Book Review: ‘Lincoln’s Wizard’

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

To most people, gray is just a color. To people who have read Lincoln’s Wizard by Tracy Hickman and Dan Willis, gray is something to be feared. The book brings the color gray to life, by mixing life and death, white and black, until the result is something eerily in between. The book takes place during the American Civil War, and the Confederacy has found a way to reanimate their fallen. The undead soldiers are known as Grays because of the color of their skin, and they seem to be a new twist on an old theme; zombies. The Grays have no feelings, and they are doomed to repeat the maneuvers they used battle that they died in. This makes them predictable, but their ability to take a bullet without wavering is what makes them a true asset. They have no compulsion to eat flesh, but they must be given a special serum every four days or they will fall apart.

The North is hit hard by this new weapon. They aren’t able to replicate this process, or even understand how it works. They are at a major disadvantage, and there is only one way to level the playing field. The North has to find a way to understand these monsters, and they have a spy in the South who knows where the Grays are being made. Just one small problem: The spy is in the most secure prison that the Rebels have to offer. Lincoln may have a mind for military tactics, but Alan Pinkerton is the brains behind the covert operations.

Braxton Wright is an engineer in the Northern army, and a very good one, at that. He was one of the brains behind the Monitor, a gun similar to a tank, but instead of wheels, the Monitor has legs of metal that it uses to lift itself above the enemy. The catch? The South has been given a few dragons by the French. The dragons are able to expel great gouts of fire, and they are a menace in the sky.

Lincoln’s Wizard is able to subtly integrate Steampunk, and it’s a great book for someone who favors wading into a genre over jumping in headfirst. The machinery is fully explained, and the Steampunk elements are not overbearing. The story is not centered around steam, nor does it strive to use it as proof that the story is unique. The fact that Hickman and Willis have found a way to put a new spin on the undead is proof enough that the book is unique. The airships are steam colossuses, and they plow through the sky with the grace of a hot air balloon. They are major forces to be reckoned with, and they are able to provide the aerial support that an infantry needs when they’re attacked by dragons. The only danger that the Northern airships face is the Hellfire that the dragons spew. When Hellfire and helium mix, the result is explosive, to say the least.

Wright is sent on a born-to-lose mission into the South. He has to deal with many obstacles, but his analytical mind and knack for machines serve him well as he moves from one danger to another. He has to deal with a trainload of Grays, a lost dragon rider, and a broken mechanical soldier whose construction is more sophisticated than anything he has ever seen before.

Lincoln’s Wizard deals with a question that few books do; what if the South had something that would swing the tide of the war in their favor? The North had the supplies, the manpower, and the upper hand. The South had strategists, and the home field advantage. In Lincoln’s Wizard, the South may have the Greys, but the North has superior engineers.

The standard set-up of the Civil War is North versus South, and Good versus Evil. This story shows us a glimpse into the life of Marcus Burnsides, a dragon rider who attacks the Northern air fleet. Our initial reaction is that Burnsides is a monster, someone who is against freedom and equality. As the story continues, we see that he is not a monster, but simply a human being. He lost his woman to another man, and dealt with the pain as people have for centuries. It’s a thought-provoking example of how most people were just the same as the people they are fighting, but simply on the opposite side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Lincoln’s Wizard is an amazing book that perfectly encapsulates the struggle of the North and the South. Some are fiercely loyal to their respective sides, and others have seen too many things to care. Those are the people who just want the war to end. They have seen the carnage and brutality that real war brings, and they are the ones who have been on the front lines. This is demonstrated by attitudes of the prisoners in the Rebel prison, as well as some of the soldiers who have been in battle. If you love alternative history, steampunk, and dragons, this one’s for you!

XXX

Dark Whispers: The Best Halloween Cross-Overs

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Welcome to Dark Whispers, the horror corner of the Super Villain Network – speak intently, break the rules, and may all your nightmares come true.

This week we glory in a series of the best cross-overs Halloween 2015 has to offer! Ren & Stimpy invade The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror couch gag, George R. R. Martin finally becomes a real zombie in Z Nation, the cast of Penny Dreadful invades the board game Clue, and the FOX shows Bones swap remains with Sleepy Hollow!

Ren & Stimp-ified

John Kricfalusi, the manic mastermind behind the infamous Ren & Stimpy cartoons of bygone Nickelodeon days, is back! He returns to draw the opening couch gag for this years Simpsons Treehouse of Horror XXVI. The gag reel, which can be viewed below, is a mixture of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and airs on FOX Sunday October 25, 2015, at 9:00 p.m./8:00 p.m., Central!

The Father of Wights comes to ‘Z Nation’

Is there anything more delicious than irony? The world-renowned George R. R. Martin, author of the famous Game of Thrones books, will play himself, but as a zombie, in an upcoming episode of the wacky post-apocalyptic Syfy series Z Nation!

In the episode, zombie-Jesus-like figurehead, Murphy, gets kidnapped by a zombie collector named, of course, The Collector (Tom Beyer). Proudly taking Murphy on a tour of his zombie museum, the Collector introduces Murphy to Martin, who now spends his days chomping on his books in the ‘celebrity zombie room’. Apparently, the Collector explains, Martin succumbed to the zombie virus after a hectic escape from Comic-Con, which makes absolute total sense to me. Check it out in the mini-clip below!


Find your ‘Clue’ inside ‘Penny Dreadful’

For the longest time, people understood when you said something like, “I believe Colonel Mustard did it in the Study with the Candlestick,” that you were talking about the mystery board game from Hasbro, aptly called Clue. Now, the good people of the Showtime channel have paired with the board game makers to re-envision the world of a murder mystery set in Victorian London!

So Miss Mina Murray has been killed, and the murderer remains at large – what to do? Gather the six suspects: Dorian Gray, Vanessa Ives, Sir Malcolm Murray, Brona Croft, Ethan Chandler, and Victor Frankenstein, follow to the clues as to the location of the murder, and determine with what weapons they did it: pistol, syringe, tarot cards, arsenic, handkerchief, or sword cane! The lovingly illustrated game board represents locations from the show, set in 1891 Victorian London, plus Movers, Personality, and Intrigue Cards, a Clue sheet and envelope instructions! Priced at $39.95, plus tax and shipping, the Penny Dreadful Clue game can be purchased on the Showtime website here!

Find your ‘Bones’ in ‘Sleepy Hollow’

The hotly anticipated pair of cross-over shows for FOX’s Sleepy Hollow and Bones is almost here! Beginning with the Bones episode first, the discovery of skeletal human remains leads Brennan and Booth on a hunt for clues, during which they inevitably encounter Ichabod Crane and Abbie Mills, who are on a clue-hunt of their own. Realizing they’re all after the same evidence, the four protagonists team up to solve their mystery.

