Monday, December 24, 2012

Death's Heretic

Death's Heretic
is my second Pathfinder Tales novel, after Elaine Cunningham and Dave Gross' Winter Witch.The Pathfinder Tales novels are set in the world of Paizo Publishing's Pathfinder Role Playing Game, though knowledge of the game isn't necessary to appreciate either work. In fact, Death's Heretic was chosen as the number three fantasy novel of the year in the Barnes & Noble Book Club's 2011 Best Fantasy Releases (a fact which more than legitimizes the Pathfinder Tales fiction editor, James L. Sutter, in publishing himself in his own line).

Death's Heretic stars Salim Ghadafar, a man from a country of militant atheists, who now finds himself bound in the service of Pharasma, the goddess of death (as well as birth and prophesy, but it's her aspect as goddess of death with which the novel is chiefly concerned). Salim is sent to the nation of Thuvia, where a recently-murdered powerful merchant's soul has gone missing. The local church of Pharasma obviously has an interest in seeing the matter dealt with, as does Neila Anvanory, daughter of the murdered and missing merchant. The novel reads like (and actually is) a classic noir transposed to a fantasy setting, though not in the Jim Butcher sense--no fedoras or trenchcoats, though there is a damsel in distress and a suitably compromised investigator. The plot points don't stray far from the archetype -- eliminate the obvious suspects, identify the guilty party, tables turned while trying to apprehend them -- but it's the richness of the language, the breadth of the world-building, and the depth of Salim Ghadafar himself, hung upon this rather straightforward scaffold, that make the novel exceptional. Without spoiling anything major, the excursions to multiple planes of existence really take the novel into exciting and most unexpected territory, even as everything ties together nicely in the end.

There is a little bit of "male gaze" in the description of women, which I could do without but probably won't throw off fans of either noir mysteries or old school sword & sorcery, and Sutter's language, which for the most part is one of his core strengths, does go a little overblown in a few places, but these are quibbles in a unique, fascinating, engaging, and interesting fantasy work that I have no trouble recommending highly. If every Pathfinder Tales novel is as good as the two I've read so far, then this line is certainly a place for vanguard swords and sorcery fiction. Clearly, anyone expecting merely serviceable, by-the-numbers tie-in fiction is in for a very pleasant surprise.

Friday, November 30, 2012

5 Questions to a Great Story

As part of Wake County Public Libraries' Write On @ Your Library series, Vampire Empire authors Clay and Susan Griffith discuss five questions to create a great story.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Making of The Creative Fire

Over at the collective artists blog, Muddy Colors, John Picacio talks about his inspiration for creating the cover for Brenda Cooper's The Creative Fire (Book One of Ruby's Song). He shows some classic paintings that inspired his piece, as well as rare glimpses into his pencils and early process pieces.

From John's piece:
"All of us are living in a fragile time for our fundamental rights, at least here in America. It seems our news and social feeds are filled with daily attacks on womens' rights. Revolutionary posters have always been rallying cries, and Lou and I felt like we might have a chance to evoke those here, as well as serve the novel's intentions. When I thought about who Ruby was, I thought of the 1940's image of Rosie the Riveter, as imagined by J. Howard Miller and Norman Rockwell (with genius inspiration from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel). I thought of the grace of Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, along with Russian revolution posters, and Howard Chandler Christy's 'Fight or Buy Bonds' painting."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Speculate hosts Pyr Roundtable Podcast

Today, episode 61 of Speculate: The Podcast for Writers, Readers and Fans, features a special roundtable podcast with Pyr editorial director Lou Anders, Pyr authors Brenda Cooper (The Creative Fire) and E.C. Myers (Fair Coin and Quantum Coin), and freelance copyeditor Gabrielle Harbowy. They say:

"We set a new record for single episode participation in this show with four distinguished guests: Brenda Cooper and E.C. Myers (authors of The Creative Fire and Quantum Coin, respectively), freelance editor Gabrielle Harbowy, and Pyr Books‘ editorial and art director Lou Anders speak for an hour on what has made Pyr such a successful speculative fiction imprint, where it’s been and where it’s going in the future. This wide ranging discussion also looks at the finer points of how good editors work with good authors, how important a good cover is to an equally good book, and what makes Dragon Con such a scary (and amazing!) event every year. Our shows normally don’t run this long, but we hope you’ll agree the extra discussion we got with all of these fine people was worth the extra time. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to check back next week when we’ll start a new series of shows on the work of Joe Abercrombie. Until then, thanks as always for listening, and please continue to spread the word about the show!"

