Why I want to write about someone on Mars in ZNB’s next anthology

As someone who’s been reading SF for over forty years now, I’m fascinated by the different ways life on Mars has been portrayed over the decades. My earliest encounters were through books like Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet, H.G Wells’s The War of the Worlds, and in my early teens, C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. Alongside such fiction, I remember reading about Mariner 4 in my grandfather’s National Geographic magazines. So I already knew that real scientific discoveries meant these enthralling stories were impossible. That didn’t matter. Mars fascinated me.

That’s still true today, as books on my shelves by Alastair Reynolds, Andy Weir and James Corey attest. The film of The Martian and the TV adaptation of The Expanse series are merely the latest depictions of Mars that I’ve enjoyed on screen, from Flash Gordon through Doctor Who to Babylon 5. I’m still reading National Geographic, and any articles I see elsewhere discussing the real practicalities of sustaining human life on our near neighbour. Then there’s the ongoing exploration of Mars by the Opportunity rover. Go robots!

So now I want to write my own story set on Mars. It’s the ideal setting for me to explore a notion that’s been coming together in my imagination thanks to several recent popular-science articles that I’ve read. The last piece I needed was the invitation to write a new story featuring the Ur Bar, the eternal, time-travelling tavern from the ZNB anthology ‘After Hours’.

So now all I need is this year’s ZNB anthologies Kickstarter to fund. At the time of writing, we’ve got a week to go, and we’re just over two-thirds funded, so there’s $6333 still needed. Do take a look, if you haven’t done so already, and flag the project up to friends who might be interested. There are three anthologies to choose from, and to consider submitting something to, if you’re a writer yourself. You can get involved for as little as $7.

If you’re really keen, there’s a tuckerisation up for grabs. Do you fancy giving your own, or someone else’s, name to my story’s protagonist?

New for you to read, new for me to write – anthologies from ZNB

The mass market edition of The Death of All Things is now available, and as those who backed last year’s Kickstarter can attest, having already had their copies, it’s an anthology full of excellent stories.

So do take a look over at your preferred e-retailer, whether that’s Amazon UK or somewhere else, for tales taking on the Grim Reaper with explorations of the mythical, fantastical, and futuristic bonds between life and death. Learn the cost of mortality, the perils—and joys—of the afterlife, and the potential pitfalls of immortality …

The authors are – K. M. Laney, Andrea Mullen, Faith Hunter, Kendra Leigh Speedling, Jason M. Hough, Julie Pitzel, Shaun Avery, Christie Golden, Leah Cutter, Aliette de Bodard, Andrew Dunlop, Juliet E. McKenna, A. Merc Rustad, Ville Meriläinen, Amanda Kespohl, Mack Moyer, Fran Wilde, Kathryn McBride, Andrija Popovic, Jim C. Hines, Stephen Blackmoore, and Kiya Nicoll.

Are some of those names unfamiliar? They surely will be, because one of the many good things about these anthologies from ZNB is the editorial team’s dedication to including new voices by offering slots to unpublished writers, via an open call for submissions once the Kickstarter funding is secured. If you’re an aspiring writer, do keep your eyes open for the submission guidelines for this year’s new projects, and take note that ZNB is now a qualifying market for SFWA membership requirements. Meantime, Joshua Palmatier has written this in-depth post for File 770 on what he looks for through the selection process.

This dedication to new voices is just one reason why I and other writers keep coming back to be part of ZNB projects. Others include (but are not limited to) their high standards in editorial feedback and book production, and being paid a professional rate. ZNB may be a small press but they’re thoroughly professional when it comes to creating books worth having for the reader, and worth doing for the writer, whether you’re not yet published, just starting out, or an established author.

While you’re browsing, take a look at the other ZNB anthologies out this month. All Hail Our Robot Conquerors harks back to SF of the 1950s and 60s and the era of evil robot overlords, invading cyber armies, and not-quite-trustworthy mechanical companions. Submerged turns its back on deep space to stare into deep water. Do dark monsters swim unseen beneath the waves? What ancient wonders lie hidden, waiting to be discovered? What sirens call …?

I mentioned this year’s new projects earlier. Here’s the Kickstarter page with all the information you’ll be looking for.

