New Book Trailer

We’d already made a book trailer for The Red Man and Others when it came out on Kindle. For this, we took the Red Man himself as a starting point, and then connected Ymke and the farm she grew up on to the Otasfaust, where she met Kaila. As we were launching the expanded paperback of the story collection (available here) we thought it’d be a good idea to give it a new book trailer. Here it is:

The idea we had was to focus on The Return of the Uncomplaining Child, as this is the longest story in the book, and the one in which Ymke, Kaila and Sebastien meet up. As it’s written from Ymke’s point of view, we decided to do it from her perspective, using the first lines of the story, as written by her. We’d already used a medieval style of drawing for the chapter headers of the paperback, and we felt that this would also suit the narrative of the trailer. So, I set to work doing the drawings from Ymke’s diary. I had fun with that, even though Ymke’s a better writer than artist!

We recorded the sound in GarageBand, with separate files for the narration and for the Brotherhood of the Wheel’s chanting. The bell is actually a dinner gong – our cat Polly doesn’t like the sound, and her struggle throughout recording and editing was real! The various Brothers were all me, chanting in different registers, taped on several tracks and then ‘audited’ and mixed. GarageBand is quite flexible, and where a Brother had a good voice but no rhythm, I could still go in and cut – his -track – up to match.

We filmed the ‘live’ bits in our library by candlelight. It’s not something I’d recommend, as the footage came out quite grainy, but if it’s good enough for Kubrick (Barry Lyndon) it’s good enough for me. It’s Angeline you see there, wearing quite a bit of jewellery appropriate for Ymke, like a northern Dutch bracelet with blood coral and a clunky Nibelungen-style armband. The goose quill pen came from a ‘medieval writing’ kit, but augmented with a modern nib. Various odds and ends from around the house, including the Lewis chess piece queen, made up the backdrop.

I edited the video in iMovie. First I laid down the sound, then cut the footage over it, which I’d first sorted into three folders: No (terrible), yes (stuff I’d like to include), maybe (not great, but some elements may work as a cross-cut). I also created the title card in Pixlr, a free, online Photoshop-like program: it’s black and white text on a green screen, which iMovie could then lay over the footage.

It’s all fairly straightforward, and nothing that takes a very steep learning curve: Google is your friend here too – it’ll direct you to ‘how do I do this’ pages and YouTube tutorials. This is all software that was free online or bundled with my computer, and when working digitally, imagination is the main constraint. If the result is rubbish, then scrap it and try again, or try Plan B. It’s absolutely possible to create something aesthetically pleasing, evocative of your book, and tempting to readers.

And – did I really burn one of my drawings? No, of course not. I’d scanned and printed it, and mounted the page in the book. I’m not very precious about my art, but torching it would go a bit far even for me!

The Red Man and Others

About The Red Man and Others
In a divided city, two rogues try to get their own back on a religious cult; the small but tough sell-sword Kaila and the teenage con-artist Sebastien don their disguises and play their parts.
In the war-torn north of Cruoningha, Ymke and her father live in exile. When her father rescues a giant warrior, Ymke learns that strength is not a matter of muscle alone, and that sometimes the price of hiding is too great.
As Sebastien is elevated to sainthood on the rock of Otasfaust, the Kaila and Ymke find each other, and a new purpose for their talents.
Three journeys of self-discovery; three stories of loss, love and adventure.

What others said
“… a bit like Robert E. Howard’s gritty historical adventures with a dash of Fritz Leiber’s insouciant humor… Issues of queerness, coping with disability, and found family arise organically within the stories, signalling not a deconstruction of sword & sorcery, but a broader inclusivity.” – Ngo Vinh-Hoi, co-host of the Appendix N Book Club podcast
“Intimate, literate and touching scenes erupt into visceral violence; I was reminded of Poe’s Hop-Frog.” – Ricardo Pinto, author of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon
“Call it New Wave Sword & Sorcery… a reaction to the musclebound masculinity, the unbridled machismo that is found and often-times put at the forefront of Sword & Sorcery. It’s good stuff if you’re open to the idea of new takes on Sword & Sorcery.” – Rogues in the House podcast