Immediately after Bones, the second hour cross-over episode of Sleepy Hollow brings back Crane’s ancient and most prevalent nemesis, leading him and Abbie to inquire with the Bones crew about advanced forensic techniques. Having worked with them before, Crane and pals call back in Booth and Brennan to unlock ancient supernatural secrets using futuristic science! The two-part event airs Thursday October 29, 2015, at 8:00 p.m./7:00 p.m., Central!

The ABCs of Horror: G is for Neil Gaiman

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Neil Gaiman is a man of many talents, but he’s arguably most well-known for his writings, which have been made into many different forms of entertainment media – comic books, graphic novels, films, television shows, and even video games!

My personal favorites will always be Gaiman’s novels, so that is where will we start. In 1990, Gaiman partnered with the legendary and now-lost Terry Pratchett, to create the end of the world comedy story called Good Omens. I read the story and while it is quite good, for me that simply cannot compare to what came next from Gaiman, an amazing look at the hidden underground life of London, Neverwhere.

The story follows Richard Mayhew, a completely normal Londoner who finds himself embroiled in the underground world of faeries, vampires, monsters, and angels, after he saves a bleeding girl on the street. Neverwhere was incredibly popular and was even made into a BBC television miniseries, starring the astounding Peter Capaldi as the Angel Islington. One of my favorite things to do in October is still binge-watching the whole Neverwhere series, which is laid out nearly exactly like the book, down to the dialogue in some cases.

Next was Stardust, yet another novel that was later made into a large-budget film, again about the hidden world of the faeries, kingdoms of ghosts, witches and fallen stars, and plans to take over the world! The movie does star he would go on to become Daredevil in what is arguably Marvel’s best show to date, Charlie Cox as main character Tristan, plus Henry Cavill, Michelle Pfieffer, Claire Danes and even a cameo from Robert De Niro, but that’s for the films section.

Then, in 2001, Gaiman came out with what I still consider to be his magnum opus (as far as novels go), a far-reaching and thought-provoking story of an impending war between the Old Gods and the New, called American Gods. I absolutely loved American Gods, and have quoted, “You want to see Lucy’s tits?” to fellow readers and made instant fan-friends. In general, I’ve devoured that particular book like it was tree-and-ink crack. Nearly everyone who read American Gods agreed that while it would be an absolutely freaking amazing visual treat, but to get the casting right and getting across some of the more subtle events in the book would be near-impossible. Think this no more, American God-lings, for the Starz channel is shooting the television adaptation of the novel right now.

Soon after that followed Gaiman’s personal take on a children’s book, Coraline, which made any costume with black-button eyes instantly recognizable; Anansi Boys, the unofficial sequel of sorts to American Gods, starring Mr. Nancy’s (the incarnation of the African trickster god Anansi, who often takes the form of a spider) two sons, and what they do with their legacy; and The Graveyard Book, harkening back to Gaiman’s darker world of graveyards and spirits, when Nobody Owens is adopted by ghosts in the nearby graveyard after his parents are brutally murdered. Whew! Gaiman’s also written over a dozen made-for-children books, some with illustrations from his longtime working partner Dave McKean.

From here, we progress, naturally, to comic books and graphic novels, and oh, what a treat for the eyes that has been. Known in particular for the Sandman, and the Death mini-series comic books, Gaiman combines his affinity for mesmerizing and long-reaching storylines with the art of Dave McKean to create a unique style that is incredibly hard to copy, much less describe. Full of the darkling world across the whole expanse of the stars, things that transcend the concept of time and space and life and death, Gaiman gives us in comic book format entire universes we love. I still own and treasure my copies of the The Kindly Ones, that featured the death of Sandman; and The Wake series, where all of the Endless came to attend Morpheus’ funeral; Death: The High Cost of Living, where Death lived a mortal life for one day as Didi, the pretty goth chick in happy love with the life all around her; Death: The Time of Your Life, wherein Death comes to make a deal to stave off impending death and beautifully approaches the idea that Death herself cares about you; even Death: At Death’s Door, a freaking manga-style comic featuring many of the Sandman world, all having a party hosted by Delirium at, you guessed it, Death’s door. These characters and their long-reaching storylines are almost biblical in their scope and yet done in a dreamlike state that is so uniquely Gaiman.

Also for the DC Vertigo brand, Gaiman has done Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, Black Orchid, Midnight Days, and The Books of Magic. Other titles include Miracleman, Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, Spawn, some Marvel titles, some Dark Horse too, work for Alan Moore and Frank Frazetta too; he’s just been practically everywhere.

It is worth mentioning that two of Gaiman’s novels, Neverwhere, and his collaboration with Terry Pratchett, Good Omens, have been made into radio plays, which were broadcast on BBC Radio Four. No small achievement, the 2013 adaptation of Neverwhere had the likes of Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, and James McAvoy for voice talent.

Onward we march right into Gaiman’s movies and television episodes he directed. First is the amazing films: MirrorMask, which is, effectively, one of his and McKean’s comic book collaborations brought to very vivid surreal life; and we’ve already touched on the film adaptation of Stardust, which is always a fun romp. Gaiman wrote the original screenplay for the most recent attempt at Beowulf, you know, the one that starred Angelina Jolie as a naga-queen; he adapted the script for the English version of Princess Mononoke, and let us not forget the Claymation treatment of Coraline, which is a lot like watching a cautionary tale starring the characters of Nightmare Before Christmas.

I’ve seen all of these films, and some I enjoyed more than others, but Gaiman’s underlying excellence at script-writing, at writing in any form, is ever-present. Gaiman’s writings and style is so unique, as a matter of fact, he holds the distinction of being the only guest writer of — count them — three modern Doctor Who episodes. He also wrote the screenplay for Neverwhere, was a guest writer for an episode of Babylon 5, and even guest-starred as himself on an episode of The Simpsons.

Neil Gaiman has numerous well-deserved accolades for his writings: Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals, both for the same work, The Graveyard Book. Gaiman has three children with his previous wife Mary McGrath, and married the singer and performer Amanda Palmer in 2011, who gave birth to his son in September 2015.

Neil Gaiman’s writings reached me at a rather young age, and have layered their dark fantastical worlds upon life in the most enchanting manner possible. Dive with me into the darkling life of Neil Gaiman and his enduring fantastical writings that earn him a place among the titans of dark fantasy and horror!

