Category: Uncategorized


Nevertheless, We Persist

Art by Juan Gimenez

Finally finished the new novel today and sent it off to my agent. It’s been a labor of love for the past year, with most of the intense writing happening over the past three months. It’s always a great feeling to finish a novel and get it off your plate.

I imagine it’s quite like giving birth after nine months of carrying a baby–you love it, you’ve taken great pains to do everything just right, but now you have to get that thing out of you before you go freakin’ nuts. So it’s great to have TIMES NEVER CHANGE out of my system at last.

The novel I wrote last year, IMMACULATE SCOUNDRELS, still hasn’t found a publisher. It may never find one. Such is life. So we keep on rolling with the new book, which serves as a fresh start into the same universe as the first book. However, nobody will ever need to read the first book to enjoy the second one. In fact, if SCOUNDRELS fails to sell (as it probably has), then TIMES becomes the new First Book of the Scaleborn Series.

The world I’ve dreamed up here is a blend of Asian and Roman influences, but it’s a fantasy world with no direct relation to our own world–except perhaps in the themes that it explores. I don’t want to say too much about it for fear of spoilers, but suffice it to say that it has tons of action, sorcery, and the whole saga spins out from two complex characters who have never met one another.

It’s a world where sorcerers live for a thousand years but still have the same problems as those who live normal lifespans. It’s a world of supernatural forces, nature spirits, eldritch demons, and flashing blades. I also hope that it’s a world I’ll be able to share with you soon. But that’s up to the skills of my fantastic agent and the wisdom of established book publishers.

In the worst-case scenario neither of these books sell. In that case, it’s back to the drawing board next summer for some brand-new concepts. Who knows? Maybe I’ll write a play next time instead of a novel. The possibilities are endless…

Peace!
John

Art by Frank Frazetta

WEIRDBOOK #44

WEIRDBOOK #44 is now available.

This issue includes my story “The Dust of Sages and Fools,” which is the fourth of six tales comprising the Magtone Saga.

The first three Magtone tales appeared in WB #37, #39, and #43.

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(Here I would normally insert links to those back issues, but WordPress has decided to make it impossible for me to include links for some reason. Suffice to say you can find all back issues of WEIRDBOOK at Amazon.com)

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The Magtone stories can be read individually, or as part of a connected storyline–your choice.

Complete WB #44 contents:

“Let Me Be Your Swamp Snake” by Adrian Cole
“A Whisper in the Death Pit” by Kyla Lee Ward
“Deadest Man in Town” by Franklyn Searight
“Penumbra Over Millwall” by Jan Edwards
“Birth” by M. Stern
“Okiko’s Doll” by Stefano Frigieri
“Heatseeker” by Tim Curran
“The Librarian” by Sharon L. Cullars
“Dream Warriors (1) Team Spirit” by D.C. Lozar
“Bang!” by Chris Kuriata
“Death and the Vampire” by James Dorr
“The Dust of Sages and Fools” by John R. Fultz
“Push Dagger” John C. Hocking

Plus a selection of poetry by: Darrell Schweitzer, Allan Rozinski, Lucy A. Snyder, Maxwell I. Gold, Ashley Dioses, Ann K. Schwader, Chad Hensley, Frederick J Mayer, Cindy O’Quinn, and K.A. Opperman

WORLDS BEYOND WORLDS is now available in both Paperback and Kindle formats.

——— ALSO: ———-

ROGUES IN THE HOUSE Podcast — John R. Fultz episode (4/4/2021)
I had a great discussion with the Rogues about writing fantasy, the cultural climate, great music, and tons of other fascinating subjects.

Here’s the final cover design for WORLDS BEYOND WORLDS.
On sale April 5 from DMR Books.

Update: WORLDS BEYOND WORLDS 

My head is still reeling from laying my eyes on Brian LeBlanc‘s fantastic cover painting for WORLDS BEYOND WORLDS.

This eerie image captures a scene from one of the book’s eleven stories, but I’ll wait and let the readers figure out which one it is.

WBW is set for an April 5 release, but right now is a perfect time to show off Brian’s superb work and announce the contents of the collection.

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These are the stories appearing in the book:

“Chivaine” from WEIRDBOOK #31 (2015)
“Yael of the Strings” from SHATTERED SHIELDS (2014)
“Ten Thousand Drops of Holy Blood” from SKELOS #3 (2017)
“Strange Days in Old Yandrissa” from WEIRDBOOK Annual (2017)
“The Gnomes of Carrick County” from SPACE & TIME #116 (2010)
“The Thirteen Texts of Arthyria” from WAY OF THE WIZARD (2010)
“Daughter of the Elk Goddess” from HYPERBOREA (2014)
“The Penitence of the Blade” from THE AUDIENT VOID #2 (2016)
“Where the White Lotus Grows” from MONK PUNK (2011)
“Oorg” from AUDIENT VOID #5 (2018)
“Tears of the Elohim” from FORBIDDEN FUTURES #3 (2018)

Special thanks to Dave Ritzlin and DMR Books for making all of this possible.

Art by Frank Frazetta

Big Announcement!

This April DMR Books will release WORLDS BEYOND WORLDS, a new story collection from Yours Truly.

In the ten years spanning 2010 to 2020, I wrote thirty tales that appeared in various magazines, anthologies, and digital venues. That’s an average of three published stories per year–not too bad considering that I also wrote six novels during the same decade.

WORLDS BEYOND WORLDS collects 11 of those thirty tales, most of which take place in various imaginary worlds (or universes). The book spans a variety of weird fiction sub-genres including dark fantasy, heroic fantasy, sword-and-sorcery, and even a bit of historical fantasy. A mixed bagful of magical trips and fantastic adventures.

I’m thrilled to be working with such an exciting new indie publisher on this project. DMR produces gorgeous books celebrating both new and classic fantasy voices with a strong focus on sword-and-sorcery. Recent releases such as THE EYE OF SOUNNU and RENEGADE SWORDS made me an instant fan. As soon as I heard that DMR has a Tanith Lee sword-and-sorcery collection in the works, I knew this was the publisher I wanted for WORLDS BEYOND WORLDS. Also, DMR mastermind Dave Ritzlin is — like me — a huge Clark Ashton Smith fan, so this collaboration is a natural fit.

