Akiri Giveaway

Cover by Gene Mollica

Cover by Gene Mollica

While I’m sitting on the interview until the release date on October 21, the authors of Akiri: The Scepter of Xarbaal are offering terrific prizes for signing up for Brian’s newsletter—including the actual sword used in the photo shoot for this cover.

Go sign up, then bookmark this page and come back on October 21 to read what Brian D. Anderson and Steven Savile say to my impertinent questions.

Don’t forget to check out Gene Mollica’s art page.

Creative Colleagues: Marc Tassin

Marc Tassin

Marc Tassin

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.

It’s that Marc Tassin again, tireless organizer of the Writers Symposium at Gen Con and tireless creator of his own fantasy setting. He’s launched a third Kickstarter campaign after two successful antecedents. This time it’s not just an adventure or a story collection—it’s a whole world.

After the success of his Temple of Modren Pathfinder adventure and his Champions of Aetaltis anthology, Marc’s going full Greenwood by presenting an entire fantasy campaign setting for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons.

Fortunately for his sanity, Marc has a team of talented collaborators in the form of Mechanical Muse. They’re hard at work spreading the word about this new project while simultaneously shepherding the massive project. Marc’s right in the thick of it, so let’s test just how tireless he is by throwing him a few impertinent questions.

I get the feeling this setting harks back to an era of heroic and epic fantasy that I felt was at its height in the 80s. Does that seem right?

On the surface, I can see it appearing that way. With Aetaltis I’ve definitely worked to create a new world that strikes many of the same chords in readers and players that you’d expect from a classic heroic fantasy setting like Faerûn, Oerth, or Krynn. The key, however, is that Aetaltis isn’t an homage or an attempt to copy the legendary settings of that era. Rather, I’m building a completely new world that draws on the same root sources and ideas that inspired the creators of those settings.

The end goal is to create a brand new world that can stand alongside those settings rather than a world that harks back to them. A tall order, I know, but that’s what I’m working to do. I’m just not convinced we’re done exploring worlds like these. There are still stories to tell and wonders to reveal!

What are the challenges in making the players of a game feel like epic heroes?

For me, the “epic” in Epic Fantasy™ really refers to the impact that the character’s actions have on the history and the world. I think of it like this: if someone was writing a history book about the world, would the events surrounding the characters’ adventure warrant its own chapter? If the answer is “yes,” then we’re talking about epic fantasy.

With that as the definition, the specific obstacles the heroes need to overcome become less important. Could there be a giant large-scale set-piece battle with gathered armies facing off in a final fight? Sure! But if the real events on which everything turns are a couple of tiny heroes sneaking up to a volcano to throw a cursed magic item into it, that massive battle is an exciting bit of background, but not fundamental to the epic nature of what the heroes are attempting to achieve.

One thing I don’t agree with is that heroic and epic go hand in hand. What makes an adventure epic is the scale of the consequence of failure. What makes an adventure heroic is why the heroes are undertaking the task in the first place. Aetaltis is more about the why than the what. For me, the tale of a shepherd who takes up arms to defend his village against a small goblin hunting party simply because it’s the right thing to do, is every bit as compelling to me as the knight that rides into hell to destroy the demon that threatens the world.


Art by Nic Boone and Mitchell Malloy

Of all the iconic locations in the setting, which one would you say is most original to Aetaltis?

The Newardine Cels are definitely something different from what players have seen in the past. The newardin are one of the races unique to Aetaltis. They are a strange, otherworldly people that are cut from a very different cloth than the other races of the world. They originally came to Aetaltis as off-world colonists, members of a group called the Atlan Alliance. In this alliance of different races, which included the humans, the newardins’ role was to operate the magical gates that the Alliance used to travel between worlds. When the gates cataclysmically collapsed just over three hundred years ago, however, the surviving members of the Alliance were trapped on Aetaltis.

