Monday, October 29, 2007

Sorting Through The Wreckage

I'm back online for the first time in a week or so; last Tuesday my harddrive crashed and it took me until this past weekend to get online at all. I've got a tech guy working to see what can be salvaged off the old harddrive but the first thing he told me when I called him was to expect the worst (that was encouraging...). It happened while I was trying to back some documents up onto a flashdrive and the problem appears to have begun in the flashdrive and cascaded into the computer's hardrrive, taking down both in one fell swoop.

If you've submitted a story to IGMS that doesn't mean your story is lost, because we keep back-up copies of all stories on the managing editor's computer. But it does mean that some extra patience is going to be called for while I sort through them all, trying to remember which I rejected, which I haven't read yet, which I asked for rewrites on, etc etc.

Final drafts of the stories for the Winter Issue (number seven) had already been forwarded to the managing editor, so that issue will still come out on schedule, and I'm sure we have enough time before the Spring Issue (number eight) to get this all sorted out, so the delays should be limited to reply-times to writers who've submitted. My apologies to all affected.

I'll be up in Saratoga Springs, NY, for this year's World Fantasy Conference (that's this week, Nov. 1 - 4; I fly home on the 5th). Then I'll get back to sorting out this mess. Today's priority is getting though the thirteen finalists for Apex Digest's 3rd annual Halloween story contest, which are due back to editor Jason Sizemore by tomorrow (I think... Or was it Wed.?).

Thank God we have computers to simplify our lives...

Friday, October 19, 2007

Great Mother, Great Father - by William Saxton

Hurricane Katrina and the Weltangschauung

On Monday, August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. The destruction was horrendous.

All that week, every news program focused on relief efforts. What was wrong? Was the government doing enough? But people weren't content merely to watch TV talking heads report; they wanted to help. Universities nationwide offered free tuition to displaced students. It seemed every web site I saw had at least one link: "Click here to help Katrina victims!" By Thursday the general discussion group at Hatrack (sister site to this one in a way -- they're both Orson Scott Card's contributions) had three threads sharing places to donate.

Then, Sunday, the New York Times published an editorial by famous novelist Anne Rice, decrying America's indifference to the suffering. "During this crisis you failed us. You looked down on us; you dismissed our victims; you dismissed us. You want our Jazz Fest, you want our Mardi Gras, you want our cooking and our music. Then when you saw us in real trouble, when you saw a tiny minority preying on the weak among us, you called us 'Sin City,' and turned your backs."

The world she described certainly wasn't one I'd been seeing. What kind of world would it be, if her perception were accurate? (This question led directly to my story "Great Mother, Great Father," in which people truly do turn their backs on the weak and the suffering, and are proud of it.)

Imagine a world in which the nation could look at a city in terrible trouble, shrug, and say, "Why should I care?" As John Lennon would say, it isn't hard to do. We all, I believe, have selective areas of compassion and disregard: abortion, the death penalty, or the suffering of animals. But these days, most of us at least pretend to care when an innocent and articulate adult is in jeopardy of life or limb. (Hypocritical, sometimes, but hypocrisy isn't the worst thing: At least it shows you have standards.)

It didn't have to be this way. Consider the Maya. In their religion, one of the marks of wisdom was cultivating indifference to the suffering of others (and, to be fair, to one's own). The ancient Maya might well have shrugged at reports of hurricane-caused deprivation. When you've stood by and watched people being ritually mutilated, it shouldn't be a problem to hear that people are at risk of thirst or rioting.

Consider also the imperial Japanese. Brutality to the weak was not simply human failing; it was custom. If their treatment of Chinese forced laborers is any indication, they wouldn't have seen a point in getting clean water to the Astrodome.

Finally, consider the Nazis. They did support benevolence to their own kind (that is, ethnic Germans), but cultivated brutality toward others as a virtue. They would have been happy to have Katrina save them the trouble of killing non-Aryans.