XXX

SLCC 2015: Author and Actor R. J. Terrell

by Agent Sheralyn Pratt (a.k.a. The Sin-sei)

Most authors don’t look familiar the first time you see them, but if you think you recognize R.J. Terrell at a glance, it might not be your imagination. Terrell is an author who also works as an actor. In addition to writing novels, such as Echoes of a Shattered Age, you may have seen Terrell as one of Robin Hood’s merry men on ABC’s Once Upon a Time, or on CW shows that also film up in Vancouver, like iZombie and The 100. We caught up with this multi-tasking dynamo at Salt Lake Comic Con. 

Terrell’s path to writing was not direct; he always wanted to be an actor. Like many creatives, Terrell was confronted by well-meaning parents who thought it was in his best interest to embark on a more traditional career. He tripped into becoming a writer first, while taking the path his more “practically minded parents” encouraged him to live. “My dad was in the military,” Terrell explains. “And then he became a police detective, so he encouraged me to go to school, graduate, get a job, work hard, and then retire. And I tried. I tried! But it was against my nature.”

What came naturally to Terrell was writing.

“I was going to school for medical billing and encoding,” Terrell says, remembering how things got started for him. “I was ahead in my work, so my teacher says, ‘Go on down to the typing program and do some work on that [story], then bring it back.’ So I had this idea for a story in my head. I typed it out, brought it back. The next day she said, ‘You wrote this?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ She said, ‘Okay, well as long as you’re ahead in your work, go down there and type. As long as I get to read it, I’ll give you points on that.’ By the time I finished that course — I think it was a nine- or ten-month course — I had half of the book, Echoes of a Shattered Age, written. That was kind of how things got started.” So started the winding path that led to a fruitful writing career. Although he may not have had doors opened to his creativity, his teacher definitely opened a window of opportunity. Terrell jumped through that window with gusto.

Terrell’s acting career took a more straightforward path; his wife suggested it after he moved up to Vancouver, or, as some people refer to it, Hollywood North. The film community is very strong there, so as soon as Terrell was eligible to work in Canada, he got an agent and started auditioning. Not surprisingly, the skills that Terrell cultivated and developed as a writer also helped in his acting career.

“One thing that writing and acting have in common is that nothing should be there that doesn’t have a purpose,” he says. “As an actor, you might go out for a small part where your main focus is that you move the story forward. As we say in the industry, ‘You’ve been given three lines, don’t make a meal out of it.’ Your job is to move things forward. You have a purpose, but don’t go beyond that purpose.” But, this statement also highlights that small parts do matter, even if they’re not the focus of the entire scene or story. However, if they get blown out of proportion they can become a distraction, pulling focus where it shouldn’t be.

“In writing, it’s the same way,” Terrell continues. “You have a small character that plays a small role, but if you make it too big then the readers are going to be like, ‘Hey, that character did something really significant. What are they going to do next? Wait … I never saw them again.’ If someone is doing something significant, then there needs to be a follow-up at some point.”

In a well-balanced set of characters in a story, no part is insignificant, but each should only be as developed as it needs to be. That balance makes both storytelling and acting compelling, though, obviously, writers and actors differ dramatically in how they contribute to the development of those characters.

“The greatest challenge with acting, on a craft level, is learning how to step in and live a character,” Terrell explains. “I find that the emotional arcs of a character can be difficult, because you genuinely have to bring those emotions. As you grow into adulthood, you’re taught to hide your feelings. For example, you don’t want people to know you hate their guts. You smile and say everything is fine. But when you’re acting, you need to bring that out. You need to have that emotion stored up there and ready to come out, when you get to the part where it’s supposed to be there. It’s a lot harder than just saying lines. A lot of people don’t understand. Some people do. But it’s a lot deeper than [saying lines]. You need to feel all those things, because if you don’t, people will know it. If you’re not feeling it, the audience is not going to feel it, and sometimes they might not even know why. They just know it didn’t work.”

Writers need to develop the complementary skill: developing characters that come to life for the reader — and, if the writer is true to his or her craft,  it’s the reader’s job to feel the part.

On the flip side, Terrell thinks one of the biggest challenges of writing is developing patience. “What I mean by that,” he says, “is that I’m one of those people who likes to jump in and get the story rolling. Having the patience to do my research, but knowing when to pull back without going too far. Yes, I’ve done my research, but I don’t want to info-dump on my reader. Balancing how much is enough, and how much is too much is probably one of the hardest parts of writing for me.”

And yet, as challenging as writing is, Terrell continues to churn out books with no intention of writing for the TV industry he’s involved with. What is it about full-length novels he prefers to movies or TV shows?

“Relationships,” Terrell says without hesitation. “There is no way any three movies — any four or even six movies — can give you the relationships that develop in books. Film is a visual medium, so there are things that film does better, but with books, your mind is playing an active role in producing the story. I like to joke that you’re looking at these words on a page and you’re hallucinating the whole thing, because you get so sucked into it that you see it! And in my opinion, that’s the best kind of 3-D, because you are right there with those characters. You’re walking right beside them, and there is absolutely nothing that can replace that.”

With a few exceptions, an unbreakable bond develops between the world a writer creates and the reader: a relationship that is stronger and far more meaningful than most movies can offer. It is that relationship that changes the reader; it may make him or her think, it may give them a world where they find solace, but regardless, a novel transforms its audience in a more intimate way than a film can. It is a deep and reciprocal connection that most cherish for life.

That’s not to say that TV and film don’t have their place, or that they’re not enriching, mind-blowing, and worthy of a full-tilt geek-out. We all have that special show or movie that moves us in ways like no other can. Luckily for all of us, we live in a world where we can enjoy all three, and R.J. Terrell will continue to bring us all three in the form of his novels, and TV and movies. And he will continue to bring us each with unique care, skill, and passion. So, keep your eyes open when you’re watching TV, movie previews, and maybe on a local bookshelf: You may just spot him!

XXX

 

Dragon Con 2015: Larry Elmore on SFF and Imagination

by Agent Amanda Grefski (a.k.a. Madame Helleveeg)

Larry Elmore is a quiet, unassuming southern gentleman, with a welcoming tone and an inviting smile. We met up with Elmore at Dragon Con 2015, and speaking with him could be likened to chatting with an old friend — if that old friend were responsible for the look of Dungeons and Dragons as we know it, and the artist behind the iconic Dragonlance series, plus countless sci-fi covers and art including SnarfQuestReflections of Myth, and a dozen or so of Magic: The Gathering cards. I don’t mean to gush … okay, maybe I do, but many closeted (or more accurately, “basemented”) nerds and geeks have Larry Elmore to thank for their sci-fi fix, their sense of solidarity, and ultimately, their sanity. Geek savior? He might protest, but anyone who endured being “that different kid” and quite literally lived for those cherished D&D marathon weekends would surely disagree.