The newardin did not adapt well to life on Aetaltis. They congregated in cities where they constructed tightly controlled compounds that reflected the architecture, culture, and ideals of their homeland. Strange spiraling towers, impossibly thin pillars made out of materials unknown to the rest of Aetaltis’ inhabitants, and unfathomable cultural norms make these cels a slice of another world thrust into the otherwise familiar surroundings of Aetaltis’ other environments.

In the background of the Kickstarter video, you can catch a glimpse of one of these structures.

What’s the perfect relationship between fiction and the canonical events of an RPG?

I think you can place equal emphasis on both. Since we have strong support from both gamers and non-gamers alike, there’s no reason we can’t continue to provide more than one path to Aetaltis. And that’s important to me. Our goal isn’t to create games or write books. Our goal is to create an amazing world that people want to be a part of and then deliver tools they can use to interact with it. Games, books, comics, apps: in the end they’re all just different portals through which someone can visit a world.

You’re producing a Player’s Guide, a Game Master’s Guide, and an Adventurer’s Guide—but conspicuously not a book of monsters. Is that because you want to change the paradigm of play? Also, what makes your Game Master’s Guide stand apart from others recently published?

The reason our first monster book is a stretch goal rather than a core book is that what’s important in Aetaltis is the origin of monster, the story behind it, rather than the monster’s stats. This is information we can convey in the three core books without stat blocks. If you understand these origins, you can pull monsters from any of the bestiaries already available fifth edition and fit them easily into the story of Aetaltis.

Don’t get me wrong, we love monsters, especially the wonderfully quirky creatures born out of roleplaying games over the years (owlbears anyone?)  And we certainly have plenty of unique creatures we’re excited to share. That’s why the monster book is the next one we want to publish after the core books. It’s just not a requirement to experience the world.

As for the game master’s guide, the key here is that our guide is designed specifically to help game masters run adventures set in Aetaltis. Whether it’s advice on where in the world to base a campaign that captures your groups preferred style of play or guidelines for introducing your favorite non-Aetaltan character race to the game, our game master’s guide is the key to doing that. This is information you can’t get from other guides.

What are ten things that make Aetaltis stand out from other settings.

  1. Magic, originally a gift from the fallen god Endroren, is as frightening as it is useful.
  2. Endroren is chained to the core of the world, desperate to break free and return to the surface.
  3. The dwarves hate the gods for using their home, the Deeplands, as a prison for Endroren and his minions.
  4. Goblins, trolls, orcs, and many traditional fantasy monsters have only just returned to the world after the wards that trapped them in the Deeplands began to fail.
  5. Adventuring is a respectable occupation thanks to the edicts of Lord Drakewyn of New Erinor.
  6. Humans are not originally from Aetaltis but are travelers from another world trapped there when the gates to their homeland catastrophically failed.
  7. When the gates collapsed, they drew all manner of creatures, landscapes, and beings into the world.
  8. Essence wells, ley lines, essence crystals, and blood magic mean that there is far more to Aetaltan spellcasting than simple spell memorization.
  9. The temptation and ease of entreating Endroren for aid means that every hero must struggle to stay on the path of light.
  10. Not everyone believes that the world gates can’t be reopened…

Join the World of Aetaltis Kickstarter, follow the project on Facebook, or keep up at the website.


Creative Colleagues: Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood

Ed Greenwood

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’ve been an Ed Greenwood fan since the gray-box release of the Forgotten Realms. His name was familiar from Dragon Magazine, but seeing the entire setting described in a single product solidified my image of him as something between Elminster and Volo. If you’ve had the pleasure of meeting Ed, you know that’s a fair approximation of his persona.

In a way, Ed helped me get my first job at TSR, since the editing test was a deleted chapter of his novel Spellfire. It was there I discovered his love of page-and-a-half compound-complex sentences with nested parentheses, copious em-dashes, and idiosyncratic semicolons. Ed’s elaborate thoughts often needed such architecture, and the work he sent me for Dragon often made me think of Thoreau’s words: “I am large, I contain multitudes!”

And so he does, expressing an unprecedented multitude of ideas with his new publishing venture, The Ed Greenwood Group. On the occasion of the launch of its second setting with his novel Words of Unbinding, Ed agreed to answer a few questions about it.

