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Joe Hill: All in the Cult

Joseph Hillstrom King was born June 4, 1972 in Bangor ME, son of writers Stephen & Tabitha King. He attended Vassar College, earning a degree in English in 1995. He married Leanora Legrand in 1998 (divorced 2010), and they have three children.

He chose to write under the pen name Joe Hill to obscure the connection to his famous parents and make it on his own merits. He began writing stories and novels after college, publishing a few mainstream and fantasy pieces starting in 1996, many of which are gathered in his debut collection 20th Century Ghosts (2005), a Crawford Award winner. A novella collection, Strange Weather, is forthcoming in 2017. Hill was guest editor for the first volume of The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy anthology series in 2015.

Hill is also a comics writer, best known for his dark fantasy series Locke and Key, with artist Gabriel Rodriguez (2008-2013). Another collaboration with Rodriguez, Tales from the Darkside, is forthcoming.

Hill’s first novel, supernatural thriller Heart-Shaped Box (2007), was a commercial and critical success and launched him to prominence. Other novels include Horns (2008; adapted as a film in 2014) and N0S4A2 (2013; as N0S4R2 in the UK). His latest novel is The Fireman, released this month.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘The crazy author archetype is bullshit. Leading up to Heart-Shaped Box I’d written four books I couldn’t sell. I’d made this decision to write as Joe Hill, to drop the last name King, and to fight into the publishing world on the merits of my own fiction, as opposed to letting my dad’s name open doors for me. That was a terrific time, and great fun. I wrote a lot of bad fiction that never got published. Three of the four novels were pretty terrible. The first novel you write is a tremendously important novel to you, but whether any reader will actually want to look at it is another story. The idea that you could write a bestselling novel your first time out is like imagining you could pick up a tennis racket and play at Wimble­don. It’s a ludicrous notion. You’ve got to lose a thousand games before you’re going to win at that level.”


‘‘The Fireman is a story about the planet catching on fire. It’s about a spore that infects human beings very easily. The spores grow on you, and it’s beautiful – like a black tattoo with gold speckling. People call it ‘dragonscale.’ But when you feel stress, you start to smolder, and if you can’t control your emotions, you burst into flames and die of spontaneous combustion. The spore is virulent, people don’t know why it’s spreading, and it’s impossible to treat – it’s hard to treat an illness when hospitals keep burning down. There’s a fire on every street corner, every hospital’s an inferno, and in the midst of this, one young woman named Harper contracts the illness at roughly the same time she discovers she’s pregnant. Because she’s done a fair amount of medical reading, she knows the baby will likely be born healthy. She determines to stay alive long enough to deliver her child safely. In the course of looking for a way to survive her own infection, she comes across an almost mythic figure called the Fireman, who is himself a carrier of dragonscale, but rather than being terrified by his own infection, he’s embraced it, and learned how to control it to a degree. The novel is about how Harper and the Fireman be­come friends and struggle to survive together in a world that’s burning down around them. That’s the elevator pitch, if the elevator ride was not real fast.”


‘‘My novel Horns is about a man who’s blamed for the murder of his girlfriend even though he didn’t actually commit the crime. Everyone in this small town believes he was the killer, so he is demonized by them. One night he gets drunk, and he goes out and curses God, and the next morning wakes up and discovers he’s growing a pair of horns, and he’s inherited all the powers of the devil. That book is the most different from all my other work of anything I’ve written. That’s the closest I’ve come to pure magical realism, like we’re familiar with from Borges and Calvino. We never find out why he grows the horns. He didn’t read some Satanic Book of the Dead and write his name in blood. I never explain it, and the truth is, I never cared. To me, the horns and his power are a manifestation of his inner feelings, how he felt about himself: demonized, hated, like the devil. A lot of people like the book, but one of the criticisms I heard, especially as it became a movie, was, ‘Why does he get the horns?’ I heard this from film pro­ducers over and over. ‘Why does he get the horns?’ When I talked to Daniel Radcliffe, who plays the lead, about it, he said the reason he wanted to do the movie was because it’s never explained how he gets the horns. He wanted to do it because it’s magical realism. Those are the words he used. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, he gets it.’”


‘‘I’ve written for TV, short stories, novels, comic books, and of all of it, and what I like the best is comic books, by far. I love writing comics. I could give up all the rest of writing, if I could hold onto that. I’ve taken the last couple of years off of writing comics because it’s so much fun. It’s not hard like writing a novel. Novels are hard, but I think some­times this should be hard. You want to wrestle with those other literary forms and try to win. You want to come out with something that’s really satisfying and rich. Deciding to write a novel is accepting that you can’t have instant gratification. There’s so much instant gratification in the comic form. You write it, it’s drawn, and three months later it’s on the stands and people are responding. With a novel it’s more like four years of effort. Writing for comics is also like being in a band. There’s this harmony. Gabriel Rodriguez is one of my best friends in the world – he’s like a brother to me. I love Chris Ryall, our editor, and Jay Fotos the colorist, and Robby Robins who does the lettering – you feel like you’re in The Rolling Stones. I think I’m like the drummer, and Dave is the lead guitarist, and Robby is obvi­ously the lead vocalist. I just write something, and Gabe sends me a page of art which is better than I imagined. We feed off each other’s energy. Writing a novel is very isolating by comparison. There’s so much self doubt. Every day you have to fight your self doubt all over again. But if you just do comics, the danger is you will lose the skills necessary to write a short story or a novel. The knife will grow dull. I love comic books as a reader too, but I also love novels and short stories, and I read a lot more novels than I do comic books. (I talk this good talk about stepping away to do the hard work of novels, but I’m working on another issue of Locke & Key. It’s going to be a standalone story, probably out around October.)”


‘‘There’s going to be another book in 2017 called Strange Weather. It’s a collection of four novellas – in that way it’s a little bit like my dad’s Different Seasons. Three of the novellas are previ­ously unpublished. The fourth is called ‘Snapshot 1988’, and that’s being published in a special issue of Cemetery Dance this summer. That will be a sort of Fireman promotional issue, with an excerpt from the book and an interview. Usually it’s been three years between books, so it’ll be kind of cool to have another book out just a year or 18 months after The Fireman. Three of the novellas are in varying states of completion, and the fourth I’m still writing, but I know what it is. I’m also working on a screenplay for Locke & Key, because we’re going to take another stab at the TV thing. After that I think I’m going to write the rest of Gunpowder, a SF novel I started for PS Publishing. The Fireman is like Michael Crichton science fiction, but Gunpowder is like Arthur C. Clarke science fiction – it’s got spaceships and distant planets. I’m looking forward to getting back to that. I have a contract with William Morrow where I’m on the hook for a book of short stories. I like the idea of completing that contract, and then having some time to think about what I’m going to do next – to not have to write something under deadline to contract. For years I was always under the gun for the next deadline, and it’s refreshing to retire from that relentless pace and see what I feel like writing.”


‘‘For the longest time there has been this fight about what has more value, genre fiction or literary fiction. The truth is, we won the battle. We won it a decade ago, if not longer. There is mainstream ac­ceptance for Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, John Lethem – the list goes on and on. Salman Rushdie, for goodness’ sake. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror elements are all over mainstream literature and have been for years and years. The people who don’t like it are the Donald Trumps of genre fiction: they want to build a wall between us and the rest of the world. I can’t be in favor of some kind of walled city state where sci­ence fiction and fantasy meet. I don’t want it. After I read one of John Scalzi’s books I said, ‘Oh, he’s writing science fiction for the rest of us.’ It was fun. The pages flew. You liked the characters, and you understood the situation. The tech all made sense. It was full of laughs. There’s nothing wrong with writ­ing science fiction or fantasy or horror that doesn’t alienate the casual reader. I think in a world where The Walking Dead is the most popular thing on television, closely followed by Game of Thrones, and the biggest hit film of the last year was The Force Awakens, we’ve got the trifecta right there. We’ve got horror, we’ve got fantasy, we’ve got sci­ence fiction. If only the cultists were watching those shows and movies, none of those productions would be successful in the way they are. The truth is we’re all in the cult now.’’

Peter Straub: Interior Darkness

Peter Francis Straub was born March 2, 1943 in Milwaukee WI. He earned a BA in English from the University of Wisconsin in 1965, an MA from Columbia University in 1966, then returned to Wisconsin to teach English at his former prep school for three years. In 1969 he moved to Ireland and began work on a PhD at University College in Dublin, but did not finish. He published two books of poetry in 1972, Ishmael and Open Air, and his first mainstream novel, Marriages, in 1973. At the suggestion of his agent, Straub decided to try ‘‘gothic fiction’’: first horror novel Julia appeared in 1975, and was later filmed as The Haunting of Julia. If You Could See Me Now (1977) followed, but his breakout novel was the bestselling Ghost Story (1979), later a film. His next supernatural novels were Shadowland (1980) and British Fantasy Award winner Floating Dragon (1983), followed by a few linked works that were mostly non-supernatural: novella Blue Rose (1985) and World Fantasy Award winner Koko (1988), Mystery (1990), and Stoker winner The Throat (1993). The Hellfire Club (1997) was a thriller, and Stoker winner Mr. X (1999) was a return to the supernatural. lost boy lost girl (2003) won a Stoker and a World Fantasy Award, and sequel In the Night Room (2004) won a Stoker. A Dark Matter (2010) won a Stoker, and novella A Special Place (2010) concerns some of the same characters. Straub collaborated with Stephen King on The Talisman (1984) and sequel Black House (2001).

