Congratulations to the Dell Award Winners, including Courtney Gilmore of Columbia College

Sunday, February 7th, 2016 | Posted by Tina Jens

Dell Award Winners-small

I am proud to announce that my student Courtney Gilmore received an Honorable Mention ranking in the prestigious 2016 Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing, for her story, “The Numbers Queen of Harlem,” which she wrote in the Columbia College-Chicago Advanced Fantasy Writing Workshop (which I taught) last semester.

The judges are pleased to announce the winner, runners-up and honorable mentions for the 2016 Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing.

Dell Award Winner, Runners-up and Honorable Mentions for 2016

Winner: “Lullabies in Arabic,” by Rani Banjarian of Vanderbilt University
First Runner-up: “Nostos,” by Eleanor Griggs of Grinnell College
Second Runner-up: “Get Out of Here,” by Laura Davia of Vanderbilt University
Third Runner-up: “Wags,” by Eleanor Griggs of Grinnell College

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Pro-Tip From Carlos Hernandez

Sunday, January 31st, 2016 | Posted by Tina Jens

Carlos Hernandez-smallOur Pro-Tip author this week is Carlos Hernandez. Full disclosure: I got an uncorrected proof reading copy of his short story collection, The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, (which has been described as 12 stories of fantasy, science fiction, interstitial weirdness, and a few boldface lies), this past summer at the Nebula Awards weekend.

I gobbled that book down, and promptly made one of the stories, “More Than Pigs and Rosaries Can Give” part of the reading curriculum for the Advanced Fantasy Writing course I teach at Columbia College – Chicago. The story, synopsized by Carlos thusly: “A Cuban expatriate travels to Cuba and hires a local historian to suck the ghost of his mother out of the bullet hole where she was shot at the dawn of the Revolution,” is part history, part magical realism, and in equal parts an admonishment to be brave and dare to step off into that adventure, no matter how scary that first step may be.

Columbia College is very diverse economically, socially, ethnically, and in gender/sexuality identities. I encourage /p/u/s/h/ my students to explore stories, settings, characters, and themes beyond white knight in a generic Medieval European land rescues princess from dragon. We’ve all read that, wrote our own fan-fic, bought the “knights are crunchy and good with ketchup” T-shirt and wore it out. It’s past time for new kinds of fantasy stories.

And that is exactly what Carlos gives us in his first collection. That marvelous title, once again, is The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, and it’s due out at the end of January 2016 from Rosarium.

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You May Be A Writer

Friday, January 29th, 2016 | Posted by Violette Malan

MeredithDo you enjoy planning? When you want to give a party, do you start making lists? Thinking about the menu? Who to invite? When there’s a trip coming up, are there lists? Are you usually the first one packed? Or have you at least given considerable thought to your packing?

Is organizing an event almost more fun than the event itself? Then you may be a writer.

Do you think planning’s for squares? Do you decide at 6:00 pm to have a party and let people know via Twitter? Are you rushing through the airport at the last minute with your passport in one hand and a pair of (mismatched) socks in the other?

Are you all about the spontaneity? Seizing the moment? Then you may be a writer.

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The Series Series: Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston

Thursday, January 28th, 2016 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Shards of Heaven-small[This review may contain trace amounts of David Bowie.]

The jacket copy for Michael Livingtson’s Shards of Heaven sounded promising. I asked for the ARC immediately, and bounced with joy when I found it in my mailbox. Alas, the press release tucked into the book described it as Dan Brown meets Indiana Jones.

Who am I to say Dan Brown is unreadable? Clearly millions of people find him otherwise. To me, though, Brown’s sentences and paragraphs are so relentlessly clunky, ugly, and boring, I am unable to care what happens to any of Brown’s characters. My one attempt to read The Da Vinci Code found me fighting the urge to throw the book across the room, several times on every page.

So the press release made me fear for the well-being of Michael Livingston’s novel. I also feared for my own domestic tranquility: Now that I have children, my household’s penalty for throwing books is a five-minute time-out.

Which was I to believe? The blockbuster-bluster elevator pitch, or the cover copy?

[A]s civil war rages from Rome to Alexandria, and vast armies and navies battle for supremacy, a secret conflict may truly shape the course of history: two sons of Caesar have set out on a ruthless quest to find and control the Shards of Heaven, legendary artifacts said to possess the very power of the gods — or of the one God. Caught up in these cataclysmic events, and the hunt for the Shards, are a pair of exiled Roman legionnaires, a Greek librarian of uncertain loyalties, assassins, spies, slaves . . . and the ten-year-old daughter of Cleopatra herself.

Shards of Heaven has so many of the things Black Gate readers love — epic sweep, battle and brawl, ancient secrets, women one underestimates at one’s peril, and world-shaking magic. Michael Livingston has some nice writing chops. The secret history clearly has a mountain of real historical research to give it depth. How can such a book go wrong?

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Writerly Lessons from Louis L’Amour’s The Walking Drum

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016 | Posted by M Harold Page


…this literary failure is still a heroic one.

I read Louis L’Amour’s medieval adventure novel The Walking Drum so you don’t have to (link).

A thorough edit  would fix the expository intrusions (L’Amour keeps taking out his research and waving it around). However, this would not have fixed the structural problem (there was no structure).

Even so, this literary failure is still a heroic one. The book not only displays the craft of a veteran adventure writer, it is also an object lesson in career strategy.

