Saturday, November 26, 2022

2022 Holiday Card

Happy Holidays 2022!

Heidi resurrected the Holiday Card tradition last year with her deer illustration. This year she comes through again. This one evolved from inspirations for making a linoleum print.  She uses Procreate on an iPad.  Watch the "Making of" this card in a 30-second timelapse video:

Watch Heidi illustrate at warp speed!



Connor is starting to co-op for his Environmental Engineering degree at the University of Cincinnati (he'll be working with the Army Corp. of Engineers in Louisville, KY after the holidays). This past Fall, Erin landed a role at Procter & Gamble in Mason, OH, where she's applying her user-experience/media-communications background toward making Power BI dashboards; turns out, some of her managers and coworkers have been receiving versions of our Holiday Cards since ~1999, and some have the "goofy" family pictures I included (sorry, Erin). So... lesson learned. No family pictures this year. :)

Wishing everyone a peaceful 2023!

Check out the last 20+ cards here on our other website.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Barczak 2022 - Mystics in Norman

Fellow Perseid Press author Tom Barczak and I built a relationship in 2014 when I interviewed him about his Evarun series. Since, we've shared a table of contents in several anthologies, most recently Mystics in Hell.

Every November I visit Norman for the Institute of Applied Surfactant Research consortium annual meeting and seek out Tom before the meeting starts; I have a blogger tag/label dedicated to our visits. 

We share a common muse to create Dark Fantasy experiences via mixed media (art, prose). I purchased one of his sketches on a prior visit. This round, he graced with an orc drawn with conté sticks.  Thanks Tom for the friendship, discussion, and the art!

 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Tameshigiri - Mat Cutting 2022

 Tameshigiri 2022

During Covid, we spent time practicing weapons (i.e., jo and bokken) and also some Iaido. 
Finally, we rolled some tameshigiri mats and practiced some cutting.


Join us in West Chester, OH.

ohioaikido.com


Saturday, October 22, 2022

Day of Might 2022, Oct 23rd 2022


Let us prepare for the Day of Might celebrations!


Callouts in this snippet extend to:
  • Steve Babb
  • New Edge Sword And Sorcery, Oliver Brackenbury
  • James Enge
  • Rogues in the House Podcast, Matt John
  • Whetstone: Amateur Magazine of Pulp Sword and Sorcery, Jason Ray Carney
  • DMR Books,
  • Douglas Draa & Weirdbook
  • and more...

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Two Liars from Hell in Chicago


A work trip brought me to Chicago, and I managed to meet up with Joe Bonadonna for a few hours.  In 2021, I visited the same restaurant in lieu of that yr's canceled GenCon Writer's Symposium. Had hopes of tracking down David C. Smith again, and perhaps John O'Neill, but fate would not have it. Turns out Greg Mele is nearby too. Next time, I'll have to track them all down!

Of course, Joe is hoot. He and I have been collaborating with our Heroes In Hell stories, ensuring themes and characters are shared. Enjoy satire and horror?  Check out Liars in Hell!  

I recently interviewed Joe for my Beauty in Weird fiction series on Black Gate.  He really does make dark-fantasy fun. 
Cheers!








 

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Madness Reborn! Deep Madness expands, but the KS closes Oct 25th

Diemension Games has their 3rd (and expected last) reprint of their hit cooperative-horror tabletop game. The Kickstarter is live now and lasts until Oct25th!  

In short, the original game emerged in 2016 and its success spawned lots of extra Epic Monsters to defeat, but there was so much content being generated, many of these bonus "Epic Monsters" did not receive dedicated scenarios (of course, they could be played/inserted into any other scenario, but most every scenario was designed with different Epic Monsters as the default enemy).

My involvement (corruption?) began with creating a tour guide that identified the chronology of the scenarios and the epic monsters associated with them. Check it out (also listed in Board Game Geek):
Meanwhile, uber-fan Phil Blake and his game-addicted friends (Sam Parsons, Fabio Faletti, and Oscar Bok) created playable scenarios with art provided by Diemension Games. This resulted in Exalted Blasphemies, a fan-made expansion
For this I contrived two flavor-text stories for the (a) Omega Ravenous - Epic Monster and (b) Dimension Rift Epic Monster.

In Madness Reborn, this fan-made expansion was made real canon! It is being offered by Diemension Games with giant >100mm sized new sculpts of the Epic Monsters!

So, I repeat, check it out: Deep Madness: Madness Reborn and Reprint


BTW, I've been getting to know Byron Leavitt well over the years. I reviewed his Deep Madness Shattered Seas Book for Black Gate Magazine and also interviewed him there.  Recently, I hosted him on two author panels at the 2022 GenCon Writer's Symposium:













Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Servants of War by Correia and Diamond - Review by SE

Review originally posted on Black Gate:

NEW TREASURES: SERVANTS OF WAR BY LARRY CORREIA AND STEVE DIAMOND

Servants of War by Larry Correia and Steve Diamond (Baen Books, 2022. 424pages).

 Cover art by Alan Pollack




Veteran fantasy readers may yawn if they hear about an epic fantasy about a farm boy in a remote village rising to power, and the first few pages of Servants of War dangles that trope before readers. And then horror rushes in like a tidal wave, and before Chapter 1 can end, the worn trope is burning with hellfire billowing alchemical smoke, a Grimdark spirit rises out of the book to slap the reader in the face, crank the head back, and pour gasoline-action down a thirsty throat.

Welcome to Servants of War.


The combination of military-fantasy veteran Larry Correria with horror-guru Steve Diamond promises “military fantasy with horror” and you’ll get trenches full of that. Baen released this masterpiece that opens The Age of Ravens series in hardcover and audiobook in March 2022; the paperback is due February 2023. Without spoiling, this post covers a summary, excerpts, and a small hint as to the forthcoming sequel.

OFFICIAL SUMMARY:

NEW MILITARY FANTASY FROM THE CREATOR OF MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL LARRY CORREIA AND MASTER OF HORROR STEVE DIAMOND

The war between Almacia and the Empire of Kolakolvia is in its hundredth year. Casualties grow on both sides as the conflict leaves no corner of the world untouched.