His short fiction has been collected in Houses Without Doors (1990), Stoker winner Magic Terror (1997), 5 Stories (2007), The Juniper Tree and Other Stories (2010), and retrospective Interior Darkness (2016). Notable stories include World Fantasy Award-winning novella ‘‘The Ghost Village’’ (1992), Stoker and International Horror Guild Award winner ‘‘Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff’’ (1998), and Stoker winner ‘‘The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine’’ (2011). Some of his non-fiction was collected in Sides (2006).

He edited HWA anthology Peter Straub’s Ghosts (1995), Conjunctions 39: The New Wave Fabulists (2002), the Library of America volume H.P. Lovecraft: Tales (2005), Poe’s Children (2008), and two volumes of American Fantastic Tales for the Library of America; the latter won a World Fantasy Award. His work is discussed in At the Foot of the Story Tree by Bill Sheehan (2000). An occasional actor, he appeared on a few episodes of soap opera One Life to Live from 2006-2009.

Straub was named a World Horror Grandmaster in 1997, won a Stoker award for life achievement in 2006, was named an International Horror Guild living legend in 2008, and received a life achievement World Fantasy Award in 2010. He married Susan Bitker in 1966; they have two children (including writer Emma Straub) and live in New York.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘It had been an unusually long time since I’d published a book, and I thought I had better do one just to remind people I was still breathing. It also occurred to me that, at my age and stage, a ‘Collected Stories’ made sense. I proposed the idea to my agent, who instantly pointed out that a collected stories would be way too much book. He said, ‘I think you should do a Selected Stories.’ I thought that was every bit as good, especially when I looked at how much I had and how quickly those pages added up. My problem being that very often when I intend to write a story, it takes on some of the ambitions of a novel, and pretty soon I am describing the characters’ grandparents, the house they moved into before they moved into the house they lived in now, what their younger brothers are doing, and what goes through their minds on the way to the grocery store. In other words, I novelize by instinct. Or by reflex, which is no wonder, because I’ve been novelizing, day after bloody day, for most of my adult life.

‘‘It’s a funny instinct to have. For one thing, it means I have trouble writing short stories. I’ve had this problem, this limitation, most of my writing life. Take a look: I’ve almost never written any! To be painfully truthful, it’s even been a long time since I was in the habit of reading them. I’m the reverse of those brilliant students who come out of MFA programs after having written maybe a couple of dozen short stories. I did write one with my daughter, Emma, for a recent anthology based on figures from mythology. It’s called Orpheus XO, and it was edited by Kate Bernheimer. She did a great job. Emma and I took what I thought was something like the easy way out and wrote a story based on Demeter. Why I thought that was going to be easy I can now no longer quite reconstruct. Emma had graduated from the glorious short story factory at the University of Wisconsin, where she’d had the immense good fortune of working closely with Lorrie Moore, one of our great writers. Since earning her MFA, Emma had been doing really well, in fact, given the shapes and conditions of most young writers’ lives, spectacularly well. We were going to swap our terrific little story back and forth and proceed at the rate of six pages apiece at a time. This was, let me say, Emma’s scheme. So she wrote the first six pages, hey presto, and sent them to me. At this point, I should probably confess that I see all such programs as sugges­tions, the same way I take almost everything said to me by doctors. Therefore, I took 10 days and sent back 12 pages. Emma groaned, a little. We kept repeating, and I kept adding in new characters, adding new neighborhoods to the little town where the father lived in the Hell parts of the story, which turned out way better than the other parts. Emma’s groans grew louder and more heartfelt. Finally she said to my wife, ‘Dad doesn’t know how to write a short story. I have an MFA, and I know how to write a damn short story.’ Our so-called short story wound up being about 50 pages long, which I see as a very nice length. Ideally, probably, it would be 90 pages long, which would have given us plenty of room for all the cool stuff I wanted to insert. One day, if Emma and I are lucky enough to last this long, we shall collaborate and turn our lovely, 50-page ‘Lost Lake’ into the novel I wanted it to be all along.

‘‘In a short story, you’re writing about something that changes a person’s character, or changes a person’s mind, or brings about some sort of insight, a revelation. Now, the minute I utter a stupid dictum like that, I realize everybody and his brother is going to tell me the ways in which I’m wrong, but the point is that you don’t have much room in a story. The short stories I have written, most of which are collected in this book Interior Darkness, are a little odd and tend not to follow the game plan I just described Usually, I’m not usually trying to write ‘a story.’ I’m doing something else that seems interesting and maybe even more compelling to me.”


‘‘My ideas about narrative have certainly changed with time, and my whole stance toward it has changed, as would have to happen in any long en­gagement with a subject. I don’t want to write the same kind of books I did when I started. Really, I can’t. I like reading novels that go from the beginning to the end. I like reading novels that don’t break the frame. I like novels that have endings one cannot anticipate, novels with jolting revelations. I like crime stories. I like Victorian novels. Conventional fiction strikes me as one of the most beautiful things made by man. Generally speaking, novels engage our sense of history, our imaginations, our moral sense. I have thought since I was 16 that there’s something very beautiful when you open a book and your eyes fall on the page and you read something like, ‘At 4:15 that afternoon the Countess of P–– emerged through the palace door and remarked upon the unusual strength of the sunlight.’ Anything like that. ‘When George Withers fell down on the sidewalk, all of his loose change fell out of his pocket.’ ‘As Hector Feelgood held the reins of the horses, the steam from their nostrils washed over his hands.’ Anything like that awakens a little bit of the world and delivers it to you like a loaf of fresh bread. It’s stunning. The whole fictional enterprise strikes me as very beautiful. I used to take it way more for granted than I can do now.”


‘‘Lovecraft and the Gothic novels are in my DNA for sure. It’s almost like they’re a couple of guys who got in on tourist visas and outstayed their welcome, camped out and got jobs as hotel clerks and in laun­dries, and just never went home. The reason they’re there at all has to do with Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, one of the sacred books of my late childhood, which I toted around wherever I went. One summer, I took it to Boy Scout camp. I read Arthur Machen, I read Oliver Onions, and I read ‘The Dunwich Horror’, which has been my favorite Lovecraft story ever since, because I didn’t understand it when I first read it. I didn’t understand the resistance given to me by the language. I loved that it was so ornate. I loved that it resisted digestion. That was true of all those stories, the early stories. All this stuff is glamorous and ghastly, and completely exciting to the right 12-year-old boy.

‘‘One of the things that excited me was the un­precedented use of language. I’d never read stories that seemed directed at me yet that were written in a demanding, artifice-laden way. Machen’s ‘The Great God Pan’ was probably my favorite. I loved that story. I didn’t quite understand it, but I loved it. What I didn’t understand was concealed from me, deliberately, by the way it was written. Ever since, I have really liked narrative that’s chopped up and delivered in fragments. ‘The Great God Pan’ is prob­ably the first significant story I read that was written in that way. It strikes me now as modernist. I don’t believe Machen was a modernist, but the narrative method was really interesting. Back then, I would’ve said, ‘The way this is written is really cool.’ I liked the slight layer of difficulty the fragmentation of nar­rative presented. I also like the idea of this mysterious woman Helen Vaughan and the terror that strikes the overconfident, blandly superior scientists who are investigating her case. It struck me even then that the sublime was probably too much to handle. Every angel is terrifying. I read Rilke many years later, but I think that is something I always knew, for reasons of my own.”


‘‘I look forward to working again – it’s so satisfy­ing to work, to enjoy the act of writing. I love the act of making things up. I like creating things. It means an immense amount to me. In fact, sad to say, that’s the center of my being. All this time when I haven’t been able to do that, I have been separated from the center of my being, and in pure denial I have chosen not to think about that. I watch a lot of TV, because I don’t drink – there isn’t any alcohol involved and there are certainly no other toxic substances in the picture. It’s just a kind of mild boredom and a sense of working my way through a not very interesting day. There is none of the sense of the supercharged satisfaction, none of the inner glow, that comes from having worked well. I hope I can get back to that. I don’t see any reason why I can’t. I have a new office in our new apartment – it’s a pretty room, it has my old desk, I have floor to ceiling bookshelves, I have library ladders for the first time ever, and it’s cool. The only thing missing is the sound system, which is like a life-support system for me, and a good one is just about to be installed. The whole room is going to be filled up with books and music. Before we moved in, I went into the room and told it, ‘I’m going to fill you up. You don’t know it yet, but we’re going to have fun. You’re going to see things you’ve never seen before.’ Thereby proving, I guess, that I’m totally out of my mind. I’ve very much been looking forward to getting back to work.”

Cory Doctorow: Peak Indifference

Ever since the first days of public access to the Internet, activ­ists like me have been making dire warnings about the privacy implications of leaving data-trails behind you when you engage in everyday activity. We hoped that people would think forward to the potential risks of disclosures down the road – that the individually harmless crumbs of personal in­formation could be painstakingly, disastrously aggregated by crimi­nals, or repressive governments, or creepy stalkers, or overweening employers, or well-intentioned authority figures who nevertheless drew false conclusions from their peek into our lives.

We totally failed.

Every year, the Internet’s reach and popularity has grown. Every year, the extent to which Internet users’ privacy is compromised has also grown.

