IMHO: Giving Voices to Your Characters

Wednesday, January 29th, 2020 | Posted by Joe Bonadonna


James Doohan (as Scotty): “I’m giving her all she’s got, Capt’n!”

I owe a great debt of gratitude to my two good friends, who were of immense help to me in the creation and shaping of my two (so far) volumes of Mad Shadows. Neither are strangers to Black Gate, for I interviewed both of them for this e-zine: Ted Rypel (author of the Saga of Gonji Sabatake: The Deathwind Trilogy, Fortress of Lost Worlds, A Hungering of Wolves, and Dark Ventures); and David C. Smith (author of the Oron series, The Fall of the First World Trilogy, the original Red Sonja novels (with Richard L. Tierney), Dark Muse, the recently-released Bright Star; Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography, for which he won the 2018 Atlantean Award from the Robert E. Howard Foundation, and many other novels, including Waters of Darkness, on which we collaborated.) Both gentlemen write wonderful dialogue, and taught me how to make my characters “talk like real folks.”

Now, I don’t claim to be a great writer nor do I think I’m a “know-it-all” when it comes to plotting, creating characters, telling a story and writing crisp, entertaining and enlightening dialogue. I am far from being a literary genius. I’m not a college professor or a grammar Nazi. I’m not here to tell you what to do and how to do it. We each have our own styles and methods. I’m here to just pass on my own way of doing things, hoping what I have to say will help a writer or two. As far as creating compelling dialogue is concerned — and we’ve all heard this one — my personal rule is:

Give Each of Your Characters Their Own Unique Voice.

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The Illustrated Safari

Sunday, January 26th, 2020 | Posted by Milton Davis

Changa and the Jade Obelisk cover-small

Cover for Changa and the Jade Obelisk #1

Changa’s Safari began in 1986 as a concept inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Conan. I wanted to create a heroic character with all the power and action of the brooding Cimmerian but based on African history, culture and tradition. Although the idea came early, the actual execution didn’t begin until 2005, when I decided to take the plunge into writing and publishing. During its creation I had the great fortune to meet and become friends with Charles R. Saunders, whose similar inspiration by Howard led to the creation of the iconic Imaro. What was planned to be a short story became a five-volume collection of tales that ended a few years ago with Son of Mfumu.

I had always seen Changa’s story as a visual experience. When I began writing the first story I imagined Michael Clarke Duncan as Changa, the Indian Ocean with his crew from adventure to adventure. After Duncan passed away; I settled on Michael Jai White as a worthy replacement for my hero. Having Changa travel the world for his various adventures was also part of the visual experience. It was my hope to one day see it all take place on the silver screen.

A few years ago I embarked a project to make Changa’s Safari an animated series, a project that is still in development. But recently I imagined Changa as a comic book series. I still had a strong desire to see Changa visually, and I felt that the comic book medium would be the fastest way to do so. The comic book would also serve as storyboards for a possible movie, if the opportunity ever came up.

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RBF Author: Writing Sword and Sorcery in the Days of High Fantasy

Friday, January 10th, 2020 | Posted by Ty Johnston

Howard changed my lifeAuthor C L Werner is one of a number of authors to provide an essay for publisher Rogue Blades Foundation‘s release later this year of the book Robert E. Howard Changed My Life. Below Werner writes of Howard and the influence of sword and sorcery literature.

I have a curious relationship as regards sword and sorcery, because for me this tribe of fantasy fiction was encountered only after spending my formative years with what would be termed “high fantasy” in modern parlance. The Tolkien epics, the Arthurian sagas, and a good deal of Dungeons & Dragons during its heyday in the mid to late 1980’s when there was an emphasis on a grand scale for narratives, as demonstrated by the Dragonlance novels. I didn’t really get a proper introduction to sword and sorcery until much later, after moving to Arizona in 1993. That was when I first read the actual stories (or at least the Lin Carter/L. Sprauge deCamp revisions of them) of Robert E. Howard and his creations Conan the Cimmerian, Solomon Kane, and Kull of Atlantis.

