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God, Darkness, & Wonder: An Interview with Byron Leavitt

God, Darkness, & Wonder: An Interview with Byron Leavitt

Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction

It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven by strange muses.  These interviews engage contemporary authors & artists on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Recent guests on Black Gate have included Darrell Schweitzer, Sebastian JonesCharles Gramlich, Anna Smith Spark, & Carol Berg. This one features Byron Leavitt, novelist and game-author for Diemension Games. 

Byron Leavitt is also the author of the bizarre children’s novel The Fish in Jonah’s Puddle (To Say Nothing of the Demon) and the non-fiction book Of Hope and Cancer: One Man’s Story of God, Darkness, and Wonder, as well as the story content for the board game Deep Madness and its accompanying book Shattered Seas (recently reviewed on BlackGate). Byron is currently working on the storybooks for the forthcoming Deep Madness prequel Dawn of Madness, a story-driven horror experience in a board game.

“Darkness. Light. Wonder. Beauty. God. Tentacles. Those who know me best would say that pretty well sums me up.” – Byron Leavitt

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Accessible Dark Fantasy: An Interview with Carol Berg

Accessible Dark Fantasy: An Interview with Carol Berg

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Let us welcome Carol Berg (and Cate Glass)

Carol Berg majored in mathematics at Rice University, in part so she wouldn’t have to write papers. But while earning her mathematics degree, she took every English course that listed novels on the syllabus, just so she would have time to keep reading. Somewhere in the midst of teaching math for a couple of years, raising three sons, earning a second degree in computer science at the University of Colorado, and a software engineering career, a friend teased her into exchanging letters written “in character.” Once Carol started writing fiction, she couldn’t stop. Carol’s fifteen epic fantasy novels have earned national and international acclaim, including the Geffen Award, the Prism Award, multiple Colorado Book Awards, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature. She has been twice voted the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Writer of the Year.

Carol’s newest work, written as her alter ego Cate Glass, is a fantasy adventure series called Chimera about a rag-tag quartet of sorcerers who take on missions of deception and intrigue in a world where magic earns the death penalty. The first book, An Illusion of Thieves, was released in May 2019 by Tor Books (A Conjuring of Assassins is due out Feb 2020). Carol lives in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains with her Exceptional Spouse. She routinely attends conventions and was recently a special guest at the 2019 GenCon Writer’s Symposium.

Carol Berg makes dark fantasy fun and accessible, a perfect candidate for our interviews on “Art & Beauty in Weird Fantasy” (see previous interviews listed below). Most authors who produce horror/fantasy are (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven by strange muses. Let’s tap the mind(s) of Carol Berg and Cate Glass.

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Disgust and Desire: An Interview with Anna Smith Spark

Disgust and Desire: An Interview with Anna Smith Spark

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It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses.  This interview series engages contemporary authors & artists on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.”  Previously we cornered weird fantasy authors like John FultzJaneen WebbAliya WhiteleyRichard Lee ByersSebastian Jones, Charles Gramlich, and Darrell Schweitzer. This one features the “Queen of Grimdark,” Anna Smith Spark.

Anna Smith Spark is the author of the critically acclaimed Queen of Grimdark. The David Gemmell Awards shortlisted The Court of Broken Knives and The Tower of Living and Dying continued the Empires of Dust trilogy (Harper Voyager US/ Orbit US/Can). The finale, The House of Sacrifice, will be published August 2019. Anna lives in London, UK. She loves grimdark and epic fantasy and historical military fiction. Anna has a BA in Classics, an MA in history and a Ph.D. in English Literature. She has previously been published in the Fortean Times and the poetry website greatworks.org. Previous jobs include petty bureaucrat, English teacher and fetish model. Anna’s favorite authors and key influences are R. Scott Bakker, Steve Erikson, M. John Harrison, Ursula Le Guin, Mary Stewart and Mary Renault. She spent several years as an obsessive D&D player. She can often be spotted at sff conventions wearing very unusual shoes.