What’s the origin of The Ed Greenwood Group? What’s the Stormtalons setting?

For years, I’ve been so caught up in working on the Realms every day that a lot of the other ideas that pop into my head all the time have simply been tossed into a “get to someday” pile.

With the Realms product line getting streamlined in 5th edition, I finally have some spare time, so out comes that huge pile of ideas. Story ideas. SF stories, space opera stories, sword & planet stories, modern mystery stories, Gothic horror romances, steampunks, James Bond-ish modern spy thrillers, Cthulhu-like period horrors, urban fantasies, the works.

Now, I could happily sit down at my keyboard and write novel after novel all on my own; that’s just what I’ve been doing for decades, after all. And that’s just what I am still doing, working my way down my idea pile. However, one of the things I’ve learned over the years as a writer, designer, and avid reader is that with sole-source settings, no matter how fast the creator is, that creator becomes a bottleneck; fans of a series or setting inescapably fall into long periods of waiting for the next offering. I’ve also discovered down all of the same years that I like collaborating on big creative projects; my desire for absolute control isn’t as strong as the high I get from seeing talented creative people having fun in a sandbox that we all expand and renovate together.

So was born the immodestly named (but not by me) The Ed Greenwood Group (TEGG): a transmedia publishing collective that will eventually bring to the world over thirty settings in a wide variety of genres in which I and fellow creatives—writers, artists, game designers, artisans, musicians, voice actors, and more—will work as equals to bring to life settings, in all formats we can muster.

So you can read novels and short stories set in Setting X, listen to audiobooks and original audio dramas and music set in Setting X, play roleplaying and board games that use and bring to life Setting X, and enjoy maps and art for the setting that are the usual two-dimensional drawn or painted images, but also extend to sculptures, wearable artifacts, collectibles, and more. In short, you can immerse yourself in the setting.

TEGG’s first setting is Hellmaw, modern-Earth gritty urban fantasy in which humans gradually become aware that there are daemons dwelling among us, treating us like cattle; to them, we are food. There are eight Hellmaw novels out so far, and they range from grim and blood-splattered through love stories and police procedurals to zany comedies. Gamers will recognize some of the authors: Chris A. Jackson, Erik Scott de Bie, J. Robert King, and me.

Cover by Eric Belisle

Cover by Eric Belisle

And TEGG’s second setting is Stormtalons, broad-tapestry heroic fantasy/swords & sorcery in the medieval-cum-Renaissance world of Asmer, where transforming mists roil and shift, mighty sleeping dragons stir, and magic is sparse and firmly controlled (a tyrant archwizard forces all lesser mages to work for him or die, and he is locked in détente with the priests of the Six who rule the land of Rheligor as a peaceful place of stiflingly strict order).

There are many ways in which the Realms and Stormtalons differ, but the most important one is that I designed the Realms to be high magic (lots of powerful magic in many hands) and I designed Stormtalons to be low magic (if you don’t keep your use of magic secret, and if you do anything too powerful, one of the Heirophar’s hit teams is going to be hunting you fast). So there’s plenty of room for just plain folks with their wits and fists to have adventures, not just wizards battling world-shaking menaces.

Stormtalons is not a D&D setting, though you can use the setting for roleplaying games; things that D&D gamers expect to be “true” for a setting, such as the widespread use of divination and teleportation, details of monsters, character “classes,” and so on, just don’t hold true in Stormtalons. Unlike the many, many gods of the Realms (a root design decision of mine, made a good eight years before the Dungeons & Dragons game existed), Asmer has only six gods (though there are cults of others, including dead gods subsumed by the Six). The metallic and chromatic dragon types of D&D are unknown in Stormtalons, which has “brute” dragons that humans hunt as monsters and (rarely) tame as steeds or eat as food, and the legendary Sleeping Dragons, who when they wake might just tear asunder the current balance of power and transform the world.

Stormtalons begins now, launched by my novel Words of Unbinding. It will be followed by a steady stream of novels and short stories; there are 150 novels scheduled so far (but don’t worry that your wallet’s going to get emptied in short order; the plan is that nothing will ever go out of print!).

