Stories change and grow and evolve over time. It’s one of the things that makes oral storytelling in particular so vibrant, that the core of the story may remain the same but the details and even the style and flow can change to reflect current attitudes and issues.
Prose fiction doesn’t adjust in the same way, of course. After all, once you write it down and especially once you publish it, it’s a fixed form. Unless you plan to emulate Walt Whitman, who continually updated and revised Leaves of Grass, that book is now set, as is the story within it.
But when you’re working on a series, there’s still room to play, to revise, to change course. Sometimes it’s because you realized something partway through, and other times because the world around you has changed—or you have—and you discover that the story you started out to tell isn’t the one you want to tell now.
When Steven Savile and I started Time of the Phoenix, back in 2009, we already knew that it would be a series following the immortal Phoenix, avatar of humanity’s creativity, throughout history. We bounced around ideas about various historical figures, came up with a rough timeline showing who the Phoenix had become and when, and then sketched out a set of five stories from that. We released the first one, “For This Is Hell,” in 2011. We were both happy with that first story, and it did well.Continue reading
While he was taking care of business, a gaggle of authors at Shore Leave, the premiere fan-run con in America, were lamenting the idiocy of publishers letting marketing people drive editorial purchases. As a result, ideas that got us excited were being met with, “we can’t pigeonhole that so can’t sell it”.
We were watching other authors begin to self-publish, with more than a few forming their own consortiums. By the time Mike came out of the men’s room, we buttonholed him, since he started this thread of thinking earlier. Before we knew it, a group was forming.
A year later, Crazy 8 Press made its triumphant debut at Shore Leave, with the authors publicly writing a round-robin novella that was our first release. Demon Circle was published at the beginning of fall 2011 and we have been going at it ever since.
We started with Mike, Aaron Rosenberg, Peter David, Howard Weinstein, Glenn Hauman, and Robert Greenberger. Others, who were part of the initial planning, bowed out, but we still called ourselves Crazy 8, because, why not? Soon after, Paul Kupperberg joined the band and a few years later, we welcomed in Russ Colchamiro. Two years back, we invited Mary Fan to the asylum. Kathleen O’Shea David and Jenifer Purcell Rosenberg both took turns trying to help our social marketing and wrangling the eight author cats. Silly them. But, both were welcomed to the party and each has contributed to several of our anthologies.Continue reading
Aaron Rosenberg — a best-selling author and founding member of Crazy 8 Press — is back again with his latest scifi comedy novel in the Duckbob Spinowitz Adventures, Not for Small Minds.
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Q: For those not familiar with your Duckbob character… um… how exactly is it that he’s a… well… a duck… man? Who happens to be the key to saving the Universe? (Full disclosure, milk shot through my nose as I typed those words)
A: Right, so the short version—Bob Spinowitz is a regular guy who got abducted by aliens (the “Grays,” the ones you see in all those movies and TV shows and documentaries) and they altered him into this man-duck hybrid. Then dumped him by the side of the road and left him to pick up his life from there. He changed his name to “DuckBob” because he figured people would call him that anyway so why not defang them a bit by beating them to the punch?
Q: Sure, sure. So… Not for Small Minds is the fourth and — so far as you’ve said — the last novel in your DuckBob scifi comedy series. How does it feel to be at the end?
A: Both good and sad. I really like writing DuckBob, he’s a great character with a great voice, so I’m a little sorry there won’t be more novels. At the same time, I’ve always told myself I wouldn’t be one of those people who wrote twenty-seven books in a series that really should have been only three. There’s a natural rhythm to these things, some stories are meant to go on and others are meant to end. I feel like I’ve finished DuckBob’s big story here and I’m happy with the results. To write another novel would feel like I was dragging things out, and I’d worry that I was diminishing him and his voice by stretching it past what was intended.
Q: The first three books in the series — No Small Bills, Too Small for Tall, and Three Small Coinkydinks — focused on Duckbob, Tall, and then Ned. Not for Small Minds puts Mary front and center. What was your biggest challenge — and your goal — for giving Mary center stage?