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The Beautiful and the Repellent: An Interview with Charles A. Gramlich

The Beautiful and the Repellent: An Interview with Charles A. Gramlich

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It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven by strange muses. Weird fiction masters (Robert E. Howard, Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft…) held serious beliefs that their “horror” was actually beautiful. This interview series engages contemporary authors & artists on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Previously we cornered weird fantasy authors like John FultzJaneen WebbAliya WhiteleyRichard Lee ByersSebastian Jones, and Darrell Schweitzer.

Charles Gramlich grew up on a farm in Arkansas but moved to the New Orleans area in 1986 to teach psychology at Xavier University. His degree is in Experimental Psychology with a specialization in Physiological Psychology; Charles served as chair of the department several times between 1988 and 2002. He was instrumental in developing the Psychology Pre-medical program for the department. He’s since published eight novels, three nonfiction books, five collections of short stories, and a chapbook of vampire haiku. Charles likes to write in many different genres but all of his fiction work is known for its intense action and strong visuals. Check out his Razored Zen blog and Amazon page.

Previous interviews are revealing: in 2007 Shauna Roberts interviewed Gramlich about his Talera Cycle (also included in Write with Fire) and in 2014 Prashant C. Trikannad’s interview focused on his western Killing Trail. This round we focus on his poetic take on pulp adventure. In addition to publishing many short stories that fit the bill, he published an essay in Weird Fiction Review #7 called “The Beautiful and the Repellent: The Erotic Allure of Death and the Other in the Writers of Weird Tales” (Fall 2016 edition).

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The Beauty in Life and Death: An Interview with Sebastian Jones

The Beauty in Life and Death: An Interview with Sebastian Jones

Erathune-small Niobe She is Death-small Essessa-small

Niobe returns to reclaim her throne in 3 tales. Get the Erathune hardcover, She is Death #1 & #2, and the vampire epic, Essessa #1!

It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses. This interview series engages contemporary authors & artists on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Previously we cornered weird fantasy authors like John Fultz, Janeen Webb, Aliya Whiteley, and Richard Lee Byers. Recently we heard from the legendary author and editor of weird fiction, Darrell Schweitzer!

This round we corner Sebastian A. Jones: Author, actor, and teacher, Sebastian A. Jones grew up in England and moved to America at the age of eighteen where he founded MVP Records, releasing albums that included James Brown, John Coltrane, and Billie Holiday. In 2008 he founded Stranger Comics and Stranger Kids. Sebastian has written children’s books including Pinata and co-created the I Am book series with Garcelle Beauvais, including titles I Am Mixed and I Am Living in 2 Homes. Under Stranger’s dark fantasy line Asunda, he has received critical praise for his written work on The Untamed: A Sinner’s PrayerDusu: Path of the Ancient, and Niobe: She is Life, co-authored by Amandla Stenberg.

Note that the Asunda, the world of Niobe, is being realized with Pathfinder for RPG lovers. Check out the recent Paizo interview for more, and the ongoing Kickstarter which brings an omnibus versions of Niobe to life.

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The Beauty in Horror and Sadness: An Interview with Darrell Schweitzer

The Beauty in Horror and Sadness: An Interview with Darrell Schweitzer

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Cover by Stephen Fabian

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It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque/weird, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven my strange muses. This interview series engages contemporary authors & artists on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Previously we cornered weird fantasy authors like John Fultz, Janeen Webb, Aliya Whiteley, and Richard Lee Byers.

Today we hear from the legendary author and editor of weird fiction, Darrell Schweitzer!

Darrell Schweitzer is an American writer, editor, and essayist in the field of speculative fiction. Much of his focus has been on dark fantasy and horror, although he does also work in science fiction and fantasy. Schweitzer is also a prolific writer of literary criticism and editor of collections of essays on various writers within his preferred genres. Together with his editorial colleagues Schweitzer won the 1992 World Fantasy Award special award in the professional category for Weird Tales. His poem Remembering the Future won the 2006 Asimov’s Science Fiction‘s Readers’ Award for best poem. His novels include The White Isle, The Shattered Goddess, The Mask of the Sorcerer, and The Dragon House. His most recent story collection is the explicitly Lovecraftian Awaiting Strange Gods published by Fedogan & Bremer. He has also been known to lead the choir at Cthulhu Prayer Breakfasts, where his The Innsmouth Tabernacle Choir is used. He has published books about H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Lord Dunsany.