Now I’d had a peripheral awareness of Robert E. Howard’s characters before, through comic books and the Conan movies (and that really cool stunt show Universal Studios had back in the 1980s), but my belated discovery of the actual stories really had a profound effect on me. While I did enjoy The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, I was always off-put by The Silmarillion and became jaded on many versions of the Arthurian tales. My investment in Dragonlance also waned over time, and I think the culprit can be found in an inability to be engaged by protagonists who are so far beyond relatability. Elf lords who can single-handedly cross swords with a balrog or wizards who can one-shot a dragon become, sadly, not as engaging as a character who has limitations to what they can do and how they can do it. In Howard’s stories, Conan or Solomon Kane get knocked about by the bad guys, put through the ringer by the ordeals they face. Certainly these characters overcome incredible odds and mighty foes, but these triumphs always felt like they were earned rather than an inevitable, foregone result. The reader experiences the struggle to prevail alongside the hero and in a more visceral way than often can be found in narratives that are operating to some legendary scale of warring gods and unfolding prophecies.

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Four Things I Learned Publishing a New Modern-day SFF Set in a Reimagined Atlantis

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020 | Posted by K.D. Edwards

The Last Sun-small The Hanged Man-small

Here’s a quick list of 4 things I learned publishing a new modern-day SFF set in a reimagined Atlantis. (The Last Sun and The Hanged Man are the first two books in The Tarot Sequence.)

  1. Try to get an agent or publisher who supports your vision.

By the time I sent a query to an agent, I had 9 novels planned in the series, with a strong idea of each installment’s development arc and plot. I knew in advance this was ambitious, and that I was 100% committed to it if at all possible. Getting a series launched is… not easy. Bookstores and therefore publishing houses are less and less inclined to make any far-reaching commitments, especially for debut authors, and really especially in crowded subgenres like urban fantasy.

What helped me get started with an initial 2-book contract was an awesome, awesome agent who understood what I wanted to accomplish, and framed her guidance and recommendations and sales strategy around that. That’s not as simple a statement as it sounds. It involved me clearly articulating my goals; and then being open to her feedback on the realities of my dream, including PROs and CONs.

My agent Sara (Sara Megibow of kt literary) is exceptional at what she does. She’s industry-savvy, heavily-networked, and very practical. Practicality, especially, is important. What happens if my contract ends at 2 books? What if I really want to continue writing 7 more novels? From the start, Sara had a plan. There’s very little that will surprise me next, because she’s prepared me so well.

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The Magic of the Black Earth

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019 | Posted by Jon Sprunk

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The Book of the Black Earth (Pyr Books). Covers by Jason Chan

Six years ago, when I was conceptualizing a new fantasy series, I spent a lot of time thinking about the setting world. And I knew from the start that one of the primary building blocks would be the magic system.

For those of you who have read my Shadow Saga trilogy, you no doubt realized that magic played a big part in the events, especially in the second and third books. I knew that magic would be even more important in the new series, that it would be entwined into every aspect of the story, so I wanted its foundation to be rock-solid from the start.

After considering a few different systems of magic, I decided that one based on the primary alchemical elements (earth, water, fire, and air) would best fit the story I was telling. It been done many times before, perhaps most notably in the Wheel of Time saga by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, but it still appealed to me because it matched well with the non-western philosophies and themes I was aiming to use.

I have studied several disciplines of martials arts over my lifetime, and one of the things which most appeals to me about eastern fighting styles is the concept of balance. Hard versus soft, aggressive versus pliable, offense and defense. These opposites are joined together in a natural back and forth that revolves around finding a balance. A hard style becomes soft, defense turns into offense, and so forth. In developing the magic system for the new series, I ran with this concept. In this world I was building, the cosmic forces had lost their balance and a calamity was approaching.