Illarion Glaskov’s quiet life on the fringes of the empire is thrown into chaos when an impossible tragedy strikes his village. When he is conscripted into the Tsarist military, he is sent to serve in The Wall — an elite regiment that pilots suits of armor made from the husks of dead golems.
But the great war is not the only — or even the worst — danger facing Illarion, as he is caught in a millennia-old conflict between two goddesses. He must survive the ravages of trench warfare, horrific monsters from another world, and the treacherous internal politics of the country he serves.


MILIEU & STYLE

The setting resembles an alternative earth on the Eurasia continent. A never-ending war continues between the Almacian state (West) and the Kolakolvia (East); cities and named battle zones resonate with pseudo-Eastern European flare: Rolmani, Praja, Transellia. Both sides disrespect (or forsake) the old ways and religions which are explicitly and overtly present, albeit repressed. Golems, ghouls, and blood storms haunt both armies. The clearest sacrilege is the repurposing of golem bodies to make Objects, the name for the mechanized war-suits Kolakolvia employs (how else can one defile another species than to tap its magical potential while playing in their corpses?). In short, there are three conflicting entities: the East, the West, and the Others. Each is manipulated by a Sister goddess. The variety of conflicts keeps this interesting, expect: human vs human; state vs state; human vs. state; and heroes vs supernatural.

If a dystopian, war-ravaged alternative earth feels too familiar, don’t worry. You’ll be salivating for a trip to an even darker realm, and you’ll get that too. That jolt reminded me of the beauty of the Silent Hill games in which players experience a terrifying ghost-town for a while until an air siren blares, paint peels off walls, Hell arrives, and players yearn to find a way back to the relative safety of the ghost-town.

Stylistically, this felt like a mashup of Warhammer’s gritty sci-fi battles, with Silent Hill’s weird world-building and exploration-of-Hells, with the demon-confronting Solomon Kane leading the sorties. Somehow the warfare was never portrayed as a giant chess board; instead, the combat was intimate, frontline adventure. Localized views of battle felt like episodes of Sword & Sorcery focused on the hero(ine). I kept thinking, this is what I’d expect if Mary Shelly teamed up with Robert E. Howard to rewrite Frankenstein for BattleTech fans.

WHO ARE THE SERVANTS OF WAR?

One didn’t think about war and politics when you had a mill to run, cows to tend, and crops to plant. The greatest question in Ilyushka every year had been how deep would the ground freeze? – Illarion character’s thoughts

Humans are just the puppets of the Three Sisters, but they comprise the titular servants of war. You’ll be rooting for them in a heartbeat. There are many characters, but the primary ones are below. Their paths intertwine, of course, as some become comrades and others enemies.

• Illarion Glazkov – a farm boy who evolves into an awesome soldier; he’s trailed by ravens as he seeks atonement
• Scout Specialist Natalya Baston (once in the 17th Sniper Division) – she’s an outstanding rogue motivated to free her family
• Arnost Chankov – a ghoul-tattooed, low-ranking officer over Illarion
• Oprichnik Kristoph Vals – Secret Service Agent under Chancellor and Tsar of Kolakolvia – no one can trust this guy, and all fear crossing him
• Amos Lowe – a mysterious prisoner seeking to remain anonymous and lost

EXCERPTS Reveal What to Expect

Mechanized Melee:
…More soldiers rushed out of the fog, swarming his legs. The hatch rattled as soldiers tried to pry it open. If they got that open he’d end up a red, oozing skeleton like the last pilot he’d seen.
Only Illarion’s Object did not react in the lumbering, clumsy fashion they’d come to expect. He brought the empty cannon barrel down on the head of one, crushing his skull and snapping his spine. Inside the coffin of rapidly dwindling air, Illarion twisted the controls. 12 spun and kicked. Frail bodies were crushed underfoot. Instinctively, he crouched as low as the braces around his legs allowed, then launched his body up. He’d never seen anyone jump in the suits before, and didn’t know if it was at all possible, be he had to try something.

12 was briefly airborne. The ground shook when he landed, and most of the soldiers were thrown free. He stomped down, popping skulls and driving bodies deep into the mud. A punch from his gun arm caved in a chest. A sweep of his halberd cut three bodies into six pieces. The last man hanging onto the latches was hurled free, but unfortunately for him, he left one of his gloves behind. He hit the ground, flesh already smoking, and quickly tried to bury his hand in the mud to save it. Illarion would’ve killed him, but that would’ve taken another second or two worth of air….


Horrors of War, Confronting Weird Creatures:
The doors were being torn to splinters. Kristoph watched, fascinated and appalled, as a monstrous head snapped through a window and bit off a trencher’s face off. A scorpion tail, but big around as his arm, zipped through a window lightning quick and stabbed another soldier in the chest. He fell near Kristoph’s feet. Kicking and twitching.

Kristoph looked up to see the monster trying to squeeze through the gap nearest him, despite two other soldiers spearing it with their bayonets. Somehow, its body was still slick and pale, as if the blood snow slid right off. Jaws snapped at him. Spittle hit him. Kristoph aimed his pistol and shot through the gap, and another immediately took its place.

As he looked down to reload, the man who had been stung was grasping at Kristoph’s boots. It was hard to understand him, with all the foam coming out of his mouth, but Kristoph suspected he was begging for a quick and merciful death. Anything to be spared the torture of this poison. It was so piteous that even Kristoph was tempted to aid him, but he might need the ammo, so he kicked the dying man’s hand away….


NEED MORE OF The Age of Ravens?


Noir Fatale, an anthology edited by Larry Correia and Kacey Ezell (Baen, 2019), has a prequel to Servants of War called “The Privileges of Violence” by Steve Diamond. It’s a grim homage to the Maltese Falcon featuring at least three of the same characters. Highly recommended.

Servants of War focused on the machinations of two of the three Sisters. Subsequent books promise to highlight the remaining goddess as all the servants of war resolve their tension with the Tsar of Kolakolvia and the Sisters. Book 2 in The Age of Ravens is forthcoming and has a tentative title of Instruments of Violence.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Skallagrim- In the Vales of Pagarna: Review by SE

Just reviewed on Black Gate: NEW TREASURES: SKALLAGRIM – IN THE VALES OF PAGARNA BY STEPHEN R. BABB (Sept 4, 2022)

Skallagrim – In the Vales of Pagarna (Hidden Crown Press, 373 pages; Kindle, Paperback, Hardcover, March 2022). Cover by Walking of Sky Tree

Experience Skallagrim – In the Vales of Pagarna by Stephen R. Babb in all its forms. This post covers everything to get you hooked, from a summary, review, excerpts, and links to the complementing albums from Glass Hammer. Reading Skallagrim feels like you are a witness to the live version of Frazetta’s “Against the Gods” painting! You actually witness a hero grab a sword from the sky.