About the authors
Over the past decade Angeline B. Adams and Remco van Straten have been mainly active in journalism, working for various local and national publications. They wrote about film, theatre and books, and interviewed authors like Neil Jordan, James Ellroy and Anne Rice. The biographical piece on Robert E. Howard they wrote for Fortean Times received a REH Foundation Award nomination.
Now they are focusing on telling their own tales, instead writing about those of others. These stories are firmly rooted in the green hills of Northern Ireland where Angeline grew up, and the heavy clay of the Dutch coast from which Remco came. They are steeped in their shared love for history and folklore, not shying away from treasured genres and format, yet are infused with modern sensibilities and a healthy dose of black humour. Recently, their stories appeared in the Sesheta anthology Underneath the Tree, in Air & Nothingness Press’ The Wild Hunt, and in Dutch translation in Wonderwaan.
Angeline Adams is involved in disability activism and wrote about disability for various online magazines like The Toast and Disability in Kidlit.
On Ymke, the protagonist of The Red Man and The Return of the Uncomplaining Child, she says: “Ymke’s rebellions, like mine, have often been subtle ones: staying alive in a world that oppresses disabled people is also a form of resistance. But sometimes we’re both surprised by what we’re capable of doing when we really have to – and with the right person by our side.”
Remco van Straten co-created Waen Sinne, an anthology which had a lasting impact on Dutch SFF publishing, and was a jury member for the Paul Harland Award, Holland’s leading contest for speculative fiction. “I spent a lot of my childhood and teens reading, and discovering Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories was a watershed moment. I have always wanted to emulate him, and indeed the title of this collection is a hat-tip to his collection, The Dark Man and Others.”

Further resources for The Red Man and Others
Goodreads
Amazon UK and Amazon US
Book trailer
Short story reading
And find Angeline and Remco on Twitter

Why Turnip Lanterns?
Hallowe’en is one of our favourite festivals, and from childhood both of us have been fascinated with ghosts, monsters and other scary and mysterious things. Over the last few years we’ve gone back to the age-old tradition of carving turnips instead of pumpkins. The turnip’s texture is irregular, with lumps and bumps that decide the features for the carved face. Unlike pumpkins, turnips grow underground and hint at things hidden and slowly emerging from the soil. They symbolise the much older, much more forbidding tradition of Hallowe’en.

Red Man Genesis

In our bookcase we’ve got a binder with notes I’ve made for stories, stretching back more than two decades. Every now and then I dig through them to see whether something is worth using. One note was for a class of warriors, called The Red Butchers. It goes:

These are giant, muscled men, who in a battle stand in the front lines for encouragement and inspiration for the soldiers. Compare them, if you will, with mascots. Only, they do fight along; they’ve had the sort of training of gladiators, and usually live segregated, but luxuriously. Spartans. Maybe they are under influence from drugs, so that they are in a state of battle frenzy.

Their appearance is remarkable, aside from their size, for which they are selected/bred, by the Tribal tattoos covering their whole bodies. These, mainly red, tattoos serve as recognition marks (living flag) but also to frighten the enemy. They also serve to hide scars and sustained wounds. Feared warriors, used in moderation, for a maximum effect. Compare with the way the Celts presented themselves in the wars against the Romans.

This is pretty much how we find The Red Man in the titular story from The Red Man and Others. However, in that story we wanted to subvert the trope of “big guy, fighting” by exploring what happens when a warrior like this is taken out of action.

The typed note says (For Christallum). Christallum was a shared universe project I was asked to contribute artwork for. When I received their 15-page (!) contract, however, I had questions. I raised an eyebrow on reading that commissioned art would only benefit from profit-share after it was published. The other eyebrow disappeared underneath my hairline with the clause that as long as Christallum held any artwork, I would share the financial risk of the project. This to me meant that Christallum could take a piece of art I’d produce, put it in the drawer to never publish (and never paid), and meanwhile send any creditors my way in case of losses. As a friend working for a major Dutch publisher advised me: “Don’t go to sea with these pirates!” So, I didn’t, and the note remained in my own file until Angeline and I wrote The Red Man.

This is the very first sketch of Kaila, which this week I found again, used as a bookmark in my copy of Robert E. Howard’s King Kull stories. We’d been talking about the “Badass and Child” trope (usually big guy, young girl), which we’d already subverted in The Red Man. Examples of the trope are Wolverine + Kitty Pride, or Jubilee, or his daughter X-23; The Professional, The Terminator, Sin City’s Marv and Nancy, GoT‘s Sandor and Arya. This first sketch has Kaila as a dwarf, “30ish”, with “guy 13, 14ish” barely sketched in. The notes to the side place it around the time we were first drafting The Red Man, some five years back. It looks like I was also wanting to see the Clark Gable vehicle Mogambo.

