Fantasy For Good

Very pleased to announce my story “The Edge Of Magic” will be included in the upcoming charitable anthology “Fantasy For Good”, edited by Richard Salter and Jordan Ellinger, published by Nightscape Press. Net proceeds will be going to Colon Cancer Alliance.

The anthology’s contributor line-up includes some of the best known names in fantasy writing. Frankly, I can’t believe I’m sharing a ToC with these people: Michael Moorcock (I grew up reading Elric, Corum, Von Bek, et al: they’re a part of my writerly DNA), Piers Anthony (again, I grew up reading early “Xanth” novels, “Kirlian Quest”, “Blue Adept”, etc.), Alan Dean Foster (before “The Empire Strikes Back” was more than an improvised twinkle in George Lucas’ eye, the only Star Wars sequel that existed was Foster’s “Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye“), Neil Gaiman, Nnedi Orokafor, Carrie Vaughn, Jay Lake…the stellar list goes on (see more here). Oh, and there’s also some guy called George RR Martin, who’s recently enjoyed some modicum of success with a popular long-form tale involving dragons, knights and zombies — but to me, he’ll always be the author of “A Song For Lya“, “Sandkings“, “In The House Of The Worm”, “The Way Of Cross And Dragon“…some of my very favourite SF stories.

Oh, and the anthology cover. Lookit that cover by Paul Pederson. Judge the book by it. Go on: judge it.

So yeah. Many, many reasons to rush out and buy multiple copies of this anthology when it comes out this summer.

I’m honoured and humbled to be a small part of it.

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A New Hope

So far January has turned out to be something of an antidote to the dark and dismal last months of 2013. November and December provided nothing writing-wise but a rolling wall of rejections. The start to this year has been much better: two acceptances (one provisional, depending on edits), and a Schrödinger’s hold note that may or may not collapse into a sale. My success rate in that sort of situation — and I’ve been in it a few times now — is about 50/50. So by mentioning it, I’ve probably just disturbed the wave function and jinxed it. Damn.

One of the acceptances is particularly exciting for me, because a) it’s for a story I really like, and b) some of the contributors already announced are seriously wowza. Like in, never in my wildest imaginings would I have wildly imagined sharing a ToC with these authors. In fact, I’m not sure I believe it yet. So I’ll try to curb my enthusiasm. Just a little.

More details when I can share them. Hopefully soon, one way or another. What I really need to do now is not get distracted and knuckle down and write some new stuff.
Snowdrops Keep Falling On My Head...

There Is No Destination

So it’s that time of year again. Time to look back. Time to look forward.

For me, a year of contrasts. In many ways, my best year ever, certainly on the publication front, with seven stories out:

Only a couple of years ago I was wondering if I would ever get anything accepted and published. Ever. At all. So, really, this is great. More than great.

But it’s also been a frustrating year. There is no magic point — at least, certainly not one I’ve reached yet — beyond which your writing suddenly becomes effortless and every story automatically publishable. Of course there isn’t. Just because you’ve had a story accepted before doesn’t mean your next story will get anything other than a form rejection. There is no Rubicon, no sudden “levelling up”, or club you join with a secret handshake (or if there is, I haven’t received my invite yet — hint hint), no flawless author magically emerging from a papery chrysalis of rejection slips, no golden ticket; each story and each submission stands and falls on its own merits, in competition with great stories from great authors, all vying for attention on the editor’s desk.

So the only thing to do is to concentrate on the variables you control.  The continued practice of your craft. The amount of work you produce and send out. Revise, re-target, carry on. Inch towards that elusive destination, that place where your words are finally perfect, your story greater than the sum of its parts. Where concept, theme, plot and character combine in a nirvana where nothing you could change, or add, or subtract, could make it any better.

Yeah. I know. That place doesn’t exist.

But that’s no reason to ever stop trying to reach it.

Shangri-La by Claudio Bergamin

“Shangri-La” by Claudio Bergamin

Heart Of Darkness

If you’re popping over from the DSF e-mail blast of “The Key To El-Carim’s Heart” scheduled for Monday 2nd December — welcome! If you’re not — welcome anyway!

