Michael Harrington is a writer and course designer living in the Fort Collins Colorado area of the United States. Here we post Michael Harrington’s interview of Oliver Brackenbury who is an author, screenwriter, podcaster, and now a magazine editor. In fact, this interview highlights the release of Brackenbury’s new magazine New Edge Sword and Sorcery Magazine (released Sept. 30th, 2022. Hardcover $11.99usd, softcover $3.99usd, and the ePub free)!
Read on to learn more about Oliver Brackenbury, his blog, and New Edge!
New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine Editor Oliver Brackenbury Interviewed
by Michael Harrington
If you have been following the buzz that is happening around the venerable Sword and Sorcery genre, you know that there is a revival that’s happening. From the award winning–and free!–publication, Whetstone: The Magazine of Amateur Pulp Sword and Sorcery to Goodman Games Tales from the Magician’s Skull to newcomer Old Moon Publishing, the genre started by Robert E Howard back in the thirties is enjoying a resurgence of interest and creativity.
And that resurgence is also being whetted to sharpness by a movement called (appropriately) The New Edge. The term coined by author Howard Andrew Jones over a decade ago has gained momentum in the last few months on Whetstone magazine’s Discord Server and Scott Oden‘s blog.
All this excitement and interest has led to the creation of a new magazine helmed by Oliver Brackenbury, who himself is – amongst other things – the host of the wonderful podcast “So I’m Writing a Novel…”.
Oliver and I have been chatting over a period of several months over on the Whetstone Discord and he recently took some time out of the busy planning of the New Edge Sword and Sorcery Magazine to talk to me about the magazine, his thoughts on Sword and Sorcery, and why he’s taking on this ambitious project.
Who decides what’s New Edge Sword & Sorcery?
I only control what I, Oliver Brackenbury, think is “New Edge Sword & Sorcery”, and of course that shapes what goes into my magazine of the same name. Here’s the (barely!) tweet-length definition I go by:
New Edge Sword & Sorcery takes the genre’s virtues of its outsider protagonists, thrilling energy, wondrous weirdness, and a large body of classic tales, then alloys inclusivity, mutual creator support, a positive fan community, and enthusiastic promotion of new works into the mix.
Luckily, as with all genres, there is no central authority. I wouldn’t want to be that authority even if there was some way to enforce its terrifying edicts! Far as I’m concerned, the readers decide for themselves, and can debate amongst themselves, just as we’ve all been doing for ages with sword & sorcery in general.
What are your thoughts on “inclusion” in the New Edge Movement?
This resurgence of New Edge Sword & Sorcery as a term to rally behind, back in the spring of this year, started from that all too familiar conversational space of “How do we get more people into this genre?” Well, if you want more people getting into this thing we love, then you need to include more people!
You can’t hope to expand an audience without reaching outside that audience, while doing your best to make the scene welcoming for everyone. For example, don’t scratch your head wondering why more women don’t read and write in the genre when you’re reluctant to call out sexism in the scene, or perhaps simply aren’t directly reaching out to women, merely hoping they’ll show up. You can replace “women” and “sexism” in this example with just about every intersection of identity that isn’t my fellow white, cishet, neurotypical, able-bodied fellas (or “white guys,” for brevity’s sake).
Nothing wrong with my fellow white guys, I don’t want them to go away, or have anything taken away from them. I just think inclusion is vital if S&S is to have a third wave of mass appeal, akin or even superior to what it enjoyed in the second wave of the 60’s through early 80’s. Call out hatred and harassment, give people a head’s up when they go back to read certain classics, and just, ya know, be cool, man.
A larger, more diverse scene benefits absolutely everyone. With a greater variety of people, we’ll get to enjoy a greater number & variety of stories, artistic works, and viewpoints!
Tell me about how you traveled from where you started with your podcast to the helm of the New Edge Magazine?
Yes, I have to say this was unexpected for me. In early 2020 I had vague thoughts about putting out a speculative fiction magazine through a volunteer group I’m a part of that’s dedicated to spreading awareness of the largest publicly accessible speculative fiction archive in the Western Hemisphere, the Merril Collection.
