Mark Finn on the Future of Skelos Magazine

Sunday, December 30th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Skelos magazine

Skelos magazine, launched as a result of a terrifically successful Kickstarter in 2016, is one of the best new magazines of weird fantasy on the market. Editors Mark Finn, Chris Gruber, and Jeffrey Shanks produced three of the first four promised issues — all of which look fabulous, and were well reviewed. But the fourth, originally cover-dated Summer 2017, has yet to appear, and after a year of delays and virtually no communication from the editors, there’s been a lot of open speculation around the fate of Skelos. Late yesterday Mark Finn posted a lengthy update with good new for dark fantasy fans.

Starting in 2019, we will resume publishing Skelos at a rate of two issues per year, during the Summer and Winter seasons… We will also pursue a more leisurely publishing schedule with regards to collections and original anthologies. Right now, there are two books in our hopper; a collection of Mythos Fiction by Don Webb, and a collection of Elak of Atlantis stories by Adrian Cole. We are very excited to bring those books out in 2019. Other original volumes and collections will follow and be announced, one at a time, as we can, and still keep our scheduled commitments.

As for the rest of this year: there’s not much left, but we are keen to finish and publish Skelos #4. Also, we are keen to fix/re-organize all of the ebook files so that they are standard and uniform and most important, all available. Once Skelos #4 is out, and the four issues have been secured and locked down in a digital format, we will turn our attention to publishing Skelos #5 and Skelos #6 in 2019, and Skelos #7 and Skelos #8 in 2020. Don’s book, Building Strange Temples, will be available in 2019, along with Adrian’s Elak collection. We will announce their on-sale dates in a timely manner… There are not enough places to read the things we like to read. Skelos was formed to address that, and we’d like to see it flourish.

We thank you for your patience. We will fix this, and try to do better going forward.

Speaking as a fan of the magazine, and one who’s been following the personal difficulties of Mark and his team with considerable sympathy, I’m relieved and impressed at the dedication of the entire team, and very much looking forward to the new issues. Read Mark’s complete Open Letter on Facebook here.

Fantastical Crime Noir for the New Year: Crazy Town edited by Jason M. Waltz

Friday, December 28th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Crazy Town cover-small

Jason M. Waltz may be our favorite independent publisher. His publishing house Rogue Blades Entertainment, newly relocated to Texas, is celebrating its first 2018 release: Crazy Town: A Dark Anthology of Fantastical Crime Noir, and it looks very good indeed.

Jason earned his rep with top-notch titles such as Return of the Sword (2008), Rage of the Behemoth (2009), Demons (2010), and Writing Fantasy Heroes (2013), with original contributions from Brandon Sanderson, Howard Andrew Jones, James Enge, E.E. Knight, Glen Cook, Orson Scott Card, Steven Erikson, Bill Ward, Mary Rosenblum, C.L. Werner, Brian Ruckley, Andrew Offutt, Richard K. Lyon, Cat Rambo, Janet and Chris Morris, and many others.

His latest book is a dark anthology of fantastical crime noir, with a forward by Peter McLean (Drake, Priest of Bones) and new and reprint tales from Jay Caselberg, Michael Ehart, Milo James Fowler, Julie Frost, Matthew Chabin, and many others. Jason has scoured far and wide for the best tales of dark urban adventure, and Crazy Town includes stories from Bards & Sages Quarterly, Dark Wisdom, Damnation and Dames, Liquid Imagination, David M. Donachie’s collection The Night Alphabet, and other fine publications, plus half a dozen pieces original to this book.

Here’s the back cover text and full TOC.

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Vintage Treasures: Strange Dreams by Stephen R. Donaldson

Wednesday, December 26th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Strange Dreams Stephen R Donaldson-small Strange Dreams Stephen R Donaldson-back-small

Bantam Spectra cover by Gervase Gallardo

Twenty-five years ago oversized trade paperbacks fantasy anthologies were few and far between. Today they’re the default, but in the early 90s, when original anthologies routinely appeared as mass markets paperbacks, you had to be something special to warrant the deluxe trade paper format. (Nowadays, of course, the mass market anthology is long dead, but that’s a subject for a different post.)

