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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Tudor Scum and Georgian-Gallants; an Interview with Peter McLean

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Tudor Scum and Georgian-Gallants; an Interview with Peter McLean

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.

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God, Darkness, & Wonder: An Interview with Byron Leavitt

God, Darkness, & Wonder: An Interview with Byron Leavitt

Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction

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.  These interviews engage contemporary authors & artists on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Recent guests on Black Gate have included Darrell Schweitzer, Sebastian JonesCharles Gramlich, Anna Smith Spark, & Carol Berg. This one features Byron Leavitt, novelist and game-author for Diemension Games. 

Byron Leavitt is also the author of the bizarre children’s novel The Fish in Jonah’s Puddle (To Say Nothing of the Demon) and the non-fiction book Of Hope and Cancer: One Man’s Story of God, Darkness, and Wonder, as well as the story content for the board game Deep Madness and its accompanying book Shattered Seas (recently reviewed on BlackGate). Byron is currently working on the storybooks for the forthcoming Deep Madness prequel Dawn of Madness, a story-driven horror experience in a board game.

“Darkness. Light. Wonder. Beauty. God. Tentacles. Those who know me best would say that pretty well sums me up.” – Byron Leavitt

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Wordsmiths: Interview with Zig Zag Claybourne

Wordsmiths: Interview with Zig Zag Claybourne

Courtesy: ZZ Claybourne

You’ve hopefully seen him around the Interwebs, or had the chance to take in his smiling face and genuine warmth back when we went to in-person cons. If you haven’t, then I hope you’ve at least heard of Zig Zag Claybourne or one of his pseudonyms. If you can’t even say that… let this be an introduction, and then go check out his work. Because you really need to.

Claybourne’s latest work is Afro Puffs are the Antennae of the Universe, sequel to The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan. He describes it as “four women accidentally create an AI goddess then destroy capitalism with the help of a telepathic octopus.” But there is so much more to the world he’s created, which we discuss a bit in my interview below. You can also find Claybourne’s writing in the anthology If There’s Anyone Left: Volume 1.

1) Who’s more dangerous: the Thoom, the Nonrich, the Vamphyr, or Disney?

That’s a tough one. The Thoom are powerful but scattershot, Nonrich is omnipresent, subtle, and sharp as a shiv, the Vamphyr tend to be too disdainful to want the burden of controlling humanity… but Disney, Disney works from the bottom up, gets ‘em young…

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Zig Zag Claybourne Author Interview: Flipping the Bird and Finding Joy while Writing Afro Puffs are the Antennae of the Universe

Zig Zag Claybourne Author Interview: Flipping the Bird and Finding Joy while Writing Afro Puffs are the Antennae of the Universe

Zig Zag Claybourne is infectiously joyous on the page and in real life. He’s a comfort to read but not everything he writes is comforting. There’s no seeing the light without being in the dark, but you can trust Claybourne to make you laugh while you’re there. He’s a chill-seeking truth-slinger who’ll shove you into action-packed absurdity then somehow make you feel…cozy.

Afro Puffs are the Antennae of the Universe is the sort of sci-fi that could get Prince’s sexyass ghost to slink outta the celestial void to host a book club. It’s the second, standalone installment in the Brothers Jetstream series. All Captain Desiree Quicho wants is a day off. Maybe a barbeque. But somebody’s got to save the universe. Again. This time from an immoral billionaire and a mega-corporation, each wanting power but neither wanting the responsibilities that come with it.

Here’s the hella fun phone chat Black Gate had with Zig Zag Claybourne about writing Afro Puffs and taking time in 2020 to find joy.

PATTY TEMPLETON:  What kind of feelings do you want to invoke in your readers with Afro Puffs are the Antenna of the Universe?

ZIG ZAG CLAYBOURNE:  Joy, rage, defiance, more joy, and fun. This book is definitely one that comes out of the gate with both middle fingers raised up high. I like that about it.

Who’s it flipping the bird at?

To the fan bois out there who are constantly being asses to everybody else. To the economic systems that treat people like they’re paper assets. This is a book for people saying enough is enough. We’re done with all that.

