Creative Colleagues: Elaine Cunningham

Elaine Cunningham

Elaine Cunningham

Every now and then, I pester my creative colleagues with five questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

I don’t recall the details of my first contact with Elaine Cunningham, but it was probably an email exchange while I was editing Dragon. We met at Gen Con later, but it was such a brief meeting during a busy con that neither of us remembers it clearly. Most of our friendship has existed in the aether of the Internet as we conspire, commiserate, and exchange the occasional outline or manuscript.

When James Sutter first talked to me about Pathfinder Tales, he made it clear I couldn’t have the first book so long as Elaine was available. I accepted that because, well, Elaine Freakin’ Cunningham makes a bigger impression than Dave Who? Gross. If it had to be anyone but me, I was glad it was Elaine. We’d been chatting for months about what kinds of stories we’d like to tell in Golarion once the deal was in place. She gave me great feedback on my outline, and I tried to return the favor.

When the schedule had to change because of Elaine’s Year from Hell, she was supportive of Prince of Wolves coming out first and later of my helping her finish Winter Witch. We often talked about doing a collaboration on purpose afterward, but one of the many things we have in common is that we both like to lead. Thus, we shall never dance.

In case my sardonic wit (another thing we have in common) muddies my point, let me make it clear: Elaine is one of my favorite humans not only because her writing inspires me to try harder but because she manages to maintain a dark humor without becoming one of those tedious naysayers. Also, whenever she shares stories of her family, her love for them makes me feel like I’ve known them all my life, even though I’ve never met them (except possibly one of the boys during that brief, distracted meeting at Gen Con). You can see why she’s good with characters in fiction.

Anyway, after years of begging off, Elaine finally answered five hard-hitting (not really) questions about writing. And lo! They appear henceforth:

1. I think I can guess the answer, but what do you love most: plot, description, dialogue, or narration? And which do you hate the most? How do you balance the delight of working on your favorite with the agony of fighting with your nemesis?

Dialogue is the most fun for me. When the writing process is going well, it’s basically eavesdropping: I sit at the corner table, listening to these people talk and writing down what they say. But those moments are fairly rare. Most often, I revise and revise and revise until the flow of conversation feels right. It’s a bit like tuning a harp. It takes time, but the process of getting each string precisely in tune so that they all work together is very satisfying.

I know you’re thinking that plot is my least favorite part of writing, but plot isn’t really a nemesis; it’s more like a frenemy. Plot is the hardest part of writing for me, and where I’m most likely to make mistakes, but in many ways it’s also the most creative and rewarding aspect. Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to this issue. Going forward, I’ll be spending more time on the outline stage and getting feedback from Trusted Readers before I begin the actual writing process. Some people start a novel with a highly detailed plan; others make things up as they go along. They enjoy the exploration and discovery and surprise. While I fall into the second category in terms of inclination, it’s not the best tactic for me.

But to address your question more directly, narration is what I like the least. Specifically, I hate doing transitions, especially getting people from one place to another. I deal with this aspect mostly by minimizing it, using scene breaks and short chapters to instead of writing narrative that, if I were a reader, I’d just skim or skip over entirely. Leonard Elmore advised writers to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip, and for me, that’s narration.

2. Since you’re a trained musician, I’m always expecting to see more references to song and instruments in your work. But do you find that music influences your writing in other ways? Do you think in terms of meter, orchestration, crescendos, and so on? Do you have solos and duets, then full orchestral accompaniment?

Actually, I try to keep music OUT of the writing process. People often ask if I listen to music when I write. I don’t, and frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea. On the one hand, the emotion and energy of the music can carry you along while you’re writing (provided you can split your attention, which I can’t do), but on the other hand, what you write needs to convey that energy and emotion to a reader who does not have the benefit of your writing soundtrack.

I don’t think in musical terms while writing because language has its own rhythms and timbres and musical nuances. Layering on melody tends to reduce prose to lyrics, which, no matter how good they might be, can seldom stand alone.

That said, I do have one particular bit of “sound track” for my Songs & Swords novels. There’s mention of a song called “The Greymist Maiden” in Elfsong. It’s a ballad written by Danilo Thann. I never did write lyrics for this, but there is a melody, which also functions as the “love theme” for him and Arilyn Moonblade. It plays in the back of my mind when I’m writing or thinking about them. Does that translate to the page? Probably not, but I’m fond of the tune and I enjoy “hearing” it every now and then.