WORLDS is my first story collection since 2013’s THE REVELATIONS OF ZANG (now out of print, but hopefully not forever). The stories in the ZANG collection were all part of an extended story-cycle that builds to an epic climax, but every single story in WORLDS stands on its own. I’ll post more news about it–including contents, pub date, and cover reveal–right here as the info becomes available.

 

Art by Frank Frazetta

UPDATE 11/3/2020: Listen now!

Sometime next week—shortly after All Hallow’s Eve—DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY will post a brand-new roundtable podcast featuring myself, Scott Oden, and Jason M. Waltz.

Our topic was “Sword-and-Sorcery: Fossil or Fuel?”

We talked at length about the roots, the current state, and the possible future of the genre that was born from the mind of Robert E. Howard, codified by the great Fritz Lieber, and brought to new heights by Marvel’s CONAN comics in the 70s. And of course, I had to bring up Michael Moorcock’s ELRIC, as I always do when discussing sword-and-sorcery.

It was a fun and enlightening discussion covering the scope of heroic fantasy’s appeal and the wide array of S&S sub-genres that exist in today’s fantasy market. Special thanks to moderator G.W. Thomas for inviting me.

Grab your trusty broadsword, tune in, and join the fun at:
DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY Roundtable Podcast.

Dystopian Summer

Flaming Globes of Sigmund!

The American Dystopia that we all knew was coming has finally arrived, and we’re doing the best we can. Not since the gloomfest of the post-9/11 era has life in America felt so grim and fraught with righteous dread. Never has it been more important to take a positive outlook, stay fueled by optimism, and spit in the face of doom. They say change only happens via pain and struggle, and they also say crisis breeds opportunity. The specter of death roams our land as our system self-destructs and our institutions crumble. Thomas Paine said “Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered.” That’s because it lives in the mind and the heart, not just in the corridors of power.

Why is this album cover here? Because I was listening to this early-90s masterpiece as I wrote this post. KYUSS LIVES!

The Information Age has transmogrified itself into the Age of Ignorance, as the barrage of white-noise media spins undead propaganda to stimulate the lizard-brain and strangle the reason of kindness. The people cry out for justice. The human race cries out for breath. And the heart cries out for comfort.

In times like these, it pays to remember that nothing lasts forever, all things are transitory, we are all one vibrating mass of subatomic energy imagining itself as several billion people, reality is created by our perception of said reality, and we can reshape the world into something better if we don’t give up on it.

One of the things that’s kept me sane during the last few months has been working on IMMACULATE SCOUNDRELS. Today I finally finished the novel and sent it off to Ye Olde Agent.

Some people might ask: “How can you think about books at a time like this?” I say: “This is the time when we need books more than ever.”

On that note, I think I’ll write another one.

Eventually…

Art by Erol Otus

 

Cover Rough for WEIRDBOOK #43 — Coming Soon!

UPDATE 8/30/2020:
WEIRDBOOK #43 is now available. 

As I announced on this blog a few months ago, I’m not writing any more new short stories. Instead I’m focusing on novels. However, I still have FIVE really good new stories coming up in WEIRDBOOK.

The first four comprise the remainder of the Magtone Saga, which began in WB about two years ago, before the mag slowed down its production. Yet the weird must flow…

WEIRDBOOK #43 is in the proofing stages as of late May and will be the next issue released. It contains the 3rd Magtone tale: “Impervious To Wisdom, Oblivious To Fate.” The entire saga is six stories long, and each story can be read as a stand-alone tale. However, they also work together to form a larger narrative.

The first two Magtone stories appeared in WB #37 and #39. These next four are set to run consecutively in issues #43 – #46. The final three stories are: “The Dust of Sages and Fools” (#44),“Love and Sorcery” (#45), and “Eye of Wisdom, Eye of Pain” (#46)

Recently, editor Doug Draa posted a preview of the cover and contents for the soon-to-drop WEIRDBOOK #43:

WB #37 features the first Magtone tale: “The Veneration of Evil in the Kingdom of Ancient Lies”

“An American Story” – Darrell Schweitzer
“Impervious to Reason, Oblivious to Fate” – John R. Fultz
“The River” – Sharon Cullars
“Taking Out the Trash” – D.C. Lozar
“Arthur Wardrobe and Asia Anastacia: A Love Story”
– Andrew Darlington
“Snack Time” – Franklyn Searight
“Godlike” – Edward Morris and Konstantine Paradias
“Ron Kon Koma” – Glynn Owen Barrass
“Dragon’s Gold” – Ngo Binh
“The Fury of Angels” – Adrian Cole
“Keisha’s Dinosaur” – Nicole Kurtz Smith
“Will Home Remember Me?” – Joe S. Pulver
“You’re Gonna Love This Song” – Michael S. Walker
“Frozen Time” – Rivka Jacobs
“A Sum Total” – Maxwell Ian Gold
“Lucien Greyshire and the Ghost from Applebee’s” – L.F. Falconer

POEMS:
“Dark Rift” – Ann K. Schwader
“Doom of the Season” – Gregg Chamberlain
“The Pumpkin Boy on Samhain” – Chad Hensley
“Gol-Goroth Fane” – Frederick J. Mayer
“Danse Macabre” – Jeff Barnes
“Kings Pyre” – W.D. Clifton
“Empress of Vampires” – K.A. Opperman
“Night Hag” – Neva Bryan
“What is the Season?” – Ashley Dioses

No release date yet for #43, but it’s coming soon.

WB #39 features the second Magtone story: “Clouds Like Memories, Words Like Stones”

Get Yer Weird On…

As for my LAST story–the 5th in line for publishing at WEIRDBOOK–it has nothing to do with Magtone at all. It’s called “Dimensions of Scale,” and it follows the exploits of a very unusual dragonslayer. This story twists the whole “dragon” myth into something that I hope is new and unique. (But you never really know…) It’s set to run in WEIRDBOOK #47, and it will be my final published short story for the foreseeable future.

My latest novel-in-progress, IMMACULATE SCOUNDRELS, is moving past the halfway point as I prepare to enter my “summer writing season.” I’m pretty excited about it. The goal is to finish it by the end of August.

