Teaching and Fantasy Literature: Hefting the Dramatist’s Toolkit

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012 | Posted by Sarah Avery

the-dramatiste28099s-toolkit-smallHere’s a silly but common way to organize a creative writing program: The absolute prerequisite for any class that specializes by genre–and in this context, genre means the big divisions into fiction, poetry, and drama–is a general creative writing class that purports to introduce students to the the basics of all three genres in a fourteen-week semester. Assume your first class meeting is lost to administrivia, your last class meeting is a wash because students are packing out for their winter or summer holidays, and you’ll lose one or two others to snow days or the flu. You have to give thirty–yes, thirty–undergrads a grounding in all the technique they may ever get in fiction in four weeks. All they may ever get of poetry, all they may ever get of drama–four weeks each.

Moreover, odds are that you’re not a generalist yourself, any more than your students are. At least one of those mega-genres is going to be your weak spot, and now you have to prioritize all the technique you don’t know in that weak genre to figure out what’s most important to introduce your students to in the four weeks they’ll spend trying to be, say, playwrights.

Fortunately for me, I knew a Real Live Playwright who helped me figure out what the most important basics were in her genre. She pointed me to Jeffrey Sweet’s book, The Dramatist’s Toolkit: The Craft of the Working Playwright. Sweet’s book didn’t make a dramatist of me, but it did illuminate what Joss Whedon and his writers were up to in all that crackling dialogue on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As I studied the more uneven shows I loved, like Babylon 5 and The X Files, what separated the glorious episodes from the episodes that fell flat was much easier for me to pinpoint. When I turned my hand to fiction again after a decade as a poet and scholar, most of what I got right was the result of using Sweet to dissect Whedon.

So, what are the tools in that toolkit? And which are the ones we need?

Read More »


New Treasures: Dead in the Water, a Warhammer 40K Audio Drama

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

dead-in-the-water-sandy-mitchellLast week, I wrote a brief introduction to the Warhammer 40K universe, under the guise of a review of The Achilus Assault gamebook. It was a cheap gimmick, I know, but life is short and filled with great things you need to know about.

In the comments section Joe H wrote:

I love the WH40K setting, the thing that bothers me is that they have this vast sprawling galaxy full of wonders and terrors and way too much of the content seems to boil down to Space Marines vs. Space Orks… That’s why I was so intrigued by Rogue Trader — a WH40K setting that’s not just about FOR THE EMPEROR! I just wish we’d get more of that kind of thing in the novels. Are there any current novels that move outside of the Space Marine paradigm?

I love these kinds of questions. The kinds I actually have an answer to, I mean. And the answer in this case is yes.

There are several great series I could point you to, but because it’s after 9:00 pm and my family is impatiently waiting for me to start our family movie, I’m going to limit it to one: You should try the Ciaphas Cain novels by Sandy Mitchell. Commissar Cain is a revered hero of the Imperium, a man who’s seen action in some of the deadliest hot spots in the galaxy… and he’s pretty much done with that. All he wants to do is keep his head down and serve out his tour of duty… but alas, fate has other plans.

Cain is an entertaining rogue in a universe of dark horrors, and it’s a winning combination. There are several excellent omnibus collections of his novels available, but I recommend you start the same way I did: with Dead in the Water, a terrific one-hour audio drama that serves as the perfect intro to both Cain and the Warhammer 40K universe.

Cain is enjoying a quiet posting to a backwater river world when a squad on a routine mission goes missing. Pressed into investigating by his commanding officer, Cain quickly discovers that all is not what it seems… and a sinister opponent is manipulating events behind the scenes. The action is quick, the characters memorable, and the narration by Toby Longworth is excellent. The production quality of these Black Library Audio Dramas — with their dead-on sound effects, moody original music, and tight plotting — has been consistently excellent, and they have quickly become highly collectible. Already the early releases are out of print and starting to command collector’s prices on Amazon.com. I suggest you grab this one while you can.

Dead in the Water was published by Black Library in June, 2011.  It is one hour on a single CD, priced at $17.


Tangent Online: “‘Godmother Lizard’ Entranced Me From the Beginning”

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

claire-254Tangent Online reviews C.S.E. Cooney’s original fantasy novella “Godmother Lizard,” published at Black Gate on Sunday, November 10:

C.S.E. Cooney’s “Godmother Lizard” is a delightful fantasy tale about an orphan girl, Ro, and how she becomes a hero by saving her friends from their human-looking mother who was slowly eating them. It takes her two decades to accomplish this, but that’s part of the charm of this story. Cooney deftly uses that time to grow Ro and her friends into adults which changes them from victims to empowered.