A month after Words of Unbinding, Gregory A. Wilson brings us Grayshade, the first book in the Gray Assassin trilogy; a month after that, Dileep S. Rangan’s very different The Pirate King’s Daughter appears, the first book in the Jayasudhera trilogy. And in the next month (November), Richard Lee Byers brings us The Ghost in the Stone.

All of these Stormtalons novels will be available as ebooks, as trade paperbacks, as mass market paperbacks, and (whenever we accumulate 250 pre-orders) as collector’s edition deluxe hardcovers. The first three chapters of each are serialized online at Amazing Stories Magazine, and introductory and followup short stories, and other Stormtalons short stories, appear in each issue of Onder Magazine and are narrated for Onder Radio for TEGG Audio.

In short, I formed TEGG to give a lot of talented folks the chance to play together building worlds that we hope many will fall in love with and become fans of. As time passes and many of my favorite writers die, a lot of the “good pulpy fun” that I used to enjoy steady streams of has died to a trickle or faded away altogether; in part, I want to bring it back. New worlds for old, as the saying goes, We have new worlds here! Come see!

How does the creation of The Ed Greenwood Group differ from your creation of the Forgotten Realms? Especially, how does the creative aspect differ knowing you’re bringing in other writers from the start?

If I’m going to open up the sandbox for more than just me to play in, I’m immediately caught in the same struggle that has faced all shared-world creators and projects; the desire for consistency in lore (“canon,” guarded by some degree of editorial control) versus letting creative people BE creative and tell stories with as few fetters and impediments as possible.

And if it’s just me, helming every setting (especially when we get up to twenty-some settings running all at once), I will inevitably be a bottleneck, overwhelmed by reviewing all of the stories flooding in and the queries about flags of these countries and chamberpots of those countries, of how this detail of magic works and where the potatoes (are there potatoes?) are grown that the people in the Dread Pirate Isle eat, and how said potatoes get to them before they starve.

So, each one of our settings has a Lore Guardian (for Hellmaw, it’s Samantha Murphy, and for Stormtalons, it’s Cat Jarrett). These are creative whirlwinds who steer all of the stories in a setting, keep Creatives communicating with each other, and deal with the practical real-world matters of scheduling. If settings get wildly busy, we’ll have Lore Wardens to assist them.

And every setting also has its own Art Director; for both Hellmaw and Stormtalons, that’s Eric Belisle. In TEGG, artists are equals with writers and game designers, not illustrators-for-hire. Art Directors may create all of the covers for a setting, as Eric has done with his daemon portraits that formed the inspiration for Hellmaw, or they may coordinate other artists, but they establish the “look and feel” of a setting.

TEGG is different from a traditional publisher; it is a Sessorium of Creatives using all feasible formats or media to connect stories with fans. We already have TEGG Brazil, publishing our Hellmaw and Stormtalons tales in Brazilian Portuguese and Spanish; we hope to be in many places all over the world, not just English-speaking and -reading ones, involving local writers and giving newcomers a chance to story-tell alongside veterans. We’re setting up mentoring programs, and encouraging cross-pollination where characters and items from one writer’s tales appear or are mentioned in those of other writers; it’s about giving everyone a chance. TEGG Creatives are already of seemingly all races, genders, geographical locations, and backgrounds (yes, a lot of them are my friends and acquaintances, and I hope that through TEGG, many more will become new friends!).

What are the advantages to shared-world settings? How about some of the drawbacks? How do you bring together the best of both?

The major advantages include the richness that many creative voices (as opposed to just one) bring to the table, and the rapidity of output that multiple creators can achieve. For instance, we have an upcoming setting, still secret for now, for which we want twelve novels completely ready before we launch. This can bring forth nuanced, detailed stories fast enough to satisfy most readers and reassure them that this isn’t going to be something they’ve fallen in love with that abruptly ends without warning, or dies away, just when they’re really wanting more!

