Posts Tagged ‘Black Gate’

Clock Tower

May 14, 2011

Black Gate Issue 15It’s an exciting week on the publishing front! First, over to the right here is Issue #15 of Black Gate — it is hot off the presses and loaded with stories, including my “World’s End.” This is the first publication of any of my stories in the Agondria cycle. Every issue of Black Gate is like a super-high-quality anthology of sword & sorcery adventure, along with reviews of books, games, an insightful editorial . . . even a cartoon! At 384 pages long, this issue is essentially a book. I am truly honored to be sharing the table of contents with some of the finest writers in the field, including my friend John R. Fultz (who has been interviewed on this blog). Also, I have to tell this story: some months ago, when Editor John O’Neill revealed the wonderful painting he’d purchased for the cover — and knowing some of the stories he’d chosen for inclusion — I remarked to him, “Wow! So this is the Warrior Woman Issue, huh? You chose that cover to match the content!” Actually, he hadn’t — or not consciously, anyway! But he agreed that I was quite right. Sure enough, in the table of contents, he has grouped eight stories into a section under the heading “Special Warrior Woman Issue”! So I had the honor of making one extra contribution to this issue, other than my story — it seems I even helped a tiny bit with the conceptual design (or at least in identifying it)!

Also, Mr. Gordon Van Gelder very kindly sent me a contributor’s copy of Issue #4 of the new Polish language version of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, which reprints my Lovecraft-inspired story “The Place of Roots” just before an interview with Ursula K. Le Guin! In Polish, the story is called “Miejsce Korzeni,” and was translated by Konrad Walewski. I am told it was Mr. Walewski who chose my story for inclusion. It’s a tremendous honor to think that, of all the tales published in the long history of F&SF, he selected mine for Issue #4! So my deepest thanks go out to Mr. Walewski, and I salute him, too, for bringing this great magazine to the people of Poland! (This is the second language my fiction has been translated into: “The Bone Man” appeared awhile back in the Russian edition of F&SF.)

For fans of Emily Fiegenschuh’s illustrations for “The Star Shard” in Cricket: Emily has recently presented me with her amazing book Journey: Sketchbook Volume 3. It’s a beautiful, 96-page softcover collection of her artwork from around the time she worked on my story. One long section of the book is entirely devoted to “The Star Shard,” including conceptual designs, a motion sequence or two, and variations on the appearances and costuming of the characters. Herein are some of the sketches I got to see when we were still in the planning stages, when we were working out how some things should look. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the pre-production world of “The Star Shard,” though most of the images are quite detailed. One of my favorite pages shows the possible looks that might have been given to Bobbin and Argent. Really cool! For anyone who may not yet know: you can view the images for the story in all their full-color glory — and even order prints! — on Emily’s web site at www.e-figart.com.

And now, allow me to change the subject with a monkey wrench: Grrooiinnnkk! A couple weeks ago, some friends from out of town visited me. One highlight of the visit was an opportunity that even many Taylorvillians may not be aware of. Remember our county courthouse, situated on the Square in Taylorville right behind the statue of Lincoln and the pig?

Christian County’s third courthouse, built in 1902

There it is! Well, the man who winds the tower clock once a week is always willing to take visitors along with him. If you can get out of bed to meet him a little before 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday — and if you can climb a lot of stairs — he’ll give you a fascinating tour of this historic landmark. A more knowledgeable guide you will not find. His passion for history and mechanics becomes immediately apparent. Eighteen years ago, he escorted me and some Japanese friends up into the clock tower. This time around, knowing it would be just the sort of thing my company would enjoy, I gave him a call, hoping he was still the Clock Man — and he is! 

 

Seal of Illinois in the First Floor Rotunda

This seal greets you as you enter the courthouse. The building itself, constructed in 1902, is the third courthouse of Christian County. The first, as Lincoln afficionadoes will know, is located now on the grounds of our local historical museum, and is the building in which Lincoln himself practiced law.

 

Through the attic

My personal favorite part of the ascent is the journey through the dim attic, behind those roof-parts of the courthouse. It’s like being in a mine, with all the brickwork and dust and walkways. Are those dust-motes in my photos, or orbs?

The courthouse attic -- another inspirational source for DRAGONFLY

Seriously — I think this attic was an inspiration for the basement stairway scene in Dragonfly. Does the math work out? If I’m figuring right, 1993 would have been when I first saw this attic. Hmm. Iffy, but very close.

The brickwork of the tower

We’re heading up into the tower here. The wooden walkways really remind me of tourist pathways in commercial caves.

Onward, upward, by shadowy ways

The crowning jewel of the courthouse is a stained-glass dome that for decades was hidden by a false ceiling and all but forgotten. When I made my first trip up into the tower, it was visible in a dark crawlspace, but it was not yet restored.

 

Return to regions of light

Here, we’re climbing above the dome. You know, this courthouse has inspired two of my short stories as well. One, an unpublished “learning experience,” was called “Hunting the Vampire,” in which two pre-teen boys (heavily based on my nextdoor neighbor and me) become convinced that a vampire has taken up residence in the courthouse tower. Taking it upon themselves to rid the community of this horror, they break into the courthouse at night and ascend the black tower . . . to a somewhat surprising (if inept) ending. I used to inflict that story on my Saturday English students at Nozomi Lutheran Church. I had study guides to go with it and everything.

Early light outside the windows

This dome was discovered beneath four feet of dust! That’s a fact, according to the clock keeper, and he would certainly know. The other story set partly in this courthouse is “Witherwings,” in which a young boy gifted with a special “sight” sees horribly disturbing images in the stained-glass dome that no one else sees. I really like that one!

The restored dome, from above

The center part of the story beneath the dome was removed during the restoration, so that you can now stand in the First Floor Rotunda, tip your head back, and gaze up at the wonder of the dome! (And hope you don’t see horribly disturbing images . . .)