As mentioned in the story notes, “El-Carim” was inspired in part by my recollection of a film I saw as a child, “Captain Sindbad“. I haven’t seen it since, but I do still remember the seemingly impregnable tower with the villain’s heart locked in a chest. As it turns out, the villain in question was actually called “El Kerim”, so in one sense the name of my narrator and the title of the story is based on a badly researched Wikipedia entry (tip: don’t believe everything you read on the Internet, kids). Never mind, there’s not much else in common with the film apart from that central image of the heartless villain attempting to defy death itself.

Pedro Armedariz (left) as "El Kerim" (Captain Sindbad 1963)

Pedro Armedariz (left) as “El Kerim” (Captain Sindbad 1963) is pleased by the work of his cryptographic wizards.

Some beta-readers questioned the viability of a cryptographic key stored not as a computer file but printed on paper or parchment. Believe me — it’s been done, even if it’s not necessarily the most convenient method of storage or distribution.

“Carim” is a rather dark story, and that also was another issue some readers had, indeed I questioned it myself. Hopefully it will serve to remind us all to take more care of our precious keys.

“The Clay Farima” Reviewed

What’s the very worst that can happen after a story is published?

Terrible reviews? Death threats from readers? Death threats from the publisher? Being disowned by your spouse and children?

No.

Roaring silence. That’s the worst thing. Was the story any good? Was it really bad? Did anybody like it? Did anybody hate it? Did anybody read it at all? 

So I’m really pleased to see these reviews that came in for “The Clay Farima” after it was published in BCS #128 last month.

Terry Weyna for Fantasy Literature: Magazine Monday reviews BCS #127 & #128:

“It’s a fascinating tale” … “and my favorite in these two issues.”

Michelle Ristuccia for Tangent Online:

“From Farima’s direct and vivid introduction to the dramatic choice she faces at the end, Szabranski provides an engaging tale full of enjoyable complexities ranging from the magical to the familial.”

Lois Tilton for Locus Online:

“Surprisingly, this ends up being a story of love.” … “As the author is a theoretical physicist , the Source seems to be casting the working of magic in those terms, which more SFnally oriented readers may appreciate.”

…which all sounds great, don’t it? But hold up. Lest my head explode, giddy from praise, note also that Lois says:

“Farima as a narrator is too overwrought particularly in the beginning”

and Terry notes the story is:

“a trifle clumsy at times”

…but, hey. That’s cool, too. I still consider myself very much a beginner in the business of story writing.

It’s great to get any coverage and input from reviewers. It really helps.

Beyond The Magic Event Horizon

This week sees the publication of my novelette “The Clay Farima” in the fab magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. I had great fun writing it and I’m really pleased it found such a great home.

It is both a blessing and a curse that I generally don’t plan my stories. Starting out as a simple sword and sorcery whodunnit, this one quickly morphed into a journey of internal and external discovery. I honestly didn’t know how it would turn out or what wonders (or horrors) Farima and Mevlish would encounter beyond the Wall. Luckily the scenes mostly wrote themselves. No, I don’t know how that happens. No, it doesn’t happen that often.

Oddly enough, during the process of writing it, I found myself thinking of “The Clay Farima” as a pure science fiction story rather than an adventure fantasy tale. Substitute “gravity” for “magic” and suddenly the Wall marks the event horizon of the singularity known as the Source — although that analogy quickly breaks down if you know any real physics. Similarly, the artificially created narrator can be likened to an android or a clone, another familiar SF trope. So it’s really about a sentient robot’s journey to the centre of a supermassive black hole. But without the robot. Or the black hole. Or any of the science. What I really wanted to capture was the elusive “sensawunda” those type of stories can evoke. I hope I succeeded, at least in some measure.

If “Farima” seems dense in backstory, part of some larger tale, that’s because it follows an earlier story that detailed the rise and fall of the tempestuous relationship between Mevlish and Kaffryn. Some of the momentum from that original story carried through to “Farima”, and it may well continue into other projects set in the Near and Far Kingdoms. Hopefully “Farima” stands well enough on its own.

Another prompt for this story, once it began to brew in my mind, was this image used as part of a writing group challenge. The painting is by the remarkable artist Zdzisław Beksiński, and for those of you who have read “Farima”, the scene inspired by it should be immediately obvious.

Art that inspired "The Clay Farima" by Zdzislaw Brezinski

Art by Zdzislaw Beksiński that inspired “The Clay Farima”