The Evolution of Process — A Writerly Tale

Thursday, September 28th, 2017 | Posted by Julie Czerneda

A Julie as Young Writer-small

The young author with her first electric typewriter!

This guest post by Julie Czerneda is part of the #againstthedark blog tour. Enter a comment below to be entered to win her latest book in hardcover, To Guard Against the Dark, plus a mass market of The Gulf of Time and Stars (US and Canada entries only, please). To enter the tour-wide giveaway of the entire nine-book series, click here before October 16th at 5pm EST.

Once upon a time, there was an unpublished, (and never-thinking-to-be-published) writer named Julie, who would scribble her stories on paper (which she scrunched up to make taller stacks that whispered and rustled in a lovely, ever-so-literary way), when not typing with two fingers on the ancient and indestructible Underwood typewriter her mother gave her. (Then, yes, would scrunch up the paper to make taller stacks.) Eventually, Julie’s stacks burst from her desk drawer. Her mother found her a used portable electric typewriter and filing cabinet, suggesting she stop scrunching and write.

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Making it on the American Grub Street: Hired Pens, Professional Writers in America’s Golden Age of Print

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

0821412043Last month I posted here about Researching the Habits of Highly Prolific Authors for a book I’m working on. Black Gate reader John Hocking kindly suggested in the comments section that I read Hired Pens: Professional Writers in America’s Golden Age of Print, by Ronald Weber. I took him up on his advice and I’m sure glad I did.

This book looks at the careers of writing and editing from the nation’s earliest days until the end of World War Two. Weber shows us a parade of successful writers and editors — many well-known to this day, many more now forgotten — who found success in the ever-changing market for American popular periodicals.

Until the middle of the 19th century, American writers were hampered by the lack of international copyright laws. Newspaper and magazine editors filched English publications for free and saw no reason to pay homegrown talent. As the population grew and both American and British writers managed to get their governments to set up legal barriers to such theft, the market for American writing blossomed.

These writers certainly didn’t waste their time moaning about their lack of inspiration and hoping the muse would visit them. As prolific and successful Western writer Zane Grey said in a letter to a friend:

This morning I had no desire to write, no call, no inspiration, no confidence, no joy. I had to force myself. But when I mastered the vacillation and dread, and had done a day’s work — what a change of feelings. I had a rush of sweet sensations.

This is a common thread throughout the book. In example after example, we are shown that writer’s block is a myth and that writers should not — indeed, must not — sit around all day twiddling their thumbs. These writers worked hard.

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Zombies Need Brains Needs You

Friday, September 15th, 2017 | Posted by Violette Malan

ZNB RazorsThose who know me, or who have read some of my previous posts on the subject, know that I’m a big fan of anthologies, particularly those featuring original stories. For my general remarks on the subject, you can look here. I’ve mentioned that the anthology is a wonderful thing for readers, who can encounter authors new to them, sample the work of people they’re not familiar with, and, in the case of the themed anthology, explore an idea that interests them.

The original anthology can also be a god-send for writers – in part because it’s an easy way for new readers to learn about us, and find out whether they like our style. But it’s also the all-important entry-level step for a lot of new and previously unpublished authors, particularly when the anthology, like the ones Zombies Need Brains publish, is recognized as a qualifying market by SFWA.

But even established writers benefit from anthologies. You get to explore an area or a theme that interests you, but that you don’t have a novel-length idea for. You get to write a short adventure for established characters – again, something cool that just isn’t novel-length. You can re-visit complex imaginary worlds, and sometimes, you can give new characters or worlds a test run before you run the larger version.

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World Weaver Press Open for Submissions, Both Novels and Short Stories for a New Anthology

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017 | Posted by Emily Mah

solarpunk-banner-submissions_2_origCongratulations are in order for World Weaver Press. Their Kickstarter Campaign is funded! (But don’t neglect those stretch goals, they still have cool stuff they want to do.) This means the Brazilian anthology, Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastic Stories in a Sustainable World will be coming out in English. It also means that World Weaver will be releasing another solarpunk anthology of original stories written in English called Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers. They’ve posted their call for submissions, and in it they say:

Solarpunk is a type of eco-conscious science fiction that imagines an optimistic future founded on renewable energies. It might take place in a wind-powered skyscraper or on a solar-powered robotic farm, in a bustling green-roofed metropolis or in a small but tech-saavy desert village. Often coupled with an art nouveau aesthetic, and always inclusive and diverse, solarpunk stories show the ways we have adapted to climate change, or the ways we have overcome it.

