The Birth of an Anthology

Travis Heermann has been a freelance writer since 1999. Publishing credits include dozens of magazine articles, role-playing game content for both table-top and online MMORPGs, short fiction. He is the author of five published novels to date, with the latest being Sword of the Ronin from Red Bear Publishing. For more information, check out his website:

Back in March this year, I got bitten by a very strange bug.

I was attending a workshop on professional anthologies put on by Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. There were roughly thirty attendees, plus two Kris and Dean and two editors, John Helfers and Kerrie Hughes. The objective while there was to write stories for two live anthologies edited by John and Kerrie; How to Save the World and Hex in the City,—a hard SF and an urban fantasy anthology, respectively, that were part of the Fiction River publishing launch year, each of which also boasted its own list of invited pros.

Over the course of four days, we got to watch four editors at work; John and Kerrie, plus Dean, wearing his Pulphouse editorial fedora, and Kris revisiting her Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction editorial chapeau. This was not a critique workshop; it was four editors discussing whether they would buy a given story for their particular publications, each of which has very different audiences and expectations. Those stories that got picked (my story “Deus Ex Machina” was selected for How to Save the World) would be published in the two anthologies. They discussed each story in front of the class, their reactions to it, where they may have stopped reading, etc. This was a huge lesson and an eye-opener for many in the class: to hear an editor react to one’s story in real time, and hearing where the rejection happened.

One of the things that I found most interesting was how my own opinions of each story jibed with theirs (or didn’t). In the end, I came away with the feeling that my own assessments were generally spot-on with theirs.

And I came away with one other thing: that weird bug.

I wanted to try it myself.

So for about five months, my brain percolated on various anthology ideas, from horror to science fiction to weird westerns. Maybe you’re familiar with that morass of amorphous ideas that just squelch around inside your skull, like something waiting to solidify.

I also started thinking about the kinds of stories I would love to read, the kind of stories I’ve been missing in science fiction and fantasy over the last 10-15 years. And that is, in a nutshell: fun stuff. That sense of wow and wonder that set my little writer brain on fire when I was a kid. I sometimes think that the SF/F fields have been trying so hard to become “legitimate,” “literary,” and “serious” that we’ve forgotten what inspired us. That sense of whiz bang, the kind of story which at the end leaves you thinking, “Now that was cool.”

As an editor of this yet unformulated anthology, it was my role to decide what I thought was cool, with the idea that there might be plenty of people out there who agree with me. So this led to an inventory of the things that really excite me, that make great stories, great drama, and great heroes and heroines. Mad Max, Maverick, The Dukes of Hazzard, Death Proof, The Road Warrior, Casino Royale, The Wild, Wild West (the TV series, not the awful movie)—these were the things going around in my head.

I’ve always loved muscle cars, hot rods, and sports cars. I grew up at the small-town racetrack in the summertime. My brother is a dirt-track race driver, and I’ve done a few races myself behind the wheel with my foot to the floor. There’s nothing in the world like it.

I’m a poker player. I discovered how much I loved it in 2006 and started playing tournaments. I grew up playing cards with my family. I also had a ten year stint playing collectible card games like Jyhad, Legend of the Five Rings, and Warlord, among others. I am fascinated by the Tarot.

I’m a history buff, fascinated with both black powder firearms and the super-advanced tech being developed today. I’m also fascinated by the way firearms have had such a profound impact on civilization and history. I’m a guy (i.e. twelve-year-old boy). I love to feel the recoil and concussion. I like to blow shit up.

One alliteration later, I had the title and the concept: Cars, Cards & Carbines.

The next step was to find an experienced editor to show me the ropes. For that, my first choice was John Helfers. In addition to the story he bought from me for How to Save the World, I had worked with him when he was at Tekno Books when he bought the first volume of my Ronin Trilogy, and then again with the second volume I indie-published earlier this year. I ran into him at DragonCon this year, we had a discussion over an adult beverage, he thought the concept was pretty darn cool, and just like that, an anthology was conceived.

Between the two of us, we have assembled an incredible line-up of award-winning and best-selling authors who also think the concept is pretty darn cool.

Nevertheless, while Cars, Cards & Carbines has been conceived, it has not yet been born. We need you, yes, you personally, dear Reader, to help us bring this anthology to life. Please support our Kickstarter project. We have until December 19, 2013, to make this happen. Thank you!