In a climate where being nerdy and geeky is finally coming to the fore, Elmore reminisces about the days when SFF was truly a subversive thing. “All of that stuff about Dungeons and Dragons being demonic is nonsense! It’s the exact opposite, really. Kids have to do reading and math to play it — it’s very good for the mind. It is the exact opposite of what everyone thought. I’m glad society is coming around, but it wasn’t that way in my time. If you didn’t fit the mold, there was something wrong. There’s nothing wrong with a kid who likes to cheerlead or play football, but what about the kid who was different? I liked to draw, which made me different, but I was lucky. I had my mom and grandmother.”

This unassuming giant of the SFF world started small, in rural Kentucky with no running water or electricity. Encouraged by his grandmother, Elmore’s talent flourished in a time where having an imagination was frowned upon. He goes on to explain, “My grandmother was special, she didn’t care what everyone said, she thought that whatever talent you had, God gave it to you and you should nurture it. You have to understand, she was born at the turn of the century, this was not a popular mindset, but she and my mother were special; they didn’t quite care what others thought. So she and my mother nurtured my art.

“My father got TB during World War II, so he was in and out of hospitals for months, and sometimes, a year at a time. So, my mom and I lived in a little tiny house out in Kentucky, under a hill, with a coal stove for heat in the winter and a wood stove for mom to cook on and no electricity or running water. It was nothing to feel sorry for, because half the people in this country lived the same way. We got money from the Veterans Administration, and it was just enough to survive on, but not enough for paper for me to draw. My family would bring us groceries and my mother used to cut the brown sacks the groceries came in, so they’d lay flat and I, with my one pencil, would draw all over it … sometimes by the light of a kerosene lamp. My mom, she was young — only 19 or 20 back then — but she was tough and resourceful. She had to be, because of the circumstances, but she never deterred me from drawing. I had a very rich childhood, full of drawing, storytelling … we even made figures out of muddy clay and sun-dried them. We played with those until they crumbled in my little hands. We were poor as anybody, but it was a rich life.”

Elmore attended Western Kentucky University, joined the army and began writing Fort Knox training aids. Elmore adds, “the training aids were essentially comics about soldiers, vehicles, and weapons, because this generation was younger and less well-read than the first, they needed visuals to back up the instructions, and I provided the visuals. The good part is that [they were] things I liked to draw anyway: All in all it was a great gig.”

After working as both a service man and civilian on the Fort Knox training aids, Elmore turned to freelancing, publishing his art in such magazines as National Lampoon and Heavy Metal. It was during this time that Elmore engaged in his most influential commission; the one that would define him as one of the premier SFF artists of our time. It was 1979 and one of his fellow government artists approached him about this new game called Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeons and Dragons (affectionately called D&D by fans) had come out in 1974, with rudimentary artwork, but a fantastic premise. By ’79, publishers TSR knew D&D needed an artistic overhaul, and both Elmore and his former colleague submitted work, but ultimately, Elmore’s work was chosen for its realism. He joined the staff of TSR and provided D&D with its first professional artwork, essentially shaping the image of this nerd pastime as we know it. In a modest admission, Elmore adds, “It was really just because Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were looking for realism — the other people I worked with, [their works] weren’t as real looking — and there’s nothing wrong with that, but what they were looking for was realism, and that’s what I do.”

Because of his work with D&D, and the subsequent success of SnarfQuest, originally published in Dragon magazine, Elmore was approached by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman; they were in search of artwork for their Sovereign Stone trilogy, and later, for their Dragonlance series. Elmore recalls, specifically of the Dragonlance series, “I didn’t know the rules, because I’d never done this before, so I drew the characters looking straight at you. I had no idea you weren’t supposed do that. That was not the formula — characters are supposed to be staring off to the side, with something in the background: A mountain, clouds, an opponent.” But, this style was, in essence, what made these covers so special. There is one cover in particular, the original cover of the Dragonlance book, The Time of the Twins, where Raistlin, the misunderstood, introverted teen-turned-dark-mage, is embracing the cleric Crysania, but stares directly at the reader. The character’s stare is sinister and full of knowing, but eerily compelling at the same time. Those knowing glances that make eye contact with the reader, inviting the reader into the story were, in a lot of ways, what sold this series. It also revolutionized SFF cover art, because after this era, there were many who tried to imitate Elmore’s style and compelling stare in their covers. They still do, in fact.

Elmore is also not a person who denies himself pleasure in life; he is a fan of fast, classic cars, and good food and spirits. When his longtime friend and colleague, Keith Parkinson, passed away, though, Elmore had a wake-up call. “We were opposites, but such great friends. Keith was so careful about his health, he ate right, he exercised. I didn’t do any of that and he was the one who died before his time. He was so young and he had such a career behind him and ahead of him. He was so talented and a great person …” Elmore pauses for a moment, takes a deep breath, and composes himself. “It really gave me a sense that I had a purpose, that I had to keep moving. I’ve had heart attacks and a stroke, and I’m still here. I can’t retire; I can’t stop going — I’ve slowed down a lot, but I have to keep active.” But we must understand that Elmore’s idea of slowing down is vastly different from the usual person’s. He’s cut down from 10 to 12 conventions a year to between five and eight cons, on top of his vigorous painting and appearance schedule.

And even more, when he is at a con, he truly interacts with his fans. There’s no handler or pedestal for this icon: Just his good friend, Todd, who sets up and breaks down his booth, and his unending stream of fans, whom he speaks with on a personal level and makes each and every one of them forget that there’s a mile-long line behind them. And he makes each person in that mile-long line feel like the wait was worth every minute.

That love was reciprocated when Elmore posted a Kickstarter project for The Complete Elmore Artbook in hard copy. Elmore’s first Kickstarter project funded fully, and then some. His most recent Kickstarter project, The Complete Elmore, Volume II, Black And White posted a goal of $18,500, and was funded at over $132,000. “I was so surprised,” he recounted. “You work in a studio, you go to cons and meet people, but you don’t realize how much your fans appreciate your work.”

Another example of the humility of an individual who shaped the climate of sci-fi art as we know it, and in many ways, made it that much more ‘okay’ for people to be nerds, in a time when playing D&D and reading SFF series had to be kept under wraps. But it endured, and Elmore has a theory on this, “In my grandparents’ day, people explored uncharted territory: South America, Africa. Everyone was in search of adventure. By the time my generation came along, and most definitely [Generation X], there was nothing left to explore, no more uncharted territories: Everything was discovered. So, no one was writing books imagining what these places were like, because now, we already knew. We’ve seen 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for real, we’ve been to space. People want adventure, but where was the adventure for us? Well, we had to make our own adventures. We had to imagine them, and when you imagine your adventure, there are no limits to where you can go, what you can do, who you can meet or what you can discover. We created an unlimited adventure that had no boundaries, because the adventures of the generation past did [have boundaries] — and that limited them. Us, we have no limitations. We can continue adventuring. We can fight dragons with magic, we can discover new creatures and lands, we can make allies with elves, we can fly, we can do all of it as long as we can imagine it. So, don’t ever let your imagination go. Never.”