Cheers!

“Mysteries of the Faceless King” — THE BEST SHORT FICTION OF DARRELL SCHWEITZER, Volume 1 of 2. (April 2020)

Every young aspiring author needs a mentor. Some of us are lucky enough to get a good writing teacher in school, some of us find our mentors by pure luck, while others pursue a mentor because we’re drawn to them by the exceptional quality of their work. So what’s the difference between an “apprentice writer” and a fan? The apprentice writer WRITES, and keeps writing, and keeps taking advice from the mentor in the ongoing crusade to improve the work. As the old song goes “Everybody needs somebody…”

Back when I was a starry-eyed college student at the University of Kentucky (circa ’88 – ’91), I took a couple of creative writing classes that really unlocked my passion and set me on a path to becoming a storyteller. About that time I discovered Marvin Kaye’s WEIRD TALES: The Magazine That Never Dies anthology—which led me directly to the Terminus/Owlswick run of WEIRD TALES magazine edited by Darrell Schweitzer and George Scithers. This dynamic due had revived the mag in 1988, and they kept it going strong (despite the odd hiatus now and then) until 2007. Along the way they won a World Fantasy Award as an editorial team. The Terminus/Owlswick run remains a high point in WT history, which stretches all the way back to 1923.

I wrote story after story in my Creative Writing classes at UK, and I sent most of them to WEIRD TALES hoping to get published. It was my favorite magazine, and if I could get published there that would really mean something. I didn’t really know what I was doing yet, but I was determined. What kept me going was the advice editor Darrell Schweitzer gave me with every rejection. He pointed out to me where I was making rookie mistakes, where I needed to focus my efforts, and he even turned me onto Lord Dunsany, whose elegant and lyrical prose I began to study with a vengeance.

I was already a huge fan of Schweitzer’s fiction–his story “Mysteries of the Faceless King” in the above-mentioned Kaye anthology had set me on a path to finding more of his stories–which I found not only in the pages of WT, but also in mags like ADVENTURES OF SWORD-AND-SORCERY, SPACE & TIME, and INTERZONE. If I hadn’t been such a fan of Darrell’s fiction, he wouldn’t have been such a powerful mentor for me. Likewise, if Darrell had blown me off with “standard” rejections, I wouldn’t have gotten any advice to make my work better.

I kept sending in stories–every few years I’d send a new one—and every time I’d get back a polite rejection that included a hand-written critique and advice. From Darrell. Always from Darrell. That’s what a mentor does—he gives good advice. Boy, did I listen. And I applied those lessons every time I wrote something new.

I found out later that George Scithers (WT co-editor) had been a mentor to the young Darrell. So maybe DS was “paying it forward” by fostering a young no-name talent like myself. Whatever the case, this gifted author whom I’d never met in person became my writing mentor—my literary sensei—and I kept producing new efforts off-and-on for the next 15 years. I should note here that DS didn’t just publish me out of pity—he was ruthless in his critiques of my work—but he was also enlightening. Inspiring. I turned my raw frustration into a passion for improvement. Storytelling is a discipline like any other, and the only way to get better is to keep telling stories.

Weird Tales #340

Cut to 2004: After a decade-and-a-half of trying, I finally produced a story that impressed Darrell enough to buy it for WEIRD TALES. That tale was “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill,” which I wrote after an epiphany that came from reading one of Fritz Leiber’s FAFHRD & THE GREY MOUSER books. “Artifice the Quill” ran in WEIRD TALES #340 in 2006, and –voila!– I was now a published writer. It had taken me 15 years, but I had finally learned how to write a good story.

I sold Darrell two more tales set in the “Artifice” universe, but the magazine changed editoral hands in 2007 before either of those stories were published. They ended up going to BLACK GATE magazine and are now collected with all of the Artifice-related tales in THE REVELATIONS OF ZANG. But selling that first story—to the mentor who had been supporting my evolution for so long—was a major turning point.

Along the way I discovered tons more great Schweitzer stories—in his various collections mainly—and in the magazines that were wise enough to publish his work. After moving to Chicago in ’96, I read his phenomenal third novel MASK OF THE SORCERER, which I consider to be one of the best fantasy novels ever written. As a master of the short story form, Darrell didn’t write novels very often. There was also THE WHITE ISLE, his first novel, and THE SHATTERED GODDESS, his second. I love all three of these books, but MASK is the jewel in Darrell’s literary crown. I recommend it to pretty much every fantasy reader I meet.

Darrell’s first love is the short story, and he’s written over 400 published tales since the early 70s, when his work started appearing in every issue of Paul Ganley’s original WEIRDBOOK run. He’s been producing new short stories almost nonstop his entire career, collecting them every few years in brilliant anthologies such as REFUGEES FROM AN IMAGINARY COUNTRY, TOM O’BEDLAM’S NIGHT OUT, NECROMANCIES AND NETHERWORLDS, NIGHTSCAPES, WE ARE ALL LEGENDS, THE GREAT WORLD AND THE SMALL, and EMPEROR OF THE ANCIENT WORD (et. al.). Ask anyone who knows what they’re talking about, and they will tell you that Darrell Schweitzer is an acknowledged master of the short-story form. His stories are spells cast from the hand of a literary sorcerer. A veritable word wizard, if you will.

“The Last Heretic” — THE BEST SHORT FICTION OF DARRELL SCHWEITZER, Volume 2 of 2. (April 2020)

So it’s about time someone published a retrospective looking back across Darrell’s long and distinguished career. England’s PS Publishing is making it happen. Next month they’re releasing a two-volume hardcover collection of Schweitzer’s best work. The stories included were chosen by Darrell himself, and each volume includes a brand-new story as well. “Mysteries of the Faceless King” is the first book (incidentally named after the tale that made me an instant Schweitzer fan), and “The Last Heretic” is the second book. PS is taking pre-orders right now at the above links. This will be a limited print run, so get yours while the getting is good.

