Welcome to the Disunited States

By Angelia Sparrow

In November of 2005, I won NaNoWriMo for the first time. The result was a novel that is now called Nikolai: Revenant.

It’s undergone a lot of revision and character changes since the initial draft. The world has expanded and shifted with each new projection of the future. Now, we are four books, a gaming manual, several short stories, and a couple of rough drafts into the series. My now-coauthor, Gabriel, went from my biggest fan to my loyal conspirator, and brought his own brand of creativity to the world.

The series is set at the end of the twenty-first century. America balkanized into eleven countries, with Hawaii and Alaska becoming independent. Some countries have moved forward from the DisUnification and others have chosen to move backward.

I started this as a reaction to a lot of trends I was seeing in the mid 2000s. It has aged eerily, as I’ve watched some of my predictions come to fruition in some ways, but it remains solid. My dystopia is not supposed to be more comforting than my reality, but it has become more so as the years go on.

Most of the series occurs in Memphis, with occasional excursions to Italy, Kansas, Pacifica and other places. The Confederated States are fascinating, and rather terrifying. Based on the trends in Christian Nationalism, including the Christian Exodus movement, the CS is a fascist theocracy with an absolutely free market. Church attendance is required by law, and the law enforces modesty codes. Education is limited to white boys, and only available through private schools. Racial segregation is law, and most crimes are capital ones.

Half of the titular Nikolai’s education is unlearning erroneous history from his three years of formal schooling. Nick Boyd is a Memphis street rat, who took the name Nikolai when he became a member of the Revenant gang. Smart, vicious, and self-assured, he caught the eye of James Ligatos, one of the Eight, the cabal that rules the world behind the scenes.

James turns promising young criminals into world leaders. In Anthony: Reprobate, we delve into the hyper-surveillanced and repressive Heartlands for another protege, Anthony Hatcher, who is stuck in a reeducation facility with an R tattooed on his hand. Reprobate is the lowest of the low, both Homosexual and Nymphomaniac, and every other “anti-social” marker. But with enough work and a little support, anyone can change the course of a country.

Glad Hands was my biggest seller, a side story set in the Tribal Lands about a trucker who finds a Heartlands boy with an H tattoo. They go on a mad dash ride into the CS on what should have been an average haul, and almost end in the Stoneyard for execution on live national television. This was written on many loading docks, in sleeper berths and rest areas when I was still driving a truck.

Master Anton is our newest installment, and it follows the training of our boys forward. Anthony is called to Rome, to the Eight’s center of operations. Their leader, Benta, the Spider at the top of the World, is a mysterious and seemingly eternal goddess in his eyes. His odd learning style makes for a difficult road, but not nearly as difficult as the rest of the Memphis team is experiencing. Betrayal, collapse, fanaticism, and ruin spin together in a web that can only end when it’s run its course. Anthony earns his title…and he will bring the rest of them along with him if it kills him…or them.

As mentioned, there is also a gaming sourcebook which Gabriel put together over the course of 3 years. He created the PIPA 12 system, and we codified the DisUnited States and much of the world. We’ve run one-shot games at conventions from Kentucky to Georgia, with great success. The opportunity to throw your hat in the ring of a collapsing but vibrant society seems to capture the imagination… especially when we kill someone in mid-game.

I could spend several books (and have) explaining to you all that I see in my world. I would invite you to ride the giant roller coasters in the Arcologies of the California Conglomerate. I would walk you through the Pleasure Clubs of Rome, where every debauchery is at your disposal as long as you know its cost. I would stroll with you through the City State of New Orleans, with its sky-high levees and floating strands of proud laughter and music. I would march with you alongside the fierce warriors of Azteca, their titanium mesh armor shining in the desert sun. I would invite you to lounge with James Ligatos in his boudoir, enjoying the most beautiful of things to fend off the tinges of madness around the edges. I would welcome you home.

But I must instead hope to see you in the pages of the book. It has been my vent and my hope for long over a decade, and there is more to come. Because no matter how dystopian, there is always someone ready to plant their feet and to say no, and inspire others to do the same.

The Eight Thrones Cycle is the story of how to save the world… while indulging your darkest fantasies.

 

Buy the whole series for $40 here!

The Eight Thrones books on sale at Amazon

Each book will be on sale for 99c for one week, Amazon only: Glad Hands on Sept. 15, Anthony Reprobate on Oct. 3, Nikolai Revenant on Oct. 10 and Master Anton on Oct. 15

 

Mortalus: The Eight Thrones Cycle Game is not currently available, though digital copies may be requested through the author if you’d like to try it out for your campaign. Gabriel is also seeking an artist to help him bring the next version into being.


Angelia Sparrow is a professional driver, part-time grandma and full time cat-servant. She lives quietly in the midsouth with two husbands and a wife, overseeing the legalities of an Emerging Religion. She runs Crossroad Treasures, a craft shop, and handles its subscription box at Patreon.

 

 

 

 

 

One savage, two novels at opposite ends of life

By Steven L. Shrewsbury

“Are you ready to meet your father, the devil?” – Robert E. Howard

Rogan, a savage from an antediluvian era mostly forgotten in our history swaggers forth this year in two new novels. Curse of the Bastards (co-written with Brian Keene from Apex Books) sees an aging, jaded Rogan entering the land of Nodd to rescue his nephew, battling demons, would be gods, and various terrible folks.

Killer of Giants (written by myself solo from Seventh Star Press) sees Rogan at age twenty-four, battling Nephilims, Chimeras, demons in human flesh, and bad folks as he fights save his father & sister from a fate worse than death. Swords clash and bodies are carved up as the blood, magick & monsters rage. But these books are more than just the usual sword & sorcery or high fantasy romp.

In Curse of the Bastards we see the older Rogan, cynical by a harsh life full of lies, loss and violence that had made him ponder his own eventual fate. Will he be disremembered after he dies, relegated unto bar ballads and inaccurate tales like his hero, Gorias La Gaul? For all he puts himself through, will he be overlooked and was any of it worth it?

In Killer of Giants, the younger Rogan strives to survive after a clash where his fellow mercenaries all fall but him. This Rogan has hope for the future in a grim world, but still fights on to save what is important to him, his own blood kin. Here, he doesn’t care what anyone might ever think of him, and doesn’t realize his acts of savagery and heroism will become the stuff of legends.