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

The Roundtable Podcast: Workshop Episode 36 (Guest Host: Lou Anders)

The second part of my appearance on the fabulous, vital Roundtable Podcast is up today. This is the part where a volunteer writer brings in a story idea, and the guest host and two regular hosts - Dave Robison and Brion Humphrey - dispense sage wisdom and/or useless advice. Here's what they have to say about the show:
Lou Anders – Editorial Director at Pyr, the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Prometheus Books Publishing – returns to the Big Chair at the Roundtable to help workshop a story idea by podcaster, writer, and former Guest Co-Host Doc Coleman.  Doc’s idea inspires a wealth of Literary Gold as Lou walks us through some exceptional insights into the storytelling craft (he even assigns homework!). (and if you’re STILL hungry for more writerly goodness, then check out  Lou’s Showcase Episode!)

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Roundtable Podcast Interview

I am a guest today on the fabulous Roundtable Podcast. We talk about Hollywood, TV sets, screenwriting, publishing, and the most famous black blade in fantasy fiction.

I'll be returning to the podcast on November 6th, for their Workshop Episode, where we live-improve a writer's pitch (or perhaps just muck it up horrendously). 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Photo to Concept Art in 15 minutes (speed x3)

Jonas De Ro recorded this video (speed up x3) to show how he went from a photo to a finished piece of concept art in 15 minutes. It's pretty inspiring to see:

Monday, October 29, 2012

The 2013 John Picacio Calendar

 Hugo Award-winning and Chesley Award-winning artist John Picacio has just announced a Kickstarter project for a 2013 calendar featuring twelve of his fantastic illustrations. This is the first project from his new company, Lone Boy, and a very exciting one. The full-color 12” x 12” 2013 wall calendar collects twelve of John's personal favorite book cover artworks from his career to date. The calendar’s cover will be printed on 12 pt. premium paper stock, with a satin aqueous-coated finish, and the interior pages will be printed on 100# text. The interior image area will be a larger-than-normal 12” x 16”. Depending on your pledge, you could get your own copy of the calendar, signed archival prints, process drawings, your name printed on a full run of the calendars, and/or the opportunity to model for an upcoming published science fiction/fantasy artwork by the artist.

Here is John's pitch for the project:

And here is the calendar's artwork by month:
  1. JANUARY: Fast Forward 2 edited by Lou Anders (Pyr)
  2. FEBRUARY: Muse Of Fire by Dan Simmons (Subterranean)
  3. MARCH: Elric: Sword And Roses by Michael Moorcock (Random House/Del Rey)
  4. APRIL: Age Of Misrule: World’s End by Mark Chadbourn (Pyr)
  5. MAY: Hyperion by Dan Simmons (Subterranean)
  6. JUNE: A Canticle For Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (HarperCollins/Eos)
  7. JULY: The Creative Fire by Brenda Cooper (Pyr)
  8. AUGUST: Gateway by Frederick Pohl (Random House/Del Rey)
  9. SEPTEMBER: The 13th Reality: The Journal Of Curious Letters by James Dashner (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin)
  10. OCTOBER: Memoranda by Jeffrey Ford (Golden Gryphon Press)
  11. NOVEMBER: Drood by Dan Simmons (Subterranean Press)
  12. DECEMBER: Away From Here (Asimov’s Science Fiction, September 2009)
What are you waiting for? Pledge!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

What’s in a World? A guest post from Gail Z. Martin

Gail Z. Martin is the author of the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga series, the Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and the Fallen Kings Cycle series. Her latest book in the Ascendant Kingdoms series, Ice Forged, will be out this coming January. Meanwhile, today Bowing to the Future is hosting a post on World Building by Gail as part of her annual Days of the Dead blog.

