It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven by strange muses. To help reveal divine mysteries passed through artists, this interview series engages contemporary authors on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Recent guests on Black Gate have included Darrell Schweitzer, Sebastian Jones, Charles Gramlich, Anna Smith Spark, & Carol Berg. See the full list of interviews at the end of this post.
J. Barton Mitchell is the author of the YA novels The Conquered Earth Trilogy, and the prison planet novel, The Razor. Pre-pandemic, he was also in the process of producing his dramatic science fiction podcast, Derelict. For that project he hired professional actors, flying them out to Santa Fe, where he lives, and having them perform together, playing off one another in his recording studio.
Then the pandemic hit, and that shut down production of the podcast, but not Mitchell’s drive to create more adventures in that world (which is set in the same universe as The Razor). So he got to work on a prequel series, Fathom. While Derelict took place on a derelict spaceship, Fathom takes place deep under the sea. I interviewed my friend about this latest project (Episode 4 of which goes live today). We discuss how he changed his production process to be able to continue recording and producing through the pandemic.
Paula Guran is one of the most accomplished editors in the business. She began with Dark Echo, one of the first email newsletters, which she created in 1994; her 49th anthology, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror: Volume Two, will be published by Pyr Books on October 19th.
I sat down with Paula this morning to talk about her new book, and discovered she had a lot to say — lively anecdotes from a two-decade career, what it is about horror that keeps her coming back, how the pandemic has affected modern horror, the best new novels of the past few years, and the amazing writers we should all be paying more attention to.
It was a lively and enormously entertaining discussion with one of the most wildly read and keen-eyed observers of the industry, a woman who’s demonstrated an uncanny talent for spotting and showcasing some of the most talented new writers working today. Check out the entire 35-minute interview here.
“We Don’t See Pure Sword and Sorcery Anymore, So I Wanted to Try to Revive It” – An Interview with John Shirley
A Sorcerer of Atlantis (Hippocampus Press, 2021). Cover by Daniel V. Sauer
John Shirley is a true renaissance man. He won the Bram Stoker Award for his horror tales, has written over 40 books, and has been a lyricist for the legendary Blue Öyster Cult. Mr. Shirley is also a successful screenwriter who has scripted such various Television shows and films as The Real Ghostbusters,Deep Space Nine, and many others. John co-scripted, with David J. Schow, the Brandon Lee film The Crow.
Mr. Shirley was one of the original cyberpunk writers, and penned the classics City Come A-Walkin‘ and the Song Called Youth trilogy. John has also written horror, historical, and men’s adventure novels under a pen name.
John’s latest novel is titled A Sorcerer of Atlantis: with A Prince in the Kingdom of Ghosts. It came out in June from Hippocampus Press. Sorcerer is a 306-page heroic fantasy/Swords & Sorcery novel.
I’ve read it and enjoyed it immensely. If I wanted to give a quick thumbnail blurb I would say that instead of your typical “thud and blunder,” Sorcerers is reminiscent of the type of novels that John Jakes and Fritz Leiber used to pen. But please don’t think that this is simply a pastiche novel. Sorcerers is its own animal, completely modern, and highly original.
Now enough background, let’s get to the good stuff!
…And on the day two hundred There it stood white to the sky The house of the God of the cross Big enough to take two dragon ships inside All of Asa bay did watch The wonder raise to the sky Now must the God of the cross be pleased satisfied Just outside the circle of the crowd
Are you haunted, perhaps obsessed, with Sword & Sorcery?
Heroic fiction is infectious. Sometimes vicariously “being the hero” via reading is not enough to satisfy the call. Being compelled to write manifests next. Ghosts may be to blame. Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) is credited with originating the genre with his characters: Conan the Barbarian, King Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn; in a 1933 correspondence to his friend and contemporary author, Clark Ashton Smith, Howard explained his interaction with the muse that inspired his Conan yarns.
He and I were in the Clarion West class hailed as the future of science fiction. Three Black women, three Asian women (including me), three Jewish men (including Ben), people from five different countries altogether: nowadays that may seem quaint, and that’s part of what we talk about in this interview. The world has changed a lot and as an author always exploring the limits of what it is to be human, Ben has gotten a front row seat to the challenge of asking questions that are relevant not just now, but ten years from now. Edgy questions about gender in one decade can become absurdly sexist by the next. Gender is one of the many concepts he explores in his upcoming novel, The Unraveling.
