Monthly Archives: January 2009

Guest blogging: Week Two – Martyn Taylor (contributor to The Phantom Queen Awakes)

martyn44 (author of The Good and Faithful Servant, in The Phantom Queen Awakes) writes:

Many years ago I was in the Reference section of Acklam branch library (as I often was). I put aside Colonel Churchward’s wonderful farrago concerning the ‘lost continent’ of Mu and picked up a book on folklore. Shortly afterwards I was reading about Ori and Nori, Oin and Gloin. Having been recently so spellbound by the BBC radio production of The Hobbit (with Paul Daneman as Bilbo) that I bunked off school to listen to it I immediately recognised the names, and all the others in the list. ‘Perfesor, you’re not playing the game,’ I thought. ‘You’re supposed to make up the names!’ That Tolkein was a distinguished academic is incontestable, (I’ve always had problems with his declaration that he wrote Lord of The Rings to fill the void that was the mythology of Albion, and he’s never been particularly high on my personal scroll of heroes.) and I dare suggest he believed he was adding at least a veneer of academic respectability to his story by using ‘real’ dwarf names.

Only dwarves aren’t real. They are imaginary, works of fiction along with Cyclops, dragons and the Kraken. Antique works of fiction, to be sure, but fiction nonetheless (I will accept correction if someone cares to introduce me to a dwarf, or the Kraken) Just because they are out of copyright doesn’t make them sacrosanct, and an author up for being sneered at because their take on a character/theme/scene doesn’t chime with whatever version of canon the critic reveres. Which is why I had to bite my tongue when Guinevere appeared as a lightly coloured servant girl in the recent television Merlin rather than the Celtic princess she was. Because she never was. And even if she was, that doesn’t mean later generations cannot reimagine her.

I mean, do you really believe Achilles looked like Brad Pitt?

But what about ‘real’ people? Can we play fast and loose with them? Authors have been seeking to add verisimilitude to their work by descriptions of real places, biographical details of ‘real’ people for quite some time now. Are there limits beyond which we cannot go? Patricia Cornwell accused Walter Sickert of being Jack the Ripper (breezily ignoring his background as a police artist that gave him the material for ‘that’ painting) and could get away with it because Sickert is dead and you cannot libel the dead (presumably the reason for Mohammed al Fayed getting away with his accusations against Prince Philip – the undead in Buck House!) This is an area of potentially very thin ice, but I believe the dead are as fair game as the fictitious. This could be because my current WIP plays somewhat fast and loose with such ‘real’ people as Herbert (Oh, call me George, do) Wells, Superintendent Frederick Abberline and Sir Charles Warren, as well as that other very ‘real’ person, Jack the Ripper. The question is not can we, or should we, but how far should we go?

That, I leave to each of us. What I will say is that ‘reality’ in fiction must fulfil its fictive purpose. Unless it is dramatically, emotionally true, that it ‘really happened’ doesn’t matter. All observers are partial and unreliable, except for us. In our stories we do know our world as well as god knows this one (to borrow a phrase from Bob McKee) If we don’t we short change our readers, who exchange their immediate reality for our imagined ones. They deserve more than tax deductible tourist descriptions and quotations from a dictionary of biography. They deserve the truth.

Just that truth is not necessarily factually true.

Guest blogging: Week Two – Martyn Taylor (contributor to The Phantom Queen Awakes)

martyn44 (author of The Good and Faithful Servant, in The Phantom Queen Awakes) writes:

When I saw Mark & Amanda requesting submissions for ‘The Phantom Queen Awakes’, I immediately did a little research on the Phantom Queen (ie, I googled ‘Morrigan’). Now that is an interesting lady, a portmanteau goddess as so many of the old ones of these islands are, a prototype of the love you to death, vagina dentate fantasies so beloved of the upper classes of yore. Only I try to write about people, characters, not gods or anthropomorphised forces of nature.  Furthermore, I’m a republican whose study of our history shows that kings are simply the most rapacious thieves and ruthless murderers in town, and there’s never been a problem with aristocrats that couldn’t be solved with a lamp post and a length of piano wire. ‘La gloire’, the most disgusting fantasy of all.

Not a promising start, then. But then a character entered, an honourable man who believed what I do not believe, the good and faithful servant who was prepared to sacrifice even his life for what he believed was a higher good. Not a sycophant, not a courtier, but an experienced warrior who knew when to speak and when to draw his sword; a grizzled, grey bearded veteran who watched the new king approaching and even though he didn’t like what he saw went on doing his duty because that’s what men like him do. In the end, he came to realise that the wheels turning within wheels grind very fine indeed and that when it comes to a king choosing between his own interest and that of his best and most faithful servant, there is no choice at all. The story is not about those wheels, but about him and his realisation.