What’s in a World?
Guest post from Gail Z. Martin
World building is arguably the most fun—and most difficult—part of writing.  Get it right, and your world becomes as memorable as your stories and characters, a place that lives on in the imagination of your readers, as tangible as somewhere they grew up or went on vacation.  Get it wrong, and you’re no more memorable than a truck stop on the highway—or worse, you’re memorable for all the wrong reasons.
I’m guessing there are as many ways to world-build as there are authors, and no single right way as long as readers like the outcome.  So I’ll just share how I do it, and let you take it from there.
For me, world building, plot and character are all inextricably linked.  I may begin with an idea about a plotline, or have a clear “vision” for a character whose story I’d like to tell, or a place that would be a great setting for an adventure.  Whichever one I start with, I need to find the right two components to go with it so that it all goes together seamlessly.  
If I start with a character, then I have to ask myself, “What society and landscape shaped this character?”  We’re all influenced by the place in which we grow up, or make our home.  What influences would have produced a person with my character’s values, interests, world view, prejudices, belief systems, abilities, fears, likes and dislikes?  That’s going to go a long way toward helping me create the right kind of environment for the story, and it’s going to shape the story itself, because certain types of stories are more plausible in some situations than in others.
If the original inspiration comes from the plot, then I have to figure out what type of setting/environment will make the plot situation likely—even possible.  I have to think about how my choices of setting could enhance—or dampen—the plot and whether I can envision those settings in a way that make them different from places that readers have been before.  (The truck stop analogy again—we’ve all been to at least one, and they all look alike.  Nice if you want consistently clean restrooms, but zilch for ambiance.)
And if the setting is what I begin with, then it’s going to be unusual, and there’s something about it that draws me.  Certain types of stories are more likely in specific types of places—crowded cities full of transients and intrigue, for example, versus a rural setting where no one leaves home and strangers are automatically suspicious.   In this case, there’s something about the setting that will inevitably suggest the plot and sketch out the characters.
The fourth component is time/technology.  London in 2150 is very different from London in 1250.  This will determine everything from types of communication, speed of travel, methods of warfare, and other crucial details.  Will your characters be spending gold coins or swiping a debit card?  Is information known instantaneously around the world, or at the speed of sailing vessel (or horse)?
 For me, the best kind of research mixes both books and experience.  I’m a museum junkie, and I have been going to living history sites since I was a kid, so I’ve grown up with the sound and smell of a blacksmith’s shop, rudimentary knowledge of cooking on an open hearth, horse-drawn conveyances, and everything from period clothing to old-fashioned medicines, entertainment and art.  If I can’t go a museum, there’s always the History Channel, or the Travel Channel, web sites, travel guide books, and even old-fashioned travelogues given at your local AAA, library or community center.  It’s amazing how the smallest details that seem insignificant can end up adding to the texture of your next book.
It also helps to be a “critical” consumer.  When you watch a movie or TV show/series or read a book, pull back enough to think about whether or not the world building is working for you.  Does it immerse you in the story, or jar you out of it?  Is it a distraction, or so integral the story wouldn’t be the same without it.  What is memorable?  What is clichéd? Could the characters be anywhere, or are they so much a product of time and place that they could be nowhere (and no-when) else?  Plots can be recycled (think about Hamlet done in Shakespeare’s time and re-done into modern adaptations), but each time, the time/place alters the story—if it doesn’t, something’s missing.
Most importantly, have fun with it! If you’re not fascinated by your world, your readers won’t be, either.  Enjoy!
My annual Days of the Dead blog tour celebrates Halloween, Samhain, Dia De Los Muertos, All Hallow’s Eve—you get the picture!  I’m throwing an online party—with downloadable party favors—and you’re invited!  You can see where I’ve spread the goodies out across all my partner sites at—plus some downloadable excerpt “treats” to enjoy!
Please enjoy this excerpt from my short story, “Among theShoals Forever”, excerpted from The Mammoth Book of Ghost Stories by Women. And this scene from “Buttons”, excerpted from Magic: An Anthology of the Esoteric and Arcane.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Doctor Paul Kurtz was the founder of my parent company, Prometheus Books, and the man who hired me in March of 2004 to give him the SF imprint that became Pyr. I'll always be grateful to him for that opportunity, one which changed my life in so many ways. I'm very sad to say that he passed away this Saturday at the age of 86. 