I enjoyed the fantastical elements in Ro’s world. The essence of its magic is poignantly captured when Wyll, Jaks’ younger brother, gives Ro his living silver lizard bracelet for protection: “It wound in frantic circles around his finger, mewling all the time, until it had spiraled to rest a blunt triangular head upon his fingernail.”

The story language is rich and colorful, the growing relationship between Ro and Jaks reminiscent of chivalrous lords and ladies. The dialog has a pleasantly oblique edge to it which entranced me from the beginning. I highly recommend it.

I felt the same way when I first read it. “Godmother Lizard” is a marvelously creative fantasy set in a uniquely inventive world — one that Cooney returns to in her upcoming story “Life on the Sun.” Catch it right here as part of our upcoming line of Black Gate Original Fiction.

Read Louis West’s review in its entirety at Tangent Online, and read C.S.E. Cooney’s novella “Godmother Lizard” completely free here.

The complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction, including Judith Berman’s sword & sorcery tale “The Poison Well,” Donald S. Crankshaw’s 50,000-word short novel A Phoenix in Darkness, Aaron Bradford Starr’s adventure tale “The Daughter’s Dowry,” the 25,000-word dark fantasy novella “The Quintessence of Absence” by Sean McLachlan, Harry Connolly’s thrilling mystery “The Whoremaster of Pald,” and Jason E. Thummel’s adventure fantasy novelette “The Duelist” is here.


Urban Fantasy Corner: Jackson Pearce’s Fathomless

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 | Posted by Beth Dawkins

11985913I’ve seen a recent rise in fairy tales — in television shows, movies, and, most notably, books.

As it happens, fairy tales are right up my alley. I devour retellings like I devour leftover Halloween candy. This year, I got the chance to read Jackson Pearce’s Fathomless, the third book in her Fairy Tale Retelling series.

I don’t often pick up young adult novels. I’m oftentimes disappointed in either the story or the writing, but Fathomless took me by surprise. I like fairy tales to either feel whimsical or dark, maybe even a little creepy. Set in modern times, Fathomless is a dark retelling of The Little Mermaid. There are no flippers or fins, and no seashell bras. Just a darkly woven fairy tale brought up for modern day readers. It is told through the eyes of the sea girl, and the girl who steals her boy away. It weaves together both old fairy tale and new voice into a novel that borders on Gothic romance.

Celia Reynolds is the youngest in a set of triplets and the one with the least valuable power. Anne can see the future, and Jane can see the present, but all Celia can see is the past. And the past seems so insignificant — until Celia meets Lo.

Lo doesn’t know who she is. Or who she was. Once a human, she is now almost entirely a creature of the sea — a nymph, an ocean girl, a mermaid — all terms too pretty for the soulless monster she knows she’s becoming. Lo clings to shreds of her former self, fighting to remember her past, even as she’s tempted to embrace her dark immortality.

When a handsome boy named Jude falls off a pier and into the ocean, Celia and Lo work together to rescue him from the waves. The two form a friendship, but soon they find themselves competing for Jude’s affection. Lo wants more than that, though. According to the ocean girls, there’s only one way for Lo to earn back her humanity. She must persuade a mortal to love her… and steal his soul.

Fathomless was published in September 2012 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. It is 304 pages and priced at $17.99 in hardcover, and $9.99 for the digital version.


Dabir and Asim Discover England

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

bones-of-the-old-onesOur Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones posted the news on his blog on Friday, but I thought it was worth repeating here: new British publisher Head of Zeus has picked  up The Chronicles of Sword and Sand (known around these parts as the adventures of Dabir and Asim) for British publication.

The first volume, The Desert of Souls, was published here in the US on February 15, 2011, and the exciting sequel, Bones of the Old Ones, is scheduled to arrive in less than three weeks. Head of Zeus will bring both into print overseas for the first time beginning in April of 2013.

The Desert of Souls was called “An Arabian Nights adventure as written by Robert E Howard” by Dave Drake, and Bones of the Old Ones received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. In a recent feature review, SF Signal called the second volume “A damn good tale that not only pays homage to the masters, but sets its own print on the genre.”

Bones of the Old Ones is the best fantasy I’ve read in years. It’s a rollicking adventure that follows Dabir and Asim on a daring quest across the landscape of 8th Century Arabia, packed with ancient secrets, underground lairs, dread pacts, mysterious sorcery, desperate heroism, and moments of laugh-out-loud humor. The cast is much larger than The Desert of Souls, and the stakes are higher, as Dabir and Asim race against time to prevent an ancient sorcerous cabal from plunging the world into eternal winter.