The restored dome, from below

Are you okay? Everyone still here? Whew! It’s quite beautiful.

Emerging into the bell space

You come up this narrow stairway into that open-air part of the tower that you can see from the ground. That’s where the mighty bell crouches.

The clock bell

And just as one of our party was kneeling in front of this bell to take a closeup picture, the bell struck 8:00 a.m. That . . . was . . . LOUD. And now we come into the small housing chamber of the grand clock itself. This clock keeper is only the third man to do the job since 1902. Clock keepers tend to be lifers — people who do the job because they absolutely love it.

Oiling the clock

Back in the fifties and sixties, many weight-driven clocks were gutted and fitted with electric motors. Doing so was a travesty. Aside from their historic value, the weight-powered clocks are simply better. They don’t stop during power failures. Furthermore, in wintry Midwest conditions, clock hands are often blocked in their movement by snow and ice. When this happens, weight clocks will just stop and wait (Do I have to pay the pun fund?). Electric motors will burn themselves out.

 

Maintaining the clock

Various conditions can affect the clock’s accuracy: temperature, humidity, weather . . . Good clock keepers learn to listen, to know the sounds and rhythms of the mechanics, so that they can hear when something is wrong. Some tiny glitch can occur that may stop the clock many hours later. So if there is a problem, the clock keeper becomes a detective. Did the wind from a certain direction push the clock hand inward just enough to snag on a number on the clock’s face? When might this have happened? And on which of the four clock faces?

This week, the clock was running fast by 25 seconds. (It must be wound once a week, at the same time each week.) Do you see this telephone atop the clock mechanism?

Hotline to the clock

The keeper is able to call the clock from his own cellular phone. By dialing in different codes, he can stop the clock and restart it. While we watched, he stopped the clock for precisely 25 seconds, then restarted it — putting it back on the correct time. And all by phone! He also has cameras set up to “watch” the clock; they stream their images to the Internet, so anyone can watch the clock! (Is it just me, or does this scenario suggest an element of a good murder mystery?)

The crank used by former keepers

The first two keepers used this crank (above) to wind the clock. It’s the bell side of the clock that is by far the harder to wind; you have to raise a weight equivalent (in weight, not size) to a smallish car up four stories to wind the striker. By hand, the process took a good hour, with frequent stops to rest. The current keeper did that once. Then he built himself a motorized attachment, which winds the clock (lifts the weight) in a few minutes. The former keeper did the job until he was in his nineties. At the time he retired, he could still turn the crank with no problem; it was his knees that forced him to quit. He couldn’t climb all the way up there any more.

Hatchway in one clock face

So we’re looking right out through the face of the courthouse clock here! One of the hands is visible.

Taylorville water tower

There’s the northeast corner of the Square (above). Look! Beyond the water tower is the soybean mill which is visible from my yard, which lies still farther east!

North side of the Square

There’s the north side, and the movie theater. I can’t quite see what’s playing. Isn’t it odd? Just a few short months ago, I was taking photos from atop a tower on the other side of the world. Strange feeling. These places we know so well, where we spend our lives . . .

Slave clock on the first floor

This clock on the ceiling of the first floor is tied to the great clock in the tower. What the big faces outside show, this one shows.

Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield, Illinois

Here’s Lincoln’s Tomb in Springfield. The long-observed tradition is for visitors to rub Lincoln’s nose for good luck. The nose of this sculpture is bright and shiny. Looks like Tycho Brahe. (I don’t think this practice was observed while Lincoln was alive.)

My place in Taylorville, May 2011

And here’s my place. [Cue the “Concerning Hobbits” soundtrack.]

Looking southwest at my place

What do you say? Good place to end the post? Talk to you soon!

Crow Apocalypse

January 8, 2010

I’m back. I guess I took a little Christmas/New Year sabbatical from blogging there, and I think it’s been restful. [True story: when I was a kid, for awhile I thought the word “sabbatical” meant the wild, unholy rituals that witches have at midnight in desolate places. So when I’d hear this or that person was “on sabbatical” or “took a sabbatical,” I would think, “Ooh–I thought s/he was Christian” and “Is that something you can declare in public?!”] I’m actually eager to be back on the blogging scene.

First, before I forget, I want to put in a plug here for my friend John R. Fultz. I’ve read some of his stories and know he is an excellent writer of speculative fiction, and he’s a great and gracious moderator of panel discussions. [See the interview with him in a previous entry on this blog.] He has a new dark fantasy comic called SKULLS up on Black Gate‘s website:

http://www.blackgate.com

SKULLS, I’m told, will be updated weekly–every Wednesday–so let’s all check it out! John, is there any recent news on the release of your graphic novel Primordia? I, for one, am “waiting with my neck stretched out,” as the Japanese expression goes.

So, you ask, what have I been up to? During my Christmas holidays, mainly I’ve been working hard on the revisions of my book The Sacred Woods. I was blessed to have some excellent feedback from test readers and from my dedicated and outstanding agent Eddie. So I made myself a master list of changes I wanted to make, and I’ve been working through that list, crossing off things with great satisfaction when I get them taken care of. I think I am just a day or two away from being able to send the manuscript back to Eddie, and I hope he’ll agree that it’s ready to start submitting. It is absolutely true what they say in all the workshops and writing trade magazines: nothing comes out perfect the first time. Leave it for a few months, get some feedback from readers, and your book or story can be improved in dozens of ways. What I’ve been producing these days on The Sacred Woods is very much like the Extended Editions of The Lord of the Rings movies. All the good things that were there to begin with, plus some extra, enriching material. I hope these revisions are making the difference between “pretty darn good” and “out of the park home run.” Heh, heh. It’s my blog, so I’m allowed to have delusions of grandeur here.