The opening scene poses a set of mysteries as the titular protagonist is brutally attacked in the streets of Archon, the Dreaming City. He loses his memory during the struggle, by wounds or sorcery, so the hero and the reader want to know: Why Skallagrim in a melee? Who is he, really? Why does he feel protective over a maiden kidnapped during the conflict? Why are multiple sorcerers after him? Why the hell can he grab a sentient, screaming sword that materializes from a sudden storm?

The rest of the book unravels these questions, as Skallagrim races against time to save the mystery maiden. He’ll wrestle with eldritch, chthonic creatures, a herd of ghouls, a few necromancers, and an assassin. As Skallagrim unearths the weird history of Andorath’s Southern Region, we get to learn about it as he battles. The book stands alone, but did you know that Stephen R. Babb has been a progressive rocker and theatrical-album-leader for thirty years (more on Glass Hammer below!). Poems and lyrics infuse the prose. For the full effect, readers should listen to the complementary Skallagrim albums. These are not Audio Books. These are thematic rock sets chronicling Skallagrim’s heroic journey.  Embedded below are the opening songs to (1) and (2).  Listen to these!  Babb is creating a rich world here.

Want to learn more about the creation of Skallagrim’s world? Check out Oliver Brackenbury’s recent interview with the author on his podcast So I’m Writing a Novel Interview (Aug 22 2022). Babb reveals his influences, from Tolkien, Dunsany, and RE Howard, and discusses how music informs writing (and vice versa). Listening to this I learned that Skallagrim’s world actually catalyzed in Glass Hammer’s 2005 album The Inconsolable Secret (which has tracks called Lirazel, Mog Ruith!), which then inspired the epic poem Lay of Lirazel (2014). To know why those matter, you’ll have to read the book.

Skallagrim: In the Vales of Pagarna reads fast and blends the Sword & Sorcery style (action-heavy, focused on a lone hero) with an epic tale (novel form, save-the-world in addition to save-yourself motivations).  Plenty of call-outs and imagery evoke S&S influences, most obviously, a sorcerous city full of towers called the “Archon the Dreaming City” (that echoes Elric’s home of Melniboné) and the sentient “screaming” sword Terminus (that feels like a cousin of Stormbringer). In any event, Skallagrim is more of its own tale than it is a homage to its dark fantasy roots. Information flow is deceptively well placed; one of my favorite chapters was halfway through the novel because it revealed why Skallagrim’s nickname was Quickhands.

The cover blurb below is a splendid summary; below that are excerpts and embedded samples of the music.

Book Blurb

Skallagrim wakes in the middle of a fight for his life with only the vaguest idea of who he is. Facing an angry mob of murderous cutthroats, he watches helplessly while the love of his life is abducted before his eyes. Finally, with a crushing sense of despair, he realizes he’s going to die without even knowing her name.

But he doesn’t die.

To find the girl and take his revenge upon the fiend who took her, Skallagrim, wounded and exhausted, must endure a journey like no other. He’ll face madmen, ghouls, tentacled horrors, and witches, both foul and fair, as he races toward a final showdown that will have readers on the edge of their seats.

An awe-inspiring tale of adventure, triumph, and tragedy, set in a brutal, unforgiving wilderness and packed with heart-stopping action, Skallagrim – In The Vales Of Pagarna marks the first installment of an outstanding new series.

Illustrations from the CDs by Luke Eidenschink; Steve Babb snapshot from Youtube

Excerpts Reveal What to Expect

Weird settings

The forest was weirdly beautiful in a somber, funereal way, like a colossal mausoleum whose joyless vaults were supported by interwoven columns, their vast, mournful chambers hollowed out by the hands of giants. There was a certain thrill to walking in that place with its cool air and ancient trees whose limbs trailed moss like great sweeping beards of grey.

Bloody Action

…geysers of black water shot into the air from a hundred places at once. The plumes sparkled in the weird, flickering light, then seemed to cascade in slow motion in a myriad of diamond-like droplets. From the point at which each geyser had sprung, writhing tentacles sprouted—fiendish bouquets resembling Devil’s Fingers fungus… one such arm, slick and smelly with a coating of gleba, whipped the water directly in front of Skallagrim. He did not remember drawing Terminus, but the sentient sword was in his hand. He swept the blade low, severing the tentacle from the submerged, suberumpent egg from which it had burst. An immediate release or explosion of spores caught Skallagrim off guard, and he coughed painfully—his throat inflamed….

The Albums

#1 Skallagrim: Dreaming City album – opening titular track

#2  Skallagrim: Intro the Breach album (2020) : “He’s Got a Girl” and “Anthem to Andorath”

#3 Due out Oct 2023 (preorder now), Skallagrim: At the Gate (teaser trailer)



Glass Hammer

Glass Hammer is an American progressive rock band from Chattanooga, Tennessee, created and led by Steve Babb and Fred Schendel. Babb and Schendel, who founded the band in 1992, are the only constant members in the lineup, having surrounded themselves by various guest performers

  • Fred Schendel – keyboards, guitars, backing vocals (1992–present), lead vocals (1992-2004, 2015–present), drums (1992-2004)
  • Steve Babb – bass, keyboards, backing vocals (1992–present), lead vocals (1992-2004, 2016–present), percussion (1992-2004)
  • Aaron Raulston – drums (2013–present)
  • Hannah Pryor – lead vocals (2021–present)

Stephen R. Babb (a.k.a. Steve) Bio

First off, he prefers “Steve” to “Stephen.” Now that that’s out of the way…

He’s best known as the bassist and co-writer for the prog-rock group Glass Hammer. A professional musician for most of his life, he started at the age of twelve as a church pianist. Since then, he has traveled the US and a handful of other countries in various bands.