Cover art is by the talented Jason Van Hollander, a frequent Schweitzer collaborator. And yes, that’s Darrell’s severed head floating in the iron cage or jar, hanging above two different urban weirdscapes. I’m used to seeing Darrell’s face wear a charming smile—he’s one of the world’s biggest Three Stooges fans—but having your head removed and stuck in a jar would put a grimace on anybody’s mug. At second glance I notice that the disembodied head has sprouted a couple of tiny clawed legs. Great example of Van Hollander’s phantasmagorical style, which is a perfect match for Darrell’s weird prose.

Jason Van Hollander’s eerie cover for WT #313 (1998)

Two master storytellers: Schweitzer and Poe. Pic taken at the 2009 World Fantasy Con in San Jose, celebrating Poe’s 200th birthday with red velvet cake and a spot of absinthe. Good times!

I’m proud to say that my longtime mentor has, over the years, also become my friend. After corresponding for over a decade, I was able to meet Darrell in person for the first time back at the 2006 Worldcon, and I’ve spent time with him at every one of the World Fantasy Conventions that I’ve been lucky enough to attend. He’s a font of historical and literary wisdom, especially concerning the history of fantasy and sci-fi fandom; he seems to know everybody who’s anybody, and they all know him. His quick sense of humor is a defining quality, something you might never guess from reading his darkest works. Now and then he channels that sense of humor into his fiction, most notably in stories such as his Tom O’Bedlam tales, which read like Terry Gilliam directing the Three Stooges on acid—surreal and metaphysical takes about the link between magic and madness.

Darrell is, in one respect, the fantasy world’s best kept secret. While not yet a household name, the quality and originality of his work towers far above the man himself, and fantasy enthusiasts know it. He is a humble and dedicated servant of the written word, an ever-present stalwart of fandom, and an inexhaustible bookseller. (He even wears a button that reads “May I shamelessly try to sell you a book?” And he will.)

Darrell at a recent convention panel.

For me he will always be—first-and-foremost—one of my favorite authors to ever walk this planet. But he’s also a buddy I’m lucky to have, one who encouraged me when nobody else did. One who believed in my talent and continues to do so, even when the world tells me I don’t matter. Darrell’s work continues to be a massive inspiration to me and to countless others.

Salute to PS Publishing for recognizing Darrell Schweitzer’s greatness while he’s still around to see it. His hardcore fans will snap up these BEST OF hardcovers immediately, and I hope a whole new legion of fans will discover in these volumes something they didn’t even know they were missing. Something wonderful and strange, born screaming and clawing from one of the world’s greatest imaginations.

Master fantasists don’t come along every day, so we need to celebrate them while we can.

Let the celebration begin.

In these increasingly divided times it’s always great when you can get together with a group of like-minded people and have intelligent discussions about literature, art, history, philosophy, and other “thinky” topics. It’s also great to share a laugh and break some bread with those you might not see as often as you’d like. In fact, it’s always great just to “get away” for awhile and focus on things that matter to you, while in the process relaxing and having a chance to enjoy yourself.

All of these reasons–and more–are why I love attending the World Fantasy Convention. This year marks my 10-year anniversary as a fan/member of WFC–although I’ve only been to five conventions in those ten years. Finances didn’t always permit it–especially when the con moved out of the country, or all the way on the other side of it. Last year I missed it because of a last-minute illness, but this year I didn’t even have to take an airplane. Driving down to Los Angeles from the Bay Area is always a pleasure–you spend most of your time on the I-5, and you pass through some truly beautiful country.

Art by Tim White

Cruising through the Angeles National Forest before you descend into the L.A. basin is a mystical experience. Tons of vegetation in those hills, but hardly any trees. Pyramid Lake sparkles like Tinseltown dreams, a promise of bounty waiting just over the horizon. Coming in from the north, you pass right out of those mystical hills and discover the Mulholland Drive exit. That is the moment you know you’ve reached the City of Angels, or more specifically the Hollywood Hills. I didn’t have time to take a drive up Mulholland like I’ve always wanted to do–I was already late for the convention–but the next time it’s definitely on my “to-do” list.

The high point of this year’s WFC, as always, were the great discussion panels. One of particular note was the “Long Time Writing” panel, which my pal Darrell Schweitzer lovingly called the “Old-Timers Panel” (which he’s allowed to do because he’s one of those old-timers, having attended every WFC since the first one in 1975). Anyway, this was a great panel of writers who have been creating popular fiction for decades: Robert Silverberg, Joe Haldeman, Bruce McAllister, Kevin Murphy, Howard Hendrix, and Gwynne Garfinkle. I found this panel pretty inspiring because of where I’m at right now. I turned 50 a few weeks ago, and I’ve been trying to figure out where my writing career is going next. Hence my recent decision to quit writing short stories and focus exclusively on novels.

Art by Bruce Pennington

These writers have kept their careers going through all the obstacles life has placed in their path, and they never gave up. Silverberg retired once in ’75 and came back around ’80, and now he’s enjoying his second retirement. And yet his body of work is still being published, optioned, and adapted. The Rolling Stones don’t NEED to write any new albums to be superstars, and Bob Silverberg doesn’t need to write another word to secure his place as a Grandmaster of the field. Joe Haldeman told a great story about being shot–shot!–while riding a bike. He actually survived a random drive-by shooting–how many people can say that? Bruce McAllister talked about a health scare that left him on medication that kept him alive, but prevented him from writing for years. And yet he came back and wrote again. And he’s still writing.

Another hard-to-forget panel was “When Hollywood Comes Calling,” wherein Silverberg and McAllister joined Eldon Thompson, Curtis Chen, and John Skipp to discuss the wacky process of selling your ideas to Hollywood producers. All of them had crazy stories about the process that reminded me of every movie I’ve ever seen about the inner workings of the entertainment industry. “It’s all who you know” is the one incessant rule that seems to run Hollywood. When personnel changes, projects get killed. So many great stories of Hollyweird were shared that I can’t remember them all. It made me glad that I write novels instead of scripts.

Art by Bruce Pennington

One thing I’ll never forget is Silverberg’s story about getting paid $10,000 to write a STAR TREK episode treatment–an offer that came out of the blue, especially since he had never seen a single episode of the show! Nevertheless, he wrote the treatment, got the check, and spent an evening with Gene Roddenberry playing Pong. The treatment never became an actual episode. One of the panel’s most important takeaways: If your book/story gets optioned, take the money but don’t expect it to actually get made. Only 1 in 1000 optioned stories actually get developed into movies/shows. Dealing with publishing companies may be hard sometimes, but it’s a picnic compared to dealing with Hollywood’s bizarre twists-and-turns as projects are lost in development hell and life-changing decisions often turn on a boardroom whim. Silverberg’s advice? “Just cash the checks, and forget about it.”

