Cat Rambo’s short fiction has appeared in many quality markets: Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, to name just a few. She was co-editor of Fantasy Magazine from 2007-2011, which earned her a 2012 World Fantasy Special Award: Non-Professional nomination. Her first collection, Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight, was published by Paper Golem in 2009. Her most recent collection, Near + Far, has just been released by Hydra House. Learn more about Cat at her website/blog The World Remains Mysterious.
Your latest collection is published by Hydra House. What can you tell us about them and how the collection came about?
I had been thinking about doing a self-published SF collection in an e-version only, but when I talked to Tod McCoy, who is Hydra House’s owner and also part of the writing group I belong to (Horrific Miscue Seattle), he proposed handling a print version. Over the course of time, it became clear he should be handling the electronic version as well. Working with Hydra House has been an absolute joy, and I’m hoping to work with Tod on more projects in the future. I cannot begin to say how beautifully the book has turned out under Tod’s expert guidance and how proud I am of it.
Near + Far is formatted like an Ace Double, one side features all near-future stories; flip it over for the far-future stories. Whose idea was that and when looking over the stories you wanted to publish did the Near/Far idea strike you immediately?
The double format was my idea, which came to me when I was looking over the list of stories and seeing that they were equally divided between near future and far future. I told Tod I had a wild idea, proposed it to him, and he ran with it. I loved the old Ace Doubles, and one of the fun things Tod did with the cover was manage to reference the look of them through his choice of font and color.
I think books need to take into account the rise of electronic publishing, and physical books must become something more than just a way to deliver text. Between the interior and exterior art, the gorgeous layout, and the cool form, Near + Far is a piece of art itself.
How is this collection different from Eyes Like Sky and Coal and Moonlight?
ELSCAM is pure fantasy, full of zombies, manticores, and wind elementals. I wanted to show that I wrote science fiction as well, and I was pleased that when I sat down to look, I had more than enough stories to fill such a collection. In fact, we ended up cutting a lot from the list to keep the book from being twice as long.
The first story in the near-future section is “The Mermaids Singing, Each to Each,” which shows your skill at not only worldbuilding but characterization, as well. What aspects do you find most satisfying about this piece?
I love that story because to me it’s an example of what can happen with a fortunate collision of ideas. I wanted to write a tribute to Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and I’d also had an idea about carnivorous mermaids, since I’d been seeing a slew of non-carnivorous ones in the slush at Fantasy Magazine. A friend, Katherine Sparrow, posted a link to an article about floating masses of garbage currently existing in our oceans, and that was the thing that made everything click for me. It originally appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, which I’m always happy to be published in, because they are putting out, in my opinion, some of the best speculative fiction around.
Your story “Amid the Words of War” is depicted on the Far cover of this collection. It was also selected for the Prime Books anthology War and Space. What can you tell us about this story and where did the inspiration for it come from?
“Amid the Words of War” was inspired by something Octavia Butler said to my Clarion West class about her own Lilith’s Brood. I wanted to talk about a prisoner of war who returns to find itself suspect because of its imprisonment. I also was working on a series of stories set on TwiceFar Station, the setting for most of the story, and so I had Six take up employment in one of TwiceFar’s odder establishments, a brothel called The Little Teacup of the Soul.
What do you consider some of the principal advantages and disadvantages when writing a far-future story as compared to a near-future one?
I think it’s in many ways harder to predict the changes to society in the far future. We carry so many cultural assumptions that end up affecting what we take for granted will appear. A few years ago, I read an Asimov story which went along fine until I realized he was presuming that the gender roles of his time would not change, leading to an odd Leave It To Beaver type of establishment on the Moon. I don’t think he actually went so far as to posit white picket fences around the houses the wives were all baking apple pies in, but it was close and it was pretty clear he never thought that women might want to pilot the spaceships themselves once in a while.
Advantages? Well, you can get wild and wacky and presume all sorts of changes. Near future, you need to be more aware of what the existing technology is like.
What else are you working on? What's next for you?
I’m currently reworking the first volume in a fantasy trilogy that takes place in a location I’ve set a lot of stories, the seaport of Tabat, and hoping to have that ready for prime time by the end of September. After that, I’m waiting to see, but I’ll still be spinning stories. I just finished a novella set in the world of the Fathomless Abyss, a shared world overseen by Phillip Athans, and I’ve got the sequel to that half written and slated to be finished soon.
"The Blue Testament" by Marshall Payne is a very different look at Jesus and his apostles, set in a modern day world where they are a pack of showmen. Jesus has died in a car crash, and the others wonder if he'll manage to make it back again this time. It's flash fiction, carried off with a lot of brio and fun, and the concept is an amusing one.
And a one-line review on Amazon.com by Trent Walters: "Marshall Payne -- stylish rendering of Jesus as a modern stage-show performer." Trent also recently reviewed the antho on SF Site.
Always nice to see what readers think of one of my fave flash pieces.
“Marshall Payne is likely to offend a few Christians with his "Blue Testament" but the voice and rhythm I found compelling. J.C.'s gang of apostles mope as his Jaguar has crashed and they presume Him dead, but he dashes back out on stage at the end. This didn't carve out much for itself, but the ride was interesting.”
I love this review, if only because…well, you know And there’s just not enough “Jesus crashing his Jaguar and the paramedics trying to get Him out with the jaws of life” fiction out there. It's an underrepresented sub-sub-genre.
: to force air violently through the nose with a rough harsh sound.
Over the last few months of reading, I’ve come across character after character snorting. Sometimes several characters in the first 100 pages of a novel snort. Moms snort, dads snort, children snort, mayors of major metropolitan cities snort, as well as the homeless, the impoverished, the down-and-out. People who don’t have anything to snort about snort!
Even in short fiction, character after character snort. Lately, in what I’ve been reading, fictional characters snort a lot!
My problem is that I can't remember the last time I saw or heard someone IRL snort. I can’t even ever remember snorting myself. (It’s gotta hurt, right?)
Snorting is an involuntary action. Can anyone reading this make themselves snort on command? If you can, put it up on You Tube. I wanna see it! And I’m not talking about white powder off a mirror.
Now, every time I see a character snort in fiction, I only see the writer introducing a minor stage direction to show a character in some unbelievable action. I see authorial intrusion! The occasional snort used to be fine. But if all your characters snort… See my point?
So, could we please have a five-year moratorium on snorting in fiction? I think we've reached our snorting quota until 2017.
Tali has three ebooks just released or coming soon: Captive Heart, Sorcerer’s Knot and The Prince of Winds.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Upbringing, education, your writing before you became an author of erotic speculative fiction?
Though living on the East Coast is starting to corrupt me, I’m really pure Midwest because that’s where I spent most of my adult life. As a child, I was dragged from state to state by my father, who was a missile engineer, so you can imagine some of the places I’ve been: El Paso (yep, saw the atom bomb proving grounds at White Sands in New Mexico), Colorado (I’ve been under Cheyenne Mountain), California, Massachusetts (you’d be surprised), Virginia, New Jersey, Wisconsin… well, I can go on and on. I was in a new school every year, was always the kid with the funny accent and no friends. I’d eventually make a few friends, then move away. Books were more constant. My dad and mom were both great readers and our house always filled with everything from current magazines and novels to history books the size of Buicks. The fact is I started imagining stories just to create people and worlds I didn’t have to leave behind. I’d tell them to my sister at night (we shared a bed) and on our walks to and from school. It helped to have an audience.
I married at 19, and had children and things were good for a while. I spent a fair amount of time in South America, and wrote my first novel while raising three active boys. No one was more surprised than me when I sold it to DAW. It was science fiction and is now so far out of print I don’t even mention it as a writing credit. That book never led to anything else because I was young and knew absolutely nothing about what it takes to build a writing career. I had no support at all. My kids were little, I had no writer friends to turn to for advice, and my marriage was falling apart. I couldn’t even interpret my royalty statements. So I just let it go and went back to college, got my degree, and became an airport executive.