For this anthology, I want to see solarpunk summers. Show me futuristic stories that take place in summer, whether that involves a summer night in a rooftop garden, or characters adapting to extreme heat and weather, or an annual migration to cooler lands. Keep it planet-based (Earth or other), and optimistic. Solarpunk worlds aren’t necessarily utopias, but they definitely aren’t dystopias.

We’re a northern hemisphere publisher, but southern hemisphere summers are also welcome!

Their site even provides suggested reading for inspiration.

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Once It’s Invented, You Can’t Uninvent It

Friday, September 1st, 2017 | Posted by Violette Malan

old vs new phoneMuch has been said about technology and the changes it brings with respect to our day-to-day world. It’s even been said that SF is the literature of change, exploring how evolution in technology, in scientific knowledge, in philosophical and political thought might, could, or does, affect our lives.

Changes in technology screw with one particular aspect of our lives that touches us all here at Black Gate very closely. They change what writers can and can’t write.1  If what you’re working on has anything to do with the present day world as we know it, every cell phone update can screw with your manuscript.

This is a kind of double-reverse example, but consider Larry Niven’s short story, “The Alibi Machine,” which essentially explores what would happen to crime and crime detection if instantaneous matter transfer was invented. If you could literally be anywhere, anytime in a matter of moments, how could you establish an alibi? How would the police eliminate you as a suspect?

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What’s In A Name?

Friday, August 18th, 2017 | Posted by Violette Malan

VME labeledSo I’m in my brother’s bookstore, and I’m looking for my latest book, and I’m not finding it. Just as I’m thinking oh really? it strikes me that I’m looking for the wrong name.

I’m not sure how much of a secret it is (none for the people who read the bio at the end of my posts) but besides being Violette Malan, I’m also V.M. Escalada. I have to admit that when my agent first suggested I use a penname, my immediate reaction was unfavourable. There are all kinds of reasons for such a suggestion, however, some of which I touched on in a previous post. Today, I’d like to talk about the actual, practical experience.

At first the idea flustered me more than a little – you know writers, we can always see a worst case scenario. I had plenty of questions, and no one – it seemed – to go to for answers. Don’t get me wrong, my agent, and my editor, had plenty of helpful suggestions, just not for these actual, practical, concerns.

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How to Make Your Academic History Book Approachable to the Educated Lay Reader

Thursday, August 10th, 2017 | Posted by M Harold Page


A good proportion of exponents of German longsword might have bought this.

Greetings academic editors, writers and publishers! I am an educated lay reader of academic history books.

I hear academic publishing is… differently profitable at the moment, so perhaps you want to have a think about how to engage more people like me.

Really there must be a lot of us — people who want to get at the detail, the evidence, the debate, and so find ourselves buying weighty academic tomes.

We’re military history buffs who want to get into not just of equipment and tactics, but logistics and administration and sooner or later get dragged into context.  You can’t, for example, be fascinated by Count Belisarius without wanting to know more about Byzantine History. Take a look at Osprey, an entire publisher devoted to satisfying that need !

We’re architectural history hobbyists — people who tick off castles and great houses the way twitchers do rare birds — who want to put flesh on the crumbling bones of some corners of history not covered by reliable mass market books. And we’re local historians trying to make sense of musty documents, mounds in fields, and half forgotten traditions.

We’re also Historical Reenactors looking for very specific information on how things were or might have been. We’re Historical European Martial Artists (yes, HEMA is a thing! Modern people do study Medieval Martial Arts!),  looking to contextualise the original martial arts manuals around which our lives revolve.

And we’re writers, looking for inspiration, or just building a storyworld for our characters to inhabit.