This past week also marked the passing of a very dear friend:

Dave (white) and Uni (brown-and-black)

Dave the cat passed away on January 5th. Although he officially belonged to some close friends of mine, we all agreed that he was essentially my cat. He and I were closer than he and his owners were. Because I was on Christmas break, I was able to spend his last few days with him almost constantly. I camped out on the floor next to him, did my revision work at a nearby table, and I was right beside him when he finally passed from this life. He was a truly good cat.

Dave and Uni

Dave and Uni

Anyway, here’s a report on something amazing I saw on December 14th.

It was a Monday morning, and the forecast was for inclement weather (the default of Niigata — I’ve often said that if I were going to write a memoir of Niigata life, the title would be Inclement). So instead of riding my bicycle to the university, I set out walking to the bus, about a 25-minute walk from my apartment. The jet black of a winter night was slowly paling as I locked my door and tramped toward the river. As I crossed Chitose Great Bridge, the sun peered over the horizon behind me. The sky there burst into red flame. (“Red sky at morning, sailors take warning.”) Ahead of me, the sky was dark gray and ominous.

As I crossed over the Shinano River and left the bridge, I froze in my tracks. Above the first main intersection, the power lines were packed with huge black crows, shoulder-to-shoulder, wing-to-wing. I turned my head to right and left. This is no exaggeration: as far as I could see to both sides, about a kilometer in each direction, the rows of crows were unbroken. I was stunned. This was no mere flock of crows: this was more crows than I’d ever seen in my life, all here at once, wing-to-wing on these power lines above me. They cried out in waves of sound that rolled along that vast length, a cold RRAWWK that passed from bird to bird in the way that thunder resounds along the horizon.

I stood on tiptoe and craned my neck, trying to see the end of them, but there was no end: to my left, they stretched to Daiichi High School and beyond. To my right, they seemed to go all the way to City Hall. I paused for a long while gazing up into those glittering black eyes, listening to the rolling waves of their unmusical cries.

When I ducked beneath them and continued on my way, I halted in my tracks again. It wasn’t just one set of power lines. A block later, the next set was equally laden with crows. Again, they stretched from horizon to horizon, with no more than an inch or two between the glistening black bodies. Some wheeled in flight, looking for open places on which to alight.

My gaze jumped ahead. A third set of power lines was thick with crows. And a fourth. I kid you not, the thought that came to my mind was: Is this it? Is this the day it all ends? Does the Lord come back in the clouds? It really and truly looked like something from a movie, something that would be accomplished with CGI imaging. If I weren’t seeing it with my own eyes, I would have thought it looked fake.

And here’s a bizarre detail: on each set of poles, there were six lines, but the crows invariably chose to congregate on just three of them. Three occupied, three unoccupied. I have no idea what that meant.

Since it’s now January 9th, obviously the world didn’t end. But if you were wondering where all the crows in your neighborhood were in mid-December, I think they were at CrowCon in Niigata. I wonder if the con featured a panel discussion on the role of humans in history and literature. Perhaps the panelists debated the issue of whether humans are sometime-allies of crows, or whether they’re simply the ambulatory, unripe stage of delectable carrion.

Quoth the human: “Nevermore!”

Lest this post end on a dark note, here’s another historical photo courtesy of our friend Chris:

Oh, dear. I must have been in about 6th grade. My acne is beginning to blossom. I'm wearing the World's Best Sweater Ever. Mom looks like a startled forest animal. (This is a very unflattering picture of her.) Dad looks disgruntled.

I’m back, and the fun never stops. See you again soon!

Pen and Sorcery: An Interview with John R. Fultz

November 27, 2009

Welcome to our second author interview! I’ve recently been reading some stories that combine brilliant invention with skillful pacing, deftly-drawn characters, and the most beautifully-evoked worlds of wonder I’ve encountered in some time. I remember when I was eight or nine years old and saw The Golden Voyage of Sinbad at a matinee one summer day — and loved it so much I saw it again within a week — and read the novelization — and then went on to seek out and read Arabian Nights, which was where, my parents explained, Sinbad came from. These stories I’ve been reading this week have taken me back to those times. The visceral wonder we feel when immersed in stories tends to diminish as we go through life. But these tales have allowed me to be nine years old again — what higher praise can there be for a fantasy story? But don’t let my talk of childhood fancy-flights mislead you: there are depths to these stories as well: thrills to satisfy a reader’s inner child, richness to satisfy a reader’s inner adult — there’s plenty there for both.

The author is John R. Fultz. He writes fiction for Weird Tales and Black Gate, and has written for comic books such as Zombie Tales and Cthulhu Tales; and his graphic novel of epic fantasy, Primordia,  will be released in hardcover sometime during the next several months. A much-shortened form of his bibliography is as follows:

“The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” — Weird Tales #340

“When the Glimmer Faire Came to the City of the Lonely Eye” — forthcoming in Black Gate

“Return of the Quill” — Black Gate #13

“The Vintages of Dream” — forthcoming in Black Gate

“Oblivion Is the Sweetest Wine” — Black Gate #12

Unquestionably, this is a long interview. I looked carefully for things I might cut, but in the end, I”m offering the whole thing because it’s all worthwhile. If it’s too much to read in one sitting, by all means, come back to it — make a week-long excursion of it — but do read the whole thing sooner or later: you’ll be glad you did.

Instead of tagging each question with the traditional “FSD,” I’m leaving them numbered so that you can easily find your place again if you take a break. Without further ado, then, I give you John R. Fultz, sorcerer of the pen. . . .

 

 

1. Readers of this blog always seem eager for lists of books they should be reading. I know “fantasy” is a broad and diverse field, but are there a few books/authors that you think anyone interested in fantasy absolutely should read?

 

Man, I love giving recommendations for fantasy readers. As you can imagine, I have my own list of All-Time Greats. Everybody has read Tolkien, so I’ll skip that (but SILMARILLION is my favorite). I think any person who loves fantasy should definitely seek out and read:

 – Tanith Lee’s TALES OF THE FLAT EARTH series  (One of the most beautiful and lyrical series of books ever written. Lee is the Queen of Fantasy and her books are sheer fantasy perfection.) I also recommend her VENUS series, and her latest epic THE LIONWOLF trilogy.

