Ancient Worlds: I Think This Book’s Mostly Filler…

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

AHave you ever sat down to read a book and hit a stretch in which it seems really obvious that the writer is writing because… well, they have to? That something is eventually going to happen, but it can’t happen just yet because word count? Or, in all fairness to authors, because it just isn’t time yet, because time has to pass between events. Emotional distance has to be gained or events will appear too closely related if they are too closely linked in the text.

It happens around page 150 in most genre novels, or right around episodes 16-18 in a 22 episode TV series. And let’s be kind to filler: not every piece of a story can move the overall arc forward (although it’s great when it does). It can be an excellent opportunity for character growth and for world-building. It can provide needed relief from a heavy plotlines. And it can just let the writer(s) play, with occasionally great storytelling popping up. “Hush” in Buffy is a great example, as is “Big Block of Cheese Day” on West Wing or “Houses of the Holy” on Supernatural.

And sometimes you just get… Book 2 of the Argonautica. Feel free to disagree with me if you’ve read it (and I expect to see a good many comments arguing with me!) (or a loud chirping chorus of crickets. Yeah, it’ll probably be crickets), but between the action in Book 1 and Book 3’s massive operatic scope, Book 2 is just… there.

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Goth Chick News: Zombies Take Over Indiana – Could We Tell?

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 | Posted by Sue Granquist

image002Okay, that was mean.

I’ll save that snark for when Scott Kenemore writes Zombie, Toronto.

Anyway, in case you don’t remember him, Kenemore is the comic genius behind Z.E.O., A Zombie Guide for Getting A(Head) in Business as well as nine other zombie-related works of fine literature.

We met him appropriately enough, at Chicago’s Walker Stalker Con back in March, where he gave us a little inside scoop on his latest in a series of stories which explores the impact of a zombie apocalypse on a state-by-state basis.  So far, Kenemore has already documented his home state of Illinois (mayor is eaten by zombies on live TV; corrupt aldermen try to seize power – typical day in Chicago), and our nearby neighbors in Ohio (college professor becomes a zombie after a car accident, loses his friends while trying to solve the mystery of his own “death”). Now Kenemore turns his attention to the Hoosiers in his latest work, Zombie, Indiana.

The trouble begins when Governor Hank Burleson’s daughter mysteriously disappears on a field trip.  Through machinations of fate, he teams up with Indianapolis PD Special Sergeant James Nolan and high-schooler Kesha Washington to find her.  What he doesn’t know is that each harbors a terrible secret.  As the trio’s mission quickly evolves from search and rescue to a quest to redeem the very soul of Indiana, each on will wonder: can they find Burleson’s daughter before ending up on the dinner menu?

I’ve only just dug into this tasty tale, but Kenemore weaves tension (and some fairly heinous zombie violence) with the right amount of humor and adds just enough satire about the local folks to make this a highly entertaining read thus far.

Zombie, Indiana will be unleashed on humanity on May 6th.  Until then, check out Kenemore’s Zombie Blog. And remember – you’ve been warned.

What do you think would happen if zombies invaded your hometown?  What about your place of employment?  Come on, the material is probably endless.  Post a comment or drop a line to sue@blackgate.com.


Vintage Treasures: Dervish Daughter by Sheri S. Tepper

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dervish Daughter-smallI need to read more Sheri S. Tepper.

I tend to think of her primarily as a science fiction writer, probably because I first encountered her with her groundbreaking The Gate to Women’s Country (1988) and the major SF novel that followed, Grass (1989), a Hugo and Locus Awards nominee. But she wrote a great deal of highly acclaimed fantasy in the 80s and 90s, and it’s high time I acquainted myself with it.

A few weeks back, I purchased a set of four Tepper fantasy novels on eBay, all originally published in 1985-86 (and they look great, too — just look). Last night, I grabbed one to bring with me on a business trip. I chose Dervish Daughter because it had a floating ghost skull on the cover and this criterion has rarely steered me wrong in the past.

So now I’m sitting on the 24th floor of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, with what I just discovered is the second volume in the Jinian trilogy, itself the third series in a trilogy of trilogies called The True Game. Not that the Tor paperback bothered to tell me this. In fact, Tor doesn’t tell me much about the book at all. There’s not much of a plot description on the back, just this kooky poem.