The late Harlan Ellison was there in spirit. I’m so grateful that I got to meet Harlan (and hear him speak) at Worldcon 2006. Silverberg told a few great stories about his old friend, as he usually does. Those two were the Dynamic Duo of Golden Age sci-fi–many of their exploits, feuds, and adventures are well documented. But I didn’t know that at one point Harlan spent a small fortune on stone gargoyles for his house. Gargoyles! That’s just the kind of guy Ellison was–a guy who wanted some damn gargoyles–so he got ’em. Who knows? Maybe Harlan was inspired by Clark Ashton Smith’s classic story “The Maker of Gargoyles”–he was one of Smith’s biggest fans after all.

Art by Enrich Torres

The “Heroine’s Journey” panel was a great examination of how female heroes/protagonists differ from male heroes/protagonists. Many great points were made, but my takeaway was this: Female heroes will usually be more nurturing and social than male heroes, so this tends to reshape their heroic journey in significant ways. All of which is a fancy way of saying Men and Women are different. I asked if Bilbo would have taken better care of the Dwarves in THE HOBBIT if he were a female hobbit. My question drew a laugh, but then someone pointed out that Sam Gamgee’s journey is more of a “Heroine’s Journey” because he basically takes care of Mr. Frodo the whole time–Sam the Nurturer becomes Sam the Warrior when Shelob tries to devour Frodo. Writers must always keep in mind that every human being has both male and female qualities, and everyone has their own mixture of these qualities, regardless of biology or sex. This was a pretty deep panel!

I really dug the “Black Fantasy and Horror” panel featuring Sheree Renee Thomas, Tananarive Due, Steven Barnes, and Andrea D. Hairston. There was much discussion of how movies like BLACK PANTHER and Jordan Peele’s US have opened doors for black voices, not only in films and TV, but also in the book industry. Afro-Futurism is science fiction, fantasy, and horror created by and/or featuring the children of the African Diaspora. This is a field with a global reach, since there are black voices being heard now from all over the world. Barnes told a fascinating story of the time a publisher turned his novel’s black protagonist into a white guy on the cover, yet everyone at the company blamed someone else for the decision. Really makes you think. Awesome panel.

Art by Stephen Fabian

I served on a Saturday panel called “A Culture Not My Own” with C.H. Hung (terrific moderator!), S.B. Divya, Catherine Cooke Montrose, Brenda Carre, and Sheila Finch. It was a spirited discussion about using other cultures to build a fantasy world and/or telling stories sat in existing cultures that are not the writer’s own. My perspective as a fantasy writer is that I create imaginary worlds, and in order to do that you have to study the REAL world, i.e. you take elements from various historical cultures and mix them with your own imagination. That’s how you do it. There were a lot of great questions about how to do it right, and how to make sure you’re being sensitive to existing cultures. Having a good intent is important, but it’s not enough: You also have to do your research. Divya suggested using “sensitivity readers” (a specific type of “beta readers”) who belong to the culture you are writing about. Such a great idea–especially if you’re writing about a culture that currently exists. I had a lot of fun on this panel, and made some new friends too.

Overall, I came away energized and inspired–not only by the discussions and the encouragement, but also by the stories from writers who made NEVER GIVE UP their personal motto. You kinda have to do that if you want any kind of longevity in the writing business.

My takeaway: Keep on keepin’ on. Persistence is the name of the game.

Kinda makes me feel a bit better about moving so slowly on this new novel. As usual, I’ll pick up speed this summer when my teaching duties aren’t demanding most of my time. I plan to finish writing IMMACULATE SCOUNDRELS by the end of Summer 2020. Then it will be up to my agent to work his magic, while I move on to planning the next one.

Looking forward to the World Fantasy Convention this year because it’s back in California–which means I don’t have to fly! So I’ll be driving down to Los Angeles from my home in the Bay Area. The theme this year is “Fantasy Noir,” which is ironic because I’ve been working on a new novel that could be easily described by that term. Purely coincidental, if you believe in coincidences. If not, it must be fate.

I’ll be on a discussion panel called “A Culture Not My Own” about using real-world cultures as inspiration for fantasy worlds. In the Shaper Trilogy I blended many historical influences to create a diverse continent for the story. From the Viking-esque culture of the Giantlands to the Hellenic-flavored desert metropolis of Uurz, to the pseudo-African kingdom of Mumbaza, the Shaper’s world was a melange of cultures inspired by a blend of historical civilizations.

In THE TESTAMENT OF TALL EAGLE, I decided to narrow the focus so I could deepen the experience. There are two major cultures in the TALL EAGLE duology: Tall Eagle’s people are very similar to the pre-Comanche migrating tribes of North America, while the gray-skinned Myktu are a mystical race of quasi-Elvish nature. Total immersion into the tribal culture of Tall Eagle’s folk was my goal for the initial chapters of TESTAMENT, before the collision with Myktu culture that drives the plot. In the sequel, SON OF TALL EAGLE, I wanted to explore the evolving culture of the transplanted tribe as it adapts to a new world full of supernatural forces and strange creatures.

The “Culture” panel description reads: How can one best write fiction set in a culture or religion/mythology the author wasn’t raised in? How can one avoid cultural appropriation? Should non-Asians avoid Asia-set stories? Non-Norwegians not write about the Norse gods? And what about crossing cultures, combining elements from more than one?

Those are several great questions and the topic deserves some serious consideration. ALL fantasy cultures are based in some way on real-world cultures–influences are inescapable.  Many fantasy cultures are developed as “What if?” experiments with an alternate history timeline, while others are designed to be analogs of specific historical civilizations.

A fantasy writer’s primary job–when writing about a “secondary world”–is to make that world believable and consistent within its own frame of logic (or non-logic). The best way to make your fantasy world believable is to model it after the real world, which is a blend of complex and unique cultures.