Glass Hammer, which he founded, has received critical acclaim for their twenty-one studio albums, headlined major festivals, and have become one of the most respected bands of the progressive rock genre.

In 1990, he had the good sense to marry the right girl, come home from the road, settle down and start a business. Since then, he has busied himself in the production of numerous albums for songwriters, the recording of audiobooks, and in the day-to-day tasks required to operate a recording studio while maintaining the persona of prog-rock star, prolific songwriter, and lyricist. This last bit, he enjoys to the fullest.

In 2005 he penned the epic poem, The Lay Of Lirazel, which was published in 2014. For that effort he was honored with The Imperishable Flame Award by The North East Tolkien Society.



  

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Joe Bonadonna - Interview by SE

 https://www.blackgate.com/2022/08/14/making-weird-fiction-fun-grilling-dorgo-the-dowser/

We have an ongoing series at Black Gate on the topic of “Beauty in Weird Fiction.” Usually we corner an author and query them about their muses and ways to make ‘repulsive’ things ‘attractive to readers.’ Previous subjects have included Darrell SchweitzerAnna Smith SparkCarol BergStephen LeighJason Ray Carney, and John C Hocking. (See the full list at the end of this post).

I’m excited to corner Joe Bonadonna this round. When his Dorgo character grilled/interviewed me in 2017, the questioning began with:

Who the Hell are You?

JB: Who in the Nine Circles of Hell do you think I am? Quasimodo? Doctor Frankenstein? You mean you don’t know who I am? Have you never heard of me? Why, I’m famous the world over! Joe Bonadonna, I am. (I could never settle on a pen name, so I stuck with the name I was given at birth.)

[Aside by SE: To clarify, he often writes about Quasimodo and Dr. Frankenstein for Janet E. Morris’s Heroes in Hell series (Perseid Press). Here’s Joe Bonadona’s official Bio.]

Joe Bonadonna is the author of the heroic fantasies Mad Shadows — Book One: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser (winner of the 2017 Golden Book Readers’ Choice Award for Fantasy); Mad Shadows — Book Two: The Order of the Serpent; the space opera Three Against The Stars and its sequel, the sword and planet space adventure, The MechMen of Canis-9; and the sword & sorcery pirate novel, Waters of Darkness, in collaboration with David C. Smith. With co-writer Erika M Szabo, he penned Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin (winner of the 2017 Golden Books Judge’s Choice Award for Children’s Fantasy), and its sequel, The Power of the Sapphire Wand. He also has stories appearing in: Azieran: Artifacts and Relics; Savage Realms Monthly (March 2022); Griots 2: Sisters of the SpearHeroika I: Dragon Eaters; Poets in Hell; Doctors in Hell; Pirates in Hell; Lovers in Hell; Mystics in Hell; and the forthcoming Liars in Hell; Sinbad: The New Voyages, Volume 4Unbreakable Ink; the shared-world anthology Sha’Daa: Toys, in collaboration with author Shebat Legion; and with David C. Smith for the shared-universe anthology, The Lost Empire of Sol.

In addition to his fiction, Joe has written numerous articles, book reviews and author interviews for us, Black Gate online magazine. Visit his Amazon Author’s page or his Facebook author’s page, called Bonadonna’s Bookshelf.
 



Dorgo… it is Time to Grill You! Or Am I Grilling Joe? Tough to Tell, Since Dorgo Feels like a Natural Extension of You.  Supernatural, Dark Fantasy Rarely Feels so Fun as it Does in the MAD SHADOW Series. Tell us Your Approach to Making Dark-Worlds Fun to Explore.

Dorgo is on holiday, so you’re grilling me. I hope I turn out well-done. Dorgo is indeed an extension of myself; my better half, you can say. His voice is my voice, his sarcasm and sense of humor are my own. I’ve read very little fantasy written in first-person, so I took a page from Raymond Chandler’s notebook and wrote all but one Dorgo tale in first-person. First-person allows me to make his stories more personal and, hopefully, more universal. Speaking to your question about how the “Supernatural, dark fantasy rarely feels so fun as it does in the Mad Shadow Series,” I must first thank you for that. I approach my writing the same way I approached writing music, which is much the same as Bruce Springsteen often composes: I toss everything I’ve ever heard, seen, read and experienced into a blender, crank it up and create what I hope is my own unique concoction.

I try to make it fun because my favorite books, those that inspired me or just simply entertained me, were and still are fun to read. From The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings, from de Camp’s The Tritonian Ring to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser series, I had fun reading those. And it was so much fun to discover Robert E. Howard’s “The People of the Black Circle” and all his other Conan stories, not to mention King Kull and Solomon Kane. Stories and storytelling should be fun to read and write. If not, they’re like dry textbooks or novels where the authors spend more time preaching their own personal gospel than they do trying to entertain. As the Boss sang, “We learned more in a three-minute record, babe, than we ever learned in school.” And that’s the truth. Fiction can be educational, in its own way. You learn by reading.

I just let my imagination run free and try to rein it in when something I really like strikes me as usable. My work, no matter what the genre, is a merging of everything I know and like. It’s no secret that Dorgo was inspired by Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, as well as by Fritz Leiber’s work; comedy often played a huge role in Leiber’s stories, especially in his wonderful Lean Times in Lankhmar. In fact, if not for that story and a few others, I might not have written my two most light-hearted tales of Dorgo the Dowser, from the first volume: The Secret of Andaro’s Daughter and The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum, which can be read for free, right here. Although there is plenty of darkness, murder, magic, and weirdness to go around, the comedic situations and what laughs come from the characters, their dialogue and their antics, make these two of my favorite stories. I also give credit to David C. Smith and Ted (T.C.) Rypel for being the first of my “mentors” and for helping me whip that first volume into shape.

[SE aside; I’ve reviewed all the Dorgo Books (Book 3 most recently on Black Gate).  I described the first two as Mystery for the Horror Fan; Cozy Gothic Noir... they’re a great mashup of Horror/Fantasy/Film Noir. In Television terms, this would appeal to fans of the X-filesSupernatural, or Grim. Being a collection of tales, each serves as an episode. Expect: necromancy, mythological creatures — especially the hybrid horned creatures (satyrs, minotaur, etc.), pitted against our protagonist who is motivated to set things right (and make enough money to eat… and perhaps a sustained glance at a beautiful woman).]