To be fair to privacy advocates, we have a good excuse. It’s really hard to get people to care about dangers that are far in the future, especially when the action that puts you in danger and the consequences of that action are separated by an unbridgeable gap of time and space. Privacy disclosures are a public health problem, like smoking. No one puff on a cigarette will definitely give you cancer, but take enough puffs and you’ll virtually guarantee cancer, eventually. No one act of disclosure of personal information will harm you, but once enough disclosures have taken place, over enough time, you’re going to get into serious privacy trouble.

For decades, public health advocates tried to get people to care about cancer, without much success. They, too, had a good excuse. Smoking gives a short term benefit (relief from addictive cravings) and its costs are way down the road. To make things worse, the companies that profited from smoking engaged in powerful, well-funded disinformation campaigns to make it harder for their customers to perceive the distant harms, let alone become anxious about them.

Smoking is now in decline (though vaping is proving to be a powerful gateway to smoking), but it was a long time getting there. Even when lifelong smokers got their cancer diagnoses, it was too late, and many became cancer nihilists, continuing to smoke even as they received treat­ment, or died slow and painful deaths. The combination of the short-term pleasure of smoking and the lack of any meaningful way to reverse the harms that had already occurred is a surefire recipe for nihilism: why deprive yourself of smoking’s joys if it isn’t going to make a difference?

However, smoking is in decline, because the evidence of smoking’s harms became undeniable over time. At a certain point, indifference to tobacco’s dangers peaked – long before actual tobacco use peaked. Peak indifference marks a turning point. Once the number of people who care about your issue begins to grow on its own, without your needing to wheedle them about confronting long-term harms, you can switch tactics for something much easier. Rather than trying to get people to care about the issue, now you need to get them to do something about it.

The anti-smoking movement made great strides with this. They made sure that people who had cancer – or whose loved ones did – understood that tobacco’s use wasn’t a blameless, emergent phenomenon. They named names and published documents, showing exactly who conspired to destroy lives with cancer in order to enrich themselves. They surfaced and highlighted the risks to non-smokers’ lives from smoking: not just second-hand smoke, but also the public health burdens and the terrible losses felt by survivors after their loved ones had perished. They de­manded architectural changes – bans on smoking – and legal ones, and market ones, and normative ones. Peak indifference let those activists move from convincing to fighting back.

That’s why it’s time for privacy activists to start thinking of new tac­tics. We are past peak indifference to online surveillance: that means that there will never be a moment after today in which fewer people are alarmed by the costs of sur­veillance. The bad news is that 20 years of failing to convince people of the risks of online privacy has built up a reservoir of inevitable harms: all the data collected in giant databases today will breach someday, and when it does, it will ruin peoples’ lives. They will have their houses stolen from under them by identity thieves who forge their deeds (this is already happening); they will end up with criminal records because identity thieves will use their personal information to commit crimes (this is already happening); they will be accused of terrorism or other life-destroying categories of crimes because an algorithm has mined their data to come to a conclusion they aren’t allowed to see or interrogate (this is already happening); they will have their devices compromised using passwords and personal data that leaked from old accounts, and the hackers will spy on them through their baby monitors, cars, set-top boxes, and medical implants (this is already hap­pening); they will have the sensitive information they disclosed to the government to attain security clearance breached and warehoused by blackmailing enemy states (this is already happening); their employers will fail when their personal information is used to commit industrial espionage (this is already happening).


From Ashley Madison to Office of Personnel Management, the future is clear: every couple weeks, from now on and for the foreseeable, a couple million people whose lives were just destroyed by a data breach will sheepishly show up on privacy advocates’ doorsteps, ashen-faced like smokers who’ve just received cancer diagnoses, saying, ‘‘I guess you were right. What do we do?’’

Therein lies our opportunity. We can point to the specific people who told us privacy is dead while spending hundreds of millions of dollars protecting themselves from scrutiny – by buying up adjacent houses and keeping them empty (as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg did); by threatening journalists who disclosed their personal information (as ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt did); by using offshore tax havens to disguise their financial crimes (as many of those named in the Panama Papers did). These are people who said, ‘‘Privacy is dead,’’ but meant: ‘‘If you believe your privacy is dead, I will be much, much richer.’’

We have to name names, make it clear that living people engineered a privacy denial movement whose template was Big Tobacco’s cancer denial movement.

We have to provide courses of action: privacy-protecting tools that let people fight back against the surveillance economy; political campaigns that hang cryptography-fighting politicians and spies up by their ankles and subject them to public ridicule; legal opportunities to seek redress from the surveillance profiteers.

If we can give privacy’s victims a course of action, a movement they can join, they will fight with us. If we can’t, they will become privacy nihilists, continuing to hemorrhage personal information for the short-term gain of social attention, making themselves into easy prey for spies, crooks, creeps, and voyeurs.

It’s up to us.

Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling: Depth and Heart (part 2)

[ Part 1 ]

Terri Windling was born December 3, 1958 in New Jersey, and grew up there and in Pennsylvania. She studied literature and mythology in the US, England, and Ireland, and in 1979 moved to New York, where she began working in publishing as an editor (and occasionally as an artist). She was Jim Baen’s editorial assistant at Ace, soon became associate editor, and was then named fantasy editor to help found the Ace Fantasy imprint; in 1984 she was promoted to executive editor. After Ace was sold to the Putmans Publishing Group, she worked as a consulting editor for Ace in 1985 and 1986, while also creating the Fairy Tales series of novels (Ace), the Borderland shared-world series (NAL), and establishing the MagicQuest YA fantasy line at Ace/Tempo. In 1987 she moved from Ace to Tor, where she then worked as a consulting fantasy editor for over 20 years. She co-edited The Journal of Mythic Arts (1987-2008), edited or co-edited half a dozen anthologies in addition to those with Datlow, and also produced her own fiction, notably debut novel The Wood Wife (1996, winner of the Mythopoeic Award), children’s books, and middle-grade fantasies. She has also written text for art books (including by Brian Froud), numerous essays, and has contributed to scholarly works in the folklore field, including The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. She founded the Endicott Studio organization, is on the board of The Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy (University of Chichester, UK), and her own ‘‘folkloric’’ artwork regularly appears in galleries and museums. Windling has been nominated for 31 World Fantasy Awards and won nine, putting her just after Datlow for the most nominations and wins for that award, and received the SFWA Solstice Award in 2010 for ‘‘outstanding contributions to the speculative fiction field as a writer, editor, artist, educator, and mentor.’’ She married British dramatist Howard Gayton in 2008; they live in Devon England.

Excerpts from the interview:

Ellen Datlow: ‘‘Do you remember how we met? Because I don’t re­member that at all.’’

Terri Windling: ‘‘We met at conventions, but we knew each other only socially until we began working on the Year’s Best anthologies. You were at Omni then.’’

ED: ‘‘Omni was my first genre job, so yeah. I started there around 1979. I was associate fiction editor, and by 1981 I was fiction editor. Our first year’s best anthology was in 1987.’’

TW: ‘‘You were at Omni, and I was at Ace, then at Berkley/Ace, and then at Tor. I was at Tor at the point when you and I started doing the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.”

TW: ‘‘I had done three Elsewhere anthologies by that point. My first one had won the World Fantasy Award. That was in the early ’80s. I’d also edited an anthology of faery stories, and was building up the fantasy line at Ace. It was Jim Frenkel’s idea to do The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. At that point Ellen was making a name for herself with horror anthologies, and I was known as someone who came into the field specifically interested in fantasy. At the time most fantasy was being published by SF editors, some of whom didn’t even like fantasy, whereas I was specifically focused on fantasy. I consider it a separate genre. SF and fantasy are parallel genres, and they overlap, but they are not the same genre. They have different literary histories, and different (if overlapping) readerships. I think that’s why Jim thought of me to do the fantasy side of Year’s Best, because I was very passionate about the fantasy field, and Ellen had become very pas­sionate about horror. We knew each other to say hello to back then, but we didn’t know each other well. And yet, when we started working together, it was so lovely.’’


ED: ‘‘Didn’t Tom Canty suggest the fairytale anthologies? Staring with Snow White, Blood Red?’’

TW: ‘‘The two of us did. Tom Canty is a good friend of mine and we were both really interested in retold fairy tales, which were not a big thing at the time. We were obsessed with Angela Carter’s adult fairy tale collection, The Bloody Chamber, Anne Sexton’s Transformations…’’

ED: ‘‘Tanith Lee.’’

TW: ‘‘….and yes, Tanith Lee’s Red as Blood. At that point, there weren’t many other ‘adult fairy tales’ out there. I had specialized in the history of fairy tales in university. It’s been a passion of mine since I was a little girl, really. Tom Canty shared that passion. We were talking over lunch one day about how great it would be to do an anthology of retold fairy tales in the fantasy field, using Angela Carter as a model, and Tanith Lee as a model. Ellen and I had been working together on Year’s Best for a few years at that point and I immediately said, ‘Let’s get Ellen involved, because the range of stories will be so much better.’ I’m not so good on the horror/dark fantasy end of things, so I asked Ellen if she would edit the books with me, with Tom as our first choice for cover artist.’’

ED: ‘‘I had grown up with fairy tales. I adored fairy tales. My mom read them to me when I was a kid. So I said, ‘‘Yeah.’’ I loved Angela Carter. I was not as familiar with Tanith, but Angela Carter I adored. The intention of doing the retellings was to go back to the roots.’’

TW: ‘‘We started planning the project when I was living in Boston at the very end of the ’80s. It took us a while to get a publisher interested. Back then, people still thought of fairy tales as Disney movies and as stories for very tiny children. The darker, adult roots of the stories were known primarily only to fairy tale scholars. That was something we really wanted to correct. It’s changed so much since then, there’s a much wider understanding of the complex history of the tales.’’