Kaila changed quite a bit during the drafting of the first Kaila and Sebastien story. We made her a little bit younger, and we decided not to make her of the dwarf race, but just very short. We’d been struggling to visualise her, until I got a new colleague at work, from the Middle East. She talked me into dressing up as Gandalf, while she went as Frodo, and her husband as Legolas. Kaila typically doesn’t fight with the double-bladed axe, though one will pop up in the novella we’re drafting right now. It’s a call-back to the King Kull story I must’ve been reading at the time, By This Axe I Rule, one of the stories that’s found permanent resonance with me, ever since I read it first in my early twenties.

(RvS)

Goals, Wishes and Dreams

Author Lee Brontide created this great meme for Twitter, which lets you talk about your main character’s goals, wishes and dreams, and we decided to make it the basis for a blog post. We’re answering here mainly for Ymke, one of the protagonists of the stories in The Red Man and Others, but also for the stories’ other heroes, Kaila and Sebastien, as the mood strikes us.

1. Do they like to have clear goals and plans? Ymke spent her early life just surviving and going with the flow, but since her experience with Alsigt, the Red Man, crystallised her need to escape, she’s always had some quiet personal goal in mind. She’s always learning something new, often illicitly.

2. Do they wish on stars? Ymke wishes on stars when she thinks Kaila’s not looking. Kaila pretends not to have noticed. Sebastien has a hidden sentimental streak, so we actually wouldn’t rule it out.

3. Any hidden talents? Forgery is the very definition of a hidden talent!

4. Their idea of having “made it”: For Ymke, it’s independence. She knows the world can be a cruel place for disabled people, that sometimes your nearest neighbours are also your biggest threat, and that there will be times when her body lets her down. She’s had to make peace with that, and part of how she’s done that is to find ways to earn her keep. Having grown up feeling tethered to a father who was living in exile and in fear, she wants to go places and be with people out of choice rather than because she has no other option economically. Our ambition for Ymke has always been for her life, even in an analogue of medieval Europe, to reflect the conflicts and ambitions and need for justice of real disabled people in the 21st century.

5. Do they believe in destiny? If you’d ask her, Ymke would hesitate. On one hand, she feels strongly that we make our own luck. On the other, some events and circumstances in life seem to have a very strong gravitational pull. The writer in her respects their symmetry. Was the Red Man meant to end up on her farm? Was he meant to leave again? What would their lives have been otherwise? Ymke tries to make her own luck, and Kaila and Sebastien definitely do, but all three of them also get swept up in the whims of destiny. To borrow a phrase (with thanks to Bernard Cornwell), Wyrd bið ful āræd – Fate is inexorable.

6. Are they sentimental? As above, Sebastien is surprisingly so. There is much about his early life that you don’t know yet (some of it we don’t even know yet!), but through all the turmoil, he has kept with him a small artefact of his childhood. There is also in Sebastien an urge to rescue people. Ymke would deny that she is sentimental or nostalgic. She still has her mother’s book, though, and sometimes she looks through it and remembers teaching Alsigt to read; remembers her father teaching her to read years earlier. Life on the road has made her travel light and focus on what’s next, but for all the places she’s lived in, and as suddenly as she’s sometimes had to leave them, she remembers the people of those places, and some of them she thinks on fondly, and wonders about, years later. And speaking of books: in many ways Kaila is a closed book. There’s much that she’d like to forget, and some things she’ll only tell late at night, when she’s had a few cups of wine.

7. Are they ambitious? Yes, sometimes fiercely and not necessarily always wisely, and we’re really looking forward to being able to share with you a story about that. Sebastien absolutely is ambitious. He wants the best that life has to offer, and he’ll get it. Will it be straightforward? Of course not. It’s Sebastien! We didn’t realise what we were doing, but in writing Ymke this year for one particular Red Man sequel, we accidentally caught ambition ourselves: it turned from a short story into a novella. Then another draft we’re working on did exactly the same, inching towards the 40K mark now. Oops.

8. Are they gracious winners? We wish we could tell you why that’s funny, with regard to one of our characters in particular, in one of the novellas we’re working on. We will say that Ymke is capable of being gracious and conciliatory in both victory and defeat. Sometimes, victory and defeat are two sides of the same coin, though.

