Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Night Winds blowing for Karl Edward Wagner, Kane

My latest post is up on the blog of Tales from the Magician's Skull: (Night) Winds Blowing for Kane--Toward a Karl Edward Wagner revival.

Will 2023 finally be the year we get good affordable editions of the immortal Kane? There have been stirrings at publisher Baen, with rumors that KEW's estate holders have been approached about the possibility. The current situation--wildly and fantastically priced Centipede collectors editions, tattered and increasingly expensive Warner mass-market paperbacks--is pretty untenable. The barrier to entry for new fans is high, and the property is languishing. I've heard the current kindle editions are lousy, laden with typos and other gaffes, and the cover art is certainly ... uninspired. I might say shit, if I were being less kind.

I'd love to see Kane back in print, the stories are terrific and an important piece of sword-and-sorcery's past. If you would too, send an email to

Monday, December 19, 2022

2022 in review

2022 is just about in the books. Gosh, this was a good year for me professionally. After more than 17 years with the same company I changed jobs in March, and my life and mental health improved immeasurably. Nine months post momentous change, my overriding thought is: Why didn’t I do this sooner? But I guess I wasn’t ready; every season in its turn and all that.

Here on the blog and this relatively small, alternative online sword-and-sorcery/heavy metal space I inhabit, I was reasonably happy with the work I produced. It was my most productive year since 2009, on the basis of sheer number of posts (exactly 100 as I press publish, and I'll have a couple more before the year is out). I wrote several posts for the blogs of DMR and Tales from the Magician’s Skull. I guested on two episodes of the Rogues in the House podcast, which is always a blast. I won a second award from the Robert E. Howard Foundation, co-winning the Venarium, given to an emerging scholar in Howard studies. It's an honor, and I’m planning on making the trip to Cross Plains in April.

2022 was a good year for sword-and-sorcery. We got a new Elric novel from Michael Moorcock, who is still with us and still writing. We got a new Conan novel, S.M. Stirling’s Blood of the Serpent, which I have in hand but have not read, but am planning to begin soon. There are an increasingly large number of outlets publishing sword-and-sorcery, too many to mention here. Tales from the Magician Skull (which I continue to back on Kickstarter) is the most prominent, and the new issues have been good. Whetstone is an important outlet for new writers. New Edge #0 pubbed and I contributed an essay for it. Schuyler Hernstrom’s revised Thune’s Vision was awesome. I hope this small renaissance continues to gain steam. I need to check out more new authors and titles in 2023.

It was also a year of loss for S&S. We lost Richard Tierney, Neal Adams, and Ken Kelly among others. Kelly was a hard blow; his art was a big part of my adolescence, adorning the albums of Manowar, KISS, and various covers of Conan books and other S&S titles. 

This blog is evolving. It’s gotten more personal since I dumped Facebook back in April. Facebook was a place where I would share occasional posts about my family. I don’t miss that platform, but my family is a huge part of my life and so I need to channel that expression somewhere. I also think it’s because of how I’m evolving as a person; I’ve worked hard to balance the personal and professional in my life, and family/friends with my esoteric interests and private writing. Expecting a sharp divide on a personal blog and never mentioning the events of my personal life seems unnatural. So, expect more of that on The Silver Key.

Top 10 most popular posts

Here are the posts that got the most traction on the blog in 2022:

Some ruminations on sword-and-sorcery’s slide into Grimdark, 528 views. The S&S to Grimdark transition was an interesting one that I did not cover in Flame and Crimson, and when I wrote about here it proved to be my most popular post of the year. Like all the highest-performing posts this was linked to elsewhere, driving traffic to the site and the post views up. 

Whetstone #5, a review, 398 views. Many authors who appeared in Whetstone #5 appreciated my review of this publication. I’m grateful to editor Jason Ray Carney for producing such a fine, free outlet for new S&S and am looking forward to reading issue no. 6. 

S&S updates: Dunsany, New Edge, book deals, and a fine response to a troubling essay, 333 views. Speaking of Carney, I still agree with his response. 

My top 5 Frank Frazetta paintings, 302 views. Who doesn’t like a top “whatever” list? Couple with Frazetta imagery and no surprise this one rounded out my top 5. 

Top 10 reasons why I don’t care about Amazon’s The Rings of Power: 297 views. The Rings of Power sank beneath the waves like Numenor, only this event will not pass into Atlantis-like myth. And I still don’t care, although it’s disappointing. The subject matter deserved better.

On suspect art, sword-and-sorcery, and good storytelling, 282 views. My first of two off-the-cuff editorializing posts. This one defends old S&S.

Raging against Twitter and the dying of the written word, 282 views. This one takes the piss out of Twitter but also the need to constantly shrink messages to the smallest possible word count (and the lowest common denominator). Engaging in that garbage risks your own artistic integrity and attention span, and it’s not even debatable. 

A shout-out to five S&S voices on the interwebs, 274 views. We need more praise; I need to do more of this here in between the rants. These five deserved the props.