ED: ‘‘Let’s talk about what anthology editors do, and how we work as an editing team.’’

TW: ‘‘Well, with the original anthologies, we work more collaboratively than we did on the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series. For Year’s Best, we chose our stories separately and didn’t weigh in on each other’s choices, but for the originals, writers submitted their work to us both, and we had to agree before we accepted a story. In the rare instances where we disagreed, the rule of thumb was that if one of us really loved a story and the other didn’t hate it, we would generally buy it. But there were occasions where one person really disliked something the other person liked, and then we didn’t take the story. That didn’t happen very often. There might be one or two stories in each an­thology that one or the other of us was lukewarm about, but none that either of us actively disliked.’’

ED: ‘‘Right – and it didn’t dilute the anthology because one of us loved it.’’

TW: ‘‘I think that was a good system, because it gave a wide range to our selections. It wasn’t just my taste, and it wasn’t just your taste, and it wasn’t just our combined taste. We covered a lot of different bases. I think that’s what makes our partnership work.’’

ED: ‘‘There are plenty of writers who write stories where I can objectively see how people would like them, and there’s nothing wrong with them, but they don’t speak to me. There are certain kinds of stories I realize I’m totally cold to, that you love. You’re much more into folktales than I am – not fairy tales, folktales. I have a blind spot with most folktales. I have no idea why. I haven’t thought about it enough to know why they don’t work for me. It’s a very general thing. There are some writers whose stories don’t work for me. The writing just doesn’t work, and I assume that’s true for you too.’’

TW: ‘‘I don’t think either of us has a rigid list, though. It’s not, ‘You have to hit this, this, this, and this for us to like the story.’ Each writer has different strengths.’’

ED: ‘‘Each story is different. There are different things about stories that attract you, also. Sometimes, for me, it’s the setting. The rest is good, but it’s the setting that gets me. Or the tone, or the voice.’’

TW: ‘‘Yeah, the voice and the language. Sometimes, frankly, the language is not that strong, but the storytelling is strong, and the actual heart of the story is there. Gordon Van Gelder said something to me once that has stuck in my mind. He was trying to figure out, with the Year’s Best in particular, what it was that linked my choices. He didn’t always agree with my choices; he would’ve chosen different stories, but he could see there was something them – it always made sense to him on a visceral level why I had chosen them. Not just personal taste, but why I would consider them to be among the best of the year. What he finally decided was (and Gordon, forgive me if I’m not saying this quite right): each piece was a story that the writer really had to write. I love that, because it rings very true for me. I like stories where you can tell the writer is really invested in it. It’s not just a clever idea they are toying with or think will sell; it’s a story they need to tell. I really like stories that have depth and heart to them. Not necessarily positive stories; they can be very dark, but always multi-layered, with something going on beyond surface cleverness.’’


TW: ‘‘For the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series, however, we never did the story ordering. Jim Frenkel did it, and he did a wonderful job.’’

ED: ‘‘We never read each other’s stories, usu­ally.’’

TW: ‘‘He loved doing the ordering. Jim isn’t the golden-haired boy of the field at the moment, but there were things he did that were brilliant, and in talking about Year’s Best that should be acknowledged.’’

ED: ‘‘And things that were important to the field. Like getting us together.’’

TW: ‘‘I don’t know if you know how Jim got me involved. I was out in Minneapolis, visiting Emma Bull and Will Shetterly and the other writers of the ‘Scribblies’ group, and I was staying at Emma and Will’s house. I got this call from Jim late at night saying, ‘Would you edit this book?’ I don’t know how he tracked me down out there, and he didn’t have a publisher lined up or anything – it was so speculative, and he was just rattling on, and it was late, and I was tired. I think I may have said ‘Yes’ just to get off the phone!! I’m not sure I believed it was really going to happen. I’m glad, of course, that it did. Year’s Bests do shape the field. Plus I got to work with you for the first time, which I discovered I loved. We work so well together.’’

ED: ‘‘It’s fun.’’

TW: ‘‘When you find a good partner, they’re worth their weight in gold. I have no desire to go back to solo editing. My best work has been with you, through the synergy that comes from a long partnership, and an equally long friendship.’’

Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling: Depth and Heart (part 1)

Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling are two of the most renowned and celebrated short fiction editors in our field, and have a working relationship dating back almost 30 years. The two have collaborated on dozens of projects, including 16 volumes of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthology series, which they co-edited from 1988-2003, with Windling choosing the fantasy half and Datlow the horror. (Datlow continued editing the horror side until the series ended in 2008; Gavin Grant & Kelly Link took over fantasy.) Their fairytale anthology series began with Snow White, Blood Red (1993) and continued with Black Thorn, White Rose (1994); Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears (1995); Black Swan, White Raven (1997); Silver Birch, Blood Moon (1999); and Black Heart, Ivory Bones (2000). They did a series of middle-grade fairytale anthologies as well: A Wolf at the Door and Other Retold Fairy Tales (2000), Swan Sister: Fairy Tales Retold (2003), and Troll’s Eye View: A Book of Villainous Tales (2009).

Their mythic fiction YA anthologies are The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest (2002), The Faery Reel: Tales from the Twilight Realm (2004), The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales (2007), and The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People (2010). Standalone anthologies the two co-edited include Sirens and Other Daemon Lovers (1998), Salon Fantastique: Fifteen Original Tales of Fantasy (2006), Teeth: Vampire Tales (2011), After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia (2012), and Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (2013).

Both are accomplished solo practitioners as well. Ellen Sue Datlow was born December 31, 1949 in Manhattan, and studied English literature and philosophy at the State University of New York at Albany. She worked a variety of positions in publishing before being hired as associate fiction editor at Omni in 1979, working under editor Ben Bova and fiction editor Robert Sheckley. When Sheckley left in 1981, she took over his position and worked for Omni and Omni Online until 1998, then edited early online magazine Event Horizon for 18 months. She edited Sci Fiction from 2000 to 2005. She has also edited scores of anthologies, mostly horror, on her own, most recently The Doll Collection (2015) and The Monstrous (2015). Since 2009 she has edited The Best Horror of the Year series, and she also acquires short fiction for Datlow has been nominated for 43 World Fantasy Awards, and has won 10 times, giving her the lead in both the most nominations and the most wins. She has received multiple Hugo Award nominations for Best Professional Editor, winning five times, most recently in 2014. She won a Stoker Award for Life Achievement in 2011, and a Life Achievement World Fantasy Award in 2014. She lives in New York.

[ Further excerpts next week will focus on Terri Windling. ]

Excerpts from the interview:

Terri Windling: ‘‘So we were on parallel tracks, but I was very focused on fantasy, and you were focused on horror and science fiction.’’

Ellen Datlow: ‘‘Mostly science fiction then. The reason I got into horror was so it wouldn’t conflict with Omni. I was supposed to be buying science fiction and some fantasy for Omni, but I was not supposed to buy horror. My first original horror anthology was Blood Is Not Enough. Someone I worked with at Penthouse was talking to some publishers and they wanted to com­mission a bunch of anthologies. He approached me and said, ‘Hey, do you have five ideas for anthologies?’ I thought about the stories I couldn’t buy for Omni. All these horror stories at the time that Ben Bova would not let me buy, like ‘Down Among the Dead Men’ by Gardner Dozois & Jack Dann, which has been reprinted a lot, about a vampire in a concentration camp. There were several stories that I couldn’t buy for whatever reason at the time. Some would have been too controversial. That was how Alien Sex and Blood Is Not Enough came about. The stories were submitted to me for Omni but I turned them down and they were published elsewhere. So I used those plus new stories, creating anthologies that were half original and half reprints. I created these anthology ideas with themes like vampir­ism and alien sex. I wanted to edit a book of monkey tales, because I had to turn down ‘The Monkey Treatment’ by George R.R. Martin and ‘Pope of the Chimps’ by Robert Silverberg, but I never did that one. I’d always loved reading horror, but the reason I started editing it was to not conflict with my job at Omni – I was afraid they’d get pissed off if I did science fiction anthologies.’’


ED: ‘‘Horror is much more likely to be superficial, and I hate superficial horror. I hate the kind of horror that’s just a ‘boo’ and that’s it, unless it’s re­ally, really short and effective. When I take a story for a year’s best, by the time the book comes out, I’ve read it at least five times, because I’m eliminat­ing. When you’re doing a year’s best, it’s a process of elimination by the end, because you only get a certain amount of wordage. Towards the end I’d count up the stories I had starred and I’d say, ‘I have 300,000 words. I have to get it down to 125,000.’ I’d have to reread, reread, reread, and start eliminating. The ones that are left, to me, really affect me after reading them four times. Once in a while, on a first read I know I’m going to take a story immediately. It doesn’t happen often. I have a story coming out in an original anthology that I know I’m going to take for my year’s best, because I really love it.’’