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Zig Zag Claybourne’s Exclusive Interview with A Sinister Quartet Authors

Zig Zag Claybourne’s Exclusive Interview with A Sinister Quartet Authors

Screen Shot 2020-10-11 at 3.40.28 PMAh, Horror in the time of Covid! It seems almost superfluous, like a feather boa on an ostrich.

However, we the authors of A Sinister Quartet (Mythic Delirium 2020), have pranced fancily forward on that ostrich! Ostriches piled on ostriches! Feather boas galore! Which feather boas, I might add, sport an unnerving number of teeth and eyeballs.

(Editor and author Mike Allen likes to say of our book: “It’s the fun horror, the kind you consume for imaginative shocks and chills, not the kind that weighs on you like the stones that killed Giles Corey in The Crucible as you helplessly doomscroll through social media.”)

In the spirit of fun then, we approached the rollickingly magnificent Zig Zag Claybourne, who probably has the most fun-on-page of any writer I know–and I live with Carlos Hernandez! (Okay, I confess; it’s a toss-up).

Zig Zag, who’d already read A Sinister Quartet and given it an enthusiastic and incisive review, when asked if he might interview us for Black Gate, generously agreed! His questions were every bit as nuanced, as delicious, as sharp-edged, as playful, as hopeful as his own prose. And so, without any more ado…

ZIG ZAG CLAYBOURNE: When I finished the Advance Readers’ copy of A Sinister Quartet, my thoughts ran this way:

There’s a theme in this book, likely unintended, grown organically out of the times, of not giving up, regardless of fatigue, pain, unfairness or a sense that you are small and meaner forces are grotesquely big.

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Bold Venture Press: The Unsung Hero of Pulp Publishing

Bold Venture Press: The Unsung Hero of Pulp Publishing

51WvS1lFaXL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_PulpNoir_1280__06197.1518283264Black Gate: Bold Venture Press is, in many ways, the unsung hero of the pulp world of the 21st Century. You’ve an impressive catalog of new titles and classic reprints, but let’s start at the beginning and tell readers about Bold Venture Press’ history and accomplishments.

Bold Venture Press: Rich Harvey was working in the newspaper field, and founded Pulp Adventures Press in 1992, which eventually became Bold Venture Press. The Bold Venture imprint published The Spider and Pulp Adventures magazine, went on hiatus for a few years, then returned in 2014, reviving Pulp Adventures.

Audrey Parente was an investigative reporter and pulp historian who put her pulp connections on hiatus as her reporting career went into high gear. She rejoined the pulp fold after taking early retirement by attending Rich’s Pulp AdventureCon in New Jersey in 2012. Meeting at other pulp conventions, Rich and Audrey became reacquainted.

A fictionalized version of their romance, Pulp Noir was published by Bold Venture Press. They joined forces in Florida in 2014. Bold Venture has been cranking out several books every month, first focusing on pulp reprints and then adding new pulp and mainstream authors. Rich’s connections with Zorro Productions has led to the biggest and most exciting projects they have tackled.

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Between the Years When the Oceans Drank (Henry Kuttner’s) Atlantis, and the Rise of COVID-19 — Elak Lives Again!

Between the Years When the Oceans Drank (Henry Kuttner’s) Atlantis, and the Rise of COVID-19 — Elak Lives Again!

Elak lives again! Just released by Pulp Hero Press, Adrian Cole continues a saga Kuttner abandoned 80 years ago.
Elak lives again! Just released by Pulp Hero Press, Adrian Cole continues a saga Kuttner abandoned 80 years ago.

Adrian Cole is hardly a stranger to fantasy fiction.

Born in Plymouth, Devonshire in 1949, Adrian first read The Lord of the Rings in the late 1960s while working in a public library in Birmingham, and was inspired by the book to write an epic entitled “The Barbarians,” which was eventually revised into The Dream Lords trilogy, published by Zebra Books in the early 1970s. He has been writing various ghost, horror, and fantasy tales, in both short-story and novel-length, ever since. His career is well-established and diverse, from psychological, alien-horror, to superheroes, fantasy trilogies to young-adult novels.

So it is particularly interesting that Adrian’s newest work is an anthology of stories about the adventurer Elak of Atlantis: Elak, King of Atlantis, which was just released earlier this month by Pulp Hero Press.