Rogan isn’t always kind. He isn’t Clark Kent or even Bruce Wayne for that matter (nor is he Conan or Kane). He borders on antihero at times, but is from primitive means. As the walls fall about him, he sometimes replaces the bricks, but often, smashes open a new way to escape through.

Why should you, brave reader, check these titles out? They are escapism from this world and an exciting thriller, filled action, adventure, passion and humor so dark it could hide the stars.

Come sit with me and I’ll tell you some tales. Let me spin a yarn about faraway places and people that might make one shake the head, but ones one won’t soon forget, and you won’t regret it. Though the realm Rogan wades though is grim, it isn’t as tenebrous as the news these days. Pour a drink and sit back, open up a book. Come trod through the bloody pages of history with me for a while. You might even learn something.

 

STEVEN L. SHREWSBURY lives, works, and writes in rural Illinois. More than 360 of his short stories have appeared in print or electronic media, along with more than 100 poems. Nine of his novels have been released, with more on the way. His books run from sword & sorcery (OverkillThrallBedlam Unleashed) to historical fantasy (Godforsaken) extreme horror (HawgTormentorStronger Than Death) to horror-westerns (Hell BillyBad Magick, Last Man Screaming). He loves books, British TV, guns, movies, politics, sports and hanging out with his sons. He’s frequently outdoors, looking for brightness wherever it may hide.

 

 

Stubbornness as a tool for success

By Jason Sizemore

 

There are many variables that dictate how successful you will be as a small press author, publisher, or indie writer. Some are obvious: quality of content, branding, personality. But every hero’s journey has that moment where everything is darkest and the hero is on the verge of failure. How do you respond to this challenge? Personally, I answer with stubbornness.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting next to Literary Underworld Supreme Leader Elizabeth Donald for nearly 20 hours. It was for a local regional convention where both of us were hoping to make a few bucks for ourselves and our authors via bookselling to waves and waves of readers dying for new genre fiction. I pictured Elizabeth and I smoking stogies while counting fat stacks of money.

The throngs of adoring readers never appeared. I sold a total of five books over three long days of sitting behind a table, smiling and waving at people. Staring woefully at Elizabeth Donald. Elizabeth staring back at me, surely wondering why I was staring at her.

Live events are like that. Some weekends you’ll hit the jackpot. More often, you’ll sell enough to break even. Once in a while, you’ll have a soul-crushing “five-books-sold” type of convention.

I have a bad habit of letting a bad weekend get me down. After this recent poor showing, I fell into a funk. Some of it was self-pity, much of it was self-hate. I had decided that I was the reason for the failure to sell books. There had to be something about my personality, appearance, demeanor that was off-putting to people who approached the Apex Books table.

I posted my fears to Facebook. Thankfully, no one admitted to finding me creepy (though I’m sure some were just being polite). Instead, many offered insight into sales tactics. Others shared their similar bad experiences. The confidence boost put me back on my feet. That familiar stubborn notion that I would not let one bad weekend keep me from continuing my trek as a small press publisher.

As creators, it is easy to be too hard on ourselves. We are already rife with anxiety and the usual problems of being introverts. Our failures feel magnified more than they should be. For example, all weekend at the convention as I sat there staring at Elizabeth Donald, I kept thinking about how others must be seeing how poorly the Apex Books table was doing. Apex Books, the little company with the Nebula Award finalist and multiple Hugo Award wins, drawing no attention. “Sizemore must be doing something wrong.” I should be more aggressive and not be a passive introvert when people come to the table.

Obviously, nobody pays attention to how much business a certain vendor is doing. Most readers don’t care about awards and award-nominations. Being friendly and helpful when someone approaches the table beats an overbearing, aggressive approach.

While using stubbornness as a shield, I recommend personal introspection as a means of making yourself feel better about the time and money lost. Only once have I ever done a convention and sold less than five books. Yet, that same convention is where I first met Lesley Conner. A decade later, she’s my editing partner and the other half of Apex Books and Apex Magazine. At Scarefest some years ago, I paid an exorbitant sum for table space only to sell about $100 of books that weekend. But my table was next to Midnight Syndicate. I became pals with the band and consider them friends.

At this convention where I only sold five books and pouted online afterwards about my lack of sales, I had ice cream with Ellen Datlow. Had a bonding moment with Jeff Strand about Anton Cancre’s weird antics. Accepted the gracious praise of numerous people who sought out the Apex table to tell me how much they appreciated the work we did.

These things, though intangible, have value. Social capital. Networking. Friendships. These things are often far more valuable than a few hundred bucks at a live event.

It’s okay to feel disappointed in the moment. I certainly do every single time I do poorly at an event. But I encourage you to fall back on stubbornness and introspection so that you can properly assess the actual value of your time spent at the event.


Help Jason not feel like a failure and support the Apex Magazine 2023 Kickstarter! Apex has been part of the Literary Underworld for many years and we have always been proud to offer their titles. Apex’s Kickstarter launched on July 27 and runs for one month, offering preorders for the amazing content they’ll be offering all next year. Exclusive content, free fiction, and awesome stretch goals await! 

 

 

Jason Sizemore is the publisher and editor of Apex Books and the award-winning short fiction genre zine Apex Magazine. He’s a multi-Hugo Award nominated editor who also occasionally writes a short story or two. His debut collection, Irredeemable, is available from Second Star Press. For more information visit www.jason-sizemore.com or you can find him on Twitter @apexjason.

Rarest gems: A catalogue of exemplary LGBTQ media

By Dennis R. Upkins

A great bard by the name of Toni Morrison once said, “If there is a book you want to read and it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Both the quote and the late author herself have been a guiding light for me both as an activist and as an author.

Case in point, my latest story “The Bonds That Bind.Appearing in the forthcoming Afrofuturistic themed Spyfunk anthology, the short story was inspired in part by the dearth of quality and progressive speculative media featuring LGBTQs as the leads.

Some progress has been made in recent years with the likes of CW’s Batwoman, Black Lightning and even Supergirl, he latter making HERstory by introducing television’s first trans superheroine in Dreamer, who was played by Nicole Maines. But there is more work to be done.