– Lord Dunsany’s THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER, and any of his short stories (Dunsany really was a wizard with a quill pen…his writing is breathtakingly gorgeous.)

– Clark Ashton Smith’s ZOTHIQUE, HYPERBOREA, and POSIEDONIS tales (CAS was the master of Dark Fantasy before that term was even invented—such a combination of wild imagination, dark/weird sensibilities, and sheer poetic brilliance of style.)

– Darrell Schweitzer’s MASK OF THE SORCERER and its sequel THE BOOK OF SEKENRE (Darrell is one of fantasy’s best kept secrets…true geniuses are often overlooked and this is the case with Schweitzer…his writing IS sorcery…he weaves a spell about his readers that you’ll never want to break.) I also recommend any of his collections such as WE ARE ALL LEGENDS, NIGHTSCAPES, and REFUGEES FROM AN IMAGINARY COUNTRY, etc.

– A. A. Attanasio’s THE DRAGON AND THE UNICORN, and its many sequels (A retelling of the Merlin/Arthur mythos that is unlike anything ever written about these characters. A.A.A. has a way of opening the universe and making you understand how magic really DOES work, all while mesmerizing you with the mythic power of his narrative.)

– Brian McNaughton’s THRONE OF BONES (McNaughton was a genius of weird fiction—this book is to ghouls what DRACULA was to vampires. The strange, ghoul-haunted word of Seelura he created will linger in your mind long after you finish this one.)

– R. Scott Bakker’s PRINCE OF NOTHING trilogy…including THE DARKNESS THAT COMES BEFORE, THE WARRIOR-PROPHET, and  THE THOUSAND-FOLD THOUGHT. (Bakker has reinvented the Epic Fantasy and done it in a way that isn’t a thinly veiled version of Tolkien’s work. He is a philosopher by trade, and the metaphysical aspects of his fiction are woven with a blood-and-guts earthiness that creates a fantasy epic somewhere between David Carradine’s KUNG FU and Frank Herbert’s DUNE, as filtered through ARABIAN NIGHTS. These books are exactly what you’re looking for if you’re tired of business-as-usual fantasy series.)

– Robert Silverberg’s NIGHTWINGS is one of the greatest fantasies ever written as well, even though you might call it science-fantasy. Full of brilliant imagination, wild spectacle, and transformational wisdom, it is the kind of book you never get tired of re-reading.

– I recommend any of Thomas Ligotti’s books (the greatest living horror writer in the world), and most of William Gibson’s books (Yeah, he’s sci-fi, but he’s just such a damn good writer it doesn’t matter.)

– A year or so ago, I finally gave in and discovered the genius of George R.R. Martin’s A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series. I couldn’t believe it was as good as all the hype! But it is. He is a master of character, and he makes you fall in love when he wants, makes you hate when he wants, and always makes you want to see what happens next with his cast of all-too-human heroes and villains. Very realistic take on medieval fantasy that uses a less-is-more approach with magic.

– Jeff VanderMeer’s AMBERGRIS series is one of  the best things to come along in the last five years or so. CITY OF SAINTS AND MADMEN, SHRIEK: AND AFTERWORD, and the just-released FINCH offer a fresh new take on the weird-fantasy genre that straddles the line between fantasy and horror (and a few other genres as well). Brilliant stuff.

 I’ll stop here or else I’ll never finish… 🙂

 

2. Your work that I’ve read is fantasy in the grand tradition of such writers as Clark Ashton Smith, the pre-Tolkien mode that calls to mind the exotic flavor of Arabian Nights. What is it about such settings (deserts and opulent, decadent walled cities — and the moldering crypts beneath them) that appeals to you?
 

Good question, Fred! There are a few influences that led me back to that pre-Tolkien mode of fantasy, as you call it. One was of course Robert E. Howard’s CONAN and KULL tales (I prefer the KULL tales, but love them both.) I grew up reading this stuff in both novel and comic book formats. Another was Edgar Rice Burroughs’ MARTIAN TALES series…the John Carter of Mars books.  I grew up in the 1970s, which was a Golden Age for fantasy, and particularly for “sword-and-sorcery” fiction. Later I discovered Clark Ashton Smith’s tales of lost kingdoms such as Zothique, Hyperborea, and Posiedonis, and I couldn’t get enough of his writing.

There’s just something so intriguing about the “lost world” concept. Think about the ages of pre-history that are now lost to us. How many empires, kingdoms, and nations existed in the dim eons of earth that we will NEVER know about? I also buy into the concept of inherited racial memories, to a point, as well as the concept of Reincarnation. I believe I was an inhabitant of Atlantis, possibly during the time it sank beneath the waves. I’ve always had dreams and lurking fears of colossal tidal waves, and I’m very mistrustful of the ocean and its wrath. I also believe I was at one time (or many times) a citizen of the Roman Empire. I’m simply fascinated by the Ancient World…the parts of it we know about, and even moreso the parts we will never know about.

When I discovered Tanith Lee’s TALES FROM THE FLAT EARTH, it opened an amazing doorway for my imagination. She set her tales in a “time when the earth was still flat.” The laws of the universe were very different…the gods were ethereal beings who cared nothing for man, and the demons were more like beautiful demigods who went around seducing mortals and causing strife. Her characters in this series are so mythic and primordial—they tap into the archetypal consciousness. I think all really good fantasy taps that ancient wisdom that lies inside our consciousness, often buried so deep it is never consciously acknowledged.

Reading Tanith Lee (which began with a dog-eared copy of DEATH’S MASTER I stumbled across in a used bookstore in Lexington, Kentucky) made me want to focus on a broader and more ancient scope than your typical “medieval England” type of story. Also, I came to the realization that nobody can ever be Tolkien, so why should anyone try? I’d rather go back into the murky haze of primordial existence and create my own kingdoms from ancient models and myths. And do something new with them, of course. Always try to do something new with them.

