Monday, November 24, 2014

BLACKGUARDS and Ragnarok Publications

Now and then as I'm surfing the Internet and trying to find new and interesting things to confuse myself with, I run across a possible anthology I consider submitting to and bookmark it. Back around last September I did exactly that for an anthology called BLACKGUARDS.

The premise was cool. Here was an anthology that wanted to take the less-than-savory characters from published book series and tell tales about them. 

"Swift from the shadows, comes an 'edgy' anthology featuring sundry tales of roguish types—assassins, mercenaries, thieves—many of whom are already established in your favorite fantasy series. We have a full roster of authors from indie sensations to New York Times bestsellers, and all the stories are turned in." Neat premise, kind of like a sampler from a dozen or so different established worlds. You get to read the writers, see if you like their stuff and maybe even discover a new series or twelve that you can't live without. Of course, I saw that all the stories were turned in and shrugged my shoulders. 

Now that sounds like the end of the game, right? Only they had two slots opened for other authors. Ragnarok was doing something just a little different than what you normally run across. They decided to let other people play in that sandbox. I'd have been delighted but there was no way in hell I was making that deadline. Why? Because it was too close and by the time I could have done a story the deadline would have already passed. 

You win some, you lose some. 

On with life. 

And then I went to the World Fantasy Convention in DC this year and I ran across the editors/publishers for this particular beast, Joe M. Martin and Tim Marquitz (who also has a tale in the book at the insistence of Mr. Martin). They were cheerful and enthusiastic and we had a talk about BLACKGUARDS. Joe looked at me and said it was a shame they couldn't get hold of me when they were working out the book because they would've loved a tale from the Seven Forges. 

I'm paraphrasing here:

Me: When is the deadline?

Joe: We're laying out the book next week.

Me: So I'll have a story for you.

Joe was a bit surprised and very pleased. 

I was screwed. Deadlines all over the place, but who cares? I wanted in. 

Why, you ask? Because I WANTED IT!!! My God what a great concept for an anthology! I mean, first, I have roughly a trillion ideas for Seven Forges short stories. Second, the anthology concept would let me play with one of my favorite characters from the series who simply has not been getting enough limelight (That would be Swech, who is currently in hiding in enemy territory) and would allow me the chance to play in one hell of a cool sandbox. 

So I turned in my story. It's called "What Gods Demand," and is just over 7,000 words in length, and there are many corpses before the tale is done because, damn it, Swech is one mighty mean lady when it comes to combat. 

When I announced my inclusion, by the way, several writers were a bit disappointed because that meant they were NOT included in the anthology. 

Heh heh heh, guess again.

I spoke to Joe a little while ago while doing some fact checking on this here article (I do that from time to time) and he told me that there are actually not two slots. There are TEN slots. 2 for the main book and 8 for the e-book companion anthology that is being included for the Kickstarter funders who helped make the entire thing possible. Currently he's whittled the numbers down from 261 tales to 35. That's a lot of careful selection going on and I for one can't wait to see the final results. 

Currently, the tome weighs in at approximately 165,000 words. That's not including the final two stories that are still being selected. If you add in the eBook companion and those other two stories with an average word count around 5,000 words each, by the way, you're looking at over 200,000 words. Ni-ice.

Here's the cast as it stands right now, with at least two more stories coming along.

• CAROL BERG, "Seeds"  
• RICHARD LEE BYERS, "Troll Trouble" 
• DAVID DALGLISH, "Take You Home" 
• JAMES ENGE, "Thieves at the Gate" 
• JOHN GWYNNE, "Better to Live than to Die" 
• LIAN HEARN, "His Kikuta Hands" 
• SNORRI KRISTJANSSON, "A Kingdom and a Horse" 
• JOSEPH LALLO, "Seeking the Shadow" 
• MARK LAWRENCE, "The Secret" 
• TIM MARQUITZ, "A Taste of Agony" 
• PETER ORULLIAN, "A Length of Cherrywood" 
• CAT RAMBO, "The Subtler Art" 
• LAURA RESNICK, "Friendship" 
• MARK SMYLIE, "Manhunt" 
• KENNY SOWARD, "Jancy's Justice" 
• SHAWN SPEAKMAN, "The White Rose Thief" 
• JON SPRUNK, "Sun and Steel" 
• ANTON STROUT, "Scream" 
• MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN, "Professional Integrity"
• DJANGO WEXLER, "First Kill"
• ANTHONY RYAN, "The Lord Collector" (novella)
• PAUL S. KEMP, "A Better Man"
• JEAN RABE, "Mainon"
• JAMES A. MOORE, "What Gods Demand"

And the entire grimoire will be edited by J.M. MARTIN. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A few new reads I recommend.