Strange Dreams was something special. In the early 90s Stephen Donaldson was one of top-selling fantasy writers on the planet, with the bestelling Mordant’s Need and Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to his credit. In his introduction he relates how the book came about as a result of a conversation with master anthologist Martin H. Greenberg.

We were discussing the basis on which I might be willing — or indeed able — to pull together a collection, and I quickly dismissed the traditional anthological fundaments: Historical Development (where fantasy came from and how it grew); Defense of Genre (why fantasy is written); Technical Display (how fantasy can be written); and Thematic Modulation (what fantasy has to say about X and Y)… once all these bases have been diminished, why bother to do a collection at all?

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Merry Christmas from Black Gate

Tuesday, December 25th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Black Gate Christmas tree

It’s been about as perfect a Christmas as you could wish for here at Black Gate — with the possible exception of the weather. After a ferocious November, and a whole lot of snow shoveling, December came in like a lamb and the snow melted weeks ago. I can’t remember the last time we missed out on a White Christmas in Chicago (and it’s forecast to hit the 50s by Thursday).

Weather aside, this has been a truly marvelous year for Black Gate. I look back at the last twelve months, and I know there’s a lot to be thankful for. But the thing I find myself most grateful for are those faithful readers who return every day, helping improve the site with comments and thoughtful feedback. We cherish all our readers, but it’s our regulars who have come to mean the most. Folks like Thomas Parker, smitty59, Major Wootton, Rich Horton, Eugene R, Glenn, R.K. Robinson, Aonghus Fallon, Joe H, silentdante, Charles_Martel, CMR, GusG, Jeff Stehman, Barsoomia, kelleyg, Allard, SELindberg, and many, many others, make the effort we put in every day worthwhile. Thank you.

It’s been an incredible run the last few years — an Alfie Award, a World Fantasy Award, and many other honors. We’re very well aware that the source of all that recent fame has been you, the fans, who work hard to spread the word and bring new traffic to our humble site.

So thank you once again, from the bottom of our hearts. On behalf of the vast and unruly collective that is Black Gate, I would like to wish you all Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Continue being excellent — it’s what you’re good at.

A Year of Weirdbook

Monday, December 17th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Weirdbook 38-small Weirdbook 39-small Weirdbook 40-small

Not all that long ago, Douglass Draa was the Online Editor for Weird Tales, maintaining a lively Facebook presence and posting numerous highly readable articles on the website (which, sadly, have now been removed.) Although the magazine has essentially been dead since 2014, Doug kept the Weird Tales name alive as best he could, and I frequently found myself wondering what someone with that much energy could do with more editorial control.

We found out in 2015 when the much-loved magazine Weirdbook returned to print with Doug at the helm. The first issue, #31, was a generous 160 pages of brand new weird fiction and sword & sorcery from many familiar names, packaged between gorgeous covers by Dusan Kostic and Stephen E. Fabian. Over the next three years Doug has produced no less than 10 issues — a staggering 2,000+ pages of new content — plus the very first Weirdbook Annual in 2017. Issues arrive like clockwork, and the magazine only seems to get better and better.

2018 was a great year for Weirdbook, with three huge issues. It seems to have settled into a comfortable 256-pages, and readers of this blog will be pleased, as I was, to see several Black Gate writers among the contributors — including John C. Hocking, John R. Fultz, and the prolific Darrell Schweitzer, with no less than three stories. I was especially pleased to see Doug’s use of quality interior art, which I think greatly enhances the look of the magazine. The latest issue, which just arrived last week, includes moody and effective spot art by the great Allen Koszowski, who also graced the pages of Black Gate back in the day.