All fantasy writers create new worlds, so in the end you are drawing from various sources real and unreal. Why look at the whole of history and pre-history and stop at the medieval ages? Keep looking back and you’ll find way more bizarre epochs to explore and utilize as you craft your own fantasy milieu. Sometimes you can look forward, too…but that’s another question.

3. Have you ever set a story in the popular medieval British Isles-type milieu? If not, or not many, did you make a conscious decision to avoid that sort of setting?
 

As mentioned in the previous answer, I’m much more drawn to the Greco-Roman inspired settting, or the Ancient World type of environment. Not to say I won’t ever write something set on the British Isles, or my version of it. But I feel that has been done so much, and so well, that there’s really no need for me to do it. I’ll read Tolkien and Attanasio instead. 🙂

4. For me, stories almost always grow out of place — a cave, an overgrown garden, a huge vehicle of some sort, a rural community, a barn — and the story reveals itself from there. How does it work for you? Where does a story idea usually begin?
 

It varies from story to story. That’s the mystical, exciting part of writing—when the idea first blossoms in your mind…a little sprig taking root in the fertile soil of IdeaSpace. Sometimes I’m inspired by a piece of art, or a setting, or a stray line I’ve read somewhere. I’ll take inspiration wherever I can get it. But I can tell you when I have a story, and where I always look when I’m moving forward: Characters. For me, stories begin and end with Characters. Alan Moore said something that really struck a chord with me, so I’ll paraphrase his wisdom: When you drop well-defined characters into a well-defined setting and let them run like rats in a maze, doing whatever they would naturally do…you have a plot. Especially when you have very different characters with contrasting goals and interests.

I think a LOT about my setting…as most fantasy writers have to. But I think a lot about my characters as well. The characters are going to be my readers’ link to this fictional world, and so they become my link as well. I never worry about “What will happen next?” because I just ask my character. The rule I follow is: Characters always behave according to their inherent natures. Just like real people. You can usually predict what your friends or family members will do in any given situation—because you know them so well. That’s how you have to know your characters.

One of my joys in writing is when my characters come into conflict with each other. Maybe it’s because conflict is the very heart of all Drama. Or maybe it’s me working out subconscious/emotional conflicts that I can’t handle on a conscious level. Whatever…it doesn’t really matter, but all characters are extensions of the writer’s psyche. Put them in a box and let them play. But make sure it’s a fascinatingly designed box! So I always come back to character. Keep in mind that your setting in itself can be a character as well…some settings make demands on characters that they cannot ignore.

When I have the basic idea for a story—which can come from anywhere—it “floats” there until I come up with a character (or characters).Once I have them, the idea starts to really grow and blossom, and before you know it I have a story ready to be written.

5. You’re an amazingly productive writer. Can you tell us something about your process? How does writing fit in around your full-time day job? When and where do you get it done? Do you write first drafts by hand or on a keyboard? Do you seek any input before you send things out?
 

Well, I go through productive periods and non-productive like everyone else. One thing I like to tell people (including my students) is that “Not Writing is a very important part of Writing.” I mean, the first thing you have to do before you write something is THINK about it. Thinking isn’t actually writing…but then again it IS. I think, therefore I write. 🙂

I teach English for a living, and right now I’m teaching 8th grade level in the Bay Area. During the regular teaching year there is precious little time for writing. However, that doesn’t stop me from thinking! I try to keep my mind open for good ideas. They never spoil. Some writers carry ideas around for years before they turn them into stories or novels. The great thing about being a teacher, though, is that I get summers off to focus on my writing. Not to mention extended vacations over the winter holidays, and a Spring Break. There are assorted 3- and 4-day weekends during the year as well. These are the times when you’ll find me hitting the keyboard and getting my writing done.

Sometimes, though, I get inspired and nothing can stop me. For example, after attending this year’s WORLD FANTASY CONVENTION (my first ever), I came home so inspired that I’ve hammered out three new stories this month. While teaching! I’ve never done that before, so either I’m getting better or I’m just hella-inspired. Now, when the holidays hit I usually go back to Kentucky and visit relatives and friends—that’s a time when I won’t get any writing done either because it’s all about airports, highways, and the usual Yuletide celebrations. Which are great—it’s nice to have a couple weeks at the end of every year to “unplug” and just enjoy life for a little while. Again, those times can birth a bunch of new ideas, though, so I’m always ready.

Sometimes an idea will come to me and I’ll pull out my cell-phone, which has a recorder function, and speak the “nugget” of my idea right into my phone recorder. I’m like Dale Cooper on TWIN PEAKS speaking his thoughts to Diane. I might make two or three more “Messages to Self” before I put something on paper.

I think of ideas as “seeds”—let them grow in the mind until I just can’t stand it anymore. Then I’ve got to get it out of me. That’s when I sit down and hit the keyboard. Sometimes I’ll write longhand notes first—but whenever I can I prefer to just go right to the keyboard. I may write a page or several pages of notes—the Prewriting Process—before I actually write the first line of a story. I see the First Line as a gateway. Once I decide on what I think the “perfect” first line will be, I can “enter” the story-world completely. But I can’t start typing the story itself until I’ve figured out what the opening sentence will be in my head. A good opening sentence always leads you on to more good sentences.

Sometimes I finish the story in a single sitting. Those are great blasts of inspiration, but also the results of much mental planning beforehand. Once I know what the END is going to be, I can start the story. Sometimes I have only a general idea of the end, and other times I know EXACTLY what the ending will be. Sometimes I write out a bullet-list of events (i.e. Plot Points), and other times I keep it all in my head…a “general direction” rather than a plan, to use Bradbury’s terminology.

