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Kickstarting a Belated Black Gate Story: The Imlen Bastard

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Avery

"Aliosha Popovich" by Kate Baylay, from a collection of Russian Fairy Tales. Used by kind permission of the artist.

“Aliosha Popovich” by Kate Baylay, from a collection of Russian Fairy Tales. Used by kind permission of the artist.

Back in the age of print magazines, I made my first professional sale to a fellow named John O’Neill who published a gorgeous quarterly called Black Gate. We went through three deep revisions on that manuscript, a process we both enjoyed enough that, after I finally produced a version of “The War of the Wheat Berry Year” good enough for John to buy, he asked if I had anything else featuring that heroine. And I did. To our surprise, my novella “The Imlen Bastard” needed only a little polish to be ready for print. And so it took its place in the publication queue. Forthcoming from Black Gate, I said of it in my author bio all over the internet, for a few years.

Those years were hard on print magazines, and they weren’t much kinder to online fiction markets. “The War of the Wheat Berry Year” appeared in BG‘s last print issue. Ultimately, John stopped publishing fiction online before “The Imlen Bastard” could make its debut here.

But to me it’ll always be a Black Gate story.

So when I found an artist, Kate Baylay, whose work felt like my favorite old BG print covers — luscious, menacing, full of subtle story implications — I knew I’d found the right cover artist for “The Imlen Bastard.” Everything else I wanted to do with the self-publishing project that has grown up around the novella came together for me quickly after that. Best of all, Kate Baylay embraced the manuscript, and we’ve had so much fun going over the story together to find the most iconic moments for interior illustrations.

Then I enlisted superstar editor Betsy Mitchell — now retired from Del Rey after a career of editing people like Naomi Novik, Michael Chabon, William Gibson, and Octavia Butler — to give the novella an editorial boost. I figured, there’s a difference between standing as the longest piece in a magazine issue and standing alone as a book. I’m still kind of amazed that she took me on as a freelance client, when she’s in a position to work only on manuscripts she really enjoys. So that boded well.

At first, we all agreed that I’d launch a Kickstarter campaign over the summer, but then I got shortlisted for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award. I held off on self-publishing for a few months so I’d know whether to say Finalist or Winner in my promotional material. After the award, I needed to readjust my hubris levels — a story that’s done me the kindness of coming to me to be written deserves the best promotion I can give it, and now I had to work up more brazenness than ever before on my stories’ behalf. Brazenness is harder than it looks. This month, with the thank-you notes for the award all written and sent out, and a trophy to feature in my Kickstarter video, it was finally time.

I clicked on the launch button at noon. You can find the campaign here.

"The Wise Little Girl" by Kate Baylay, from a collection of Russian Fairy Tales. Used by kind permission of the artist.

“The Wise Little Girl” by Kate Baylay, from a collection of Russian Fairy Tales. Used by kind permission of the artist.

Scott Taylor’s many posts on Kickstarter triumphs and pitfalls here at BG have been a huge help while I worked out my plans. At the last minute, his post on “Why I Hate Stretch Goals and Why You Should, Too” saved me from a few mistakes I was about to make. I still have stretch goals, but my reward structure is a bit more conducive to fulfilling all the campaign’s commitments without losing my mind. Thank you, Scott!

If you read the project description, you’ll see another familiar BG name, C.S.E. Cooney. Claire’s narrating audiobooks and fiction podcasts for her day job now, with all that classical theater training of hers and that gloriously versatile voice. If we hit the first stretch goal, I can engage her services for the audiobook version of “The Imlen Bastard.” And then the audiobook will be added to every backer reward package, right down to the $2 level. So, Scott’s cautions aside, I’m still pretty excited about my stretch goals.

Most of the goals have to do with adding art, art, and more art — three waves of interior illustration. Some have to do with improving the quality of the printing and the size of the print run. It’s all there to see in the description, and I’m happy to start adding an FAQ to the campaign as soon as anybody has questions.

Oh, and if we raise enough to go from trade paperback to hardcover, I’ve committed to eating my hat — literally — on YouTube. The fine print on that actually makes it more amusing, I think. Or maybe I’ve just been pulling too many all-nighters getting the campaign ready.

And the story itself?

“The Imlen Bastard” tells the story of a seven-year-old adopted into a royal family so the ruling monarch can use her as a weapon against her birth family. Stisele knows she’s in trouble, but she can’t begin to grasp how much. If she didn’t have the protection of two ghosts she’s been told are imaginary friends, she’d be toast. We figure out who those ghosts are and what their tragedy is, but it’s a longer journey for Stisele. As much despite the ghosts as because of them, she makes a way to start the life she wants in a society that’s definitely not ready for her.

It’s fun, it’s layered, it’s full of subtle peril and apprentice butt-kicking. Can an origin story for a morally ambiguous warrior heroine be both solidly sword-and-sorcery and, well, charming? I assert that it can.

Oh, come see! I’ve been waiting to bring this story to all of you for so long. There’s more work to do, to give “The Imlen Bastard” a face by Kate Baylay, a voice by C.S.E. Cooney, and a diploma from Betsy Mitchell, but when we finally have it in our hands, it will be its own perfect specimen of what we love Black Gate for.


Sarah Avery’s last post for us was How One Award-Winning Author Thinks About Awards. She won the 2015 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for her novella collectionTales from Rugosa Coven. The Trafficking in Magic, Magicking in Traffic anthology she coedited with David Sklar includes stories by James Enge, Elizabeth Bear, and Darrell Schweitzer. Her own short stories have appeared Jim Baen’s Universe, Fantasy Scroll Magazine, and the last print issue of Black Gate. This October she will launch a Kickstarter campaign to self-publish a novella, “The Imlen Bastard,” with illustrations by Kate Baylay. Sarah’s an escaped academic who survived earning a Ph.D. in English literature, and an ambivalently entrepreneurial private tutor. You can keep up with her at her website, sarahavery.com and follow her on Twitter.

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