I’m signed up for SECOND ROUND: A RETURN TO THE UR-BAR, alongside Jacey Bedford, C.E. Murphy, Kari Sperring, Kristine Smith and Gini Koch. This is going to be great fun, since the 2011 publication by DAW Books of AFTER HOURS: TALES FROM THE UR-BAR, was the very first anthology edited by Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier. That’s what started them down the road which eventually led to the formation of the small press Zombies Need Brains. So I’m looking forward to returning to that legendary time-travelling bar with all-new stories set throughout the ages. Let me repeat that – “all new” means none of us are returning to the era we visited before, as the immortal bartender Gilgamesh serves up drinks mixed with magic and a dash of intrigue.

What will I be writing? Well, provided this year’s Kickstarter gets funded, I can tell you this much. It’ll be a SF story set on Mars a couple of centuries from now. Writing SF for the Eve of War anthology, and for Novacon, last year seems to have whetted my appetite…

This also gives me the opportunity to offer up a Tuckerisation as a reward at the $250 pledge level. Fancy seeing your name – or someone else’s – in print as a character in my story? I’m also offering a signed set of the Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution trilogy as one of the $90 pledges. There are a whole lot of other incentives and add-ons, so do check them out!

Cover reveal for ‘The Death of All Things’ anthology

Here’s the eerily beautiful cover for the next Zombies Need Brains anthology THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS, edited by Laura Anne Gilman and Kat Richardson. You can preorder the Kickstarter edition or ebook at the ZNB online store and get the anthology early. (While you’re there, why not check out the other upcoming anthologies?) The general trade paperback edition will be available on September 1st.

I’m one of twenty-two writers considering the Grim Reaper through mythical, fantastical, and futuristic portrayals of what we may encounter between life and death, and what may lie beyond. What does that teach us about the lives we live first? My own story is called ‘A Constant Companion‘.

Personally, I can’t wait to read the other stories from: K. M. Laney, Andrea Mullen, Faith Hunter, Kendra Leigh Speedling, Jason M. Hough, Julie Pitzel, Shaun Avery, Christie Golden, Leah Cutter, Aliette de Bodard, Andrew Dunlop, Juliet E McKenna, A. Merc Rustad, Ville Meriläinen, Amanda Kespohl, Mack Moyer, Fran Wilde, Kathryn McBride, Andrija Popovic, Jim C. Hines, Stephen Blackmoore, and Kiya Nicoll.

Cover art by Justin Adams. Cover design by C. Lennox Graphics, LLC.

“Journeys”, “The Road to Hadrumal”, and a story’s journey

Today sees the publication of an anthology which I’m very pleased to be part of: Journeys (from Woodbridge Press) offers fourteen epic fantasy stories of daring, death and glory from an array of talented and interesting authors. To be precise, there are tales from John Gwynne, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gail Z. Martin, me, Julia Knight, Juliana Spink Mills, Jacob Cooper, Samanda R Primeau, Steven Poore, Davis Ashura, Dan Jones, Charlie Pulsipher, Anna Dickinson, and Thaddeus White.

My own story? Well, I may not be writing novels set in Einarinn at the moment but that world is still very much in my thoughts, both in terms of what’s going on with all the characters we know and also, I find I reflect now and then, on key moments in that world’s history. The Road to Hadrumal picks up on some hints dropped throughout those books, from The Thief’s Gamble all the way to The Hadrumal Crisis trilogy, about the origins of wizardry’s organisation. I thought I’d look a little more closely at Trydek, the very first Archmage. Who was he, before he became the revered father of magic? Before he made his way to Hadrumal? What prompted him to make that particular journey? What sent elemental magic down the path that’s lead to its power and influence in Einarinn’s present day?

Well, you can read the story to find out. What I want to talk about here is how writing this particular story enabled me to show a group of aspiring SF&Fantasy writers the journey that a piece of fiction takes, whether you’re just starting out, or whether you’re someone like me with fifteen novels and umpteen short stories to your credit. More than that, I’m convinced that every story must take this journey if it’s going to be worth reading.

