This month’s a busy one. On 15th October, I’ll be running an online writers’ workshop for the British Fantasy Society, looking at revising your own work. I’ll share examples of ‘before’ and ‘after’ drafts of a piece I wrote some years ago, and discuss the changes I made and why, to highlight the underlying principles of being your own editor. Full details here on the BFS website.
As I imagine you already know, The Green Man’s Quarry will be published on 21st October. You can pre-order paper editions from the Wizard’s Tower Press bookstore (UK only) which includes the ebook free.
You can pre-order ebook editions from your local Amazon, Barnes & Noble Nook in the US and Kobo. Paperback and hardback editions can also now be pre-ordered through Amazon and in the US from Barnes & Noble. Bookshops, chain and independent, should be able to order through their usual wholesalers.
We will be launching the book on the Friday evening before Bristolcon, 20th October, at the Hilton Doubletree hotel, Bristol. By the way, Wizard’s Tower Press are starting their own newsletter as social media fractures. You can sign up here for all their updates.
The first enthusiastic reviews are appearing on Goodreads – spoiler-free, which I very much appreciate.
Alas, I cannot stay to take part in Bristolcon on the Saturday. The diary gremlins have got me good and proper this year. I’ll be travelling to Sheffield to join dear friends as they celebrate a notable anniversary with family and friends, theirs and mine.
Looking further forward, I’ve selected the short stories for my Polestars collection, coming from NewCon Press. Choosing those and writing a short note for each one has been fascinating. More news on that in due course on the NewCon Press website.
Readers may recall the anthology Fight Like a Girl, from Kristell Ink. I’m delighted to say a second volume is on its way. Following extremely helpful feedback from the editors, I’ve revised my story and I am very pleased with it.
I’m currently working on my story for Ampyrium, the shared world project for the American small press ZNB, now that this year’s Kickstarter has funded. The open call for submissions for their other two 2024 anthologies, ‘Familiars’ and ‘Last-ditch’ has started and will run until December 31st. Remember, ZNB are committed to giving debut writers opportunities.
Looking back, long-standing pals may recall the days when I wrote a review column for Albedo One, Ireland’s foremost SFFH magazine, founded in 1993. As with so many genre publications, this has been a labour of love, and as happens for many reasons, the project has reached the end of this particular journey. Issue 50 is the final, valedictory, fiction edition, and that’s an honourable number for such a conclusion. My story is called ‘The End of the Road’, and you can buy the magazine through Amazon here.
Social media update: I’m using Twitter-as-was less and less as it becomes more and more pointless, and I look forward to the day when I can bin it, frankly. You can find me on Facebook at facebook.com/jemck, on Bluesky @julietemckenna.bsky.social, and on Mastodon @JulietEMcKenna@wandering.shop.
As regular readers will know, I’ve written stories for various themed anthologies published by this splendid US small press over the past decade. Each year they produce collections of original (no reprint) short stories from a mix of established SF&F authors and new voices found through an open submissions call. Editorial standards are rigorous, and ZNB is a SFWA-qualifying market. Each year, these books offer high-quality reading, as well as the pleasure of encountering writers new to you.
This time around, with the Kickstarter running until 14th September 2023, the projects are as follows:
Animals have been our companions since the dawn of time, but in science fiction and fantasy, often that bond is taken one magical—or technological—step further. From the ubiquitous black cats in witchcraft to the treecats in David Weber’s Honor Harrington universe, Anne McCaffrey’s dragons of Pern to Mercedes Lackey’s horse-like Companions in her Valdemar universe, familiars have played a part in stories since paper met pen. In FAMILIARS, we ask writers to stretch their imagination and give us their most inventive furry, feathered, or scaly companions in tales of fantasy, science fiction, mystery, or horror.
Edited by Patricia Bray & Joshua Palmatier, FAMILIARS will contain approximately fourteen stories with an average length of 6,000 words each. Anchor authors include Jacey Bedford, Jim C. Hines, Gini Koch & Bebe Bayliss, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, Seanan McGuire, Kari Sperring, and Jean Marie Ward.