Why did you choose erotic fiction as your new direction. What is it about the genre that excites you?
My stories have always had sex in them, even the novel published by DAW. Sex is such a primal drive and I just love the power inherent in desire, so I have always explore it, though edited out the explicit parts before submitting my work. Maybe if I’d left in the sex, I could have sold that epic fantasy! Long story short, my books didn’t attract an agent—but my erotic fiction, which I’d begun posting on a free site, was attracting readers. Well, I love having readers! So I wrote more erotica, because I’m a writer, a storyteller, and soon I thought maybe I should try to, you know, publish those stories. Other people were. Why not me?
I still write what I love. I create alternate world fantasies with deep world-building, high stakes, and richly developed characters—except now the characters happen to enjoy their sex on the page and romance figures more heavily in the plots. Best of all has been finding readers who enjoy what I do and with whom I can share positive portrayals of (mostly) human sexuality.
Erotic romance is also a young, vital genre that’s enjoying great success in the eBook world. I’m not sure whether or not Fifty Shades of Grey represents a change in the mass market, but erotica is a huge seller in the eBook universe.
Your novel Captive Heart is a M/F fantasy romance. What can you tell us about the two main characters and obstacles they face?
Captive Heart is a sexy, sweet (R-rated) romance about Julissa, a sheltered princess who finds herself not altogether reluctantly in the arms of Gaspar, the man who conquered her country. Having hot steamy sex is only the beginning of their problems, because Gaspar carries Julissa and her very large family off to his country of Uttor, where even worse enemies await. It’s set in a world where firearms are newly invented and gods are still alive and kicking. Gaspar’s a far from perfect hero (he has a big nose and makes some dreadful mistakes in judgment) and Julissa is my response to reading one too many sword-wielding princesses. She’s not trying to kick over the traces or be a rebel. Her battles aren’t physical. She has to be strong in quite different ways if she’s to survive. I’m very much a feminist, and I think that includes the right to enjoy female characters that aren’t kick-ass. I don’t think the only positive role models for human beings are those who wield swords and display attitude. Pluck and kindness have their place in the world.
Sorcerer’s Knot, a novella, is a M/M secondary-world fantasy. Where did the idea for this story come from? The worldbuilding?
I had been kicking around an idea for a story about a sorcerer who gets powerful magic from a sea creature, but it never quite came into focus and I shelved it. Earlier this year, my friend and fellow M/M writer, MA Church, got in touch with me about this anthology that wanted tentacle stories and wouldn’t it be fun to be in it together. I thought, hey! I could make my sea creature into a tentacle monster! I enjoy anime, not to mention Lovecraft’s classic Cthulhu tales, so I was off and running. Now the story’s about an ambitious and unscrupulous young wizard who seeks out a spellbound, desolate island inhabited by shipwrecked humans and the mysterious sorcerer whose spell has trapped them there—along with something that threatens to destroy them all. Clearly the theme is “be careful what you wish for.” At the same time, it’s a love story, about two damaged men who find in each other what they most need. Both men change and grow.
The world-building gave me the title spell of the story. A sorcerer’s knot is a spell that cannot be broken. Or can it? I created a magic system that answered the question: how does one obtain power over the sea in this world? And the answer led me to a sorcerer who needed to imprison something terrible and the spell he used to do it is where the title came from. Everything in the story stems from that spell: the hostile environment of the island, the people trapped there, the sorcerer’s pain and the protagonist’s flawed ambition. Even the erotic content exists around that spell. The story was a hoot to write.
When the anthology changed from pay to no pay before we submitted our stories, I sent Sorcerer’s Knot to Dreamspinner Press instead, on the chance they’d be interested in a strange, poetic fantasy about wizards and tentacle monsters. To my delight, they picked it up and artist Anne Cain gave it a first-rate cover. I hope readers enjoy it. And M. sold her novella—Nighttime Wishes, about an alien with tentacles—to Romance First and it was also released as a book.
Your M/M romances are typically read by a female readership. What do you see as the attraction as to why women enjoy this type of fiction?
I can’t speak for all women readers of M/M romance, of course, and anything I say will be a generalization, but I think one of the attractions is related to a point I made earlier about a shift in M/F romance. I was talking just the other day with a woman, someone I barely know, who grinned ear to ear when I said I write M/M romance. She was completely on board with it. Being curious, I asked her why she read it, and she said, “I’m fed up with usual romances. The woman is always perfect. And they don’t seem to like men!”
Now that’s interesting, because romantic women tend to like men. I read romance, too, lots of it, and I can see where this woman could get the impression of heroines not liking men. Not so much in historicals or fantasy, which are my hunting ground, but I’ve seen quite a few stories in which the heroine is perpetually sharp-tongued and dismissive of the hero. And that impression intersects with talks I’ve had with various people (female and male alike) about the Lifetime (channel) equation: “Woman good, man bad.” So I’ve come to think female readers are responding to the positive portrayals of men in M/M romance. At least, to portrayals they consider positive.
There are other reasons, of course. Many. Women have long had front row seats when it comes to being disenfranchised members of society, and some read M/M romance as part of their sincere support of GLBT rights and making society more inclusive. That’s one of my reasons. And women love sex, make no mistake about that, so some read M/M because they enjoy hot manlove.
What’s the kinkiest scene you’ve gotten past an editor?
That would have to be the tentacle sex/torture scene in Sorcerer’s Knot. And I didn’t really get it past the editors, because they caught it, all of them. I think every editor at Dreamspinner read that story! <laugh>
Where would you like to see your career in five years?
I would love to have built a readership, because for me writing is all about creating worlds and characters and stories for readers to enjoy. Let’s see… in five years, I hope to have written and released all the Captive Heart/Uttor cycle of romances in two series, launched a new series I have in my head for the Prince of Winds universe, have a M/M series about pirates, and have moved readers into my Triempery universe. I hope to be making enough money I can be proud of adding my income onto the tax return. But mostly, I hope I will have readers who enjoy my work and look forward to the next book.
“A German Storyteller”: When Zoie Apple of Fredericksburg, Texas purchases an old German-style oven from the Grimm brothers, she gets more than she bargains for. Enter Hank and Gretchen, two no-good punks with designs on Zoie’s oven-baked goodies. Don’t miss “A German Storyteller,” a retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” from the point of view of the oven!
“Imago”: On Ganymede, famous psivid artist Anthony Martel and the holographic illusion of his wife are not the celebrated couple they once were. Broke and desperate, Anthony is forced to gamble the essence of his dead wife in a game of Quombie. But is Kyla really his dead wife―or is she’s an imago? Don’t miss this cyberpunk thriller played out in a high-fantasy world of the human mind!
As the line from the Butthole Surfers' song goes: "Pass me some of that dumbass over there."
Now, as you’ve probably seen, I refrain from saying disparaging things on my blog about other people. I think it’s a good policy to have as there are way too many people who rush to judgment about others who think differently than they do. Still…
From now on when or if I say, “Pass me some of that dumbass over there” you’ll know where I got the line from.
Also, as some of you know, on occasion I like to put up a quintessential example of bad art: The 25 worst album covers of all time or The Worst Song Evar! To this I’ll add the song “Lady Sniff” by Butthole Surfers. The line I’m talking about is in the second verse when the music stops…if you can make it that far. It 1:40 seconds in if you’re impatient.
This is one of those ditties you’ll either love or adamantly hate. I love this song for its sheer badness!
For the last dozen or so years, Marissa Lingen’s fiction has appeared in a host of many diverse places: Tor.com, Analog, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Clarkesworld to name just a few. She’s also a reviewer at Tor.com. Marissa lives in Eagan, Minnesota, a south suburb of the Twin Cities. She blogs on LiveJournal as mrissa.