For longer stories, I’ll write them in shifts. But I usually can’t concentrate on much else until my current “project” is done. I always stop at natural breaks in the story…I’ll keep typing until I’m physically exhausted because I have to reach a good “resting place” before I can stop. Then I’ll come back the next day and finish it.

Writing novels is a whole different challenge from writing short stories. If you have a few weeks or months to build up momentum, you can really dive into it. That was the case with me last summer when I wrote SEVEN PRINCES. I had a general direction, but I wanted the characters to determine what actually happened from chapter to chapter. This was a new approach for me—with previous long-form works I always outlined them. This time, I wanted to let the characters and their world “breathe.” I knew where it was all heading, but not how I would get there. But the characters led the way, and often surprised me on the journey. Part of novel writing is being able to TRUST your writer’s instinct, your subconscious creator, if you will, to not lead you astray. My point of view is that if you follow the characters first and foremost, you’ll never write yourself into a corner. Realize that the characters are living these stories, you’re just chronicling.

I know that sounds like madness, but all writers are mad to a degree. But it’s a wonderful, joyous madness! Hahahahahahahah!

Someone said writing a short story is like walking a tightrope from beginning to end. Whereas writing a novel is like balancing SEVERAL things on tightropes and guiding them all toward the same ending. That’s a valid analogy. Writing short stories gives you a short-term thrill of completion, and you can really explore big, madcap ideas…just let your imagination soar. With a novel, you have to create a set of parameters, or story rules, and stick to them. That’s the thing about building momentum–the faster you go the harder it is to change course. So make sure you’re heading in the right direction. The way I do that is by following my characters, wherever they lead me.

There is always some kind of plan. Even if it’s all in mind (for shorter pieces), or a few lines of plot points, or a complete loose outline. Outlines inevitably change once you start to write, and often they become irrelevant when you’re in the middle of the story…but that’s okay because they give you what you need: a direction in which to travel.

With my SEVEN PRINCES novel, I had a general idea of where things were headed, but I consciously planned out only one chapter at a time. It was like strolling through fog, only able to see the next step or two ahead of me. My characters calling to me from somewhere in the mist, and me trusting they would lead me where we all needed to be. They did.

6. Descriptions, dialogue, action sequences, exposition of background. . . . Do you have a favorite part of a story to write? How about a least favorite?

My favorite part of a story to write is usually one of two things: Dialogue or  Mystical/Magical/Surreal moments. In long-form works (longer stories or a novel) I relish exchanges of dialogue. It’s where my characters come to life and express themselves, and I really enjoy letting them interact and seeing where a scene takes me. It’s great when they surprise you, or when you write some dialogue and go back later and say “Damn, I don’t remember writing that at all!” The character was in charge; you were just transcribing.

My other favorite part of writing a story probably explains why I like fantastic fiction so much. I love writing pieces/scenes/sequences where “normal” reality is abandoned and the characters are caught in a mystical experience such as a dream-state, a spell of sorcery, an invasion of the “other,” or visions of surreal enlightenment. In short, I love to warp reality. I can’t really do that too well in my terrestrial life—but in my fiction I can twist the fabric of existence. My goal is always to create a unique experience for the reader. When I read Darrell Schweitzer’s sorcery sequences, they often take me to a trance-state, something like transcendental meditation. He literally boggles my mind! This is why I tell people that Darrell’s writing IS sorcery. A. A. Attanasio can do that as well, but he makes the most fantastical magic event seem as natural as a summer rain. Tanith Lee can transport me with the sheer beauty of her prose imagery, as can Clark Ashton Smith and Lord Dunsany. On the darker side, nobody warps readers’ consciousness like the Master, Thomas Ligotti. Once again, it’s like a spell has been cast, and you’re experiencing something that goes beyond simple eye-to-brain cognition. It’s like LSD without taking drugs. I love writing scenes that transcend mundane reality. I may not be as effective at it as those authors I mentioned, but they are my role models for doing this in my own fiction. Of course, there are many other authors who weave such spells on their readers, but these are just a few of my favorites. In short—I want to mess with your mind, dude! 🙂
 

7. Can you tell us about your revision process? How much editing do you do?
 

When I’m involved with crafting a story I’m constantly editing it. Write, edit, write, edit. I’ll “spot-edit” continuously, in between extended bouts of writing the actual prose. I “live with” the story for a day or a few days, and things “pop out” at me—things I have to fix, or things I forgot to put in, or things that need to be changed for consistency. Later, after the story is finished and I’ve taken some time away (usually less than 24 hours), I’ll go back and do a Complete Edit. That’s where I read the entire story onscreen and cut/add anything that needs to be fixed, smoothed out, or altered. I always try to cut myself mercilessly. Any word, phrase, or sentence is expendable in order to achieve the overall effect of The Story.

For me, the most difficult part of stories is perfecting the opening. I detest a boring or “blah”opening. I usually don’t read stories unless they grab me in the first paragraph. Who’s got the time for that anyway? I’ve got a lot of stuff to read! So I usually go over and over and over my opening paragraph (s), trying to make it absolutely perfect. The opening sequence of a story should be as precise and effective as a well-written poem. Every word counts. And since editors usually judge your stories by their openings, you have to show them you’ve “got it” right there in the first one to two paragraphs. I’m the same with songs on the radio—I can tell from the opening, or the first few bars, if I’m going to sit through that song. The “lead” of a story should be a grabber; that’s my philosophy. So I obsess over my opening paragraphs to excess. It seems to work!

8. Your roots are rural Midwestern, like mine, but most recently you’re a Californian. How has region affected your writing? How about geography?