In the heart-pounding world of espionage, it’s the spy that gets the dirty work done. From a longshot gamble to reverse the tides of war to a secret operation escaping with stolen plans, the task is often left to the double agent. Whether it’s for King and country or a private backer, the lone operative gets in and gets out…if only it was that easy.
Edited by Troy Carrol Bucher and Gerald Brandt, this anthology will explore Science Fiction or Fantasy stories of back-against-the-wall, desperate purpose–Hail Marys launched when hope seems lost. The actions of the secret agent can change the tides for good or evil; it all depends on which side you are on.
LAST-DITCH will contain approximately 14 stories with an average length of 6000 words each. Anchor authors include: Jason M. Hough, Tanya Huff, Elaine Isaak, Blake Jessop, Lee Modesitt, Jr., Derryl Murphy, Steve Perry, and Edward Willett.
Then there’s the project I’m involved with – AMPYRIUM
Welcome to Ampyrium, a city of a thousand wonders! May the trading be always in your favor.
Powerful magicians called the Magnum have created a massive city contained within eight walls, each with its own portal to another world. Here, eight different magical lands collide. In these streets, all of the races from those worlds come to trade, to politic, to carouse, and to murder. Merchants and royalty, thieves and assassins; caravans and envoys, armies and entourages. Everyone…and everything…can be found in Ampyrium. Every dream can be made real. Every vice is available. Every wish can be fulfilled. All you have to do is stay clear of the Magnum…and their Eyes are everywhere.
Edited by Joshua Palmatier, AMPYRIUM will contain approximately seven stories all set within the shared world of Ampyria with an average length of 12,000 words each. Authors include: Patricia Bray, S.C. Butler, David B. Coe, Esther M. Friesner, Juliet E. McKenna, Jason Palmatier, and Joshua Palmatier.
I’m currently working with my fellow authors on creating the peoples, the places, the customs and practises which will underpin this city and frame the stories we will tell within it. Once that groundwork is done, the plans for future anthologies will include open calls for submissions.
ZNB Kickstarters generate the base funds needed to produce their anthologies — payment for the authors, payment for cover art, production costs etc. The reward levels for the anthologies are set to more closely resemble the cost of the final product when it goes on sale to the general public. In essence, backers of the project are preordering the anthologies, although there will be a special mass market Kickstarter edition produced for backers who help fund the project at the paperback level. This special edition will have a limited print run to cover the orders made by the backers and will not be printed again. After that, a trade paperback edition is issued for the general public with an unlimited print run.
In some ways, writing for a shared world is as close as most SF and Fantasy writers will get to writing for TV, a comic series, or a movie franchise. The creative challenge is intriguingly different from working on a solo project like a novel. You’re asked to tell an original, dramatic story with vivid, compelling characters, while you’re working within the restrictions of people, places and backstory drawn from other people’s imaginations, which you cannot change.
I’ve written a bit of short fiction for Doctor Who, Torchwood, and Warhammer 40k, as well as contributing to an anthology set in Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt world, and writing a novella for the Tales of Catt and Fisher collection, set in Solaris Books’ “After the War” fantasy world. Devising and writing stories on these terms is great fun. Plus there’s the chance to sneak your own invention into the background lore or history, to leave a permanent reminder that you were there…
The more backstory or ‘canon’ there is, the greater the creative challenge can be. You must find a tale that hasn’t already been told. Your story cannot contradict established rules or precedents. It must not clash with a narrative someone else is working on, even if you’re not aware of it. If you’re told to dump your idea and find something else, you have to accept that, even if no one explains.
I wrote one Doctor Who story for a Christmas anthology, only to see my contribution yanked and spiked for reasons I couldn’t be told. You’ll understand when you watch the new TV series, they said. They were right. You can read more about that here.
I’ve particularly enjoyed being invited into the start of a new project, where a world’s rules and precedents are first being laid down. Working on The Tales of the Emerald Serpent, set in the mysterious city of Taux, I could help shape the common ground where we would all be working. Everyone’s creativity contributed, as that group of writers and artists explored concepts and possibilities, creating a collective vision as our individual ideas blended and melded.
