Books and Craft: Parables for the Modern Reader

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018 | Posted by David B. Coe

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The Earthsea Trilogy (Bantam, 1975). Covers by Pauline Ellison

Early last year, I began a column here at Black Gate that I call “Books and Craft.” The idea was to shine a light on the writing elements that contribute to the greatness of classic works in our genre. (You might care to read my previous pieces on Nicola Griffith’s Slow River, and Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana .) I intended to write these on a regular basis, but life and work intervened. Today I’m happy to be back with a new “Books and Craft” post about books that have long been deeply special to me.

Ursula K. Le Guin died earlier this year after a stellar career of nearly sixty years. She was a master of speculative fiction, one of the most decorated writers ever to grace our genre. She was perhaps best known for her science fiction novels set in the Hainish Universe, but personally, I am most fond of her fantasy, specifically the first three of her Earthsea novels: A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, and The Farthest Shore. (In fact, my newest series, The Islevale Cycle, is set in a world of islands and seas that I meant as an homage to Earthsea and Le Guin.)

These three early Earthsea novels, often referred to as The Earthsea Trilogy, were published as children’s books. They were written, though, with a spare sophistication and elegance that appealed to a broad audience and brought them critical and commercial success. Earthsea is a world of myth, rich culture, and social complexity. By creating a network of islands and archipelagos, Le Guin ensured that her land would be home to a variety of traditions, customs, and people. And in making Ged, the hero of the series, dark-skinned, she brought a non-traditional protagonist to a genre that had, until that time, been overwhelmingly white.

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The Origins of Zombies Need Brains

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018 | Posted by Joshua Palmatier

Zombes Need Brains Portal

There’s one particular question that I get asked a lot once people find out I created a small press called Zombies Need Brains. Mainly, where the name Zombies Need Brains comes from.

It began in 2007, when the World Fantasy Convention was held in Saratoga Springs, NY. That’s basically a few hours drive from where I live. At the time, Patricia Bray was also living in Binghamton and I had just been published by DAW Books. (The Skewed Throne came out in hardcover in January 2006 and The Cracked Throne followed in November 2006.) I was, of course, looking for ways to promote the books and so with WFC so close, Patricia and I came up with a plan to throw a party on Thursday night at the con. We invited S.C. Butler, Barbara Campbell, C.E. Murphy, and Jennifer Dunne to join us (mostly so we could split the costs and make it affordable for all of the authors involved). We planned out the alcohol, the snacks, getting a room at the convention, getting invites printed up to hand out at the con, etc., etc., etc.

But we needed a name for the party.

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One Story Is Worth 1000 Ideas; Or, How Dhulyn and Parno Could Come Through A Portal Near You

Friday, September 14th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

Portals BGThose crazies over at Zombies Need Brains have launched another Kickstarter to fund their next set of anthologies. As many of you already know, ZNB has published 2 or 3 anthologies a year for the past several years, using Kickstarters as a way to encourage readers to pre-order the books – and, not incidentally, to receive some pretty nifty special bonus gifts. This year’s project includes Temporally Deactivated, Alternate Peace, and Portals, to which I’ve been asked to  contribute a story. There’s the artwork over on the right. Check out the descriptions and incentives here.

I’m particularly happy about this opportunity, because I’ve had an idea for a story that would fit the theme of portals for quite some time. I just haven’t had a compelling reason (like a deadline) to write it.

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Caffeine, Snacks, and a Thousand Notecards: How the Story Summit was the Key to Tremontaine‘s Success

Thursday, September 6th, 2018 | Posted by Tessa Gratton

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For my whole life I’ve considered myself, in my heart-of-hearts, to be not a writer, but a novelist. Despite writing dozens of short stories, a handful of novellas, and even having serialized my own long-form story on my (defunct) blog in 2008, the novel has always had my devotion as a writer and reader. I’m both comforted and challenged by the boundaries of a novel’s of length and depth, the pacing and potential of the form. Not to mention the simple pleasure of a mass market paperback in my hands.

This is all to say that writing with a team for Serial Box’s Tremontaine is not my natural state. But it’s been a wild, fulfilling ride, and that seems accurate to describing the experience our readers have had.

Before joining Serial Box, I knew nothing about TV writing except that I loved watching the results. When Ellen Kushner invited me to write for Season Two of Tremontaine, I dove in head first with barely an understanding of the form from which we would be stealing.