Cover by Victor Leza

Cover by Victor Leza

3. You’re also a big fan of Polish myth and legend. While I know you’ve got something along those lines percolating, has it slipped out into your previous work? And in what ways to real-world myths and legends influence your fantasy creations?

People who’ve read the Pathfinder novel Winter Witch might remember that Declan Avari’s mother, Pernilla, created elaborate landscapes with layers of paper in shades of white and off-white. This was inspired by wycinaki, a Polish paper cutting folk art style.

Slavic folklore was also central to Windwalker, a Forgotten Realms novel set mostly in the land of Rashemen. Then there’s “Vasillssa’s Doll,” a short story in the anthology When the Hero Comes Home 2. Vasilissa the Fair is actually a Russian folktale trope, but there’s a lot of overlap and similarity in the various flavors of Slavic folklore.

Real-world myths and legends are central to my love of fantasy. Some people entered the genre through Tolkien, or the Dragonlance novels, or video games. Mythology and folklore was my point of entry, and they remain my primary inspiration.

4. You’re a tremendously supportive critique of colleagues’ work, yet you’re immensely hard on your own writing. What the hell is wrong with you, anyway? Seriously, when are you able to flip the switch to appreciate your own writing? Is it simply dependent on mood? Or is there a creative way to find that perspective? 

There’s a line between self-editing, which is necessary, and negative self-talk, which can be crippling. Admittedly, I don’t always do a good job of staying on the right side of that line. I like your notion of “creative perspective.” That’s vitally important. I’m finding that can stay on track if I focus on this outline, this scene, this passage, this particular word choice, rather than on what I think and feel about myself as a writer. That’s the sort of thing my inner critics like to talk about. When they start to chime in, I don’t engage them. I used to try to disprove them by, for example, putting a stack of published books next to my computer as a visual reminder that I have, in fact, written something that was considered publishable and could probably do so again. But inner critics are like internet trolls; debate only encourages them. It’s a better idea to just let their words flow past you and then get back to work.

Everyone has doubts, fears, and so on. Depression and anxiety disorders are fairly common among writers. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to deal with these things—and most other issues, for that matter—is to focus on developing good habits.

That’s a major focus for me right now. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been studying habit acquisition, writing about it, and working with a couple of programmers to develop a system of online tools. It has been a transformative process. Getting healthy was a first and necessary priority, but that accomplished, I’ve begun shifting focus back to writing.

And that leads to one more tactic I’ve started to incorporate. Most habits are private affairs, but I’ve come to realize that I have been TOO private about my writing process. Talking to other writers, comparing manuscripts, checking in on progress—these things can be very helpful during those times when the dark wood is darker than usual. Within the next month or so, we’ll be beta-testing GIDIG, our habit-acquisition website (no apps yet, but those are coming…), and I hope to recruit some of my colleagues to beta-test a writer’s group.

5. We both love humor and bestow it on our characters, but we also know humor is subjective. How do you know when a comic line or scene works? How do you know when to cut it? Perhaps most importantly, how do you know how to suggest another writer revise a comic bit?

Wow. Okay, this is a tough one, but I’ll toss out a a few random thoughts.

Humor “works” in different ways. Some things are funny because they’re surprising—they set up an expectation and then subvert it. Humor can be found in absurdity, which includes irony and satire. I enjoy these forms of humor immensely, and I’m especially fond of word play, so this is where I tend to focus. Physical humor is not my favorite brand of humor, but some writers can pull it off. I’m not a fan of shock humor or put-down humor, so those forms of humor don’t work for me.

Now, about the revision process. I find that if I’m uncomfortable with a line, it’s usually a good idea to cut it, even if I’m not entirely sure why. The same goes if I find that I have to work too hard to make a bit of dialogue fit. “Kill your darlings” is good advice in general, but it’s probably more applicable for humorous lines than for any other aspects of writing. Also, I find that it’s a good idea to let humorous passages sit for a while and then come back to them. Something that strikes you as amusing at a particular point in time might not hold up. Read the humorous section out loud to get a sense of pacing. If you can, have someone read the passage (silently) and watch their face while they’re reading.

I haven’t run into this issue during the editing/critiquing process very often, but the few examples that come to mind are usually problems of pacing or voice. Sometimes I’ll point out that a phrase doesn’t quite ring true for a character. And every now and then I just don’t “get” a bit of humor and ask for a clarification. That’s it. No suggestions, no “this doesn’t work.” I think it’s helpful for a writer to know that their intent isn’t getting through, and I leave it to them to decide whether to a) revise or b) decide that I’m a humorless Philistine who doesn’t know comedy from kumquats.