A: The biggest challenge was that I really wanted this to be Mary’s book, not DuckBob’s. But he’s the narrator, and he has a very . . . strong personality. Which meant I had to be very careful to let Mary, who tends to be more soft-spoken, shine on her own even though it’s all through his words. I also had to be careful because DuckBob absolutely adores Mary—as he should—but that means he sees her as this perfect being. Since this is Mary’s story, I needed to make sure her flaws were visible as well, so that we’d be able to relate to her properly and not see her as some idealized figure.
Q: Beyond the obvious — Duckbob and team rush to save the Universe again — what’s the gist of Not for Small Minds?
A: Mary invites DuckBob to accompany her to her college reunion. He jumps at the chance to see something of her past, but is a bit dismayed when he does. Then they’re summoned by the Grays to deal with the invaders from another reality once again—only this time it’s the Grays themselves who are under attack! Mary and DuckBob have to figure out how to rescue the Grays and deal with the invaders once and for all, but it’s going to take more than just them and Tall and Ned to accomplish that. They need a lot of help, which they get from the unlikeliest places, and that creates problems of its own.
Q: Scifi comedy — as a subgenre — seems to go in and out of favor in the public consciousness. What attracts you to this type of story?Continue reading
When we wrote the first Crimson Keep story, “Demon Circle,” we really didn’t know what we were getting into. That’s because, up until Kevin Dilmore provided the opening line at our Crazy 8 panel on the first day of that ShoreLeave when we were going to be writing the story on-site in round-robin fashion, we didn’t have any idea how the story was even going to start, let alone where it was going to go. We didn’t know what kind of story it was, what genre it would be in, what the tone would be, any of that. It was only as we wrote that we figured all of that out—the story grew from author to author, developing itself under our fingers, until by the end we had a fully formed fantasy tale.
Then we had to come up with a cover.
Glenn took care of the first one, and the image was evocative if a little dark for such a goofy story. When we went back into that world and each wrote our own stories there, then collected all of those plus “Demon Circle” in the original Tales of the Crimson Keep, he built that cover as well. And you can tell at first glance that this is a collection of fantasy stories.
What you can’t tell is that they’re fun, and even funny, rather than dark and serious. This isn’t grim and bloody fantasy, it’s much lighter than that.
Which is why, when we decided to go back in and revise and expand and re-release the anthology—now with a new story by our newest C8 member, Mary Fan, plus an all-new round-robin story by all eight of us—I suggested that we would need an all-new and completely different cover.
Bob, Russ, and I discussed our requirements. “Think light-hearted,” I suggested. “Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventures series. John DeChancie’s Castle Perilous series. Heck, Piers Anthony’s Xanth series! The cover needs to say ‘fantasy’ but it also needs to say ‘fun.’”
Bob talked to our artist, Ty Templeton, and Ty did up some sketches. He sent us six of them, including one that he didn’t think would actually work because it was too busy.
I loved it. “That’s the one,” I said. “It looks like M.C. Escher meets Monty Python.”
Ty said okay, he’d give it a shot. And when he sent in the final, all three of us felt that it was perfect.
I think you can agree that now, when you pick up Tales of The Crimson Keep, you know that you’re definitely getting fantasy stories but you’re also in for a whole lot of fun. Almost as much fun as we had writing them.
Tales of the Crimson Keep – Newly Renovated Edition will be available in August.
The first sword and sorcery I ever read was Robert E. Howard’s Conan, in the books published in the mid-1960s in paperback by Lancer Books, with the soon to become iconic cover paintings by Frank Frazetta. My father had brought home a recently published paperback edition of Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs that someone had left behind at his office. I recognized the Ape Man from the movies I’d seen on TV, but I wasn’t prepared for what I read. It was like I had discovered the real-life version of what was, essentially, portrayed as a grunting cartoon character in the movies. It floored me. I still think it’s a great novel, as close to literature as pulp fiction got when it was published in 1912. I reread it every few years.
