Paolo Bacigalupi on Black Swans, Crashing a Drought Conference, and Being in a Weird Place

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 | Posted by Emily Mah

headshotTheWaterKnife-PaoloBacigalupi-201x300Paolo Bacigalupi’s first novel, The Windup Girl, was named one of Time magazine’s top ten novels of the year, and yet he still talks to people like me, which makes him either very strange or very cool (probably a little of both.)

On May 25th his latest, The Water Knife, will be out, and this near future science fiction novel is set in a mega-drought-stricken, American southwest. The story explores issues of water rights, climate change, and the gratuitous destruction of the state of Texas, all of which we discuss in the interview.

He also takes the time to talk about his long and winding path towards a writing career. Anyone who’s ever reached the point of despair (in other words, all aspiring writers) will want to give this a listen.

After getting off Skype with me, he had another interview with NPR. So, without further ado: Paolo Bacigalupi’s warmup interview on the day he spoke to NPR.

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Escalation to Fight: Understanding Magic in Trial of Intentions

Sunday, May 24th, 2015 | Posted by Peter Orullian

Trial-of-Intentions-small2War. What is it good for?

For some reason, when I sat down to write this two-part article on war in fantasy fiction, Edwin Starr’s version of the song “War, what is it good for?” popped into my head. There’s probably a reason for that. We’ll see if it bears out as I go.

In the broadest possible terms, there are two ways a people or nation will attempt to deal with war: escalate and fight (with the hope of victory), or do all they can to avert war (without sacrificing their freedom). I admit of the oversimplification here, but it’s a short two-part article series, after all.

For part one, lets hit the first topic: escalation to fight. And I’ll use some examples from my current series to try and illustrate the point.

War is a mainstay in fantasy fiction, and in epic fantasy, particularly. The stakes are high — freedom, the right to rule, stuff like that. To win or defend such things usually requires armies, dangerous political intrigue, and war.

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Charles de Lint and The Little Country

Friday, May 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

The Little CountryIn talking about portal fantasies last time, I was moved to reread one of the more unusual examples of the sub-genre, Charles de Lint’s The Little Country (1991).

The book is in a very real sense two books, but it isn’t a simple play-within-a-play, story-within-a-story thing: Each book is being read by the protagonist of the other. The now-overused self-referential concept known as “meta” wasn’t so common when The Little Country was written, but it might have been invented to describe the novel. The book is extremely self-aware, something which even the protagonists are forced to recognize.

The two stories do run parallel to one another, but this isn’t a case of success in one world reflecting or depending on success in the other world, as we see in King and Straub’s The Talisman, for example. The characters don’t overlap, the settings aren’t the same, though you might say that the outcomes are. There is a physical object common to both worlds, a standing stone with an opening through which objects and people can pass. Both worlds have the tradition that passing through the stone nine times at moonrise effects some magical change – entrance into the land of the faerie, a cure for sickness or barrenness, etc.

In the thread which most resembles our world, Janey Little, a twenty-something traditional musician, finds a book in her grandfather’s attic – a one-of-a-kind hitherto unknown work left in her grandfather’s keeping by the author, an old and eccentric friend. The book is called “The Little Country.”

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How To Write a Good Fight Scene

Thursday, May 21st, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

Marshall Versus the Assassins-small

…my fight scenes trigger your mirror neurons (apparently).

You can’t. Not a generically good fight scene. Just like a good love scene, “good” for a fight scene depends on the literary purpose and the audience.

Let’s assume, though, that you are writing some kind of action adventure yarn — I’m qualified to advise on this because this is what I write professionally, and my fight scenes trigger your mirror neurons (apparently) – here’s what I’d tell you over a beer.

Have a Model of How the Relevant Martial Art Works

By “model” I mean that you can describe to yourself how this kind of fighting works. E.g. is it all “cut parry cut”, or about crossing blades then working on the blade, or wrestling or what?

It helps if your model is based on reality or at least experimental reconstructions — if you’re using any European weapons, check out Youtube using the search term “HEMA”. You can of course make everything up, however more and more people are becoming HEMA-literate, so there is a good chance your book will date horribly.