Stories have power. And representation matters. Media and progressive storytelling may be the only resource and lifeline for so many LGBTQs. 

 

In Between Men:  The series examines the personal & professional lives of four urbanites from different walks of life who do not fit into the lives & perceptions expected of them. Forced to live “in between” a gay world, whose cliches they don’t relate to and a straight world they don’t belong to,  while navigating life as they live, work and play in New York City.

This show easily joins the ranks of Torchwood and Queer As Folk as one of the greatest (gay) series of all time. Speaking of the latter, I appreciated the pseudo-passing of the torch with QAF alum Michelle Renee Clunie appeared in an episode.

What makes In Between Men special is that it spoke to a demographic that is often overlooked on a topic is purposely ignored. For myself, a few loved ones and others, who for the most part, can pass for straight but are shunned by heterosexuals because of bigotry, but because we don’t limit ourselves to cliches or ignorant purviews of the “gay identity,” we’re often alone without a people. This series tackles the issue of masculinity, identity, with a most diverse cast, in a very refreshing and surprisingly nuanced manner. At least it was surprising until I found out the creator of the series, Quincy Morris, is a brother and all that artistry and excellence made sense.

While a few years have past since the first two seasons, I would love a final installment as a film just to give the characters and the series the proper sendoff it deserves.

In any event, I highly recommend it and it’s available now on YouTube.

 

I Am Not Your Negro:  In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, “Remember This House.” The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives of three of his close friends: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as Baldwin’s perspective on American History. At the time of Baldwin’s death in 1987, he left behind only 30 completed pages of this manuscript. Filmmaker Raoul Peck envisions the book James Baldwin never finished.

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, this 93-minute documentary combines archive footage and animated visuals with the prose with one of history’s greatest writers, which results in a phantasmagorical journey which both entertains, educates and challenges the viewer. Created on a $1 million budget, the original release had a very limited run which resulted in $7.7 million box office: practically unheard-of for a documentary and a testament to the artistry of this film.

 

Game Face:  Exploring the coming-out journeys of LGBTQ athletes: telling the parallel stories of Fallon Fox, the first female transgender pro MMA fighter; and Terrence Clemens, a college basketball player in Oklahoma who happens to be gay.

Even if you aren’t a sports fan, you’ll definitely appreciate this film. Directed by Michiel Thomas, this documentary does a masterful job of humanizing the individuals behind two trailblazing athletes and allowing the audience to follow Clemens and Fox on their respective quests and experience their trials and triumphs along with them. While the name of the film may be entitled Game Face, gamechangers is just as apt for these two pioneers.

 

Eastsiders: Written and directed by Kit Williamson (Mad Men), who also stars in this dark comedy as Cal, an ambitious young photographer who navigates the complex world of modern gay life, infidelity, and relationships with his boyfriend, Thom, played by Van Hansis (As The World Turns). 

I’ve been a fan of Van Hansis for many years. Not only is he a wonderful actor but an outspoken activist for social justice, but he’s also a trailblazer. Taking over the role as Luke Snyder on CBS’s As The World Turns, Hansis’s character became involved in a romance with another male character and the pairing is considered by many to be the first gay supercouple in American soap opera history. So when I learned he was one of the stars, I was all too eager to check it out.

And before she was Fresh Off The Boat, Constance Wu could be found in this series stealing nearly every scene she was in.

Eastsiders is definitely one of those sordid black dramedies that is good for the self-esteem. Because this show will remind that in spite of all of your bad decisions that you made or continue to make, even your worst, you’re probably still better than this lot on their best day.

 

Feral: A close-knit group of young twenty-something artists living, loving, and figuring out how to pay the rent in Memphis, TN.

Between the cinematography, the story arcs, to the cast performances, this series is a testament to the artistry and ingenuity that indie content creators can produce. What also makes this 8-episode series stand out is that while the three main characters are gay/bi, the could have easily have worked as straight leads. But these rural complicated characters who produce visual art, indie films, and rock out to Lucero, show that LGBTQs come from all walks of life and we come in all forms, just like cis heterosexuals.

With the exception of John Grisham’s Rainmaker, this has to be the WHITEST Memphis I’ve ever witnessed (seriously what the hell) and there are countless other towns in Tennessee with nary a Negro in sight where this story could’ve taken place and made sense (Chattanooga, Cleveland, Kingsport, Bucksnort, Erin, Columbia). I have an easier time suspending disbelief when I’m watching Chronicles of Narnia. But I digress. For now. And that’s only because this is such a wonderful series. Feral is definitely a series worth viewing and adding to your library.

 

Strut: With Whoopi Goldberg at the helm as executive producer, Strut is a reality television series that revolves around the world of modeling and fashion. What makes this short-lived series unique, however, is that all of the models featured are transgender. The show goes inside the models’ personal lives, showcasing their struggles to make it in the fashion world and revealing emotional conversations with family members. The featured models include Laith, who was one of the first transgender male models to appear in a national campaign; Dominique Jackson, who has been modeling for more than 20 years; Isis, who was a fashion designer before getting into modeling; newcomer Ren, who hopes modeling can help her reconnect with her distant father; and outspoken Arisce, who has walked runways during New York, Los Angeles and Miami Fashion Week shows.

Strut is definitely a fun and entertaining reality tv series. If you’re a fan of America’s Next Top Model, or Project Runway, this series will definitely be up your alley. Before she was serving shade and snatching wigs on FX’s Pose, Jackson was rocking runways and photoshoots with flawless precision. A testament to how talented she is as an actress, Strut showcases how the wise, regal and nurturing Jackson couldn’t be more polar opposite than the villainous Elektra Abundance she portrays on the hit FX series. While the series only lasted for six episodes, you get a full story arc and the opportunity to meet some awesome models who all have been making moves since the short-lived Oxygen series aired.

 

Matt and Blue: The YouTube channel of musician Blue Hamilton; his husband, actor Matt Dallas (Kyle XY); and their adorable son Crow, chronicles the misadventures of their lives on their four-acre farm.