Last December I was teaching on a residential course at Moniack Mhor, the Scottish Creative Writing Centre, up near Inverness. As part of my preparation, I had submissions from the students to critique. This means I arrived a folder of pages extensively marked up with red pen… Now, getting your work back covered in queries, suggestions and corrections is not necessarily an easy thing to handle. Writing’s such an intensely personal thing and we invest so much time and effort in it, that seeing it criticized can really sting. I know that full well myself. So what could I offer these keen writers, to ease that impact?

I realised I could show them the editorial notes that I had been sent for this particular story. As it happened, that was a page’s worth. Now, Teresa Edgerton knows what she’s doing. She started off by telling me what she particularly liked in the story, highlighting original angles that had caught her eye and complimenting me on my clean prose. That was about three or four lines worth.

And then… she highlighted the things which I needed to address in that final draft story. Points where the pace needed looking at. Points where character motivations and their reactions needed further consideration. Points where what I had written might challenge reader engagement. She offered a few thoughts on possible routes to pursue, though of course, as all good editors agree, deciding what to do was up to me. It’s my story after all.

Those notes filled the rest of the page. Did this mean this was a bad story? Did this mean I was kidding myself calling myself a writer? Did it mean that I’d learned nothing over those fifteen novels and however many stories? Not at all. I’m an experienced author and I’ve learned to demand a high standard of myself. (Go and read some of these free stories if you want to check.)

But every story needs fresh eyes. In this particular instance, Teresa’s viewpoint was invaluable and all the more so because she’s not an established reader of my Einarinn books. Her comments made me realise that I had been subconsciously writing for people with a far greater knowledge of my existing work than was either fair or desirable in a story like this. Among other things, I was presuming background knowledge that would generate tension that wasn’t there on the page. I was including additional details to tweak tantalizing loose threads from the novels which played no direct part in these events.

Was I thrilled to learn this? No, of course I wasn’t, not initially. I told you that feedback can sting, even now, even just a little bit. Surely my story was perfect? I must have grumbled into my coffee for oh, at least two minutes…

Then I told myself that was more than enough self-indulgence and got to work. Because on my personal journey as a writer over nearly twenty years now, I’ve learned that this is how writing good fiction works. So I sat and thought and then I tightened things up here and there. I cut and trimmed elsewhere, and clarified this and that. It wasn’t a great deal of work but now that I had seen this story through Teresa’s eyes, I had a whole new, sharper focus.

So that’s the story of this particular tale’s journey. Enjoy!

Oh, and those aspiring writers at Moniack Mhor? They worked with me so positively on my feedback that I have great hopes of their future success.

“Journeys” on Amazon UK

“Journeys” on Amazon US

The ‘Journeys’ Anthology. My first publication of 2017!

Pre-publication news! As of 15th February, the new anthology ‘Journeys’ will be available. Fourteen tales of daring, death, and glory, by fourteen talented writers – to be specific: myself alongside John Gwynne, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Gail Z. Martin, Julia Knight, Juliana Spink Mills, Jacob Cooper, Samanda R Primeau, Steven Poore, Davis Ashura, Dan Jones, Charlie Pulsipher, Anna Dickinson, and Thaddeus White

Better yet, the ebook’s currently available for pre-order at the princely sum of 99 pence (Amazon UK) or $1.19 (Amazon US)

My particular story is The Road to Hadrumal which longstanding readers will be interested to learn features Trydek, the very first Archmage of Einarinn. Not that you have to have read any of my work for this story to make sense. Indeed, making sure of that was one of the most interesting aspects of this particular writing process. But I’ll write more fully on that in due course.

The River Kingdom Map for you to admire

For this new project, I took heed of the key lesson about maps which I learned when writing The Tales of Einarinn. Back then, I had a map quite literally scribbled on the back of an envelope as I wrote The Thief’s Gamble. Oh, I took considerable care calculating distances and travel times and all the variables that might affect such things. That sketch map was soon covered in notes and arrows and other hieroglyphs.

And then… my editor wanted a map to go in the actual book… Fortunately my husband trained as a design draughtsman and was able to reverse engineer a map from the final text. He then went away and drew a master map on actual draughting film as well as creating a digital version. Thereafter I could work from and update those.

This time round, I drew a far more careful map in the first place, as I developed the River Kingdom concept. Once we started planning the Shadow Histories collection, and being very well aware of my own artistic shortcomings, sought out a trained illustrator who could translate my efforts into something worth having.

