, Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, and numerous others.

I know this kind of fantasy quite well and I read all of the stories that are submitted to us. I’ve been doing so for the 5+ years I’ve been with the magazine. If there was more stuff in this vein that was kicking literary butt in our submission piles, we would publish more of it. It really is that simple.

There may be a perception among some writers that we’re not interested in this sort of fiction, but I think we’ve published more of this stuff in recent years than ever before. And if more of the right kinds of stories roll in at 10,000 words or less that suit our needs, I think this % will go up even more.

That might be part of the sticking point though. A lot of stories in these veins like room to breathe. Certainly not all of them, but we can’t consider the novellas or many of the fine novelettes that many of these writers are creating. So in this regard, it creates a more limited pool for us to choose from. But I think that’s another discussion entirely …

[…] last reported on Weird Tales with issue 356 in November.  Good to see the magazine stick to a regular quarterly schedule, just as […]

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