Novel Writing: The Hard Part

Sunday, November 21st, 2010 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

The Sword in the StoneAs I write this, I’m closing in on the 50,000 word mark of my NaNoWriMo novel. I’m aiming for 100,000 words, which means I’m well behind my ideal pace, but if I can keep going for 6,000 words a day over the next week and a half, I should get there. So it’s still very possible. (You can read some thoughts on National Novel Writing Month here, some talk about the Arthurian legends that inspired my plot here, and a more detailed discussion of my plans over here.)

An outside observer might wonder what the point is. The book I write isn’t going to be very good; it’s a first draft, written in haste. Why not take it slower, and produce something better? But whatever I’d write would have to be reworked; that’s the way of things. Still, even assuming that this particular way of working is conducive to eventually producing something worthwhile … well, what is it that’s worthwhile, exactly? What, in short, is the point of writing this novel?

I don’t know if there’s really an answer to that. But why ask the question at all?

Only because that’s where I’m at with the novel.

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Black Gate 14 Sneak Peek: “The Natural History of Calamity” by Robert J Howe

Sunday, November 21st, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

natural-history-277The third novella in Black Gate 14 was “The Natural History of Calamity” by Robert J. Howe, one of the most popular pieces of fiction we’ve published in some time. SF Site says:

This wry, stylish urban fantasy is narrated by Debbie, who is a karmic detective… she chooses to help a guy who is worried that his girlfriend Becky has taken up with a sleazebag named Michael who turns out to be part of Debbie’s past. What’s more, every encounter with Michael shipwrecks her own karmic balance… the tension mounts inexorably to a surprisingly poignant climax.

Tangent Online says:

Every time Debbie tries to do something to level Becky’s or Mike’s karma, her own suffers. But she can’t figure out why; and by the time she gets wise, it’s almost too late. An original concept, as far as I know — and in some ways reminiscent of a feminine version of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden, in execution. A good, fun read… Recommended.

And Grasping for the Wind says:

Surprise twists, a significant dose of self-deprecating humor, and a no-nonsense first person point of view make this story hard to walk away from. From the little teaser at the beginning, to the depth of character and clever use of karma as plot device, Howe’s story is a real pleaser from beginning to end. My favorite of the magazine and one I highly recommend.

“The Natural History of Calamity” appears in Black Gate 14. You can read an excerpt here, and the complete Black Gate 14 Sneak Peek is available here. You can find additional reviews of the entire issue here.

Robert J. Howe lives in Brooklyn, New York. Art by Matthew Laznicka.

Spaceships and Beautiful Women

Sunday, November 21st, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill


As I’ve written previously, the cover art of pulp science fiction magazines had two prevelant themes: spaceships and beautiful women. Both appealed on a primal level to young teen boys, and together they created a seductive vision of a promised future. Most boys my age looked forward to graduation and their first car; I was waiting patiently for a ride to Alpha Centauri piloted by women in lingerie. Hey, it got me through high school.

So, as glorious and awe-inspiring as NASA’s Astronomy Pictures of the Day have been, with sweeping high-res images of distant galaxies and massive supernova remnants, I’ve always felt they were missing… a certain something.

So you can imagine my delight at the image above, posted this week, of astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson peering out from the Cupola window bay of the International Space Station. Science is at last catching up to the promise of generations of early SF, with beautiful women gazing down at the Earth with (oh please, God) wistful dreams of conquest.

Stay tuned for news on flying cars and jet packs.

Who’d have thunk it?

Saturday, November 20th, 2010 | Posted by Soyka

On the heels of John’s report about Mark Twain’s autobiography comes the news that the $35 760 page first volume of a massive, somewhat disjointed, work is a bestseller.

twain-articleinlineSo in this Kindelized, iPadded and Nooked age of reading trivialized by celebrity tell-it-alls, self-help elevation and political numbwits (though excerpts from the book demonstrate that things were just as bad in Twain’s era as ours, except ours is perhaps a little worse thanks to the Internet and cable TV), Mark Twain’s physical opus is this season’s Christmas holiday hit, surpassing even that of Keith Richards.

Of course, cynic that I am (a cynicism inspired by youthful exposure to Mark Twain), I wonder how many copies will go unread, mere ornaments on a bookshelf, a hip gift idea, especially if that gift has a certain cache as something hard to get.

Somewhere, Twain is finding this immensely amusing.