Mosey over to Elaine’s webpage.


Creative Colleagues: Tom Smith

Tom Smith

Tom Smith

Every now and then, I pester my creative colleagues with five questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

Apart from our mutual love of SFF and things fannish, Tom Smith and I both have roots in Michigan (I escaped as an infant, but he’s still serving his sentence). However, I don’t we’ve ever met in the flesh, even though I suspect we’ve been at a few of the same conventions.

The first I heard of him was when an old girlfriend fired up a cassette named Who Let Him in Here? While she meant to turn me on to Tom’s Elvis/Tolkien parody “The Return of the King,” I became a devoted fan early in the very first track, “I Want To Be Peter Lorre.” Tom’s Elvis is good, but his Peter Lorre is tremendous. I wore out that cassette years ago and have since replaced it from his Bandcamp page.

Like all the best filkers, Tom is a talented musician, an incorrigible punster, and a comic with precision timing. As for the word “filk” and exactly what it means, I’ll leave that for the master to explain.

1. For the uninitiated, would you explain what filk is? How did you first get involved? What are the unique challenges to crafting a great filk song? 

Filk is a genre of music—the music of science fiction and fantasy fandom. It encompasses basically anything we want to play, although it tends to be SF or fantasy in nature. But it also includes songs with computers, cats, puns, political statements, recycled old jokes, ecological themes, toys, comic books, whatever.

It’s also an offshoot of an existing song. It can be a verb, something you do to a song, as in Weird Al’s parody “Yoda” filks “Lola” by The Kinks, or a noun, referring to the song itself, as in  Peter Schelling’s “Major Tom” is a filk of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

And, it’s the community of those who write, perform, and enjoy such music. We have conventions. They’re like big ol’ family reunions, only with lots more guitars.

I first got involved back in 1985. I knew some filkers, and I knew some cute fannish ladies whom I wanted to impress, and I’d always wanted to play a musical instrument, so I picked up a cheap guitar and a couple of Mel Bay books and pretty much taught myself. I first performed at a con in March 1985. I was good enough to get a concert by fall 1988, and I hope someday soon to be halfway decent.

There are no “unique” challenges to writing a “great” filk song. No one sets out for greatness. I want it to be solid lyrically—to not cheat (too much) on rhyme or scansion, to make sense as a short story, to have a catchy tune. Basically, anything you’ve ever heard about songwriting combined with anything you’ve ever heard about writing short SF.

2. Hilarious impersonations are one of your hallmarks. Do you find yourself as influenced by actors as by writers? Where do you find there’s good and bad friction between composition and performance?

Thanks kindly. Growing up, I was a huge fan of Rich Little, Frank Gorshin, and especially Mel Blanc. And of course I am influenced by actors. I used to be a D&D and RuneQuest GM, where you have to basically perform the world. I launch into soliloquies for fun. One of my faves is the Reviews riff in “The Goodbye Girl.”

Hee—every single line is a potential source of friction between composition and performance. Part of the game of songwriting (and it is a game, a puzzle, even as it’s a challenge) is coming up with a combination of words and music that not only makes sense, but is sing-able and understandable. Check out Steve Goodie’s “Dumbledore,” or my own “Dead Again” or “Five Years.”

3. Many filk songs require the audience to know the source material. What kind of thought do you have to put into considering how much of the audience will “get” your references, and how much explanation do you then put into the song itself?

Some songs are very specific. For those, I mention that, if you don’t know the source material, it’ll make no sense. However, I tend to put explanations into the songs themselves (e.g., “Hellraiser,” “PQR”). And I try not to riff on anything too obscure.

4. Parody artists like Weird Al and satirists like Tom Lehrer seem a lot like filkers to me. Do you hold them up as idols, inspirations, rivals, or something else?

Absolutely, inspiration. To an extent, rivals—or, not so much rivals as gold standards to achieve and ideally surpass. Weird Al and Jonathan Coulton have specifically said they are NOT doing filk—I believe it’s from a combination of the somewhat negative connotation of the word (as some filkers are, frankly, not very skilled musically) and being unwilling or unable to be part of the community. Nobody holds it against them, and any day either of them showed up at a filk circle, they would be met by a sustained standing ovation.

5. Political events inspire some of your lyrics, so I imagine your reading the news and turning with a passion to the guitar. Where else do you turn for inspiration?