The main drawbacks are the inconsistencies inevitably introduced by too many cooks at work in the same kitchen, and the very human oneupmanship/“arms race” tendencies of authors trying to outdo each other, and too-similar stories being spun at the same time or in swift succession—all problems that the Lore Guardians have been put in place to try to prevent from the outset, so no creative time is wasted and the fan gets to enjoy the best and most consistent tales we can spin. We’re encouraging our creatives to talk with each other, to hang out together and work up ideas together, so as this thing gets rolling we will all be familiar with what’s going on in every setting, and tales can grow from each other, so the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

What influences from literature and other media are you most aware of?

I grew up voraciously devouring everything in my father’s den, in a family of readers and book collectors. Nothing was censored or hidden away from me, and I was what’s sometimes called a “child prodigy,” reading and writing (mostly terrible pastiches) of what struck my fancy from age five or six, usually because I ran to my Dad (my mother died when I was six) waving something I loved and asked where the sequels were, and he often told me I’d have to write them myself, because the author was dead and gone. Television was just getting going in those days (yes, I’m that old), and movies were a rare treat, but comics and books and magazines of all sorts were available in plenty, and I devoured everything. Notable early influences were Kipling and Lord Dunsany and P.G. Wodehouse and Leslie Charteris (the Saint books) and John Dickson Carr (locked-room mysteries) and Baroness Orczy (the Scarlet Pimpernel) and Robert Louis Stevenson (The Black Arrow) and E. R. Burroughs and E.E. Doc Smith (the Lensman series). Then I discovered Fritz Leiber and then Weird Tales, and Tolkien hit big in North America, and Lin Carter started republishing all the classic fantasy he could lay hands on, and Roger Zelazny rose from the pages of Fantastic (the first magazine I ever subscribed to) and I plunged into sf and fantasy and mystery reading in a big way (Asimov, Harry Harrison, Clarke, Heinlein, James H. Schmitz, et al). I have always been an avid book collector, and have worked in public libraries since age 14 (I’m 57 now), so I have been surrounded by stories, stories, and more stories for as long as I can remember. Everything from Popular Mechanics magazine to the Decameron, the original gory Brothers Grimm fairy tales to Victorian novels of manners; it has all influenced me, as has trying things in real life from diving into water-filled caves to riding bareback at dawn; everything.

In a world of peak television and near constant movie blockbusters, what does prose fiction have to offer that film and comics can’t?

The intimacy of painting mental pictures in solitude (the reader’s imagination turning shaped squiggles of ink on a page into a movie in the mind, images of characters and beasts and places, ordinary and fantastic, and “hearing” dialogue uttered as the imagined story unfolds). This is the reason behind our Stormtalons covers, in which we see the torsos of protagonists but not their faces; we’re leaving readers greater scope to fill in the blanks, in a way that television and film don’t allow.

The time and space to re-read and think.

The time to savor and recast—whereas the moment images are provided, the mental space to envisage a character in the reader’s own way is lost, and the timing of a filmed story is imposed and inflexible; it can rush past moments a viewer wants to slow and savor or sort out.

In other words, if you read a prose story, you can still make it yours, a tale you participate it, and shape in your mind; a television program or movie is pre-shaped and set, and you experience it but can’t participate in the same way. Our imaginations are muscles that need to be used if they are to flourish; young readers of today are learning to imagine, and from imagineers will come the ground-breaking television and film creators of the future.

You’re both prolific guys who’ve worked with a lot of other editors, writers, illustrators, and other creative people. What are some of the most surprising things you’ve learned from those colleagues?

Different ways of doing things (the craft of making stories; processes, discipline, and so on). How different people can read the exact same words and envisage very different things. That creatives work at different paces, in very different environments from each other, and that there is no “one right way”; there are only better or best ways for this individual, on this project, at this time. How universal emotions and conveying humanity can be, across barriers of language and culture and age and gender. How important individual words, gestures, and moments can be—resonating and being remembered for decades. And how slippery creativity can sometimes be, something morphing as it’s worked on in ways that surprise creators.