Right now my favorite memory of Doctor Kurtz is from about thirty minutes after we shook on my employment agreement. Having a coffee in the Buffalo airport, I asked, "If I work here, can I still believe in the Loch Ness Monster?" I got a good five minutes on how all the classic footage was faked. Short answer: No. Lake monsters aside, humanism has lost a great champion this week.

October 22, 2012
Jill Maxick, Vice President of Marketing; Director of Publicity
Amherst, New York — Paul Kurtz, philosopher, prolific author, publisher, and founder of several secular humanist institutions as well as the for-profit independent press Prometheus Books, died on Saturday, October 20, 2012 at his home in Amherst, New York. He was 86.
Professor Kurtz was widely heralded as the “father of secular humanism.” With his fifty plus books (many translated into foreign languages around the world), multitudinous media appearances and public lectures, and other vast and seminal accomplishments in the organized skeptic and humanist movements, he was certainly the most important secular voice of the second part of the 20th century. He was an ardent advocate for the secular and scientific worldview and a caring, ethical humanism as a key to the good life. 
Kurtz was a professor of philosophy at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1965 to his retirement in 1991 as professor emeritus. He founded the publishing company Prometheus Books in 1969, Skeptical Inquirer magazine and the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) in 1976, Free Inquiry magazine and the Council for Secular Humanism in 1980, and the Center for Inquiry in 1991. Later projects included the launching of a scholarly journal, The Human Prospect, and a new nonprofit think tank, the Institute for Science and Human Values (both in 2010) where he served as chairman up until his death.
Paul Kurtz was born on December 21, 1925 in Newark, New Jersey. After graduating from high school he enrolled into Washington Square College at New York University, where he was elected freshman class president and became head of a student group called American Youth for Democracy. This was the beginning of his long romance with the power of ideas, but soon he would feel the call to serve his country.
Six months before his eighteenth birthday he enlisted in the army. 1n 1944 he and his unit found themselves smack in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. Kurtz would later recall, “I was on the front lines for the rest of the war, in units liberating France, Belgium, Holland, and Czechoslovakia.” He entered both the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps shortly after they were liberated and met the survivors of Nazi brutality and their SS captors. It was an experience that would be seared in his memory for the rest of his life. Kurtz traveled with a copy of Plato’s Republic throughout the war, referring to it frequently during down times. His love of philosophy was becoming solidified during the most trying of times.
Upon the end of the war, Kurtz returned to the United States where he resumed his studies at New York University. It was there that he came face-to-face with the pragmatic naturalist Sidney Hook, the staunch anticommunist, humanist, and public philosopher who had studied himself under the leading American philosopher of the first part of the 20th century, John Dewey. Kurtz would later call this encounter “his most important intellectual experience.”
As “Dewey’s Bulldog,” Hook’s fierce commitment to democracy, humanism, secularism, and human rights exerted a powerful influence on the young student. Kurtz completed his undergraduate studies at NYU in 1948 and decided to continue his studies at Columbia University—where Dewey’s influence was even more palpable—but Hook and Kurtz would remain lifelong colleagues and friends. When Hook’s famous autobiography, Out of Step, was published in 1987, Hook sent a personal copy of the book to his former student with an inscription inside that read “Student, colleague, friend and co-worker in the vineyards in the struggle for a free society, who will carry the torch for the next generation.”
Kurtz went on to earn his MA and, in 1952, his PhD in philosophy at Columbia, where he studied under a group of distinguished professors—many of them former students of Dewey—and all scholars with sterling reputations of their own. The title of his dissertation was “The Problems of Value Theory.” His years at Columbia gave shape and definition to his life; he emerged from his rich educational experience as a philosopher firmly under the sway of pragmatic, naturalistic humanism. The upshot of this orientation was the abiding conviction that it was incumbent upon philosophers to descend from the isolation of the ivory tower and enter into the public arena where scientific and philosophical wisdom can be applied to the concrete moral and political problems of society at large and individual men and women engaged in the heat of life. This is the philosophical perspective that he would carry with him for the rest of his professional life. 
Before settling at SUNY-Buffalo, Kurtz held academic positions at Trinity College in Connecticut (1952-59), Vassar College (1959-60), and Union College in Schenectady, New York 1960-65) during which time he also was a visiting lecturer at the New School for Social Research.
Kurtz was the editor of The Humanist magazine from 1967 to 1978 and was responsible for drafting Humanist Manifesto II, which was greeted with immediate enthusiasm upon its release in 1973. Endorsements rolled in from Sidney Hook, Isaac Asimov, Betty Friedan, Albert Ellis, B.F. Skinner, Maxine Greene, and James Farmer from the United States, and Nobel Prize–winner Francis Crick, Sir Julian Huxley, and A.J. Ayer from Great Britain. Altogether there were 275 signers. Humanist Manifesto II also became instant news, with a front-page story appearing in the New York Times, and articles in Le Monde in France and the London Times in Britain. An enduring phrase from that document stood as a clarion call to all clear thinking people that democratic, engaged, and responsible citizenship was needed like never before: “No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.” 