The benefits that a shared world can offer an author more than balance those restrictions. This framework of detail becomes scaffolding as you build your story. With people, places and backstory already established, you don’t have to stare at a computer screen trying to think up cool names and concepts. A tangled plot problem can unravel itself when you seek input from whichever author is the designated authority on some element of the scenario. When another writer comes to you, their question can strike sparks from your own imagination to illuminate some unsuspected aspect of this world.
When different authors reference the same people, places and events, they bring their individual characters’ perspectives to these things. Every writer brings their unique voice to relating what is said and seen and done. This ties a shared world together like nothing else. For me, as both reader and writer, this gives shared world anthologies their distinctive and unique appeal.
Why am I thinking about this just now? Because it’s that ZNB time of year! This fabulous small press will be launching this year’s Kickstarter later today. There will be two themed anthologies, with an open submissions call and slots for debut authors as per established custom. There will also be a whole new shared world project which I am involved in. Details to follow soon!
Time flies when you’re busy! What have I been doing? First and foremost, I am very pleased to report that this year’s Green Man book is currently being honed and polished with the invaluable input of Editor Toby.
My next major task will be reviewing twenty-plus years of my short fiction to choose the stories for a collection to be published by NewCon Press, as part of their new Polestars series. I am tremendously honoured to be invited to be part of this, as you will see from the list of authors involved. The first three volumes are now available.
My Arthurian novel, The Cleaving, is being very well received, and I’ve written a couple of pieces about my thinking as I wrote this female-centered take on the classic myth. Sarah Ash will host the first of those on her blog tomorrow, and the second will be my contribution to the Fantasy Hive’s Women in Fantasy Month – where you’ll find all sorts of fascinating posts. This makes the Kindle offer on the ebook very timely. Until 14th July you can snap that up at a bargain price – £0.79 UK, €0.79 Fr, $1.99 US, $1.99 CAN, and I believe there are comparable discounts elsewhere. Check your local store.
The last couple of months haven’t all been work. I took a day off yesterday to see the Labyrinth exhibition at the Ashmolean museum in Oxford. This is about Crete, Knossos, the Minotaur and such. The Ashmolean and the Bodleian Library have lots of stuff about Arthur Evans and his excavations to share, as well as exhibits looking at the Minotaur and the Labyrinth as cultural images and ideas through the ages.
These include a video installation from Ubisoft showing a character going into the ruins of Knossos in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey with a written commentary track highlighting the research they did into the site, the archaeology, and the classical literary references to the Minotaur in their monster concept. I think this is very cool.
Then there the little ceramic figures of what are reckoned to be priestesses in ornate headdresses doing some sort of snake ritual. The card earnestly told us that while a cat had been found buried where these figures were found, it’s not believed that the ritual was actually conducted with a cat sitting on someone’s head. Personally, thinking of some cats I’ve known, let’s not be so hasty…
There are now two well-established annual summer highlights from ZNB LLC as far as I am concerned. First, here are the new anthologies to read. This year, I’ve contributed to The Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity with a story about classical Greek gods discovering the Internet. There are a host of other great stories by established authors and new voices alike.
The other collections in this year’s trio are equally intriguing. There’s Derelict where a tremendous array of writers offer their takes on the ghost ship, the abandoned vessel drifting through space or over the trackless seas… In When Worlds Collide very different people and cultures meet with a whole array of consequences. As with all ZNB anthologies, the three themes have prompted an incredible variety of entertaining stories.
If you’re one of the many readers who’ve found settling into a novel a real challenge amid the ongoing everything, I can say I’ve found short stories a real boon when that has happened to me.
But wait, there’s more! The second fun thing from ZNB each summer is the new Kickstarter for next year’s anthologies. This will be launched on 11th August, and you can find out about the new themes right now, as well as take a look at the cover artwork.
Since the days of Raymond Chandler and Dorothy B. Hughes, Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane, the down, but not quite out private eye has been an archetype of literature and cinema. Some of the most memorable of these lone investigators have been found in fantasy and science fiction. In the filthy lanes of an ancient magical city or the sterile corridors of a lonely outpost in space, there are always crimes to be solved.