I’d just fallen in love with Tales from the Magician’s Skull and decided to reach out to its editor for advice. Howard Andrew Jones, a real mensch, gave me an hour of his time over the phone. I soon realized a magazine wasn’t something my volunteer group was up for, and put the idea aside.
In June of that year I began serious work on my still untitled sword & sorcery novel, using a string of short stories to tell the tale of the adventuring life lived by my protagonist, Voe.
A year later, in 2021, I decided to launch my podcast, So I’m Writing a Novel…, as a way of building an audience for the novel while I wrote it, alternating between behind-the-scenes craft-focused episodes following me writing the thing, and interviews with cool authors, editors, and publishers — mostly in the sword & sorcery scene.
Almost a year after that, in which I’d befriended many interesting people through interview guests and spending time in the Whetstone Tavern Discord, that spring conversation I mentioned occurred. By June it had come around to some people suggesting I do a New Edge Sword & Sorcery anthology. I thought about it, remembered what I’d called Howard about two years ago, and said “How about a magazine? And would anybody want to help me put it together?”
The answer to both was a resounding “Yes!”
Since then, working almost entirely with other Whetstone Tavern patrons, I’ve been assembling issue #0 of New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine. It couldn’t have happened without the Tavern, which I wouldn’t have come to without the podcast, which wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t writing that novel. It all seems so clear now as I type this, but it was a very organic evolution filled with unexpected turns.
And I’m so happy it all went down the way it did. I’m really enjoying putting together a new sword & sorcery short fiction magazine!
Tell me about the magazine project (planned launch date, how to get notified etc.)
The goal for our first issue is “Some time in September”. I’d be more specific, but it’s my first time doing this, and issue #0 is an unpaid passion project for all involved, so it’s good to be flexible, focusing on quality over getting it out on the first of the month. [sidebar: the magazine was indeed released in September 2022. It’s available now.]
If you go to www.newedgeswordandsorcery.com you can sign up for our very low-impact mailing list to be told when #0 is out, when the crowdfunding for issues #1&2 is up, and when — if we successfully fund them — issues #1 & 2 are available for sale. That’s it. Maybe three emails in six months or so, nothing to fear. You can also follow us for updates and lots of other neat stuff on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
What distinguishes New Edge Sword and Sorcery from other popular S&S magazines?
The magazines most on my mind while designing my own were the two I love the most — Tales from the Magician’s Skull and Whetstone: An Amateur Magazine of Sword & Sorcery. I recommend both with all my heart, and am just using them as a point of comparison in my answer, by no means slagging off either.
As with all S&S magazines, our goal is sharing with readers the best stories, art, and articles we possibly can! Now, the differences…
The magazine will be available in hardcover… something I’m not currently aware of with any other S&S magazine. Keeping an eye to financial accessibility and personal preferences, there will also be softcover and ePub formats. Whether you’re into having beautiful objects on your shelf, or just want the bloody stories, we’ve got you!
We’ll be focused on experimentation in storytelling, art, and the magazine format itself. Take art: While the popular pulp and OSR/D&D styles you encounter often in the S&S scene will always have a home at our magazine (I love what the Skull does with the former, and Whetstone with the latter), I also want to experiment with other styles as we move forward and I can actually pay artists. I hear money makes it easier to get people on board?
There’s also been some exciting talk already about messing around with non-Western storytelling structures, and themes you don’t often come across in S&S, such as environmentalism. “S&S can be many things and still be S&S” is a motto of mine. I think its flexibility is truly one of its greatest strengths.
I sometimes imagine it as a truly wild wrestling ring with posts, perhaps seven, akin to Brian Murphy’s excellent genre definition in Flame & Crimson: A History of Sword & Sorcery, that clearly mark boundaries. Yet what runs between them? A strong, highly elastic rope for authors to stretch and bounce off of, executing all kinds of cool, exciting moves!
