We have an ongoing series on Black Gate discussing “Beauty in Weird Fiction.” We corner authors to tap their minds about their muses and ways to make ‘repulsive’ things ‘attractive to readers.’ Recent guests on Black Gate have included Darrell Schweitzer, Anna Smith Spark, & Carol Berg, Stephen Leigh, Jason Ray Carney, and John C. Hocking. See the full list of interviews at the end of this post. This one covers emerging author M. Stern who writes weird/horror fiction and sci-fi. He has had stories appear in Weird Book #44, Startling Stories#34, and Doug Draa’s clown anthology Funny As a Heart Attack. There’s some strange and complicated beauty to be found in all of those. He also has published in several other markets including Lovecraftiana: The Magazine of Eldritch Horror and flash fiction that deals with aesthetics and transgression in Cosmic Horror Monthly #19.
To help reveal the muses that inspire weird fiction and horror writers, this interview series engages contemporary authors on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Recent guests on Black Gate broaching this topic have included Darrell Schweitzer, Sebastian Jones, Charles Gramlich, Anna Smith Spark, & Carol Berg, Stephen Leigh, Jason Ray Carney. See the full list of interviews at the end of this post.
Today we corner John C. Hocking whose Conan pastiche we reviewed a few months ago.
John C. Hocking is an American fantasy writer who is the author of two well-acclaimed Conan novels and has also won the 2009 Harper’s Pen Award for Sword and Sorcery fiction for his story, “The Face In The Sea”. He lives in Michigan with his wife, son, and an alarming quantity of books. He is a nigh-obsessed reader and writer of lurid pulp fiction, the author of Conan and the Emerald Lotus, the “Black Starlight” Conan serial, and their time-lost companion, Conan and the Living Plague, and an obedient thrall of Tales From the Magician’s Skull.
For clarity, we’ll actually corner him twice. Firstly, here on Black Gate, we’ll cover his weird, pulpy muses & Conan pastiche; secondly, in a companion interview, we’ll cover his King’s Blade and Archivist series on the Tale from the Magician’s Skull Blog.
Stephen Leigh is a Cincinnati-based, award-winning writer of science fiction and fantasy, with thirty novels and nearly sixty short stories published. He has also published fantasy under the pseudonym S.L. Farrell. He has been a frequent contributor to the Hugo-nominated shared-world series Wild Cards, edited by George R.R. Martin. Stephen taught creative writing for twenty years at Northern Kentucky University, and has recently retired (but not from writing). His most recent novels have been Amid The Crowd Of Stars, the SunPath duology of A Fading Sun and A Rising Moon, The Crow of Connemara, and Immortal Muse. His latest novel, Bound To A Single Sun, will be published by DAW Books next year. Stephen is married to Denise Parsley Leigh; they are the parents of a daughter and a son; he is a musician and vocalist too, active in several Cincinnati bands.
In 2014, Stephen Leigh published his Immortal Muse novel (check out the 2014 Black Gate release), an alternative-history, fantasy fictionalizing alchemy’s role in artistic muses. Wow! Of course, Leigh had to be interviewed as part of the “Beauty in Weird Fiction” interview series. Indeed he was interviewed in 2016 before the interview series merged into Black Gate. If you are interested in the aesthetics of horror and weird fantasy, check out the thoughts of our recent guests like Darrell Schweitzer, Sebastian Jones, Charles Gramlich, Anna Smith Spark, Carol Berg, & Jason Ray Carney (full list of interviews at the end of this post).
This post wraps up (1) a review of Immortal Muse, (2) the interview with the author on Leigh’s muses, and (3) teases readers within an announcement. Okay, we’ll cover that last one first. There is a missing/deleted chapter from Immortal Muse that Stephen Leigh will be posting on Black Gate soon, over 11K words with annotations on (a) why it was left out of the final book and (b) how facts were woven into this fantastical alternative-history. It serves as both a stand-alone short story and an engaging behind-the-scenes look at writing. The article with the missing chapter is posted (look here).
Let this review and interview stoke your creative fires. …
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. To help reveal divine mysteries passed through artists, this interview series engages contemporary authors on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Recent guests on Black Gate have included Darrell Schweitzer, Sebastian Jones, Charles Gramlich, Anna Smith Spark, & Carol Berg. See the full list of interviews at the end of this post.
This one features Jason Ray Carney who is rapidly becoming everpresent across Weird Fiction and Sword & Sorcery communities (in fact you can probably corner him in the Whetstone S&S Tavern (hosted on Discord)). By day, he is a Lecturer in Popular Literature at Christopher Newport University. He is the author of the academic book, Weird Tales of Modernity (McFarland), and the fantasy anthology, Rakefire and Other Stories (Pulp Hero Press, reviewed on Black Gate). He recently edited Savage Scrolls: Thrilling Tales of Sword and Sorcery for Pulp Hero Press and is an editor at The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E. Howard and Pulp Studies, for Whetstone: Amateur Magazine of Sword and Sorcery and for Witch House Magazine: Amateur Magazine of Cosmic Horror. Incidentally, Jason Ray Carney has also contributed here at Black Gate with a post on Robert E. Howard’s Bran Mak Morn character and musings on How Sword & Sorcery Brings Us Life.
The Shadow Cycles by Philip Emery (Immanion Press, August 2011)
This continues our interviews on “Beauty in Weird Fiction” with previous topics being:
- THE BEAUTY IN HORROR AND SADNESS: AN INTERVIEW with DARRELL SCHWEITZER
- THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE REPELLENT: AN INTERVIEW with CHARLES A. GRAMLICH
- DISGUST AND DESIRE: AN INTERVIEW with ANNA SMITH SPARK
- ACCESSIBLE DARK FANTASY: AN INTERVIEW with CAROL BERG
- GOD, DARKNESS, & WONDER: AN INTERVIEW with BYRON LEAVITT
Are you haunted, perhaps obsessed, with Sword & Sorcery?
Heroic fiction is infectious. Sometimes vicariously “being the hero” via reading is not enough to satisfy the call. Being compelled to write manifests next. Ghosts may be to blame. Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) is credited with originating the genre with his characters: Conan the Barbarian, King Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn; in a 1933 correspondence to his friend and contemporary author, Clark Ashton Smith, Howard explained his interaction with the muse that inspired his Conan yarns.
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 Jones, Charles 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
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.
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, Richard Lee Byers, Sebastian 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.
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 Fultz, Janeen Webb, Aliya Whiteley, Richard Lee Byers, Sebastian 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).