Could you tell us about your path to becoming a fiction writer? When did you begin and was it something you always knew you wanted to do?
I was one of those kids who was telling stories before I could actually write. My first few stories were dictated to my mom. Coming to it as a profession was another matter. I studied physics pretty seriously, even doing research as an undergrad. I kept writing in my spare time, though. I took writing classes in college partly to have writing time set aside in my schedule. Winning the Asimov Award—what they now call the Dell Award—was a huge deal for me. There's a big leap between writing stories and knowing other people will want them, and having Rick Wilber and the people at Asimov's saying yes, you are a real writer, you write real stories—that mattered a lot when I was 20 and trying to figure it all out. Grad school in nuclear physics turned out to be something I was not temperamentally suited for, and knowing that I actually could do this whole writing thing was really a good thing. I got some nonfiction freelancing work and kept sending out short stories. The rest is very, very gradual history.
In your story “Uncle Flower’s Homecoming Waltz” published earlier this year at Tor.com, Zal is a century dreamer whose uncle has just come back from the war. What was it that inspired you to tell this unique coming-of-age story about a young girl who can see into the future?
That story is for my godfather in a sort of backwards way. He's only 14 years older than me, and I remember him moving out to California when I was a kid. I remember what a big deal it was at holidays when Dave came home. I wanted to get some of that down on the page, but it required a reason for it to be exciting, because just somebody getting off the plane wasn't going to be enough. The other thing is, at 14 years older than me, Dave was the youngest of the next generation up, so he was someone who always took me seriously and didn't treat me like a dumb kid even when I was being one. So in some ways Uncle Flower's relationship with Zal is a tribute to my godfather because it's an inversion, it's what he didn't make me go through. All the stuff about foreknowledge and dreams and war, that came from what emotional context I wanted for the relationships.
On your website you amusingly say, “Like the bar in the Blues Brothers that has both kinds of music, I write both kinds of fiction, science fiction and fantasy.” Do you have a different approach to each? Does one come more naturally than the other?
I have different moods for each, more than different approaches. They both come very naturally. The differences for me are small and weird. For example, I tend to use my physics training a lot more when I'm writing fantasy than when I'm writing SF. (No, I didn't say that backwards. Quantum mechanics is the best training I know for magic.) Up until recently, I was writing longer fantasy and shorter SF, but I've started to have some longer SF ideas again, and that's been fun. Mostly, though, I start from character relationship and character voice, whether I'm writing SF or fantasy. And I like to write about characters who are trying to figure things out, whether those things fit with our world or with a magical one.
When crafting a story, what elements do you find the easiest? The hardest?
I am terrible—no, really, terrible—at describing setting enough. I always have to go back and revise in setting-description if a piece needs any substantial amount. It's not something I connect to very much in other people's work, but I know that other people do, and I know sometimes it absolutely needs to be there. So that part is hardest for me. Easiest is character voice. That's how I interact best with other work, and it's where my own comes most smoothly and easily. It's actually how I find my way into the harder parts: if I can get a character talking about how they see the world, that's much more useful than how I would see it. Even if it's not a first-person story.
Could you name a few of your literary influences and how they’ve affected your work? Who do you like to read for pleasure, guilty or otherwise?
I try not to feel guilty about my pleasures. I just like the things I like. I read a lot. Really a lot. But you've asked me how, so—Octavia Butler was one of the people who taught me how short stories could really go. I love her Blood Child collection. On a very basic level, Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire—their Norse Gods and Giants (which has been renamed D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths, probably for symmetry with their Greek thing) and Lloyd Alexander's The Kestrel shaped my brain when I was a small child. Err...in very bloody ways. People who object to exposing little kids to anything violent are probably recoiling in horror at that one. Emma Bull's War for the Oaks gave me a sense of rootedness in place, and then Pamela Dean's Tam Lin and Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary really reinforced my sense of friendships (particularly female friendships) and their importance in fiction. There's all sorts of other stuff I love to read but can't articulate how it's affected me at the moment. My favorite new discovery is historian Lynne Olson. I would not describe myself as a WWII buff, but Olson's stuff really grabs my interest. I also love Barbara Hambly's Benjamin January mysteries and Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri mysteries.
What’s the craziest thing that ever happened to you?
I don't tend to think of myself as leading a very zany life. This is entirely inaccurate. Last summer, for example, I went to pick Tim (timprov) up from the hotel where he was staying near his aunt and uncle's house in California, and while he was getting his things together, it developed into an armed hostage situation in another part of the hotel, and the police had to evacuate us, together with a Francophone family and a very fat dog, going through the back end of a car dealership, and there was a park ranger dispatched to take care of us, but they didn't actually give her tools, just her usual trail maps. This is the sort of thing my brain classifies as "not very zany really." (It's also the sort of answer that doesn't get me in trouble like answering with the name of one relative or another would.)
What are you working on now?
At the moment the big project is a young-adult spy fantasy. The main character is more into the direct spying stuff, and her little sister is the Q to her James Bond. I love to say this to tween and young teen girls, because so far every single one has lit up and bounced and told me which one they would want to be. That's a fun conversation to have. I also have short stuff going all the time. Probably the next thing I finish on that front will either be a science fiction thing called "The Curvature of Every Disorder" or else "The Salt Path," another short story in the universe of "Uncle Flower's Homecoming Waltz," but it's hard to be sure. Short stories mug me a lot. Also I can feel the next big project on the horizon like a prairie storm. It's going to be science fiction for adults, solar-system scale. I know several other pieces of what I'll need to know to make it work. I think it's going to be cool. So far I'm mostly turning over puzzle pieces for the research, though.
S. K. S. Perry is the author of two urban fantasy novels Darkside and Darkside: Waking the Dead. A sergeant in the Canadian Armed Forces, Steve’s writing has a true human warmth and singular wit. Both novels are available at Amazon.com and Smashwords. His short fiction has appeared at Strange Horizons and Ideomancer. He blogs on LiveJournal at sksperry.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself before we discuss your writing?
I’m just now rounding out 30 years of military service in the Canadian Forces. The stuff you’d like me to tell you about I can’t, and the stuff I can tell you about would bore you. I’ve got black belts in seven different martial arts, and I’m a pretty darn good drummer. My real name is Steve Perry, but there’s already some hoity toity SF writer who goes by that moniker, not to mention the singer for Journey, and some big Hollywood producer. Apparently I’m the only one with the name who hasn’t made anything of himself—yet. S.K.S. are my actual initials, and coincidently the name of a Russian carbine, so that makes me cool by default. I’m married to a wonderful woman who fully supports my writing and knows I’ll make it big someday. My Dad always said a man can do anything as long as he has a good, delusional woman to stand behind him, and help pay the bills.
Your path to becoming an indie writer came after pursuing the traditional route. Please tell us about that.
Nobody loved me. Well, that’s not true, a lot of people loved me, just not the right people—the ones who thought they could make money off my writing.
I’m lucky enough to have a lot of successful friends in the industry. Some were already famous when I met them, others started off in the trenches with me and went on to become successful, leaving me behind in the dirt. But I’m not bitter.
Anyway, a lot of these friends pushed my first novel, Darkside, in front of every agent they knew. That’s half the battle, by the way—actually getting an agent to read your manuscript. In a way, because of my friends, I managed to sort of/kind of skip the line, so to speak. Unfortunately the general consensus was, “We really like this, but there’s no market for humorous fantasy right now.” Maybe it was just a matter of timing, and if I had written the book now, in today’s market, it would have had a better chance. Maybe not.