As long as there are artists and SFF advocates like Elmore, our imagination and adventure will undoubtedly live on. Elmore’s modest, yet outspoken voice advocating for this genre and, thus, all of the lives it affected, is a priceless gift. To D&D nerds around the world, it was no less than life-changing, and yet, this indomitably happy artist, who was obviously exhausted from a day of meeting and greeting fans, sits across from me like we’ve known each other for years, and we’re just catching up. This is what makes Larry Elmore so truly unique and it is one of many reasons why we should all be compelled to share the limitless adventure.

XXX

Worldcon 2015: Thrilling Thursday

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)        

The dark banks of smoke that covered the sky Thursday did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of all the devoted fans who have flocked to Spokane for Worldcon. We are a resilient lot, and it takes more than that to bring us down.

The events really hit their stride at ten in the morning, when all of the panels and events started to get under way. The teenage delegations from all the fandoms were able to meet up in a room at the Double Tree Hotel and shared cookies, lemonade, and a bunch of games.

There was much to see, but one of the highlights was the all the dancing. People in fanciful costumes from all over the world came together and paired off for different traditional dances. Not necessarily traditional to our world, however. At two o’clock there was a ‘Nanny Ogg Knees Up!’ dance, based on the mythical realm of Discworld, a creation of the late Terry Pratchett.

Preceding the dance was a memorial held in honor of the great writer, and people he had met and influenced were invited to share their experiences. A young woman in a well-made cosplay had to have the microphone held for her because she needed both hands free to wipe her eyes as she spoke. Terry Pratchett touched many lives, and even now, the ingenuity of his fans is indoctrinating new people and opening their eyes to the wonderful, flat world that was his true art.

The location bidders (lobbying to win the honor of hosting the next Worldcon) from Washington, D.C. hosted a free barbecue lunch in the park, and they had a high turnout. Not only did they serve the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs, they also had vegetarian options, chips, and drinks. The burgers were smoky and the drinks were cold, so there was much merriment and lightheartedness.

After lunch, people separated from their new-found friends and went back to attending panels. Some people chose to learn about ambushes, while others thought that a conversation about Doctor Who was what they wanted to do. One or two of them may have even been fortunate enough to come across an owl puppet in a vendor’s booth that has the fourth Doctor’s scarf wrapped around his neck. If you ask the vendor, the owl is Doctor Whooo.

Though there was not as much hustle and bustle as there was on First Night, people still managed to have plenty of fun and laughs. At the Davenport Hotel, there was a big dance called the Girl Genius Ball. Plenty of people payed homage to the wonderful series that inspired the dance by dressing up in their own versions of Steampunk and looking like they had just stepped out of one of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s beautifully illustrated Girl Genius comics.

Throughout the day, there was much carousing and eating of delicious cookies (although no castles were stormed, much to relief of the hotel staff). There were tears shed for those that have been lost, and laughter shared with those who are just arriving. The festivities are still going on, and anime fans are delighted by the fact that there will be late night-and early morning-screenings of all their classics.

XXX

Check out our exclusive photo gallery from thrilling Thursday at Worldcon!

Worldcon 2015: Meet TANSTAAFL Press

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Everyone has a story. Most of them are glad to share it; all you have to do is ask. I caught up with TANSTAAFL Press publisher, Tom Gondolfi, at Worldcon in Spokane, Washington, and he was more than happy to answer my questions. TANSTAAFL Press is a small publishing house with big ideas. “An author who wishes to be a success can’t sit idly by in his ivory tower and only write books unless he is already a huge name … [We] define success as commercial viability and/or number of people reading your work … You must offer value for value. TANSTAAFL Press was founded in 2011 to bring one author down from his own ivory tower and let the public enjoy the value he provided from his fertile imagination.” In other words: There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch!

Gondolfi describes himself as a Renaissance man. He’s an avid player of board games and RPGs, a reader, a writer, and he’s lived and worked in a wild variety of areas. “I have skills in a lot of areas. I have been a cook; I’ve done all phases of construction; I’m an engineer now; I was a personal assistant to a quadriplegic; I’ve been a volunteer firefighter for ten years, so I’ve done a little bit of everything, but I’ve never done anything in the publishing field …There was a lot of on-the-job training, so to speak.”

With all of those skills under his belt, how did he end up in the prestigious field of publishing? Gondolfi explains, “So, my wife handed me this book. It was called The Well-Fed Self-Publisher… I started to read it and realized that traditional publishers weren’t all that and a bag of chips. So, I decided to do it myself. The one thing I didn’t really know anything about was marketing to people, and that’s pretty typical of [anyone] who’s an author. I found out that I’m a natural flirt: as my wife calls it, ‘a certified flirt.’ So, it worked out really well.”

And that pretty well describes his business. In just three years, he has managed to publish seven books — while working a day job! In its infancy, TANSTAAFL Press faced an unexpected setback that almost caused it to be scrapped. “I looked for almost a year before I found an artist, an illustrator, that was both good and that would even talk to me, because a lot of artists don’t want to work with a new publishing house … the reason is that they’re worried their art is going to go onto something that sucks … but Tony [Foti] is a true commercial artist.”

TANSTAAFL Press takes a local and global approach to marketing its new works of fiction and showcasing debut authors. By actively marketing to independent booksellers in both traditional sales and consignment opportunities, they’ve cultivated a network of bookstores who promote local authors and help them build a hometown following. Reaching out to larger markets, both online and at conventions like Worldcon help them to expand their reach beyond that home base.

Fans of Gondolfi’s first book, Toy Wars, are in for a big treat. He has planned a sequel! “In fact, I’m about half way through writing it … Don Quixote returns!” He has much in store for all of his fans, and we must all wait with baited breath for his next work. If you’re not yet a fan of Toy Wars, it’s available for a limited time as a free Kindle download.

So far, TANSTAAFL has published two authors, Gondolfi and his good friend, Bruce Graw, and has recently signed two new authors: Christopher Bair and Stephanie Weippert. Gondolfi has published the first three books in a series called the CORPGOV Chronicles, and plans to write nine more. “The absolute least I have for each one is, here’s a paragraph and here’s the concept of what’s going to happen in the book. Some of them I actually have a really, really rough outline. But, it’s really rough.”