Rice's op-ed to the contrary, our civilization looks good by comparison. Admittedly people often don't live up to their beliefs. Even if your world view says "love all mankind," you still might ignore the suffering of others, or even inflict it, as history has shown. But it could be worse: our society could urge us to stifle our compassion, to instead stick it to the loser and torture the helpless. Too farfetched? Remember the Vikings. For that matter, remember fourth grade.

Did we just luck out?

In a way, if you believe in luck. The view of right and wrong that has spread itself over most of the world came from a tiny corner of the Middle East. There, the only God whose opinion mattered kept telling his people to give to the poor and help the helpless. By our standards, the ancient Israelites were brutal -- but our standards came from their standards. Their moral competition came not from Mother Teresa or Up With People, but from the Canaanites, who burned their babies for the god Moloch. We can condemn Abraham and God in the story of the sacrifice of Isaac for even considering human sacrifice, but the big news then was that you could be totally devoted to your god and still not murder your family. I consider this progress.

We've made more progress since, and a good thing. But we made it by expanding and deepening this standard of humane treatment. Good thing we didn't expand and deepen the Assyrian view of the world. Then we wouldn't be angry about the Spanish Inquisition and witch-burning; we'd wonder why it had to stop just when it was getting good.

But in another sense, our current state of affairs wasn't luck at all. It's a fair bet that if a society condones some horrific practice (cannibalism, say, or sex with children), that society is a small tribe in a remote area. Something about such practices cause the societies that promote them not to prosper enough to spread themselves. By contrast, the world views that spread themselves and their societies the farthest have this in common: they accept the dignity of the individual. When people say, "All religions teach pretty much the same thing, so if we just adhered to that core..." I always want to say, "All the religions we think about today, you mean." There have been plenty of others.

We shouldn't be complacent: horrible world views may die out, but it's not inevitable and not instantaneous. Human sacrifice lasted for a long time. Slavery lasted millennia after that. If Hitler had gotten the bomb, today mercy to strangers might be merely a quaint custom in areas the Nazis hadn't gotten around to colonizing yet.

So let's be grateful to the giants whose shoulders we stand on, and determine to be giants ourselves. Somebody has to. We might have another hurricane.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Towering Monarch of His Mighty Race - by Cat Rambo

As part of my free-lancing existence, I write the occasional encyclopedia article, with topics that have included Technology and Science in the 80s, Lydia Pinkham, modern Christian philosophy, poetry, video games, Thenmuli Rajaratnaam, and Dean R. Koontz. I love the grab-bag quality of these assignments – the press sends me a huge list, I send back a much shorter list of perhaps a dozen of the things I'd be interested in writing about, and then I get assigned one or two.

No matter what I end up writing about, it's a chance to do some fine-tuned research of the kind that uncovers story ideas. Many of the articles focus on a period of history that fascinates me: late nineteenth century America. I love the era as a font to draw story ideas from – it's the collision of a number of social movements, including abolition, women's suffrage, spiritualism, free love, temperance – the list goes on and on. And characters abound there, including Lucy Stone, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Matilda Joslyn Gage, Elizabeth Blackwell, Lucretia Mott, Sarah and Angelina Grimke. I've written several stories so far written in a fantasy-influenced version of that period and I have a rough idea for an alternative history novel centering on the figures of Victoria Woodhull and Lucy Stone somewhere down the line, in which Barnum may play a part as well.

I discovered Jumbo as the result of one such assignment, for an encyclopedia of historical events: a brief essay on the acquisition of the Ringling Brothers Circus by Barnum & Bailey. The more I researched circus history, the more interesting the stories became, until one in particular pushed at me to become fiction as well. The majority of the details are modeled from the oddities of real life history: Jumbo's end is true to life, as well as the details of what happened afterward. Barnum's telegram is taken in its entirety from one he sent, and Matthew Scott did raise the elephant from the sickly infant he rescued from a Parisian zoo. The original title was taken from Barnum's billing for Jumbo: "the towering monarch of his race, whose like the world will never see again," which Edmund made me cut in half.