The model should account for all the equipment used by your combatants, e.g. What is a shield for? What weapons break the armour? This ties the combat scene into the rest of the world story and brings to life the military culture and technology. For example, if combat requires a shield, then losing a shield can drive part of the plot. Oh, and, whatever you do, don’t treat armour as set dressing or costume. If it doesn’t stop weapons, nobody would wear it.

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Adventures in RPGs: Long Arc or Short Arc?

Monday, May 11th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Scan 11AD&D carried me from middle school right through college, and about seventy-five percent of the time, I wound up as the referee. The core group with whom I played continued right on getting together for another fifteen years or so after graduation, engaging in annual reunions all over the country.

And I kept right on refereeing. After all, I had unfinished stories to “tell.” These story arcs played out over weeks, months, semesters, and then years. Many remain unfinished to this day. In the main, the rest of the group enjoyed my epic, often convoluted approach. For better or for worse, we weren’t much for hack-and-slash, in-and-out heroism.

Or were we? I’ll never forget Eric S. musing, as one reunion year wound down, that it sure would be nice if for once we could storm the castle, rescue the maiden, and be done.

His wistful comment stemmed in part from my having that very year posed a variant on that longed-for maiden-in-the-tower paternalistic standby: Orcus hired the party to rescue a damsel in distress, but this particular blushing violet turned out to be a truly enormous, deformed frog that had to be kissed in order to… well. Let’s just say there aren’t enough kisses in creation to make the wife of Orcus any more desirable.

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Want to Break Into Comics?

Saturday, May 9th, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

onibk_292  If you want to break into the big comic publishers, a bit of internet research, or visiting a local comic-con will reveal the accepted wisdom pretty quickly:

  • If you’re an artist, show your portfolio to editors at a con, or establish an online portfolio and email the editors. There’s lots of advice in different places about breaking in as an artist, and lots of places to learn (the podcast seems to me to be a great place to start).
  • If you’re a writer, pair up with an artist, make a comic, sell to the smaller comic presses to show your abilities and then approach bigger publishers, who, of course, offer a bit more money.

There isn’t really an advertised direct route in for writers either way. The submission guidelines at DC are pretty clear that they’re only looking for artists.

Marvel does let on that they’re looking for writers and artists, but mostly through the process laid out above.

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Knock, Knock: Or, The Portal Fantasy Revisited

Friday, May 8th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Moonheart-smallThis week I participated in a Mild Meld over on SFSignal on the theme of portal fantasies. I’m not the only person who did, and you can see the whole post here, but, as is so often the case when you’re asked to consider an intriguing idea, I’m still thinking about it. Warning: For the sake of clarity I repeat some of my SFSignal observations, but I don’t overlap much.

Working on that post, and thinking about classic portal fantasies such as the The Wizard of Oz or the The Chronicles of Narnia, or the more recent Chronicles of Thomas Covenant (though even they aren’t particularly “recent,” are they?) got me wondering about the evolution of the portal fantasy over the last 35 years.

Let me review the classic version: Human beings from our world find an entrance to a secondary world where magic works, the supernatural exists, etc., and adventures are undertaken. Often there’s a kind “quest” element involved as well, in that the protagonists have to complete a task in order to be able to return to our world. These are often called “primary world fantasies” even though most or all of the action takes place in the other world.

Again, in the classic version of the portal fantasy, the reader is riding the shoulder of the protagonist, seeing and learning everything about the new world at the same time the protagonist does. CS Lewis even introduced new protagonists, so that he could keep explaining things in later books without seeming repetitious. Of course we all recognize this as a use of the stranger-in-a-strange-land trope (SISL), which is invariably interdependent with the portal trope.

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One Picture = One Thousand Words . . .?

Friday, April 24th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Huff price 1About a month ago Gabe Dybing wrote an excellent post in which he, among other things, praised my Dhulyn and Parno Novels (thanks again, Gabe). I obviously don’t quarrel with anything he had to say, but there was one observation that made me raise my eyebrows, and that was his take on the cover art. The whole post is worth reading (not just the part about my books) but what Dying has to say about my covers is important not just for me, but for any of us involved in the writing and reading of books. Looking at the art from the sales perspective, what it is about the cover that encourages a reader to buy a book, Dybing has two caveats. First, he feels the characters are too “posed,” in that they’re “battle-ready” when nothing is in fact happening. Second, he objects to the photo-realism, since it could restrain the readers in imagining the characters for themselves. As it happens, he feels the artist, Steve Stone, did capture Dhulyn pretty well, except for her skin colour, and her “wolf smile.”