“Rated R”. Some mags, like the Skull, prefer to keep things PG-13 to help draw in younger audiences. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that, but we’ll be leaving the door open for adult themes, violence, and sexuality. Despite the magazine’s name, we’re not edgelords over here. Said violence and sexuality will be approached thoughtfully, with the latter ideally considering a variety of perspectives, while also serving the stories they’re present in.
Intentional approach to inclusion, and inclusion statement. We most certainly are not the only people who care about inclusion. However I am currently unaware of any other S&S magazines taking my highly intentional approach to inclusion or who choose to have a statement of inclusion within their pages
If you want to learn more about inclusion as it relates to the magazine and my take on New Edge S&S, I’d recommend this recent Bobby Derie Deep Cuts interview I did which focuses almost entirely on that aspect. It’s just one word in my definition of New Edge S&S, but by gum you can end up saying an awful lot about it.
Oliver tell me about your “why” for the New Edge of Sword and Sorcery. Let’s start with the movement itself — why does this hook you so passionately?
First and foremost, because I love sword & sorcery, period, and I want it to grow into a third wave of mass popularity akin to – maybe even bigger — than it enjoyed in the second wave of the mid 60’s through early 80’s. I think New Edge S&S could significantly contribute to that happening.
I’m also in this funny place of both loving extremely well-executed, traditional-leaning storytelling — think Davd C. Smith’s Sometime Lofty Towers — as well as stories pushing boundaries, taking big creative risks, etc, such as Joanna Russ’ Alyx the pick-lock tales, or the Hickman run of X-Men from these past few years. That New Edge S&S can be a home for both is something that really does it for me. As you can tell by my answers so far, I’m a big fan of variety!
Finally, the emphasis on bringing more diverse people in to enjoy this thing holds great appeal because I want to see that greater variety of stories & storytellers, and — forgive me if this is corny — make even more new friends with people who love this thing that I love.
Now what’s your driving motivation for creating the New Edge magazine? What do you want to achieve in regard to author’s artists and the movement in general?
If I can help substantially contribute to the popularity, diversity, and variety of S&S storytelling, authorship, & fandom, while paying creators a good wage, then I’ll be a happy guy. Honestly, those are my goals and my drive is to achieve them, it’s as simple as that.
Tell me about the artists and art involved in the project
On the fiction side we have David C. Smith, Dariel Quiogue, Angeline Adams & Remco Van Straten, Bryn Hammond, JM Clarke, and T.K. Rex. Contributing non-fiction we have Howard Andrew Jones, Cora Buhlert, Brian Murphy, Nicole Emmelhainz, Robin Marx, and yours truly.
For art we have original illustrations starting with an original painted cover by Gilead, original interior illustrations for every single story by Gilead, Remco Van Straten, David White, Hardeep Aujla, and Simon Underwood, with some kindly licensed reprints sprinkled among the non-fiction by the likes of Aldo Ojeda, and Carlos Castilio.
Let’s not leave out the marvelous staff — it isn’t me assembling everything, good grief — such as Nat Webb on Layout & Design officially and unofficially being my #1 sounding board over DMs, Jordan Douglas Smith lending us his highly potent Proofreading skills, Tania Morrison on transcription — making long-form interviews in the magazine much more possible by transcribing podcast interviews, and our social media volunteer Kevin Beckett.
And then you’ve got me, good old Oliver Brackenbury, editor of the magazine, captain of the ship.
This has been a total passion project for all involved, for which I could not be more grateful, and I hope to reward their efforts by successfully crowdfunding issues 1&2, then bringing them all back for — gasp — paid writing and illustrating.
The majority of the talent in issue #0 came from connections and friendships I made either through my podcast or hanging around the Whetstone Tavern Discord. Honestly, I have a hard time imagining this project coming together if it wasn’t for the ol’ Tavern. Heck, that’s how you and I know each other!
I have my own ideas around the renewed interest in Sword and Sorcery, but I’m curious about your thoughts. Why do you think there is a resurgence in the Sword and Sorcery genre? For instance is this a natural rebellion against endless fantasy novels or a sea change in how a culture consumes its media, i.e. the trend now to more episodic stories?