ED: ‘‘I love doing the Year’s Best. Maybe I’ll say it’s the best, but for me, it’s the stories I love this year; my favorite stories. There are some writers in horror who are prolific and doing wonderful work. Paula Guran and I actually do compare what we’re taking for our year’s best anthologies. If a writer has more than one story out that we really like, we try not to repeat. This year we have four overlaps, I think, but we try to avoid that. If there are overlaps it just means there’s a consensus on that story. There are two stories in the last few years that I did not take in the Year’s Best for deliberate reasons. Even though I love them. One was ‘The Things’ by Peter Watts, which is the movie The Thing from the point of view of the alien. Everyone took it. Every science fiction year’s best took it. I really loved the story, but I had two problems. Number one, everyone was taking it, and number two, it’s from the Thing’s doing! I loved the story, though. The other one was ‘The Deepwater Bride’ by Tamsyn Muir. I loved that story, but I found out that Paula Guran was going to take it for her anthology, and I think Jonathan Strahan was going to take it too. Tam­syn had another story that was not as popular as ‘Deepwater Bride’, called ‘The Woman in the Hill’, so I ended up taking that instead.’’


ED: ‘‘Terri wrote all the intros for the origi­nal anthologies. She’s the expert. I hate writing introductions.’’

TW: ‘‘When you do it, Ellen, you do it well. But yeah, I generally write the intros. I enjoy writing. And you do parts of the job I hate.’’

ED: ‘‘You mean the contracts?’’

TW: ‘‘The organization, including contracts. You make the trains run on time.’’

ED: ‘‘But we always pick the table of contents together. Actually, you’re better at the table of contents than I am.’’

TW: ‘‘Yeah, I like that part. And you’re really good at the back-and-forth with the authors.’’

ED: ‘‘It depends on who’s worked more with the author. There were some writers I didn’t feel comfortable editing, or maybe I wasn’t wild about the story. I do most of the line editing. In terms of story order, for me the first story and the last story are the most important. You want to invite the reader in. The first story can’t be too dense. It has to be inviting, and it can’t be too weird. The last story should either be the strongest, or the next-to-last story should be the strongest – it depends. You don’t want something too long in the beginning. The rest of it, we kind of rearrange like cards.’’

TW: ‘‘I do it literally with cards. I have index cards. I write the name of every story on a card, and also whether it’s written in first person or third person. Sometimes I’ll mention the setting, or what kind of myth it’s based on, or female or male protagonist – I put down all of the identifying things. Then I spread all the cards out on the floor and move them around until the balance and flow from story to story feels right.’’

ED: ‘‘That’s a good way to do it. You can’t guarantee the reader will read it in order, but you have to assume they will, because there’s no other way to organize it. I did Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror, with Tachyon, and I covered 2005-2015. I did those in the order they were published, but that’s not usually the way it’s organized.’’

TW: ‘‘You can take a weaker story and place it properly, and sometimes the conversations it has with the stories on either side are strengthen­ing. There’s a real art to putting an anthology together. There are some readers (a blessing on their houses) who actually read the stories in order, and reviewers who read it that way – and plenty who don’t. Thems the breaks. For the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series, however, we never did the story ordering. Jim Frenkel did it, and he did a wonderful job.’’

Kameron Hurley: Hard Publishing Truths: Relationships Matter

One of my favorite publishing stories is from an established short story writer who tweeted that a story of his had been rejected from a magazine. Within a few minutes of sharing that, the editor of the publication e-mailed them and apologized for the rejection. ‘‘Our new slush reader didn’t rec­ognize your name,’’ the editor said, and promptly bought the story.

The myth of the meritocracy runs deep in publishing. ‘‘Just write a good book!’’ is of­fered up as the singular cure to all of a writer’s worries about the financial success of their title. But writing a good book is no more a magical recipe for success than ‘‘working hard’’ is a guarantee one will retain gainful employment. As in any industry, there are simply too many factors at play.

And yes, one of those factors is still who you know.

No one likes to hear this. I certainly hated hearing it when I was first starting out. Yet I asked myself the question, often, about how it was that what I saw as inferior stories by established writers were getting picked up when mine were about on par with some of them. The truth was that – all things being equal – they had name recognition.

And I didn’t.

There’s a reason I got into writing, a profession where 98% of the work is done in solitude. I believed firmly and passionately that all I had to do was ‘‘write a good book’’ and that ‘‘good book’’ would be picked off the slush pile and deliver me into the welcoming arms of the publishing industry. This is not how it works for everyone. It’s not how it works for most people.

Here’s how my first book was published:

1) Someone who worked in PR at a publisher was a frequent reader and commenter on my blog (which I’d had for three years at that point). She asked to read the book I had just announced that I’d finished. She liked the book, and recommended I send the manuscript to an editor she knew.

2) I queried that editor, who asked to see the book. While the book sat with the editor, I contacted agents, mentioning that the book was already on an editor’s desk.

3) I got an agent, in no small part, I’m sure, because the manuscript was already on an editor’s desk (I had tried to get an agent for two prior books, and none were interested). The editor who had requested the book asked for some rewrites, but ultimately declined.

4) My agent sent the book out to a bunch more places. Everyone de­clined.

5) An editor at a house that had already declined the book e-mailed my agent, saying something like, ‘‘I heard online that Kameron has a book on submission. Why didn’t you send it to me instead of my colleague (who had already rejected it)? I read a story of hers online awhile back and liked it.’’ We signed a 3-book deal twenty-four hours later.

6) My acquiring editor was laid off. My book contract was cancelled just after we got through copyediting.

7) I was invited by a writer I knew to write up a guest post on their blog about the experience of having a book contract cancelled (I’d written a review of their work on my blog years before, and we had started some e-mail correspondence, and met a couple times at cons).

8) That blog had lots of traffic from industry pros, and two small press editors contacted my agent asking to see the manuscript. We signed with one of them for a two-book deal.

9) Entire process from first editor’s desk to publication: four years.

That book that was almost not published was nominated for and won several awards.

I write books that blend science fiction and fantasy, and they tend to be full of women chopping up things, and there are few to no white people in them. The sorts of books that I write were an even tougher sell back there in 2007 before the We Need Diverse Books movement. The connections I made along the way helped me overcome those hurdles, and they can help people overcome them now. The trouble is that they can be very difficult for people from disadvantaged backgrounds to cultivate. These relationships aren’t necessary, but they are helpful, and not having them can certainly contribute to feeling isolated and burned out in this industry. The Internet has helped alleviate this somewhat, and has opened up access to networks. Cultivate them, please, in whatever way you are able. And if you are already established, hold a hand out to newer writers. It’s your turn now.

Writing is a business like any other, and our approach to the industry needs to be clear-headed. I love a good fairy tale just as much as anyone, but it’s the fairy tales that we tell about this business that sink so much new talent. I’ve been in the business long enough now to see new writers coming up behind me full of the same expectations about how just writing a good book (whatever a ‘‘good’’ book is) will guarantee success. When they don’t find the financial or critical success they expect within the first five years of their career, they figure they are doing something wrong, that their work isn’t good enough, and they give up. This breaks my heart.

Certainly, we should level up our craft, but poor craft alone does not sink books. Books don’t succeed commercially for all sorts of reasons. We spend so long getting writers to focus on craft that we don’t talk to them enough about business, and it’s running face first into the business-end of publishing and being ill-equipped to handle it that sinks some of the best and bright­est, toppling them from the mountain long before they approach the peak.

So, writers, after you have leveled up your skill enough to write a good book, here are some other things that can assist you in launching a writing career that makes you enough money to buy ramen:

1) Understand that you’re an entrepreneur now. Read up on small business ownership, LLCs, basic tax information for freelancers, and bud­geting. We aren’t taught these things in school. There’s no shame in that. You learned how to write. You can learn how to run your business.

2) Connect with other writers. I wanted to say ‘‘Make friends,’’ here, but the truth is that the people in this industry should probably be consid­ered work colleagues, and yes, you should get to know them in the same way. This is not about ‘‘schmoozing’’ or making a list of people to hit up for a favor at a con. That’s not how it works. Find people who enjoy the stuff you do, folks whose work you enjoy, whom you actually want to hang out with, and don’t be afraid to offer to buy them a drink at a conven­tion, interact with them on Twitter about a shared fandom, or whatever. Not only will you be more likely to come top of mind when they’re think­ing of people to invite to be on projects, but if you listen to their business talk with other writers, you will learn a lot of things about the industry.

3) Note that your agent’s and editor’s interests and yours are aligned, but not the same. It’s easy to get into a relationship with an agent or editor when you’re new in which you perceive them as having all the power and insight. And yes, they are more established in the com­munity and understand the business better and you should consider their advice. But keep in mind that what your career goals are may line up with what they want. Be forthright. Figure out what’s most important to you, and insist on it. No one is more invested in the outcome of your career than you. No one.

You are going to spend a lifetime perfecting your writing skill. I urge you to invest just a few hours every month in learning the business, too. Don’t spend all that time climbing the mountain only to realize you forgot the climbing gear just when you need it most.

Molly Tanzer: Ghosts ‘n’ Shit

Elizabeth Molly Tanzer was born October 29, 1981 in Marietta GA. When she was 12, she moved to West Palm Beach FL and lived there until her mid-twenties. She attended Rollins College in Winter Park FL and graduated with a bachelors in art history. She spent a year as a social worker, then went to Florida State University for a Master’s in humanities, with a focus on 18th-century literature. Afterward, she moved to Colorado and began writing fiction.

Tanzer began publishing with short story ‘‘In Sheep’s Clothing’’ (2010) and has published more than 30 pieces of short fiction, including several in her Ivybridge Twins series of Lovecraftian stories. Some of her work is collected in A Pretty Mouth (2012) and Rumbullion and Other Liminal Libations (2013); a revised version of the title piece from the latter is being published in standalone form as Rumbullion: An Apostrophe later this year.