Enter Sophie E. Tallis whose professional qualifications and experience are matched by her focus on getting a project exactly right. I thought I’d sent a comprehensive brief until she started asking questions! How high are the peaks in the hill country exactly? Which towns have ferries for crossing the river? Where exactly do those various roads go, because if there’s a road, there must be a destination. No one establishes a trade route unless they know there’s something worth having at the other end. And now, let’s talk colour samples and fonts and any number of other things that would never occur to me since I lack that sort of visual imagination. It really has been a fascinating process, and Sophie’s been a pleasure to work with. Also very patient whenever I’ve had to start an email with ‘ah, did I forget to mention such-and-such? It rather looks as though I did…’

The end result is this fabulous map. And there are a good few potential beginnings here as well. Sophie’s added in some lovely details here and there which are just crying out to have a story written around them… Well, that’s fun for another day. For now, enjoy this map, and you may also be interested in further details about the River Kingdom to be found here. Meantime I’m thinking about the best way to make an embroidery of that wonderful compass rose. Crewel work or cross-stitch? Hmmm…

Click on this map to go through to the larger version where you can zoom in for still more detail.

You’ll notice the watermark there to protect Sophie’s copyright. In due course we’ll have details of how to get prints etc.

The River Kingdom Map by Sophie Tallis
The River Kingdom Map by Sophie E. Tallis

Bristolcon – my schedule and your chance to hold ‘Shadow Histories’ in your hand.

Bristolcon is a splendid one-day, regional SF&F convention in, unsuprisingly, Bristol. This year it’s on Saturday October 29th, at the Doubletree Hotel, which is convenient for travel by car or by train – within easy walking distance of Bristol Temple Meads station. Membership is £25 in advance or £30 on the door.

This year’s Guests of Honour are the artist Fangorn, and authors Ken MacLeod and Sarah Pinborough.

The full programme can be found here – click on through. Always bearing in mind that this is a month away and such plans are potentially subject to change.

My panels look very promising.

17.00 – Running the World / Cleaning the Toilets – One person’s utopia is another’s dystopia. How can we build believable and effective governments in SF&F, and how can we prevent our utopias becoming dystopias (and should we try)? And while we’re focussed on the action at the top, who’s cleaning the toilets?

Ken MacLeod (M), John Baverstock, Ian Millsted, Juliet E McKenna, Jaine Fenn

18.00 – After the Heroes Have Gone – We all enjoy a big battle, especially on the big screen, but what happens afterwards? Who’s picking up the pieces of New York after the Avengers have smashed it up, who’s living in the wreckage of a Godzilla-stomped Tokyo and what are the Alderaanians who were off planet at the time supposed to do next? Wars have knock-on effects that aren’t always explored – we ask our panel to think about the fate of the ordinary folk, after the heroes have gone.:
Danie Ware (M), Joel Cornah, Juliet E McKenna, Chris Baker, R B Watkinson

And most exciting of all,and with thanks as ever to the wonderful Wizard’s Tower Press, we’ll be launching Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom that weekend! since this will be both an ebook and a print-on-demand publication, there’ll be copies on sale which I’ll naturally be happy to sign 🙂

Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin
Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin

Got a story about Robots, Water or Death? Here’s your chance!

Excellent news – the ZNB Kickstarter to fund these three new anthologies has reached its funding target! Here’s what our lovely backers will be reading –

SUBMERGED is to feature science fiction or fantasy stories that are set underwater at some point. It does not have to be set completely underwater, but at some point the events of the story must lead in a natural way to an underwater adventure. There should be a significant reason for why the action must take place underwater; this should NOT be a story where it easily be rewritten on land and maintain its cohesion. We are attempting to fill half of the anthology with science fiction stories, and half with fantasy stories. Stories featuring more interesting settings underwater and twists on the typical underwater themes will receive more attention than those that use standard underwater tropes. In other words, we don’t want to see 100 stories dealing with Atlantis. If we do, it’s likely that only one, at most, would be selected for the anthology. So be creative, choose something different, and use it in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