Egg in the hollow — Hatching to follow
Lovers come calling — Bitter tears falling
Bright the sun burning — Night will come turning
New powers arise in the Land… Players beware!

I’m guessing free verse on the back of paperbacks was a short-lived marketing trend in the mid-80s. Anyway, I’m a little frustrated — as I imagine casual paperback buyers in 1986 were frustrated, when they discovered this is the second (eighth?) novel in a series. Over the last few decades, Tor has gotten better at letting buyers know books are part of a series. (They aren’t big on marketing through poetry anymore, either.)

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The Publishing Process: Building a Novel from Concept to Bookshelf

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

writing penI’m often asked at book signings and other public events about the process of writing and publishing. How long does it take to write a novel and what happens after you’re done? In this blog, I’ll cover some of the different aspects of the process from my perspective. I’ll start at the beginning: the story seed.

How does the idea for a book begin? It could be anything, an interesting situation from real life, a scene from a movie that gets you thinking, a smell that reminds you of childhood summers, or maybe you read a book and thought to yourself, “I could do something like this.”

Once you have an idea for a story, the creation process begins. I’m not going to get into the specifics of how to write fiction or all the things people say you should do before you start your first novel. If you want lessons to hone your craft, there are roughly fourteen bajillion books about writing on the market. Some are helpful; others not so much. Or check out one of my earlier blogs here on Black Gate (Nobody Gets Out Alive: Writing Advice from the Cheap Seats).

So how does that initial spark transform into a living, breathing novel? For me, the first thing is to make sure I’ve got a viable story idea. You can write about almost any situation that humans (or nonhumans) find themselves in, but to hold a reader’s interest for three or four hundred pages is a tall order. Not every story idea can stand up to that. So I daydream. Yep. I sit at my desk and daydream about the idea. I wonder where would be the ideal setting for this story. What kinds of characters would play the lead roles? Most importantly, where’s my conflict? Is it a story about love, honor, war, spelling bees, or horse whispering? As the idea grows, I write everything down. Much of this will get tossed out at some point, but it’s important to record it all now before the magic of the idea wanes.

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Fantasy Metaphysics with Pathfinder Tales: The Redemption Engine

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

250px-Redemption_EngineFantasy worlds usually contain good and evil … and frequently personifications of good and evil. Angels & demons. Saints & devils. Knights & undead. Good gods and evil ones. Sometimes these distinctions are very clear-cut and that’s okay. There’s something to be said for a world where the heroes are clearly heroic and villains are clearly evil. But the real world isn’t generally like that and, even within our fantasy, it’s often the case that things tend to be much more interesting when the lines are blurred a bit.

Which brings me to the most recent installment in Paizo publishing’s Pathfinder Tales series of books: The Redemption Engine by James L. Sutter. This book places the metaphysical questions of good versus evil squarely in the center of the plotline, as the atheist priest Salim Ghadafar investigates a case of missing souls that had been destined for Hell. But as the case unfolds, drawing Salim across dimensions ruled by the forces of Good, Evil, and Neutrality, it becomes clear that some of the outsiders native to these realms are throwing the rulebook out the window, trying to gain souls to their armies through new, more innovative means.

As revealed in Ghadafar’s previous novel appearance Death’s Heretic (and the web fiction Faithful Servants), Salim serves as an investigator and enforcer for Pharasma, the goddess of birth, death, and prophecy, but he doesn’t worship her. Coming from the atheist nation of Rahadoum, Salim spent years as a leader in the Pure Legion, persecuting the faithful, before he finally got an offer he couldn’t pass up and swore himself to her service in exchange for the life of the woman he loved. Now he serves the goddess Pharasma … but he doesn’t have to like her.

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Tales From Windy City Pulp and Paper

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Weapon Shops of IsherThis coming weekend, Friday April 25th through Sunday April 27th, is Doug Ellis’s magnificent celebration of all things pulp, the Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention here in Chicago, in nearby Lombard, Illinois.