Whether it’s sharing their personal experiences, offering advice on a number of topics, or informing you of some their sponsors’ excellent products to check out for some great deals, Matt and Blue are the definition of family goals and proof that there is fun, life, and adventure after marriage.

 

Love, Simon: Everyone deserves a great love story, but for 17-year-old Simon Spier, it’s a little more complicated. He hasn’t told his family or friends that he’s gay, and he doesn’t know the identity of the anonymous classmate that he’s fallen for online. Resolving both issues proves hilarious, terrifying and life-changing.

I have one monumental issue with Love, Simon. It’s that I wish there had been a film like this when I was a kid. It’s a coming of age tale that’s a romantic teen dramedy, but it’s layered, smart and it’s got heart without even trying. What truly makes this film a groundbreaking classic is that it showcases multiple compelling Black protagonists, including a love interest which sadly even in the 21st century mainstream (read: white) gay media is blatantly racist and specifically antiblack. This film thankfully avoids the racefail. But this shouldn’t be a shocker given that CW Arrowverse architect Greg Berlanti is the director. It should also be noted that Berlanti has gone on record giving credit to Muhammad Ali for giving him the courage to come out to his parents. So when you have The Greatest as one of your heroes, greatness tends to follow.

Also, speaking of following greatness, Love Victor, the television spinoff picks up where the film leaves off with cameos from prominent players from the film and it is awesome.

 

Codebreaker: Codebreaker tells the remarkable and tragic story of one of the 20th century’s most important people. Alan Turing set in motion the computer age and his World War II codebreaking helped turn the tide of the Second World War.  Instead of receiving accolades, Turing faced terrible persecution.  In 1952, the British Government forced him to undergo chemical castration as punishment for his homosexuality. In despair, Turing committed suicide. He was only 41 years old. Documentary elements seamlessly interconnect with drama scenes in Codebreaker to offer a three dimensional picture of Turing, his accomplishments, his tragic end, and his lasting legacy.

Unlike that abomination of a film, Codebreaker is a true testament to Alan Turing. Codebreaker is a bittersweet film that pulls no punches exploring the persecution Turing endured which led to his death, the qualities that made him one of history’s greatest (and still unsung) champions, and how his legacy can be found today. Case in point, the computer device you’re reading this article from. This film is a tribute to the life and legacy of a bonafide superhero and one I can’t recommend enough.

People You May Know: The lives of several friends are at a crossroads which is only further complicated when their relationships are thrown into chaos after a drunken one-night stand. 

People You May Know is without question the greatest cinematic masterpiece of the 21st century. I say this objectively as an artist and academic. This assessment certainly has nothing to do with the fact that this film provides Sean “I’m Too Pretty To Be Legal” Maher in the type of hot sexy scenes usually reserved for the Paul Morris oeuvre. Nope, this is all factual objectivity.

Just joking. Sorta. Maybe.

In all seriousness, what makes this movie truly special is that even though two of the three leads are gay, their arcs make them relatable to any demographic. Each of the leads are searching to discover what will fulfill them and some of the choices they make may not be conventional or the right choice for others but it’s right for them. In one way or another, the completion they’re each searching for, they ultimately find within. People You May Know is a dramedy that has the cinematographic sensibilities of an indie film without being overt and pretentious.  An amazing film and definitely one worth watching.

Did I mention it stars the delightful and gorgeous Sean Maher?

 

Dirty Computer Emotion Picture: An Android, Jane 57821, attempts to break free from the constraints of a totalitarian society that forcibly makes Jane comply with its homophobic beliefs.

This groundbreaking Afrofuturistic short film is a love letter to Black LGBTQ Excellence. Co-starring Tessa Thompson as Jane’s love interest, Emotion Picture accompanied the release of Monae’s third album, Dirty Computer. If you have not seen this tour d’force…. your life choices, make better ones.

 

Freedom Fighters: The Ray: Combining the first two seasons of the hit animated series, which premiered on the CW Seed, as well as includes never-before-seen footage, Freedom Fighters is the animated origin story of Ray Terrill, who discovers himself as a superhero from a parallel Earth called Earth-X. The new superhero is on a mission to fulfill his destiny as the Earth-X Freedom Fighter, The Ray.

I previously discussed in depth why Freedom Fighters is an exceptional film and a most important one. The original CW Seed animated series is television’s first gay male superhero lead. Non-straight male superheroes are very few and usually relegated to supporting roles. Freedom Fighters is a must-see because LGBTQs need to witness that it doesn’t get better, it gets real, and that’s okay. This film is definitely an A-lister and is shining a ray of light on how artistry, diversity, superhero narratives, and social commentary are properly blended and executed.

Hopefully, Freedom Fighters (and the aforementioned titles on this list) is lighting the way for other exemplary narratives to follow.

 


DENNIS R. UPKINS is a proud Atlanta, Ga. native. A voracious reader, a lifelong geek and a hopeless comic book addict, he knew at an early age that storytelling was his calling. In 2011, his debut novel, Hollowstone, was released by Parker Publishing. His sophomore title, West of Sunset, was also released by Parker Publishing in 2014. Upkins has also worked as a freelance artist and a digital photographer. His artwork and short stories have appeared in Drops of Crimson, Sniplits, and a number of other publications. Upkins regularly critiques and analyzes the representation and portrayal of minorities in comics and media and has served as a contributor for Ars Marginal, Black Girl Dangerous, Prism Comics, Nashville Geek Life, and Comicbook.com. In an effort to help enlighten society about the cultures of the African diaspora and promote a more accurate and positive image, Upkins launched the Black Folks Being Awesome initiative in 2013. When he’s not out saving the world and/or taking it over in his spare time, Upkins’s hobbies include drawing, modeling, acting, photography, cosplay, rollerblading, martial arts and of course writing. His website can be found here.

 

 

 

 

Why not steal a horse? The perils of steampunk tropes

By Angelia Sparrow

I have a new book forthcoming. I just sent the proofs back Monday.  The Sweet Science of Bruising will be out soon from Purple Sword Publications.  It’s steampunk adventure with strong erotic content, mostly heterosexual, although both leads are bi, and Lillian is disguised as a boy for most of the book.