9. Do they regret much? Ymke regrets blood spilled on her behalf, even though it’s the reason she’s alive. She regrets that it took the events in The Red Man for her to get out of the rut that was her life. She doesn’t regret the business with Father Folkhert, as dangerous as it got in the end. She meant well. She always means well. It’s just that things have a way of getting out of hand. Especially with Kaila and Sebastien around.

10. Do they keep their dreams secret? For a long time, Ymke was not accustomed to letting herself dream, and when she began to, her father was quick to clip her wings. So, she’s learned to nurture dreams quietly. And some dreams require a little skullduggery to make them happen, of course…

11. Are they prone to envy? Yes. This came as a surprise to Ymke. Living largely apart from others until her mid-teens means she didn’t realise just how much she had been missing out on, until she’d been out in the world a while. Sometimes it takes seeing other people – who are leading more ordinary lives – progress through life stages that were very different for you to fully realise what your life might have been. Encountering the sheltered city sons and daughters of her friends in middle age was strangely bitter for Ymke.

12. What skill are they most proud of? For Ymke, it’s cultivating people, in more than one sense of the word. She’s good at encouraging people and bringing out their potential. She’s also adept at making herself part of a place, so that she is valued and receives support that doesn’t feel like charity; like many disabled people, Ymke has a complicated relationship with that. And, when she has to, she can lie convincingly. These are achievements not taken for granted by someone who came from such an isolated upbringing.

13. What milestones do they care about? The irreversible ones, like “I can’t make it up these stairs any more,” which will inevitably come. When something changes in her body, Ymke waits it out through four seasons, in the hope that it is temporary and contextual. If it proves permanent, her way of life has to change – maybe a little, maybe a lot. Progressive disability is fun that way.

14. Do they procrastinate? No. There’s no procrastinating on a farm. The animals need fed and the seasons move on, so things need doing. This is how Ymke was brought up, and this is what she’s carried with her.

15. Are they good under pressure? All three of them are. They’ve had to be.

16. Do they daydream? Ymke certainly does. She certainly did on the farm, and she still did when the places she visited and the people she met far surpassed those of her imagination.

17. Do they believe in signs or omens? Ymke’s rational adult side is rather at war with the fearful, superstitious side that was cultivated in her childhood. She’ll very quietly feel a certain way about things that have enough symbolic weight. Sebastien, though he’s wise to the tricks of cold reading and the stacked deck of cards, also has seen enough to keep some room for the “What if?…”

18. Do other people believe in them? They believe in each other, though that is sometimes very considerably tested. In The Return of the Uncomplaining Child a great many people believe in Sebastien, and they worked very hard at that. None believe as much as Father Folkhert did: more than they could have hoped.

19. Would they rather be over- or underestimated? It changes. When our trio are up to chicanery, it serves them to be underestimated. Ymke chafed against her father’s underestimation of her in her early life, yet like many women, there have been times when her survival has depended on people underestimating her. She’s learned to leverage that. In the story we’re working on now she feels extremely frustrated and overlooked, though, and she’s coping with it in an unusual way.

20. How do they celebrate their successes? Depends on the nature of the success. Sometimes a quiet night together in front of a good fire is enough. Sometimes it requires a substantial quantity of drink. If they’ve made themselves rich, however temporarily, they’ll share some of it with someone who needs it more.

21. Are they good at accepting help? Sebastien does, though he may be less happy with the assumption of a debt owed. Ymke, only when she can convince herself she’s giving out at least twice as much support as she’s taking. Kaila may accept, but not ask for help.

22. How do they cope with failure? Ruthless self examination, in Ymke’s case; rants to well-chosen confidantes. And ultimately, by finding something to fix, which may take many forms. Sebastien brushes himself off, and turns the page. Kaila will be sore until she feels she’s restored the balance. This is not always the sensible course.

23. Smallest thing they’re proud of: For Ymke, it’s her stitching. For Sebastien it’s his moral compass. Kaila’s got this tattoo, you see…

24. Do they do New Year’s resolutions? Yes, very much so, in Ymke’s case. Sebastien will have many, Kaila none. At least none she’ll share with others.

25. Do they keep them? Ymke usually does.. She’s determined that way, and she sets realistic goals. Sebastien’s resolutions are broken as easy as hastily made promises. Kaila’s resolutions are not made at the start of a year, and may not be resolved within the year.

If you enjoyed this look into the minds and lives of Ymke, Kaila and Sebastien, we’d like – nay, we implore – you to seek out the collection The Red Man and Others on Amazon UK or US. We’ll meanwhile work on their further adventures!