As I write this commentary, I see all sorts of contemporary resonances that didn’t cross my conscious mind as I wrote and rewrote the story. The story is simply about a good man, an honourable man and how he survives in a world where everything is deceit and leading, smoke and mirrors. He’s a man I’d like to sit and talk with. We might not agree about very much (anything at all?) because of the gulf of years between us. Whether or not the setting is historically correct, I don’t know, although I believe it is effective if the light is from the right direction. We only have the most tantalizing glimpses of how our ancestors lived, but those glimpses are enough to show they weren’t so very different to us.

So, that is where the Phantom Queen took me.  Thank you, lady.  That shirt isn’t mine, is it?

Guest blogging: Week One – Amanda Pillar (co-editor of The Phantom Queen Awakes)

amandapillar writes:

Pet Hates

Over in my LJ, I have started to write up pet writing hates as I think of them. Today’s is First Person Fiction.

It took a long time before I could bring myself to read first person fiction. Why? Mostly because when I was younger, I’d read it and think, ‘But I don’t empathize with you at all, I’m not you’ — (I used to take the ‘I’ rather literally as a young one).

As I became wiser (code for older, aged, worn… etc), I thought I should ‘give it a go’. For some reason, writing it is harder than reading it, for me. Now, there are no problems with me reading first person fiction. I am perhaps a little harder on it, but that’s because the biggest issue I have with it is actually with the word ‘I’.

It’s overuse.

‘I rode to the house on the corner of the street today and stood on the footpath, looking at it. I thought it looked rather menacing and I decided I shouldn’t go inside. The clouds hung over the roof ominously, surely a sign from God, so I climbed on my bike and rode home, thinking about how much of a coward I am.’

I read a piece recently that used ‘I’ more than the above example.

My advice, when you write first person, is think about how else you could word it.

‘The house on the corner of the street looked ominous. Clouds had gathered over its rooftop, the grey a smothering blanket. A sign from God. Turning my bike around, I headed for home, muttering about the coward I had become.’

I know which one I prefer.

Guest blogging: Week One – Amanda Pillar (co-editor of The Phantom Queen Awakes)

amandapillar writes:


True Blood: The HBO television series inspired by the Sookie Stackhouse novels, written by Charlaine Harris.

I have to say, I am fast forming an addiction to the series. It’s not another Buffy, far from it. The vampires are mostly traditional in nature, and they live among the human populace since a Japanese company invented ‘True Blood’, a synthetic blood for vampires.

It raises a lot of questions about racism and what it is to be human. Just my cup of tea, really.

Recently, I had a discussion with people who said that Anne Rice ruined vampire fiction; she humanized vampires. But I think that is a great thing. Vampires can be scary, intriguing, objects of romanticism… they’re fictional. They can be anything you want them to be.

I like to explore the nature of humanity in a lot of my writing. What makes you human? Is it your DNA, your ability to feel emotions (as according to Blade Runner), or is it some indefinable element of your psyche?

Guest blogging: Week One – Amanda Pillar (co-editor of The Phantom Queen Awakes)

amandapillar writes:

Grants Pass

I’ve just finished the final stages of typesetting the anthology, Grants Pass. It is currently with the proof readers, and I’m waiting anxiously to hear the comments so I can email our authors with “It’s great, no changes” or “It’s great, but we need to tweak this”.

So what is Grants Pass about?

Grants Pass is a post apocalyptic anthology set in the near future: humanity has been decimated by three man-made plagues. There are only a handful of survivors. Fourteen months previously, a girl called Kayley made a blog post about what she’d do if the world ended, and where she would go: Grants Pass, Oregon. As the apocalypse transpired, the blog post was bandied about as a survival guide, influencing the survivor’s thoughts on what they would do now the end had arrived.

How did Grants Pass come about?

Jennifer Brozek thought of Grants Pass many years ago when she made a whimsical, what if post on her online journal. From that, the concept was born. She did a call for submissions and then completed the monumental task of putting together an anthology. Eventually, she sent the MS to Mark at Morrigan Books and he asked me to read it. It was my decision on whether or not we’d take it.

I wanted the book; the concept had won me over. But I knew there’d have to be changes. I emailed Mark and Jennifer right away, Mark was happy but Jennifer was less so. She was attached to her stories and didn’t want to see some of them removed from the collection. But the MS would only be accepted if the guidelines were revisited and the stories that no longer worked were removed.

Jennifer and I re-vamped the guidelines, and despite the fact she wanted to kill me a few times during that process, we were both happy with the end result. Then I emailed all the authors with the updates and we were set to go. Jennifer and I had remarkably similar visions for the anthology, despite it being her brainchild and me entering the project at a later stage. As an editor for the book, I wasn’t going to write a story for it, but as Jennifer already had a story in the collection I thought it might help me understand the Grants Pass universe better if I wrote one. Mark and Jennifer happened to love my tale, and wanted it included in the anthology.

I think the partnership between Jennifer and I worked so well because we both have the same passion for the anthology and the desire to see it succeed. Now, after re-editing the stories and accepting new submissions, Grants Pass has exceeded all expectations.