Lillian is an inventor of vibrators who is swept off to adventure with an itinerant bare-knuckle boxing outfit. In her escape, she essentially invents a motorcycle.

When I was writing this, our Fearless Leader, Elizabeth, asked “Why don’t they just steal a horse?” The thought had never crossed my mind. It’s rather like when Gabriel asked “Why vampires?” and I stuttered a moment and said “I’d looked damned silly trying to have a vampire apocalypse without vampires.”

Other questions were raised by early readers, including the feasibility of dirigibles, and why cities don’t have balistas on city hall if airship pirates are a problem. Those were tabled. (Answer, figured out much later: because Abilene is not quite that advanced or that wealthy. Balistas are used in Kansas City and points east, which is why the pirates prefer to operate out west)

But my point is tropes. These recognizable conventions in a genre are useful shorthand for readers, and save the author a lot of explanation. They are almost a visual or literary shorthand. If I say “They climbed the winding steps up the tower to the sorceress’ workroom,” you have a mental image of the tower, the narrow, steep stairs that climb it (always turning counterclockwise, makes it easier to defend), the room at the top with shelves and work tables, and bubbling huggermugger that will play no part in the story but sets the tone. Likewise, if I talk about the dusty streets with board sidewalks and hitching rails, a lone tumbleweed drifting along, and the complete silence, you’re either expecting a gunfight or a post-apoc western. And your mind supplied a saloon, a livery stable and a sheriff’s office without me saying anything.  Tropes are very useful.

Until you hit a beta reader who is not conversant with that subgenre’s tropes. (Which is why, if I taught creative writing, genre fiction would be covered in the second semester, when we address the tropes as well as the story mechanics)  Then you find yourself questioning your airships, your wizard workrooms, your FTL travel methods, why the vampires don’t just shoot the hunters and even your mechanized vacuums.

I’ve had to deal with all these questions from beta readers and editors.  They are good questions, even if they are annoying. I’m caught in the story. I understand it’s steampunk, so I’m expecting goggles, and airships and contraptions. To have a simple, non-mechanical solution offered might be throwing a wrench into the works. Then again, that’s what writers are for.

One reader actually questioned the gadgetry and invention, saying “people don’t just do that sort of thing.” I referred him to the photo of Mr. Daimler and the motorized bicycle and reminded him that the motorcycle was invented in four different places within three years of each other. And then I wrote this, to show that the theory was sound, even if I don’t have the mechanical skill to do it myself.

 

A rider used an up and down motion, pushing pedals around in a circle, which drove a small wheel connected to a larger wheel. It was a very simple machine. She visualized one of her preventative machines and its own simple engine.

A simple steam chamber, heated by the gaslights, drove a single piston engine. The motion went in a straight line from the motor to her toy. She regulated it by turning the valve as to how much steam she wanted. She really should come up with a several stroke engine, one whose drive she could interrupt to control the velocity of the phallus, starting it slowly and then letting it pound.

She reminded herself to borrow the pen from Turlough’s desk at first light, and make the note on her shirtsleeve, having no paper to hand. She didn’t want to forget the idea. That way, she would not be tempted to interrupt the escape for forgotten notes, since she would be wearing them.

Another cheer from the fight drew her attention back to her escape plan. The engine would need to be quite small as most bicycles were built for one passenger, not two and an engine. It still needed to be faster than a man could run and faster than a horse and rider.

She played with the design of the bicycle, trying to figure a way to mount the engine and seat the both of them. Turlough would need to steer. She would have to ride backwards and mollycoddle the engine along. It would be a touchy and temporary thing, but she could do it.

The steam would rise, but she wanted the stroke to move downward. The memory of a carousel she had ridden with her parents on a trip back east to St. Louis returned. The great steam organ in the center had moved the axles around and round. But the horses had gone up and down because of a bend in the bar. The same should work in reverse, with the up and down motion causing a round and round motion.

If she mounted that over the back wheel and hooked it right into the axle…but no, that meant one stroke would move the bicycle one wheel-turn and she needed it to go faster than that.

Gearing, of course. If one stroke spun the tire three times, that would be good. Especially if she could make the piston move faster than a human leg.

So, back to the original question, why don’t they steal a horse?
I’ll let Lillian explain.

She explained the plan in hasty whispers in the dead of the night. Turlough shook his head.

“‘Twould be easier to just take a horse,” he said for the dozenth time.

“Have you seen the horses with this outfit? Two of them nearly as old as I am and the others slower than slugs. Draft horses aren’t built for running. Besides, they hang you for stealing horses. Tell Wulf you want to try a new training exercise and have him find you a bicycle.”

“I can’t ride one of those contraptions, lass.” The admission finally came, Turlough sounding embarrassed. “Horses I understand but not those things.”

“That’s why you practice before I attach the engine.” She smiled.

To find out the rest of Lilian and Turlough’s adventures, and enjoy seeing scenic Kansas by motorcycle, airship and train, look for The Sweet Science of Bruising by Angelia Sparrow, coming soon from Purple Sword Productions.

 

Angelia Sparrow is a bus driver who lives quietly in the MidSouth. She has been writing professionally since 2004. Unofficially called the Queen of Cross-genre, she has been a finalist for the Darrell Award, the Lamnbda Literary Award and the Gaylactic Spectrum award. She has a husband, kids and grandkids, and enjoys a variety of handcrafts as well as writing. Web presence.

 

 

Slaying giants and old tropes

By Steven L. Shrewsbury

An old trope sounds like a creature that lives under a bridge waiting for billy-goats, gruff and otherwise. What is this I speak of?

“In the arts, a trope is simply a common convention in a particular medium. It refers to anything that gets used often enough to be recognized. When you see a kid running around with a cape and know they’re pretending to be a superhero, you’ve recognized the trope that superheroes wear capes.”

An old trope is like having a dragons, dwarves and wizards in a fantasy novel. It isn’t necessary, but they pop up a great deal. Like one’s manhood, it all depends on how one uses such a thing if it is entertaining or not. In my new novel Killer of Giants there are no dragons (lots of other monsters), a few dwarves near the end, and a couple wizards. I’m guilty of using such tropes, but not in excess. The dwarves in Killer make a cameo appearance at the end, and the wizards? Well, they are evil bastards as always.