In a recent podcast interview with Kirk Johnson I joked that maybe the world going through a period of economic turmoil and rising fascism like the 1930’s, the decade that birthed the genre, may have something to do with it. I joke, but maybe someone smarter than me can see a pattern?
I suspect there’s an element of phonebook-length fantasy novel, and mega-franchise, fatigue.
I know there’s also the important work done over many years by people who’ve been at this longer. Scott Oden, Howard Andrew Jones, the Rogues in the House podcast, and many others were here before me, toiling hard to build up interest. This is work we should be grateful for, I know I am. Rising tides raise all ships etc.
Overall, I’m guessing as much as anyone, doing my best to read the daily tea leaves, and rooting for this trend to continue!
In your podcast So I’m Writing a Novel you have an episode where you relate how you sent off a list of Sword and Sorcery to a new reader. I’m curious if you stand by that list and what do you think you learned as it relates to the new edge from that project and interview?
Quite a bit, starting with the fact that we can put to rest any worries we have about anybody under thirty remembering the glut of Clonans in prose and film form of the 80’s which put a bit of a stink on the genre for years afterward. It’s just not something to be concerned about anymore, which is great news for bringing the genre back to prominence.
I also had it underlined for me that there is work to be done regarding the other big issue with the term “sword & sorcery” — that it has become diluted to broadly mean anything fantasy, anything with a sword or a wizard at all. One of the great things about the term New Edge Sword & Sorcery is it’s, well, new and gives me a reason to open a conversation with people not only about the magazine, but about the tradition it’s building on, which allows me to push back against that dilution by clarifying how S&S stands apart from Tolkein etc.
I was also given a sharp reminder that for all most of us S&S ‘heads love REH, Conan is not always gonna be the best gateway drug. Tower of the Elephant fell completely flat for my younger guest, a fan of contemporary fantasy who, like so many of her generation, was a “Harry Potter kid” growing up. “Black God’s Kiss” by C.L. Moore, “The Second Death of Hanuvar” by Howard Andrew Jones, and Cora Buhlert’s tale, “The Gate of Mist”, had much more luck building her interest in the genre. We need to be flexible if we’re gonna bring people in — telling readers they have the “wrong” opinion about Conan or REH will only drive them away.
Now, I had faith in all six tales I chose or I wouldn’t have chosen them, but yeah, swing and a miss with what feels like the most dependable Conan tale in town! You can hear more about why that was by checking out the interview itself, including details on stuff like social media promo for books in general, and author newsletters.
Tell us about your origin story into Sword and Sorcery
Oh, well, I’m a white guy who just turned forty and grew up in rural Canada, so my S&S origin is pretty standard — it was finding copies of Savage Sword of Conan Magazine in my local drug store. After putting those away somewhere in my adolescence during a fit of “I am a big man now, at fifteen, time to grow up and give away my comics” (what a fool), I didn’t actually interact with the genre much until about five years ago.
Then, at my beloved Merril Collection, I remembered those Savage Sword of Conan issues and thought “Geez, I should probably read the actual, original prose stories…”
Pretty soon after I had the good fortune to trip over almost the entire Lancer Conan set at the always excellent Sellers & Newel books and the collecting began! Between second-hand book stores and raiding the Merril Collection, I went on to read over a hundred S&S books, many more individual short stories, dozens of relevant essays, and key non-fiction texts… all along the path to my typing this very answer.
You can always read more, and I continue to, but if I haven’t got a grasp on the genre by now then I never will!
The impetus for So I’m Writing a Novel was to chronicle your work on a Sword and Sorcery novel that was a cycle of short stories about a blacksmith’s daughter named Voe. How do you feel Voe fits into the New Edge Movement? Did you initially conceive Voe to reflect this new sensibility in the Sword and Sorcery genre?
I’d never heard the term when I started writing the novel, however I did know I wanted to be mindful in a variety of ways which one could fit under the umbrella of New Edge Sword & Sorcery.