You Have a Knack for Making Weird/Dark Fantasy Accessible to Adults and YA via Collaborating with Authors (i.e., David C. Smith and Erika M. Szabo). Fill us In on How You Write for Such a Broad Audience with Other Authors.

There really isn’t much to “fill in.” Most writers know that adult and YA audiences can be drawn into any sort of genre, if the characters are engaging and the storyline exciting. JK Rowling succeeded in that with her Harry Potter series, and certainly Tolkien, as well as Frank L. Baum and Lewis Carrol, Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, to name a handful of authors. They wrote for everyone. Take Waters of Darkness, for instance. David Smith and I knew what we wanted to write, knew what to do and how to write it, and without consciously thinking about it, we just wrote what we wanted to write. Personally, I aim for a wide audience. I don’t write sex scenes for my own work, although I have done some “ghost writing” in that area for a few friends. I don’t go for excessive “foul language,” either. Too often that can destroy the suspension of disbelief.

As for the two children’s books, I had an idea for the first one, but no idea how to go about it. Erika M. Szabo, who has written a boatload of children’s books, took me by the hand and guided me along the way. We chose universal themes and characters we felt our readers could relate to. We used humor and a sense of adventure, too. We added subtle lessons for kids, as well. She reined me in on the action scenes, keeping me from going my usual, bloody and body-strewn way. She told me what we could say and what we could not say in a children’s book. We had a lot of fun writing the first book, and I learned a lot: keep it G-rated or PG-13, at most. We had so much fun, in fact, that Erika came up with the idea for the second book, and we ran with it. The key, for me was creating a world of magic and wonder, and letting our imaginations run free. As with David, Erika and I concentrated on telling good, solid and fun stories, doing our best to write something that was as unique as we could make it.

There really isn’t much more I can tell you. We just wrote the stories we wanted to tell, wrote them the way we wanted to tell them, and kept our audiences in mind at all times. We just wrote or overwrote, in many cases, and then started whittling away during the editing process. I usually write much more than I use: better to write something that is not needed, than it is to need something that hasn’t been written. I don’t believe in padding a story with unnecessary world-building and description. Describe what’s important to the plot: what can be done in three pages can often be done better in three paragraphs. In this, learning how to write screenplays is a most valuable tool.

That’s all I got. All I can tell you.



Going with the Theme that You Make Dark Fantasy Accessible, Let’s Talk About Having Fun in Hell!

You’ve been writing for the Heroes in Hell series for a long time (that’s the satirical, dark fantasy that explores the juxtaposition of deceased people across time)!  Your Doctors in Hell short story “Hell on a Technicality” is hilarious. A death panel (including Aristotle and da Vinci) convenes to discuss the nature of the soul and body in the preposterous case of Doctor Victor Frankenstein, who has had his brain switched with his creature Adam’s. So now Victor’s mind finds itself in his creation’s body… and vice versa. How else better to discuss the nature of a soul in hell then to work out this mess. The death panel erupts into an outrageous furor.  You have recurring characters of Victor Frankenstein and his creature-creation, as well as Quasimodo. Tell us why you teamed up with these hellions and your approach.

Thank you. I tried to make that story both hilarious and meaningful. The death panel evolved out of the dark-comedy “Undertaker’s Holiday” (originally titled “The Undertaker Takes a Holiday,” a play on the play and film, Death Takes a Holiday) Shebat Legion and I co-wrote for Poets in Hell, which also featured my first story for the series, “We the Furious,” or WTF, as Janet Morris’ husband Christopher called it. Shebat and I came up with the idea for a fandom convention in Hell — InfernoCon. Of course, as in all cons, there’s a panel discussion. Now, knowing that Doctors in Hell was the next volume in the series, Shebat and I created a panel of doctors, as a sort of prelude. But Janet wanted us to use poets, so I changed the characters. I later recreated the panel of doctors for “Hell on a Technicality” and thought it would be a riot to have their egos get in the way of what they were trying to decide: if Adam Frankenstein and Galatea, two damned souls who were not sired by men and born of women did, indeed, have souls.

It was Janet who, knowing my love of movies, suggested I write about Victor and Adam. She also suggested I reboot the Hellywood film industry first created by Bill Kerby back in the original series, in the 1980s. (Kerby wrote the screenplay for Bette Midler’s The Rose.) So hence, my storyline for “The Pirates of Penance,” featured in Pirates in Hell. Anyway, while doing research, I discovered that there was a Doctor Johann Konrad Dippel, an alchemist and a vivisectionist obsessed with reanimating the dead. He was born in Castle Frankenstein and was practicing medicine in Geneva, Switzerland when Mary and Percy Shelley, Lord Byron, and Doctor John Polidori were travelling through there. Aha! No doubt Dippel inspired the creation of Victor Frankenstein. So, my using a fictional character, which is allowed, was justified by there being a real-life counterpart.

While I pretty much stick with Mary Shelley’s novel, I use Colin Clive and Boris Karloff as “role models” for Victor and his Creature. Deciding that Doctor Frankenstein needed a hunchback assistant in keeping with the films, I looked no further than Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Doing research on Hugo’s novel, I discovered that around 2002 or so, workmen doing some remodeling at Notre Dame Cathedral knocked down a wall and discovered a small room which contained the bones of a hunchback. I also read that there was, indeed, a similar bell ringer of Notre Dame during Hugo’s lifetime, and he possibly knew the hunchback. While I use Quasimodo and his King of Fools persona for comic relief, I also endeavor to infuse him with pathos and humanity. I use Charles Laughton as my role model. Thus, I get to write about two beloved films, Frankenstein and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. My approach is to have them interact more as a father and son, with Victor playing the eccentric, often hysterical and somewhat mad father-figure, and Quasimodo as the hapless, lovesick, innocent and childlike son. I think the two characters make a wonderful team, and I have fun with both of them.

 

How do You Define Beauty in Art/Fiction that Appears to be Repulsive (Weird/ Horror)?

Jeez, that’s a tough question to answer, Seth. I’m not even sure I can put my thoughts on this into words. I guess the best way is for me to go back to my childhood. Horror films never frightened me. I was always fascinated by and sympathetic to the “monsters.” I understood them. I wanted to be one of them. I always found a beauty and poetry in the best of the old Universal Classic Monsters, in the “grotesqueries” of characters and creatures like Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Phantom of the Opera, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc.