Robert E. Howard Changed My Life, 274 views. A great read deserving of a Robert E. Howard Foundation award. 

I, Black Sabbath (with incredible Conan imagery), 252 views. The single best S&S music video on YouTube; watch and see if you don’t agree. Plus the song is an underappreciated stone cold classic of Dio-era Sabbath. 

My reading
Damn but I can’t seem to hit my stated goal of 52 books in a year (book/week). As of this post I have read 44 books in 2022, and hope to finish a couple more before year’s end.

The best books I read this year included Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, Who Fears the Devil? By Manly Wade Wellman, and Thune’s Vision. I also enjoyed re-reads of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, all of which are spectacular.

Other news of note
I have started work on another book. I don’t want to say much more than that, other than (and sorry to disappoint readers of Flame and Crimson) it is not sword-and-sorcery related. It’s not fiction either, but I will say no more, as I’m not sure if I have the ability to write it. I’ve only just begun and it may derail or reach an impasse and I don’t want egg on my face if I can’t finish. But I have much more than just an idea, the outline is done and I’ve started principal writing. We’ll see where it leads.

I survived a bout of COVID, saw Iron Maiden and Judas Priest along with a handful of other live shows, and enjoyed several business and personal trips, including one with my family to Bar Harbor, a kickass guy’s weekend in New York, and a company retreat to Dripping Springs, TX. I’m grateful I have my health and my old man is still here.

To put a wrap on this overlong and semi self-indulgent post, thank you to everyone who has read and enjoyed anything I’ve written, on this blog or elsewhere. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year celebrating with friends and family, or with a broadsword and tankard of ale on the rolling deck of a longship. However you choose to celebrate.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Theater of Salvation, Edguy

Today a sprawling, epic track. 12:22 in length, but awesome the whole way through. Incredibly inspired near-masterpiece by the underrated Edguy.

Edguy is a German power metal band, and while they sing in English it sometimes seems like it's a ... distant second language for them. I find a lot of their lyrics a bit odd, occasionally nonsensical. But damn it if doesn't work anyway. Heavy metal after all is really about emotion. Romance over reason. And of course volume. Crank this one up and enjoy; it feels like you're in church, but the coolest, heaviest service ever. 

Tobias Sammet is a terrific singer and is particularly inspired on this one. The closing bit starting at 8:58 is divine. Pardon the pun.

Take a look at the open gate
Walk on and don't be afraid

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Plant a seed today, it may bear fruit tomorrow.

Recently I attended my daughter’s season-ending cross country banquet. Libby is a senior captain, and so was one of four girls who gave a speech in front of the crowd of about 150-odd athletes, parents, and coaches.

I was blown away when hers began, because, very unexpectedly, my words were coming out of her mouth.

My daughter is a terrific student, ranked no. 3 in her class, and a talented runner. But she’s also a teenager. That means, we often get nothing from her. One-word answers, or silence.

(Typical conversation over dinner: “How was the sleepover at Lia’s last night?”


“Wow, coach must have been happy with the way you guys ran today!”


And so on).

Of course, we love her just the same. And, she’s far from a robot. I’m generalizing here; sometimes she’s conversational, even chatty. But that’s not the norm. She’s a default teen, as she should be, at 17. She’s also had her share of struggles, but that’s for another day.

Then came her cross country speech.

A year ago I was inspired to write Libby a poem, the day after her team won a hard-fought Cape Ann League championship in the mud and rain. When the results were announced they were overjoyed, and embraced, a group of girls grown into a tight circle, bonds forged through the fire of competition and tough practices.

But I also knew it would not last. It was already becoming a memory as they got their medals on the podium and boarded the bus for home.

That scene of the girls in a circle in the rain inspired me to go home and write a poem, “Running Against Time.” I printed it out with a picture of Libby and a teammate and left it on her desk.

In typical Libby fashion she did not make a big production out of it. I think she sent me a text with a couple of hearts. She did hang it on her wall, so that was a win.

Fast forward a year. I had almost forgotten about the poem until the banquet when she began her speech with those same words I had written a year ago.

It was an incredible moment. To see her so articulate. To appreciate something I had left for her.

To think that I had made an impact, very unexpectedly.

If you want to read “Running Against Time” click the image above. I’m OK sharing it since she did, so beautifully, for a crowd. It was part of a broader speech about the amazing memories she made in cross country, the people who impacted her, and fun memories.

I loved her words of wisdom to the freshmen and sophomores not to take it for granted. Because her race was now run.

So, plant a seed.

Do it without expectation. Many of your seeds/deeds will wither, or remain dormant. But some will flower. And surprise you.

Libby, blue dress/center, and the rest of the Pentucket XC captains. Great kids.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Manilla Road, "Flaming Metal Systems"

Damn, I wish I had discovered these dudes decades ago when they were at their peak circa Crystal Logic or thereabouts, and Mark "The Shark" Shelton was still alive. RIP.

Manilla Road encapsulates everything I like about Classic Heavy Metal. Guitar-driven. Quasi-medieval, swordly-and-sorcerous subject matter. Well-constructed songs that take you on a journey. Varied material, from dirges to headbangers to haunting melodic journeys. A singer that sounds like Skeletor. 