Keep an eye on Ed’s Blog or the Onder Librum for all things TEGG.

Creative Colleagues: J.M. Martin

J.M. Martin

J.M. Martin

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 missed my chance to work with J.M. Martin. Editor Nickolas Sharps asked me to write a story for Kaiju Rising, and I initially said yes before realizing I’d over-committed myself that year. The anthology rampaged on without me, not only to Kickstarter success but also to the foundation of Ragnarok Publications.

Along with Tim Marquitz, Joe Martin co-founded Ragnarock in 2013 and serves as its Creative Director. His latest anthology, Hath No Fury, is knocking down stretch goals on Kickstarter.

What impact has Kickstarter had on your creative decisions?

Kickstarter, in a nutshell, allows Ragnarok to publish these anthologies in the first place. We don’t have the operating cash to fund them ourselves, since we pay pro rates to the authors and artists, and the press runs for these books cost several thousand dollars. The great benefit to doing them, of course, is we have an awesome product for the trade market. Blackguards has historically been our best seller, and it wouldn’t even exist without Kickstarter, so yes, definitely new freedom for us, being able to produce books we normally couldn’t otherwise. I am so excited to hold our next books, MECH: Age of Steel and Hath No Fury in my hands.

Ragnarok is a relatively young publishing house, so I wonder what lessons you’ve learned in these first few years.

Tim Marquitz and I are both writers. I hate to say it, but the first contracts to our Ragnarok authors were way too generous. I mean, our intent is to always be author-friendly, to treat authors how we felt we should be treated, however we started by paying up to 60 percent to the author. That sure didn’t leave much behind by way of operating capital, so we’ve struggled a bit through the first couple years. Our contracts are still generous but a little more realistic. Lesson learned.

The most surprising thing for me is the sheer amount of work it takes to run a publishing house. I figured I’d be putting in lots and lots of hours, but I pretty much work 24–7 when I’m not sleeping, and that’s going on a couple years. I’ve pushed through about nine or ten mini-burnouts. Fortunately, Ragnarok has a crew that picks one another up whenever someone is lagging a little. I feel very lucky to have Tim, Melanie, Shawn King, and Gwen Nix as comrades-in-arms. Though Nick Sharps isn’t as heavily involved anymore, he deserves a shout-out, too. Most definitely. I’ve learned not to hold on to everything so tight, to let go (which is very hard for me) and to trust in these awesome folks to carry some of the load. Another lesson learned.

One last answer to this question: the terrifying part. We transitioned to traditional publishing this year (from indie publishing) by signing with a distributor, so long lead times, being beholden to a large company, and book returns all terrify me a little. Okay, a lot. Lesson in progress.

Cover by Manuel Castañón

Cover by Manuel Castañón

As a writer who also buys the work of others, what special insights have you experienced as an editor?

I think the best insight I have is from a threefold perspective, since as a writer, editor, and publisher I get to see something go from draft all the way to sell-through. It’s nearly impossible to predict sales trends in genre fiction, but I think it gives me a bit more understanding of what works in a story, compounded with the benefit of seeing sales figures in real time to help cement a writer’s idea as to what works in the market.

Think back to your earliest literary loves. Now think about the kind of fiction you like to read and buy. How are they different? And how are they exactly the same?

I grew up on the works of Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis, Anne McCaffrey, Michael Moorcock, and Tolkien, of course. Those qualify as my first literary loves, though perhaps my greatest love in fantasy fiction is the Big Man, David Gemmell, whose work helped shape me as a young man.

Today, I’ve expanded the circle. I will always love a ripping sword and sorcery, sword and planet, or Weird Western yarn, and where I once poo-pooed science fiction such as Asimov and Heinlein, I find I rather enjoy it these days, especially if the niche has -punk at the end of it. I also enjoy urban fantasy, such as Seth Skorkowsky’s Valducan series, and the dark fantasy works of John Gwynne, Mark Lawrence, and Joe Abercrombie. Lest I forget, I also am a huge fan of Chris Wooding no matter what he writes, be it fantasy, young adult, or the pirate-steampunk adventures of the Ketty Jay.