I finally got around to listening to the epic podcast produced earlier this year by the staff and contributors to Tales From the Magician’s Skull. It features the brain trust behind my favorite sword & sorcery magazine, including its illustrious publisher Joseph Goodman, mastermind behind Goodman Games; editor Howard Andrew Jones (Managing Editor emeritus of Black Gate); and authors John C (Chris) Hocking, James Enge, and S.E. (Seth) Lindberg.
The whole thing is well worth listening to, roaming free-form over topics of interest to anyone who enjoys reading or writing quality short fantasy, including horror stories from the slush pile, the rising influence of Clark Ashton Smith and Warhammer, the importance of the establishing shot in fantasy fiction, other sources of quality S&S (including Adrian Simmons’ Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Jason Ray Carney’s Whetstone, Dave Ritzlin’s DMR Books, Cirsova, and Weirdbook), Icelandic sagas, the timeline of James Enge’s Morlock tales, Hocking’s Benhus stories, Howard Hanuvar tales, and the mysterious and untimely demise of an unusual number of magazine interns.
A couple of friends tipped me off that I was name-checked about forty minutes in, so it wasn’t a surprise when I heard it, but it was certainly worth the wait. The topic under discussion was the rare and classic Fighting Fantasy board games, including The Warlock and Firetop Mountain and especially Legend of Zagor. Here’s a transcription from around the 36-minute mark.
Howard: I bet John O’Neill has all of that, probably multiple copies in shrink. S.E. Lindberg: Oh my god.
When the crew at one of my favorite publishing houses, Wunderkind, contacted me about interviewing a former homicide detective about his new book, I had to give it some thought. Long beforeBlack Gate and my current day job, I was working on a master’s degree in criminal psychology with a view to become a criminal profiler. As an undergraduate I became fascinated with the question of what happens in the human mind that tips a person from contemplating violence to committing violence? I wanted to look for patterns and to discover if violent behavior could by typecast.
At the master’s degree level, the weight of what I was studying started to hit me – hard. This was no longer theory, but a pursuit that was bringing me eyeball to eyeball with real violence. As a 22-year-old from a very small Midwestern town, I was in no way mentally prepared for what I was seeing and learning about. I left the program for what I thought was a brief break, but I never went back, changing careers entirely. I feel lucky to have made that decision before my interest in ghosts and made-up monsters was forever ruined by real horrors.
So, when Wunderkind reached out, sending me an advanced copy of Lt. Joe Kenda’s new book Killer Triggers, I thought about whether I wanted these two worlds to cross again. I decided I would read a couple chapters of the book before making a decision. Hours later, with the Killer Triggerscompletely consumed, the decision was made. Yes, this is a departure from the pretend worlds I normally write about, but the book is just – well – very good. It’s not uncomfortably graphic and Lt. Kendra has a sense of humor that I couldn’t help but fall in love with a little.
My guest this month is Peter McLean, a successful short story writer and contemporary fantasy novelist who has cast his authorially eye on more traditional fantasy, with his War for the Rose Throne, series, the first two volumes of which (Priest of Bones and Priest of Lies) are now available, and currently in development for television by Heyday Productions. For those who may not have read them (and if that’s you, go do that now, we’ll wait) here is the bird’s view summary:
Tomas Piety was once a successful crime boss in the rough and tumble city of Ellinburg. Then came the War, which left its scars and also, ironically, his ordinance as a priest of Our Lady – not for any great change of faith, but because the unit needed a new cleric and Tomas could read. War-weary, the cynical priest heads home with Bloody Anne, his sergeant and confidant, to reclaim his streets. But rival gangs have carved up what was his and Ellinburg is collapsing from within. Tomas decides to reclaim what was his, with his new gang: the Pious Men. Unfortunately, there is more than just a few legs to be broken, as Tomas finds himself dragged into political and magical intrigue that extends well beyond the city.
The story is narrated by Tomas himself, and the limited viewpoint is used to great effect. We only see what Tomas sees, and while he is a mostly faithful narrator, there’s no doubt that he isn’t always entirely honest with himself, and there are times the reader is left sighing or shaking his head on Piety’s behalf.