Many Black Gate readers must fall into at least one of these categories, and we sometimes get a million hits a month…

I am, of course, all of the above with the exception of “local historian” (since all of western history is my backyard). I’m also a former technical author — conveying technical information to novices used to be my trade — and an author who thinks about writing. So it might be worth your while — O mighty academic editor, writer or publisher! — to hear what I have to say.

Upfront, you don’t need to dumb down or jazz up. The whole point of academic books is that they are academic! Rather you need to stop shooting yourself in the collective feet. Working from the outside in, here’s how…

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Researching the Habits of Highly Prolific Authors (and I could use your help!)

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Maxwell Grant writes the Shadow-small

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote an article here on Black Gate about the habits of prolific authors. The research I did for that post sparked an interest in me that’s only grown. Now I’m working on a book-length study of how some of the great writers of the 20th century managed to write hundreds of books, most of them while hammering away on manual typewriters. There are lots of books on increasing your word count, but none, as far as I know, focus on the actual methods of the most productive writers.

I’ve set myself some limitations. First, to be given a chapter in the book, the writer must have written at least 300 books. They must also have enough biographical material that I can gain insights into their work methods. Also, they must be dead so that I can look at their careers as a whole, they must have been active in the 20th century so their work is more applicable to the modern era, and they must have written in either of the two languages I am comfortable reading — English or Spanish.

At the moment I have the following list: Isaac Asimov, Walter Brown Gibson, Corín Tellado, Marcial Lafuente Estefanía, Lauran Bosworth Paine, Ursula Bloom, Enid Mary Blyton, Barbara Cartland, and John Creasey. Some writers who don’t quite fit the bill but who have something worth quoting are given passing mention. Frank Gruber is a good example. His book The Pulp Jungle is essential reading for anyone who wants to know the inner workings of a true wordsmith.

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Mysterion 2

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017 | Posted by Donald Crankshaw

MysterionLast year, my wife and I published an anthology entitled Mysterion: Rediscovering the Mysteries of the Christian Faith. We have been working on this project for over a year: reading submissions and selecting the stories, editing for content, copy editing, layout, cover design, printing, and selling. It was, as you can imagine, a lot of work. I wrote about some of the process here at Back Gate: calling for submissions, using math on submissions, and presenting the table of contents.

After all that, we were very happy with the result. We felt that we had achieved our goal of publishing stories that dealt with the Christian faith in an authentic way, stories which don’t fit comfortably into either religious or mainstream markets, which ask hard questions and refuse to settle for easy answers. In other words, stories that explored the mysteries of the faith.

We got a few nice reviews as well, at Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Cemetery Dance, and Tangent Online.

So now that we’ve had a chance to rest up, would we do it again?

Well, if you read the title of this post, you can probably guess the answer.

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Star Punk Story Building in Interplanetary Hunter

Thursday, July 6th, 2017 | Posted by M Harold Page

Interplanetary Hunter Barnes

I caved and bought some old Pulp.

Interplanetary Hunter Barnes

Monster Manual-style insets describing the various creatures.

I caved and bought some old Pulp.

I couldn’t help it. I was at Eastercon and in the dealers room, and there was Durdles Books with shelves and boxes that took me back to my early teens trawling used bookstores and charity shops for volumes with spaceships on the cover.

And since I started writing my The Eternal Dome of the Unknowable series, I’ve been exploring the roots of what I call Star Punk, the covers were cool… so I came home with some faded paperbacks of yesteryear.

One of these was Interplanetary Hunter by Arthur K Barnes.

What hooked me was the lovely Monster Manual-style insets describing the various creatures. It was actually published before roleplaying was thing in 1956 (mine is the 1972 Ace reprint), and compiled from stories that went out in magazines from 1937-1946, making it technically Golden Age.

And it tells.

It’s definitely in the category of classics you shouldn’t recommend to young people (I talked about this in my first ever BG article!). It’s a good light read, the style and lead-in may be fast and furious — pulpy goodness — but it suffers from Quaint Future and some Quaint Delivery, including excruciatingly detailed science and pseudoscience, complete with equations.

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