Booksellers label shelves and in that way also label readers. Using as many book-shelf labels as you think appropriate, what kind of reader are you?

Fantasy – Young Adult – Urban/Paranormal Fantasy – Superhero Fiction/Comic Book – Anthology – Western – Sci Fi – Humor.

Keep tabs on Joe’s latest at his website or at Ragnarok Publications.

Pathfinder Tales Flash Sale

Cover by Matthias Kollros

Cover by Matthias Kollros

The folks at the Paizo warehouse need some shelf space, so they‘re offering their crazy-good Gen Con 50% off sale on selected Pathfinder Tales for online orders. This is for the paperbacks only, not ebooks. I’ve been warned it could be a very short sale, as they’ll stop once they clear the space they need.

That means now is a great time to catch up on the adventures of Radovan and the Count. Or, you know, to stock up on gifts for your favorite readers. As of this posting, Prince of Wolves, Queen of Thorns, and King of Chaos are all part of the sale. You might also want to snag Winter Witch, by Elaine Cunningham and Yours Truly.


Creative Colleagues: Melanie Meadors

Melanie Meadors

Melanie Meadors

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

I first met Melanie Meadors at the Writers Symposium at Gen Con, where she also connected with Marc Tassin and joined the Mechanical Muse team. Her entrée into Ragnarok Publications was more adorable, as both she and her husband secretly bought the other the privilege of a death scene in the Kaiju Rising, Ragnarok’s first anthology.

Both as a publicist and as editor, Melanie is one of the rising stars of independent publishing. Her latest project is Hath No Fury, currently raising funds on Kickstarter. The book is well on its way to initial funding and features an exciting list of stretch goals.

When you choose a theme like “kaiju” or “mechs,” are you looking to upcoming film and television and hoping for a boom? Or is there just “something in the air”?

When I was little, one of the local TV channels had Creature Double Feature on Sunday mornings. I loved these movies more than anything, except maybe Star Wars. At four years old, I was glued to my old Quasar set, watching Godzilla and Ghidorah and Jet Jaguar, Gamora, Gorgo, Mothra… I loved them all. Well, except for Rodan. He was kind of lame. I loved the stories, how humanity came together to try to defeat these monsters. My favorites were when Godzilla would come to help the planet, though. I think I kind of wanted to be the Monster Mistress or something. I used to imagine that I was alone on an island with these kaiju and would send them off on missions. Then, when I started watching Voltron, I felt the same way about giant robots. There is a power there that I think resonates with people. Humans may be small physically, but we have big brains and can build out way to a better tomorrow. We can build mechanical protection for ourselves.

When I saw the Kickstarter for Kaiju Rising, I knew I had to get involved with Ragnarok as a publisher. Not only did they have a Kaiju anthology, but they chose Bob Eggleton to do the cover. That to me showed they just knew the genre and would offer something special. And my instincts were correct!

So for me, at least, the excitement Ragnarok has for these kaiju and mech books isn’t about the current movie trends. It’s about a lifelong passion.

Voracious readers often move on to adult fare quite early. With that in mind, whats the real difference between YA and adult fiction—especially since so many adults read YA?

I read both YA and adult fiction. When I was little, YA was just starting to become a thing, and really, I didn’t read much of it. When I was 12, I was reading Dean Koontz, Terry Brooks, Weis and Hickman, and Douglas Adams. I started reading more YA after the Harry Potter craze started, when I was in college (I’m sorry, nothing is sexier than seeing a college guy reading Harry Potter in the library…). I find that YA often—not always—reads a bit faster and deals a bit more with coming-of-age issues. But having said that, plenty of adult science fiction and fantasy deals with those issues as well. Look at Tad Williams’s Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. Simon grows up in those books, and we as readers grow alongside him. The same with Robin Hobb’s Farseer series, or Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game (which is now shelved in both sections!). A lot of lighter fantasy books, like Anton Strout’s Spellmason books, are in the adult section but appeal a lot to teens as well because of their fast pace and humor. One could say length might have something to do with it, or voice, but really, I think that the major thing that separates YA from adult fiction is where it’s shelved in the store. I’ve been trying to answer this question myself for some time, because my own novel is on the line. I’ve found there is no clear-cut answer.