But without an agent that meant submitting my book to the publishers’ slush pile, and there’s not a lot of publishers that allow that any more. I’m pretty sure those unsolicited manuscripts are filed right alongside the envelopes with suspicious powder in them. And did you know agents can submit your manuscript to multiple publishers at once, but if you’re submitting it on your own you can only submit to it to one publisher at a time? Seriously, it’s one of the Stupid Rules.
Baen held onto Darkside for over a year. At least the rejection, when it came, was personalized. The editor hated it. But, attached to the rejection letter was a note from what I can only assume was a few of the junior editors, basically saying, “Don’t listen to him! A lot of us loved this and that’s why we held onto it for so long.” They probably all work at McDonald’s now.
Anyway after a couple of years of this sort of thing, I happened to get a rejection letter on the day that just happen to coincide with International Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch Day. In a fit of pique (I always wanted to say that) I decided to post it, figuring at least someone would read it. I actually offered Darkside up for free for a few years, until friends convinced me to try selling it on Amazon.com. Hey, it worked for Amanda Hocking.
What can you tell us about your experiences with Amazon.com and Smashwords?
In a nutshell, when I finally decided to offer up Darkside as a Kindle ebook, it turned out Amazon already had one. It was even written by me. There it was, Darkside by S.K.S. Perry. Someone had represented themselves as me and published my book under my name, but to their account. It took me over 2 weeks to sort out, even after sending Amazon a DMCA take down notice. Amazon never revealed the perp’s name (that’s cop talk, eh?) nor reimbursed me for any money they may have collected, and to my knowledge no legal action was taken against the thief. Other than that they’ve been quite good, and send me a check every month or so. I tend to be forgiving of people who send me money.
What happened between me and Amazon.com actually got a lot of press. Initially Jim Macdonald related the story over at Making Light, and John Scalzi picked it up on his blog. From there it kind of went viral, to where the Guardian.uk featured it, and then all of its subsidiaries and so on. It actually would have been great publicity if not for the fact that only other writers read that stuff. Readers? Not so much.
And Smashwords? Well, even though it’s at least eleventy-four times easier to format your books for Smashwords, and they sell across a lot more platforms (Apple, Sony, Nook…even Kindle) I sell about 100 times more books at Amazon. And for some reason Smashwords acknowledges that they owe me money, they just won’t send it to me until I fill out some convoluted American tax forms. (I’m Canadian, eh?) Amazon doesn’t do that. Smashwords does, however, make it easier for you to offer specials and discounts on your books sold through them. Kindle only allows that if your books are sold exclusively at Amazon.com.
For new writers considering publishing their work in ebook form, do you have any advice? Pitfalls to avoid?
Go back, it’s a trap!
Seriously though, make your book as professional looking as possible. Commission cover art, hire yourself a good editor, or maybe more importantly a good copy editor. If it looks like a real book, readers just might think it’s a real book. And if you figure out a way to market it so that it stands out above the other thousand eBooks being offered up every day, let me know, will you? The only thing that seems to really affect your sales volume at the moment is volume—the more books you have for sale, the easier they are to find and the more you sell. That, and having Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga tweet about you. Neither one of them are returning my calls.
Both Darkside novels are a hellava lot of fun. How did these two novels come about?
I’m what we call an intrinsic writer, which is basically pretentious snob-speak for “makes it up as you go along.” When I started Darkside all I had was the opening paragraph, and the voice. Don’t ask me where the rest of it came from. Some of the characters are based on my friends. Charlie, the ogre is based on C.C. Finlay, although I don’t know if he knows that, so don’t tell him. The cop, Greg, in the second book is based on my childhood friend. The dog, Bear, was my pet when I was younger, and all the angsty stuff is me working out my issues. And Decker? Well he’s mostly me. He has my sense of humor. He’s just living a more interesting life. That, and I’m not dead.
I wrote Waking the Dead because I still had more to say about these characters. I still do. Plus I wanted to test the main protag’s limits more. I wanted to make things more difficult for him. Also, I’d read a lot about Celtic myths and heroes over the years and thought it might be fun to
Your latest novel is The Moonlight War. Tell us your plans for this book. How is it different than the Darkside series?
The Moonlight War is quite different from the Darkside series in that it’s a straight up heroic fantasy, hopefully along the lines of something David Gemmell might have written. There’s humor in it, but it’s not a humorous book per se, like the Darkside series. I guess you could say it’s a more serious book, more epic, although I wouldn’t call it an epic fantasy (because I hear those are hard to sell right now.) It has a large cast of characters, and hopefully the plot is one that unravels slowly, like a mystery. Of course I’ve added my own little quirks to the trope to make it my own. It’s also the first book in a proposed series, but works as a standalone.
I’m trying the traditional publishing route with this first, because marketing is our friend, and because even though I’ve had modest success as an indie author, there’s still a bit of a stigmatism when it comes to self-publishing. You’re kind of like that officer who’s never been to West Point. If, however, I don’t have any luck going the traditional route, I have no qualms about self-publishing it.
What was the craziest/funniest rejection letter you ever received?
I used to have this running gag with my friends that agents/publishers would save a lot of time if they’d just reply, “Steve, no.” One of them must have seen that on my blog, because they actually did just that. (I also developed a SASRL-self-addressed stamped rejection letter—because I was sure I could say nicer things about my work while turning it down than they could.)
Although the funniest rejection to me personally was the agent who told me they found my fight scenes unrealistic, and that maybe I should talk to someone who’s actually been in a fight before I tried to write about one. Given my background as a combat vet, unarmed combat instructor, bodyguard, and martial artist, I thought that was amusing. Although I suppose if your only experience with fighting was getting a severe wedgie and being shoved in your locker during high school, my stuff might seem far-fetched.
What are your plans for the future? What’s ahead for you and where would you like to see your writing life to be in five years?
I plan on being independently wealthy, or even dependently wealthy. I don’t really care whose money it is as long as they let me spend it.
My military career is pretty much at its end. Ideally, I’d like to be able to supplement my pension with my writing, so that I don’t actually have to work for a living. (Trust me, you can’t live on a military pension.) That and play in a little pickup band on the weekends.
And to be honest, I’d like to be able to make my living as an independent author. You have more control over your work, your career, and what you write. Of course if some publisher smacked me upside the head with a six figure deal I wouldn’t say no. (Read above re: independently wealthy.)
I’m currently working on book three of the Darkside series, plan on writing the sequels to The Moonlight War, and I have a space opera that needs renovating that I’d like to publish and write sequels to. If everything works out, I should have three series on the go by next year.
And more exciting interviews are scheduled for August and September. Stay tuned!
On the writing front:
I’m doing a final draft of my novel The Wedding Cortège. Yes, believe it or not, I wrote a high fantasy with princesses and knights and wizards and romance and…okay, the magical systems have an outré psychedelic bent—I just don’t call them that. It should be out in a month or so. Here’s the cover.
Some of you might remember that I interviewed Mike Allen here back in 2009. It pleases me to do this follow-up interview, this time focusing on Clockwork Phoenix 4 and his Kickstarter campaign to fund the project.
In addition to being the editor and new publisher of the highly acclaimed Clockwork Phoenix anthologies, Mike is also a writer and a poet. The Philadelphia Inquirer has described him as one of the better-known practitioners of speculative poetry. He's also the publisher and editor of the poetry journal Mythic Delirium. In 2008, his story “The Button Bin” was a finalist for the Nebula Award. He currently lives in Roanoke, Virginia where he’s an arts columnist for The Roanoke Times.
Could you tell us how you came to be the new publisher for the Clockwork Phoenix series?
I'm going to assume you're asking me how I became the publisher as well as the editor of three previous volumes in the Clockwork Phoenix series—I can't call myself publisher of the fourth book unless the Kickstarter campaign succeeds (see below.)