SHATTERING THE GLASS SLIPPER:
Fairy tales have been around for thousands of years, but it’s time to turn these age-old stories on their head. Let’s step into realms where princesses plan their own rescues, where princes find a better line of work, and falling down a rabbit hole may be a deliberate act of sabotage…or a trip through a wormhole. Come explore roads less traveled and meet the little match girl determined to light the fires of revolution.
BRAVE NEW WORLDS:
Humans have dreamed of traveling to the stars for generations. Their hope? To discover verdant new planets where they can build new societies or escape past persecutions. Follow our prospective settlers’ uncertain paths—from the heart-wrenching departure from Earth, through the unknown dangers of the long flight through the cold vastness of space, to the immigrants’ final arrival on an alien world.
Remember, ZNB is committed to offering debut authors their first chance at publication when the Kickstarters fund an open call for submissions. You can read some advice on making the grade from ZNB Supremo Joshua Palmatier here.
For all those wanting to know what’s next for Dan – and when – Wizard’s Tower Press is delighted to announce the next book in the Green Man series. With uncanny events in the Cambridgeshire Fens now resolved, will Daniel be able to get back to a quiet life as a carpenter, maybe enjoying a few weekends away with his girlfriend, Fin? Not a bit of it. As autumn deepens, there’s a new supernatural menace stirring down in Wessex. Dan will face, The Green Man’s Challenge…
All going well, the new book will be launched at FantasyCon in Birmingham over the weekend September 24-26. Meantime, we’re into the last few days of the ‘Green Man’ sale. The Green Man’s Foe ebook is 99p on Amazon UK until 31st May, and that’s been matched on other platforms & territories by Wizard’s Tower, with The Green Man’s Heir and The Green Man’s Silence reduced. That means new readers can get all three books for £8.97 as long as they buy before midnight on Monday.
Next, I have an honest to goodness in-person author event in the diary for June 12th! You can find me at Sunhill Park, North Somerset, BS21 7SZ at 3:30PM, as part of the Clevedon Literary Festival. I’ll be discussing fantasy fiction with Anna Smith Spark and John Llewellyn Probert. More details here – and the wonderful Books on the Hill will be there selling books. It really will be great to get out and see people!
July 15th will see this year’s anthologies from ZNB published. My story in The Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity sees ancient Greek gods discovering the Internet and social media. The other 2021 titles are ‘Derelict‘ and ‘When Worlds Collide‘, and as you would expect by now, all three collections have a stellar roster of established and new writers. You can get preorders in with your online retailer of choice.
What else have I been doing? I’ve returned to the Aldabreshin Archipelago, believe it or not, to write the fourth of the short stories I started absolutely years ago, to go alongside the Aldabreshin Compass series. There’ll be more news about that in due course.
Last but by no means least, me and mine continue to keep well, and I hope the same is so for all of you.
As of yesterday, that’s the first pass of the next Green Man book completed at a frankly implausibly round 101100 words. That won’t be the final total – I’ll do a polishing pass over the next week or so, then Editor Toby will apply his eagle-eyed editorial skills.
I’m very pleased to have reached this point on the journey. I have always been able to escape trials and tribulations by turning to books -by reading and latterly, by writing them – but maintaining focus and a decent work rate amid the ongoing everything has been a particular challenge this year. I know this is the case for a great many many fellow authors and any number of readers.
I’m extremely pleased with the way this particular story has turned out. I’m confident Dan’s fans are going to enjoy this one. I’m also intrigued to see what Ben Baldwin will come up with by way of artwork for the cover.
So what’s next? Well, the first thing was checking the page proofs for my story in the upcoming anthology THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY. One bonus of doing that is getting a sneak peak at the other stories by this splendid roster of writers – Crystal Sarakas, Tanya Huff, Edward Willett, Daniel Roman, Jennifer Dunne, Jean Marie Ward, Mike Marcus, A.L. Tompkins, Daryl Marcus, Alma Alexander, Kari Sperring, A.J. Cunder, Irene Radford, and N.R. Lambert.