Huff PriceInteresting bit about that. The artist chose his models from modeling/acting agency photos to match the physical descriptions I’d provided to my editor/publisher, Sheila Gilbert at DAW. It wasn’t until the models arrived for the session that Stone realized the woman was black. I know, it does make you wonder what the photos were like, but that’s not a question I can answer. The situation was explained to her, and apparently the model/actress didn’t mind being depicted as a woman from a race noted for the pallor of their skin and the redness of their hair.

As for the wolf’s smile, you don’t really want to see that. Ever. Trust me.

On the whole, I think I’ve been very lucky with my cover art, but before I go on I have to confess a couple of things. First, I have almost no visual memory (except for faces), and don’t really respond to visual cues. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t describe to you the cover of any book, not even the ones I’ve read over and over. Okay, I can recognize the Tenniel drawings from Alice in Wonderland, the original art from the Chronicles of Narnia, and the Dali illustrations from a recent edition of Don Quijote, but there I’m thinking about the artists, not the books. And even there I’m pretty sure I couldn’t tell you what was on the covers.

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The Definitive Guide to Selling Books sans InterWebs

Friday, April 17th, 2015 | Posted by mariebilodeau

Hear ye! Hear ye! This week, the InterWebs exploded with posts on bookselling and all their various don’ts and dos. They may speak of their crazed magical ways of InterWebs, but it is we of Black Gate who will provide you with the DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO SELLING MORE BOOKS!

"Razzle Dazzle, InterWeb razzle..."

“Razzle Dazzle, InterWeb razzle…”

Gather round, Authors of Yore, Authors of Now and Authors of Soon, and learn the true ways of book selling success.


Like any good conquest, the personal touch makes the difference. Let them see the blood lust in your eyes first-hand. Remember, the closer you are to them, the more blood lust they’ll see, the more books you’ll sell.


That’s their fear. Not yours. Make them fear that not purchasing your book will lead their villages to be burned and their crops to be destroyed! Speak fondly of past blood baths! Showcase them in a spiffy pop-up banner behind your sales table and REMEMBER TO FOLLOW THROUGH! If you don’t want to waste too much writing time destroying your non-purchasing enemies, at least steal their goat.

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Tim Akers on How His First Novel Nearly Ended His Career

Friday, April 17th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Heart of Veridon-smallTim Akers has produced some noteworthy fantasy in the past six years, including The Horns of Ruin, The Kingdom of Doors and Rooms, and The Burn Cycle (Heart of Veridon, Dead of Veridon, and the collection Bones of Veridon).

But his writing career very nearly ended after the release of his first novel, Heart of Veridon, by Solaris in 2009. Tim’s tale is one I’ve heard all too often behind the scenes and in whispered conversations at conventions. But on his blog yesterday, Tim publicly laid bare the details in a revealing and honest post — one I urge all aspiring fantasy novelists to read, and pay close attention to.

We were six months from the release of the novel… I received a call from my agent, informing me that Solaris was putting itself up for sale. The imprint was profitable, but GW had decided to put all of their eggs in the Black Library basket. I was standing in my office, at the job I hated more than I’ve ever hated anything, listening to Joshua Bilmes explain why my career may be over.

We tried to negotiate away the contract. Other authors had better luck with this, but as a debut writer, I didn’t have a lot of pull. Let me just summarize the next six months: bad things happened. Solaris didn’t do anything in terms of marketing. They didn’t send out review copies. Their sellers had no motivation to push the book. Buyers at the various bookstores were leery of picking up a debut novel from an imprint that might not exist in a few months.

The book, Heart of Veridon, got to shelves. But it arrived out of the blue, it hit the shelves at terminal velocity, and it cratered. Sales were bad. Reviews were good. The book disappeared.

See the complete post at Tim’s website.

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