Thursday, November 28, 2019

Of White Dwarf magazine and ruminations on genre fiction

By the Sacred Jockstrap of Robert E. Howard!

Since writing Flame and Crimson I seem to have become hyper-aware of the term “sword-and-sorcery.” It’s everywhere man, sometimes in places where I would not expect it.

Recently I’ve felt a role-playing itch resurface and have been having some fun unboxing a bunch of my old games, supplements, and magazines, enjoying the ensuing waves of nostalgia and wonder. Thumbing through them I’m struck by how often the term “sword-and-sorcery” appears, or makes its presence felt.

For example, a glance at White Dwarf--the UK-based monthly role playing magazine that still holds a very special place in my heart, even though it has morphed into a miniatures magazine—uses the term in the very first Ian Livingstone editorial in issue no. 1 (June/July 1977):

D&D was the first (and still is the best) commercially produced game based on a Fantasy/Sword & Sorcery theme. This together with the ingenious concept of ‘role-playing,’ opened up new horizons in games playing.

So here we have the editor not only mentioning sword-and-sorcery fiction, but distinguishing it as something separate from “fantasy.”

Sunday, November 10, 2019

How (and why) I wrote Flame and Crimson

For those interested in the how and a little behind the why I wrote Flame and Crimson the following is a look behind the curtain.

I started giving serious thought to writing a book about the sword-and-sorcery subgenre in late 2012/early 2013. I love sword-and-sorcery fiction, and wanted to add a chapter of my own. I realized long ago after trying my hand at some short stories that shall never see the light of day that I’m not a fiction writer. I enjoy writing, but had not written anything book length and took that as a personal challenge. I also recognized there was a sizable hole in the critical literature: There hasn’t been any formal, book-length works analyzing or surveying on the genre itself.

I started with a brain-dump on paper of everything I would like to see in a non-fiction study of sword-and-sorcery. I still have this document; it’s basically nine pages of single-spaced list of bullet points. I canned many of these early ideas. For example, initially I thought I would include reviews of some of the best stories in the genre, but I came to realize that I myself don’t enjoy reading plot summaries. There is of course some of this in Flame and Crimson, but I don’t spend much space recapping individual stories. The focus instead is on its principal authors and their individual thematic and stylistic contributions to the genre.

I then began to cluster these ideas into a chronological narrative, then broke this up into a table of contents, with detailed bullet points under each chapter of what I needed to cover. Eventually, I put together a comprehensive but not sprawling outline that I could live with.

Then came the actual butt in seat writing, which started somewhere in late 2014. I had some weeks where I fit in 2-3 one-hour writing sessions or longer, followed by some weeks where I only managed a single pathetic hour, or none at all. But I persisted. I realized that if I wanted to increase my frequency of writing sessions and word count output that sacrifices elsewhere were necessary. So I stopped blogging (hence, the absence of posts on the Silver Key from 2013-2019). I stopped gaming. I stopped reading, for the most part, outside of sword-and-sorcery.

Basically I put on a football helmet and went to work.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Amra’s roar still echoes in the development of fantasy fiction

In his The Evolution of Modern Fantasy author Jamie Williamson makes a monster of a claim for the importance of the Lin Carter-edited Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series (BAFS). Prior to the BAFS, Williamson claims, the literary entity that we today widely recognize as “fantasy” did not exist. Many authors were writing fantastic tales of Faerie or blood and thunder prior to the BAFS (principal run 1969-1974), but none were consciously working in the confines of an established genre. No one talked about “the fantasy genre” like we do today; no authors proclaimed themselves “fantasy writers.”

But with the mass-market paperback publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in the 1960s, the Lancer Conan Saga shortly thereafter, and the appearance of the BAFS and their famous unicorn colophon, “fantasy” became a thing. Says Williamson:
By 1974, then, a discrete genre, with a definition and a canon, had demonstrably emerged. Such a thing had not existed at all in 1960, and even in early 1969 it had consisted of a cross section of work appearing as a subbranch of science fiction (Sword and Sorcery) or as books for young readers, with a few titles presented as loosely “Tolkienian.”
(Note: I covered this in a little more detail on DMR Blog this past June on what would have been the late Carter’s 89th birthday).

In short, the BAFS collected disparate writers of fantastic material (Williamson uses the term “literary mavericks” which is apt) and published them in a mass-market paperback series, creating a story in of itself—the story of fantasy.

Let that sink in a moment. This was a landmark occurrence, and the BAFS, though they reportedly did not sell particularly well and dissolved as a series after the sale of Ballantine Books to Random House, remain an incredibly important artifact for historians, collectors, and genre fans. While I don’t think all of Carter’s choices were perfect, there is vast storehouse of great reading in the series. The Broken Sword. The King of Elfland’s Daughter. Zothique. The Well at the World’s End. The Night Land. And, prior to Carter’s term as editor, The Lord of the Rings, The Worm Ouroboros, and A Voyage to Arcturus.

So yeah, the BAFS were hugely important to the development of fantasy as we know it today. But I believe another, lesser-known publication shares equal footing in the development of fantasy fiction. 

I’m talking of course about Amra.