To new and aspiring writers, Gondolfi offered a pearl of wisdom: “One of the things that allowed me to do that [outline all nine of his future CORPSGOV Chronicles books] — because I used to hate outlining — was learning that outlining is not a strait-jacket. You can change an outline.” This may sound like something that is obvious, but most young writers don’t realize this, and they come to hate outlines because no one ever points this out to them.

We look forward to seeing what TANSTAAFL Press and its growing stable of talent will bring us next.

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Starz ‘American Gods’: Casting for a Shadow Moon

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror) 

Be of good cheer, my fellow villainous brethren! Now is the time come, for the Old Gods and the new, the Elect and the Damned, and all the spirits, elves, fairies, demons, and everything else in between, to come together in live action! That’s right, today Neil Gaiman himself confirmed that finally, finally after fourteen long years of waiting and copious issues, his novel, American Gods, will be made into a straight-to-series drama from the Starz channel!

For those of you not willing to break out your dog-eared copy of the beloved book, the plot posits a war brewing between old and new gods: the traditional ancient gods of Biblical and mythological roots from around the world steadily losing believers to an upstart pantheon of gods reflecting society’s modern love of money, technology, media, celebrity, and drugs. The novel’s protagonist, Shadow Moon, is an ex-con who becomes bodyguard and traveling partner to Mr. Wednesday, a con-man but in reality one of the older gods, on a cross-country mission to gather his forces in preparation to battle the new deities. The 2001 novel has been translated into more than 30 languages, and earned numerous accolades including Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker Awards for Best Novel.

Commented author Neil Gaiman, “I am thrilled, ‎scared, delighted, nervous and a ball of glorious anticipation. The team that is going to bring the world of American Gods to the screen has been assembled like the master criminals in a caper movie: I’m relieved and confident that my baby is in good hands. Now we finally move to the exciting business that fans have been doing for the last dozen years: casting our Shadow, our Wednesday, our Laura…”

Starz CEO Chris Albrecht said, “STARZ is committed to bring American Gods to its legions of fans. With our partners at FreemantleMedia and with Bryan, Michael and Neil guiding the project, we hope to create a series that honors the book and does right by the fans, who have been casting it in their minds for years. The search for Shadow begins today!”

And what that, my fellow nightmarish minions, we begin SVN’s own version of the casting game for American Gods! Starting off with of course, the pivotal main character who is perhaps also the singularly most difficult to cast, Shadow Moon.

The novel describes Shadow Moon as big and quiet, and already, there is plenty of controversy about what race he ought to be, to stay true to the book if nothing else. So, if we’re sticking to the idea that it cannot be a white actor, my only submission for a mixed-race protagonist would be the master of emotions from Sleeper Cell and Almost Human, Michael Ealy. I believe he could act his way through the full range of Shadow’s experiences and do them serious justice. Plenty of other people are offering up Jason Momoa as a choice for Shadow, but I think we should see how he does as the world’s first non-white Aquaman before that.

Then, of course, is Shadow’s fellow major character of the story, known in the beginning as Mr. Wednesday but it eventually becomes known that he’s the All-Father Odin, and choosing that name was his version of a joke. It would be easy to say Sir Anthony Hopkins, who’s already been Odin in the Marvel Thor films, frankly too easy. I enter for your vaunted opinions two options for the pivotal role of Mr. Wednesday: Sir Anthony Head, the man who was Uther Pendragon and the operatic Repo Man of my dreams; or Jeremy Irons, he of the unforgettable voice and face, who’s been everything from the Borgia Pope, to a Jesuit Musketeer, to the head freaking Morlock. Either one of these very fine actors would do Mr. Wednesday with great dark glee.

Laura Moon, poor Shadow’s wife, who comes back from the dead to help out her wayward husband, is yet another difficult casting job to field. (Aren’t they all at this point?) Anyway, even with a healthy slathering of deadite makeup, my submission for this most helpful role would be Rachel Weisz. As with her performance in the Mummy film franchise, she would be terrific at nudging Shadow back in line, and also kicking the asses of some uppity gods, if need be; she’s done it already, after all.

It would be very, very hard to do casting choices for the key character of Low-Key Lyesmith without giving everything away, for those of you who haven’t read the book, so I’m just going to toss out my picks and leave it at that. But believe me, Low-Key is only secondary to Mr. Wednesday as far as importance to Shadow goes. For him, I offer up Rumplestiltskin himself, Robert Carlyle, whose acting in the previously mentioned role should be right up his alley for this one; or everyone’s favorite Peaky Blinder and badass Scarecrow, Cillian Murphy. Either man would do an excellent job that would hardly be, say it with me, low-key. Sorry, kids, no Tom Hiddleston for you.

There are lots of other fun casting character choices to run with: Mr. Nancy, Mad Sweeney, Monsieurs Ibis and Jacquel, Bast, Easter, Hinzelmann and Samantha Black Crow to name just a few. What do you think of Pandora’s preferences for casting? Who would you want to be your Shadow in the Moon? Tell us the deepest desires of your casting for the story of gods through the ages in the comments!

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Writers of the Future 31 Anthology is Here!

by Special Agent Laura Davis (a.k.a. Hex Quillion)

Today is May the fourth, and aside from Star Wars Day, there’s another reason to celebrate: the release of this year’s Writers of the Future anthology! The winners of the competition were announced at the recently held awards ceremony in Hollywood, California. Honestly, though, the awards ceremony is just a sparkly spot in the huge, brilliant picture that is Writers of the Future.

This is not just another book award. It’s a program, a process, a system for shaping new writers and ensuring that the genres of science fiction and fantasy continue to grow and mature as art forms. It builds an integrated community of writers who support each other and work together throughout their careers. “It’s an awesome thing,” said Writers of the Future judge, Todd McCaffrey, who is a science fiction author and son of the late, great Anne McCaffrey. “This is a chance to break into the industry in a huge way, you don’t have to pay any money, thank God. You can submit four times a year, and you’re going to be read by a professional writer first, and finally, judged by a whole bunch of professional authors. Your name’s not on whatever you submitted, so nobody knows who you are, they don’t know your sex, they don’t know how old you are, nothing! Which is really pretty cool.”

It began with L. Ron Hubbard. Say what you will about Scientology, or even about Hubbard’s own writing, but his founding and endowment of the Writers of the Future program was certainly his greatest legacy to the literary world and, quite possibly, the greatest legacy ever left in the genres of science fiction and fantasy.

Hubbard began writing in the early 1930s, and started out, as many authors did at that time, writing for pulp magazines. At a penny a word, he had to learn to crank out as many words as possible in as short a time as possible, in order to eke out a living. He wrote on an old Remington manual typewriter, as he put it, “until I am finger worn to the second joint.” Writing for pulps was extremely competitive, and Hubbard found that he had to learn any lessons he needed the hard way, because “the gentlemen of the craft” were not eager to share advice with potential competitors.