Her debut novel Vermilion, a weird Western about a psychopomp, appeared in 2015, and sequel Quicksilver is forthcoming. Historical crime novel The Pleasure Merchant also appeared in 2015.

Tanzer edited the ‘‘Bizarro Crime’’ special issue of The Big Click in July 2015, and co-edited forthcoming anthology Swords v. Cthulhu with Jesse Bullington. She is the editor of new ‘‘thoughtful erotica’’ online magazine Congress, launching this summer.

She lives in Colorado with her husband of ten years.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I started writing at a very young age. In 5th grade, I started keeping a journal that was about me and an entourage of invisible snarky dragons that hung out with me during my boring classes. Of course they were snarky – I’d just read The Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy and thought it was great. The main dragon was named Éponene, after my favorite character from Les Miserables. So yeah, I was into musical theater and dragons, had no social skills, wore Phantom of the Opera T-shirts, and wondered, ‘Why don’t I have any friends?’ Well, no friends except for my friend Heather, who was into Star Trek: The Next Generation, and introduced me to AOL Instant Messenger (where we had some interesting experiences with boys online). She also kept a journal about snarky dragons, and they would interact. When we’d hang out, we’d write accounts of what happened, and read each other’s journals. I guess it was my first writerly collaboration…”


‘‘And yet, second-world fantasy isn’t at all what I’ve ended up writing. I write alternative-history horror and fantasy. In Vermilion, I wanted to create a sense of fantastical otherness, besides the ghosts and bears, but there’s no magic. There are alchemists, later in the book, but it’s all science based. My protagonist Lou Merriwether isn’t a magical girl who’s special because she can see ghosts. That’s not to insult that genre – I do like that kind of stuff. I grew up on Sailor Moon, and I’ll never not love magical girls. But I wanted Lou to be a technician. She has no special powers other than grit, determination, physical resilience, and an ability to distance herself from her work (which I never had when I was a social worker). I wanted those traits to be her defining characteristics, things she had to personally develop through discipline and practice, rather than anything that was naturally special about her. That was important to me in developing her character.”


‘‘In Vermilion, I wanted to at least try to en­gage with the glorious spectrum of who people are, what they feel and think. I’m so excited that I get to do a sequel. It will be called Quicksilver, which will come out next year. It’ll be a bit differ­ent. Vermilion is pretty solidly a Weird Western, but it’s also 18 other genres. (Yay, small press!) The next one is going to be more like a California crime novel, but with ghosts and shit. I want to keep playing with genre.

‘‘I’ve talked a lot about Shai, but Lou will again be the star of Quicksilver. I can’t wait to write her again. It’s not easy for her to be true to herself, in Vermilion; in Quicksilver, that will change a bit. I want to tap into that. If Vermillion is about Lou growing up, Quicksilver is going to be more her coming in to her confidence.”


‘‘Vermilion was inspired partly by my move to Colorado. I wanted to write a book about hiking through Colorado forests and finding out what might be lurking in them. I was also dealing with a lot of my feelings about America. Capitalism, the destruction of the environment, the way things could have been, how humans exist in the world, the way that we treat the outsider, the way we define what is and isn’t normal based on who has power – it’s a novel about power. Actually, every novel I write, and maybe every single short story I write, too, is about power exchange. Who has power, who doesn’t have it, and how does that af­fect them and their sense of self? What do people do with the power they get? Do they cling to it? Do they give it away? That’s Vermilion.”


‘‘For me, that’s the easy stuff about writ­ing – mining human dynamics. I fucking hate worldbuilding, it’s almost driven me away from writing genre fiction so many times. I don’t want to figure out a system of magic. I don’t want to figure out how things work. I have to do this with the project I’m currently working on, and it’s really been freaking me out. I few weeks back I was just sitting there, staring at my laptop, thinking, ‘I’m going to write a crime novel, because fuck this.’ I just want demons in this book! No one knows how demons work! They’re otherworldly. They’re uncanny. Why do people want to know how they work? But I know it needs to make sense in some way. And I really do love the book, and the demons in it! Really! It’s been haunting me for so long, and I’m so glad to be finishing it up and putting it out into the world soon. It’s called The Ginger Eaters, and I’ve described it as a feminist retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray with demons and sword fighting.”

Guy Gavriel Kay: Journeying

Guy Gavriel Kay was born November 7, 1954 in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, Canada, and grew up in Winnipeg. He was influenced by Greek myths, fairy tales, and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, E.R. Eddison, and Fritz Leiber, among others. He attended the University of Manitoba, earning a BA in philosophy in 1975. During Kay’s time at the University, J.R.R. Tolkien’s son Christopher Tolkien asked him to help complete his father’s unfinished The Silmarillion. They worked on the book at Oxford from 1974-75, and it was published in 1977.

Kay studied at the University of Toronto, graduating with a LL.B in 1978. He was admitted to the bar, though he never practiced law, choosing to focus on writing instead. From 1982-89 he was associate producer and principal writer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio series The Scales of Justice, which dramatized real legal cases.

While working for the CBC, Kay began publishing novels set in invented worlds, starting with the Fionavar Tapestry: The Summer Tree (1984); The Wandering Fire (1986), winner of the Casper Award (now known as the Aurora Award); and The Darkest Road (1986). His next books included fewer overt fantasy elements and drew more on actual history. Sailing to Sarantium (1998) and Lord of Emperors (2000) form the Sarantine Mosaic, set in an alternate version of ancient Byzantium; both were World Fantasy Award finalists. Aurora Award winner and World Fantasy Award finalist Tigana (1990) is a standalone set in a world inspired by Renaissance Italy. A Song for Arbonne (1992) is inspired by Medieval Provence, The Lions of Al-Rassan (1995) by Medieval Spain, and The Last Light of Sun (2004) is set during an analogue of the Viking invasions. World Fantasy Award winner Ysabel (2007) is related to the Fionavar Tapestry, but stands alone. World Fantasy Award finalist Under Heaven (2010) and River of Stars (2013) are set in a fantasy version of China. His new book, Children of Earth and Sky (2016), is inspired by Renaissance Europe. Some of Kay’s poetry has been collected in Beyond This Dark House (2003).

Kay married Laura Beth Cohen in 1984, and they have two sons. They live in Toronto.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘I write big books. I did a panel once at Harvard with a few writers and editors, and the theme of the panel was, ‘You had me at Hello,’ or something like that. It was about hooking the reader on page one. I did my contrarian thing, and said that depending on the nature of the book, the idea of hooking on paragraph one, or page one, can have so many different ways of playing out. You don’t necessarily have to do the Dan Brown thing and kill someone in your first paragraph, with his blood coming down the wall at the museum. You don’t have to write that kind of hook. There’s a segment of the readership that has come to expect that, but my own sense is that the opening of a big book needs to reflect the fact that the author and the reader are going to be together for a long time. The rhythm of a long novel is different from the rhythm of a 150-page novel. When you mention not showing too much of a character the first time you see them, to me that seems obvious. I’ve got a lot of room. I want to keep you around for a while. I want you to discover, as I discovered, more about these people. Some of my characters surprise me. I’m learning about them as the plot sets up conversations, actions, deaths. All of these things teach me what these people want to be like, and what they become.”


‘‘When I finished Fionavar, my first three books, they were a moderate success. They weren’t a runaway success, but they sold in a great many countries, in a great many languages, and they did well. The pressure to do what I called a fourth volume of the trilogy, or something similar, was substantial. I can’t put together from looking back that far, to the late 1980s, why I was so confi­dently stubborn that I did not want to do another volume. I had an instinct that you are more easily typecast if you’ve done five or six books in the same world, than if you’ve moved on after one trilogy. Tigana was a massive changing of the game from Fionavar. I had written half of it, and my agent at the time was wildly in love with that half, and he said, ‘We’re going to hit a home run with this book, I want you to let me send it out now to your existing editors, and we’re going to ramp up the ante in a big way.’ I let him do it. Not only did he not get the ramped-up offer, he didn’t get any offer. He didn’t get an offer from editors who’d loved Fionavar. It was rejected. They said it was so different, and so ambitious, that at the halfway point the editors couldn’t convince their publishing houses that I would deliver. I was still a young writer, I’d boldly gone off in a different direction, and I’d been kicked in the teeth – by people who’d really liked my writing to that point. That was a bad few days. I had to suck it up and say, ‘I have to finish. I’m halfway through a very big book, and I’ve got to finish it. Then we’ll see.’ There was a lot of anxiety kicking in at that stage.

‘‘The happy ending to the story is that when it was finished, it was auctioned off in England, the States, and Canada, and it did wonderfully well. Once publishers read the finished book everybody went crazy for it, and that was my change of level, if you will. Tigana was the book that took me to another level, in terms of advances and recogni­tion. But at that halfway point, that shifting ground of trying to do something completely different, I got hammered. The end of the game was a happy result, but I had no idea at the time.”


