Ye Gods! It’s been a crazy winter. Unexpectedly cold in Napa, the evil flu spectre stalking me like a wounded tiger, and various personal issues have been making my life…interesting. Haven’t been blogging much, but I got some good news recently to share:

Thulon of Caspaar, a thief who is going places in "The Vintages of Dream." Artwork by Ken Burles; see the entire piece with the story in BLACK GATE #15.

My short story
“The Vintages of Dream” will be appearing in the very next issue of BLACK GATE (#15). “Vintages” is an ironic caper, a thieves’ tale set in the world of Narr and the Sorcerer Kings. (My thieves’ stories have been a big hit at BG.)

This is the same world where my Artifice the Quill and Taizo of Narr stories were set (in WEIRD TALES #340 and BLACK GATE #12 and 13).

“Vintages” features a nameless mage who bottles his dreams as enchanted liqueur…hence the title. I wrote it over ten years ago—well before I wrote any of the Artifice or Taizo tales. It was actually my first “visit” to the World of Zang, where Narr is the great golden city and captured demons are sold in the teeming marketplaces.

At the time I had yet to be published outside of some small-press ‘zines–mostly Lovecraftian fiction—and the earliest version of this tale came extremely close to finding a home at a now-defunct fantasy mag. But no dice. The sellable version of the tale wouldn’t be complete until many years later.

“The Vintages of Dream” holds a special place in my heart. I have been a huge fan of Brian McNaughton ever since I read his masterpiece story collection THE THRONE OF BONES, a book that “did for ghouls what Bram Stoker did for vampires.” There is literally no greater “Book of Ghouls” than McNaughton’s fantastic series of dark fantasy-adventures set in his haunted kingdom of Seelura. Someone must have agreed with me because THE THRONE OF BONES won the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection in 1998.

For some reason (memory fails) a copy of “The Vintages of Dream” (an earlier draft) fell into the hands of Brian himself. Brian (whom I never met face-to-face) was such a great guy that he actually wrote me a letter telling me how much he loved the story. He even championed it to the editor of LORE magazine at the time, who had initially rejected it.

Alas, Brian’s praise did not change that editor’s mind, but it was enough for me—an aspiring fantasist—that one of my favorite writers was heaping praise on a story I had written. What a great feeling! And a salve for the faint sting of rejection. (That sting hardly exists anymore–every year you write you get more and more immune to rejection…it’s just part of the writing game.)

Brian said my writing reminded him very much of Robert E. Howard’s prose, and as a long-time Howard devotee I took that as an exceptional compliment. It gave me a much-needed boost of confidence and kept me “on the path” toward honing my skills and developing my craft. About five years later I made my first professional sale: “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” to WEIRD TALES. In that story I explored the streets and towers of Narr the Golden, a city that had been born in the pages of “The Vintages of Dream.”

Brian passed away in 2004, so he’s not around to see this story he loved finally get the print treatment. But I can’t help thinking that if it wasn’t for him, this story would never have survived long enough to see publication. I held on to it—and revisited it many times—because of Brian’s kind words. I knew there had to be something there…and eventually I found it. Like the story’s nameless wizard with his precious bottled dreams, I kept it stored in the cool cellar of my imagination.

I would get to know Narr intimately in the next few years, writing over 12 tales set in the World of Zang. Three of those Zang stories have been published (see above), so “Vintages” will be the fourth. There is also a fifth Zang story (another tale of Artifice and his years wandering the world with the mystical Glimmer Faire) in the BLACK GATE inventory. It will most likely see print in #16 or #17, if John O’Neill keeps up the pattern of featuring a Fultz story in every other issue.

So when you read the forthcoming issue 15 of BLACK GATE and see the dedication to Brian McNaughton at the end of “The Vintages of Dream,” you’ll know that seeing this story published was a dream we both shared. All it took was about a decade of prime aging, and a few more drafts. Sometimes a story, like a fine wine, improves with age. (It helps that we writers can never read our old work without trying to IMPROVE it constantly.)

This particular dream may appear in a book, not a bottle, but it will nevertheless be potent and brimming with long-seasoned flavor. Look for “The Vintages of Dream” in BLACK GATE #15 and get yourself a copy of Brian McNaughton’s THE THRONE OF BONES. You won’t regret it…

Peace,

John