Hubbard believed that there should be help and mentorship available to neophytes, and, to that end, in 1935, he became President of the New York chapter of the American Fiction Guild, and he published an essay entitled “The Manuscript Factory,” in which he shared his advice on the business of writing. “You are a factory,” he wrote. “And if you object to the word, then allow me to assure you that it is not a brand, but merely a handy designation which implies nothing of the hack, but which could be given to any classic writer.” He continued publishing his essays on the craft and business of writing over the course of years.

There was actually a proto-version of Writers of the Future, which Hubbard started in 1940. It was done through a radio show called The Golden Pen Hour, which aired on KGBU in Ketchikan, Alaska. The show was designed to inspire new writers, and the Writers of the Future contest was intended to level the playing field for new writers. “Anyone but professional writers may participate,” stated the rules.

In 1981, Hubbard founded Author Services, Inc., which began as his private literary agency, and has since grown to include not only administration of the Writers of the Future program, but also Galaxy Press, which publishes Hubbard’s fictional works, and the L. Ron Hubbard Theatre, which produces The Golden Age Radio Hour: a weekly theatrical readings and performances of Hubbard’s work.

The current iteration of the Writers of the Future program began in 1983, and among its winners are some of our most talented contemporary authors: Dean Wesley Smith, Dave Wolverton, Eric Flint, Patrick Rothfuss, and Brad Torgerson, to name just a few. The contest has four submission periods each year, and each quarter, three writers and three illustrators are chosen as finalists and awarded cash prizes. At the end of the year, the four first place winners from each of that year’s quarterly competitions are judged against each other for the grand prize Gold Award, a publishing contract, and a $5,000 cash prize.

The truly amazing part, though, takes place the week before the awards. All 12 of the year’s winners are invited to come to Hollywood for a week of hands-on writing workshops taught by Tim Powers and Dave Farland, with guest lectures from the judges, who are all seasoned professional writers, and other industry professionals. The workshops and lectures are hosted in the Author Services building. Spending a week working there is, in its own right, a prize. The building’s interior is paneled in warm, honey-toned wood, and there are inviting spots to read and write anywhere you look. There’s a wealth of artwork and photographs, most pertaining to Hubbard’s books. The library is loaded, not only with Hubbard’s own work, but also with the books of the winners and judges. The halls have display shelves filled with an incredible collection of pulp magazines, some dating from the ‘20s and ‘30s, and of course, there’s a dazzling display of award trophies. The staff are friendly and solicitous. When you visit, it’s clear they are proud to welcome you to their beautiful writer-haven.

Author Services’ Executive Director, Gunhild Jacobs, said, “It’s such a joy! All these young, creative people … Our family is our winners. Every year, we get another 24 or 25 ‘children,’ and it just keeps growing and growing.” She added as she handed me a gorgeous volume of Hubbard’s essays from the ‘30s, “He wanted, already, back then to give advice and help to novice authors.”

Writers of the Future judge, Managing Editor of Galaxy’s Edge magazine, and science fiction author, Mike Resnick remarked, “I’m in my fifty-third year as a freelancer, but if I had to work in an office, I’d want it to be in this building. It is the most comfortable and comforting place you’d ever want to work. And I’m not a Scientologist, I’m a devout atheist, but nobody ever mentions the word ‘Scientology’ in this building … Here, it’s strictly writing … Everybody here is so nice … it sure does make for pleasant surroundings.” It really does, and it contributes to the sense of family that Writers of the Future creates among its participants.

One of this year’s winners, Kary English, explained, “My cohort, they all feel like family. I have 13 new brothers and sisters, and they feel like tribe. These are my tribe. It’s like graduating from high school and we’re all signing each other’s yearbooks. We’re that close and that cohesive, so that part has been amazing.”

“It’s not quite a fraternity,” said author Eric Flint, a past winner and current judge with Writers of the Future. “There’s certainly a network that’s built out of it, there’s no question about that. I won this contest 22 years ago. The coordinator at the time was Dave Wolverton, who is the coordinator today. He stopped doing it for years, and there was someone else doing it, but he’s back. I stayed in touch with him, and through him, I got an agent, and that helped me get published. The networks get built up. Whether they get maintained or not depends a lot on the individual. Some individuals really stick with it, while others drift away. In a way, it kind of reminds me more of graduate school, where you get a group of people who studied under a certain professor and they sort of wind up working in the field together. Part of what gives any professor prestige is how many of his students end up doing research and influencing. It’s probably more like that, than like a fraternity.”

And that’s another part of the magic: the judges and mentors. They volunteer their time and advice, not only during the judging periods and workshop week, but throughout the year. “I can’t pay back,” explained Resnick. “Everybody who helped me is either dead or rich, or both. So, I pay forward. And most of us feel that way … That’s what all the judges are doing here … Once I see a beginner with a lot of talent, I’ll collaborate with them to get them into print. Because nobody turns me down these days. As an anthology editor, and now as a magazine editor, I’ll buy from them to get them into print. If they’ll show up at conventions I’m at, I’ll introduce them to editors, I’ll introduce them to agents, I’ll do anything I can for them, and it just seems like a natural thing to do. The field has been so good to me, this is how I thank them.”

“Everybody says all these great things about us, but at the end of the day, it’s just enlightened self-interest,” said McCaffrey. “We’re all readers first. We want more stuff to read. I can re-read any stuff that I wrote, but I already know how it’s going to end, because I wrote it. We’re just trying to get more writers out there. It’s marvelous.”

McCaffrey explained how critical it is not only to foster development of the craft of writing, but of the business side, as well. “If you look at what L. Ron Hubbard said about why he set this thing up, he said that art and artists are the people who are looking at the future of society. We’re the dreamers. You know, we’re usually underpaid and starving. He wanted more people to be dreamers, though I don’t think the starving part was on his list. The idea was that, on some level, we are the people that come up with ideas that people like Steve Jobs want to do. We just throw them out because, well, who wants to develop all that stuff and become a billionaire? It depends upon what you want in life. If millions and billions means you have to have a 24-hour bodyguard, and people are trying to blow up your house and your dog every day, well, then I’m not so sure I want that. If being a full-time writer means that I don’t know when I’m going to be able to feed my cat next, I’m not sure I want that, either. There is a happy medium.”

The program is a benefit to the judges, too. While they’re pouring out their mentorship and support, they’re networking with the future generation, and strengthening their bonds with their contemporaries. “The thing about the contest,” Flint continued, “is it’s got a Hell of a track record … Sean Williams and I came out of that year. We’ve had the most successful careers, and Tony Compton’s had a good, solid career … Thirty one years is a very long time, and what you get by then is graduates of the original judges who have now become major authors.”