World Building

A confession: we’re not much into world building in what, in our own shorthand, we call our Wheelworld stories, the stories around the sell-sword Kaila, scribe Ymke and teenage rogue Sebastien.

From a thread on Twitter about King Arthur, which is worth reading: ...the popularity of arthur stories is largely a manufacture of british protestants to invent a pre-catholic, post-roman, christian romantic past that could be deployed in the service of social conservatism as articulated through storytelling, architecture, and interior design.

We find this thought very freeing as authors who have lost too much time to find out “which foods are old world and which new world produce” and are reluctant to make their late medieval-ish fantasy conform precisely to the limits of what tech existed in what analog country in our world. It’s detail-focused, rather than processing from generalities upward. It’s never been our ambition for Wheelworld (the clue is in the fact we’ve begun ironically referring to it like that) to be one of those ultra-precise fantasy worlds where we know every linguistic, historical, topographical, flora/fauna detail.

One of the maps of Ricardo Pinto’s Three Lands, from Stone Dance of the Chameleon

We love created worlds like that. There’s an incredible complexity and subtlety that becomes possible when you truly know every inch of your fantasy world. Our friend Ricardo Pinto, with his Stone Dance of the Chameleon series, surpasses Tolkien in the depth and originality of his conlangs, genealogies and history. His website offers a taste of the background material he created for his magnum opus (and we really recommend the revised, seven-part edition). Our imagination however works the other way round, and we lean into that: broadly, we look at what the story needs, and make the world to fit those needs.

In this approach, we follow in the footsteps of Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan, whose Hyborian world is overlaid on the map of Europe as we know it, and whose place and personal names purposely echo cultures we know. His Aquilonian kingdom reminds us of the medieval French Aquitaine; when he mentions the people of Shem, we know roughly where they come from. It’s a shorthand for him, using the general knowledge of the readers, so that he can get on with the story he wants to tell. Likewise, for The Red Man we’ve used a version of the northern Netherlands, Road to Starohrad is set in Prague (sort of) and for The Return of the Uncomplaining Child we looked (literally) at Fritz Lang’s Nibelungen. We allow our readers’ associations to construct our world in their minds.

Map of the Hyborian Age by Robert E Howard

If we had made a map of Wheelworld, it would be a bit like that of Europe, though stretched out in certain parts, shrunk to insignificance in others. Our “northern Netherlands” definitely seem to be larger. Our approach has been to unfurl the world under our characters’ feet as we’ve needed new parts of it. None of them had the kind of education, or the kind of things expected of them in life, to give them a king’s or a scholar’s understanding of their world. So that world has… unrendered bits. Their world is like a medieval map, with vague “somewhere over there”s and “here be monsters”.

And things work a bit differently in that world generally. How different depends on what we’d like to do, or sometimes where our trio leads us. We haven’t talked about this before because it always seems like such a cop-out when meticulous world-building is a thing many people adore in fantasy.

Detail of the Hereford Mappa Mundi

Our curiosity lies more in the daily human relations of the world than its full historical record. Oh, bits of its history have emerged and continue to emerge. It’s getting more solid, and parts of it will get very solid as we take you through the rest of our heroes’ adventures. But its life and vigour rely on there being hinterlands; unmapped, unregarded bits. And one theme that keeps coming up is the precarity of civilisation: not even the lofty bits, but the everyday standards, like not murdering your neighbour. In that sense too it’s Howardian.

Granted, at least he did have a map!

Why not give The Red Man and Others as a gift?

Giving our ebook, The Red Man and Others, as a gift to someone (or yourself) means…
– You can do it from the comfort of your home
– So it’s entirely Covid-19 proof!
– Low carbon footprint
– three cracking good Fantasy stories with two bold heroines and one scamp
And:
Get a certificate to share, with a bonus short story to go with the book!

First, make sure that our book is what you’re looking for. These Goodreads reviews should make it easy for you. All good? Great, let’s proceed!

How it works:
1. Go to the page for our ebook on Amazon US or Amazon UK
2. On the product detail page, click the ‘Buy for others’ button.
3. Enter the email address of your gift recipient. Tip: If you don’t know their email address, select ‘Email the gift to me’, and it will be sent to your own email address.
4. Enter a delivery date and an optional gift message.
5. Click ‘Place your order’ to finish your gift purchase using Amazon’s 1-Click payment method.
6. Download our certificate here on Google Drive.
7. Print the certificate out if you want something physical to give, or email it to your gift recipient.