Goodreads is offering signed copies of The Bones of the Old Ones — and copies of The Desert of Souls — to three lucky winners this month; visit Goodreads to enter. The winners will be announced December 19th. And now that The Desert of Souls is available in trade paperback, Amazon.com is selling the hardcover for just 10 bucks — get them while they last.

The Bones of the Old Ones will be released in North America on December 11. We first reported on it back in August.


Marvel Feature: Red Sonja 5

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

marvel-feature-5-coverI just realized something curious about Red Sonja. I mean, besides the chain mail bikini and vow never to (kiss/have sex with/love) a man who hasn’t defeated her in battle. After a dozen issues, I’ve never seen this woman get paid for anything. All the demons and wizards and brigands she takes down, yet no one’s ever paid her a shekel for her services. Honestly, why keep doing it if no one pays her?

Maybe she thinks if she kills enough evil wizards for free, word of mouth will spread and someone will offer her a paying gig as wizard-slayer. Maybe she’s working as an unpaid intern to gain experience in wizard-killing before pursuing a career in that field. Maybe she’s working for store credit, getting discounts on her weapons and bikinis in exchange for showcasing a metalsmith’s product line.

Of course, word of mouth, internships, and store credit are stupid reasons for unpaid labor; but it’s fantasy, so let’s run with it. After all, she’s a gorgeous redhead in a chain mail bikini. How else is she going to make a living? So when she sees a sign offering 1,000 gold pieces for slaying a forest beast, she’s in.

She finds herself accompanied by Tusan, a fellow bounty hunter who’s far more interested in “getting to know her” than slaying an evil bear god (seriously, it’s a giant bear). But he’s got money, so Sonja allows him to take her to a tavern for a few drinks.

Read More »


Kobold Quarterly Magazine Goes Down Fighting

Monday, November 19th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

kobold-quarterly-fall-2012-smallThe terrific gaming magazine Kobold Quarterly — which we featured here just two weeks ago — has ceased publication. The final issue is #23, Fall 2012.

Publisher and editor Wolfgang Baur posted this announcement on Friday:

It’s a fact that in every fantasy roleplaying game… a kobold’s life is short. They’re wily and quick, but they have few hit points. Sooner or later they go down — fighting. That day has come for Kobold Quarterly magazine. After five years of publication, Shelly and I are closing the doors on the little fanzine that could.

I always hoped that Kobold Quarterly would someday be my full-time gig, but it was not to be. My sincere thanks go out to everyone who contributed to the magazine, starting with our stalwart subscribers, advertisers, authors, and artists. Thanks also to those who bought only an issue or two; for us, every sale was crucial…

And now, as adventurers do, we will gather in the tavern to hoist mugs of ale and talk about the monsters we slew and the treasures we won. And then we will begin planning and scheming for the next adventure. Kobolds might be easy to knock down individually, you see, but they always come in big numbers. The kobold crew will keep serving you with free articles, the free Courier newsletter, Kobold Press adventures and sourcebooks, and other projects.

Subscribers are being offered the option of a 150% refund in Kobold Store credit, or a 100% refund via PayPal or paper check. Contributors are being assured that even though the magazine is folding, Kobold Press is still going strong, and articles scheduled to appear in future issues may be picked up for other Kobold Press publications such as the Pathfinder New Paths line, Midgard Adventures, and other new releases.

Kobold Press will continue to publish the free Kobold Courier e-newsletter, as well as big commercial releases such as the The New Paths PDFs, Player’s Guides for Midgard, and two top-secret projects in the works for 2013. Read more about the excellent Midgard in Wolfgang’s recent Black Gate post.

While we know that the only constant in the gaming industry is change, the loss of Kobold Quarterly is a real blow to the field. It was an excellent magazine that captured the spirit and excitement of the best of the early gaming magazines, and it will be missed.


The Fantasy Adventures of Alexander the Great

Monday, November 19th, 2012 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

alexanderI think my favorite parts of Alexander the Great’s life involve his fight with the dragon, and the time he climbed to a mountain summit and saw the angel of death. Not to mention his conversation with the speaking tree. After that, his meeting with the Emperor of China was almost superfluous.

I haven’t been dropping acid. I’ve been reading from the Shahnameh, the Persian Book of Kings, an epic poem and a national treasure of Iran, written by Abolqasem Ferdowsi over the course of many decades in the 9th century O.C.E. It purports to tell the history of Persia until the time of the Arab conquest, but what it mostly does is collect fabulous tales of adventure, betrayal, war, and love centered around Persian rulers. And because Alexander the Great came to rule Persia, there’s a long section devoted to him.