In spite of having grown up and hung out with hundreds of kids, I always felt somewhat of an outsider, never quite fitting in. I never even once considered myself cute or handsome; I saw myself as being part of the gallery of the grotesque. In fact, back in 1970, when I was a young hippy and got my first apartment, my landlady’s kids called me Halloween Mask Man, a sobriquet I embraced. I even wrote a poem and later put it to music: Halloween Man. I was proud of that title. The “creatures” in, let’s say, H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, have a beauty all their own: yes, they are weird and repulsive, but that does not turn me off. I find it all intriguing and, in its own way, quite attractive. Take the metamorph from Alien. So ugly, it’s beautiful in its shape and design. An intriguing lifeform.

Like many kids, I loved and still love dinosaurs, dragons, aliens and mythological creatures. I like centaurs and minotaurs, mutants and monsters of all sorts, for example, and I see the beauty in even the evil ones. Even Medusa I find beautiful in her ugliness; knowing her backstory, her history, generates sympathy in me. She was cursed by Athena, and her transformation into a gorgon is what made her evil. I feature Medusa in a new story I’m working on for Janet Morris’ Heroes in Hell series, and I portray her as aristocratic, heroic, noble and honorable, and of great inner, soulful beauty. She is not the monster history has made her out to be: that’s all a lie.

Understanding the repulsive is to see their beauty, to see beyond their physical appearance and even come to like them. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What I consider repulsive, with no redeeming qualities such as beauty, is what we have in the real world: racists and rapists, haters and murderers, people who lack compassion and tolerance and understanding, people who lack kindness, courtesy and manners. People who have no sense of honor and loyalty. People filled with hate for what they don’t understand and thus fear — fear of “the other” I guess all this is the best answer I can give you.

Do You Find Beauty in Your Weird Fiction? Dissect an Example.

Well, I really don’t consider myself a writer of “weird fiction.” Certainly, there are plenty of elements of the weird, of horror, in my stories. It’s difficult to cite and dissect any one example. My human characters are often the weird ones, the ugly ones. Let’s go with my Dorgo the Dowser tale from Mad Shadows-Book 2: The Order of the Serpent — “The Girl Who Loved Ghouls.” This features a witch, what I call one of the Wikku, who lost a son when he was a little boy, and now she’s become the surrogate mother and protector of a small tribe of ghouls, who are an endangered species.

The ghouls are friendly and noble; they pose no threat to the living. Now, there’s a nobleman with an Oedipus complex who, for his own political agenda, is framing the ghouls for a series of murders he is responsible for. He and his men are racist, violent men who find torture and murder to be their daily bread. He’s allied himself with a lost clan of semi-human cannibals who escaped to Dorgo’s world when their own world was in its final death throes. They are an ugly and repulsive race that is having breeding problems, and are thus dying out. This nobleman has promised them “fresh blood” in order for them to propagate and keep their race alive: namely, by giving Dorgo to their queen, with whom she will mate and produce a new breed of her species.

But these creatures are in no way as ugly or repulsive as the nobleman and his four murderous, racist henchmen. As I often write about, human beings are the monsters — i.e. Doctor Frankenstein is the real monster, not the innocent Creature he created, then ignored and abandoned, thus destroying its childlike innocence, which turned it into a thing bent on revenge.

The beauty in my story comes from the ghouls, from their kind hearts and pure souls: they are an intelligent species who just happen to feed on the dead, and not a pack of mindless, savage beasts. They are, to put a slight religious spin on it, God’s innocent creatures. They are the real heroes of this tale.

What Scares You? Is it Beautiful?

No, it’s not beautiful. What scares me is people. Books and films have never scared me; they are fiction and therefore not real. Reality scares me. War and violence. Look at what’s going on in our country today and across the globe. Ugliness, blind hatred, intolerance, misogyny, racism, violence. People can be seen as beautiful in their physical appearance. But far too often, it’s all superficial: beauty may be skin-deep, but ugliness goes to the bone. Their hearts and souls are ugly and repulsive. Kindness and compassion are fading from our world. Maybe it’s just my inborn cynicism talking, but that’s how I feel and what I fear. I’ll say no more on this lest I climb upon my soapbox and bore you and your readers to death.

Does any Formal Training or Experience Motivate your Writing?

No formal training, really, other than writing classes and such. I mean, I was “trained” to be a printer and a musician by trade and avocation. But my imagination and my experiences are what motivate me. Experiences of all kinds: my family and our history, the people I meet, the relationships forged or broken, friendships and love affairs, the movies I watch, the books I read, the music I listen to. All these provide motivation as well as inspiration. I often take movie titles or song titles and write my own stories to fit. I will even do a wordplay on a title. Take the Heroes in Hell series, for instance. In Pirates in Hell, I have a story called “The Pirates of Penance.” For Lovers in Hell, I wrote a macabre love story filled with gallows humor that I called “Withering Blights.”

For Liars in Hell, I titled my story “Hell’s Bells.” I also played with a variation on “dragon’s hoard” for Janet Morris’ Heroika: Dragon Eaters — and titled my story “The Dragon’s Horde.” For the final story in my Mad Shadows – Book 1: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, I “gakked” (stole) the title from an old Robert Mitchum western called Blood on the Moon, because I thought it fitting for my werewolf tale and did not want to destroy the mystery by having “werewolf” or “wolfman” in the title. (Well, I guess I just destroyed the mystery!) Life experiences are always part of my stories, whether obvious to the people who know me, or subtly portrayed; there’s a lot in the subtext. One can find inspiration and motivation in every facet of life, which I know is just preaching to the choir of writers and other artists.

 

Discuss Cinematic Writing! What are Some of Your All-Time Favorite Films and TV Shows?

Ah, another tough one to answer, simply by virtue of the question having many answers and opening up many windows. I always try to avoid picking favorites, the way parents avoid naming a favorite son or daughter. So, if you don’t mind, I’ll skip the “favorites” part of this interview; God only knows, I’m going to be long-winded. There a handful of films from the 1930s which have inspired me: Frankenstein (1931), King Kong (1933), Beau Geste, and Gunga Din. Later films, such as The Vikings and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (both from 1950), Spartacus and Jason and The Argonauts (both from 1960 or so) influenced me, of course. And there is something of Ray Harryhausen in just about all my stories.