We hope you and your giftee enjoy The Red Man and Others!

And The Winner is…

At the start of October we set up the challenge: get your review of The Red Man and Others up on Goodreads and/or Amazon, and you’ll make a chance of winning an original piece of art with either Kaila or Kaila and Ymke!

We’re a day late (blame turnip carving fatigue. The struggle is real!) but all names went in the the hat, and…

Congratulations, Adam! Let us know which piece you want, and we’ll make sure it is delivered to your home!

Adam’s review: Incredibly Enjoyable

I must admit I’m not a literary critic by any means. I must further admit that I bought this book without knowing much about it, having quite literally judged it by its great cover art!

So when I read the first few pages I felt a bit of apprehension when it became clear I was reading fantasy. It’s not a genre I read a lot of or have had great experiences with, but this book certainly changed that streak.

These are three interconnected stories, and if you’re looking for fantasy, action, love, loss, humor, or even studies of the extremes in religion, you’ll find something to enjoy in these stories.

The Red Man was my personal favorite. The authors did such an excellent job painting the picture of bleakness and sadness of the characters and the lands in which they live, you’ll find it impossible not to be moved by the story and the plight of any of the characters.

But really, all three stories were highly enjoyable and you’ll certainly find something you’ll like here. (and be sure to stick around for the fascinating extras disc!).

A great effort by these authors-I can’t wait for more from them!

Kismet

Fiyah Magazine posted a challenge on Twitter: “Your protagonist lifts the chin of the character they just realized they’ll end the whole world for. What song sets the mood?” We’d been thinking what Kaila’s song for Ymke would be, then found it listening to Jocelyn Pook’s 2001 album Untold Things.

I looked up the name of the track; Upon This Rock. “Well, that makes sense. That’d be the Otasfaust, that giant rock on which the city of Otasring perches.” It’s where Kaila and Ymke first meet, in the story The Return of the Uncomplaining Child, in The Red Man and Others. They’re both strangers there. Ymke is the scribe who comes from the wet north, and Kaila earns a living with her sword. She’s from further away; transposed to our own world it’d be somewhere in the Middle East.

The fictional world of our Sword & Sorcery stories is freely based on our own earth, which allows us to take shortcuts in our worldbuilding, much like Robert E Howard did in his Conan stories: he’d use existing geography and history as a template, so he didn’t have to spend too much time setting the scene, and could get on with the story. We figure that Kaila would’ve come from something like the Assyrian empire, and roughly the area between the Mediterranean, Black and Caspian Sea, and the Persian Gulf.

Kaila is fiery and physical, brave and -at times- brutal. Like so many immigrants and refugees, she’s left behind her previous existence, and has to fight hard to become who she is destined to be. Currently I’m writing about the journey she took in her teens through the mountain range that separated her old life from her new one, and which eventually brough her to the Otasfaust, upon this rock, and to Ymke. And when Kaila lifts the chin of Ymke, realising she’ll end the world for her, I have no doubt the music she hears is the music from her childhood.

Upon This Rock is a fusion of Jocelyn Pook’s string instruments with the Eastern kanoun and Persian lyrics. First we hear Bahram Sadeghian’s Avaz-e Nahoft, as sampled from his 1995 album Dastgah Nava. Then Parvin Cox sings, and her lyrics are from the 10th century Persian Sufi and poet Abu Saeed Abu al-Khair:
ای شاه، درویشت منم، درویش دل ریشت منم
بیگانه  و  خویشت  منم،  دارم  هوای عاشقی

Loosely translated:
“Oh King, I am your dervish, your fragile Dervish
I am both a stranger and I am myself. I am in love.”

Without calling Ymke her King, Kaila could well have whispered the rest of these words, deep in the night. It’d be quite a confession for her, and opening a door that could not be closed again.

Kismet.

(RvS)

Rueful Yet Hopeful

The Appendix N Book Club podcast has quickly become one of our go-to podcasts: the hosts and their guests discuss the Fantasy books that inspired the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game with affection but also a modern sensibility! Ngo Vinh-Hoi, the podcast’s co-host, wrote a really nice review of our story collection:

I recently read the fantasy short story collection The Red Man and Others as a palate cleanser from a longer SF&F reading project and I’m very glad that I took the time to do so!