I’ve read two amazing novels in the last few weeks.
That’s a rarity for me. The two part I mean. These days, if I’m really lucky, I can manage a novel in about three weeks on the average. I mean, full time day job and my own writing and that eats a lot of my day away. Some books make me break my rules and spend more than fifteen minutes at a time reading and both of these  managed that feat nicely. 
The first of the amazing books was Tim Lebbon’s THE SILENCE. As happens from time to time the publisher asked if I might consider reading an early copy and saying something nice about it. I told them I’d be delighted to read it. I never promise nice words, because sometimes the books sent are…less than spectacular.  While I do not publish bad reviews of books, I also do not like to lie about the quality of what I’m reading.
Now to be fair, I know Tim Lebbon and I know his work. I’ve never run across one of his tales I did not enjoy. Some I liked more than others, as is always the case, but so far there have been no lemons in the crowd.
THE SILENCE is no exception. It’s a damned solid piece of work about the end of the world. Novels of the apocalypse happen. Tales of how the world as we know it have been around almost as long as there’s been a world and a way to communicate the idea. Lebbon has done end-of-the-world before and done a mighty fine job with it. In particular I’ll point to WHITE which is a deeply disturbing tale of monsters hiding in the frozen cold and taken out humanity one step at a time. Deeply disturbing stuff, and until recently I would have called it the best work Tim Lebbon has done to date.
Now? I have to give that title to THE SILENCE. The story is intimate, told through the eyes of one family, a father and daughter to be precise. To add to the matter part of the story is told in the third person and part in the first. It’s a lovely trick for differentiating the narrators and perspectives and I liked it a lot.
I’ll not give away the plot. I’ll only say that the intimacy makes for a novel that is both horrifying and at time softly beautiful. All the carnage in the world means nothing without an emotional impact and Lebbon does a truly wonderful job of making every moment in the book count and every sacrifice great and small a potent jolt to the system. He also shows us exactly how easily society might crumble when the simplest luxuries are taken away from us.
A profoundly disturbing tale by Tim Lebbon. I cannot recommend THE SILENCE enough.

The other book that blew me out of the water was HALF A KING by Joe Abercrombie.  I’ve gone on about Abercrombie before. My friend Charles Rutledge suggested the man to me and loaned me a few books. I read the first chapter of THE BLADE ITSELF and was immediately hooked. Abercrombie knows how to write and more importantly knows how to tell a solid tale. Fantasy can be a nightmare in its own right. You have to do a lot more world building in a full on fantasy series than you do in most horror or mainstream work. If it ain’t set on this planet, things are going to get tricky, and Abercrombie handles they challenge better than most. Not too much information at one time but rather enough slow reveals to let the world develop without even really noticing that it’s happening. That’s a skill, folks, and a mighty rare one. Not a once in one of his books did I get bogged down in wasted details or lost for the lack of important knowledge.
HALF A KING is a story about a young prince who gets his life turned around completely by the death of his father the king and his older brother, who should be lined up to take the king’s place in case of emergency as it were. When they both die at the same time, our hero—if I can safely call him that, as most of the characters in an Abercrombie novel are well and properly human when it comes to their moral compasses, which is to say flawed—is stuck dealing with the consequences of a life he never wanted. And from that moment on his life goes downhill at a frightening pace.
I won’t reveal much more than that. I loathe reviews that tell you what happens to the point of ruining possible surprises. What I will say is that Abercrombie is in top form here, working with deft skill to show a new world, to let us know what we need to know, and offering up several surprises that I genuinely did not expect.
Some of the most profound characters that Abercrombie creates are the sorts that we should not cheer fro and yet we find ourselves enjoying just the same. He is adept and making characters we could easily love to hate, and many of the players in HALF A KING easily qualify along those lines.  
HALF A KING is a shorter novel for Abercrombie. That doesn’t make it any less complex or rewarding. Top notch stuff and highly recommended for anyone who loves a good story.