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, AnalogTor.com 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

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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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Conscience Place and Story Mind

Sunday, September 29th, 2019 | Posted by Joyce Thompson

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Conscience Place by Joyce Thompson (Dell, 1986, cover by John Harris)

In a conversation with my son this week, the term “neurological diversity” arose. It entered the room courtesy of Greta Thornburg in conversation with Naomi Klein. Greta described her prodigious ability to research, absorb and synthesize complex information as a sort of compensation for lacking the more common gift of social intelligence. My son, who’s teaching an undergrad lit class in Berkeley’s African American Studies department about invoking and communing with ancestors surmised that the ability to see and communicate with the dead might be a real if not common human gift — another way of being differently able.


I recently read my 1984 novel Conscience Place for the first time in 35 years. It was about to be republished. My task was to proof the scanned text, and I secretly gave myself permission to make small tweaks if I thought they were needed. Thirty five years is a long time, after all, and I feared being embarrassed by a writer I no longer am telling a story in ways I no longer would to an audience of readers who might no longer give a s—t.


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What Is Genre, Anyway? (AKA, I am Totally Lost)

Tuesday, September 24th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

Steampunk 1

This is… Steampunk Assassin’s Creed? It’s pretty cool whatever it is.

Good morning, Readers!

I have a wee problem. I’m absolute rubbish at categorizing works of fiction. Sure, some things fit quite nicely into easy designations. The Lord of the Rings? Fantasy, duh! Dragon’s Egg? Science fiction, duh! Battlefield Earth? Nonsensical drivel, duh! Sorry. I genuinely dislike that book. It’s alright if you like it. I just don’t. Anyway, what was I saying? Ah, yes. Genre.

Things, however, very rarely fit ever so neatly into a single genre, though, especially now when so many diverse voices are bringing fresh takes, pushing boundaries and deliberately blurring the lines between genre. This experimentation, this refusal to be bound by boring rules that are no longer relevant, has created some of the most interesting, immersive stories I have read in a long time (which is to say, I don’t get bored rereading all the same tropes over and over to the point where I can accurate predict the trajectory of a story from the first chapter). I love that I don’t get bored reading now. I was starting to, if I’m honest.

It’s all a lovely, fascinating, confusing mess.

In a world obsessed with categorizing everything neatly, however, it’s creating a little bit of friction.

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Of Horizons and Common Sense Lost

Friday, September 13th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

51G8TVzla+L._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I recently got around to reading Gerry Conway’s introduction to Marvel’s Deadly Hands of Kung Fu Omnibus, Volume One for a forthcoming article. If there was a retroactive Astounding Award for Best Self-Loathing Writer of 2016, Mr. Conway would surely be a contender. There is nothing wrong with a writer looking back in some embarrassment over past work or even admitting their good intentions now seem naive from the vantage point of the present, but Mr. Conway apologizes so profusely for several thousand words one would be forgiven for thinking he committed a capital crime.

Truth be told, Mr. Conway’s unforgivable sin was his cultural appropriation in daring to cast people of color as heroes in his fiction of the 1970s. For you see, by some cruel twist of fate, he had the misfortune to be born to a white family and raised in a white neighborhood in the 1950s. Personally, I thought his having created diverse characters to appeal to minority readers and encourage tolerance among all readers in the decade following the Civil Rights movement is something he should be proud of, but apparently not so.

What’s more, all of his wailing and grinding of teeth is in the form of an introduction to a volume reprinting the work he is so ashamed of. One wonders what the purpose is of writers telling readers who just spent money buying reprints of their work how truly offensive those same works are. Given that Mr. Conway spent much of his career at Marvel Comics channeling Stan Lee’s voice, one wonders why Stan Lee isn’t likewise condemned for cultural appropriation for creating Black Panther and the Utopian nation of Wakanda. Of course, logical thinking isn’t advisable in a society that feeds off emotional reactions to maintain a constant state of division.