The international skeptics movement got a lift in 1976 when Kurtz founded Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Concerned during the mid-1970s with the rampant growth of antiscience and pseudoscientific attitudes among the public at large, along with popular beliefs in astrology, faith healing, and claims of UFO and bigfoot sightings, Kurtz, along with fellow colleagues Martin Gardner and Joe Nickell, became a persistent foe of claptrap everywhere. As a critic of supernaturalism and the paranormal, he was consistently on the side of reason, always demanding evidence for extraordinary claims. It was during this period that Kurtz emerged in the public square as a stalwart proponent of the need for critical thinking in all areas of human life.
As a champion of many liberal causes during his lifetime, Kurtz became, during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, an ardent supporter of women’s reproductive rights, voluntary euthanasia, the right to privacy, and the teaching of evolution in the public schools. And he was adamantly opposed to discrimination on the basis of secular orientation or skin color. Yet Kurtz often found himself the target of both the extreme left and the extreme right, as his own critical and moderating intelligence often led him to embrace centrist positions on a variety of issues. He was a strong critic of supernaturalism and religious fundamentalism, but decidedly against the tone of the militant atheists.
During the student riots of the Vietnam era, Kurtz and his colleague Hook organized a moderate liberal-conservative coalition of faculty from across the New York state university system to oppose the often violent disruptions occurring on campus, as rebellious students set fires, blocked entrances to classrooms, and staged sit-ins. Kurtz found himself thrust into the middle of the drama and the spotlight, as SUNY-Buffalo became known as the “Berkeley of the East.” Kurtz’s battle against the mayhem made him a target of the student and faculty radicals. Soon he was being bitterly castigated as a “right-wing fascist” and “lackey of Kissinger, Nixon, and Rockefeller.”  
But it was Kurtz’s deep involvement with the international humanist movement where his indelible mark will be felt for many years to come. Of all his contributions, it was his role as the leading intellectual and organizational figure in humanist and free-thought circles that he relished the most. It was the animating force of his prolific career. Bill Cooke, an intellectual historian, wrote in 2011: “Like Hook, Paul Kurtz has always been keen to distance humanism from dogmatic allies of whatever stripe. And like Dewey, Kurtz has wanted to emphasize the positive elements of humanism; its program for living rather than its record of accusations against religion. But it was Kurtz’s fate to be prominent at a time of resurgent fundamentalism.”  
Free Inquiry (magazine) was founded in 1980 at a time when secular humanism was under heavy attack in the United States from the so-called Moral Majority,” wrote Kurtz in 2000. His aims were twofold: by reaching out to the leaders of thought and opinion and the educated layperson, he sought to bring intellectual cachet and respectability to the philosophy of secular humanism while also forthrightly defending the scientific and secular viewpoint at a time when it was being demonized. The magazine grew to become a highly respected journal of secular humanist thought and opinion.   
Kurtz was responsible for drafting four highly influential documents (“manifestos”) that served as guideposts for the secular movement from 1973 to 2010. These statements attracted the endorsement and support of many of the world’s most esteemed scientists and authors, including E.O. Wilson, Steve Allen, Rebecca Goldstein, Steven Pinker, Arthur Caplan, Richard Dawkins, Brand Blanshard, Ann Druyan, Walter Kaufmann, Daniel Dennett, Terry O’ Neill, Paul Boyer, Lawrence Krauss, James Randi, Patricia Schroeder, Carol Tavris, Jean-Claude Pecker, and many more. His last and most recent excursus was the Neo-Humanist Statement of Secular of Principles and Values (2010)  a forward-thinking blueprint for bringing humanism far into the 21st century and beyond, emphasizing the need for a planetary consciousness and a shared, secular ethic that can cut across ideological and cultural divisions.     
A genuine pioneer, Kurtz was always blazing new trails. He was the first humanist leader to call for and help implement a concerted worldwide effort to attract people of African descent to organized humanism. He helped establish African Americans for Humanism (AAH) in 1989. He was instrumental in helping to create and support, with Jim Christopher, Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS), a nonreligious support group for those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction. 
Especially proud of his cosmopolitanism, Kurtz’s impact was truly global in scope. In 2001, he helped finance the first major humanist conference in sub-Saharan Africa (Nigeria). He helped establish humanist groups in thirty African nations, Egypt, Romania, and the Netherlands. He was so highly admired in India that he became virtually a household name.
Settling into his role as the elder statesman of a movement he saw take on wings around the world, he wrote, “Embracing humanism intellectually and emotionally can liberate you from the regnant spiritual theologies, mythologies that bind you and put you out of cognitive touch with the real world. By embracing the power of humanism, I submit, you can lead an enriched life that is filled with joyful exuberance, intrinsically meaningful and developed within shared moral communities.”
Kurtz’s joyful philosophy of life is presented in The Fullness of Life (1974) and Exuberance: A Philosophy of Happiness (1977). Of his many published works, the two he was perhaps most proud of are The Transcendental Temptation (1986) and The Courage to Become (1997). His core books on the importance of critical intelligence and the ethics of humanism include The New Skepticism: Inquiry and Reliable Knowledge” (1992); Living without Religion: Eupraxsophy (1994); and Forbidden Fruit: The Ethics of Secularism (2008). His primer What Is Secular Humanism? (2006) is about as cogent and clear an introduction to the topic as one can find. Meaning and Value in a Secular Age—a collection of his seminal writings about eupraxsophy—was published this year.
Kurtz is survived by his wife, Claudine Kurtz; son, Jonathan Kurtz, and daughter-in-law Gretchen Kurtz; daughters Valerie Fehrenback and Patricia Kurtz; daughter Anne Kurtz and son-in-law Jesse Showers; and five grandchildren, Jonathan, Taylor, and Cameron Kurtz, and Jonathan and Jacqueline Fehrenback.
The family has requested that gifts or donations in honor of Dr. Kurtz be given to the Institute for Science and Human Values. A public celebration of his life will be held at a future date.
# # #