If you like post-apocalyptic fiction, I think you’ll love this.

The Phantom Queen Awakes: Line-up

(TOC to be announced soon)

It was just too cool not to be announced!

Katharine Kerr: The Lass from Far Away
Elaine Cunningham: She Who Is Becoming
Anya Bast: The Kiss of the Morrigan
C. E. Murphy: Cairn Dancer
Michael Bailey: The Dying Gaul
Peter Bell: The Trinket
Linda Donahue: Silver Branch
Lynne Lumsden Green: I Guard your Death
L. J. Hayward: The Plain of Pillars
Jennifer Lawrence: Washerwoman
James Lecky: The Children of Badb Catha
T. A. Moore: White Heifer
Mari Ness: Ravens
Sharon Kae Reamer: The Raven’s Curse
Ruth Shelton: Rising Tide
Martyn Taylor: The Good and Faithful Servant
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt: Gifts of the Morrigan

Edited by Mark S. Deniz and Amanda Pillar
Will be released 31st October 2009.

More news to follow…

Guest blogging: Week One – Amanda Pillar (co-editor of The Phantom Queen Awakes)

amandapillar writes:

Serial Killers

I have always wanted to write a novel about a serial killer. A real, hardcore book that covers the mental processes involved in someone like that. I know there are some out there. I read — I wouldn’t say ‘enjoy’ —and appreciated American Psycho. So far, I think that’s hit the nail on the head; the best for me, anyway.

As a horror editor, we get lots of stories about serial killers. The thing is; you need to do your homework. And avoid clichés. Easier said than done, I imagine. The thing is, while these people are calculating, I don’t think they are automatons who do A, B and C rigorously every time. I mean, they do get caught.

And it isn’t just modern society where you could write them in. I’ve read fantasy fiction with serial killer types in them, who don’t seem to earn the title. But they’re written well.

So this question is for all of you: What is the best crime fiction/serial killer fiction you’ve ever read?

And so it came to pass… the top eighteen tracks of 2008 are revealed…

I know some of you have blogged about your favourite tracks of last year and I know most of you have an opinion on what rocked last year.

The thing is you’re wrong.

Simply put if it’s not this list I am about to reveal then you’re mistaken in your thoughts and taste. I hate to break it to you this way.

I admit it’s going to be a brutal smack in the face when you realise what you’ve been missing for twelve months or so but believe me it is okay, it’ll improve your music collection no end when you download these little beauties and add them to your playlist(s).

Have a look over here and you’ll see just what gems are there and even grab yourself a free copy of the tracks!

The Stuff that Rocked my Socks 2008

Grants Pass TOC announced!

Blank white book w/path

Prelude: Kayley Allard
An Unkindness of Ravens: Stephanie Gunn
Boudha: KV Taylor
Hells Bells: Cherie Priest 
Ascension: Martin Livings
Animal Husbandry: Seanan McGuire
Men of Faith: Ivan Ewert
The Chateau de Mons: Jennifer Brozek
The Few that are Good: Scott Almes
Rites of Passage: Pete Kempshall
A Perfect Night to Watch Detroit Burn: Ed Greenwood
Final Edition: Jeff Parish
The Discomfort of Words: Carole Johnstone
Newfound Gap: Lee Clark Zumpe
Ink Blots: Amanda Pillar
Black Heart, White Mourning: Jay Lake
By the Sea: Shannon Page
Remembrance: James M. Sullivan
Epilogue: Kayley Allard


Two stories set in the Grants Pass universe, Warlord of Rhode Island by Rick Silva and Snake Oil by David Priebe, will be released online prior to the official launch!

Edited by Jennifer Brozek and Amanda Pillar.

Pre-order details soon!

Guest blogging: Week One – Amanda Pillar (co-editor of The Phantom Queen Awakes)

amandapillar writes:


Now, I know Mark hasn’t read the Twilight books. He tried; he told me he really did try. But he just couldn’t.

Maybe it was because it was aimed at teenage girls, and Mark is as far from that as I am from being a grandfather (okay, maybe there’s a little hyperbole there). Maybe it was because it took a while to get into. Either way, they’re popular and Mark hasn’t read them. But I have.

All four.

And then I recommended them to my 15 year old sister. Who has now read them about 10 times each at last count. While the last book did irritate me — for reasons I won’t go into so I can avoid spoiler issues — I can see the merit in them.

You see, while some people think they’re just fanfiction wannabe stories that managed to get published; I think they’re stories that young girls can relate to. I wish that Bella did not have to find validation in the love of a gorgeous vampire, but she did. And the thing is, a lot of teenage girls have low self esteem. They need validation from an outside source.

I guess the point here is that just because something is popular and contains messages that us as older, more mature adults dislike, it doesn’t mean they aren’t relevant to the intended age group.

I just feel sorry for Rob Pattinson (who plays Edward in the movie). I think he’s going to find being stalked by a bunch of 12-20something year old girls a little tiring.