Cars, Cards & Carbines – Multi-Genre Fiction Anthology

Being a Ship With No Flag: How to Ignore the Rules (A Micro-Musing)

Ennis Drake’s short fiction has appeared in various publications online and in print, including: “Love: The Breath of Eagleray”, at Underland Press (publisher of Jeff VanderMeer’s “Finch”, John Shirley’s “In Extremis”, Brian Evenson’s “Last Days”, among others); “The Dark That Keeps Her”, published in Twisted Legends, an anthology from Pill Hill Press (honorably mentioned in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 2); and “The Fishing of Dahlia”, published in the Bram Stoker-nominated and Black Quill Award winning +Horror Library+ Volume 4. “The Fishing of Dahlia” also received an honorable mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 3. Forthcoming from Word Horde (summer 2013), “The Butcher, The Baker, The Candlestick-Maker”, will appear in the anthology, Tales of Jack the Ripper, edited by Ross Lockhart. His debut novel, “Twenty-Eight Teeth of Rage”, was released May 31st, 2012, from Omnium Gatherum Media, and was a finalist for The Shirley Jackson Award. Most recently, his collected novelettes, “The Day and the Hour” and “Drone”, were released by Omnium Gatherum Media (Feb. 2013).

Write what you know. Write what you love. Write every day. Catch an adverb, kill it. Write longhand. Write as fast as you can. Edit line by line, page by page. Let it cool. Write it while it’s fresh and hot and screaming. The Oxford Comma. Strike unnecessary punctuation. Network. You must have a “Platform”. Create a Facebook, and a Twitter, and a blog, and an author website. No, none of us knows why we create massive networks of other writers and market to them (because all readers are writers?), but it’s what we do, so you should, too. Go to conventions. Wear adverts in your hat. Do everything I tell you. I’m a writer, after all. I know THE SECRET. Thousands upon thousands of my books are in circulation, I’ve been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award, so, naturally, whatever I say must be true, and it must be true for me, and you, and you, and yes, you, too.


The only truth is there are no hard truths.

I do not write what I know (unless you count crazy). I do not write what I love (I detest both my fiction and my subject-matter). I do not write every day (and don’t plan to). I don’t count words (and I sure as shit don’t waste time posting word counts to, well, anywhere). I happen to use a great many adverbs. Sometimes I over-punctuate. Sometimes I strip it out. Sometimes I don’t (the key, if there is a key, is consistency—your editor will have the say later, anyway). I do have a Facebook. I shit around on it with a handful of friends in the industry and occasionally post about my writing projects. I have a Twitter. I almost never use it. I don’t have a blog (chances are? I hate your blog), and I don’t have an author website (and unless a publisher requires me to have one in-future, foots the bill, and maintains it, I probably never will). I take every bit of advice I’m given, consider it, keep what I like, and ignore the rest. And yes, I’m aware I’ve stolen that bit (I can’t be bothered to remember exactly who from, but there you go)…so far as writing advice goes, it’s the best I’ve ever seen.

So what are we really talking about, then, I sense you asking (if you’ve not folded interest and decamped already)? Individuality. Individuality will make or break you. You can maintain it, or you cannot. If you cannot, you will surely disappear. You will learn your own unique Voice, you will learn what works for you, or you will not. You will (to paraphrase Bruner) learn to discover “the internalization of your personal novel. . .itself the search for identity”. It was once written of Gertrude Stein: “She is a ship that flies no flag and she is outside the law of art, but she descends on every port and a leaves a memory of her visits.” This is the advice I give to you. Be like Stein. Fly no flag and live outside the law of art, because there are no laws of art. True art pushes, bends, breaks rules.

So, these are the rules:




Good luck.

It’s All On You

Tracy Barnett is a new writer who loves fantasy of all types, especially the kinds that mash up genres. He has the temerity to call himself an author and it working on funding his first novel, Sveidsdottir. A Norse fantasy mashed up with giant stompy dwarven automatons and the skeletons of dead giants. Oh, and inclusive as all get out. Tracy got his start writing tabletop RPGs, and has published two of his own. Tracy thinks that typing in the third person about himself is weird as fuck.

You see that bio up there? I had no idea what to write for it. I mean, I’m new at this. Fresh-from-the-garden, still have that ‘New Writer’ smell on me new. As those clumsy words above state, I’ve written tabletop RPGs and am now working on my first novel. The difference between how you write those two things is night and day. I’m not sure how many readers here have done RPG work, but I think it’s interesting to compare the two. At the least, you’ll get my take on the novel writing process. Let’s do this thing.