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Why We Write: Rogue Blades Foundation and the Future of Heroic Literature

Saturday, November 30th, 2019 | Posted by Ty Johnston

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Covers: Johnney Perkins, Dleoblack, Didier Normand

Fantasy readers, like those who dwell together here at Black Gate, are long familiar with notions of heroes and the heroic. Each of us might have our own ideas about what makes a hero, but we would likely find common ground in a discussion of the matter.

That being said, is there any doubt our world today is in need of heroes? Heroes do continue to exist in our entertainment, but often enough they are flawed or irrelevant or humorous to the point of being more pastiche than worthy of admiration. Obviously there are examples of the upstanding hero, yet they seem few and far between compared to our increasing occupation with the deranged or the out-and-out vile. It seems we are more often rooting for the fellow behind the hockey mask or clown makeup than we are for the character who boldly steps forward to set things right in a dark world. Too often our heroes seem to stand alone, if they stand at all.

Rogue Blades Foundation is here to stand with those heroes, real and fictional, and to stand for all things heroic. Rogue Blades Foundation (RBF) is a non-profit publisher of heroic fiction and heroic-related non-fiction.

Fans of Sword & Sorcery literature might find the name of RBF sounds somewhat familiar. The reason for this is RBF is the not-for-profit sister to Rogue Blades Entertainment (RBE), a for-profit publisher of S&S material for more than a decade now. The goals of RBF and RBE are slightly different, thus it made sense to separate the two. RBF will focus upon larger impact projects that would generally be beyond the scope of RBE’s capabilities and intent.

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Howard Andrew Jones and Todd McAulty on Five Authors Who Taught Me How to Write Fantasy

Sunday, November 24th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Five Authors at Tor

Howard Andrew Jones’ new novel Upon the Flight of the Queen arrived in hardcover on Tuesday, and the day before Howard and I (under my Todd McAulty pseudonym, the name I use to write and promote fiction) appeared at to talk about authors who teach you how to write fantasy. Here’s a snippet.

Todd: How have you followed Zelazny’s dictum on keeping the readers in the dark in the second book?

Howard: Throughout [The Chronicles of] Amber, Zelazny had masterful twists and surprises, although none can really compare with the end of book 4, The Hand of Oberon, which literally made me dive across the bed, where I was reading, to grab the final book to find out what happened next. No book conclusion, ever, in all my years of reading, has worked so well, and it’s a high water mark I’ve yet to hit myself.

But it’s something I certainly keep in mind as I build a story. Keep your readers interested and wanting more. With Upon the Flight of the Queen I worked hard to implement the lessons we’ve discussed. Zelazny continues to surprise as Amber rolls along because there were always a few more secrets to be learned, both about character motivation and about how the world actually worked. Information you thought was accurate proves either to be more complicated, or to have been completely wrong. In my own books, there are definitely more secrets to learn, and as some mysteries are solved, other related mysteries are introduced.

This is our third article for The first two, Five Forgotten Swordsmen and Swordswomen of Fantasy and Five Classic Sword-and-Planet Sagas, were surprisingly popular, with nearly 250 comments between them, and that’s been hugely gratifying. We’re having a lot of fun with this series; our next one will likely be about Traveller and classic science fiction gaming.

Howard’s had a good week at; on Wednesday reviewer Paul Weimer called Upon the Flight of the Queen “entertaining fun. Sieges, infiltrations, dragon riding, high magic, duels, and larger than life characters trying… to be big damn heroes of their own story. Jones does an excellent job.” Check out his feature review here.

Writing is an Evolutionary Act

Sunday, October 27th, 2019 | Posted by James Van Pelt

Clarkesworld 157 October 2019-small Asimov's Science Fiction July 1986 Analog-science-fiction-and-fact-december-2016-small

Covers by Beeple, Gary Freeman and Vincent Di Fate

I had an interesting conversation with a newish writer at MileHiCon last weekend. She said that she’d been submitting to small markets until she was “good enough for the biggies.” She meant Clarkesworld, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov’s, and a couple of others. She said, “I figure you only have two or three chances with those editors before they start tossing your manuscript back because they recognize your name.”