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A Small Gang of Authors: An Effective Promo Group for Writers

Monday, August 27th, 2018 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna

Join Our Author Gang

Whether you’re an indie author or one with a publishing contract, you know that authors should band together. We should support each other, help each other, encourage, inspire and motivate one another. Unless you have a major publishing house behind you, a great publicity machine to help market and sell your books (and even then, many authors have to do self-promotion), we’re all out there working hard to promote ourselves and our books. We’re all in this together and no one should have to go it alone. That’s why a number of associates and I have joined together to create something new and different to help promote ourselves and other authors. Our gang offers a forum for writers to showcase their work to an ever-growing audience of viewers.

A Small Gang of Authors is the brain-child of my friend and children’s book collaborator, author Erika M. Szabo. She created our group and blogsite a little over a year ago with the purpose of helping authors everywhere, and to help our founding members, too. Currently there are ten members, and each day one of us writes a blog about writing, publishing, marketing and promoting our books, among dozens of other subjects. We share our thoughts about writing and how we write, and we offer tips, advice, suggestions and so much more. Our blogs aren’t limited to just those topics, however: they run the gamut from writing to music, from films to television shows, and everything in between: we cover a wide variety of subjects that we hope are not only informative but entertaining, as well. We’re a good example of what writers can accomplish when they band together to create a blog- or website, or even a Facebook page. We post on all forms of social media: Facebook, Google +, Instagram, Twitter, and even Pinterest. If you “Google” Our Author Gang or A Small Gang of Authors, you’ll see us pop up right at the top, with links to our blogsite and our individual blogs.

Our Author Gang is working, too, and our audience keeps growing. As of August 2018 we have posted nearly 450 blogs and the blogsite is closing in on 160-K total page views. So people are watching, people are reading and “listening” to what we have to say.

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The Mercutio Effect

Friday, August 17th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

MercutioI’m sure most of you know this, but just in case: There’s a character in the play Romeo and Juliet that Shakespeare kills off. He’s a friend of Romeo’s named Mercutio. It’s his murder that leads to Romeo’s killing Juliet’s cousin, and everything goes down hill from there. So you can see how important Mercutio is from a plot/narrative point of view.

There’s something special about this particular character, though. He’s very witty, very quick, has some great lines/scenes. Actors of my acquaintance say they love to play him. He’s so popular, in fact, that the story is Shakespeare killed him off (instead of one of Romeo’s other friends) because he was a more interesting character than Romeo himself. After all, the play’s not called “Mercutio and Juliet” – though now that I think about it, that would have made a great play too, but probably not a tragedy.

Are secondary (or even tertiary) characters always doomed to die when they are more interesting than the lead? In fact, isn’t it necessary that the audience likes and cares about characters before you kill them? Certainly it happens that way in a movie, or in a novel for that matter. We’re always being told (and we tell others) that you have to make the audience/reader invest emotionally in characters that you plan to kill.

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Sharpen Those Writing Pens: Rogue Blades Entertainment Open to Submissions for Three New Anthologies

Monday, July 9th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

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Rogue Blades Entertainment’s Jason M. Waltz is one of the best editors in the adventure fantasy business. His books include the groundbreaking Writing Fantasy Heroes, Challenge! Discovery, Rage of the Behemoth, and Return of the Sword, one of the most important Sword & Sorcery anthologies of the 21st Century. But as exciting as those tomes are, what I want to talk about today are Jason’s future books — which promise to be as groundbreaking as his epic back catalog.

One of the great things about Jason is that, unlike many other editors at established publishing houses, he has open submission. That’s right — anyone can submit to one of his anthologies. And right now he has not one, not two, but three books open. The first is a swashbuckling pirates & crusaders volume, Crossbones & Crosses, and it sounds terrific. Here’s a snippet from the Submission Guidelines.

Pirates & Crusaders, ahoy! Hoist your banners, unsheathe your blades, kiss your crosses, and let’s search for booty on the seas and the sands! More of the age of steel than shot, though some rudimentary gunpowder is acceptable. NO fantastical elements! Write us your strongest swashbuckling adventures! Gritty, dangerous, and bloody, but nothing of this grimdark nihilism…

Stories should be 4k-9k words in length. Nothing either too much shorter or too much longer. Wow us with heroic storytelling!

Submissions will be open through the fall, so you have plenty of time to craft a story that will get our blood pumping. One of Jason’s other great strengths as an editor is his lightning response times — he usually gets back to you on the first 500 words of your story in the first week.