The full answer to this question is a bit sensitive and yet involves enough inside baseball to make your eyes cross, so I'll try to be succinct. The original publisher of the series fell on hard times and stopped paying royalties on the books, though they continued to sell at least a little bit. My publisher also never pursued creating e-book versions of the series. (Mind you, my publisher paid all the writers their advances and was always great to work with. I mean no disrespect in any way, shape or form.)
In late 2011 my wife and I both found ourselves worried for our financial security. Wracking my brain for what I could do to possibly make extra money, I decided to finally try my own hand at self-publishing e-books—at that time, not long before the Kindle Fire was expected to appear underneath Christmas trees all across the country, the fervor for indie publishing (hee!) had reached fever pitch. The first volume of Clockwork Phoenix remains my best selling book (not remotely the same as a bestseller, mind you) and converting it to e-book format seemed like a Captain Obvious directive. I worked out how to split the royalties with the contributors, got the original publisher's blessing and made it happen. I've since released e-Clockwork Phoenix 2 and the third one is nearly ready. So that was step one.
Step two occurred because another company expressed interest in becoming the publisher of the first three books in paperback. I discussed it with my original publisher, and we wound up agreeing that the best thing to do was for me to set up my own print-on-demand account and have the books transferred to me. So that happened, and suddenly I'm publisher as well as editor for all existing editions of the Clockwork Phoenix trilogy to date.
And I've always felt that the series has more to offer. So then came step three...
You’ve set up a Kickstarter project for CP4. What can you tell us about that?
Anthologies are expensive and short stories don't bring people running to the bookstore. I certainly on my own could not afford to foot the bill for one, much less take the financial risk of putting it out there to sell, without help. And yet I've talked to writers and readers who are hoping for a fourth volume. I want to make a fourth volume. I've had in mind for a while the idea of trying a Kickstarter...basically putting the questions out there: do you really want this? Will you help me make it happen?
So now I've taken the leap. What I can say as of this writing is that the results are really promising, but I'd be a fool to celebrate just yet. I'm ecstatic that the campaign is so much further than I thought it would be after one week in (we're just past $3,200 after eight days as I write this) and yet it's not fully funded, so there's still a real possibility of concluding this with $0, and thus no book. I can tell you this—a Kickstarter consumes your brain: the excitement, the worry, the constant checking for updates. If you want to try this yourself, be ready.
Now that you’re publisher of the series, will you be doing anything different editorially? If so, what?
In many ways it's too early to say—there's so much I don't know. In a perfect world this campaign shoots past $8,000 and I can pay ye old professional rate of 5 cents a word. If I can manage that, I don't know how it might change the stories I'd have to work with—if I get the funding to work with any stories. That question has to be answered ahead of anything else.
However, I can say that, if the book ends up a go, Anita and I will certainly shoot for the same mix of offbeat and beautiful and eerie works we did before, and arrange the stories to create a thematic narrative, just as with the previous volumes. We'll absolutely have an open call for submissions, just like before. I will probably dispense, however, with my weird prose poem introductions. I had fun doing those, I think they at least served the purpose of showing the reader how to watch for interconnecting themes, but I feel like I took that idea as far as it can go. It's time to shut off the wizard's glowing holographic head and step out from behind the curtain.
The Clockwork Phoenix anthologies have garnered much praise. What is it about them that excites you the most, gives you the most satisfaction?
I'm really happy with those three books from any number of angles. I'm proud that people recognized that we were up to something different there with our “interesting tales told in interesting ways” motif, and that all the stories got some kind of recognition for what our authors tried to do, whether it was an award nomination, a reprint in a “Best of” anthology or even just a nice nod from a reviewer. One of the best parts of reformatting the anthologies as e-books is that it's required me to go back and read them all. I love every story, and I love how they flow from one to the next. (The second volume has a childhood-to-old-age progression, while the third volume, for what it's worth, forms a circle, ending with the same words it begins with.) I love that we gave some new writers exposure they might never have had. I love that we got a lot of contributions from writers who had just reached or were about to reach new levels in their careers. I love that these books are packed full of surprises.
Switching to Mike Allen the fiction writer and poet, how does your approach differ between the two forms? Are you able to easily switch between the two or are you forced to write poetry and fiction at different times?
Though of course they're interrelated, I think my fiction comes from a very different place than my poetry, like the former is a left-brain process and the latter is a right-brain thing. It's not that I can't work on both at the same time, but they don't come together the same way. Poetry can involve a sort of travel by instinct, like abstract painting, even when the subject matter requires research, while fiction for me takes planning and mapping, or retroengineering after the full draft emerges. An example I can give to perhaps illustrate is my science fiction piece “Twa Sisters” in Not One of Us that resulted from artwork shown me by Patty Templeton and a challenge from Nicole Kornher-Stace to write a story the way I would a poem. Visual tricks with the text wound up being about the only thing it had in common with my poems. I wound up going crazy with surprise plot reveals rather than language, which I think is what Nicole was hoping for. At least Rich Horton said nice things about it in Locus!
Who are a few of your literary influences? Can you name a writer or three you’ve studied for craft? Who do you read for pleasure, or are the two the same?
Seems to me that these days I'm almost always reading works by people I know. I'm not sure I ever dreamed I'd reach a point in my life where just about everyone I know is an author. Most recently I read Chesya Burke's Let's Play White, a literary, very brutal, socially conscious horror collection, which I reviewed in the monthly “Tour of the Abattoir” column I record for Larry Santoro's Tales to Terrify podcast. If you're up for a challenge, try Nicole Kornher-Stace's Desideria. It's not an easy read, but it will bend your mind and she's an amazing sentence crafter. On my list there's Rose Lemberg's The Moment of Change anthology of feminist speculative poetry and horror writer Laird Barron's first novel, The Croning. My guilty pleasure though—not that it makes me feel that guilty—is hands-down Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series.
Influences? Well, from childhood, all the usual, Poe, Tolkien, Lovecraft, Ellison, Asimov, MacCaffrey, Le Guin, Zelazny. Tiptree shows up when I'm a teen, as does William Gibson, then later on Barker and Straub. King too. There's many, many more. Perhaps my watershed moment in regards to craft came from finally figuring out how to commit the idea to paper for what became my Nebula Award-nominated short story “The Button Bin” after reading Cormac McCarthy and Joe Hill back to back, though I'm not sure I could tell you why that particular combination did the trick.
Besides CP4, what other projects are you working on or have planned for down the road?
Well, the biggest news besides CP4 would be The Button Bin and Other Horrors, my first collection of short stories, that's coming out later this year from Apex Books. It gathers a number of my horror stories in one place, and it will include the debut of the nastiest piece I've ever written, a novella called “The Quiltmaker” that's a sequel to the collection's title story. Laird Barron has written an introduction to the book that just floors me. I feel like I'm so well known for poetry that people sometimes forget that I'm a fiction writer too, Nebula Award finalist or no. Maybe this book will finally fix that. We'll see.
There's another project I've been working on, fiction-wise, that I think is at least as big a deal, but as the i's are not crossed and the t's are not dotted, I'm afraid there's nothing more I can do than drop hints that it's considerably longer than a novella, involves music, magical fire, and the undead, and that it has the highest on-stage corpse-count of anything I've ever written.
And in all this hubbub, it's easy to lose track of my poetry journal, Mythic Delirium. The contents for Issue 27 are all set, with new poems from Ken Liu, Theodora Goss, Rachel Swirsky, Rose Lemberg, Sonya Taaffe, Shira Lipkin, Alex Dally MacFarlane and quite a few others. I hope to have that out in September, we shall see.
Tuesday, Mike Allen will be here talking about Clockwork Phoenix 4 and his Kickstarter project to fund the anthology. I hope you’ll tune in and spread the word about Mike’s project and the interview we’re doing here. And of course become a supporter of CP4.