The setting echoes early modern Northern Europe, a world coming unmoored in socio-religious upheaval and simmering violence but thus rife with opportunities for adventure. Our protagonists Kaila, Ymke, and Sebastien are the overlooked and never-weres, struggling to get by and stay true to themselves through cleverness, skill at arms, and not a little luck. Issues of queerness, coping with disability, and found family arise organically within the stories, signalling not a deconstruction of sword & sorcery, but a broader inclusivity.

Overall this collection reads a bit like Robert E. Howard’s gritty historical adventures with a dash of Fritz Leiber’s insouciant humor, filtered through Adams’ and van Straten’s own rueful yet hopeful sensibility. The absence of overt magic might technically disqualify these stories as sword & sorcery, but the themes of anti-authoritarianism and survival in an indifferent world make these tales at least S&S adjacent. We’ll just have to wait for more tales of Kaila, Ymke, and Sebastien to be sure:-)

As a bonus, co-author Remco van Straten provides some lovely pen & ink story heading illustrations (more please!) and there are two “Extras disc” essays where the authors outline their influences and writing process.

I’d definitely recommend the The Red Man and Others to fans of sword & sorcery who have worked their way through the classics and are ready for stories that honor the past yet look to the future.

Ngo Vinh-Hoi, co-host of the Appendix N Book Club podcast

When writing anything that hints at social commentary, or drives a point home with a sledgehammer, there is a constant tension between our best and worst instincts about what the world is, about what people are. The compromise we arrive at is perfectly stated in this review: “rueful, yet hopeful.” Amongst other things, the stories in The Red Man and Others are about wiggle room: the possibility, if not the inevitability, of change. In future stories you’ll see that the events of Otasring have changed our trio of “never-weres”. Whether it’s for better or for worse – well, it’s complicated.

You can find The Red Man and Others on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com. If you like it as much too, we would love to hear from you: positive reviews and ratings on Goodreads and Amazon are like gold nuggets for indie writers!

Flashing Swords 6: A Deeper Cut

The past couple of days have seen controversy over Flashing Swords! #6, the revival of Lin Carter’s Sword and Sorcery anthology series by his literary executor, Robert M. Price. When pop culture site Bleeding Cool revealed that Price’s foreword was a screed excoriating feminists and trans people, slipping in a racist dogwhistle while he was at it, authors lined up to withdraw their work. In a statement regarding the decision to withdraw his story “Godkiller” from the collection, Cliff Biggers summed up his views:

This introduction does not reflect my beliefs, my feelings, or my philosophy of tolerance, understanding, and acceptance. I still believe that sword and sorcery is a fine genre that has room for people of all races, genders, lifestyles, and beliefs, as it has from the early days when women like C.L. Moore and Margaret Brundage played a vital role in developing and popularizing the genre.”

Margaret Brundage’s cover illustration for Weird Tales, September 1934

Frank Schildiner, Paul MacNamee and Charles R. Rutledge likewise withdrew their work, making it clear that they had been unaware of the political context in which it would be published, with MacNamee stating that, “A request to remove the introduction [had been] refused.”

In light of all this, it’s interesting to revisit Lin Carter’s foreword to Flashing Swords! #1, which – as the title’s original exclamation mark implies – is exuberant, enthused and most of all, dedicated to the idea of a genre as a community. Carter tells of the formation of SAGA, the Swordsmen and Sorcerers’ Guide of America, Limited, which would give birth to the first anthology: “Think of it: an author’s guild with no crusades, blacklists, burning causes, or prestigious annual awards! A far-flung legion of kindred craftsmen, with no fees, dues, tithes, or weregilds”

The tone evokes the fellowship you find at conventions when everything’s going right; in short, when you find your people. It couldn’t be further from Price’s attitude.

Lin Carter (1930-1988) at Iguanacon, the 1978 Worldcon

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m grateful to be part of a community where authors step up and defend what’s right, even when it means the loss of an outlet for their work. But they shouldn’t had to. They should never have been put in the position of finding their work in a collection whose foreword seeks to exclude so many of their colleagues and readers, because in 2020 we should be well beyond prejudice and gatekeeping. Of course, we’re not. And contrary to popular belief, the problem is not confined to the actions of some old guard, jealous that they’re no longer the vital centre of things.