“Being mindful” can mean checking in with myself about stuff like “Am I describing all the female characters in this chapter by how attractive they are?”, doing research, and, when it feels necessary, reaching out for feedback from people different than myself. “Necessary” being kind of a gut feeling based on how far I’m wandering from portraying someone like myself or a secondary world culture rooted in Western European history.
I suppose that’s the novel at large, which does apply to Voe, but let’s focus on her then.
Voe herself, a big, muscular woman (think Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter”) with short red hair who comes from a barbarous isle, a warrior raised by a blacksmith mother and a dyer father, is somewhat traditional. That she moves through four distinct phases of her adventuring career, starting with wanting to be a hero like those in the stories she was told as a girl, is less traditional. S&S heroes tend to be static, not really changing much even if their situation is always fluctuating.
As far as the New Edge S&S philosophy, specifically? I guess Voe fits in, in that I’m writing her with an eye to making women readers feel welcome while reading her stories, and Voe will be forming meaningful relationships of many kinds with a wide variety of people whom I hope will – in their portrayal by yours truly – make an equally wide variety of readers feel welcome.
Voe is certainly an outsider protagonist whose tales I’m doing my best to infuse with “…thrilling energy, [and] wondrous weirdness…” while building on a tradition of “…classic tales”. As for how Voe herself specifically fits in with “…mutual creator support, a positive fan community, and enthusiastic promotion of new works…”, it’s hard to say right now, but very interesting to think about the possibilities.
What’s your response to those who criticize the New Edge saying that it dishonors the past writers of the genre – that there is no reason at all to have a “New Edge”?
Well, I’m not interested in going around telling people what to think or do. That’s a fool’s errand, and kind of rude to boot. I’d rather do my best to create an exciting new thing and lure folk over to check it out, to expand their world rather than try to shrink it by telling them they aren’t allowed to read the stuff they imprinted on when they were twelve, or similar.
Far better to create an exciting and encouraging alternative. Like, give people a vision they can get behind! Let’s talk about existing possibilities and what we want to see, want to experiment with in this genre! Let’s imagine bigger!
All that said, while I want the magazine to perhaps be less past-facing than some publications, I consider honoring past creators, learning from them, and spreading awareness of them a cornerstone of my New Edge S&S approach. Did I mention I volunteer at a speculative fiction archive?
At a minimum I want each issue to feature an author profile of someone important to the genre from the 20th century. In issue #0 we have an excellent piece on C.L. Moore, written by Cora Buhlert. For issues 1 & 2 I’ve got plans for another, yet to be decided, classic creator, and a piece on Charles Saunders by Milton Davis.
What do you think are outstanding examples of New Edge Fiction that an aspiring author of the movement should read?
I always make people nervous when I ask for reading recommendations during my interviews hosting Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection… and now I’m finally put in the hotseat! With the caveat that of course I can’t list everyone here who I’d like to, I’d recommend…
- I recently interviewed Kirk A. Johnson after greatly enjoying his sword & soul collection, The Obanaax and Other Tales of Heroes and Horrors. Among other things, he really nails the grounded, bottom-up perspective of most sword & sorcery protagonists, and does a good job of weaving humor into his tales.
- The man who coined the term “New Edge Sword & Sorcery,” who inspired me with so much of what he’s done with Tales from the Magician’s Skull, and who won me over with his sheer writing talent — starting with the Hanuvar story in issue #3 of the Skull – Howard Andrew Jones, everybody! He recently signed a five book deal with Baen for more Hanuvar adventures and I’d heartily recommend you all keep an eye out for those, perhaps reading the Skull to tide you over while you wait.
- Ha, where do I begin or end with Milton Davis? He’s bloody prolific as both an author and a publisher, and I encourage people to check out the full breadth of what he publishes.
How important is it that new writers and readers understand the origins of Sword and Sorcery? Is this necessary to write New Edge fiction?
I think it’s very important, but perhaps not 100% necessary to do before trying your very first story. Maybe you know nothing of Weird Tales, but you’ve watched The Northman, guzzled down every episode of Primal, and that Conan movie from the 80’s was pretty fun, so you wanna write a story. I say, go for it!