Children of Earth and Sky is in the same world I used in The Lions of Al-Rassan and the Sarantine books and Last Light of the Sun. It is 900 years after the Sarantium books, so it’s in no way a sequel, but I’m inhabiting the same universe. I think what galva­nized me was when I read a passage by the great French historian Fernand Braudel, who wrote this massive two volume history of the Mediterranean world. It’s magisterial, just brilliant. He has a pas­sage about how we must not imagine that in times of great conflict between kingdoms, empires, and fates, that normal people went about their lives in awareness of those great conflicts. He’s saying essentially that people were caught up in, ‘How will I feed my kids?’ ‘How will I heat my house?’ ‘Will I get the harvest in?’ ‘How will I protect my village from brigands?’ ‘How will I marry my son or daughter to the person whose land is next to mine? Except I hate the person whose land is next to mine.’ It’s a wonderful passage about how the concerns of ordinary people are not those that we tend to see if we read the overarching histories of a given time. I copied that down, old-fashioned pen and a notebook stuff. In Children of Earth and Sky, there are many things I wanted to do, and a component of that was to create characters who embodied in varying ways either the truth of, or a refutation of, that thesis. One of them does think in terms of the war. She does it on a personal scale, but she’s caught up in this clash between fates and empires. Others just want to get on with their lives – in various ways. An artist. A woman escaping from what her father says is to be her destiny. A merchant who isn’t entirely happy with the future that seems laid out for him. A soldier with a conflict about how he wants to approach being a soldier, or whether he does. None of these are important people, and all of them are getting on with their lives. That’s what I kept coming back to as I was writing this novel.”


‘‘I’ll tell you a story. One of the things I’m re­ally interested in is memory. We make stories of our lives and we remember the same moments differently. The way you remember this conver­sation will not be identical to the way I do. Your recollection of how I said something might differ from my recollection of how I said it. That really interests me. So in several scenes in this book, I cut from one point of view to another person’s in the middle of a conversation or confrontation, and I also back up a bit so that some dialogue is repeated – and it’s a little bit different. Sometimes that’s inconsequential. You may say to me, ‘Come with me to the Casbah,’ and I may remember you saying, ‘The Casbah’s where we should go now.’ That’s not a consequential difference. But here’s the story. I did this very deliberately, five or six times I think, to underscore the way in which we remember and hear and respond differently to the same moments. My proofreader, quite cor­rectly, flagged every one of these as an error, and noted, each time, ‘‘Earlier in the scene he says, ‘Might as well have a drink’, but now she hears him saying, ‘Do you want a drink?’ Which do you prefer?’’ What I prefer is the change! The difference. It’s not a proofreader’s job to figure out the nuances of what a writer’s doing when they’re doing something like that. It’s a proofreader’s job to say, ‘It’s different.’ And she did that. This was not a central thing in the book, but it feeds into the larger idea of many characters and points of view circling around the edges of the war, seeing things differently. At one point some of them are journeying east, and their belief is that they are safe because the army is north of them, and they have documents that say they’re entitled to travel on the road, they make a calculated decision that they’re safe on that journey. They’re literally skirt­ing around the edges of the war. But metaphori­cally all of my characters are doing that. They’re circling the perimeter, except for some of them who end up dead center.”

Cory Doctorow: Peace In Our Time

E-books are game-changers, but not in the way we all thought they would be. Far from taking over print, e-book sales have stagnated at less than a quarter of print sales and show every sign of staying there or declining for the foreseeable future.

But e-books continue to be a source of bitter controversy that divides publishers from two of their most potentially useful allies: writers’ groups and libraries.

Below, I’ll present two thought experiments for how libraries and writers’ groups could find common cause with the Big Five publishers, using tech projects that would make a better world for writers, readers, literature, and culture.

First up, libraries. Libraries are understandably exercised about the high prices they’re expected to pay for their e-books – as much as 500% more than you and I pay on the major online services. To add insult to injury, HarperCollins makes libraries delete any e-book that has circulated 26 times, on the bizarre grounds that:

a) Its print books are allegedly so badly bound that they disintegrate after 26 readings (this is not actually true); and

b) This defect in the robustness of physical books is a feature, not a bug, and should be im­ported into the digital realm.

Libraries have tried to shame the publishers into offering better deals, through the Fair Pric­ing for Libraries campaign, It’s had some limited success there, with Random Penguin, the largest of the Big Five, offering ‘‘flexible’’ prices that are a substantial improvement, but still far from perfect.

The libraries’ fight is hamstrung by their lack of leverage. Library patrons want e-books, publishers are the only source of the e-books patrons want, and libraries have to give their patrons what they want.

Libraries could have leverage. Publishers have a much bigger e-book problem than library pricing: Amazon’s dominance in e-book sales. Worse than that: Amazon is also a publisher, one that competes head to head with the Big Five, chasing the same authors to write the same books for the same readers.

Amazon knows, in realtime, how publishers’ books are performing. It knows who is buying them, where they’re buying them, where they’re reading them, what they searched for before buying them, what other books they buy at the same time, what books they buy before and after, whether they read them, how fast they read them, and whether they finish them.

Amazon discloses almost none of this to the publishers, and what information they do disclose to the publishers (the sales data for the publishers’ own books, atomized, without data-mineable associations) they disclose after 30 days, or 90 days, or 180 days. Publishers try to fill in the gaps by buying their own data back from the remaining print booksellers, through subscriptions to point-of-sale databases that have limited relevance to e-book performance.

There is only one database of e-book data that is remotely comparable to the data that Amazon mines to stay ahead of the publishers: e-book circulation data from public libraries. This data is not as deep as Ama­zon’s – thankfully, since it’s creepy and terrible that Amazon knows about your reading habits in all this depth, and it’s right and fitting that libraries have refused to turn on that kind of surveillance for their own e-book circulation.

Presently, that data is all locked up by Overdrive, the company the publishers insist on libraries using as a circulation platform for e-book lending.

Here’s my thought-experiment: what if libraries cloned Overdrive in free, open source code, which every library in the world could use, and which libraries could pay independent contractors to patch and improve. Rather than paying an annual fee for Overdrive that pays for the soft­ware and dividends to Overdrive’s investors, the libraries would adopt the model that has made Drupal and WordPress so successful: paying independent contractors for service and upkeep, and collectively shar­ing the benefits of the incremental improvements made through these transactions.

The openness of the platform is key, because that’s what lets the libraries assert that they are able to collect aggregated statistics on usage and circulation that are sufficiently zoomed-out as to not compromise patrons’ privacy, but are still full of the key insights publishers need to compete with Amazon, their best and biggest frenemy, publisher, and retailer rolled into one.

The quid pro quo for this arrangement is that the publishers would have to stop shafting librar­ies on e-books. It’s a win-win, because the librar­ies will just use that extra money to buy more e-books, and the publishers will get actionable market intelligence they can use to sell more e-books and writers will get a publishing ecosystem that is less dependent on a single, remorseless, giant retailer.

It’s critical that we make sure these deals ben­efit writers, because e-books are also a hot potato in writer-publisher dynamics. The Author’s Guild has taken a public stand demanding that writers to get 50% of net proceeds from e-books as a standard deal – double the current rate. Publishers have not taken this call very seriously so far.

But there’s a way to triple the writer’s share of e-book royalties, with­out costing the publishers anything, and, in so doing, take away some of Amazon’s market dominance.

That way is to allow writers to retail their own books.

The standard deal looks like this: retailers get 30% of the gross book price, and writers get 25% of the net (17.5% of gross) as a royalty. If writers were the retailers, their royalty would jump from 17.5% of gross to 47.5% of gross, for the books that they sold.

How could this work? Groups like the Authors Guild, and even its rival Authors Alliance (a group that calls for more liberal copyright rules, on whose advisory board I sit), or even both together (this being one of the few areas in which they can both agree), could raise a grant from a foundation to create an e-book retail platform that writers could host themselves, plug into their WordPress of Drupal sites, or embed as a widget on Facebook and Tumblr. This platform would allow writers to retail their own e-books, and would have a central hub, ‘‘Fair Trade E-books,’’ where readers could, with one search, find the writer’s store for whatever books they were seeking.

Writers who sell their own e-books offer two things that Amazon can’t match. The first is the assurance to readers that when they buy from writers, they help the writers they love triple their earnings, while not spending a penny more. The second is the ability to buy books from a single store, regardless of geographic location.

Today, readers who try to buy English-language books from outside of English territories, or even in territories in which writers have not sold rights, are often simply turned away from Amazon and its competitors. Try to buy one of my English e-books books in Sweden (a country where most people speak better English than me), and chances are you’ll be told your kronor are no good. Amazon can’t figure out which publisher’s e-books are the right ones to sell there, and the cost of screwing it up are higher than the profit from that lost sale, so the customer is turned away.

But writers know exactly which publisher has rights to their books in every territory. By configuring a simple preferences screen, writers can divvy up the remittances from their books to the correct publisher for every sale, and thus serve every customer – even those buying in territories where there are no publishers – if you’ve sold US/Canadian rights, but not UK rights, you can serve UK customers and pocket 100% of the revenue, at least until you find a UK publisher. What’s more, you can use your sales figures from the UK as a convincer to close the deal with a UK publisher.

Like the libraries’ notional Open Overdrive, the writers’ Open Federated Amazon would benefit from collective action. If a writer hires a developer to add a feature to her store, all the writers in the world could use that feature.

The Big Five would have to come to the table, of course: they’d have to offer retail accounts to their own writers, which would incur some real accounting expense on their end. But as this service is born digital, the accounting tools could be built into the retailing software, developed in consultation with the Big Five, to plug right into their accounting systems.

The Big Five have hard-fought deals with Ama­zon that prevent them from allowing retailers to sell more cheaply than Amazon does, and any move to offer e-books direct from their own web­sites would cause serious troubles with Amazon and the other retailers. But it would be hard for any big e-book platform to object to writers serv­ing their own readers, from their own websites.