Windy City is one of my favorite local cons. I’ve written about it before, and in fact I’ve been attending the show for around 10 years. 2012 was perhaps the most successful show in some years, considering I returned with a fabulous assortment of mint-condition fantasy and science fiction paperbacks from the collection of Martin H. Greenberg. See the article and photos from that show in my 2012 post, “Thank You, Martin H. Greenberg (and Doug Ellis).”

The show has been growing steadily over the years. Doug and his cohorts have added a film program, an Art Show, panels, an auction, readings, and more programming, but the real draw continues to be the massive Dealer’s Room, a wall-to-wall market crammed with pulps, paperbacks, rare DVDs, posters, artwork, comics, and much more.

I jotted down a few notes last year, and promised myself I’d write them up before the 2014 convention, to let folks who may be on the fence about attending (or those sad and lonely souls who, like me, just enjoy reading far-off convention reports), know what they’re missing.

In 2013, the list of Dealers was the longest I’ve ever seen, boasting some 80 vendors. They had to add more space, and it took even longer to walk the floor. Doug reported that he sold more tables than at any previous convention, and in record time.

If there’s a drawback to the show, it’s that the Dealer’s room closes at 5:00 pm. That made it impossible for me to make it there after work on Friday. My weekly D&D game with my kids kept me tied up until after 3:00 pm Saturday, which meant that by the time I made the show on Saturday, I had less than half an hour to walk the floor before it closed.

I put the time to good use. After a few years, you tend to find a few favorite sellers and I searched them out immediately.

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Art of the Genre: An Interview with David Martin

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

tumblr_mwxucxtvi61ro2bqto1_500So it’s April, which is a lovely time of year here in L.A., with moderate temperatures in the mid-60s and 70s most days as the city gets ready for June Gloom to set in and cast a shadowy marine layer over everything for a month.

I was hoping to relax in the splendor of Ryan Harvey’s satisfied silence at the success of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, as well as Kandi’s casting as innocent bystander #3 for the next Michael Bay film (you know, the beautiful young woman who gets filmed in slow motion from a gratuitous boob angle as some huge vehicle flies over her head), when my phone decided to ring.

Now there is only one person that calls me when I really, really don’t want to get a call, and that is always our editor John O’Neill.  To make things worse, this time not only was he intent on sending me out for an interview to the New Mexico desert (temps already climbing in to the 90s), but I was to take Goth Chick with me.

Why?  I have no idea, as her mission was coded ‘top secret’, although my money is on a clandestine meeting with UFO witnesses around Roswell.  Whatever the case, I soon found myself boarding a plane (yes, out of Long Beach again) with Chick.  I was pleased, however, that she was searched by the TSA four times before she made it through security, but that joy quickly evaporated when I had to sustain the brunt of her dark mood for the two-hour flight into Albuquerque.

Still, Chick is always fun to have around, and after a few miniature bottles of vodka, followed by a solicitation to join her in the ‘Mile High Club’, she was back to her caustically lovely self.  Now I know what you’re thinking, but a gentleman never kisses and tells, and besides, what happens above Vegas, stays above Vegas.
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Hope Among the Ruins

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

Gamma World First EditionAs I creep closer to the half-century mark, I find myself reflecting ever more often on my childhood. Though born at the tail end of the 1960s, I consider myself a child of the ’70s, since it was the images and obsessions of that decade that left the strongest impressions on my young imagination. I’ve mentioned before that popular culture in the 1970s was awash with the weird, the occult, and the apocalyptic. The latter saw its expression in the flowering of the “disaster movie” genre, which attained a kind of Golden Age in those days. Nowadays, the disaster films people most recall are fairly conventional ones, like Airport (1970), The Poseidon Adventure (1972), and The Towering Inferno (1974) – all of which I watched on network television after their theatrical releases – but the ones that had the greatest impact on me were those with a more global scope, like The Andromeda Strain (1971), The Omega Man (1971), and Meteor (1979). These were the motion pictures that fed my lifelong fascination with The End of the World as We Know It.