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Zombies Need Anthologies! PLUS Short Fiction Crafting

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

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Howard: Today I’m turning over my Black Gate megaphone to Joshua Palmetier, gifted writer, mathematician, and the mind behind Zombies Need Brains’ line of anthologies. Joshua publishes a lot of Black Gate writers, so we naturally have fingers crossed his upcoming Kickstarter will fund and hope that you’ll check out. Regardless, though, this article has some great insight on writing good short fiction and getting out of the slush pile. Take it away Joshua!

Zombies Need Brains’ latest Kickstarter is nearing its end (ONLY HOURS LEFT!) and, with the possibility of an open call for submissions if we fund, I thought that I’d spend some time talking about how you can better your chances of getting from the ZNB slush pile into one of our anthologies. The competition is pretty steep and only getting worse with each Kickstarter. (Last year, Portals had 550 submissions alone and we ended up taking seven; we had a lot of anchor authors for that one, though.) I’ve talked before about how to brainstorm your way to an idea that isn’t standard, but also isn’t so far out there it’s off theme. So let’s suppose you already have an idea of what you want to write. A core concept.

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Mourning the Loss of a Way of Life

Friday, July 19th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

REHfrazetta barsoomIt may seem a bit peculiar to write an article about the decline in reading for a site that has done so much to promote the works of writers past and present. Most assuredly, regular visitors to this site are readers. Unfortunately, they are the exception and not the rule in the present day.

During the pulp era, writers were sometimes referred to disparagingly as the Penny-a-Word Brigade. Flash forward to the end of the second decade of the 21st Century and you’ll find far too many pulp writers who would salivate at the thought of earning a penny a word for their efforts. Far too many receive no financial compensation at all, some do not even receive comp copies of their own titles.

The purpose of this article isn’t to disparage small presses that are labors of love for publishers who regularly soldier on year after year failing to turn a profit. When you are a small operation, economies of scale aren’t even a concern. You could publish two dozen titles a year and still lose money. Paying writers or artists is not always possible for those who are in it for something other than financial return.

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On Writing Advice

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

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This isn’t my view, but it’s pretty darn close

Good afternoon, Readers!

It’s a beautiful summer’s day here in Ottawa, Canada as of the writing of this. A lovely cool breeze is coming in the window, mitigating the heat of the sun, while cotton-puff clouds float through an impossibly blue sky.

I’m sitting by the window while my dad cooks a spectacular fry- up brunch, letting my thoughts drift with the clouds. I have nothing with me but his old iPad and a cup of delicious locally roasted coffee from my friends at JenEric Coffee.

This is all a poetic way of saying that I’ve been thinking a lot about writing advice of late, and I figured I would share my thoughts with you.

(You want clumsy segues? I’m your gal!)

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On Release Day for My Latest Novel, I Ponder My Inspirations

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019 | Posted by David B. Coe

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Two weeks ago, John O’Neill was kind enough to publish in Black Gate my review of Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest novel A Brightness Long Ago. In the review, I mention that Guy Kay’s work has long been an influence and inspiration for my own. As John and I discussed what I might write for a post marking today’s release of my latest work, Time’s Demon, book two in my Islevale Cycle, he reflected on that line in my review and asked if I might want to put together a piece on the works that have shaped my writing and my career. This is why the man is a World Fantasy Award-winning editor.

Authors writing about our inspirations quickly find ourselves in tricky territory. The fact is that everything we read influences us, just as does every other thing we experience. Our creativity comes from a deeply personal place, and each of us is the sum of, among other things, our experiences, our emotions, the people with whom we interact, and, yes, the art to which we’re exposed. Anything I read can help to shape my work-in-progress – even the worst book ever penned might at least point me in the direction of things I don’t want to do with my next scene. So clearly, when we talk about our influences, we mean something deeper and more substantive.

Then there is the fact that many of our closest friends are also colleagues, and we don’t wish to offend with an act of omission. Again, all that I read influences me in some way, and I am constantly inspired by the talent, vision, and passion of writers I know and care about.

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