Atlantis? A vogue setting in early to mid-20th century fantasy fiction, we don’t really see novels or short stories in Atlantis anymore. Ah, but you see, Elak is himself a piece of history…

After Robert E. Howard’s unfortunate suicide in 1936, a number of authors stepped up to fill the void. Most wrote reasonable, working tales, that were largely forgettable, and they themselves were forgotten. One, however, was the masterful Henry Kuttner, who danced easily between fantasy, horror and science fiction, and had a stellar career, made the more so by his collaborations with his wife, C. L. Moore. Kuttner wrote four Elak of Atlantis stories, which appeared in Weird Tales between 1938 and 1940.  They are an abridged version of REH’s Conan stories, and follow the exploits of Elak as he passes from sword-for-hire to king. But Elak is not a “Clonan”: he’s a civilized man, a noble cast-off, who wields a rapier. Whereas Conan is destined to seize a crown, Elak is trying to avoid his destiny.  Unlike Conan, he is not a loner with “guest star” companions, and is accompanied by the perpetually drunk thief Lycon, and the druid Dalan, who is trying to get Elak to accept his destiny to rule the kingdom of Cyrena.

We first meet Elak returning from an encounter with the wife of Atlantean nobility and that strikes a note in the tales: there is a light-heartedness to them, although the world is a dark one.  If you can imagine an Errol Flynn swashbuckler with wizards and Deep Ones, you have the vibe.

Of course, that doesn’t tell us why, 80 years after Kuttner abandoned the doomed island, Cole is bringing it back up from its watery depths.

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Low-stakes Fiction in a High-stakes World: A Quiet Afternoon, edited by Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold

Low-stakes Fiction in a High-stakes World: A Quiet Afternoon, edited by Liane Tsui and Grace Seybold

GV Quiet Afternoon image 1-smallIn their recently released anthology A Quiet Afternoon, Canadian micropress Grace&Victory offer calm and gentle SFF tales for the reader who would rather curl up with a mug of tea and an afghan (or a slushie and a hammock, depending on the weather) than dart about the cosmos with lasers blasting.

Grace&Victory team members Victoria Feistner (co-founder and graphic designer), Laura DeHaan (slush reader and morale officer), Liane Tsui (chief editor), and Grace Seybold (co-founder, second editor and legalities wrangler) get together today to share their thoughts on low-stakes fiction in a high-stakes world.

You’ve talked about low-stakes fiction, which you call “Low-Fi.” What does that mean to you?

LD: Stories that are comfortable to read, that don’t excite feelings stronger than warm fuzzies or faint melancholy. Which might not sound terribly flattering, I know. I imagine most authors want their stories to sear a flaming brand across the brains of the readers and leave them shaken and awed by the majesty of the prose, but really what I’m looking for is instant nostalgia. I want to think back on the story fondly, I want to revisit it in the way you enjoy pulling on an old sweater or a tatty pair of shoes.

VF: When I am stressed out, sometimes relaxing with a good book – if the book is full of action, violence, tension – only serves to stress me out more. In such times I often turn to different genres – literary, travel memoir, biography, and the like – for escape into gentler adventures. And yet, when I do, a part of me misses my spec elements. Low-Fi is about bringing the mundane and slice-of-life stories prevalent in other genres into the SF fold. SF has long been about larger-than-life heroes and do-or-die plots, but here and there are stories where the stakes are much lower. Ursula LeGuin’s Changing Planes comes to mind, as does Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.

So how is Low-Fi different from existing subgenres? Should it be considered its own sub-genre or merely a “tag”?

LD: I think it’s more about tone than anything else. A queen is near death in “An Inconvenient Quest,” there’s deadly traps and adventure in “Hollow,” “Of Buckwheat and Garlic Braids” has a potentially murderous strigoi, but because of the tone we never feel like anyone’s really in danger. I think as well there’s a definite refusal of violence as a solution and an emphasis on conversation as the way to problem-solve. Again, “Hollow” is an adventure story where the characters cast spells and shoot arrows, but in the end it’s a conversation that resolves the situation.

It’s not something we actively set out to enforce, but it seems fitting that Low-Fi also avoids salty language. And while we have a couple smooches, anything beyond that probably wouldn’t be appropriate for Low-Fi.