Growing up, I was possessed of the sense that life wasn’t necessarily as stable or as safe as it seemed to be on the surface. Real world events during the 1970s only made this point more forcefully. From the Energy Crisis to stagflation and fears of overpopulation and social unrest, life appeared awfully precarious in those days. And, of course, the ups and downs of relations between “the Free World” and the Soviet Bloc did little to suggest otherwise. Being a child, even a precocious one, I didn’t completely understand the full implications of a global thermonuclear war. I only knew that World War III (as my friends and I conceived it back then) was a virtual certainty, a belief reinforced by all manner of adults, from political commentators who publicly fretted about the implications of Ronald Reagan’s possible election in 1980 to my childhood idol, Carl Sagan, who regularly voiced his opinion that mankind was far more likely to destroy itself than to travel to other worlds.

Despite this, I can’t say that I was frightened by the prospects of the world’s end. Sure, I didn’t look forward to it, but I was just a kid and and I knew that, regardless of my feelings, there was nothing I could do to stave off Armageddon, so why worry? I’d read enough history by this point to realize that no world truly ends. Wars, plagues, and other sundry catastrophes were frequently devastating, marking the end of one era, but something almost always came afterwards. At my young age, I found it hard to countenance the possibility that even a nuclear war would spell the end of everything (despite that being the very reason why so many people lived in utter terror of it). I’d also read enough fantasy and science fiction to conclude that the End of the World might be adventuresome.

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In A Land Before Atlantis and Mu: The House of Cthulhu by Brian Lumley

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Fletcher Vredenburgh

oie_214202658YPxSzMI imagine that when most people hear the name Brian Lumley, they think of his vast Necroscope series. You know — the books with the malformed skulls on the covers. If your memory is a little longer, you might think of his August Derleth-influenced contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos series, featuring the supernatural sleuth Titus Crow. And in case you didn’t know, he’s also a prolific writer of really great horror short stories. Even if I didn’t love the stories in his collections, Fruiting Bodies and Other Fungi and Beneath the Moors and Darker Places, I’d still love them for their titles.

While I did know about all those books and stories, what I didn’t know was that he’d written a whole series of swords & sorcery tales set in Earth’s earliest days on the primeval continent Theem’hdra. I had read a story in Andrew Offutt’s anthology, Swords Against Darkness IV, called “Cryptically Yours,” but hadn’t realized it was part of a much longer series of adventurous stories of wizards and warriors.

Recently, I learned from from Paul McNamee that Subterranean Press was making a lot of Lumley e-books available at $2.99 a volume. I immediately bought three story collections: Haggopian and Other StoriesThe Taint and Other Novellas, and No Sharks in the Med. I’ve dipped into all three already and recommend them all.

My buying spree led me to check out Lumley’s website, which led me to something called The House of Cthulhu: Tales of the Primal Land (2010). I learned it was the first of three collections of adventures from the dawn of time. While Tor Books wasn’t selling it as cheaply as the Subterranean collections, I still hit the buy-button. Within minutes, I was traveling back into the deep ages of the world to the Primal Land, encountering giant slug-gods, sorcerers striving for immortality, amoral barbarians, and old Cthulhu himself.

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Don’t Just Buy on Faith: Finding Your Own Deities & Demigods

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Nick Ozment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAny collector of older RPG material will tell you that one of the “Holy Grails” is a first edition Deities & Demigods (DDG) from 1980. It is of interest not only to Dungeons & Dragons aficionados, but also to fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and Michael Moorcock’s Melnibonean Mythos (not to mention Fritz Leiber’s World Nehwon, home of the greatest sword-wielding duo of all time: Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser). This is because the first edition (actually, the first printing of the first edition) featured gods and characters from all three of those pantheons. Later editions dropped the first two for legal reasons.

A first edition of this coveted tome just went for $56.98 (plus 5.95 shipping) on eBay after 17 bids. The winning bidder was probably ecstatic, because I’ve seen them go for a lot more (I paid more for one myself).

But if you start scouring the listings, you’ll soon notice many first editions being offered for as low as twenty bucks. What gives?

As with the gods themselves, when it comes to DDG, not all first editions are created equal. The Cthulhu and Melnibonean pantheons were pulled midway through the print run of the “first edition” (which throws the normal meaning of first edition right in the shredder, but never mind).

The best tip-off is the number of pages. The one you want has 144 pages; later printings have 128. Some sellers will advertise that they have a bona fide “Cthulhu” edition or that it contains the “Chaosium thank you,” but these are not indicators of veracity.

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