Sometimes I’m inspired by politics. These days it’s tricky—your audience can become physically hostile if you ain’t careful. I love working in SF/F because that’s where my head and heart are at.

My love of music is as old as I am. My mom was a nightclub singer, my dad a dancer, my grandmother had Broadway and comedy albums. My love of folk and classic rock—50s, 60s, 70s, MY music when I was growing up—led to my love of filk. I also love classical, soundtracks, show tunes, blues, some ambient, barbershop quartet, some modern pop, big band, and some ballads. I’m as much a fan of Barry Manilow as I am of Meat Loaf, I (the atheist) belt out the tunes from Godspell and Pippin, and I can listen to Billy Joel, Christine Lavin, Uncle Bonsai, or The Beatles all day long.


Keep track of Tom’s latest convention appearance (and most recent releases) at his website. Don’t forget to check out his Band Camp page, where you can buy his albums.




New Essay on Black Gate

Art by Eric Belisle

Art by Eric Belisle

Black Gate is one of my favorite sites, focused on fantasy but with a diversity within the genre that keeps it fresh and often introduces me to things I hadn’t discovered. Also, the folks at BG share many of my non-fantasy interests. For example, Bob Byrne posts a regular Sherlock Holmes feature.

Last week Bob invited me to contribute an essay based on the “Holmes & Watson” pitch that launched the Radovan & the Count novels. That led me to consider both the limitations of the “elevator pitch” and the perils of “pinching” ideas from famous books and movies. You can read it right here.

Creative Colleagues: Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo

Every now and then, I pester my creative colleagues with five questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

While I was aware of Cat Rambo as a local writer when I lived in Seattle, we didn’t get to know each other beyond a hello or a nod at the local SFF events. Perhaps we first met at a Clarion party or at the Nebula Awards. I knew her well enough to recognize her and say hi, but not enough to tell you whether she has pets and what kind. (Two! A black cat named Raven and a small tortoiseshell named Taco.)

But I do remember our later meeting in an elevator at the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio. I was surprised that she was aware of my then-most-recent Pathfinder Tales novel. Some feel there’s a great divide between the “artists” of the mainstream SFF writing community and us “hired guns” of tie-in fiction, but Cat is just one example of how that’s no longer true—or at least that it’s changing. (It doesn’t hurt that Cat’s a veteran gamer.)

That Cat was recently elected as president of the Science Fiction Writers Association is another good sign of a broader embrace of writers in all the little nooks and crannies of our fractious genre(s). That she’s contributing to Marc Tassin’s Champions of Aetaltis anthology is another. Speaking of which, the Kickstarter campaign is entering its last hours, so please take a look at the diverse and talented list of authors contributing to the project. Chances are good you’ll spy a favorite or two among us

1. As you take over as president of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association, what’ll you do to make the organization more appealing to a broader group of writers?

One of the things that the organization has been looking at in recent years is how the ways writers make money is changing. Where once publishing with a major publisher was the only path, nowadays we see people earning their livings through small press, independent publishing, subscriptions, crowd-funding and other means. While SFWA must remain an organization of professional writers, it needs to be all the permutations of professionality.

SFWA has so much to offer professional writers beyond its community, and we’re looking at how to support all our members—with information, resources, and other forms of help. Right now we’re looking at discoverability and ways to help our members with that through things like the recently implemented new release newsletter and the NetGalley membership, which I hope to see set up within the next few months.

2. After years of writing award-winning short fiction, how different did you find the process of writing your first novel, Beasts of Tabat

I’d been working on novels off and on all along, but I’m only recently beginning to figure out the difference, which is a) novels are more complex and b) you can’t hold an entire novel in your head the way you can a story, which makes writing it much more difficult, a bit like trying to build a house while living in it at the same time.

Cover design by Janet McDonald

Cover design by Janet McDonald

3. When you sat down to write Beasts of Tabat, what were the two or three most important things you did at the start?

I think the most important thing is that I’d developed a strong sense of the setting. I knew a lot about the physical geography as well as the history, from having written so many stories already that were set in Tabat.

Another is that I had some sense of what the book was about. I don’t know how important that will be for other writers, because everyone’s process is so different, but it certainly helped to have an idea of where I wanted to have arrived by the end of the book.

4. What appeals to you about the World of Aetaltis? And what sort of hero did you create for that setting?

I have always loved roleplaying games, so a chance to write in a shared world like that sounded like so much fun! I have a pair of heroes, actually, with a buddy story going on, so expect banter. Lots of banter.