I had Gorias La Gaul beat a few guys to death with a dwarf, literally used as a foreign object in Thrall. He was a jerk necromancer on top of it. If I have a dragon appear, they are something different, like being undead (in Thrall and Curse of the Bastards), and in the forthcoming Gorias novel Reckoning Day, made of water. The idea should challenge not only the reader to go to a new place, but the writer to create a different view.

I have never used a monster manual to explore monsters, the endurance of characters or the parameters of a world. Years ago, I had an undead dragon in a WIP and a friend said, “Oh! A draco-lich!” I liked the term and used it, but I didn’t research the origin of the term. In Born of Swords, we see a dragon that loves to feast on the dead, eating out of tombs cut in cliff faces. Why? I just thought it was cool. A fan once tried to say, “Well, I’ve heard that blue skinned dragons are eaters of the dead.” Well, yeah, sure, because I just decided this one was like that. Why? Thought that for the area, where folks were entombed about the cliffs, it was a good idea and visual. If I broke a commandment of some kind in a lore manual, well, I’ll likely go to hell for worse behavior than that.

Wizards are another thing oft appearing in fantasy literature. I try and shy away from the wizards living in a cave, wearing robes…but that image persists a bit. I confess to making wizards appear in my works, but they are usually not nice guys or girls. Probably a tad extreme, but I find that entertaining and hope readers do, too.

So I reckon I’m not on a quest to destroy all old tropes as it were. I do things my own way and hope folks will find it enjoyable. I’ve been chastised a few times about the salty language in my works. I’ll paraphrase the late Karl Edward Wagner when he was given grief about saying shit or fuck in a book. If a character falls and hits their head, I really doubt they screamed FORSOOTH! thousands of years ago. Did they say shit or fuck? Not exactly, but something close…that didn’t sound like the King’s English…which they also didn’t speak thousands of years ago, either.

I implore everyone to read. Read things not just in your comfort zone, especially if you’re a writer. If you love horror, read a western. See how different stories are told. Read romance. Yes, you heard me. Why? Well, they outsell horror for starters and one might learn something. I write a lot of fantasy, but I read a great deal of biographies and historical works. Some of these facts slip into a tale or augment a culture set in an ancient time. It makes things interesting, I’ve found, and I’m certain I’m not the only one doing it.

So, check out my new novel, Killer of Giants from Seventh Star Press. It’s a rough, rowdy tale full of grit and wild happenings.

In an antediluvian world, Keltos warrior Rogan emerges as the lone survivor of a battle. Slaying a Nephilim giant from Shynar, Rogan takes back the mammoth his folk gifted the kings.

Soon, warriors are sent to recapture the mammoth and bring it to the Lord of the world, Zazaeil, a demon in human flesh, and the Nephilim giant Marduk, in the fabled city of Irem.

After learning that his sister is to be a sacrificial bride to Marduk, Rogan journeys to Irem in the company of Elisa, a warrior herself, whose mother is a wizardess. With a horde of warriors in pursuit, they encounter many evils, monsters, and challenges to their selves and souls.

Will the song of Rogan’s blood make him strong enough to be the Killer of Giants?

Coming soon to the Literary Underworld! 

 

 

About the author:  Award-winning author Steven L. Shrewsbury lives and works in central Illinois. He writes hardcore sword & sorcery, fantasy and horror novels. Twenty of his novels have been published, including Killer of Giants, Beyond Night, Born of Swords, Within, Overkill, Philistine, Hell Billy, Thrall, Blood and Steel, Stronger Than Death, Hawg, Tormentor and Godforsaken. His horror/western series includes Bad Magick, Last Man Screaming, Mojo Hand and Along Come Evening. He has collaborated with Brian Keene on the works King of the Bastards, Throne of the Bastards and Curse of the Bastards, and Peter Welmerink on the Viking saga Bedlam Unleashed. A big fan of books, history, the occult, religion and sports, he tries to seek out brightness in the world, wherever it may hide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time (drink)

By J.L. Mulvihill 

It cannot be seen, cannot be felt, cannot be heard, cannot be smelt. It lies behind stars and under hills, and empty hole, it fills. It comes first and follows after, ends life, kills laughter.

— Riddles in the Dark; The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, J. R. R. Tolkien, 1937.

Here I am turning 55, and I am pondering the concept of time and wondering where all my time went. When I was little, time was a thing of infinite substance and seemed to stretch on. I was always waiting. Waiting to get out of class, waiting to go to the pool, waiting for dinner to be ready, always waiting. Now I am constantly running to catch up and time eludes me.

By the way, did you know this is article includes a drinking game? If you are trying to stay or get healthy and are drinking water, carry on, or if you are a connoisseur of the spirits, so be it, but every time you see the word time, DRINK! Also, if you are under 21 might I recommend ginger beer, which is my beer of choice and non-alcoholic, it has a nice ginger bite to it.

So, back to my pondering. I seem to never have enough time in my life anymore. There is always something going on and it feels like the days are getting shorter and shorter and time runs away from me.  I have no idea why this is such a problem suddenly, or has time always been my nemesis? Perhaps in the turmoil of recent events I just forgot how to time manage, or is it manage time?

Time management is essential to a writer. If you have been doing this for a while, then you know this; if you are new to writing, then you should know this. The management of time is not just being able to schedule your writing around your work and life, but also consider setting aside time for research and editing, which are an absolute must if you want to be a good writer. Then there is the business side of writing and in this you must make time for marketing and promoting. So much time goes into the career of a writer that it is hard to sustain a normal life. In time you learn to manage and juggle all these things, or you don’t, and you ride time like a wild turnip hoping you don’t fall off.

Every person, whether you are a writer or not, tries to squeeze more time out of the day. Why is this, I wonder? Have we become a society that bites off more than we can handle? Have we added more tasks to our day and then given ourselves an inadequate amount of time to achieve our goals? Are there really that many things we need to do or get done in such a short time or are we fooling ourselves? I look at the dishes in the sink and wonder if I should do them later or take the time to get the job over with. On the other hand, I could be writing or working on something else more productive in my mind. However, the dishes are still there and eventually they still need to be done, so what does it matter when I set aside the time to do them?