Since breaking onto the SF writing scene in 2001, Ruth Nestvold has established herself as an accomplished writer of thoughtful speculative fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Realms of Fantasy, Sci Fiction, Strange Horizons, as well as several year’s best anthologies. In 2004, her novella "Looking Through Lace" was short-listed for the Tiptree Award and nominated for the Sturgeon Award. In 2007, the Italian translation Il linguaggio segreto won the "Premio Italia" Award for best work of science fiction or fantasy translated into Italian in 2006. Her short story "Mars: A Traveler’s Guide" was a finalist for the 2008 Nebula Award for Best Short Story. Born in Washington and raised in Oregon, she now lives in Stuttgart, Germany, where she works in technical translation and localization.
You can learn more about Ruth and her work at her homepage and her author’s page on Amazon.com. She blogs at What’s New – It’s a Writer’s Life.
What’s life like in Stuttgart? What’s the biggest difference between Germany and life in America?
Well, even though Stuttgart is the home of Mercedes and Porsche, you can get around very easily without a car, something difficult to imagine in a lot of big cities in the States. And they have affordable health care here, as in most of Europe. Otherwise, people watch a lot of the same movies and TV shows (just in German) and listen to a lot of the same music and eat at a lot of the same food chains. It's hard to get decent salsa, though, so I make it myself.
You’ve recently become an indie writer after years of publishing your work traditionally. What led to this decision?
I've been selling pretty well in the short story market for a long time now, but that hasn't been the case with novels. I'd written 3 1/2 novels (aside from the apprentice novel I shredded) before I was finally able to sell one, and that wasn't even to an English-language publisher. My novel Yseult, a retelling of the Tristan and Isolde legend, came out with Random House Germany in 2009 as Flamme und Harfe and was followed by translations into Dutch and Italian. But there was no interest in the English original from publishers. I was told at some point that there's no market anymore for Arthurian fiction. So when I got the rights back for the English last year, it seemed to me that made it a perfect candidate for an indie book. I published it in January, and in the last six months it's sold about 600 copies—not bad for a book without a market.
Tell us a bit about how your workday has changed as now you must wear the hat of publisher. How do you balance that role with that of writer?
I have to admit, that's something I'm still working on, balancing the publishing and marketing with the writing. I haven't quite figured it out yet, but I'm getting better. I try to make sure I get a minimum amount of writing done first each day before I go looking for stock images or format a new short story collection or schedule free promotions. The upside is that now I have my career in my own hands, I'm feeling much more energized about the writing again. But I definitely have to work on my organizational skills.
Do you have any advice for writers thinking about going indie or those just starting out at it?
I'm just starting out myself, when it comes right down to it! I published Looking Through Lace as an ebook last year, just to see what was involved, but I didn't do any marketing for it, and it sank like a stone. I didn't get serious about going indie until I brought out Yseult this year. Probably the best thing I did was to start visiting the Kindle Boards regularly. The folks there have way more experience than I do.
The main thing to realize if you're thinking of going indie is that it's a lot of work. And it's not free money either. Most of the books that sell best have professionally designed covers and are edited by professional editors. I'm lucky that I have so much previously published material and I don't have to hire an editor for every book. Editing is by far the biggest cost factor when going it on your own. My most recent ebook, Shadow of Stone (a sequel to Yseult), was not previously published so I needed an editor, and it's going to take much longer for me to start seeing a profit on that one than I did on any of my other ebooks.
You seem to have switched from writing science fiction to fantasy. Could you explain the switch and your thoughts on the two disparate fields?
That's not strictly true. I've been writing both from the beginning. What is true is that most of my novel-length ideas are fantasy rather than science fiction, and since I've been concentrating on novels more recently, it might look that way. But Looking Through Lace is one of my best-selling ebook titles, and I've returned to that universe to write more installments of interstellar cultural conflict, as a number of readers and reviewers have requested.
I love both genres and I don't want to stop writing either. They are both based on thought experiments, on the ability of the writer to give the world something original and different, something that will make the reader go "ah ha!"—sensawunda, to use the official term. Not that I think any of us is able to pull that off every time, but it's the goal we need to shoot for. For me, the difference between science fiction and fantasy is primarily in setting, which, of course, determines story.
In your series The Pendragon Chronicles, you’re exploring Arthurian legend in your own unique way. Why does this time period and mythology appeal to you, and could you give us a few thoughts to your approach?
I read The Once and Future King when I was a kid and liked it way better than Lord of the Rings. Probably ever since I've been a fan of Arthurian fiction. And when you think about it, the legends are a gold mine for writers. There are so many different characters and stories, it's no wonder the "matter of Britain" dominated the literature of the Middle Ages, throughout Europe.
My goal in writing Yseult and Shadow of Stone was to give the role of the female characters more emphasis and embed the legends in what is known of the historical period in which they originated, while at the same time maintaining a fantastical element. It's historical fantasy with an emphasis on "historical."
What are you working on now?
As I mentioned above, I'm working on another novella in the universe of Looking Through Lace, Beyond the Waters of the World, and brainstorming more potential storylines on Kailazh/Christmas. Other projects in various stages of completion include a steampunk tale in my own backyard in which Gottlieb Daimler plays a role, a novel on three narrative levels riffing off the Nibelungenlied, and a time-travel novel to the English Restoration revolving around the figure of Aphra Behn, the first professional woman writer in English literature.
What direction do you want to see your writing take creatively in the next five or so years?
I'd love to branch out into other genres, in particular straight historical fiction. In my research, I've come across lots of fascinating and relatively unknown historical figures, and I would really like to tell their stories. Not sure if I'll ever get around to it, though, since I have so many projects still to finish. Those have to come first, before I start tackling new material.
Starting this Tuesday, I’m kicking the series off again with author Ruth Nestvold. Ruth lives in Stuttgart, Germany and since 2001 her short fiction has garnered much attention. With the rebirth of indie publishing over the last couple of years, Ruth has delved into it to explore other options to traditionally published work. I’m excited about this first interview and I hope you’ll all “tune in.”
Since I’ve “gone indie” myself, much of the focus of these new interviews will be with authors exploring new pathways to publication. However, I’ll still be doing interviews with a variety of authors—traditionally published and indie—and editors of short stories and novel-length work.
I hope you enjoy these interviews and leave comments that make these writers feel at home in the Clubhouse. Thanks in advance!
Also available at Amazon.co.uk.
From the blurb:
JIMMY-DON AND THE TEXAS HILL COUNTRY ORDEAL - Book 1 in the Jimmy-Don/DHSL series
Right before leaving Nashville with his tail tucked between his legs, Jimmy-Don Autry picks up a stray piece of magic on his boot. His career as an outlaw country singer temporarily in the toilet, he returns to his hometown of Kerrville, Texas to lick his wounds. But when every magical gangster in South Central Texas becomes interested in him, he finds himself on the run, unaware that hidden in his custom-made cowboy boots is the legendary Kraftkugel, the power orb of German kobolds.
Destina Garza is not only an agent for the DHSL--the Department of Human and Supernatural Liaisons--in San Antonio, she’s also a poly-supernatural: a shapeshifting sorcerer/witch. When the Department’s augury team begins tracking a ne’re-do-well country singer's activities, Destina is assigned to get to the bottom of why various criminal groups are out to get Jimmy-Don. Having had a bad experience with a live-in boyfriend/musician, her patience for this Texas musician and his unorthodox ways is strained. And when it seems every thaumaturgic bad seed in the city is thrown into the mix, she wonders if she’ll live long enough to be promoted to district supervisor in the male-dominated DHSL.
I found uploading my fiction to Smashwords and Amazon for ebook a relatively simple task…while the learning curve for POD was frustrating at first. I wanted to tear my hair out getting the formatting correct. More than a few hours involved. But now that I’ve got it figured out, it’ll be easier from here on out. The advantage is, once you get it right on paper it stays that way. With ereaders it changes slightly from device to device. But all in all, getting Petrol Queen out on trade paperback was a hellava lot of fun. My own copy just arrived and it’s rather cool reading it like a…book!