Rogue Blades Entertainment Announces Winners of Challenge! Discovery 2010 Contest

Friday, November 19th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

discoveryBack in May Rogue Blades Entertainment, publishers of  Rage of the Behemoth, DemonsReturn of the Sword and other excellent fantasy anthologies, announced the first annual Challenge! writing contest. Open to fiction in a wide variety of genres (“Sword & Sorcery, Sword & Planet, Soul & Sandal, Western, Mystery, Dark Fantasy” and others), the Challenge! Discovery contest invited authors to submit works directly inspired by a single piece of art by V Shane, pictured at right.

The winners of the  Challenge! Discovery 2010 writinng contest are (in no particular order):

“A Fire in Shandria” ~ Frederic S. Durbin
“In the Ruins of the Panther People” ~ Daniel R. Robichaud
“The Serpent’s Root” ~ David J. West
“Fire Eye Gem” ~ Richard Berrigan Jr.
2nd PLACE: “Cat’s in the Cradle” ~ Nicholas Ozment
“Some Place Cool and Dark” ~ Frederic S. Durbin
“The Ash-Wood of Celestial Flame” ~ Gabe Dybing
“Witch with Bronze Teeth” ~ Keith J. Taylor
“Inner Nature” ~ John Kilian
1st PLACE: “Attabeira” ~ Henrik Ramsager

Honorable mentions go to Eric Magliozzi for “Songs of the Dead,” and Michael Navarro for “The Golden Maiden.”

The winning entries will be collected in the Challenge! Discovery anthology, to be published by Rogue Blades Entertainment around Christmas this year. More information on the contest results and the upcoming book is here.

Congratulations to all the winners!  I’m looking forward to reading the stories.

Dr. Mabuse: An Introduction

Friday, November 19th, 2010 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

der-spieler2Like Fantomas before him, Dr. Mabuse is criminally unknown in the United States. The master villain was introduced in Norbert Jacques’ 1922 novel, Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (also published as Dr. Mabuse, Master of Mystery). Jacques was a French journalist who had immigrated to Germany and wrote the novel as a scathing indictment of the corruption prevalent in the waning days of the Weimar Republic.

Dr. Mabuse is a practicing psychiatrist. He is also an avid occultist who conducts séances and practices Mesmerism. A master of disguise, Mabuse is also the head of a vast criminal empire controlling gambling, drugs, and prostitution throughout the Berlin underworld. Mabuse maintains a stranglehold on both the criminal lower class and the degenerate upper class through their addictions to vice and their reliance upon the occult and psychiatry to direct their lives.

The novel captures much of the corruption and anti-Semitism that were leading Germany on a downward spiral toward Nazism. Mabuse’s surprising ambition is to transform his empire of crime and deception into a utopian dream of a socialist paradise. Jacques saw socialism, the influence of modern psychiatry, and the growing interest in the occult as being as much a threat to Germany as the vice dens that kept the lower classes from rising above their station while simultaneously pulling the upper classes down.

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The Autobiography of Mark Twain

Thursday, November 18th, 2010 | Posted by John ONeill

mark-twainMark Twain, the legendary American author and humorist, left behind perhaps the most famous unpublished autobiography in history.  Claiming the opinions and stories within were too strong to be received by his public, Twain left instructions that the book was not to be published until 100 years after his death.

Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain”) died on April 21, 1910. Accordingly, the University of California Press published Volume One of the Autobiography of Mark Twain this week, releasing the 760-page first installment of what will be a 3-book series on Monday, November 15.

Twain dictated his autobiography in 1906, four years before he died.  The text of those dictations, with explanatory editorial notes, have been gathered into these volumes.  While unpublished, the autobiography has not been secret — in fact, biographers have had access to it for the last century, so there are no bombshells waiting for us in its pages.

What there is is a stream-of-consciousness self-portrait created from anecdotes, stories, and portraits of America as it existed over a century ago, captured by one of this nation’s keenest writers and social critics.  Written with little regard for chronological order, Twain tells of his encounters with the fabulously wealthy (but “grotesque”) Rockefeller family, his troubles with bankruptcy, the tragic death of his daughter Susy, who died at 24 of meningitis, and much more. Over at Ambrose & Elsewhere, our main man James Enge has done a full review, saying in part:

Standout sections of this book include Twain’s discussion of his brother Orion, who seems to have been bipolar, and Twain’s account of how he patiently and gently corrected an overzealous editor… there is a lot else here, including a sort of 19th century Paris Hilton – a woman who was famous simply for being famous. That story made me feel better about our crappy media culture – apparently it’s always been crappy, ever since the invention of mass media.