Yeah, I grew up in Kentucky, lived in Chicago for a little while, and I’ve been a Californian since 1998. The first nine years out here was in Southern California—Orange County. This month marks my two-year anniversary of moving north to the Bay Area. California on the whole has been incredibly inspiring to me. It has definitely affected my writing in many ways. California has elements of all climates and peoples here. It has amazing history. Most of all it has an appreciation for the creative arts that the Midwestern environment seems to have in short supply. For example, if you say “Hey, I want to be a writer” in Kentucky, people will generally tell you to “Get a real job—you can’t make a living as a writer.” They’re more practical. The same goes for music, and other creative endeavors. On the other hand, if you tell someone in California you want to be a writer, they will automatically take you seriously and ask what you’re working on (or what you’ve written). Out here the business of entertainment and creativity is a real, economic power. People take writers and artists seriously the way they never did when I was a boy growing up in Kentucky. And there’s a reason for that: There simply aren’t that many opportunities for artists in that part of the country. If you want to be a writer, you really need to go to California or New York. Of course there are exceptions, but Cali is motion pictures and New York is publishing. And those two worlds are inseparably intertwined. The creative climate of California is what I enjoy most. People here are very impractical—in a good way!

9. Has there been a proudest moment in your writing career so far?
 

I think it was when I sold my first short story to WEIRD TALES, back in early 2004. The story was “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill,” and it ran in WT #340, which came out in ’05. I had literally been trying to sell stories to WT for fifteen years! Back in college, when I took creative writing courses, I used to read the Schweitzer/Scithers version of WEIRD TALES and I sent off stories to them. Darrell always wrote me the most insightful rejections. Every few years I’d try again, and I got better by little increments. It’s funny—when I was writing “The Persecution of Artifice the Quill” I just knew somehow that this was the story that would finally get me into WEIRD TALES. And it was. I had always said “If I can sell a story to Darrell, I will have figured out how to write.” Because we’re talking about an editor who won a World Fantasy Award for his editing—not to mention one of the leading scholars/reviewers in the fantasy/horror genre.

Selling that first story inspired me to keep writing short stories, and I ended up selling two more Artifice stories to WT, then I started selling to BLACK GATE. Along the way, I got my graphic novel PRIMORDIA published as well, then sold some other comics scripts. Earlier this year I sold my first non-fantasy story to SPACE & TIME Magazine. It was a contemporary weird-horror story called “Behind the Eyes.” It was another milestone because I’ve never wanted to write ONLY fantasy. Fantasy will always be my first love, but I do write other things as the inspiration strikes.

10. Can you remember your earliest attempt at writing, perhaps when you were very young? What, if anything, was the common link with what you’re writing now, as an adult?
 

When I was in 7th grade I wrote a story about a knight who refuses to listen to everyone at court when they tell him NOT to go fight a dragon that is terrorizing the land. The young knight, full of arrogance and hungry for glory, goes out and assaults the dragon in its cave. The last line of the story reveals that the knight was promptly killed and devoured by the dragon. The point being that he should have listened to his elders and let the damn dragon alone. My English teacher liked the story so much that she read it to the entire class one day. That must have been a turning point in my life. It gave me something to be proud of when I really needed it. It validated my interest in writing, as well as in fantasy fiction. It might be the first time I ever thought of myself as a “writer.” In my own career as a teacher I love recognizing and encouraging young writers. I guess I’m paying it forward. Thank you, Mrs. Kimberlaine!

11. Is there a particular element or aspect that you think the best fantasy stories have? As a reader, what do you read for?
 

A sense of wonder. That’s it for me. I’m stealing the words of the great Robert Silverberg, but it’s so true. Whether I’m reading fantasy, sci-fi, or horror, I want a sense of wonder, something strange, beyond the mundane, something incredible and impossible coming to life inside my imagination. In college I read Silverberg’s WORLDS OF WONDER, which was a guide to writing science fiction and fantasy, but also included amazing stories from classic writers like Damon Knight, Henry Kuttner, Jack Vance, and Brian Aldiss. It was huge influence on me, and responsible for my writing a post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel in longhand during the course of my last two years of college. It wasn’t particularly good, but terrific fun, and I proved to myself that I could do it. One of the things Silverberg talks about in that book is the “sense of wonder” that sci-fi and fantasy stories should have. I couldn’t say it any better.

The other element that is so important is good characters. If you can’t relate to the characters, you’re not going to enjoy the story. Silverberg is a master at infusing a sense of wonder with believable characters who seem real, even in the depths of impossible realities.

Thirdly, a writer’s style means a lot to me. Tanith Lee’s fiction reads like sex feels. It’s superb. Lyrical, poetic, full of images that stun the mind and thrill the soul. Clark Ashton Smith and Thomas Ligotti do the same thing, but with a much darker mood. It’s all about creating fantastic imagery that evokes that crucial sense of wonder.

12. Is there a map of the world in which your Zang Cycle is set? Do you write with a map spread out beside you, or is a map even necessary?
 

The map of the Zang Continent exists only in my mind, but it’s pretty well formed there. I took a cue from Brian McNaughton, who believed that if he drew a map for his Seelura Cycle (in THRONE OF BONES), it might rob his creation of all its mystery and wonder. So there is no physical Zang map.

However, I DID create a map for my novel SEVEN PRINCES. The characters therein are lords and ladies of several lands, some of which are a thousand miles apart. There are also the movements of armies and travelling individuals to consider. So I created a map and constantly continued to revise it as I wrote the novel. I’ve learned from this that maps are WAY more important to fantasy novels than to cycles of loosely-related short stories that share the same world.

13. The use of magic is a central aspect of your stories, much moreso than the use of swords. Is that a fair statement? What are the challenges of writing about magic and characters who are sorcerers?
 

Yes. Some people call some of my stories “sword and sorcery,” but I came up with the term “pen and sorcery” because Artifice the Quill, main character of the Zang stories, isn’t a warrior—he’s a writer! He starts out as a novelist and evolves into a traveling playwright. The conceit is that he is learning a form of sorcery that reveals itself through his performances…a great metaphor for how Art can change the world. The series of Artifice tales explores the concept of Sorcery as Art, and Art as Sorcery.