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The Return of a Fantasy Landmark: The Unfortunate Fursey by Mervyn Wall

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Unfortunate Fursey-small The Return of Fursey-small

While I was standing in front of the Valancourt Books booth at the World Fantasy Convention (so I could buy a copy of the classic horror novel The Fungus by Harry Adam Knight, as I reported last week), I took the time to look over all their latest releases. Valancourt is one of the great treasures of the genre — their editorial team has excellent taste, and they scour 20th Century paperback backlists to bring long-neglected classics back into print. I’m pretty familiar with 20th Century genre stuff, but they consistently surprise me with their diverse and excellent selections.

I ended up taking home a pile of books, including the one-volume edition of Michael McDowell’s complete Blackwater Saga and Steve Rasnic Tem’s new collection Figures Unseen. But I was hoping for new discoveries, and I wasn’t disappointed. There were plenty of eye-catching titles vying for my attention, but the most interesting — and the ones I ended up taking home with me –was the pair of novels above.

Set in 11th century Ireland, where demonic forces have launched an assault on the monastery of Clonmacnoise, The Unfortunate Fursey was originally published in 1946. The sequel The Return of Fursey followed in 1948. Written by Irish writer Mervyn Wall, they were praised as “landmark book in the history of fantasy,” by Year’s Best SF editor E. F. Bleiler. More recently, Black Gate author Darrell Schweitzer wrote:

The Unfortunate Fursey and The Return of Fursey are not quaint esoterica for the specialist, folks, they are living masterpieces. They haven’t dated slightly and are as fresh and as powerful as when they were first written.

Both novels were reprinted in handsome trade paperback editions by Valancourt last year, with new introductions by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Dirda.

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Take a Bite From The Poison Apple: Interviews from Black Gate Magazine by Elizabeth Crowens

Monday, December 10th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Poison Apple Volume One-smallOver the past two years, since December 13, 2016, Elizabeth Crowens has become one of the most consistently popular contributors to Black Gate magazine. She’s accomplished this with a surprisingly small number of articles — scarcely a dozen so far, over 24 months.

Each, however, has been a fascinating and in-depth discussion with a prominent individual in the genre. Her interviews have included a cross section of talents, including stunt doubles, TV stage managers, fantasy illustrators, bestselling authors, editors, and even Black Gate contributors. All of her interviews have been popular, and more than a few — such as her dual interview with Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner in June 2017 — have been among the most widely-read pieces we’ve published in the past few years.

Earlier this month Elizabeth released The Poison Apple, Volume One: Interviews from Black Gate Magazine, a collection of her earliest interviews. It includes lengthy discussions with:

Teel James Glenn
Steven Van Patten
Lissanne Lake
Martin Page
Gail Carriger
Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner

The book includes the complete contents of each interview, including all the questions and responses, and even the color images.

ELizabeth tells us that she plans to follow up with Volume Two next year, which includes conversations with Charlaine Harris, Heather Graham Pozzessere, Jennifer Brozek, Nancy Kilpatrick , Nancy Holder and Leslie Klinger.

Get all the details at Elizabeth’s website here, and be sure to sign up for new Newsletter for details on her upcoming projects and special offers. While you’re waiting for the next issue of the newsletter, read all of her recent Poison Apple columns at Black Gate here.

Looking For a Perfect Stocking Stuffer? Try A Lot Like Christmas by Connie Willis

Friday, December 7th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

A Lot Like Christmas-small A Lot Like Christmas-back-small

Twenty years ago Bantam Spectra published a collection of Connie Willis’ much-loved Christmas stories. Miracle and Other Christmas Stories came in third on the Locus Award ballot for Best Collection of the year (behind The Martians by Kim Stanley Robinson, and A Good Old-Fashioned Future by Bruce Sterling), and made the preliminary ballot for the British Fantasy Award. However, it’s been out of print for 18 long years, and if there’s something the world needs desperately today, it’s the wit and wisdom of Willis’ classic SF Christmas tales.

Last year Del Rey saw fit to publish a much-expanded edition of Miracle and Other Christmas Stories in a handsome trade paperback edition. The original volume was a generous 328 pages; the newly retitled A Lot Like Christmas is a whopping 544. For fans of novella-length fiction this book is a special treat, as it contains no less than seven, including the Hugo Award nominee “Miracle,” the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus nominee “Just Like the Ones We Used to Know,” and the Hugo Award winner “All Seated on the Ground.”

