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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My 300th Black Gate Post: Why I Write About What I Write About

Saturday, April 21st, 2018 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

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This is my three hundredth post at Black Gate. This year also marks the tenth anniversary of my first post as a regular blogger. I remember when John O’Neill first invited me to be a part of this project, back when none of us had any idea where it would go — I certainly didn’t think it would last for a decade and that I’d still be around. Or that John would win a World Fantasy Award for it. Yet here the site is, ten years later and a World Fantasy Award richer, and I still can’t believe people show up to read what I have to say about Hercules movies, Godzilla, and Tarzan. It’s humbling to be part of a site with such a wealth of amazing material, great contributors, and so many dedicated and intelligent readers.

I’ve changed enormously as a nonfiction writer over these ten years, and most of the changes happened because of Black Gate. When I started my regular posts, I had only a blurry vision of the sort of blogger I wanted to be. The reality has turned out different because I made interesting discoveries about my own tastes along the way: specifically, what it is that I most enjoy writing about. I once imagined I’d write primarily about fantasy literature, Conan pastiches, and writing techniques. Now I write about monster movies, John Carpenter, and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

To mark my personal anniversary, I’m going to offer an apologia of sorts — an explanation of why I write about the topics I write about most frequently on Black Gate. None of these were in the plan on Day 1, and I’m probably the person who’s most curious about how these subjects turned into my main nonfiction focus.

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Magical Realism from the Sudan

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

The Longing of the Dervish-smallIt feels like we’re in a Golden Age for translations of speculative fiction. We’re seeing everything from the rise of Egyptian dystopian novels to Chinese authors making it big in the American market. Of course, some nations and cultures are better known than others. One that is little known to English-language readers is Sudanese fiction. It can be hard to get in the West, and even on my regular visits to the American University in Cairo bookshop I have to hunt to find authors from south of the border.

It’s worth the search. Sudanese literature is rich in history and folklore, and a large measure of what I’ve come across contains speculative elements. One could call it magical realism, although I have not seen any Sudanese author use that term.

My most recent acquisition was Hammour Ziada’s novel The Longing of the Dervish. Set in the nineteenth century during the time of the Mahdi’s brief empire, it follows the adventures of the slave Bakhit and his obsession with the Alexandrine Greek nun Theodora. Poor Theodora spends most of the novel as a ghost while Bakhit sets out to avenge her killing. The historical setting is richly drawn, as are the characters, and one gets the feeling that the phantom Theodora is not the product of Bakhit’s madness. There’s also some interesting scenes of folk magic.

The journal Banipal, which publishes Arabic literature in translation, dedicated their issue 55 to Sudanese writing. A couple of the stories have speculative elements. “Amulet and Feathers” by Leila Aboulela is another tale of revenge that involves a female character who dresses as a man to avenge her father’s killing only to go through a even more radical transformation. “The Jealous Star” is a children’s tale with a star as the main character who convinces all the other stars to move to the daylight. Other stories are set more firmly in reality, including an excellent one by Hammour Ziada about what happens to an isolated village when a Bedouin tribe decides to move in.

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We Don’t Get No Respect

Friday, March 16th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

alatriste barIt’s often struck me that writers get more respect in other countries than they do in North America (I’m thinking specifically Europe here, since that’s the limit of my experience). When I told my (Spanish) mother as a child that I was going to be a writer when I grew up, she asked why was I wasting time talking to her, why wasn’t I getting started?

When a friend told her (Canadian) mother she wanted to be a writer, her mother told her she’d never make a living that way, and that she should go to law school. My mother recognized writing as a profession, and she further recognized that many writers do “other things” in order to live, because the writing doesn’t always pay. She always told people “my daughter is a writer” regardless of what I was doing to pay the bills.

When I tell non-writing strangers in Canada that I’m a writer, they ask me how much money I make; when I tell them I write fantasy, they either say “I don’t read that stuff” or they want to know why my books haven’t been made into a TV series. In Spain people congratulate me when they learn I’m a writer, are impressed when I say I write fantasy, and want to know if my books have been translated into Spanish.

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STRANGE! WEIRD! EERIE! The Odd, Unusual, and Uncanny Biography of Lionel Fanthorpe

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

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Some writers agonize over every line. Some are prolific like Andre Norton. Others are hyperprolific like Isaac Asimov.

But Lionel Fanthorpe stands alone. He isn’t the most prolific author out there, having written “only” about 200 books, but he had the distinction of having written 168 books in less than a decade. Many he wrote in a week. Some he wrote over a three-day weekend.

This fervid output was the result of his association with Badger Books, a cheap-as-they-come UK publisher that emphasized quantity over quality. The publisher would commission the cover art first (or steal it from some old American paperback), send it to the author, and have them write a 45,000 word novel, usually with a deadline of one week.

Fanthorpe wrote 168 books for Badger between 1961 and 1967, dictating his tales into a reel-to-reel recorder and sending the tapes into the publisher’s typist. Often he’d stay up late into the night, covering his head with a blanket so he could concentrate. The results were overwritten, padded, and compellingly bad.

The only biography of Lionel Fanthorpe, Down the Badger Hole by Debbie Cross, has long been out of print but has now been revised, expanded, and released as a free ebook on the TAFF website.

And what a book it is! Cross gives us generous helpings of Fanthorpe’s prose, including masterful examples of padding through repetition.

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I Need A Vacation – Or Is It A Holiday?

Friday, February 16th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

National LampoonI wonder if there’s still a distinction to be made between holidays and vacations?* Back before “holy day” became “holiday” was there even such a thing as a vacation? Or were holy days really enforced vacations, in the sense that for some of them at least no work was allowed? Would that make the Sabbath a vacation as well as a holy day? Hmmm.

I’m fairly certain that while the two words are now considered synonyms (at least in English) the concept of a vacation as a time of recreational activities is a relatively new one. That is, not just a cessation of work on the part of one’s self, one’s servants and even on occasion one’s animals, but the active pursuing of another activity altogether. Did the Romans go on vacation? Did travelling for a holiday start with the “grand tours” of the 18th century? Or with seaside bathing in the 19th?

Since seaside bathing was considered healthy, as was “taking the waters” in resorts like Bath in England, Lanjeron in Spain, and Baden-Baden in Germany was travel to these places a vacation?

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