So I’d say sure, make it a new sub-genre!

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Lambs and Lizardmen

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Lambs and Lizardmen

For the Killing of Kings-small Upon the Flight of the Queen-small When the Goddess Wakes-small

The Ring-Sworn Trilogy by Howard Andrew Jones: For the Killing of Kings (Feb 2019), Upon the Flight of the Queen
(November 2019) and the forthcoming When the Goddess Wakes (April 2021)

A bit of prologue and some full disclosure to the Gentle Reader

The purpose of this column has been looking at the challenges of historicity vs. fantasy in the process of world-building; well at least when the fantasy in question is trying to be either realistic or set in our world or a near-neighbor. From contrasting the visual departure of Jackson’s LotR films as a more effective means of showing the vast sweep of Middle Earth’s history, to critiquing the swordplay of the Witcher TV show, to interviewing authors who play in both the worlds of Historical Fiction and Fantasy,  I’ve come to realize we have a pretty clear continuum:

  1. Historical Fiction – just what it says. Whether it’s set in the Paleolithic or WWII, it’s a story set in our own past, with the ostensible goal of painting a portrait of that time and place.
  2. Historical Fiction with Elements of “Magical Realism” – really more of a technique of “literature” but the story is more or less as above but there may be hints or some unexplained and unexplainable element.
  3. Historical Fantasy – this is a specialty for folks like last month’s interviewee Scott Oden. Our historical past, only elements of magic, monsters, etc., exist, something like a “secret history.” A lot of traditional sword & sorcery exists here, but so does the fantastical work of writers like Judith Tarr or G. Willow Wilson.
  4. Low Fantasy in a Secondary World – the world I NOT ours, and may not even be based on any clear cognate of our civilizations, but it’s “realistic” in the sense that it’s technology and structure follows our historical models. Magic and monsters exist, but farming gets done with an iron plow and three-field rotation, people ride horses and camels (or something like them), etc. A lot, if not most, of fantasy fits this model and fantasy.
  5. High Fantasy – Magic is powerful and sweeping, there are non-human races who can do magical things, the gods may be capable of manifesting themselves or their will, etc. A lot of epic fantasy fits into this mode.

We can quibble on where those lines are (Tolkien is High Fantasy, but is Martin?), and maybe there are further subdivisions (for example, Urban Fantasy overlays the last two), but the definitions work for this column because the further you go from #1 on the continuum, the less important “historicity” becomes. 

Which brings me to my guest….

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Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Orks and Orkney

Neverwhens, Where History and Fantasy Collide: Of Orks and Orkney

Scott Oden Scott Odin

One of these men is an author, the other is Odin…there’s more commonality than you might think.

Scott Oden  is an American writer best known for his historical novels set in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece, and historical fantasy. Oden’s breakthrough novel was 2005’s Men of Bronze, set in late Pharonic Egypt; it was followed in 2006 by Memnon and in 2010 with The Lion of Cairo, which mixed pulp-style action and sorcery with Crusader politics in Fatimid Egypt. His most recent novels are the opening volumes of the saga of Grimnir, the last orc, following a quest for revenge across the centuries, from Brian Boru’s Ireland in the 11th century to 14th century Messina in the forthcoming third and final volume. Considering how much his areas of interest and writing overlap with Christian Cameron, whom I interviewed last month, it was fascinating to see how much the two authors methods of world building do, and don’t, overlap.

GM: So you’ve written both historical fiction and fantasy. Which genre was your first love?

SO: Definitely fantasy. The Hobbit was my gateway text, back when I was 8 or 9 years old, and I quickly followed that with The Lord of the Rings, Robert E. Howard’s Conan (the Ace editions), and eventually Moorcock’s Elric and Karl Wagner’s Kane. I liked some historical fiction as a kid, mainly the fictionalized biographies of Harold Lamb — especially Alexander of Macedon… what kid wouldn’t marvel to the feats of Alexander, as described by Lamb? I was — and remain — a huge aficionado of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Norse myth. I had this little pocket-sized encyclopedia from Scholastic called Gods, Demigods, and Demons by Bernard Evslin. I still have that battered old copy . . . [GM: So do I!!!]

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