Alexander the Great from history and Sekander from the Shannameh have very different lives, and the version told by Ferdowsi reads an awful lot like an abbreviated fantasy epic.

Read More »


Black Gate Online Fiction: “The Poison Well” by Judith Berman

Sunday, November 18th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

poisonwell5Manvayar’s old master had been exposed as a secret necromancer… would that horrific experience give Manvayar the insight he’d need to ferret out the truth behind a rash of sorcerous killings?

Suddenly the oppression in the air condensed into cold threat, and an overpowering stink of rotting flesh rolled over him. The mare screamed and bolted past Manvayar. He spun around. A speck hung for an instant in his vision, then swelled. First it looked like a cloud of bloody pus suspended in water. Then, still growing, it congealed into a tangle of pinkish webbing and glistening limbs. Some of the limbs ended in groping hands, some bore toothy leeches’ mouths.

The exhilaration of pure hatred rushed through Manvayar. The necromancer was here! He narrowed his attention to the width of a sword blade, reached to the roots of his soul and ripped out a piece of his own substance, which he formed into Nariyo words of command and hurled at the creature. The words sank into its flesh. It thrashed but kept swelling outward until it was twice as high as a man and its limbs writhed toward the manor windows.

A man was screaming. Inside the stables, horses whinnied and crashed against their stalls. The stench of putrefaction choked him.

Manvayar took a few steps forward. His sword was already in his hand.

“The Poison Well” originally appeared in Black Gate 7, and was widely acclaimed. Patrick Samphire at Tangent Online wrote:

Mage and warrior Manvayar fled his former master when he discovered his master was a secret necromancer. Now he is assisting the death priest, Seppan, in a search for a necromancer whose creations have killed two men. Their hunt leads them to an unwelcoming manor house where the deaths occurred… Berman is an excellent writer. She smoothly juggles the various elements of the story — the secret of the poison well, the hidden necromancer, the hostile family of the lord of the manor, and Manvayar’s past… Manvayar is haunted by vivid dreams of his former master, yet his master has no part to play in this story… the reader is left wondering whether “The Poison Well” is the first part of a series. I certainly hope so; this was a fascinating and well-written piece that deserves its place opening the issue.

“The Poison Well” is a complete 14,000-word novelette of adventure fantasy offered at no cost. As Patrick astutely surmised, it was the first in a thrilling series; the second installment, “Awakening,” which explores the back-story of Manvayar’s former master, appeared in Black Gate 10 and was nominated for a Nebula Award for Best Novella of 2007. We will present “Awakening” in its entirely next week.

You can see the complete catalog of Black Gate Online Fiction here.

Read the complete story here.


Phyllis Ann Karr’s At Amberleaf Fair

Sunday, November 18th, 2012 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

At Amberleaf FairFor some time I’ve had the idea that there are unknown treasures yet to be mined in the deep veins of 80s fantasy. That among all the many titles published in those years are overlooked tales that are worth digging up. I don’t necessarily mean neglected masterpieces, though that’s possible. I mean little gems: books offering unexpected or idiosyncratic takes on the genre. Books that to some extent operate by conventions of their own. Books that suggest slightly different ways to do things. I want to write here about an example of what I mean: Phyllis Ann Karr’s At Amberleaf Fair.

Karr’s published poetry, essays, and short stories, as well as The Arthurian Companion, are a sort of encyclopedia of Arthuriana I find immensely useful. Her first novels were published in 1980, which saw both the romance My Lady Quixote and the fantasy Frostflower and Thorn. She’s published several other novels since, some under the name Irene Radford; At Amberleaf Fair came out in 1986. The Encyclopedia of Fantasy tells me that several of Karr’s short stories feature Amberleaf Fair’s main character, but that (as of the Encyclopedia’s publication) none have been collected.

Amberleaf Fair is named for the gathering at which its story takes place. It’s an autumn trade fair in the community of East’dek. A toycrafter, Torin, proposes marriage to Sharys, a magician and healer in training; but it looks like she’ll instead choose Torin’s friend, an adventurer named Valdart. Then Torin’s brother, an accomplished ‘magic-monger,’ is struck down with some sort of illness; Valdart’s ceremonial present to Sharys, effectively his marriage proposal, is stolen and the evidence points to Torin. Torin and his friend, the storycrafter Dilys, try to work out what has happened, along with a judge named Alrathe — but the story is less about the mystery and more the tale of the relationships of the various characters as the fair goes on, and their choices in life, and how they balance their desires and their duties to their family or society. It’s understated, quick, and entertaining.

Read More »


« Later Entries   Earlier Entries »

This site © 2018 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.