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mary, Mary...

 Today's blog post is a big shout out to my friend Michael Colbert, whose comic book Crazy Mary is in the top paid books list in the Comics Plus app. Artwork is by J.K. Woodward (of CSI:NY, Fallen Angel, and Star Trek TNG/Doctor Who: Assimilation2), William Blankmanship, and Ryan Sargent. Here's the description:

Don’t call her crazy to her face. Several years ago Mary was a professional soldier who volunteered for an upgrade program dubbed “Project Dragonfly”. The project upgraded the subjects with enhanced strength, speed and combat ability.
It didn’t go well for Mary.
Shortly after the upgrades Mary started seeing things… insane things. A world of melting walls and living fire, vortexes of thought and colored radio waves, sentient metaphors and beings that existed in an invisible layer of reality. She could communicate with these beings. She made deals with some of them.
Or she had simply gone insane.
Either way she was useless to the project and the military so she was cut loose and vanished shortly thereafter.
A few years later she re-emerged in the New York area of Megalopolis as a “freelancer” specializing in bounty hunting and search and rescue. Her upgrades give her an advantage in competing against other freelancers, Lawcom and her targets… most of the time. She can still see the weird layer of reality and her trinity of supernatural advisers helps … most of the time.
Or she could just be crazy and very lucky.
Or a bit of both.

To date there are four issues of Crazy Mary, and you can read the 0 issue for free here.

Monday, October 15, 2012


I was in Chicago last weekend.

My wife and I took a trip alone together, first time in forever, to eat at some restaurants, see a concert, sight-see, and shop. 