ALL HAIL OUR ROBOT CONQUERORS! is to feature stories where the robots of the story somehow harken back to the 50s/60s style of robots. The story can be set in the far future, but at some point there should be a significant nod toward the robots from that era—either a significantly advanced robot that is simply housed in a 50s/60s style shell, or a robot exactly like those from the 50s/60s but used in an interesting and believable way in the story. Stories featuring more interesting takes on the 50s/60s style robots, and twists on how they are integrated into the story, will receive more attention than those with more generalized robots. So be creative and use your robot in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

THE DEATH OF ALL THINGS is to feature stories where Death is a character in the story. The version of Death used should be unique, so consider all different types of versions of Death seen throughout history and in different cultures. Stories featuring more interesting takes on Death, and twists on how Death is integrated into the story, will receive more attention than those with more standard depictions of Death. So be creative and use Death in an unusual and unexpected way. We are looking for a range of tones, from humorous all the way up to dark.

Now, as I’ve mentioned before, one reason why I enjoy being part of these projects is each ZNB anthology offers open submission slots. This really is a great chance for aspiring writers to be involved in a thoroughly professional publication.

So while I get on with firming up my ideas for a ‘Death of All Things’ story, have you got a tale ready to be told, or even just the see of an idea for one or more of these themes? Get thinking and writing!

Always remembering to read the Submission Guidelines in full – click here.

znb-submerged

Shadow Histories of the River Kingdom – how about this for a cover?

Take a glance at the new Aldabreshin Compass covers and you’ll see why Ben Baldwin was the artist I wanted for this new book’s cover. Not because I wanted something just like those, far from it. Because I was confident that he could find the best way to give these stories and this entirely new fantasy setting their own distinctive visual character. If you’re not already aware of Ben’s versatility as an artist, do make time go and browse his website.

It really is a fascinating process for me as someone who’s always been very focused on words; handing over my writing to someone whose imagination and skills work in a completely different creative area. Trying to explain the sort of thing that I’m after, when I cannot actually visualise it myself, answering an artist’s questions as best I can – without being distracted by wanting to ask ‘Why choose that particular episode or character to illustrate?’.

Then there’s seeing the draft sketches and having discussions about detail, which invariably sees me hunting for the photos and other visual references I’ve used in the writing. Finally there’s the thrill of getting something that’s both utterly surprising that also makes me nod and think, ‘yes, that’s it.’

Not that that’s the end of the process. Ben’s done all the cover layout and other design work here. And that’s not the end of it either. You remember I said I use visual references as I write? Pictures so often stir my imagination. I’m already seeing prompts for new stories in this one…

So here it is for you to admire. You’ll get your chance to read all these stories and to discover exactly what inspired Ben soon!

Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin
Artwork & layout by Ben Baldwin

Click here to see the full wraparound version as well.

So how’s ‘The Death of All Things’ coming along?

Let’s have a quick look at the new Kickstarter from ZNB. Okay, doing nicely so far but a fair way to go before the finish line. Do take a look because these anthologies promise a great choice of excellent reading – as well as the opportunity for new writers to submit their work to one or more of three thoroughly professional projects. And there are all sorts of bonus offers and incentives for backers.

What’s my incentive? I want to write a story for the ‘Death’ anthology. How could I not, with my lifelong fascination with myth and legend? It’s one of the universals, the book-end to the origin stories which tell us so much about a culture and its world view. Some belief systems have more than one aspect of Death personified. Some are benign, some are neutral while others are malicious. Some are male, some are female, some are animal. Some manifest with multiple aspects.

What about the various guides and guardians of the newly dead? Sometimes you’ll get some warning – is that a good thing or not so much? Sometimes who you meet depends on how you died. Got a couple of coins in your pocket for the Ferryman after breathing your last in bed? Or are you hoping that ‘the Kindly Ones’ will avenge your untimely slaying down some dark alley?

What about all the stories of those who thought they could cheat or mock Death and get away with it? That’s merely one aspect of encounters with Death which persists in popular fantasy fiction; in the Discworld most of all but cropping up here and there in TV series as varied as Supernatural and Reaper.

How could I not want to tackle the challenge of finding some new facet of all this to explore, in ‘The Death of All Things’?

Just as my fellow authors are keen to dive into the depths of ‘Submerged’ or get to grips with the nuts and bolts of ‘All Hail Our Robot Conquerors’.

Back the Kickstarter and help make all this happen 🙂