As I write this, social media is awash with discussion of the Hugo Awards, where it seems that inclusion has been an afterthought instead of the foundation it should be. Instead, what was centred was nostalgia for a mythical time when men were men and writers were whiter. Campbell and Lovecraft came up. But diversity in Sword and Sorcery, as in SFF in general, is not a new thing, regardless of whose names have been most prominent in the past. Women have always been here. And indeed, Margaret Brundage and C.L. Moore are as much at the foundations of the genre as Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. And to use a Sword and Sorcery anthology to add to the extensive media pilloring of trans people is not only cruel, it is absurd when our imaginations live in the worlds that Jeffrey Catherine Jones painted.

Jeffrey Catherine Jones’ 1975 cover for “The Sowers of the Thunder”

When they reviewed The Red Man and Others, the Rogues in the House podcast dubbed our stories New Wave Sword and Sorcery, and Remco and I found that hugely encouraging. But the representation of lesbian, bi and disabled women in the world of Ymke and Kaila isn’t revolutionary, as these themes have been with us in fantastic fiction from the ’70s. And while we aim to be inclusive in our stories, it’s not a box to tick to score woke points: we wrote along the demographics of our own social world, and these are our friends and our colleagues we represent, and also ourselves.

At the same time we’re limited, as people often are at our age, by nostalgia. We know we’re not the crest of the genre wave, and that somewhere, some twenty-year-old is writing stories that will wash Sword and Sorcery up on a new and exciting shore. That should fill us all with anticipation, not defensiveness.

Even when we use our stories to subvert conventions, literary or societal, we still find ourselves reacting against tropes that aren’t confined to the past. Kaila follows a trail blazed by Dark Agnes and Jirel of Joiry, but still she encounter people (including her future girlfriend) who are surprised to meet a short, female swordmaster. And maybe that’s because progress, social or literary, has not been linear. If we’re a New Wave, it’s one that echoes that of the 60s and 70s, when Michael Moorcock and Tanith Lee, whose works still influence us, transformed Fantasy. Successive waves never entirely wash away what came before, and that includes the bad as well as the good.

Catherine L Moore’s Jirel of Joiry in “Hellsgarde” (1939)

It would be easy, and tempting, to lay the blame for the Flashing Swords #6 controversy entirely at Price’s door. Discussion among fans and pros on social media yesterday made clear that his remarks don’t represent where Sword and Sorcery is going, or at least not the part of it that has a future. We could bury the whole thing as yet another case of King Canute railing hopelessly at the incoming egalitarian tide. However, as I said earlier, such ugliness is not unknown to us, and such rants are written with the assumption of receptive readers. Publisher Bob McClain of Pulp Hero Press delisted the collection and released a rather odd, limp statement:

When Bob Price sent me the manuscript, I assumed that he had shared his introduction with the authors, given the controversial content. I don’t agree with much of anything in that introduction, but I also don’t like to censor other viewpoints – so, on the assumption that all the authors were on board, I published the book. The problem, of course, is that the authors didn’t know what Bob had written in the introduction. Surprise! And of course they don’t want to be seen as implicitly accepting or endorsing Bob’s opinions by having their work appear in his book.”

McClain behaves as if he were a shocked bystander at a road accident, when in fact he had chosen to publish the foreword in the first place, and it’s interesting that he evades the implications of his own complicity: by publishing Price’s words, he apparently was satisfied to be seen as accepting or endorsing those words. Had that foreword not become common knowledge pre-publication, we must assume he would have gone ahead and published it, adding to the hostility experiences by women and minorities while standing on his principles.

As a woman working in the genre, I’m grateful for the solidarity of authors who said in no uncertain terms that Sword and Sorcery is for everyone, and I equally understand perspective of those who just want to tell stories, and had not expected or wanted those stories to be plunged into a political context of any kind. It is telling though that three major S&S-themed podcasts, The Cromcast, Rogues in the House and Appendix N Book Club, have a great love for the genre and its old staples, but are also progressive and richly analytical of the genre’s shortcomings.

This genre went through a major schism not so many years ago. People made statements, chose sides, left discussion groups, and in some cases ended friendships. You’ll get no finger-wagging about echo chambers from me; I support people’s right to avoid people and places where they are made to feel unwelcome in the world of escapist fantasy. The real world being what it is, many of us have had an awful lot to escape. Speaking personally, having spent most of my life fighting a disease that’s proved impervious to both blades and magic, I’m in Sword and Sorcery for enemies I can run through with a sword, for courage and wit to save the day, and for bands of allies of all kinds who make it worth splitting up the rewards.

(ABA)