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The Darwin Variant by Kenneth Johnson Is a Thrilling and Frightening No-Empathy Apocalypse

The Darwin Variant by Kenneth Johnson Is a Thrilling and Frightening No-Empathy Apocalypse

darwin-variant-coverLast year I had the opportunity to interview Kenneth Johnson, the famed television writer-producer-director responsible for The Incredible Hulk, V: The Original Miniseries, The Bionic Woman, and Alien Nation, about his upcoming novel, The Man of Legends. Mr. Johnson, or “Kenny” as he prefers to be called, is the interview subject most writers dream about: warm, humorous, intelligent, and overflowing with anecdotes showing the amount of thought he infuses into his work. This depth of thinking shows in The Man of Legends, a multi-character epic about an immortal man and the people he encounters in his long past and the urgent crisis of his present. It was, without a doubt, my favorite new novel of 2017.

Plenty of readers agreed with my opinion and made The Man of Legends a bestseller. Amazon’s 47North imprint immediately asked the author for a sequel. Although there was room for a follow-up, Johnson had shifted onto an idea that could use the same multi-narrator structure of The Man of Legends to tell a different type of epic — a viral outbreak tale with a twist that goes into territory similar to V: The Original Miniseries.

When Kenny called me to ask if I wanted to read the new book, The Darwin Variant, and talk to him about it, I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. This time I had the good fortune to interview him in person at his Sherman Oaks office, where photos covering the walls recount his own “Man of Legends” history with everyone from Bill Bixby and Vincent Price to George Burns and Nikita Khrushchev. (Actually a taxi driver from NY who posed as Kruschev for The Mike Douglas Show, which Kenny was producing at the time.)

The Darwin Variant explores what occurs when members of humanity make a sudden evolutionary surge. Their intelligence rises rapidly, but something else fails: their empathy. These superior humans are aggressive, dominant, compassionless, and they’re threatening to remake the world. In the chilling words of a leader of the evolutionarily elevated group calling themselves The Friends of America (or just “The Friends”), “We’ll do good — exactly as we want it.”

It’s a timely and terrifying concept. Johnson weaves it into a tight science fiction thriller offering hope among the horror, and a fascinating duel between the ethos of the Survival of the Fittest and the evolution of humanity toward a better humanity, not merely a smarter one. “More intelligent? Yes, you are,” a character challenges one of the infected Friends. “But more educated? Not at all.” Reaching that education is the journey the book takes readers on.

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Plants as Protagonists: An Interview with Semiosis author Sue Burke

Plants as Protagonists: An Interview with Semiosis author Sue Burke

Semiosis Sue Burke-smallThe science fiction world has been abuzz with the release of the novel Semiosis by Sue Burke. Known for her short stories in publications such as Interzone and Asimov’s, this Clarion alumnus is now making waves with her debut novel, out from Tor this month. James Patrick Kelly said it’s “a first contact novel like none you’ve ever read… The kind of story for which science fiction was invented.” David Brin wrote, “In Semiosis, Sue Burke blends science with adventure and fascinating characters, as a human colony desperately seeks to join the ecosystem of an alien world.”

Those recommendations would be enough for me to buy a copy if I hadn’t already read it several years ago. Sue and I used to be in the Madrid Writer’s Critique Group here in Spain before she moved back to Chicago. The early draft I read fascinated me with its tale of human colonists settling on a planet only to find that is already inhabited by intelligent life… plant life. I caught up with Sue to talk with her about her new publication.

What was the seed of an idea that grew into a giant, sentient plant?

Seed… I see what you did there.

It started back in the mid-1990s when a couple of my houseplants attacked other houseplants. One vine wrapped around a neighbor, and another vine tried to sink roots into another plant. I began researching botany and discovered that plants are active, aggressive, and fight to the death for sunlight. They have weapons and cunning strategies, both offensive and defensive.