My next trip to the library after that included a hunt for more ERB. I was rewarded with John Carter of Mars (so…score!), which was my gateway to sword & sorcery. As I recall, it was on a later library visit that I spotted Conan on the paperback rack, where the librarian told me I might find some more ERB books. Conan was hard to miss: a dark scene of a ripped barbarian in a life and death struggle with a gorilla wearing a startling crimson cloak!
Like toppling dominos, that library paperback spinner rack Conan (the best things in my childhood were sold on spinner racks!) lead to Michael Moorcock’s Elric and Eternal Warrior and Lin Carter’s Thongor and to L. Sprague DeCamp and Andrew J. Offutt and the rest of the 1960s explosion of S&S authors, including Fritz’s Lieber’s Fafnir and the Gray Mouser.
Fafnir and the Gray Mouser stood out from the barbaric crowd. First, they weren’t exactly barbarians. I mean, technically sure, the giant swordsman and minstrel Fafnir and his partner, the diminutive former wizard’s apprentice and swordsman hailed from barbaric roots, but they were more sophisticated and cosmopolitan than their loin-cloth wearing brethren. Fafnir and the Mouser were rogues and more true-to-life, characters who acted in the world instead of just reacting. Not only were Lieber’s stories witty, his characters had senses of humor. No grim and gritty angst-filled monologues for these cheating, brawling, larcenous, wenching adventurers. Their swords were for hire and life was good.
Unfortunately, when I finally got to create my own sword and sorcery character for DC Comics in 1982, I seemed to have forgotten the wit. The very first installment of Arion, Lord of Atlantis (appearing as a back-up in Mike Grell’s Warlord #55 (March, 1982) opens with steely-eyed warriors ominously eyeing the coming storm and angsty young Arion spouting his ominous feelings in pseudo-Shakespearean tones. The series (which was co-created with artist Jan Duursema and ran for eight issues in the back of Warlord, and thirty-five issues plus a one-shot in its own title) wasn’t entirely without humor; I always had a knack for witty dialog, but the tone of the series was dry and serious.
I fixed that but good in 1992 when I revived the character in 1992’s Arion the Immortal miniseries (with art by Ron Wilson). It’s 45,000 years later, Atlantis has long sunk beneath the sea (taking all but the most minute bits of powerful magic with it), and there’s a colony of surviving Atlantean deities living in modern-day New York City. Arion is one of them, the quintessential “you kids get off my lawn or I’ll turn the hose on you!” old man, wrinkled and frail looking. He lives in a one-room apartment over Carnegie Hall and makes his living as a three-card monte dealer in Times Square. His ancient foe owns a deli on the Lower East Side that he eats in all the time. And when the magic returns, making Arion young again, well, chaotic hilarity ensued.
These days, it’s hard to keep humor out of my writing, the more cynical or darker the better. That’s why when I was presented with the world of the Crimson Keep in which to write a short story shortly after being inducted into the ranks (you don’t know how rank sometimes!) of Crazy 8 Press, I had no problem coming up with “The Wee Folk at the End of the Hall” for the 2015 Tales of the Crimson Keep anthology. The world and characters in which this was set had been created by Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, and Aaron Rosenberg in “Demon Circle,” a round-robin story written live at a convention in support of the Comic Book Legend Defense Fund.
The Crimson Keep is home to an old wizard and his apprentices, but it’s not exactly a steady home. The rooms and corridors and stairways in the Keep are constantly shifting and changing. Stray from well-used routes between familiar rooms and you can be lost for days or weeks or forever in the infinitely-possible layout. And, seeing as how my Crazy 8 comprades are no slouches at the funny themselves (except for Hauman, but we take care of him in They Keep Killing Glenn…now on sale!), there’s ample opportunities for wit built right into the concept.
Which brings us to Tales of the Crimson Keep: The Newly Renovated Edition, featuring not one but two (count ‘em, two!) new stories. The first is “Glisk of the Keep” by the newest addition to the C8 crew, Mary Fan. The second is “Poor Wandering Ones,” a poignant round-robin tale by all eight of the Crazy 8. All that…plus an eye-popping new cover by the amazing Ty Templeton.
I’ve feel like I’ve come a long way since Conan!
Tales of the Crimson Keep: The Newly Renovated Edition will go on sale later this month.