The Thrill of the Unexpected: Why I Edit Clockwork Phoenix

The Thrill of the Unexpected: Why I Edit Clockwork Phoenix

Hi, folks! Mike Allen here. When I last came through, I blogged about monsters. I want to thank Black Gate overlord John O’Neill for granting me leave to return to this space and shill my new project.

Among the many things I do, I’m the editor of a series of fantasy anthologies called Clockwork Phoenix. At least, the first three books were marketed as fantasy by my previous publisher, even though I included some strange science fiction in their pages as well. (Though I’m someone who sees science fiction as a subset of fantasy rather than a whole separate thing, one of the reasons I’ll use them if they’re odd enough.)

One of the rewards were offering is a signed, numbered, limited edition chapbook of Cherie Priests fantasy tale The Immigrant.
One of the rewards we're offering is a signed, numbered, limited edition chapbook of Cherie Priest's fantasy tale "The Immigrant."

And I’m going to be editing and publishing a fourth volume in the series, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that’s still underway. As of this writing I’m closing in on an $8,000 goal that will let me for the first time pay five cents a word for fiction – we’re going pro. If we keep going past that, I hope to launch a webzine that will be a companion to Clockwork Phoenix and the poetry journal I also edit and publish, Mythic Delirium, creating even more space for the kind of writing I love to thrive. But we’ll blow up that bridge when we come to it, eh?

John suggested I talk to you folks about how Clockwork Phoenix functions as a fantasy market, and I think that’s a fair question, given what Black Gate is all about.

Put bluntly, Clockwork Phoenix is a market for those who want to push the boundaries of what fantasy can be. I encourage stylistic experiments but insist the stories should also be compelling.

I want to point out that this gives me also sorts of freedom to include material that can’t be easily classified, I wouldn’t call it a break with long standing tradition in our field, at least as I’ve experienced said traditions.

I want to tell you how I was first introduced to short fiction that carries the fantasy label. I’m pretty sure then you’ll see what I mean.

In my mid-school years I was a huge Tolkien fan and devoured everything I could that seemed in any way connected to his work. I knew what he wrote was considered fantasy, so I read all sorts of other things that were labeled fantasy in pursuit of my fix.

When a friend of the family loaned us a fat book called A Treasury of Modern Fantasy, I wolfed it down, or tried to. But for someone hungering for more epics along the lines of The Lord of the Rings and the books that begat, talk about a culture shock.

I’d read about this H.P. Lovecraft guy in an essay by Colin Wilson about Tolkien and fantasy literature, but did not expect what awaited in “The Rats in the Walls.” That story doesn’t affect me now the way it did then, but boy, that first encounter was unforgettable. Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Coming of the White Worm” was at least a little more like what I anticipated, and yet much more disturbing than anything in Tolkien’s world. Though not as disturbing as the cloak made of eyes in Jack Vance’s “Liane the Wayfarer.”

Many of the stories that lay in wait for my first encounter with them have stayed with me since.

Shirley Jackson’s “One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts,” with its wry and unnerving reversal. The endless, inescapable stair of Thomas M. Disch’s “Descending.” The shrieks of one-dimensional people in R.A. Lafferty’s “Narrow Valley.” Fritz Lieber’s “Four Ghosts in Hamlet.” C.L. Moore’s “Daemon.” Harlan Ellison’s “Jeffty Is Five.” The ultimate terror of falling at the end of Philip José Farmer’s “Sail On! Sail On!”

Whole new vistas of fantasy can be – what stories can be – opened up before me.

It’s that tradition, that effect, that I shoot for when I put together Clockwork Phoenix. That’s why I’ve pulled out all the stops to keep the series going.

I’m really looking forward to what I’ll be able to do if we meet our goals. Any help you can give, even if it’s just spreading the word, much appreciated.

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Sarah Avery

Just seeing the title “Jeffty Is Five” gives me gooseflesh, and I think I read it only once, over twenty years ago.

Congratulations on the Kickstarter triumph.


a better reward could be a romantic dinner with Cherie Priest

[…] The thrill of the Unexpected: Why I Edit Clockwork Phoenix […]

[…] about. The last time I did a guest post here it was to talk about a Kickstarter I was running for an anthology called Clockwork Phoenix 4. In that campaign I asked for $5,000 to fund the […]

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