When you write an RPG, you’re essentially building someone a playground. You’ve got some kind of premise (Ninja Pony Assassins!) and that’s the open plot upon which your playground equipment will go. You’ve got your game mechanics (we need to incentivize the interpersonal relationships between the Pony Assassins and their targets, oh and we want to use target numbers and a shit-ton of d6s) and that’s like the paths that lead from one fun thing to another. And you’ve got plot points, world details, and maybe an adventure or two (the Ninja Pony Assassins must defeat their nemesis, the Dark Lord Horsington to save the world!!) which are like the actual equipment that people play on.

Still with me?

That’s the kind of writing I’m used to doing. Whether I’m making a new game of my own, or preparing for a session on a Friday night, I generally build a playground and then ask other people to come and climb all over it. They do what I call The Hard Work. They make characters, they interact with the world, and they move the story forward. I have the luxury of responding to all of that. Everything I do once I build the playground is in response to what the people playing on it do.

Novels are different. So very, very different. With a novel, I still have to do all of the above things (minus the mechanics part because, really, are you going to ask your reader to bring dice with them while they read? … hmm, Choose your own adventu- Ugh. Back to my point). So, I do all of those things: I clear a space, I put down the equipment and then I am the one that has to go playing on it. Yes, I know that people say their characters take on lives of their own and maybe Miss Hester the Protagonist will decide that she’d much rather play on the slide than use the jungle gym. But it’s still me doing all of The Hard Work that I usually get to divide between the brains of the 4-8 people I have at my game table.

That difference was daunting at first. And then I remembered something super-important: this is my goddamn playground. I built it, and I know which parts are the best. I know that Hester really does want the play on the jungle gym (eventually) and I know that Johnny Plot-Point will be perfect over by the monkey bars. AND, if I don’t see a place for Bernice the Badass Villain, I don’t despair and I don’t change Bernice. I change the fucking playground.

There’s a freedom in novel writing that, if you’re not careful, can paralyze. Instead of having to craft things to fit the gamers at your table like in an RPG, you can to change things to suit your vision. You are the god of your world, the god of your story. Don’t let that paralyze you. Own it. Slip into the skin of your characters and dance around for a bit. Hop on the merry-go-round and then take to the balance beams. It’s your world and the world is your playground.

Just, whatever you do, don’t install a climbing rope. No one fucking likes those things.

Steampunk Genesis & The Pillars of Your Private Booklife

Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. is a science fiction writer who loves the zeitgeist of steampunk. Although he grew up in both the United Sates and Canada he prefers to think of himself as British. He attended the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, where he earned an Honors B.A. in English with a Minor in Anthropology. He has lived on Prince Edward Island, excavated a 400 year old Huron Indian skeleton and attended a sperm whale autopsy. Richard currently resides in California.

“What’s a novelist anyway but a little god in pajamas?” (Terry Bisson)

Hello! My name is Richard Ellis Preston, Jr. and my first book, Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders, comes out today from 47North. They’ve signed me on to guest blog here for the entire week—oh, lucky you, you little devils—and I would first like to thank Jeff, Jeremy and everyone here at for this wonderful opportunity. As for you –you’ve wandered into BarCon and plunked down next to me, the guy with the glassy eyes peering at you over a fence of empty Stella bottles, so you know the conversation is going to be all about me. Except now you don’t have to wait until I stagger to the bathroom to make your escape—you can click away at any instant and never dent my fragile ego. If you do decide to stay, order a double scotch and nod as I carry on with the story of how this book was conceived, birthed, raised, finished, shopped, edited, finished again and published, all with an eye to the wisdom abounding in the pages of Jeff VanderMeer’s Booklife. On Monday we will take a look at things after the book has spent a week on the wooden and digital bookshelves, and what I expect and plan to do in the near future.

Where did the idea for Romulus Buckle begin? Many pieces have long floated in the nether corners of my brain. I had always wanted to explore the dynamics of a crew on a ship of war. Believe it or not, I always knew that I would someday write a book with a zebra-striped humanoid alien in it. In 2006 I had turned from screenwriting to novel writing and my first project was an ambitious trilogy set in World War Two Russia. I researched the story heavily, including a trip to Russia where I visited cities and battlefields including St. Petersburg (Leningrad), Moscow, Volgograd (Stalingrad) and Kursk, and interviewed surviving veterans with an interpreter in a little restaurant in Moscow. It is a massive, sprawling project—I really bit off more than I could chew as a first time novelist—and with the second and third books in first draft form and the first book nearly finished, by mid-2011 I found myself bogged down and foundering, losing my enthusiasm. I made a decision—I would box up the Russia project for six months and write something else, something insanely different. I immediately gravitated towards a wartime adventure. I wanted to write something in the vein of the old Saturday afternoon movie serials, something fun, exciting and larger-than-life, akin to Captain Blood, Casablanca, King Solomon’s Mines, Star Wars and Indiana Jones.