Most writers need publishers: the ability to write a book is not a good predictor of the ability to publish it. Libraries need publishers, too. The historical accident that put writers, libraries and publishers on opposing sides of the e-book wars is a bad deal all around.

There’s a catch to these solutions, though: they’re incompatible with DRM. The major operating expense of the e-book businesses that Overdrive and Amazon run is solving the insoluble headaches caused by their DRM. Cooperative platforms have no budget to supply that support.

In a rational world, this would be an easy argu­ment to win. All DRM is broken, all e-book DRM doubly so. Just get a copy of Calibre and follow a simple online recipe and you can remove the DRM from any e-book you’ve bought. All DRM does is punish honest readers. The crooked ones have no serious impediment to doing whatever they want with e-books.

However, the Big Five (with the notable excep­tion of Tor, the SF division of Macmillan, which is all DRM-free) require DRM as an unshakable article of faith.

Perhaps the prospect of a lasting peace with writers and libraries – and a competitive edge against Amazon – will win them over.

Tim Pratt: Closing Doors

Timothy Aaron Pratt was born December 12, 1976 in Goldsboro NC. He traveled with his mother as a child, living in Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, and West Virginia before settling back in Goldsboro. Pratt went to Appalachian State University in Boone NC, graduating with a BA in English in 1999, and attended the Clarion Writers Workshop that summer. He worked as an advertising copywriter briefly before moving to Santa Cruz CA in 2000, where he spent a year as a tech writer and office manager for a disability advocacy company. In 2001 he relocated to Oakland and began working as an editorial assistant at Locus, where he is now a senior editor and occasional reviewer.

Pratt began publishing genre material professionally with poem ‘‘Bacchanal’’ in Asimov’s (2001). ‘‘Soul Searching’’ won a Rhysling Award for best long poem in 2005. Some of his poetry was collected in If There Were Wolves (2006).

Pratt’s first professional story sale was ‘‘The Witch’s Bicycle’’ (2001). Other notable stories include Nebula Award finalist ‘‘Little Gods’’ (2002); Hugo Award winner ‘‘Impossible Dreams’’ (2006); Stoker Award finalist ‘‘The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft’’ (2008, with Nick Mamatas); and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist ‘‘Her Voice in a Bottle’’ (2009). ‘‘Hart and Boot’’ (2004) was reprinted in The Best American Short Stories: 2005. Some of his short fiction has been collected in Little Gods (2003), World Fantasy Award finalist Hart & Boot & Other Stories (2007), and Antiquities and Tangibles (2013). He publishes a new short story every month for subscribers to his Patreon at

First novel The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl (2005) was a Mythopoeic Award finalist, and won the Emperor Norton Award for best Bay Area novel. His Marla Mason urban fantasy series began with Blood Engines (2007, as T.A. Pratt), and continued with Poison Sleep (2008), Dead Reign (2008), and Spell Games (2009). Pratt self-published additional series novels Bone Shop (2009), Broken Mirrors (2010), Grim Tides (2012), Bride of Death (2013), Lady of Misrule (2015), and Queen of Nothing (2015). Final volume Closing Doors is forthcoming.

Other books include science fantasy The Nex (2010), gonzo-historical The Constantine Affliction (2012, as T. Aaron Payton), standalone contemporary fantasies Briarpatch (2011) and Heirs of Grace (2014), and short novel The Deep Woods (2015). He has also written gaming tie-ins for Forgotten Realms, Pathfinder Tales, and others properties.

Pratt edited Star*Line, the magazine of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, from 2002 to 2004. With his wife Heather Shaw, he co-edited ’zine Flytrap from 2003 to 2008, with a one-off revival issue in 2014. He edited reprint anthology Sympathy for the Devil (2010) and co-edited original anthology Rags and Bones with Melissa Marr (2013).

Pratt was a finalist for the Campbell Award for best new writer in 2004. He lives in Berkeley CA with his wife and their son, River.

Excerpts from the interview:

‘‘There are so many authors doing what I do that we have a name now: hybrid authors. Hybrids combine different things, and hybrids are stronger and more robust. There are tons of people now who do traditional publish­ing and also self-publish, or crowdfund some projects through Kickstarter, or publish short stories through Patreon, or whatever. It’s no longer either/or. I’ve been doing the hybrid thing for years, but now it’s so widespread it’s almost weird when people don’t. I’ll talk to authors who have thriving careers with big publishers, and they’ll say, ‘I have this weird little passion project, or this niche thing I want to do.’ Or, ‘I had this outline I wrote that we sent around years ago and nobody wanted to buy it, but I still care about it.’ Now there are options for projects like that. Crowdfunding especially has changed the threshold for what makes a project viable, and it works best for writers that are somewhat established, because you need a crowd. If you already have a career in traditional publishing, it’s easier to reach an audience with weird things that might not make enough money for your big publisher to take them on. Maybe you want to do a book that’s too niche or different for your main publisher. Now you can.”


‘‘I’m a short-story guy. Stories are what I’m good at, and occasionally great at. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m a pretty good novelist, but stories are where I excel, and I’ve written a few things I’ll go to my grave happy with. I’ve never written a novel I’m completely pleased with. After I started publishing novels regularly, I almost completely stopped writing short stories. I’d write them when I was solicited for an anthology, but writing for anthologies almost always means writing for a theme, or to a particular length, or with a particular tone. I rarely did the thing I used to love doing: getting an idea and just writing it, without worrying about how long it was going to be, or if it was going to be funny or scary or sad, or SF or fantasy or horror. I made my name (inasmuch as I have a name) from writing stories that way, but after novels took over my time, I stopped. ‘Write more stories’ was always on my mental to-do list, but it was way at the bottom, after the paying work, so I never prioritized it.”


‘‘It’s getting tricky for the midlisters. We’re going extinct. And the small press isn’t the same, either. It used to be that what a small press could offer was making a book. Well, now anyone can make a book. You can hire someone for not that much money to do your layout, buy some stock art or find an illustrator you like online and ask to use one of their pieces, and hire a cover designer who can turn that art into something attractive. You can hire developmental editors, copyeditors, proofreaders. You’re looking at an outlay of maybe hundreds of dollars, and that’s assuming you don’t have the skills to do any of it yourself, and you can get a nice-looking book, sell it, and keep all the money for yourself. The small presses used to have access to distribution channels that self-publishers don’t, but now anyone can publish with all the major online retailers. There are still good small presses with a lot to offer, ones with good relationships with bookstores, and dedicated bases of readers, and presences at conventions, and publicity skills, and good editing: those things all have great value. Subterranean Press is great, and I did a book with PS Publishing last year. Tachyon does fantastic books. Presses like that also offer a certain critical imprimatur: if they publish you, you’re probably worth reading. But there are other independent presses that don’t have that much prestige, or as many connections, and that don’t offer anything an author can’t simply do for themselves. We have more choices now.”


‘‘Most of my best friends who are writers write children’s books, if not exclusively, then at least in part. They’ve given me lots of advice. One of the things that made sense to me was that when you write young adult books, it’s very much about the inner life of the characters. Sometimes very little happens, externally, and it’s largely about processing emotions, figuring things out, deal­ing with your thoughts, and finding your place in the world. Middle grade is more about stuff happening. Younger kids don’t question things as much. You can have a magical thing happen to an eight- or ten-year-old, and they’ll roll with it. It allows you to avoid what I’ve always called the ‘blot of mustard problem.’ (You know, in A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge sees a ghost and tells himself it’s a hallucination brought on by indigestion from undigested beef or a blot of mus­tard.) I write a lot about magic intruding into the modern world, and when you do that, you have to deal with the protagonist’s natural disbelief. They have to say, ‘Is this a dream? Have I gone mad? Have I been drugged?’ Sometimes it’s important to have them wrestle with their belief… but more often you just want to get them to a point where they’ll plausibly accept the magic, so you can get on with the story. There are tricks to make that seem psychologically plausible, but in a middle grade, you don’t have to worry so much. You can just say: ‘Look, magic.’ And the child characters will accept it and act accordingly.”


‘‘I just like to try different things. I wrote a space opera proposal, which my agent is send­ing around now. If anybody bites on that, it will be my next project. There are a couple of other things I want to explore. There’s a character in my Marla Mason novels, a trickster figure, who’s very morally ambiguous. I have an idea for a novel about her, about revenge. I’ve wanted to do a big crazy revenge novel for a while. I love Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold, and I like the Parker novels by Richard Stark, which are usually about someone being wronged and taking revenge. Right now I’m writing another Pathfinder Tales book, the fourth in a series about a con artist named Rodrick and his best friend, a magical sentient sword of living ice. I always liked Elric and Stormbringer, and I always liked Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. One day I thought, ‘What if, instead of all the tortured angst, Elric and Stormbringer had the same sort of relation­ship that Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have?’ A boy and his sword, partners against the world, two halves of a sundered whole. My talking sword is curmudgeonly and mostly wants to sleep on piles of gold all day, because he has the soul of a dragon, and his wielder wants piles of gold too, for all the obvious reasons. The first one was called Liar’s Blade – they didn’t like my preferred title Bastard, Sword, but I used it for a story about the characters later – and the third one, Liar’s Bargain, is out later this year. I like quest novels, but I like quest novels where everybody in the party has a secret ulterior mo­tive and is planning to betray everybody else. Right now I’m writing the fourth book, Liar’s Destiny, which is about the dangers of relying on a prophecy. I love writing this series because it’s mostly banter and sword fighting, 80,000 words of jokes and derring-do and selfish people being forced to do heroic things, because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.”

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