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Rebecca Roanhorse Celebrates the Launch of Trail of Lightning with a Reading and Q&A

Sunday, July 1st, 2018 | Posted by Emily Mah

Rebecca Roanhorse-smallTrail of Lightning-smallNebula Award winning author Rebecca Roanhorse released her first novel this week.

Trail of Lightning takes place on the Navajo reservation, where Roanhorse lived with her extended family (she, herself, is Ohkay Owingeh and African American). Environmental apocalypse has drowned most of the rest of the world, but the Navajo reservation — now called Dinétah — survived with some supernatural help. The Sixth World has dawned, bringing back the gods and monsters of old.

Main character, Maggie Hoskie, isn’t sure whether or not she’s a monster herself, but she excels at hunting them. When a new kind of horror starts abducting and killing innocent people, only Maggie, with the help of an unconventional (and rather attractive) medicine man named Kai, can hope to stop it; but can she defeat this great evil before it destroys what’s left of the world or will her own demons consume her first?

I had the privilege of facilitating a Q&A session with Roanhorse at the Jean-Cocteau Cinema on the day of her book launch. During the hour-long session, she read excerpts from her book and took audience questions about her work and process.

The video below is a record of that evening — unedited for the most part. The only parts it lacks are the signing session and the amazing cake that Roanhorse brought to celebrate.

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Edgar Rice Burroughs Dictated His Work — So I Tried It

Saturday, June 9th, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

edgar-rice-burroughs-dictaphoneOver his nearly forty-year career, Edgar Rice Burroughs put into use every writing method available to him. In a letter to the Thomas A. Edison Company regarding their Ediphone machine, which ERB purchased in 1922, he wrote: “I have written longhand and had my work copied by a typist; I have typed my manuscripts personally; I have dictated them to a secretary; and I have used the Ediphone.” (He didn’t mention in the letter that he also used the Dictaphone, Edison’s competitor.) Although Burroughs would shift his writing methods over the decade and sometimes returned to the trusty typewriter — even letting a ghostly force take over the typing duties in the prologue to Beyond the Farthest Star — wax cylinder dictation machines became his preferred tool. In his daily log of writing progress, he’d describe his workload in terms of how many wax cylinders he’d gone through that day. “May 24 Dictated 5 cyl. today — something over 4000 words.”

In the letter to the Edison Company, Burroughs listed the reasons he preferred to work using dictation machines: “Voice writing makes fewer demands upon the energy … it eliminates the eyestrain … the greatest advantage lies in the speed. I can easily double my output.” He kept his Ediphone (or Dictaphone) near his bedside “to record those fleeting inspirations that would otherwise be lost forever.”

At the time, dictation machines were primarily used for businesses. In order to make the most out of one, a writer had to have a stenographer to transcribe the wax cylinder recordings, so dictation machines weren’t much use to pulp fiction writers. But Edgar Rice Burroughs was both a writer and a business. He was wealthy enough to have an office staff, including a secretary whose job was to type up the manuscript from ERB’s cylinder output. The secretary would also do the job of shaving each wax cylinder — this required its own machine — so it could be reused.

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Mack Reynolds: Science Fiction Author and… African Explorer?

Wednesday, May 30th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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On a recent writing retreat in Tangier, Morocco, I was going through back issues of the Tangier Gazette, an English-language newspaper from the International Zone era. During this time, which lasted from 1924–1956, Tangier was run by several different European nations plus the United States. The governments gave people a free hand, and Tangier became notorious for allowing things that were illegal everywhere else — drugs, homosexuality, and prostitution. That attracted writers such as William S. Burroughs, Paul and Jane Bowles, and many others.

The April 6, 1956, edition of the Gazette has this little tidbit about Mack Reynolds, a prominent science fiction author of his day. His career got started shortly after World War Two in the detective pulps, and he soon branched out to write science fiction. Reynolds had a taste for travel and moved to Mexico in 1953. He and his wife soon pulled up stakes and set off on an epic ten-year trip through Europe, North Africa, and the Far East, supported by his science fiction and travel writing. The trip finally ended with their return to Mexico.

During his time in Morocco, he and his wife struck out into what is now Mali to visit Gao and Timbuktu. This is not an easy trip now, and back then it was an epic journey few attempted. Just look at what happened to Kit Moresby in The Sheltering Sky.

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