Our hotel had a gorgeous, unobstructed view of Lake Michigan right at the Navy Pier, walking distance to the Magnificent Mile, and all the shops and restaurants. One of the highlights--really one of the points--of the trip was dinner at Frontera Grill. Some background. For a decade now, I've been very firm that Frontera's Habanero Salsa is the absolute best salsa in the world--all natural, no preservatives, vegetables grilled first and then stone ground. I've wanted to try chef Rick Bayless's restaurants for years, and have even sent friends passing to Chicago through to check it out and report back. But I haven't been in Chicago in almost ten years. So you can bet that was a first stop.
Duck in Red Pipian

We had the Fall Guacamole and the Fried Sweet Plantains, then followed it with Catfish with Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa and Duck in Red Pipian. The food was all wonderful, and beautifully presented, though in truth the appetizers out-shown the entrees. Next time I'm in Chicago, I might make a meal of just appetizers, with at least two orders of the plantains. (I don't often blog about food, and certainly never photograph it, so this section is dedicated to my friend Joe Mallozzi).

We also caught a movie - I finally got to see Looper. I'll post a full review later this week, but suffice to say that it's the Real Deal. You can certainly see its influence--Terminator, Akira, 12 Monkeys, Paycheck, Children of the Corn, the entire catalog of PKD--it was very much its own animal. And what an uncompromising film! I cannot recommend it highly enough. I've loved most of what I've seen in 2012--what a year for film this has been--but feel I've just seen my Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form Hugo nomination.

Ghosts of old memories
We took a trip on the L to my old neighborhood, where I lived for two years in the early 90s. It was really weird to stand on the front steps of a place I lived two decades ago. There's not much in the neighborhood of interest, so even if I'm back in Chicago, this was probably my last time out. Just a quick visit to say hello to the ghosts of old memories.

Then we went to The Museum of Science and Industry, which was incredible. They have a real, captured German U-boat in a permanent installation (it was lowered in on four cranes and then they built the roof around it). An incredible experience.

Then we saw Robyn Hitchcock perform at the Old Town School of Folk Music--a decent distance outside of town but a really great venue. I've been a fan of Hitchcock's music for a long time. I interviewed him some years back for The Believer, and I was honored to publish two poems he wrote in my anthology, Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge. When I lived in LA, I was walking distance from a venue that he played at several times a year. Now that I'm in the Deep South, I don't get to hear him as often. So this was the point of the trip. He played two shows, and we had tickets for both. The first show was a straight play-through of his album, Eye.The second show was an all request show. He played for an hour and fifteen minutes, took an hour and a half between shows, then came back and played for two hours and fifteen minutes. Acoustics were wonderful and there were no bad seats, but we were at a table in the very front with an unobstructed view right to him. He talked about how things had changed since he played the Vic in Chicago in 1992 (I was at that show!). His voice was incredible and his guitar work is really amazing. There's a song called Sweet Ghost of Light which I've always known was probably the most intimate depiction of an artist's relationship with their muse ever penned. Except muse is the wrong word because it's not so external. I had a particularly emotional response to the song, so, for that reason, here are the lyrics:
sweet ghost of light, when you appear
you fall around me, everywhere

I see your face as you pass by
as fragile as a dragonfly

you jab me in the kidneys like

a compass or an iron spike

but I can't help believing you

because I love the things you do
sweet ghost of light, I've lived too long
I'd die for you inside this song

the sweetest death that I can dream
like petals flowing down a stream

that turn to blood, as they dissolve
it's all around you I revolve

sweet ghost of light, you'll never fade

by nothing else are you betrayed

you fill me 'til I'm empty and

you empty me like grains of sand

i love you more than anyone
beneath the moon, beneath the sun
Hitchcock live is not like seeing any other performer, and the reason for this are the stories and asides he tells between songs. They are full of absurdist imagery and wisdom. At one point he talked about a town in England that wanted to be Chicago, but which had its hopes crushed, like three moose dropped on a birthday cake. "A gesture of unnecessary force. Force is never applied unless it's unnecessary. That's the purpose of government." Later he spoke about how his stories told between songs are funny but the songs themselves can be quite sad. "That's because when I'm talking, I'm thinking, but when I'm playing, I'm feeling. And bits of the one may get into the other. One day I'll become fully integrated and you'll know because I'll just levitate up into the air and disappear."

