Quite literally, the first “stories” I ever wrote when I was six and seven years old were comic book stories. I also drew then because obviously a comic book needs pictures to go along with the words. Neither my writing nor pictures from those days pointed to a career in the arts, but I was only just getting started with comics. And writing. But they’ll always be intertwined for me, even now, almost 60 years later when I work primarily in prose.
Writing for DC Comics wasn’t just an idea. It was my goal, my ambition. Even more than that. It was a dream. I didn’t have the easiest childhood and the world of Superman and the Martian Manhunter and the rest of the Justice League was where I went for solace. I wanted to be as close to them as I could get.
In 1975, the dream became a reality. Coming up through the ranks of fandom and fanzines I finally stumbled through the door of DC and never looked back. Until now, in Direct Conversations: Talks With Fellow DC Comics Bronze Age Creators. Nearly 50 years and more than a thousand stories later I sat down with ten old friends and colleagues to talk about those good old Bronze Age days when we were first breaking into the business at a time when the business itself seemed to be on the verge of breaking apart. Another old friend, fellow DC, Weekly World News, and Crazy 8 Press pal Robert Greenberger wrote the introduction.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
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.
I don’t consider myself a funny writer. I can’t dash off humor with the ease that my pal Peter David does. I know better than to even try.
As a result, “Assessment”, my contribution may be the most serious offering found in Tales of the Crimson Keep.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Since I am teaching these days, it occurred to me that we had not done anything that tested the students’ skills. I decided to take love-struck and somewhat awkward Athis and the more self-possessed Klaria and pair them up, strip them of their magical skills, and see what happened.
They had to go on a quest, which allowed me to expand the world of the Master. We knew there were Demon Wars and other sorcerers, but what else was there? I do enjoy the worldbuilding aspects of a story so that was a highlight.
I also had to ensure they each had a chance to shine on their own while working in tandem, which also allowed me to address their relationship as allies and maybe friends. This also meant getting them to be intimate with one another, to trust one another, without a sexual component. I was reminded of the training Steve Austin and his female OSO partner had to do in Cyborg, which meant extracting water from their urine (ewww).
Does it work within the more amusing context of the anthology? I hope so considering it’s the longest solo effort in the book. By all means, find out for yourself and let us know with a review at Goodreads, Amazon, or anywhere else.
Tales of the Crimson Keep , the newly renovated edition, goes on sale in August.
The Master trains a handful of students at a time while also performing work on commission for wealthy nobles in this typical fantasy realm. He operates out of The Crimson Keep, a place renowned for its thousand rooms and hundred staircases. It is reputed to never stop growing or shifting as the result of an old spell gone slightly awry. The wizard’s castle was where apprentices could get lost in forever, and where it was rumored that servants could reappear after months gone to explain that they’d only been heading down to the cellar for another cask of salt.
The kitchen was at the castle’s center, one of the sections that got daily use and thus rarely shifted, and they had all long since learned the quickest route there, so they were able to navigate the corridors, stairs, and courtyards with ease—at least, until they passed through the small secondary rear courtyard and reached the kitchen itself.
It was also the world created during a massive round-robin writing session as the Crazy 8 Press writers introduced themselves to an unsuspecting world. Coming in August is Tales of the Crimson Keep – Newly Renovated Edition. To learn more, we spoke with co-founder and project editor Robert Greenberger.
C8P: What exactly is the Crimson Keep? And what goes on there?
Bob: This place is a mystical Tesseract where time folds on itself in strange ways.
C8P: How did this anthology originally come together?
Bob: We wanted to call attention our new collective so we arranged to introduce ourselves at Shore Leave in 2011. The deal was fans could write a proposed opening line and make a $1 contribution to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. At our introductory panel, we’d sift through the opening lines, let the fans in attendance vote on the winner, and immediately after the panel, we would sit in public and begin writing a story.
Over the course of the next two days, we sat in a very cramped space, writing for upwards of an hour before handing the manuscript off to the next sucker. We had a yellow legal pad with notes so we knew names and other details while scrolling through what the preceding writers had done.
After the con, Mike Friedman gave it a final polish and we launched it as “Demon Circle”, an eBook. Later, we expanded on the world with new stories and released the anthology.
C8P: What makes this new version the Renovated Edition?
Well, we added Mary Fan to the roster in 2017 and wanted to showcase her brilliance. However, we agreed that a second round-robin was in order. After all, Russ Colchamiro hadn’t been part of the madness when we launched so this was a chance to have a story reflecting the current roster. It also meant Mary could write her own contribution. Our annual anthologies make for good samplers for our writing.
And we got a new cover from the wonderful Ty Templeton so that’s not so bad, either.
C8P: There are two round robin stories. What’s the challenge in writing in this format?
Bob: The challenge here is that you’ve got people who write with different tonal voices so we had to blend those. Aaron Rosenberg, Peter David and Russ Colchamiro are very good at the humorous stuff, me less so, I had to learn to loosen up and keep up. In addition, as we hand things off from writer to writer, we have to be careful that we honor what came before and remain consistent. The first go-round was fun because we were making it up as we went along while the second one was a different challenge as writers cherry-picked bits and pieces from the existing stories. And of course, there’s always the issue of timing because everyone is busy. We set a goal that each writer, upon receiving the story, had 48 hours to contribute his or her section and pass it on otherwise there would be merciless mocking and no one wants that.
C8P: Where can readers get their copies?
Bob: The book will launch in August as an eBook and trade paperback. All they have to do is check for announcements here and on our Facebook page.