5. I just learned that John “Lost in the Funhouse” Barth was a mentor to you and that he looks forward to reading your book. Please describe your terror and hopes at that prospect.

I am so pleased that he said he would read it. I hope that he’ll see how deep and rich and wonderful genre fiction can be. That if he hasn’t read Delany or Emshwiller or Tiptree Jr., he’ll start. Because I know he’ll love some of that as much as I do. That he’ll understand that F&SF can explore the human story in a way no other literature can.

It does take a certain amount of guts to send Barth my book and say, “You will enjoy this.” But I know the book is good, good enough to withstand Jack’s perusal, and it pleases me enormously to be able to show him that his instruction was not wasted on me.

Watch for what’s next for Cat at her website.




Lord of Runes Chapter One

Art by Eric Belisle

Art by Eric Belisle

Like most of the Radovan & the Count stories, Lord of Runes begins with a mystery. You can read the first chapter, featuring the first clues of that mystery, at the Paizo blog.

And bonus! Here’s another terrific illustration of Count Varian Jeggare by the estimable Eric Belisle. Keen-eyed readers will realize that the weapon he’s wielding is a katana rather than a jian, as I envisioned the Shadowless Sword. But hey! Katanas look cool, too.

Creative Colleagues: Christopher Paul Carey

Christopher Paul Carey

Christopher Paul Carey

Every now and then, I pester my creative colleagues with five questions about their work. Most of these folks are friends, a few are secret enemies, and one has been blackmailing me for years.

Before I ever met Chris Carey, our mutual friend Pierce Watters told me we’d get along for several reasons, not the least of which was a shared interest in Pulp-era fiction and a non-debilitating academic background. When we finally met at PaizoCon in 2010, I felt as if I already knew him well, but I regretted we had so short a visit. By day Chris is an editor at Paizo, but by cloak of night he continues the adventures of Hadon of Opar, a hero created by the legendary Philip Jose Farmer.

1. I first discovered Philip José Farmer though Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, which probably wasn’t the best portal. How did you first encounter his work? And which would you recommend as a great starting place for newcomers?

I came upon Phil’s work through the gateway of Edgar Rice Burroughs. From the ages of twelve to sixteen I devoured just about every novel of Burroughs’s then published, and early on during that period I discovered Farmer’s Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke and Hadon of Ancient Opar on the bookstore shelves, both books being inspired, of course, by the works of ERB. I bought those up, along with the first volume in Farmer’s World of Tiers series, The Maker of Universes. I read the latter first and was immediately sold on Farmer’s writings. I think it’s a good place to start if you like adventure-based science fiction. But for the more groundbreaking work by Farmer, I might start with a novel like Night of Light or one of his short story collections. Farmer’s skill at writing short fiction is often overlooked.

2. Speaking of Doc Savage, who’s your favorite of the Fabulous Five? For those who aren’t yet fans, please describe the character and what’s great about him. (Bonus points if you can guess my favorite, and a scalding virtual stare if you can’t.)

Well, I’m going to guess Monk Mayfair, since isn’t he everyone’s favorite aide? Monk is the wise-cracking, hot-tempered, rough-and-tumble member of the group, who also happens to be one of the world’s most brilliant chemists. He serves as a welcome contrast to the rational, often Spock-like Doc Savage and provides a lot of humor by digging into his simultaneous rival and (in secret) closest friend, Theodore Marley “Ham” Brooks, the dapper lawyer of the group. Almost a Radovan and Jeggare thing, wouldn’t you say?

I read all of the original Doc Savage novels back in the day, and I was honored to contribute an essay to the deluxe hardcover edition of Farmer’s fictional biography on the Man of Bronze, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. I also loved Farmer’s Doc Savage novel Escape from Loki, which has many facets to it that often go unnoticed, because Phil liked to bury the bone deep. I’ve read little of [Doc Savage creator] Lester Dent’s work in recent years, though as far as pulp goes, my childhood love of Edgar Rice Burroughs is still as strong as ever, and I find the works of H. Rider Haggard to be much more rewarding to read in my adult years than I ever found them to be when I was a teenager. Haggard wasn’t a pulp writer, of course, though he often gets lumped in with the genre, as does Farmer. It’s true that Farmer’s first story was published in Adventure, and his next few appeared in Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Tales, but that’s just a technicality. I regard him very much as a modern, and if I had to label him based on his output, I’d probably put him in with the New Wave.