We got out after midnight and took a long L ride back to the hotel. Long, late night L rides are another cause for nostalgia.

Seeing a place I lived two decades ago, and a performer I've followed for over two decades, was an oddly affecting time. I'll probably never visit the house again, even if I return to Chicago. There's nothing in the neighborhood that draws me more than what is available elsewhere, unless I see a game at Wrigley Field (unlikely). I'll definitely take another trip to Chicago though, stay downtown and hit more museums. And eat at Frontera Grill. Thanks, Windy City, for a great time.

The Greatest Event in Television History

I have to confess a deep love of Simon & Simon.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How Much Is a Crow Worth?

Yesterday, while working out at the gym, I listened to Seth Dickinson's "Worth of Crows," (Read by Michael J. DeLuca), from the current issue of online literary fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. This is the second Dickinson story I have heard on BCS, the first being "The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Her Field-General, and Their Wounds," from BCS 073."How the Wicker Knight Would Not Move." Beneath Ceaseless Skies continues to push my buttons by offering literary adventure fantasy. Not "literary fantasy", not "adventure fantasy", but "literary adventure fantasy," which is just what the world needs more of. My world, at any rate.

Adele's Skyfall

The new Bond theme for the forthcoming Skyfall. I actually hear shades of Thunderball in this:

Monday, October 08, 2012

Writing Excuses 7.41: Seven-Point Story Structure

I am feeling special this morning. After all, how many people get an episode of Writing Excuses just for their benefit. This morning's podcast, "Writing Excuses 7.41: Seven-Point Story Structure," is "on behalf of Lou Anders."

You may recall that I was on the podcast back in episode 6:18, talking about applying the "Hollywood Formula" to novel plotting. Writing Excuses Dan Wells (he of PartialsandI Am Not A Serial Killer)has his own screenplay-derived system called "Seven-Point Story Structure."

I know my Hollywood Formula and Dan's Seven-Point system are two approaches to the same result, but I have been studying Dan's and trying to reconcile them without success. Or rather, I understand the 7-Point system but don't seem to be able to apply it in practice the way that I can my own system.

So on today's Writing Excuses, Dan helpfully explains the Seven-Point system again, then Dan, Howard Tayler, Brandon Sanderson, and Mary Robinette Kowal very helpfully construct a plot using this system.

Thanks to the whole Writing Excuses crew. I know it isn't really all for my benefit, but it's still nice to start off the week with this pleasant surprise. Howard also makes a passable Lou stand-in.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Heirs of Sword and Sorcery

In the September issue of Locus magazine, Gardner Dozois has a favorable review of The Sword & Sorcery Anthology.He recommends it as a good starting point for an introduction to S&S (which it is). However, he does add that the older material is stronger than the newer, which he feels strays into slipstream. He says, "I would have liked to see more stories here from Joe Abercrombie, KJ Parker, Scott Lynch, Steven Erikson, Garth Nix or James Enge, the heirs of the form." Interestingly, all six of these authors are in Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery,which I co-edited with Jonathan Strahan.

Here's an idea: Perhaps they should be read together as unofficial companion volumes.

However, while we're talking about the contemporary heirs of the sword & sorcery mantle, we must give shout outs to Saladin Ahmed, Howard Andrew Jones, Violette Malan, Ari Marmell, Jon Sprunk, Michael J. Sullivan, and Sam Sykes. Likewise, R. A. Salvatore looms large in the field, and I've been very impressed. I've also been mightily impressed with the Pathfinder Talesline of tie-in novels, and much of the short fiction appearing on the e-zine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. We are in something of a renaissance for sword and sorcery. Long may it continue.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Shop Picacio

Today, newly-crowned Hugo-winning artist John Picacio has just unveiled a webstore. Offered for the first time are special, limited-edition prints of all twelve of his pieces from the 2012 Song of Ice and Fire calendar, as well as prints of his work on Elric of Melnibone, and select new and classic covers. I especially love his Elric work, but one of my favorite pieces of all is the print of "Girl with Microphone," which is one of the pieces I art directed and which will be the cover of Brenda Cooper's forthcoming novel, The Creative Fire (Book One of Ruby's Song).