I would like to mention Alfred Hitchcock, however. Having read a biography on the master, I was struck by his discussion and explanation of the “McGuffin.” This is the device around which most of his films revolve. It doesn’t matter whether the McGuffin is microfilm, wine bottles filled with uranium or some other artifact, relic or whatever. What matters are the characters, what each of them will do, to what lengths they will go to in order to get their hands on the McGuffin: sell it, keep it, destroy it, use it in some fashion. It’s the study of these characters and their actions. This is also how Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon works: the falcon isn’t really important, in and of itself, the story is all about the characters who are itching to get their hands on it. Stories are about characters, about people. You can have the most ingenious plot ever devised by mortal man or woman, but if you don’t have solid, realistic and engaging characters, all you have is a plot in search of a story.

You have written articles for Black Gate wherein you describes how cinema informs your style.  Prior/in-addition-to writing, you were a rock guitarist, songwriter, and even a board member of the Chicago Screenwriter’s Network. You compose as if you write for the camera, and your mind has been influenced by the masters.

Yes, and I’ve also written another article for Black Gate on my cinematic inspirations — Celluloid Heroes, which will pretty much give your readers the whole picture, no pun intended.

Terrible Inspirations: Can You Discuss How Writing Fiction can be Used to Explore? Heal? How Does One Approach Revisiting Tragedy in Art?

The haunting dedication to Mad Shadows I sets the stage for the themes of many of these stories: the dedication was extended to your parents and to “Mary Ellen Pettenon and the other 91 children and 3 nuns who became angles too soon in the Our Lady of Angels School Fire, December 1, 1958.” I learned soon after that you are a long time Chicagoan, who was in the same school system and if your birthday was a few months different, you would have been in the building that caught fire. In the book, we learn early on that Dorgo is an orphan, and many of the plots/character-motivations are based on family ties.

Yes, my date of birth “saved me.” I was down the street in one of the two houses that were used for kindergarten and three first-grade classes. However, if the dice had landed a different way, I might have been in the fourth first-grade class that was on the main floor of the building that burned down. I was lucky, and I was blessed. As far as Dorgo being an orphan is concerned . . . I did not know any orphans when I was a kid. Sure, I knew kids who had no mother or father, but I did not encounter any orphans until I was out of high school. Charles Dickens was the inspiration for my making Dorgo an orphan. It just felt right. I think being in an orphanage and then running away at the age of fifteen to become a mercenary is what widened his worldview, what made him an enlightened soul without one racist or prejudiced, bigoted bone in his body. He is the embodiment of what I strive to be, the angel of my better nature, so to speak.

[Aside by SE: Joe’s first story to appear in Heroes in Hell (“We The Furious,” in Poets in Hell), he placed the kid who started the OLA school fire in Hell, although he did not refer to him by name, just his actions].

As for how writing fiction can be used to explore and heal, and revisiting tragedy in art goes . . . I offer no advice, can’t tell anyone how to approach it. You just do it: you write what you know, what you feel, what you’ve experienced and how it affected you. There is a scene where one of Dorgo’s companions holds the hand of a dying man. After the man passes, the companion, a young, good-natured youth, looks at Dorgo and says that he was holding his mother’s hand when she died, and that’s how I witnessed my own mother’s death. Writing that helped me move pass that dark moment in 2001. In my The Man Who Loved Puppets, Dorgo has to save a group of children whose souls had been stolen. They were still alive, but just barely, and had this witch’s plot to resurrect her dead sister come to fruition, those children would have died.

To make it more personal, one of the kids, a little girl, was the daughter of one of Dorgo’s friends and former lovers. The little girl is based on Dave Smith’s daughter Lily, who was about four or five at the time: I used her mannerisms and the way she talked, her personality, to infuse my character with life. All that evolved out of that tragedy of my childhood, when I was six years old and learned that not just old people die, kids can die, too. The loss of an ailing father in my Blood on the Moon echoes the loss of my own father, who died of cancer in 1999. Just writing those scenes was a catharsis, a way for me to come to terms, after so many years, with the deaths of my parents, both of whom always believed in my writing gift and also supported and encouraged me in anything and everything I wanted to try, to do. I was extremely blessed with the parents given to me. I could not have picked two better parents, two decent and loving parents, had I been given the choice.

I explored my beliefs, my Catholic upbringing, my thoughts and ideas about God, faith and religion in Mad Shadows – Book 3: The Heroes of Echo Gate. Faith in God, and the absence or loss of that faith are at the heart of the novel. We learn all about Dorgo’s faith and how he views Life and a Higher Being. While he remains steadfast in his beliefs, he does have questions and doubts. In one scene, set the night before the first battle begins, he has a long discussion with a chaplain who had once been a mercenary. I feel this scene is one of the more insightful and heartfelt scenes in the story, as it conveys my own personal belief system, my own doubts, my own questions and theories. As I always tell people: I do not write for the head; I have no great knowledge or wisdom to impart, and nothing I can say has not already been said by others more skilled and wiser than I. I am not that ego-driven or presumptuous to think I can change anyone’s minds. I write not to make you think, I write to make you feel. I write for the heart.

Any Current or Future Endeavors We Can Pitch?

Well, in a story I’m working on for a future Heroes in Hell volume, I borrowed the title from an old war movie, “From Hell to Eternity.” But having signed an NDA (a Non-Disclosure Agreement), that’s all I can say about it. I also have a new Dorgo story in the works that I call “Rainbow Demon,” which was inspired by a song by Uriah Heep. I would very much like to do a fourth and final volume of Dorgo the Dowser tales: Mad Shadows – Book 4: The Return of Dorgo the Dowser, which follows closely on the heels of book three, The Heroes of Echo Gate, and Dorgo’s return home after the battle which is a huge part of that book.

I think a “quartet” of novels is enough: I don’t want to lose the magic of Dorgo’s stories; I don’t want him or his adventures to grow stale and repetitious, which happens with so many series. As you know, the first volume consisted of six separate adventures linked together by Dorgo and some recurring characters. Volume two is more of a novel — three novellas tied together by theme and certain plot elements that all come together in the last story. Book three is a three-part novel. If I do a fourth volume, I would return to the format of the first: six or seven separate adventures, ending where I started.