As an author I benefited from reading this book. Let me tell you why…

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Story in Its Many Forms

Sunday, January 24th, 2016 | Posted by Tina Jens

Cursed Pirate Girl-smallMy Exploring Fantasy Genre Writing course was designed based on the idea that “story” can be told in a vast array of forms; and exploring those forms, both through observation and by wading in and taking a crack at them, enriches the way we work when we return to our preferred art form. Even if one’s painting skills are closer to a kindergartner’s finger-painting “masterpiece” than Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa,” the act of working with paints can help us better understand the use of color to create a desired mood.

The course is designed specifically to look at the reach of the Fantasy genre across a wide array of media and forms including fiction, fairytales, film, television, cartoons, children’s books, music (classical and otherwise), music videos, plays, radio plays, audio and video blogs, art, photography, fashion, comic books, mock journalism, poetry, games, and any other form we may stumble across.

Each week starts with an exploration of a Fantasy theme that has a large body of work built around it, such as Mermaids, Pirates, The Big Bad Wolf, Alice in Wonderland, Voodoo, Arthurian Legends, the dizzing array of Faerie creatures, The Ring of the Niebelung, and psychic detectives. After covering the basics of the theme, we read, look at, watch, and listen to various works based on or inspired by that trope.

For example, for the Pirates unit we: read issue 2 of the comic book Cursed Pirate Girl; read the short story “We Are Norsemen” (because Vikings are simply Norse pirates), recite three short poems about pirates by Shel Silverstein and laugh at his cartoon drawings; watch a short, animated historical film about Jean Lafitte, America’s most famous pirate, on YouTube; then read an essay I wrote about some little-known pirate women from around the world.

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We All Have to Start Somewhere

Saturday, January 23rd, 2016 | Posted by Richard Bowes

Warchild Richard Bowes-small Feral Cell Richard Bowes-small Goblin Market Richard Bowes-small

We all have to start somewhere and this is where I started: Three paperback originals from Warner/Questar. Warchild was the first (in 1986) with an EMBOSSED cover – Art by Richard Corbin. It sold okay, got on a Year’s Best list. [Click on any of the images for bigger versions.]

Feral Cell came out in 1987 – About alternate worlds and cancer which I’d had while writing Warchild – this got me some critical attention plus I got cured!

The sequel to Warchild was Goblin Market (1988) – nice enough but didn’t sell like the original (maybe because the cover wasn’t embossed).

Here are the back covers to all three books.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Pro-Tip From Lucienne Diver

Sunday, January 17th, 2016 | Posted by Tina Jens

Lucienne Diver-smallI’m pleased to have author and agent Lucienne Diver in the Pro-Tip seat this week. She’s a literary agent with The Knight Agency with twenty-three years of experience in the areas of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, romance and young adult fiction. She’s also author of the Vamped young adult series and the Latter-Day Olympians urban fantasy series.

Plot vs. Character?

Plot and character are both vital to your writing, BUT you can have the greatest plot in the world and no one will read your work if your point of view character isn’t compelling.

On the flipside, if your main character is intriguing and original with a voice all his, her or their own, you can truly invest your readers in what’s going on and keep them turning the pages to make sure everything turns out okay for your protagonist. A unique, dimensional antagonist is equally important. People are complex; your characters should be no less.

I guarantee that if you come up with amazing characters, you won’t settle for ho-hum things for them to do. Interesting characters will have interesting goals and real stakes. This is what really drives your story.

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On Writing Modern Noir Fantasy

Friday, January 15th, 2016 | Posted by Peter McLean

Drake Peter McLean-smallMy first novel Drake has been described as a mix of Urban Fantasy and Noir, and I suppose it is, in a way. So what does that mean to me?

Well I think we all have an idea of what Urban Fantasy is – the king of the genre is obviously The Dresden Files, with the magical detective in a big modern city helping the cops solve the unsolvable, inexplicable paranormal crimes.

Drake’s not that.

Don Drake isn’t a detective, he’s a hitman. He doesn’t help the cops – hell, he doesn’t have anything to do with the cops if he can help it. Drake works for gangsters, and demons, and demon gangsters. He’s not Harry Dresden, not by a long way.

But he’s not Philip Marlowe or Mike Hammer either, for all that he’d like to be. The world Drake lives in is hard-boiled but he really isn’t. He’s a cynical, somewhat cowardly opportunist who does the best he can to make his way in a world he barely even understands.

A Noir world.

So what’s that? Noir needs to be dark, by definition, but I don’t think it has to be tied to any particular time period. The classic Hollywood Noir is set in LA or New York in the 1940s but it can work equally well in the backstreets of ancient Rome or the mean cantinas of Mos Eisley, or even in modern South London for that matter.

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Feast Or Famine?

Friday, January 15th, 2016 | Posted by Violette Malan

Tom Jones1Typically my characters don’t spend a lot of their time eating. It’s not because I’m not interested in food, quite the contrary (see my previous BG posts on the subject, here, here, and here.) No, it’s usually because, if I can paraphrase my agent for a moment, I’ve found my characters something more interesting to do. Having your characters sit down and eat is a useful device, however, in that it does give them something to do – even if it doesn’t forward the plot – while they’re talking, which usually does forward the plot. As a general rule, characters need to be doing something while they talk to each other, and if they eat, you can also use the details of the food to help with world-building and setting.

Joyce RedmanStill, even when my characters are eating, they’re not usually attending a banquet. Indeed, banquets and eating scenes in general are usually something we encounter visually, rather than on the page. Who can forget the scene in the Errol Flynn version of The Adventures of Robin Hood, where he walks into Prince John’s supper banquet with a stag on his shoulders?

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