For example, strangler figs (several varieties of Ficus) start as seedlings germinating up on tree branches and trunks in jungles, and as they grow, their roots wrap around the host tree and eventually strangle and kill it. The fig starts halfway up to sunshine, which is an advantage. But how do the seeds get up there? Birds eat fig fruit, and the seeds have a gluey covering that sticks to a bird’s feathers when it defecates. The bird wipes off its vent on tree branches and trunks, where the seeds adhere and germinate.

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The Man of Legends by Kenneth Johnson: Q&A with the Author, Part 1

The Man of Legends by Kenneth Johnson: Q&A with the Author, Part 1

Man-of-Legends-Cover-Kenneth-Johnson-Q-and-AThe Man of Legends is now available at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook.

The title of the novel The Man of Legends refers to its central character and one of its numerous narrators: an enigmatic figure with a history stretching back to the ancient world. But the title can also apply to the book’s author, Kenneth Johnson. Although not as much a household word as Gene Roddenberry or Rod Serling, Johnson has left an indelible mark on a generation who grew up watching the shows he produced, developed, wrote, and directed: The Six Million Dollar Man, The Bionic Woman, The Incredible Hulk, V: The Original Miniseries, Alien Nation

Basically, for people of my generation, Kenneth Johnson was our secret Gene Roddenberry, our hidden-in-plain-sight Rod Serling.

The Man of Legends feels like a declaration that Johnson’s legacy is no longer secret or hiding. Although he’s published novels before (most recently V: The Second Generation, a 2008 continuation of the 1983 miniseries), The Man of Legends is an original story that reads as a collation of the humanism in Johnson’s television and movie work. If a story about a cursed man forced to wander the world, helping people along the way even if it backfires on him, instantly calls up Bill Bixby as David Banner in The Incredible Hulk television show, it’s no coincidence. Johnson even tucks in a few direct references to the TV series. (“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”)

But The Man of Legends isn’t a retread. It’s a summation and expansion. This is unmistakably the work of the author who brought emotional power to David Banner’s lonely quest to be the best person he could while coping with an unconquerable rage and a relentless pursuer. But it’s also unmistakably the work of the author who crafted an anti-fascist epic about a panorama of people struggling against an abusive power (who also happened to be zoophagous alien reptiles). If you recall Kenneth’s Johnson’s brand of humanism and science-fiction excitement from his television work, The Man of Legends may be the best new novel you read in 2017.

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Black Gate Interviews Nathan Long, Part Two

Black Gate Interviews Nathan Long, Part Two

ulrika-bloodforged-nathan-longThis week Black Gate picks up where we left off in Part One of our interview with fantasy and science fiction author Nathan Long.

Last week we talked about your latest novel, Jane Carver of Waar. But most readers are more familiar with the work you’ve done in the Warhammer world, where you’ve published 11 novels to date. How familiar were you with Warhammer and Games Workshop before you began writing for them?

I had worked in a game store in the 80s, just when the first Warhammer Fantasy Role Play rulebook came out, and I had read it cover to cover, though I never played it, so I was pretty familiar with the setting and the mood of the game and the world. I still had a lot of homework to do once they hired me, however. I ended up owning and reading all the army books, all the supplements, etc. Homework should always be that fun.

Tell us a bit about the differences between working in an existing world, versus one entirely of your own creation.

In one way, it’s easier, as all your world building has been done for you. It’s like being hired to write for a TV show or a long-running comic book. Quite a lot of the world and sometimes the characters have been established, so all you have to worry about is the plot and character. I never really found this limiting. There are an infinite number of stories that can be told in any world, and it was a fun challenge to come up with ideas that fit the feel of the Warhammer setting.

It can be harder when you’re asked to put specific bits of the world into specific novels. For instance, when I wrote Tainted Blood, the third Blackhearts novel, my editors wanted it set in a specific city, because they wanted it to tie into a gaming supplement that was coming out for that city. That took a little more work, but it was still fun. Every challenge is an excuse to come up with a cool solution, and I have always loved that kind of game.

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