I told her about a panel I attended at WorldCon a while ago where Gardner Dozois and Stanley Schmidt were discussing the same issue. Stanley said he’d been receiving manuscripts from the same author for years without buying one. “But he improved steadily. His last ones were close, and then he quit sending me stuff. I was looking forward to buying one of his pieces.”

Gardner perked up and said, “That sounds familiar. Was it…” and he whispered a name in Stan’s ear. Stan nodded.

“His last story barely missed with me!”

Both editors looked a little sad. “I wonder what happened to him?” Gardner added.

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New Roads are Unfolding: The Last Road by K. V. Johansen

Monday, October 21st, 2019 | Posted by K.V. Johansen

Blackdog-small Gods of Nabban-small The Last Road-small

Cover art by Raymond Swanland (Blackdog, Gods of Nabban) and Jennifer Do (The Last Road)

The Last Road is the fifth and final book of Gods of the Caravan Road, a silk road fantasy full of gods, goddesses, demons, devils, wizards, and caravaneers. (Also camels.) Chronologically, the story begins with “The Storyteller,” which was published in Andromeda Spaceways quite a long time ago. You can find it now in my collection The Storyteller and Other Tales. I had Blackdog, the first novel, mostly written when I wrote “The Storyteller.” I’ve never been good at beginning at the beginning. I find that starting a story always raises questions about how it got to that point and I want to look backwards as well as forwards. In “The Storyteller,” the devil Moth — one of seven wizards who “in the days of the first kings in the north” bonded themselves with the souls of seven devils — is freed from her prison/grave and joins forces with the half-demon wer-bear Mikki to hunt for the devil Heuslar Ogada.

In Blackdog, a caravan-guard, Holla-Sayan, is possessed by the shapeshifting Blackdog, the obsessively protective, sometimes savage, guardian spirit bound to the goddess Attalissa, who must flee her homeland incarnated as a powerless child when her town is captured by a wizard warlord whom she believes intends to devour her. Holla takes her along as his daughter on the caravan road. Their story intersects with that of Moth, who has been set by the Old Great Gods to hunt and execute her fellow devils.

Marakand, which is published in two volumes as The Leopard and The Lady, is the story of the goddess-cursed assassin Ahjvar — who claims he died almost a century earlier — and his friend and would-be lover Ghu, as the city of Marakand rises in revolt against its goddess. With impressive bad luck, Holla-Sayan’s caravan comes to the city just in time for the civil war, and Moth and Mikki arrive on the trail of another devil.

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On the Virtue of Patience in Publishing

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019 | Posted by Pierce Watters


At a publishing convention in New Orleans in the 80: Ralph Arnote, book sales guru; Jim Baen,
Editor-in-chief for Tom Doherty at Ace; C.M. “Dink” Starns, my mentor; Tom Doherty, founder
and publisher of Tor; Ed Gabrielli, Macmillan VP; Jane Rice, career sales rep at Ace; and others

I was thinking of the importance of patience. Beth Meacham brought it to mind with a post.

An example: In the 80s, there was a time when my income was neither stable nor plentiful. At the time, Pocket Books was distributing Zebra Books. The local wholesaler was feuding with Pocket. As a consequence, Zebra was not being distributed either.

The Zebra Publisher, Walter Zacharius, was a power in publishing and a friend. But a dear friend of mine, one of Walter’s comrades, was Harry Hills. A mentor.

Harry and I went back to the 70s at Ballantine together. Harry started out doing marketing stunts at Bantam. One involved 6 people, including Harry, holding a very large python on a California beach. I’m not sure if Ian Ballantine was still at Bantam then.

Harry’s memos always started, “Attention All Hands!”

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