Now then, I did say understanding what came before you in the genre is “very important.” Why? Because we are all standing on the shoulders of giants, whether or not we realize it. So long as you don’t study the greats because you think you have to outright copy them or people won’t accept you — boo to gatekeeping, by the way — then you can only benefit from thoughtful analysis and gleeful enjoyment of past tales. Learning the history of the genre at large isn’t mandatory, but it doesn’t hurt!
Is any of this necessary to write something in the New Edge S&S mold? Shoot, that’s a tricky one. As I say, boo to gatekeeping. However, if you’re looking to build on a tradition, as New Edge S&S does, then you gotta know what that tradition is.
One thing I’m experimenting with in the magazine is reaching out to the occasional author from outside the entire S&S scene. Someone who can write genre, someone whose writing quality really impresses me, but not someone you’d call “an S&S author.” Then I tell them what I liked in their writing, outline what S&S means to me, and ask if they’d like to write a story for the magazine.
My first experiment with this, which you’ll all be able to read in issue #0, went pretty well, I think. Nobody will mistake the tale for an REH story, it leans more into the mythic/weird side of the genre, and I think that’s plenty fine. Meanwhile the author enjoyed the experience and is keen to learn more about S&S so the next story – which they now want to write – can benefit. I’d call that a success!
If people can bring New Edge S&S values to the genre, then surely we can bring the genre to people whose writing already embodies some or all of those values.
How do we reconcile racism, classism, and old societal norms in past masters without condemning or canceling it all? In other words, what’s your advice on taking the good and leaving the bad?
It’s such a thorny issue, yet I always feel it’s at heart pretty damn simple. My glib answer I like to give is “We still study the art of Ancient Greece, yet we have ceased to wipe our behinds with small stones.”
That said, I will never try to force anybody to read any particular tale. As a white guy I get to read past works on Easy Mode. If, say, I read the n-word in a Lovecraft tale, I’ll wrinkle my nose, feel grossed out, and then either stop or continue with no greater impact on my mental health. If a Black person reads that, they may be stuck for the rest of the day thinking about awful moments where that word has been used to dehumanize them. The stakes are just higher for the Not White Guy contingent, aka the entire rest of the human race.
I wouldn’t dare try to advise my hypothetical Black person how to read old texts, because it’s a lived experience I’m ignorant of. I imagine this question could yield some interesting answers when presented to people different from myself.
Meanwhile, I’d advise my fellow white guys not to ignore the past, merely to always be ready to question it, and to think twice about what elements you want to carry forward into your own work. Howard’s bold sense of pacing – yes! Lovecraft’s ideas on race – hard no! And so on. Replicating past works unthinkingly runs the risk of infusing your work with ideas you’d find repulsive – if you realized they were present.
Before I let you go can you tell readers where they can get their eyes feasting on New Edge Sword & Sorcery Magazine and what they can look forward to inside the publication?
Issue #0 of New Edge Sword & Sorcery is due out in September 2022. At www.newedgeswordandsorcery.com you can learn more, as well as sign up for our mailing list that will alert members to the release of new issues, and crowdfunding campaigns to fund future issues. That’s all, it’s very low impact on your inbox.
Issue #0 will feature an original painted cover by Gilead, and each of our all-new stories will feature original B&W illustrations, to say nothing of the reprinted pieces kindly lent to us by their artists to enhance our non-fiction essays, book review, and long-form interview.
The magazine will be available in ePub, softcover, and hardcover via Amazon POD. Exclusive to issue #0, the ePub will be free, while the physical copies will be sold quite cheaply, exactly at the cost of production.
I hope you’ll all try the magazine out, joining me on this journey, as I think it could be the start of something truly wonderful!
Since Michael Harrington interviewed Oliver Brackenbury, the magazine has been released (about two weeks ago)! Check it out with the link, and join the mailing list to learn about their planned crowdfunding campaign for future issues. Also, there are mysterious rumors about an exciting giveaway for a randomly chosen subscriber…