Among other things, you can see Hera try her hand at marriage counseling, while Macuilxochitl conquers the world of online gaming. Buy a ticket to Anubis’ magic act or roam the back tents at the local carnival and catch Doc Saturday’s medicine show. Take a sip of wine at Dionysus’ winery or grab some potato pancakes at Baba Yaga’s café.
I’ve also been taking a look at the concluding chapters of Eastern Tide. I’ve been promising myself – and readers – a fourth short story to complete the series accompanying the Aldabreshin Compass novels. You can find the first three here, staring with ‘Fire in the Night’.
They say three things make a post, so here goes.
Firstly, I’m involved in another Kickstarter, though in a different role this time. Prospective Press is an inclusive, pro-diversity, feminist-friendly, queer-welcoming, and #ownvoices-embracing publishing house. Jason Graves is the series editor of their Off the Beaten Path paranormal anthologies, Tales from the Old Black Ambulance, and the Concrete Dreams series of urban fantasies. Jason has invited me to write a foreword to the next Concrete Dreams anthology – Fiendish and the Divine. These stories will explore the intersections of what we think we know and what is undiscovered, the prejudices of the past and the startling newness of fresh perspectives. In these pages, you will meet gods, real and imagined; dragons of air and earth; beings alien to our world, with indecipherable intent; and monsters, some human, some not…
Secondly, I’ve mentioned a few times this year that I’ve written a novella for a shared world project. Now all can be revealed! So far Adrian Tchaikovsky and Justina Robson have each written a novel for Rebellion Publishing, set in a fantasy realm that’s recently seen a dark lord overthrown. The series title is After The War, and the novels so far are Redemption’s Blade, and After the Fire. Now there are The Tales of Catt and Fisher, a collection of four novellas by me, Adrian, Freda Warrington and K T Davies, to be published on 3rd December 2020. These two characters from the novels are scholars, shopkeepers, collectors, obtainers of rare antiquities … who can’t resist a lead, even when it takes them into terrible danger. There’s always an opportunity to be found amid the confusion, in the wake of the terrible Kinslayer War. There’s always a deal to be done, a tomb to open, a precious thing to… obtain.
This project was a lot of fun to write for, and I really enjoyed getting back to some epic fantasy. There was plenty of leeway for inventing new aspects and elements to expand on the existing scenario created by Adrian and Justina. Reading the books have already written in this world, I found a handful of lines here and there which added up to something very interesting indeed, when I summoned up my inner GM…
Third and last, but by no means least, I’ve written a guest blog post for my good friend and fine writer, Sarah Ash. I’ve been thinking a lot about mythology lately, and our relationships with folklore, old and new. We had a particularly interesting discussion about these things online at this year’s Octocon, so I welcomed the opportunity to explore this in an article.
So that’s all the latest from me. Have a good weekend!
Hopefully you’ll have noticed that the excellent small press ZNB (Zombies Need Brains) are running a Kickstarter to fund three new anthologies, titled THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, DERELICT, and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, containing approximately 14 all-original (no reprint) short stories each from established SF&F authors in the field and new voices found through an open call. The fundraising is going well, so we can hope to reach some stretch goals. Do check it out!
Regular readers will know that I’m a regular contributor to these projects, sometimes as an invited author, sometimes through submitting to the open call. The thing is though, I’m really not a natural short story writer…
A great many authors will tell you they have an instinctive length when it comes to writing. That can be novel, novella or short story. It’s the sweet spot for their imagination, where ideas come together most effectively. For me, that’s most definitely the novel. It has been said, with perfect justification, that my early short stories read like excerpts from a longer work.
So that’s the first thing. I want to improve my skills in this particular area. Short stories, in anthologies and as standalones are having a resurgence just at the moment. That’s thanks to the ease of digital downloads, a smartphone in every pocket or bag, and the way short-form fiction is ideal for a commute. That makes the short story an ideal way to introduce readers to my writing, so if they like it, they can look up my novels. But it has to be a good short story, and that’s why I always want feedback from professional editors so I can learn how to create my very best work. I get that advice from ZNB projects, without fear or favour! That advice doesn’t only help my short stories. Learning more about the differences between different forms of fiction hones my novel writing as well.