Feelings about the rights of circus animals cover a wide range, and I tend to fall on the liberal side of the fence, but here I've presented Jumbo as one of the characters because the story is primarily his. At the time I wrote it, I didn't think that writing from an elephant's pov was particularly daring – I'd just seen a friend's story from the pov of an intelligent weapon published and received well. I make no pretense of knowing how an elephant thinks, but research for the elephant part included Temple Grandin's ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION and THE PIG THAT SANG TO THE MOON by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. Some readers who've seen my work elsewhere may remember the picture painting elephant, Khwaam, in "Foam on the Water" – there will undoubtedly be more elephants in works to come, and I'm hoping to see another Barnum-related piece or two as well.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


The story takes place in an alternate history that I’ve used elsewhere. In 1511, Henry VIII of England and his wife Katherine of Aragon had a son, also named Henry, who died when he was only a few weeks old. I have tried to imagine what would have happened if this child had lived to grow up and succeed his father. With the succession secure, Henry would have had no need of a divorce; there would have been no break with the Roman Catholic Church. England – and later Britain – would have remained politically and culturally much closer to Europe. However, as the story indicates, some things would have remained the same…

The first version of this story focused much more on the relationship between Crispin and Lucas. I’d written about half of it, and was finding it heavy going, when my computer’s hard disc crashed. This story and one other – which had already been accepted for publication – were the only items not backed up. Clearly Version One was never meant to see the light of day. By the time I stopped complaining and settled down to write Version Two, I’d seen ways of opening up the story so that it took a much wider view of what might have been taking place in seventeenth century Oxford.

The story touches on several areas that I find interesting: history, art, alchemy and theology. The Oxford setting is close to my heart as I studied there, and important events in my life took place there. Cardinal College was the original name of Christ Church, founded by Cardinal Wolsey, who fell from power because of his failure to arrange Henry’s divorce. In this time-line Wolsey presumably retained his office and saw his college project to completion; I’ve assumed, however, that the college would have developed in a similar way and I’ve retained the bell, Old Tom, which hangs in the gatehouse and still rings 101 times each night to call each individual scholar home.

My main difficulty in writing Version Two was structural: where to begin, how to guide the reader through the various preliminaries – Crispin’s meeting with Stanford, his commission, his discovery of Stanford’s alchemy and meeting with Lucas – which had to be established before getting down to business with the Grand Inquisitor and the demon. The solution I came up with was to use the painting of the altarpiece as an introduction to the story and as punctuation throughout until the two time-lines come together at the death of Fr Alfonso. That enabled me to introduce danger at the very beginning and – I hope – make the reader curious about the reason for Stanford’s trial and its outcome.

The other thing I hoped to do as I wrote the story was to leave room for ambiguity. Is Lucas a demon, intent on destroying the good wherever he finds it? Did Crispin murder Fr Alfonso with his hatred channelled through the painting? Or was the death coincidental, no more than might be expected when an old man is placed under a lot of stress? Is Crispin a rather unstable young man with a vivid imagination? I’d like readers to make up their own minds.

When I wrote A Spear through the Heart I never intended it to have a sequel. But just recently I’ve started to wonder what Crispin was doing, starving in a garret in Oxford. He must have studied in the studio of an established artist, so presumably he left or was thrown out. Why? I have a few ideas, which I’m currently playing with and allowing to ‘compost’. Maybe some time they will emerge as another story.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Price of Love - by Alan Schoolcraft

Edmund asked me to write a few words, an essay of sorts to let IGMS readers know what was going on in my head as I wrote The Price of Love, where I got my ideas, inspiration from… and I immediately panicked. Write about myself? Where I get my ideas? Heck, if I knew that, I’d set up a pail or some other large vessel to catch the steady drip-drip of ideas, and never turn a wrench at my day job again.

The genesis of this story is actually two stories that merged into one. One half came in the late summer of 2005. I had just finished what I hoped was the final rewrite of my second novel, Shifters, and I looked for a way to not lose my writing “steam.” I had always struggled with short stories, because my brain works so quickly when I get a new idea, that before I ever put pen to paper the little acorn has blossomed into the mighty oak of a novel.