Virtually all of the stories within were originally published in the December issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction (the only exceptions being two original tales from Miracle, and the novella “Now Showing,” from the Martin/Dozois anthology Rogues). The expanded edition is missing the short story “The Pony,” but includes four new novellas: “deck.halls@boughs/holly,” “All Seated on the Ground,” “All About Emily” and “Now Showing.” It also includes the original introduction and three follow-up essays on classic Christmas tales and movies, plus a brand new fourth essay on TV specials (“Plus a Half-Dozen TV Shows You May Not Have Seen That Haven’t Succumbed to “Very-Special-Christmas-Episode” Syndrome”). Here’s the complete TOC.

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Pirates, Dungeons, and Undead Soldiers: The Copper Cat novels by Jen Williams

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Copper Promise-small The Iron Ghost-small

Art by Gene Mollica

I’m a fan of all kinds of fantasy. Urban, romance, Arthurian, YA, weird, magic realism, anthropomorphic, horror, sword & planet… plus all the ones I can’t think of right now. But my first love was adventure fantasy and sword & sorcery, and that’s still the sub-genre that gets the bulk of my attention. Tell me a tale of heroes and magic, and you’ve got my interest. Throw in a dungeon, and I’ll show up for opening night.

So when I found Jen Williams’ 2016 fantasy The Copper Promise — a tale of swords, monsters, and dungeons — at Barnes & Noble last weekend, I wasn’t so much intrigued as I was thinking, “How the heck did I miss this for two years??” Turns out I didn’t miss it entirely; Adrian Tchaikovsky recommended it in his list of Five Books Featuring Adventuring Parties, which I read back in 2016, saying:

Jen is one of the best new voices in UK fantasy, and it’s a testament to her writing skill that Wydrin, the “Copper Cat” and a proper fantasy rogue through and through, does not actually eclipse her companions Frith and Sebastian as they fight, trick and run their way through a world that has gone from run-of-the-mill dangerous to actively-being-set-on-fire-by-a-dragon dangerous thanks, chiefly, to their own poor life choices. “Let sleeping gods lie,” goes the tagline. No need to tell you how that one works out.

The book was released by Angry Robot; a little digging online found one sequel from the same publisher, The Iron Ghost (2017), and a third volume published only in the UK, The Silver Tide (2016). All three were nominated for the British Fantasy Award. The first for Best Newcomer, and the second and third for Best Fantasy Novel. The reviews have been strong as well, especially for the first one. Starburst Magazine said “The Copper Promise is near-perfect fantasy-adventure fun and a breath of fresh air,” and Den Patrick said, “There are pirates and magic, demons and disciples, undead soldiers and noble knights… a lot of fun.” Here’s the Angry Robot book blurbs for the first two.

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Vintage Treasures: The Dreamhaven Box

Monday, November 26th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

The Windycon box-small

49 beautiful vintage paperbacks for $36, courtesy of Dreamhaven Books

On years I attend the World Fantasy Convention I don’t usually do Windycon, the local convention here in Chicago, the very next week. I don’t typically have the stamina for two back-to-back cons. But this year Richard Chwedyk, who runs the Saturday Writer’s Workshop at Windycon, asked me to fill in as a judge, and I learned that my friend Rich Horton and his wife Mary Anne were making the long drive from Missouri. So I decided to register for the con.

I made it to the Dealer’s Room only a few minutes before they closed Friday night. And who did I find in the back but the tireless Greg Ketter and his wife Lisa Freitag, manning the well-stocked Dreamhaven Books table. I’d seen both of them at World Fantasy, where they’d also had a table. They’d packed that up, driven from Baltimore to Minneapolis, and then here to Chicago — with brand new stock! Talk about stamina.

While we were chatting in front of their booth I discovered eight boxes at my feet, tightly crammed with paperbacks. “They’re all a dollar,” Lisa said, noticing my distracted gaze. “Less than that if you buy a bunch.”

Gentle reader, I bought a bunch.

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