ALL fiction writers study culture and observe the humanity around them, and they make statements based on those observations when they write–both consciously and subconsciously. Fantasy and Science-Fiction writers often have an even bigger responsibility: To INVENT a wholly new culture of the fantastic that feels close enough to reality to support the narrative. We draw from the deep wells of history and anthropology to water the roots of our creations.

A panel on using actual cultures to create fantasy cultures makes total sense. Should be a good one. My books will be available for sale at the Book Universe booth.

 

No More Short Stories

Art by Les Edwards

To quote Gordon Ramsay: “I’ve had enough!”

It’s official: I have decided to stop writing short stories altogether to focus exclusively on novels. Short stories can be fun, but there are a number of reasons why they simply don’t work for me anymore:

Art by Frazetta

1)  Publishers by and large are not interested in my short stories. For various reasons, it’s damn near impossible for me to break into new markets with my short fiction. Always has been. I don’t really know why–except that I write to please myself and maybe what pleases me simply does not please the general public or the editors who serve them. I’m not about to start catering to tastes or writing for trends, so…who needs it? The most obvious answer is that I’m simply not very good at writing short stories. Or at least the kind that sell.

2) Short stories don’t pay well. Sometimes they don’t pay at all. There are some high-paying markets, but my experience there has been a series of closed doors, blank walls, and a denial of my basic existence as a writer. In other words: Why am I trying so hard to sell stories that nobody wants to publish? Forget about it.

3) Even when you get a short story accepted, you have to wait months or years to see it in print. Again, it’s not worth it. I’d rather slave over a novel for a few years, then get it out to thousands of people, than to keep writing short stories for an ever-shrinking audience of magazines.

Art by Josh Kirby

4) Life is too short. I’m much better at writing novels (got five of those published–three of them internationally via Orbit/Hachette). I’ve written six novels altogether, and only one of those proved unpublishable. So my success rate at novels is 5/6, or 83%. Not bad! However, my success rate at short stories is too low to even slap a number on (see above). At this point in life I’d rather focus my creative drive on something I know I’m good at.

Life is a never-ending process of learning about yourself and your world. What I’ve learned since “going professional” is that my novels are much better received than any of my short fiction. So I’m going to stop wasting my time trying to write “a perfect short story” over and over again–and focus instead on something I’ve had decent success at doing, i.e. writing and selling novels.

If my next novel doesn’t sell, then the world will be sending me a different message at that point, and in that case I may decide to stop writing altogether. But that’s another bridge, and I’ll cross it when I get to it. Hopefully, I’ll finish this current novel by the end of next summer, my agent will dig it, and one of the Big Publishers will publish it. That’s the goal. However, I don’t plan to spend the rest of my life tilting at windmills (Don Quixote reference–literature!).

All of this comes as I’m about to turn 50. Naturally, it’s a time when you start to re-examine your life and re-set some priorities. My priority is to write novels. I’m giving myself one more “shot” to keep that goal alive. But if it doesn’t work out, it won’t be the end of my life. I’ll move on to something else.

So consider me a novelist who used to write short stories. Some of them even got published.

As for the novel I’m writing now, it’s a “fantasy noir” epic that I’ve tentatively titled IMMACULATE SCOUNDRELS. I’m approaching it differently than all of my other novels, writing it in a different way, taking more time to really think through things before I commit them to paper. So hopefully this will pay off by resulting in a book that mainstream publishers can’t wait to get their hands on. Or…it could be my swan song. I simply don’t know for sure, and there’s only one way to find out: WRITE THE BOOK.

So, unlike Elvis Costello, I may not be writing the book “every day” (obscure 80s reference!), but I am writing it–slowly but surely. I’m in no hurry. And the world is in no hurry to get a new novel from me. Everything is going to turn out exactly as it is supposed to turn out, no matter what happens.

Short stories? Been there, done that.

Time to move on.

 

 

 

The fine folks at PS Publishing have released their latest hardcover anthology of all-new Lovecraftian Mythos fiction: MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS REVEALED, edited by Darrell Schweitzer. This volume features tales that follow up on HPL’s classic novella AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS. For more information see my previous post about this book—it’s a must-read for any serious Lovecraft fan.

This is the third Lovecraftian anthology I’ve been involved with–first there was CTHULHU’S REIGN (2010) , then THAT IS NOT DEAD (2015), both edited by the indomitable Mr. Schweitzer. It’s always fun to play in Lovecraft’s creepy old sandbox full of monsters, madness, and mayhem. PS does gorgeous hardcover editions in limited print runs, so get your claws on this one before they’re all gone.

 

 

 

Summer 2019

Art by D’Achille

Well, summertime rolls again…

Since I teach school during the rest of the year, each summer I have to decide what my writing focus will be : A new novel or a new batch of short stories. Last year I cranked out a whole new cycle of short stories called The Magtone Saga–six standalone stories that build to a single climax. Altogether the Magtone Saga is about 50,000 words (about 10K short of being as long as a short novel). Two of those stories appeared in WEIRDBOOK (issues #37 and #39), and the remaining stories were scheduled for the next four consecutive issues. However, the magazine went on hiatus for awhile and the last four Magtone Tales have yet to see publication.

Art by John Bierley

Latest news from WB indicates that the delayed Magtone stories will appear in WEIRDBOOK #43-46. However, there is no publication date set for any of those issues, so it’s anyone’s guess as to when they will be released. WB #40 finally came out about a month ago, but there is no release date for #41 yet. So, assuming that WEIRDBOOK doesn’t go out of business and quit publishing altogether, the rest of the Magtone Saga should eventually see publication. WB was releasing four issues a year, but that seems to have reduced to one or two at this point. Fingers are crossed that the mag will return to quarterly status–but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

___________________________

This summer I’m back to writing novels. Working on an epic fantasy with a crime-noir flavor. There’s far more to it than that, but I’m only four chapters into it so far. As I approach the tender age of 50, I’m starting to realize that I don’t/can’t write novels as fast as I used to. In the past I’d start slow and build an incredible momentum. That’s how it worked with the Shaper Trilogy and the Tall Eagle series.