It appears we never have enough time to get everything done we set out to achieve. Time is passing us by, and as we get older time flies by even faster. Psychologists have discovered the reason behind this time-flying thing. Oh, thank goodness, a mystery solved at last. So, psychologists believe the brain forms more memories of new experiences than that of familiar ones. Since fewer new memories are built later in life, time seems to pass more quickly. Well, that doesn’t solve any time problem at all. If this is true, then the simple solution to that is to constantly make memories. Keep going, don’t stop and you will never see time get away from you.

Nonsense, you say. Agreed, the psychologists might be right on the concept of time flying by for us, but it still does not satisfy the need to get everything done and not having enough time to do it. This leads me to the fact that we ask too much of ourselves in our daily lives. This excess of tasks leads to exhaustion, and it is not time that gets away from us, but rather us getting away from time, needing to nap or work slower because we are too tired, or procrastinate.

Exhaustion is not a new concept and in fact every era has its reasons for exhaustion. We now say that modern technology has made things so much easier for ourselves and our lives that we add more things to do on our list expecting that technology will save us time allowing us to achieve our goals. Perhaps we think too much of ourselves in this manner. We tend to want to overachieve or prove ourselves better than the next person. I have written five novels but feel that I am so far behind the status quo that I try to do too much to achieve what I think is the expected number of written novels I should have.  If I did that, would I actually be writing good novels though?

This line of thinking always circles back to needing more time. But I can’t buy time, I can’t steal time, I find it very hard to make time, and I sense there is no way to invent time. Time is elusive. As a child I used to complain at bedtime that time was a made-up concept by humans to make other humans do stuff they don’t want to do. Especially Daylight Savings. That only confuses my brain more, and my body when it thinks it needs more sleep, and my cat when she thinks it’s time to be fed. What started all this time nonsense anyway?

Scientists have concluded, without my help I might add, that there was a beginning of time with the Big Bang, but as far as there being an end, there is no way of knowing.  In particle physics experiments, random particles arise from a vacuum, so it doesn’t seem likely the universe would become static or timeless. I am not sure what that really means except that we cannot obtain more time, nor can we lose it.  This does not help at all and only confuses the matter of time.  Or is time real?

According to theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli, time is an illusion: our naive perception of its flow doesn’t correspond to physical reality. He explains, the apparent existence of time — in our perceptions and in physical descriptions, written in the mathematical languages of Newton, Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger — comes not from knowledge, but from ignorance. ‘Forward in time’ is the direction in which entropy increases, and in which we gain information.

Ahh, so at last someone who agrees with me. Time is as Einstein says, relative, meaning it will happen no matter what you do or when you do it. But Carlo Rovelli says that time is an illusion, and it is not real. So, is time what we make it, or will it happen anyway? The subject is still under debate to this day. Reading all the articles and books there are on time does not give me a sense of accomplishment, but merely scrambles my brain.

I have as much the answer as anyone else. If you believe in time then you must manage it properly, put your nose to the grindstone and get your stuff done. If you do not believe in time, then you should be able to slip through reality and get a lot more done than the rest of us. Either way I think you should not push yourself too much, and just go with the flow. You don’t have to be too strict but instead riding that wild turnip, then maybe try and tame it a little bit. Give it a saddle and teach it to prance at a pace before you gallop across the desert.

By now you are either waterlogged or drunk, and if that is the case then I have done my job. I don’t suppose I given you any real answer to the question of how to have more time, but maybe I have entertained you a bit or even enlightened you in some shape or fashion.  These are merely my ponderings and the wonderings of my mind, and I am happy to share my chaos.

Cited articles:

Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. “What Is Time? A Simple Explanation.” ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/what-is-time-4156799.

Andrew Jaffe probes Carlo Rovelli’s study arguing that physics deconstructs our sense of time; 16 April 2018; https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04558-7

 

Though J L Mulvihill (Jen), is a descendant of Hollywood royalty, she relinquished her crown and rock star days to obsess over her passion for telling stories. An author of young adult fiction and an award-winning screenplay writer and public speaker, Jen dabbles in a variety of genres including science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, medievalpunk, horror, thrillers, and historical fiction. Her recent debut as host for the talk show On The Page with Geeky Side Network TV has got everyone asking, “What will Jen do next?”

To find out the answer to that question check out Jen’s webpage at www.jlmulvihill.com where you can also find her books and short stories. Or just type in jlmulvihill for all social media and you can catch up on Jen’s much ado on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. You might just happen upon her sporadic foodie fest Jen Can’t Cook where Jen tests her hand at old style cooking.

Jen’s y/a series, Steel Roots, is based in the steampunk genre and engages the reader in a train hopping heart stopping adventure across a dystopian America enclosed within the walls of its own making. Follow young AB’Gale Steel as she travels across America in search of her missing father learning about the world around her as she goes, and The System that has a hold on its people. A story of love, friendship, hope, and the courage to fight back injustice. 

Jen is also the author of a y/a medievalpunk series, The Elsie Lind Chronicles. This epic adventure boasts of demons, dragons, and dark witches. From the strange and dark corners of her mind Jen has created an extraordinary fantasy world. Weaving Scandinavian folklore into the telling of the adventure of a young girl who is struck with amnesia and finds herself in the middle of an ancient forest in a world filled with mystery and danger. 

Not only is she known for her writing but also her public speaking, where Jen encourages other writers to hone their skills. Currently Jen is working on several writing projects including a science fiction novel, a thriller, a children’s book, toss a couple of cookbooks in there and some poetry, include several movie scripts, and Jen will never get any sleep again. Ahh, but it’s gonna be great!

Check out J L Mulvihill’s books on Literary Underworld!

 

Trans Day of Visibility: Monica Roberts

“I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”
—Maya Angelou
March is Women’s HERstory Month and today is International Transgender Day of Visibility. In celebration of both, Underlord Denny Upkins is paying tribute to the life and legacy of one of the greatest superheroines ever: Monica Roberts.
Outspoken and unapologetic in calling out the racism, transphobia, privilege, antiblackness and toxicity of the “gay community,” Ms. Cannick, Monica, myself, Rod McCullom and a few others found ourselves in the trenches and were regular targets for attacks, harassment and even threats from white fauxgressives. Of course after series of ass kickings (online and in real life) later, when all was said and done, truth and history vindicated us—we were the last ones standing.