Twain, author of The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and The Mysterious Stranger, was one of America’s finest fantasists.   The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume One, includes 66 photographs and is priced at $34.95.  More information is at the listing.

Goth Chick News: In Dog Years We’re Seven

Thursday, November 18th, 2010 | Posted by Sue Granquist

goth-chickWelcome to Goth Chick post number fifty-two.

It was one year ago this week that I moved into the underground offices beneath Black Gate headquarters and began tackling the challenges of a new job. As I’m sure you can appreciate, those early days were a singular challenge. First there was the task of getting all the boys around here to put the toilet seat in the down position, and then the tedious undertaking of choosing the first group of interns — and assigning them to clean the various science experiments out of the communal refrigerator. To say nothing of the effort needed to find new locations for all the cleaning supplies, so I could make space for my desk and drink blender.

Given my initial reception from the other staff members, I was struck with the sneaking suspicion that our editor and chief, John O’Neill, may not have been completely forthcoming in describing the scope of my new role. For instance, several of my fellow staff members kept dropping by to inform me the coffee maker was smoking from lack of coffee, or that the bucket under the leak in the ceiling was overflowing.

In spite of these numerous inane interruptions, I set about to do what John had asked of me: bringing my “unique skills to bear on the daily challenges of the Black Gate team.” True that the staff was certainly a tad heavy on boys wearing shirts with Star Trek quotes, and a sci-fi convention anywhere in the world left the phones unanswered and the mail piling up. It was therefore my task to equalize this imbalance by doing exactly that which I excelled at: Throwing mocking, dark, threatening female sarcasm right into the center of the Enterprise bridge known as Black Gate. So, for your amusement (as well as my own), Goth Chick News went live in November, 2009.

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Fantasy, The Middle-East, and a Conversation with Saladin Ahmed

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 | Posted by Amal El-Mohtar

blackgateamal1Hi! My name’s Amal! We’ve never met. Well, unless we have. But most likely we haven’t, because I’ve never blogged here before, even though Ms. Claire Rides-the-Lightning Cooney has mentioned me in my capacity as one of the Editors of Goblin Fruit in her ever-so-mighty three-part article extravaganza about mine humble ‘zine.

Anyway, towards summer’s end, Claire Too-Sexy-For-Trousers Cooney told me about a conversation our very own scurrilous blarneyful dear John O’Neill had with some friends, in which they were trying to think of Muslim SF writers, and coming up blank. Then someone thought of me! My vanity, it was flattered!

Except, I am not Muslim.

I am, however, a first-generation Lebanese-Canadian, and that may as well be the same thing.

Over the last nine years, I’ve had occasion to be startled, and then to cease to be startled, by the extent to which my Middle-Eastern-ness gets conflated with Muslim-ness as a matter of course, as well as the extent to which people feel entitled to learning my religion along with my name. This is not the space in which I want to think about why precisely that is – I have a blog too, after all – but it is the space which Ms. Awesomesauce Cooney offered me to talk about the ways in which we might see the Middle-East positively represented in fantasy, as well as showcase a writer of fantasy literature who does in fact happen to be Muslim.

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Art Evolution 10: Matthew D. Wilson

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Art Evolution, the project to catalogue great fantasy RPG artists over the past thirty years depicting a single character, began here, and the tenth master is detailed below.

l5r-254With the inclusion of a ‘Battletech Lyssa‘ I’d done it, landing nine of my ten artists and only Erol Otus still holding out. What to do next? I emailed Erol, told him I had a venue for market, all nine other artists signed on, and we only needed him to complete the project. Erol promptly denied me again…

Still, nine representations put me over the moon. I looked back at my bookshelves and decided to try and live inside the mantra of my own lofty dreams. It was time to break out of the boundaries of money and convention and just go for it.

I pulled down Iron Kingdoms and rediscovered Matthew D. Wilson, a favorite of mine since the day I first saw TSR’s Forgotten Realms supplement The Unapproachable East. I broke out my D&D 3rd Edition Players Handbook and tripped over myself for not already including the works of Todd Lockwood. Going with Tony DiTerlizzi’s advice, I dipped into the early nineties with my collection of Dark Sun boxed sets and decided Brom was an absolute must.

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