This book was going to be my action-adventure playground, so I immediately drew any and every element I loved into it: science fiction, love in the time of war, exotic and foreign lands, the British Empire, World War Two submarine movies and a hodgepodge of other things that get my motor running. This was my witch’s cauldron of epic tales where I would throw in any and all ingredients and produce a magic story stew. Then, of course, I was stuck. Just where, exactly, could one fit all the parts of this bubbling mess into the frame of one cohesive story? Settings involving an 18th century warship, space vessel and submarine failed me miserably. Then a friend of mine named Kevin Turner introduced me to steampunk and I immediately knew that I had found my world (subgenre) to play in. A steampunk (Victorian/Edwardian inspired) zeppelin crew facing an impending war. A post-apocalyptic, snowbound earth with Martians (they aren’t actually Martians, but nobody knows where the aliens came from so the name just sort of stuck). The story was ready to take off. All I had to do was build it.

As we conclude, I’d like to add my personal take (I am a quote collector, forgive me) on the “Pillars of Your Private Booklife” as outlined by Jeff in Booklife: Curiosity, Receptivity, Passion, Imagination, Discipline and Endurance.

Curiosity: I don’t think anyone lacking curiosity could possibly be, or even want to be, an artist. I dislike the advice to “write what you know.” Sure, your writing must source itself from your own intellectual, emotional and spiritual experiences, but if you don’t carry it any further, if you don’t reach out and grasp the world and suck it back in, then you most likely drive off the cliff into an annoying chasm of narrow-mindedness and navel-gazing. I much prefer the ideas of “write what you don’t know,” “write what you want to know,” and, as expressed by Jeff: “write what interests you.” Research is often one of the most exciting parts of writing for me, even though it is pure drudgery at times. Writing about things and places that I want to learn about make the process one of discovery, excitement and magic. “Life must be lived and curiosity kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

Receptivity: I try to be willing to open up to all things that are not evil, even if they make me uncomfortable. As Jeff mentions, it will hurt. Opening yourself up to the greatness of other people, their loves and courage is exhilarating, but it also means opening yourself up to their endless fears and tragedies and agonies. No wonder so many great artists go mad. But it has to be this way, because so much of our life flows into us from the outside and in order to reflect and express it we must first absorb it. I love the following quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson (he is referring to the human soul, but I think this also applies directly to the fount of human creativity): “Man is a stream whose source is hidden. Our being is descending into us from we know not whence…”

Passion: If you ain’t got it, it ain’t gonna work. I don’t think anyone becomes a real writer if they don’t desperately need to—who would put up with all of these struggles, self-doubts and rejections if they could avoid it? “When a man’s willing and eager, God joins in.” (Aeschylus)

Imagination: Fuel it. Fuel it. Fuel it. Shake it up. Battle the traps of intellectual passivity and habit, which are the allies of Steven Pressfield’s misanthropic dark lord of resistance (see below). “What is now proved was only once imagined.” (William Blake)

Discipline: Ach, the tough one for me, like most of us. I go through periods of near perfection in terms of my writing schedule, and then I get tripped up and fall back into my old, familiar, bad habits for a while, which infuriates and frustrates me. The enemy of my momentum is identified by Steven Pressfield in The War of Art as “resistance,” a negative anti-genius shadow which he calls “…the most toxic force on the planet.” We have all felt the grip of resistance, sapping our will to work, providing ample reasons and emergencies to deflect us from our writing desk, and felt powerless in its thrall. I battle resistance with many devices, but perhaps the most powerful is remembering that I can regain control. “Remember then: there is only one time that is important—now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.” (Leo Tolstoy)

Endurance: Since the day I decided to be a writer, I have written. There have been gaps and wasted hours and despairs, but I have always managed to come back to writing. There are boxes and boxes of type-covered paper in my garage that no one will ever read. Yet, with every effort, I believe that I have gained both in my understanding of life and improved my art. “Life can only be understood backwards, but… it must be lived forward.” (Søren Kierkkegaard) Yeah—I kinda hate that one.