The second thing? Ask any author where they get their ideas from, and they’ll tell you lack of ideas is never the problem. The challenge is knowing what to do with them. My wide-ranging research reading turns up a whole lot of interesting possibilities which are often nowhere near novel-length material. Short stories offer me the chance to get these intriguing tales onto the page. My story for last year’s Alternate Peace anthology is a case in point. I’d read Bill Bryson’s book on the remarkable summer of 1927, and quite some while later read a much less amusing book on the ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918-1919. These books had nothing to do with each other at first glance, but that’s not how this works. If I put together that piece of information from one book and a passing footnote from the other, as well as a few more ‘what if?’ possibilities from both, I got an intriguing idea… I wasn’t sure it would make a novel though, and in any case, my other writing commitments would make that impossible. But this idea was ideally suited to this collection’s theme.
Thirdly, you never know where a short story will take you as a writer. Before ZNB was born, Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray edited a couple of anthologies for the US publisher DAW. One was The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity where I found I had an entertaining idea about dryads in the English countryside facing a road being built through their oak grove. There’s a passing reference in that story to dryads having sons with mortal fathers. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I did find myself thinking about it later though. Long story short? That did turn into a novel-length idea, and that was The Green Man’s Heir, followed by The Green Man’s Foe. Next month will see The Green Man’s Silence published by Wizard’s Tower Press.
So these are three of the things that writing short stories offers me as a novelist. Why not see what these projects can offer you as a writer – and a reader, obviously.
This year’s Kickstarter will fund three science fiction and fantasy anthologies, titled THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, DERELICT, and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, containing approximately 14 all-original (no reprint) short stories each from established SF&F authors and new voices found through an open call. Backers will essentially be generating the funds to produce these anthologies—payment for the contributing authors, for the cover artist, production costs etc. So the reward levels have been set to more closely resemble the cost of the final product when it goes on sale to the general public. In essence, backers are preordering the anthologies.
If you think you might have story idea, read on…
THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY
This is the anthology I hope to be writing for. In a follow-up to THE MODERN FAE’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, we switch our attention to the deities of old. Is Narcissus an Instagram influencer? Is Coyote playing the stock market? Does Ra own a solar panel company? Was Dr. Ruth really Venus? These authors will explore how the immortals have changed with the times.
- Alma Alexander (Freyja: Nordic),
- David Farland (Woden/Odin: German),
- Tanya Huff (Hera: Greek),
- Juliet E. McKenna (Nemesis/Themis: Greek),
- Phyllis Irene Radford (Anshar/Tiamet: Babylonian),
- Laura Resnick (assorted),
- Kari Sperring (Cigfa, Goewin, Gwydion: Welsh),
- Jean Marie Ward (Dionysus: Greek), and
- Edward Willett (Ninkasi: Sumerian)
No one can resist the mystery of the abandoned ship, whether it’s the ghost ship afloat in the Bermuda Triangle or the spaceship drifting in the depths of space. What happened to the crew? What horror forced them to abandon their vessel and flee…or are they still on board, trapped or even dead? These authors will explore the possibilities.
- Jacey Bedford,
- Alex Bledsoe,
- Gerald Brandt,
- Julie E. Czerneda,
- Kate Elliott,
- John G. Hemry/Jack Campbell,
- D.B. Jackson,
- Gini Koch,
- Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, and
- Kristine Smith
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE:
Throughout history, different cultures have collided, whether it be the peaceful contact between Rome and Han China in the second century that established the Silk Road, or the more violent interactions between Europe and the Americas thirteen hundred years later. Such first contact stories have long been a staple of speculative fiction, and these authors will explore the myriad ways in which two cultures—alien or fae, machine or human—can clash. Will the colliding societies manage to peacefully coexist after they finally meet? Or will they embark instead on a path of mutual self-destruction?
- S.C. Butler,
- Esther Friesner,
- Auston Habershaw,
- Steven Harper,
- Nancy Holzner,
- Howard Andrew Jones,
- Stephen Leigh,
- Violette Malan, and
- Alan Smale