Welcome to Crone Girls Press!

We denizens of LitUnd Towers are absolutely thrilled to announce that Crone Girls Press has joined our cooperative! Some of us have already had the pleasure of seeing our work published by Crone Girls in its fascinating and creepy anthologies, and we’re looking forward to many more terrific volumes from this up-and-coming new press.

This coming weekend is our triumphant return to Midsouthcon after four years or so of missing out on the Memphis fun, and we’re delighted that Crone Girls publisher Rachel Brune will be joining us for the first time there! (That means Rachel also hasn’t experienced the Literary Underworld Traveling Bar. Shhh, no one tell her.)

We hope you enjoy the offerings from Crone Girls as much as we have, and look forward to sharing them with you! And now, a few words from Rachel.

 

In 2019, I sat down to publish a collection of my sister’s short horror fiction. When she sent a grand total of one story, I decided to recruit some of my writing friends who also wrote horror, and our first anthology, Stories We Tell After Midnight, was born.
With our first title under our belt, I decided to branch out and publish two anthologies in 2020. The first, Coppice & Brake, was a full-length anthology of horror and dark fiction with distinct Ray Bradbury vibes. Its publication also coincided with the Great Plague of March 2020 and beyond.
Even though writing, reading, and publishing horror in the midst of a life-changing pandemic isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, we’ve managed to put together a decent slate of horror anthologies that feature the work of authors from all over the world. In addition to the full-length projects, we began a series of three-novella mini-anthologies, Midnight Bites, the first of which featured the work of Literary Underworld’s own Elizabeth Donald.
So, what’s next for Crone Girls Press? We’re currently working on a sequel anthology to Coppice & Brake, titled Tangle & Fen. We have several Midnight Bites volumes scheduled for 2022, and are currently reading submissions for more. You can find us at a number of fan conventions throughout the southeast, as well as with the Literary Underworld.
And, finally, if you’d like to come hang out with the Fiendish Readers of CGP, come check out our Facebook group.
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As a military journalist, Rachel A. Brune wrote and photographed the Army and its soldiers for five years. When she moved on, she didn’t quit writing stories with soldiers in them; she just added werewolves, sorcerers, a couple of evil mad scientists, and a Fae or two. Now a full-time author and writing coach living in North Carolina, Rachel enjoys poking around former military installations and listening for the ghosts of old soldiers… or writing them into her latest short story. In addition to writing, she is a contributing editor to the Writerpunk Press anthology series, which benefits the PAWS no-kill animal shelter in Lynnwood, WA. She also contributed her editing talents to the Pride Park anthology, proceeds of which benefit the Trevor Project. She lives with her spouse, two daughters, one reticent cat, and two flatulent rescue dogs.

Twenty years of fever dreams

By Elizabeth Donald

Harlan Ellison once asked me, “How many stories have you sold?” Nervous, I flubbed the question, because the answer certainly was “far fewer than you, sir.”

My first short story published for pay was “Vertigo,” a weird Twilight Zone-esque piece set in the middle of a campus shooting. It appeared in DogEar Magazine in 2002, and while I’d played around with the freebie sites beforehand, it was the first time someone paid me money for my fiction.

Three years later, the amazing Frank Fradella founded New Babel Books and came to me with an idea for a collection. Setting Suns collected all my published short stories and a handful of new ones written just for that volume, and it won the Darrell Award for best short story and stayed in print for more than 15 years.

I’ve had several books go out of print over the years, and some have been reissued by other presses, while others have quietly gone on into obscurity. But Setting Suns is a book that many of my readers continue to cite as their favorite, and I have a particular fondness for the old girl. It was not my first book – that distinction belongs to Nocturnal Urges, an ebook released in 2004 by Ellora’s Cave Publishing – but Setting Suns was the first time I opened a box of books and saw my own name on the cover. Ask any writer about that moment, and see the look in their eyes when they answer.

While I was thinking about this, I realized I was coming up on my anniversary: it’s been 20 years since my first paid fiction sale. That’s a nice round number, and I wanted to commemorate it somehow.

Thus was born the anniversary edition of Setting Suns, to be released this spring. It includes a bonus short story and a new afterword from me reflecting on the last twenty years and how damn lucky I am to have the career I have. After all, Harlan didn’t ask me how many stories I thought about, or plotted in my notebook, or even how many I managed to scribble out over the last 20 years… he asked how many I sold, and that ever-changing number is due to your support and continued willingness to plunk down your cash for my fever-dreams.

I’m very pleased to be able to offer this book, with my thanks for the past twenty years. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I enjoyed walking through its garden of shadows.

To add to the fun: I’ve recently gotten a handful of books back from a store that had them on consignment, and to my delight, there are three out-of-print rarities among them! I now have two copies of Dreadmire and one each of Setting Suns (original edition) and Blackfire to find homes.

So we’re running a contest! To get an entry, you should:

Sign up for my newsletter!

Subscribe to my Patreon!

Preorder Setting Suns!

Each of these gets you an entry in the contest, and three winners will be randomly selected to receive one of the out-of-print rare books, signed upon request. Spread the word!

Elizabeth Donald is a dark fiction writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award and Mimi Zanger Award for fiction, finalist for the Prism and Imadjinn awards, author of the Nocturne vampire mystery series and Blackfire dark fantasy series, as well as other novels, novellas and stories in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld small-press cooperative; an award-winning journalist and essayist with more than 25 years in journalism; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. She is currently completing two masters degrees at Southern Illinois University Edwardville and teaches news writing, composition and editing at SIUE and St. Louis University. She serves as president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists and the Eville Writers, and is a member of the national SPJ Ethics Commission, AEJMC, Sigma Tau Delta, Editorial Freelancers Association and belongs to more writing and trade organizations than is healthy. She lives with her family in a haunted house in Edwardsville, Illinois. In her spare time, she has no spare time. 

Preorder your copy now! Available soon at Literary Underworld. 

Setting Suns Anniversary Edition

Setting Suns Anniversary Edition

$15.00

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