This new book is coming to me in a slower and hopefully deeper fashion.  It’s impossible for an author to objectively rate his own creations, but once again I feel like I’m doing the best work of my career. Yet that’s how I usually feel when I’m working on a new novel project. That feeling drives me as a creator to finish my creation–yet it has no effect at all on the success of the novel commercially. Sometimes what you think is your best work others find lacking. Sometimes the reverse is true. Publishing is a strange game, and you have to take “time” out of the equation.

My approach with this new novel is “This will take as long as it takes–and I will not rush it.” It’s the same guideline I used with my first novel (SEVEN PRINCES), but I haven’t approached novels like that since. There’s no deadline looming over my head, there’s no schedule I have to keep, there’s only my vision and my ongoing attempt to bring it to life on the page. Publishing has always moved at a glacial pace anyway, and that’s not about to change anytime soon.

Deadlines are good for keeping your nose to the grindstone. But writing without deadlines means you can sit back and develop ideas at their own pace–at and away from the keyboard. Thinking is the first step to writing, and without deadlines you can put in more thought to every aspect of your story. Taking time out of the equation is a blessing. The trick is to just keep moving, chapter by chapter. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but you have to keep taking steps or you go nowhere. I’m walking at my own pace, but I’m moving forward.

So that’s where I’m at this summer. Trying to enjoy my vacation, write my new novel, and retain my sanity. Life in the American Dark Age continues….

 

 

 

 

 

Later this year PS Publishing releases a new anthology of Lovecraft-inspired fiction edited by the indomitable Darrell Schweitzer. THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS REVEALED features stories (and poetry) that expand on concepts created by H.P. Lovecraft in his classic novella “At the Mountains of Madness.” One of his most popular stories, it first appeared in the pages of Astounding Stories in 1936, where it was serialized over three issues.

Above is a peek at the cover design by J.K. Potter, and thanks to PS Publishing’s Newsletter we also have their official description and a complete list of contributors:

“In his celebrated novella ‘At the Mountains of Madness,’ H.P. Lovecraft told of the discovery of a vast, alien city buried under the ice in Antarctica: millions of years old, filled with shocking secrets about the history of life on Earth, and not entirely uninhabited. But after the Miskatonic University expedition of 1930 came to a disastrous end and further exploration was either discouraged or suppressed, the city of the Elder Things slept once more, and the world seemed safe from whatever the Mountains of Madness still harbored. Danforth, the last survivor to look back, saw something he never could describe, that made him lose his mind…

Now, decades later, ice caps are melting and glaciers are retreating. Global warming is an observable fact. That which was once hidden is hidden no longer. So what happens when that horror-filled city of Elder Things and shoggoths is in plain sight, its existence impossible to deny? How will mankind deal with the realization that we are not the only intelligent species on the planet, and that we are masters of the Earth only by sheer chance? Now that something is stirring, that mastery may be coming to an end.

What happens next? Denial? Exploitation? The rise of strange cults? Maybe even an ill-advised attempt at tourism? Or will the cosmic forces now awakened engulf the entire planet? Here are some of the answers…”

Stories by:

ASTOUNDING STORIES – Feb, 1936

Adrian Cole
Gordon Linzner
James Chambers
Melinda LaFevers
John R. Fultz
Harry Turtledove
James Van Pelt
Robert M. Price
Don Webb
John Shirley
Paul Di Filippo
Frederic S. Durbin
John Linwood Grant
Geoffrey Hart
Amdi Silvestri
Géza A.G. Reilly
Darrell Schweitzer

Verse by:
Ann K. Schwader
Adam Bolivar

My contribution is a chilling tale of the not-too-distant future entitled “The Embrace of Elder Things.” A remnant of mankind has survived climate collapse and global floods by migrating to a high-tech moon colony, while horrors from the ancient past have risen to reclaim the waterlogged earth. Psychic powers and eldritch terrors abound…

There is no specific release date for the book yet, but it will almost certainly be released by the time of this year’s NecronomiCon (i.e. August). I’ll post a fresh update as soon as THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS REVEALED is available.

Art by by Eclectixx

Creation vs. Depression

Art by Jim Steranko

Working on a new novel and the beginning of a new phase for my writing career. I have to be insane to write another novel. After all, they say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result. I guess you could argue that I’m not really doing the SAME thing over and over because I’m writing very different books. But it kinda FEELS the same–like you keep rowing but never really get anywhere. But that is an illusion–and a classic symptom of depression.

So I’m battling depression fueled by a sense of existential futility. I’m supposed to be on vacation–but luckily I’m too poor to take an actual vacation (as usual), so that kinda forces me to stay at home and work on a book. What else am I gonna do?

The problem is that my depression keeps saying “Why bother? You’re wasting your time! Writing is a fool’s game.” Then the other voice in the back of my head says “That’s self-defeating bullshit. Get off your ass and write!” But the bottom line is that I can’t write unless I feel like writing. I have to keep reminding myself that every novel is like this: I start out slow–a chapter per week if that–and I gradually build up speed as the novel progresses. Sometimes I even get up to one-chapter-per-day by the time it’s over.

Art by Bruce Pennington

I think the real secret is just to KEEP GOING. Put your head down, follow your muse, and crank out that novel line by line, scene by scene, chapter by chapter.

Why?

Why does a man climb a mountain?

Because it’s there.

Why does a man write a novel?

Because he’s a fool.

Depression is a bitch. Most writers I know have been affected by it at some point. Some of us have battled depression our entire lives–starting many years before we even heard the word “depression.” I remember as a kid the first time I discovered that people weren’t supposed to be sad and anxious all the time. I was surprised. Doesn’t everybody feel like I feel? And the truth is that everybody gets depressed sometimes–it’s perfectly normal–but it’s those extended bouts of depression that can really make existence difficult.

Depression is antithetical to creativity. Or, to put it another way, creativity kills depression. It’s a great feeling to plant the seed of a creative endeavor (such as a novel) and watch it bloom to fruition under your constant care and hard work. Maybe that’s why my depression doesn’t want me to write–because writing will destroy it. At least for a while…

The problem is that it’s so much easier NOT to write. It’s so much easier to do the wrong than the right thing. The easiest thing in the world to do is fail. Failure requires absolutely no effort, no sacrifice, and no work whatsoever. I guess you could say failure is the “default setting” for humans. We spend our lives battling against failure–or we give into it and watch our lives fade to nothing–first metaphorically, then literally.