I had just read a collection of science fiction short stories that I’d picked up at a local Dollar General for… yeah; you got me… a buck. It had some interesting things in it, by some famous authors, and some I’d never heard of. The theme of the collection though, is what inspired me to pick it up; fairy tales had inspired all of the stories.

What a marvelous idea, I thought. Surely, after getting an idea of how these writers did it, I could find a way to craft a decent short story. And since none of the stories contained within directly referenced Pinocchio, I would try my literary hand at reconfiguring that tale.

The other part of the story began not quite two years before, when I discovered that despite all my best intentions and better judgment, I had fallen in love with a woman (and she with me) whom I had been friends with for several months. Her situation at home closely paralleled that of Valerie Hinson in my story, and the relationship between her and I closely paralleled that of Valerie and Alvin. Unlike stories though, real life is much more complicated; there’s no author to magically whip up a deus ex machina to make everything okay and bring about a happy ending.

As we drew closer to what we both knew would be the logical parting of ways, I found I needed some kind of catharsis, some way convince my heart that level heads knew best, this time.

These two unrelated situations, coupled with that old writer’s maxim “Write what you know” collided like a supernova in my head. I worked through the loss of my best friend by trying to capture the spirit of what we had in this tale of becoming human, learning to live, to love, and learning what the true worth of love is. That it’s not always knowing when to hold on, but when to let go.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Night of The Falling Stars - by Steven Savile

It's never easy to talk about the genesis of an idea - especially  
when you are working toward creating something of *scope* that  
resonates with the reader while at the same time entertaining...  
because that is what it is all about, after all. Forget longevity and  
fame and all the rest, your reader chooses to lay down cash they  
could have spent on beer or cigarettes, movies, a nice chair or a  
latte down at the coffee shop, in other words anything that eats  
disposable income. They make that choice, your words over some other  
form of enjoyment, so it strikes me you owe it to them to make those  
words entertaining.
        Okay, rant over.
        So, about eighteen months ago I was on a nine hour drive back 
from a convention knowing I needed to come up with an original back- 
ground for this fantasy novel I wanted to write. I always thought it would  
be interesting to look at fantasy land where the hero hadn't crossed  
over in time to save the day - where he had refused the call to  
action and instead stayed home to grow old. What would have happened  
then to this fabled land of elves and dwarves and pretty maids?  
Nothing good, that's for sure... so that was the starting point, a  
world gone to hell because it's chosen one decided it wasn't worth  
the effort of saving them. Lee and I (my co-editor on Elemental for  
Tor) back and forthed ideas, having a blast simply creating. That's  
one of the drawbacks of doing stuff like Dr Who and Warhammer and all  
these other IPs, you get to exercise your writing muscles but your  
creativity ones begin to fester. The drive disappeared in a flurry of  
world building and by the end of it we'd essentially mapped out an  
entire world, elements of its past and future, and of the fall.
        Then like all good ideas it got to sit on a shelf for the best part  
of a year, building into something more.
        I wrote the first Thera story back in April, for Solaris' Book  
of Fantasy (The Song Her Heart Sang - It's a love story) and then a  
linked one for Meadowhawk Press' Touched By Wonder. When Ed asked 
me to do something for IMGS I knew I wanted to do something in Thera,  
giving one of the legends some life. Most stories tend to be written  
in coffee shops, this one was written on the plane to Croatia, in  
Dubrovnik and on a balcony in Markashka during a hurricane. Little  
bits of Bosnia (Mostar) and Dubrovnik snuck into the story in the  
architecture - which is always something I find difficult to do - I  
tend to just want to say it's a house, it's a place, it's a big shiny  
ball... and leave it at that, but surrounded by so many amazing  
constructs I knew I had to do the visual aspect justice this time.
        Late next year there's a mosaic novel coming out, The Machineries 
of Silence (Bad Moon Books) which will piece together more of the  
legends of Thera while I work on the first novel.
        All that remains is to thank Ed for his work on the piece, and my 
co-pilot on that long drive without whom the world would cease to be.