I’ve always thought wizards/sorcerers/magicians were way more interesting than sword-swinging warriors. I’d rather see two sorcerers have a duel than two swordsmen. The possibilities are endless with magic and sorcery…Moorcock’s Elric of Melnibone is so exciting and enduring because he combines the best attributes of the warrior/swordsman archetype with the best of the sorcerer/magician figure.

However, any kind of character can be compelling if it is well written. Some of George R. R. Martin’s characters are practically powerless, but yet they are ultimately fascinating. Maybe my preference for magical characters goes back to my quest for the “sense of wonder” I spoke about. At the same time, Jeffrey Ford pointed out at the WFC how you can find magic in the real world; it exists all around you in the winds and movements of birds among the clouds, etc. The world of nature is the ultimate magic. He has a good point. Attanasio is the only fantasy writer I’ve read who manages to combine Nature and Sorcery to the point that the mundane world and supernatural world are ONE AND THE SAME. That’s why everyone should seek out and read THE DRAGON AND THE UNICORN, to see how he pulls this off.

I don’t really like the term “sword-and-sorcery” when it’s applied to my fiction. I don’t like limits. There are other authors whose work gets labeled like this, and for most of them it’s not fair because they have way more going on than S&S would imply.

We had a great panel about writing sorcerer/magician characters at the WFC. One thing we all agreed on: You have to give your sorcerers limits of some kind. But that’s not hard to do because as I pointed out, simply HAVING sorcerous/magical power is going to cause a whole host of problems. It’s also interesting to note that most of literature’s sorcerer/magician characters end up as tragic figures…all their cosmic power does them no good in the end. Elric, Merlin, Drusas Achamian (from the PRINCE OF NOTHING series)…even Gandalf doesn’t live a particularly happy existence in LotR.

I think Sorcerers and Magicians and Wizards have an immortal mystique about them, and that’s what makes them such great characters to write and read. They know things…sometimes terrible things…they are the keepers of the universe’s darkest mysteries.

14. Imagine that, about 170 years from now, you’re being discussed by a panel at the World Fantasy Convention. “John Fultz was a writer who ______.” What would you like to be remembered for?

Oh, wow, I can’t think of how to answer this without sounding like a jerk. 🙂 It’s a nice image though. I certainly hope my works survive me…

15. Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to add?

Let’s see: Right now I’ve got two stories coming up in future issues of BLACK GATE, and a post-apocalyptic horror tale in the forthcoming DAW anthology CTHULHU’S REIGN. You can also pre-order the PRIMORDIA hardcover at Amazon.com, but I’m not sure exactly when it will be released.

Thanks, Fred!

Thank you, John!

“When That April. . . .”

April 7, 2009

Here we are again in the month that, according to Chaucer, makes people want to go on pilgrimages! A friend over there in the States was just commenting today on how appropriate it is that, at this time of year when we finally begin to see and feel the sun again, when new life is bursting out all over, that we’re also in Holy Week. We’re about to celebrate again the Resurrection. In the words of the hymn:

“I know that my Redeemer lives.

What comfort this sweet sentence gives!”

Anyway, for me here, it’s been a week of getting organized for the new

My new file cabinet

My new file cabinet

 school year, which gets underway next week. I’d always wanted a file cabinet, and I finally found a store here that specializes in used office furniture. They had file cabinets in all shapes and sizes, and I finally decided on this one.

So I’ve just spent several days sorting things, labeling the hanging folders, and filling it up with stuff that used to be in cardboard boxes and drawers. It now holds:

1. All my important correspondence since 1997, in order and filed by year;

2. My writing projects and some works-in-progress of writer friends;

3. My teaching materials — years and years of handouts and ideas, gleaned from here and there or my own originals — all categorized for easy location now in folders with such labels as “reading homework,” “listening,” “pronunciation,” “grammar,” “games,” etc. This should make class preparation easier.

My apartment in Niigata

My apartment in Niigata

Oh — here’s also a picture of my apartment. That’s my place on the ground floor: my little verandah where I hang out my laundry — my office is right inside there — and my tatami-mat sleeping room on the left, behind the paper shouji window — the one that shows my silhouette to the neighborhood if I’m not careful. The building was sparsely-populated last year, but it’s completely filled up in the last couple weeks. This is the time of year when people move around, when the fiscal year begins.

What’s the universal writerly application of this posting? Am I skirting dangerously close to a “what-I-had-for-breakfast” posting here? Far be it from me! The universal application is: I commend to you spring organization, spring cleaning, and the opening of windows. It’s the time of year to sweep up the dust, clean off the tables, cast out the piles of paper you’ll never ever need again — and begin something new. Go on a pilgrimage! Tell tales with your fellow travelers, and be glad for their company.

Know that your Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand in the latter day upon the Earth; and that though worms destroy these bodies, yet in our flesh we shall see God!

Oh — semi-groink! — Issue #13 of Black Gate came in yesterday’s mail. And I see by the enclosed ad for what’s coming soon that my story “World’s End” is slated to appear sometime during the next four issues. That’s the first Agondria story — not the first one written, but the first in the intended order — and editor John O’Neill also bought my cousin Steve’s illustration for it. Don’t start holding your breath yet: we may be celebrating Easter two or three more times before the story finally appears, because BG comes out on an irregular schedule — Mr. O’Neill gives quality the priority over speed. When issues do come out, they are, for all practical purpose, high-quality books, like big, soft-cover trade paperbacks, slick and glossy and thick. But anyway, that story is coming eventually, and I was thrilled to see my name on a list of what people “won’t want to miss, so don’t let your subscription run out”!

As to the header of this blog: yes, I thought I’d put away the skeletons for awhile — how could I have skeletons up for Easter? — but they’re not gone, they’re just in the closet. What you see there are the first cherry blossoms of this year in Niigata, the photo just taken today. By the weekend, the city will probably be in full bloom!

May your projects and your work and your life bloom, too, to the glory of God!