I should add that I don’t read only pulp. If you want to have breadth and depth as a writer, in whatever your chosen niche, you shouldn’t limit yourself as a reader. That goes both ways, I think. Don’t be too heavy all the time or too light.

3. Can you describe the process of collaboration with PJF and how your approach changed (or didn’t) after his death?

When Phil was still with us and I was completing his manuscript to The Song of Kwasin, the third novel in the Khokarsa (aka Ancient Opar) series, I had the golden opportunity to ask him questions. “How would you like the novel to wrap up, since this is the conclusion of a thematic cycle?” “How would you feel if I added this or that?” “You have this or that in your outline, but over here in one of the prior novels in the series you say this contrary thing. How about if I reconciled it like so?” Phil was retired from writing at that point, and his health was in decline. I received more feedback toward the beginning, when he was feeling better. He let me know what he wanted to happen at the end of the novel, and told me to drop certain elements from his original outline because he no longer thought they worked. But he also told me to do what I thought best for the novel. That was simultaneously a huge confidence builder and terrifying. I mean, this is the guy who transformed the face of science fiction with his story “The Lovers.” I touched base with Phil while I was in the process of writing, sending him batches of chapters, which his wife read aloud to him, and visiting him at his home in Peoria to let him know how the manuscript was progressing. Hearing back from Phil and his wife Bette that they loved what I was doing with the story provided probably the biggest morale boost I’ll ever get as a writer.

After Phil, and then shortly thereafter Bette, passed away, the process of continuing to write installments in the Khokarsa series was the same, but without having that golden opportunity to ask him questions. I’m a pretty much a purist when it comes to the established continuity and strive to remain in the spirit of what went before in the series. So I do a tiring amount of research and fact-checking for each story.

But I also know that Phil was a big believer in innovation as a writer. He was disappointed with the lack of creativity in some of the shared-world stories that were spun off of his own work during his lifetime. When I asked Phil what his single most lasting impact on science fiction was, he responded, “Giving younger writers the courage to come forward with new ideas as I did with ‘The Lovers.’” I’ve taken that advice to heart and keep it in mind while I’m working on the stories in the series. Thus, in my novella Exiles of Kho, a prelude story set eight hundred years before the main series, I was more comfortable adding some new major elements to the mythology. Khokarsa is a matriarchal society, and yet in the original novels by Phil, we never get to see anything from the viewpoint of the priestesses or learn any of their esoteric secrets. So I chose for my protagonist the priestess-heroine who discovered the valley of Opar, and we finally get a glimpse of some of the hidden knowledge and inner workings of the temple of Kho, the Mother Earth goddess. In Exiles of Kho and the upcoming Hadon, King of Opar, I also address the topic of prejudice in a society that permits slavery. This will play out even more in Blood of Ancient Opar, which is due out next year. These are topics that I’m sure Phil would have tackled had he been able to continue the series, and I try to think of how he might have come at them from unexpected angles that also would have been appropriate to the continuity.

Hadon King of Opar

Cover by Bob Eggleton

4. Since you’re a fan of “Pulp” fantasy, what’re a couple of lessons contemporary fantasy authors can learn from the masters? That is, one thing we should do more like them, and one thing they did that we should never try.

Don’t be afraid to let tradition inform your writing, but don’t let it restrain, limit, or blemish your work either. In other words, embrace the mythic structure and modes of the storytelling of those masters, but move them forward either without the prejudice on display in those earlier works or by addressing that prejudice directly.

5. Now that you’ve written in the Pathfinder setting, for which you’ve been an editor for years, how much do you feel your insider status helps and/or hinders you creatively?

In terms of writing for the Pathfinder campaign setting, it mostly only helps, since I have a legion of experts within earshot every day I’m at the office. Of course, that’s also hugely intimidating. But when you’re writing shared-world fiction, you either get a thick skin and learn how to work creatively within an established framework, or you don’t do it. The idea that writers of mainstream and other genres outside of science fiction and fantasy aren’t limited by the boundaries of setting is ludicrous. To write a meaningful story, you need to have things you can do in the story and things you can’t. To do otherwise, well… let’s just say that’s not a story I’d be interested in reading.

Because the number of limited-edition copies is determined by pre-order, you can and should pre-order Hadon, King of Opar from Meteor Press right this minute. That is, by the end of June. And you can follow Chris on Twitter.