Flint added, “The other thing that happens for the judges is that that becomes its own network also. They all tend to overlap a lot, because what you’ll get is a dozen to twenty judges, and by now, I know all of them. I have fairly regular contact with most of them. I’ll run across them at other conventions … With some of them, Kevin Anderson and Mike Resnick and about a half a dozen of them, I have very close relations, either collaborating on novels or, in the case of Kevin and Rebecca [Moesta], Dave Wolverton, and I, we teach a seminar together.”

Resnick calls the writers he takes under his wing his “writer children.” These include Tina Gower and Laurie Tom, who are both previous Writers of the Future winners, and his two latest additions, both winners from this year’s contest. Resnick lights up as he talks about them, “The new one [Kary English], she’s the only one who is up for a Hugo. I bought that story [“Poseidon’s Eyes”] that’s on the ballot, it’s for my magazine. Yeah! I found a good author! I found another good author, [the Golden Pen] winner, [Sharon Joss]. I’ve already assigned her a story for my magazine. Blondie, I call her. Those two, really good this year.”

He got even more animated as he continued talking about English, “That was her first story, and it’s on the Hugo ballot! You betcha, we’re going to push the Hell out of her! We’re bragging about her for the next two issues of the magazine. We’re going to set up an autographing for her at the World Science Fiction Convention. I’ve told her I want two more stories. I gave her the subject matter for one … the other, anything she wants, it’s pre-sold, just get it to me.”

Tom returned as a mentor to this year’s winners. She talked about her experience, “One of the nice things, coming back as a returning winner is I get to watch all of this that I went through, without the stress of having to go through it … I did the signing, and I get to be there as moral support for the winners … Sometimes they’re a little intimidated, they’re like, ‘I want to meet the judge, but he’s my idol! I can’t talk to him!’ But, they can talk to a returning winner because we’re closer to their level, and we totally make ourselves available for things like that. We can say, ‘Hey, I’ll take you over to meet your literary hero that you can’t talk to on your own!’ They brought back Orson Scott Card this year, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God! It’s Orson Scott Card!’ Even for me, even though I’ve been here for a while, and I know how to act professionally, it’s still, ‘It’s Orson Scott Card!’”

The workshop week is intensive, and aimed at helping each winner to sharpen his or her skills to a fine point. One exercise several of the participants mentioned is the “24-Hour Story.” Each writer takes a random object from a box. One of these objects, a cigar cutter, has become famous (infamous?), due to the writers who have chosen it and the stories that have been built around it. The writers are taken to the library to randomly grab a book, and then they go down to Hollywood Boulevard and have a 20-minute chat with a stranger. The object, the book, and something taken from that conversation must all be included in their stories, which they have 24 hours to write. Though everyone who talked about it sighed heavily somewhere within their descriptions, most of them also laughed and showed a sense of accomplishment at the results.

Golden Pen winner, Sharon Joss explained how this whole process, but especially the workshop week has set her foot on the path to a serious writing career: “To be honest, once you win Writers of the Future, it really forces you to take a good, hard look at yourself and where you are, in terms of your craft and your career, because what I did to get here is not going to be what I need to do to get to the next level. You’re leveling-up your craft, your connections, your visibility: Your life changes, and I want to be, I’m going to be, ready for that. That means stepping up the craft, stepping up on everything.”

She continues, “This week here, it changes your entire outlook. It changes your whole mind about the writer you want to be. Are you really committed to being this writer, or was this your end destination? For some people, winning the award is the destination, but for me, this is just the beginning of the path. Here, you can get mentors and connections and access to knowledge that you didn’t have because you didn’t have a context for it earlier in your career, where you’re just trying to put together the best story you can, so that you can maybe make a sale. Now, this is my business, this is my life, this is my chosen path, and these are my peeps! It’s entree to a bigger world. This is the only place you can get this. You’ve still got to do the work; it’s not free, but they’ll take your call.”

The Writers of the Future anthology is a landmark, each time it comes out. It’s our introduction of the next wave of creativity that will shape our reading future, it’s the fulfillment of at least two dozen dreams, and it’s a moment of shining pride for those who have taken the time to share their experience and knowledge with science fiction and fantasy’s next generation.

XXX

This is the first in a two-part series on Writers of the Future 31. The second part includes more from the winners, past and current, on their plans and projects, and how Writers of the Future has influenced them beyond the contest, as well as more history and perspective from the judges. Please check back for the conclusion of this series next Tuesday, May 12, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: ‘Brightwill’ by Randolph Lalonde

by Agent Aly Runke (a.k.a. Deelja)

Brightwill by Randolph Lalonde is a high-fantasy, quick read at just under 200 pages. The story follows Naze, a type of elf called an Ondi-ne. He wields powerful magic and has a twin brother Riv, a talented mischievous warrior. This story takes place in two times, when Naze is an old man embarking on what is called his masterwork and when Naze is a young boy living in the Ondi-ne slums. The purpose driving the plot is clearing his brother’s name in history and, of course, saving the world.

Lalonde crafts the world of Brightwill in an extremely intricate way; there is a rich history of races and their political struggles. There are dragons! If that doesn’t whet your appetite, I don’t know what will. Following the story of young Naze and Riv leaves the reader eager to learn just what Riv needs to be redeemed for, and while following the movements of old Naze, you wonder just what he has up his sleeve. And at the ending where the two narratives collide, it’s masterfully done and leaves the reader with a smile on her face, a bit of magic in her eyes, and contentment in how everything has settled.

Lalonde’s world in Brightwill may just be a little too wondrous for the short book he has shelled out. There are several different races, and wars, and political intricacies to follow in the one book. In fact, this one book could have easily been stretched into a trilogy. Maybe then instead of it being a whirlwind read one could really and truly fall in love with not just a good story but richer characters and the world itself. There was so much there! The reader gets a taste and is left wondering why they didn’t get a full meal. There is hope however that this appetite will be satisfied. On Lalonde’s blog on Friday March 27, 2015, he announced that not only is Brightwill now free on Amazon and other bookselling sites, but that he is working on another book in the Brightwill universe. We look forward to seeing that.

Lalonde has many other books in print including two brilliantly-done and rather-addictive sci-fi series: Spinward Fringe and The Firstlight Chronicles. The Firstlight Chronicles takes place within The Spinward Fringe universe, making it quite the series. The first meaty installment of the Spinward Fringe series, Origins, is a free download. Other stand-alones by Lalonde are The Dark Arts and Fate Cycle Sins of the Past about the occult and a fantasy respectively. He is currently working on the next Brightwill novel and the ninth book in The Spinward Fringe series.

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