I’d also like to do a sequel to David C. Smith’s and my Waters of Darkness, and we have discussed it. Another dark, old-school, action-packed but character-driven Sword and Sorcery tale. However, we haven’t been able to come up with a good storyline, and Dave is busy with other projects, and I won’t do it alone. I have a prologue of sorts written for a second sequel to the two children’s Heroic Fantasies I co-authored with Erika M. Szabo, but again — no storyline that pleases us both has emerged.

Now, I’ve always wanted to do a Sword and Sorcery version of John Wayne’s Red River, which is about a cattle drive. I’ve got a title, “The Goblin Herd,” and it will feature a new character, Thibron the Skulker, who was first introduced in my story, “The Vampire Tree,” which was published in Savage Realms Monthly, in March 2022. I have a few characters lined up and I’m taking notes. The hard part is coming up with the incidents involved because, while inspired by Red River, I do not want to use the same plot. I have another Thibron tale in mind, set around a pair of strange jewels called “The Eyes of Bipty,” but that’s all I have, thus far. Other than that, and writing the occasional article for Black Gate, that’s about it. Real life situations, the things one must attend to, take up a lot of my time.

I hope to keep writing for Heroes in Hell for as long as I can. Writing for that series is very hard work, but it’s also so much fun and so rewarding. Janet Morris forces me to “up my game,” to stretch my boundaries, to break out of my box, and I think my stories for her are among the best I’ve written, not only in plot and characterization, but in prose style, as well. And the best part is, as long as we (the other writers and I) stick to the arc she gives us and follow the rules of Hell, almost anything goes. Our imaginations are free to run wild. Janet has become a major influence, and a wonderful teacher and mentor to me, and my writing has improved under her guidance.

So, that’s it, Seth. I’ve run out of words. But I do want to thank you for this wonderful opportunity to express myself. It’s been fun, a real pleasure and an honor. You rock!

You Rock, Joe! Long live Dorgo!




 


#Weird Beauty Interviews at Black Gate

  1. Darrel Schweitzer THE BEAUTY IN HORROR AND SADNESS: AN INTERVIEW WITH DARRELL SCHWEITZER 2018
  2. Sebastian Jones THE BEAUTY IN LIFE AND DEATH: AN INTERVIEW WITH SEBASTIAN JONES 2018
  3. Charles Gramlich THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE REPELLENT: AN INTERVIEW WITH CHARLES A. GRAMLICH  2019
  4. Anna Smith Spark DISGUST AND DESIRE: AN INTERVIEW WITH ANNA SMITH SPARK  2019
  5. Carol Berg ACCESSIBLE DARK FANTASY: AN INTERVIEW WITH CAROL BERG 2019
  6. Byron Leavitt GOD, DARKNESS, & WONDER: AN INTERVIEW WITH BYRON LEAVITT 2021
  7. Philip Emery THE AESTHETICS OF SWORD & SORCERY: AN INTERVIEW WITH PHILIP EMERY  2021
  8. C. Dean Andersson DEAN ANDERSSON TRIBUTE INTERVIEW AND TOUR GUIDE OF HEL: BLOODSONG AND FREEDOM! (2021 repost of 2014)
  9. Jason Ray Carney SUBLIME, CRUEL BEAUTY: AN INTERVIEW WITH JASON RAY CARNEY (2021)
  10. Stephen Leigh IMMORTAL MUSE BY STEPHEN LEIGH: REVIEW, INTERVIEW, AND PRELUDE TO A SECRET CHAPTER (2021)
  11. John C. Hocking BEAUTIFUL PLAGUES: AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN C. HOCKING  (2022)
  12. Matt Stern BEAUTIFUL AND REPULSIVE BUTTERFLIES: AN INTERVIEW WITH M. STERN (2022)
  13. interviews prior 2018 (i.e., with John R. Fultz, Janet E. Morris, Richard Lee Byers, Aliya Whitely …and many more) are on S.E. Lindberg’s website

 

Friday, August 19, 2022

SE Contributes A Big Lie! Liars in Hell Releases!

In Hell, Everyone’s Pants are on Fire!

Joe Bonadonna champions the release of another fun, dark, satirical entry into Perseid Presses' Heroes in Hell series on Black Gate. The latest volume in the Heroes in Hell saga Liars in Hell, is now available in Kindle and Paperback.
Faux News and Big Lies might feel like a contemporary pain, but rest assured, dear reader! Your curse has been shared. Liars have been meddling with humanity throughout history. Here ye the accounts of their eternal demise journaled by the damnedest writers in perdition. Note, that each themed entry in the Heroes in Hell™ series can be read separately. Hell has many entry points.
This is my fourth episode tracking Howard Carter and Ernst Haeckel in Hell (the spotlight turned on them with Pirates in Hell, followed through Lovers in Hell and through Mystics in Hell....and now.... in Liars in Hell we have: 

"Bait and Switch" by SE Lindberg 

S. E. Lindberg’s Bait and Switch is a fascinating, behind-the-scenes exposé for living large in Hell . . . by lying, naturally. Renowned tomb raider Howard Carter and his compatriot, discredited evolutionist Ernst Haeckel, are tasked by Anubis to clear the canals that connect the Egyptian underworld of Duat to New Hell. Unearthing arcana lures the duo into neglecting their duties to master the riddle of life, and faux news, while robbing naïve wealth seekers. Read this to learn their secrets to success.

Anyway, readers can start with an entry in the series. Pick a theme that may appeal to you and jump in. Story arcs follow historical characters across books, but each anthology is self-contained. So it's okay to jump into Hell at any time (see this Death Panel interview about starting if you are new to the series)
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The Blurb for Liars in Hell
Hell is a real place. Anyone who has broken a commandment winds up there. That's pretty much everybody. Satan is the boss. You're okay until you're not. But never fear, all your friends are here. As well as everyone you've ever heard of. For what they have been up to lately, be sure to check-in. Thrill to the stories by Hell's damnedest: Janet Morris, Michael H. Hanson, S.E. Lindberg, Joe Bonadonna, Chris Morris, and Richard Groller.