Art by Enrich Torres

So the whole point of living seems to be STRUGGLE. Not that we all have an equal struggle–and some struggles go completely unseen by others–but everyone’s got their own cross to bear.

For me, the best defense against depression is creation.

It doesn’t want me to create.

It wants me to give up and die.

I say fuck that.

I choose to live, and I choose to write.

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For more info on dealing with depression visit verywellmind.com 

It’s here! WEIRDBOOK Annual #2 is available at last. A massive tome of all-new weird fiction—and poetry—all inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. 

A diverse assortment of eldritch horrors and terrors from beyond awaits the intrepid reader.

Includes my story “The Thing In The Pond.”

WEIRDBOOK Annual #2 – Table of Contents

•”The Shining Trapezohedron” by Robert M. Price
•”A Noble Endeavor” by Lucy A. Snyder
•”Ancient Astronauts” by Cynthia Ward
•”The Thing in the Pond” by John R. Fultz
•”Enter The Cobweb Queen” by Adrian Cole
•”Tricks No Treats” by Paul Dale Anderson
•”Ronnie and the River” by Christian Riley
•”Cellar Dweller” by Franklyn Searight
•”Yellow Labeled VHS Tape” by R.C. Mulhare
•”Tuama” by L.F. Falconer
•”Mercy Holds No Measure” by Kenneth Bykerk
•”Treacherous Memory” by Glynn Owen Barrass
•”The Hutchison Boy” by Darrell Schweitzer
•”Dolmen of The Moon” by Deuce Richardson
•”Lovecraftian Limerick” by Andrew J. Wilson
•”A Wizard’s Daughter” by Ann K. Schwader
•”The Shadow of Azathoth is your Galaxy” by DB Spitzer
•”Ascend” by Mark A. Mihalko
•”The Solace of the Farther Moon” by Allan Rozinski
•”The Stars Are Always Right” by Charles Lovecraft
•”Daemonic Nathicana” by K.A. Opperman
•”Asenat” by Ashley Dioses
•”The Book of Eibon/Le Livre D’eibon” trans. by Frederick J. Mayer

Weirdbook.
Get Your Weird On.
http://wildsidepress.com/weirdbook

Forbidden Futures #3

Art by Mike Dubisch [Click to Enlarge]

FORBIDDEN FUTURES is a unique celebration of dark fantasy art and storytelling. The third issue features a “high fantasy” theme, but don’t expect the traditional fantasy fare as weirdness and horror are more likely to show up than “sweetness and light” in these adventures.

All the stories are based on artwork by the sensational Mike Dubisch, and the esteemed Cody Goodfellow serves as contributing editor. My story “Tears of the Elohim” appears in this issue, alongside one of Mike’s many superb illustrations.

You won’t find another magazine like this out there, blending voices of fantasy and horror prose with fantastic artwork from a single illustrator’s visionary palette.

Get your copy right HERE.

Darren Coelho Spring’s spectacular film explores the life and legend of Clark Ashton Smith–one of fantasy’s greatest talents, and one of the 20th Century’s most enduring “outsider artists.” [Art by Skinner]

I missed the World Fantasy Convention this year because I was too sick to travel. Feeling much better now, but still disappointed that I missed this terrific convention–it’s been my favorite yearly con since I attended my first one in 2009. (Wow! That was almost ten years ago! Time does fly…)

Front cover of the DVD.

So how did I get over the heartbreak of missing WFC? I watched CLARK ASHTON SMITH: THE EMPEROR OF DREAMS, the brand new documentary spotlighting the life, the work, and the legend of my favorite fantasy writer.

I can’t say enough good things about this film, so let me just hit you with a few of the highlights:

  • The interviews with CAS experts are insightful and get more fascinating as the film continues.
  • The visuals are extremely well-done, as is the haunting and ethereal soundtrack, two elements that work together to create an almost supernatural presence as the story of Smith’s life unfolds.
  • Seeing the actual landscape that inspired “City of the Singing Flame”–one of Smith’s most admired tales, and one of his few fantasies that touch upon the “real world” in addition to his usual fantastical realms.
  • Some parts of the movie achieve an acid-trip style quality; filmmaker Darren Coelho Spring was obviously trying to evoke the weird wonder of reading a CAS tale–and he succeeds at this goal. This bio-doc gets totally “trippy” in a way that is delightfully unexpected.
  • After loving CAS’s work for decades, I now have a true understanding of the MAN behind the literature–the human being behind the cosmic poetry–the wizard behind all those wonderful narrative spells.
  • It traces Smith’s life from the beginning to the end, and provides a living context for his wildly fantastic work and his transcendent mastery of the written word.
  • One of Harlan Ellison’s last interviews is included, and he has some terrific observations about Smith’s work and legacy. Fittingly, Harlan even gets the “last word” in the documentary, exhorting the timeless quality of CAS’s work.
  • The film expertly captures Smith’s status as an “outsider” or “maverick” artist who never sold out, never chased after fame or success, and never once compromised his immense artistic vision.
  • CLARK ASHTON SMITH: THE EMPEROR OF DREAMS is the next best thing to sitting down with Smith himself and discussing the arc of his life in superb detail.

Back cover of the DVD.

One caveat: This documentary is really for those who are already fans of Smith’s fiction, poetry, and other works of art. It’s not a CAS “primer” built to woo new fans. As Harlan Ellison elucidates so very well, Smith doesn’t need to chase fans; they find him.

If you are already a fan of Smith’s work, this documentary will amaze, enlighten, and entrance you.

You can watch the movie online HERE.

You can order a copy of the DVD HERE.

I rented it, watched it, and immediately ordered a copy of the DVD. It will make a terrific edition to anyone’s collection of CAS books.

I’m already itching to watch it again.

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Finally, here’s a link to a comprehensive look at Smith’s greatest epic poem, THE HASHISH EATER (or THE APOCALYPSE OF EVIL) that I wrote for Black Gate a few years back. This poem is given a special place in the documentary, as well it should be. There are few if any poems that can match its phantasmagorical imagery.