This is one of the advantages of being an indie writer. I can put two novel series on the market at once, write and publish the sequels, and see which one works best. I’m well into Corona, the sequel to Petrol Queen, but I’m so amped to write Book 2 in the Jimmy-Don series, Jimmy-Don Does Del Rio. (Or as it’ll turn out, Del Rio does Jimmy-Don!)
Here’s the acknowledgements for Jimmy-Don, Book 1, which includes Super-Sekrit Friends stillnotbored, stillsostrange, selfavowedgeek and j_cheney:
First, to Jaime Lee Moyer for her stellar input, going over this with a fine-tooth comb and putting up with weeks of me walking around the house spouting Jimmy-Don bon mots and sundry. And Linda Steele, who catches what Jaime and I miss. Amanda Downum for German translations and Maria Deira for assistance with Spanish. (Any mistakes here are entirely my own.) Berrien C. Henderson for moral support and totally getting the outlaw-singer Jimmy-Don concept. And J. Kathleen Cheney, an expat Texan whose conversations about setting this first novel in El Paso led me to realize I needed to set this in my own backyard―which was when the writing really took off.
to my mom, the world’s biggest Gene Autry fan on either side of the Guadalupe River.
And allow me to show off my fancy yet sedate (Jaime says it's "classy") new logo. You know, DBA, etc. I was thinking about adding Houston, Dallas, Kerrville, Hooterville and Bugtussle like the Big publishing houses, but thought I'd keep it simple.
The trade paperback of Petrol Queen will be available soon!
Aeons ago dragons reigned in Amel-Gar. Today, Ziane Kont controls the precious J-fuel necessary for the war effort, secretly extracted and synthesized from the underground bones and magic of J-mu and her dragon weyr, the greatest of their kind. Now the spirit of J-mu lives on inside Ziane, forcing her to morph into dragon form, a curse soon to be passed down to her daughter.
Nineteen-year-old Lana Kont is in love with Dallon Jaser, her freshman history professor. But when her mother orders his execution, mother and daughter are pitted against one another as they bend the pollution-based sky-haints to assume dragon form and wage war in the sky.
Corona is a half-haint, an incorporeal being in constant danger of slipping off this mortal coil. When she becomes involved with the revolutionary group, the Agony Underground, she is caught between Lana and Ziane in their struggle for supremacy―a struggle that could destroy Amel-Gar itself.
In an instant, his mind was flooded with doubts. Had Janine hoodwinked him? Was she sitting at home, laughing at his naivety? Then he recalled that each of their previous encounters had taken place on her terms, not his.
Don’t have a Kindle? You can downloaded Kindle for PC here.
“Around the time he completed 1985's Warming Up to the Ice Age, his second wife committed suicide. Following the release of Warming Up to the Ice Age, Hiatt was dropped by Geffen Records.”
Talk about having a shitty time in your life. Whenever I think things aren’t going my way, when my life really sucks at the moment, I think about John Hiatt and try to put things in perspective. It's really helps! (Btw, eventually Hiatt remarried and signed a new deal with A&M Records!)
That story has stuck with me over the years, so I retold it and set it a few hundred years in the future:
“On Ganymede, famous psivid artist Anthony Martel and the holographic illusion of his wife are not the celebrated couple they once were. Broke and desperate, Anthony is forced to gamble the essence of his dead wife in a game of Quombie. But is Kyla really his dead wife―or is she’s an imago?”
A 6200-word story for only $0.99, available HERE.
I believe this is probably the best piece of short fiction I’ve ever written, yet I couldn’t find a home for it. So what went wrong?
I knew when I was writing “A German Storyteller” that it would have a difficult time finding a market. Still, the idea of retelling “Hansel and Gretel” from the POV of an oven made in a meth lab was too irresistible to ignore. Sure, I could’ve told it without the “sex and drugs and rock and roll,” but where’s the fun in that? Okay, there’s really no sex in it, but it is a counter-culture story, and those are almost impossible to sell in short SF/F nowadays.
Sure, I get it. Since the days of Hugo Gernsback our field has been rather conservative, though I thought the New Wave back in the '60s had changed all that. And that the cyberpunk/humanist wars of the '80s solidified it. Those battles should’ve already been won. Yet today, outside of a few stories that occasionally appear in F&SF and Asimov’s you hardly find anything that acknowledges counter-culture in anything but in a tamed-down half-hearted way. If that.
One reason for this might be that these new markets are mostly online zines and editors are cautious about what they put out on the Internet. Daily Science Fiction, since every story is sent to its subscribers by email first, comes readily to mind. Have you noticed how so many of the stories featured in DSF have a youthful protagonist, and the subject matter is almost always something that wouldn’t offend…well, anybody? Have you noticed how safe the stories are? Not that I’m professing fiction that offends only for the sake of shock value, but the fiction I’m prefer to read deals with “grown-up” themes and dances on the edge. If Leno or Letterman’s monologue―a good indicator to determine the current mood and tempo of America I’ve always felt―were somehow converted into a science fiction story, it would be too politically incorrect to be publishable in most of our zines.
Now, I realize that “A German Storyteller” is an in-your-face counter-culture story, one that looks at life in modern America with an acerbic irreverence, all while poking fun at the contrast between bourgeois values and society’s seamier elements―so perhaps that’s why it didn’t sell. And then again, maybe my story sucks. Perhaps I’m vain enough to think I could ever “get my cruddy music on the radio.” I don’t think that’s it, because the story did get passed up to a few editors desk’s and received some interesting rejections. And art will always be subjective.
In the long run it’s no big deal that I couldn’t find any takers for this particular piece at the pro and semipro level. But as I said, I hardly see any of this type of story being published today. I do, however, see mainstream/literary short fiction using these elements frequently, which makes me wonder if SF/F will ever shake its “this stuff is for children and always will be” stigma?
I’m not exactly sure what the problem is or why the current markets are so cautious and their offerings so tame. Some of it might be that the new SF literati is trying so hard to be noticed by the mainstream that they’ve become very rigid and conservative, a conservatism they purport to loathe. Some of it might be political correctness taken to an extreme by those who seem to take everything so seriously they’ve lost their perspective. (Yeah, I know, we’re not supposed to use the term “Political Correctness” anymore. You know who says that? People who don’t like having their overzealous attitudes pointed out, that’s who.)
This is not to say that there aren’t any counter-culture elements or themes of an “adult” nature being employed in our field. But it’s almost exclusively in the novel market. Some urban fantasy (Stacia Kane gets it right in her Chess Putnam series). Even a bit of high fantasy. Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel novels have much in common with the hottest selling mainstream book at the moment, Fifty Shades of Gray.
So what’s up with SF/F short fiction? Why has it become so hidebound and conservative? In the past, short fiction used to be the place for a fair amount of experimentation, a home for the outré, a place where writers and editors were willing to take chances. You know, the Dangerous Visions kind of stuff. Nowadays that’s laughable.
I can’t do much of anything as a reader but bitch, but as a writer I now have a new and formerly unacceptable option: self-publishing. So for a limited time I’m offering “A German Storyteller” for free in hopes of finding a larger audience for this kind of thing. Because, despite all the rejections, I believe this might very well be my best story. As well as being a totally new take on revisionist fantasy.
I’ll leave you with this anecdote:
The rejection I got from a certain online semipro zine was the funniest of all. (Hint: it rhymes with “necromancer.”) I never got past the slush reader there as she thought the humor was “demeaning to drug addicts and prisoners.” I’m still laughing at that one. My inner circle is laughing, too. One friend pointed out that the slush reader probably thought I was some straight white guy writing about something I knew nothing about. That the slush reader had no idea that I’ve actually lived the lifestyle. It’s not like I mentioned my youthful bohemian behavior in my cover letter, so who knows? But I assure you I’ve...can we just call those alternate-lifestyle experiences “research”? Works for me.