Hath No FuryWhy is important for men to read stories featuring women as protagonists?

To be absolutely frank, because they would be missing out on a hell of a lot of awesome fiction if they avoided it! I’ve heard a couple comments from people, when they see that Hath No Fury is an anthology of female protagonists, that it’s just more feminist crap with an agenda. This is so far from the case. When Joe Martin first presented me with the idea for this anthology, I said, “Yes, I would love to be your co-editor. But I want to choose the stories in here on the merit of quality—not just having female authors.” I know there are guys out there who write really awesome female characters, just like there are women out there who can write great men. I wanted to find the next Furiosa—a character I loved because she kicks ass, takes no names, yet is three-dimensional. She is also caring and nurturing of the young women in her care.

I am not going to go out and insult my male friends by answering this question with, “Oh, because men need to understand that women can be strong, too!” Any man worth his salt already knows this—all women can be strong, just like all men can be strong, in their own ways. It’s important for men to read stories featuring women because slightly more than half the people on this planet are women, and why would you want to miss out on their stories? However, less than half of the protagonists in fiction are women—far less. Google for some statistics, go to the book store and check it out, and you’ll see. If more men—and women—read books with female protagonists, then perhaps more publishers will publisher more books with them.

Men and women are equal but different. They have different hormones, they have a different way of dealing with things (and that range is broad and overlaps, of course). So by reading books with both male and female protagonists, a reader will experience the adventures in different ways. And that will help them solve problems in real life more efficiently as well, by being exposed to different ways of thinking.

Geek culture often seems glorious and horrible in equal measure. How does the toxic element of our people influence your publishing decisions?

I am answering this question on behalf of myself, and not speaking for Ragnarok as a whole in any sense—though I do speak about our process a bit when these things arise.

There is a lot of crap happening in our genre. There is also a lot of good stuff happening, and I would argue there is more good than bad. The bad often is louder and attracts more attention, but so many awesome things are coming about, sometimes even as a result of the bad things.

That being said, I do not want to welcome some of the foul aspects into my “home.” Because I do work one-on-one with our authors, I have a direct interest in keeping life pleasant, and that means not interacting with toxic people as much as possible. If I see that Ragnarok is talking to someone I know is a raging bigot, or if it’s someone who was involved in plagiarism or some big scandal that the other members of Ragnarok might not be aware of, I speak up. If it’s someone I’m having doubts about interacting with, if I know them as a diva, I say something. From there, we have a discussion and figure out what is best to do. There are so many wonderful, talented people in our industry. Why would a company want to work with jerks or with someone that would bring them down?

This is cautionary to all authors. Editors, agents, publishers all talk. They talk to each other. If you are a complete jerk, if you have tried to cheat, chances are that word has gotten around. Black lists exist, and it can be very hard to get off of them once they are on. So just make sure that when you are about to take an action, you’ve weighed the consequences. You can do whatever you want, but be sure you’re prepared for the ramifications.

So, toxicity does affect things. There is definitely discussion behind the scenes, whatever the end result is. We at Ragnarok have not always agreed on things, but there is always discussion and in the end we do what is right for the company. We make conscious business decisions. I don’t think that any business can really ignore a lot of the issues out there without alienating a section of their audience. For me, I’d much rather keep the awesome side of our industry going strong rather than risk pandering to the toxic side. Communication goes a long way to make that happen.

Booksellers label shelves and in that way also label readers. Using as many book-shelf labels as you think appropriate, what kind of reader are you?

I’d have to say I’m a Young Fantasy Science Adult Humor SciFi Gift.

What are your ten desert island novels?

The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien

Alchemystic, by Anton Strout (which really did help me in a desert island type situation)

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle

Neuromancer, by William Gibson

Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

Stardust, by Neil Gaiman

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

The Watchmen by Alan Moore


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