All delivered with attitude. Great example is this week's Metal Friday.

"Flaming Metal Systems" has a lengthy intro, then kicks into a massive higher gear at about the 1:10 mark. It then reaches an incredible crescendo starting at the 4:32 mark that sends chills down my spine. Nice work boys. 

I'm still tickled that bassist E.C. Hellwell writes sword-and-sorcery, and I've got one of his stories, "The Riddle Master," on my shelf, in DMR Books' Swords of Steel.

Beware, the shrapnel flies 
Flaming through the night, this night, tonight 
The fever of blood runs high 
Lightning strikes from the sky, this night, tonight

Sunday, December 4, 2022

Your critics aren’t in the arena. Ignore them.

Here’s something I’ve learned from decades of publishing.

When you are a writer (or podcaster, or visual artist) with something to say, you will inevitably attract an audience. 

And you will inevitably become a target of critics.

When you express yourself clearly, with conviction and experience and wisdom as your guide, you will inspire readers. But, you will also piss a segment of your audience off. 

The latter are people who recognize something they don’t like about themselves in your words, and through social media are conditioned to think that drive by insults are permissible (because of course, in the real world, they are not). They will troll you, claim their second of “victory,” and then return to their regular diet of YouTube videos and porn.

Ignore them. They are beneath you.

Because you are something they are not. 

You’re a creator.

This is not a call to be aloof, and wear blinders to criticism. Stay alert. Listen to legitimate feedback. You will be wrong from time to time. I’ve been wrong, and made mistakes, many times in my life. Own up to errors; use them to get better.

But, when you write from a place of strength, genuine expression, and your own unique  viewpoint, i.e., a place of Truth, a handful of haters will have a problem with it. Recognize that the problem is in them, not you. Understand that they have work to do on themselves. Ignore them, and if you can find it in your heart, find pity for them. They can’t see their own limitations and pettiness; one day they may. 

But above all, don’t give them the gift of your precious attention. Time is your only irreplaceable resource. Stay on your path. Keep creating.

Here’s a helpful coping strategy: Critics and haters are an inevitable part of the game. They are indicative of success. Despite my annoyances, I like them because it means I’m writing well. 

This is not a call to be an edgelord, to produce antagonistic and needlessly provocative material. But if you don’t piss anyone off, ever, you’re probably doing something wrong.

One of the quotes I return to again and again is Teddy Roosevelt’s Man in the Arena. You probably have heard it before, but if not, here it is:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I am the man in the arena. I’ve written thousands of newspaper stories, and newsletter and journal articles. Thousands more blog posts, for this blog and a dozen other websites. I’ve written dozens of print essays. And now a book. I’ve hosted and produced hundreds of podcast episodes. Spoken in front of audiences larger than a thousand, for more than a decade. I’ve mentored young writers and editors, and led teams.

And, I’ve been paid well to do it. I earn my living at the keyboard. I’ve won multiple awards.

This is not boasting; these are facts. I am now at the place where I can distinguish cheap attacks from legitimate critiques, because I know far more than just about all my critics. More about my own work, and about what it means to be a professional, then they do.

If you’ve written, or painted, or coded a website, built a house, made anything using your creativity and your heart and soul, you too are that man in the arena. You are a striver and doer of deeds; your critics are the cold, timid souls hurling insults from the sidelines. Never donning the pads and getting dirty in the playing field, where it counts.

Win or lose, you are striving, and your striving is admirable. That makes me your fan. 

My advice to anyone reading this who creates for a living: Keep doing it. You’ve already accomplished more than 90% of the world ever will. Don’t take praise as a sign you are unassailable; stay humble. But likewise, don’t take criticism personally; stay the course. 

If you can do this, you will win.

Friday, December 2, 2022

"Thunder Road," Judas Priest

Point of Entry is not a beloved Judas Priest album. In fact, most view it as a stumbling block in between the off-the-charts iconic brilliance of British Steel and Screaming for Vengeance. A misstep in their career.

I don't share that opinion... but I understand it.

I recognize PoE as oddly out of place, incongruent with what Priest seemed to be building toward. Priest's sound was evolving over the 70s, and the album prior is as pure a metal album as you will find; British Steel is steel purified. The album after, Screaming for Vengeance, is probably their best. In contrast, PoE is far more commercial sounding, thanks to songs like "Heading out to the Highway," "Hot Rockin" and "Don't Go." I like all these, but it's an obvious departure from what fans were expecting, and presages what we'd later see with "Turbo." Vengeance was a return to form.

Nevertheless PoE has some gems on it, and a unique sound that's hard to explain. I love "Desert Plains," and also the underrated "Thunder Road." It's a simple, up-tempo, kick-ass rocker. Just what I need this Metal Friday.

Red light, green light
I'm coming home tonight
Burning the freeway
Out of control

Red light, dead lines
We streak from town to town
It's too much, I need your touch
I've been away too long