If you find the above rejection amusing, “A German Storyteller” might be just for you. It’s a retelling of “Hansel and Gretel” like none before it. And for a limited time (three days as per the KDP Select program option), it’s free for Kindle on Amazon.com.
Your patronage is appreciated. And if you’d like to help spread the word, that would be great, too. Thanks in advance.
Frank Zappa quote (circa 1969): “I think a revolution―not the sloppy kind, but the kind that really works―you know, it's about time for that. The sloppy kind is blood-in-the-street and all that bullshit. Today, a revolution can be accomplished by means of mass media, with technical advances that Madison Avenue is using to sell you washing machines and a loaf of bread and everything else. This can be used to change the whole country around painlessly.”
Well, it happened and it didn’t. The hippies grew up and became yuppies, and because of all the “free love” they shamelessly engaged in at Woodstock, they found they had kids to feed. Hence, many of them joined Corporate America to pay the bills.
Me, I was only ten during the Summer of Love (1967) and I didn’t grow fully into my own rebellion until the punk movement came along in 1977. And then came the Reagan years, and then the Grunge movement and Bill Clinton as an answer to that. And then came the Internet!
But hey, I get these new right-wing ultra-conservative born-again Republicans (and some Democrats like Tipper Gore) in America today. Really I do. I know what’s got their knickers in a twist. We used their parents’ vast media machine and our own tools (All in the Family, Saturday Night Live, etc.) to threaten their cherished way of life when we kicked June and Ward Cleaver to the curb.
Frankly, they’re scared. You can see it in Rick Santorum’s eyes. In Michele Bachmann’s phony smile. In Sarah Palin’s… Hum, I’m not exactly sure what she’s been smoking. In any event, their cherished values are on the brink of extinction, of being snuffed out forever. They’re fighting back with everything they’ve got! If they have one saving grace, it’s that they haven’t discovered bingo cards...yet.
Proposed solution: So as not to totally eradicate my parents’ culture, perhaps we could build a few museums dedicated to the ways of yore. As to June and Ward Cleaver... As long as such cultural venues as Nick at Nite are around, Leave It to Beaver will be preserved for future generations.
I’ve got my own bingo card, but it only has one box so far.
“Seven time-travel tales of gonzo decadence. What has happened to some midget cast members from The Wizard of Oz? What if a fruitcake held the destruction of human history? Three temponauts in a time-travel experiment that goes horribly wrong. How Billy the Kid joined forces with H. G. Wells to defeat Jules Verne. And a cowboy Western with outrageous visitors from the far future.”
Seven time-travel stories for only $2.99.
My first collection, Bullet and Other Stories, contains the stories that received the best acceptance by the field. This collection contains some of my more twisted, offbeat stuff, so I have a special fondness for this one. Here’s the opening line from the lead story:
“Once upon a time there was a little sidepocket universe consisting only of midgets who had been harvested from the Golden Age of Hollywood.”
Here’s the ToC:
Billy the Kid (A Bedtime Story)
Edward’s Second Shot
Mud Wrestling in a Distant Land
About the Author
Here’s the Acknowledgements for my upcoming collection Pandering Dwarves and Other Time-Travel Tales. If I missed anyone…they’ll be more collections and novels coming!
First, Jaime Lee Moyer, Linda Steele and Oz Drummond for their thoughtful beta reading. Paul Di Filippo for his help with the Introduction and for being an inspiration in how to write truly weird, twisted fiction with a heart and a soul. Vincent Wright, my life-long pal whose early influence suffuses so much of my work. Angela Slatter for her support of my career and writing. E. Catherine Tobler for her singular wit, cupcakes and more. And Berrien Henderson, T. J. McIntyre and Vaughan Stanger, my three LiveJournal buddies who seem to “get me” best.
I wanted to name this collection Pandering Dwarves and Other Decadent Time-Travel Tales, but that was about one word too long. Why “decadent,” you might ask?
Ever since I read John Kessel’s “The Pure Product” in Asimov’s back in 1986, I’ve been fascinated with the theme. Kessel’s story tells of a man from the future, living in our time as a historian in Canada. For his two-week vacation, he comes to America for a holiday replete with cons, murder, a futile suicide attempt and philosophical musings. Thing is, he’s seen so much in life across the time-lines, he’s not only frustrated but rather bored by it all. The sardonic wit and wry tone of the piece filled me with a senseawunder like I’d never experienced before in SF.
Kessel wasn’t the first to write such a story. To my knowledge, the first decadent time-travel story was published in Astounding Science Fiction way back in 1946. “Vintage Season” by C. L. Moore also tells of visitors from the future, coming back as tourists to witness a historical disaster. For them, the past is one big party, no matter how horrible for the natives of that time.
“Vintage Seasons” is one of the select stories in our field that can truly be called great, and it still holds up today. Robert Silverberg was so enamored with Moore’s story that he wrote a companion piece to it entitled “In Another Country.” In 1990 both stories were released as a Tor Double.
Two things fascinate me about this theme. First, is its unique way of looking at humankind. How a future society, one not totally unlike our own, seems so alien in its depravity yet so similar. How the ability to control time and life expectancy could change one’s outlook on morality. Such narratives say something about our past, our present, and where we might be going as a species. It’s also, if you’re of an atypical mindset, a lot of good clean twisted fun.
These three stories above have stuck with me so over the years, that eventually I knew I’d have to try my hand at one as well. Turns out I riffed on the theme more than once. While not all the stories in this collection are truly decadent, “Pandering Dwarves” certainly is. That Hub Magazine published it in 2009 still tickles me. This was a story that “couldn’t be published.”
“Mud Wrestling in a Distant Land” is a 500-word flash piece taken from a throwaway flashback in “Pandering Dwarves.” When editor Adam Lowe bought it for Polluto, he told me in email what his acquisitions editor said: “Just when you think you've read the strangest idea for a story, another one beats it. I liked it, short, snappy and funny.” I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who found it funny. Half the time I’m horrified by it ... until I start laughing again.
“Carousel Cowboys” is one of the few novelettes I’ve written (10,400 words) and it definitely falls into the decadent time-travel category. Though dark in places, it’s indicative of my style: suffused with hope and humor, because life isn’t always a grim affair to be suffered through. It’s a cowboy story, a technological Western with depravity, learned loyalty and bite.
For a lighter fare, I’ve included “Billy the Kid (A Bedtime Story), a mishmash of history and gonzo weirdness. I’ll let you decide for yourself how the other three stories here fit into the decadent-gonzo humor coefficient.
These seven offerings are me playing around with the time-honored tradition of time-travel in science fiction. Hope you groove on what I’ve done with Mr. Peabody’s WABAC Machine.
Young writer runs off to university to learn their craft.
Young writer is somewhat embarrassed by their bailiwick (SF/F), because the university literati looks down their noses at such fare because entertainment is a vile, base thing.
To combat this, young writer incorporates all the literary theory crammed into their brain as an undergraduate into their fiction.
Finding a headful of literary theory not enough, young writer realizes it’s the approach and tone of their fiction that needs to be altered.
Young writer turns to dark themes with a proliferation of symbols such a black birds (ravens, crows) to alert the reader that serious themes such as Death will be addressed because young writer wants, oh so desperately wants, to be taken seriously.
Young writer forgets that fiction is foremost about interesting people and how they deal with the horrible things that happen to them (plot and character).
In a desperate attempt to prove that their bailiwick can rise to “art,” young writer forgets that it’s important to have something noteworthy to say.