I posted earlier about Thor: Viking God of Thunder, which I wrote for Osprey Publishing’s new Myths and Legends line. It was a lot of fun to research and write, and I guess that must show because it’s getting some great early reviews. I just received a very excited email from my editor, Joseph McCullough, to let me know that it has won a coveted Kirkus starred review. If you subscribe to Kirkus, you can read it here.
The book is due for release on September 17, and it’s currently available to preorder from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and, as they say, all good booksellers. I recently received an advance copy, and I have to say it looks absolutely gorgeous. The team at Osprey did a bang-up job with the graphic design and layout.
The Vikings have been good to me down the years. When I couldn’t find a grant to fund my Ph.D. research on the British Bronze Age, Chris Morris at Durham University found me a job processing material from his excavation of two Viking farms in the Orkneys. My first freelance project after leaving Games Workshop in 1990 was writing GURPS Vikings for Steve Jackson Games, and a decade later Steve asked me to create an expanded second edition: it’s still selling steadily as an ebook. My first video game contract was to write some Viking storylines for Interplay’s historical strategy game add-on Castles: The Northern Campaign. A few years after that, The Creative Assembly contracted me as a writer and researcher on the Viking Invasion expansion for their acclaimed PC strategy game Medieval: Total War: the add-on garnered some very good reviews and led to more freelance work and a job offer. More recently, and in a more light-hearted vein, the Russian mobile game developer AILove hired me to develop the characters and dialogue for their arcade-y Viking Tales iPhone game.
I’m currently working on a second Myths and Legends book for Osprey, and having even more fun. This one is on a Greek myth, and I’m finding all kinds of interesting corners to poke around in. More news on that when Osprey makes the official announcement.
It’s long been my intention to write more fiction, and the first fruits of that plan are finally available. As of yesterday, the Stone Skin Press webstore is open for business.
If you haven’t heard of Stone Skin Press, you should check them out. The themes for their anthologies are never less than intriguing, and their people know what they are doing. Right now, four anthologies are available in electronic form, and preorders are open for the dead-tree versions. I have stories in two of their volumes: one features lemmings and the other involves a zeppelin.
The New Hero is a two-volume collection based around the idea of the iconic hero. Distinct from the dramatic hero whose story is a journey, the iconic hero stands firm in what he (or she) is, bringing order to an imperfect world. Think Conan rather than Frodo, or Batman rather than Luke Skywalker. My story “Against the Air Pirates” is a tribute to the airpulp sub-genre: I pitched it as “Disney’s Tale Spin written by Robert E. Howard.” I am, and have always been, a vintage plane geek.
The Lion and the Aardvark is inspired by Aesop’s Fables, and consists of 70 short-short tales with a modern twist. My tale “The Lemmings and the Sea” is about leaders and their visions, and how staying the course might not always be the best idea.
Shotguns v. Cthulhu does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a collection of action-adventure tales set within H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. If you like Howard’s muscular take on horror – whether or not you also like Lovecraft’s more cerebral approach – you will like this book.
I’m hoping for great things from – and for – Stone Skin Press. In a world full of Major Fantasy Trilogies and sparkly vampires they are taking the road less traveled and returning to the roots of fantasy and horror fiction, the short story. They are people who know what they’re at, and I found them very pleasant to do business with. I would recommend them to anyone who is interested in writing short fiction for themed collections.
But I have to go now. They have just announced a new book titled The New Gothic and issued a call for submissions. A storm is rising, and it’s a long walk across the lonely moor to the dark old house….
I can’t wait to see this, and not only because it includes my short-short The Lemmings and the Sea. I was intrigued by the concept ever since Robin Laws approached me to write something. I remember reading a children’s edition of Aesop’s Fables at the age of about seven, and being amazed at how insightful they were (even if I couldn’t have articulated that thought back then) as well as loving all the talking animals. I loved having the chance to try my hand at writing something in the same style. But mainly, I just can’t wait to see what the other 69 contributing authors have done.
The roster includes some big names from the gaming world like Greg Stafford, Ed Greenwood, Sandy Petersen, and John Kovalic, as well as writers like Matt Forbeck, Jonathan Howard, and Chuck Wendig. It’s a wide and eclectic group of people, each of whom is bound to come up with something great. I’m proud to be among such company.
The book looks nice, too – a satisfyingly chunky hardback with a lion and an aardvark gold-stamped into the cover underneath a simple but appealing dustjacket. Rachel Kahn’s internal art has a light touch that is perfect for the subject matter.
I’m told that an announcement about North American distribution is expected any day now. I really hope it will be in time for Christmas-gifting on this side of the Atlantic.
Today is International Short Story Day. Why today? Because it’s the shortest night of the year. Kind of cunning, don’t you think?
One of many events to mark the day will be taking place at The Book Club in London, starting at 7:00 pm. That’s where Stone Skin Press will be launching a preview edition of The New Hero, their inaugural story collection. Renowned game and fiction author Robin D. Laws has put together an impressive roster of writers (and a great cover artist) for this volume of iconic hero tales – and he also asked me to pitch in a story.
My airpulp yarn “Against the Air Pirates” features a rogue German zeppelin in the inter-war Pacific: I pitched it as “Disney’s Tale Spin written by Robert E. Howard.” More on my obsession with vintage aviation can be found here.
The story was a lot of fun to write, and I hope that some day I’ll be able to revisit Louie’s Place and see what Mike Finnegan and the other regulars are up to. Meanwhile, though, I can’t wait to hold the book in my hands and see what wonders the other writers have come up with.
Here is a piece I wrote a little while ago for a book on female aviation pioneers. It saw print in 2004 in a newspaper called Women’s Independent Press, but second rights are available if anyone likes it.
Bessie Coleman (1892-1926)
She was the first African American to earn an international pilot’s license. Bessie Coleman was born close to where the borders of Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana meet, one of thirteen children. Her father moved around, and when her mother went to work as a cook/housekeeper for a prosperous white family, 9-year-old Bessie was left to raise her younger sisters. Bessie didn’t attend school regularly, but loved to read and dreamed of going to college. She worked as a laundress to raise money, and by 1910 she had enough money for one year at the Colored Agricultural and Normal College in Langston, Oklahoma. She couldn’t afford more than the one year, but by 1915 she was on her way to a new life in Chicago, where two of her brothers lived. In Chicago’s African American section, she found opportunities and support that weren’t available in the South.
She trained as a manicurist, and within a year she won a contest as the best and fastest manicurist in black Chicago. Her name was linked with several men, but it came as a surprise to her family when she married Claude Glenn, 14 years her senior. Stranger still, they never lived together, and never formally announced their marriage.
Bessie’s life changed when the United States entered World War I. Her brothers went to serve in France, and came back talking of the lack of racial prejudice there. Some French women had high-powered careers, and even flew airplanes. Despite the pioneering efforts of Harriet Quimby, Ruth Law and others, there was still a lot of resistance in America to women learning to fly; for an African American woman to do so was unthinkable.
Bessie quit her job as a manicurist and got a better paying job as manager of a chili parlor. By November 1920, she was on her way to France. She enrolled in the Caudron Brothers flying school, and finished the course three months early. On June 15th, 1921, she received a pilot’s license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. After further training in Paris, she returned to Chicago in October. However, the air show circuit of the day demanded aerobatic skills, and even with her International Pilot’s License, Bessie couldn’t find anyone to teach her. The following February she returned to France. She trained there for the next six months, meeting legendary aircraft designer Anthony Fokker and flying in Germany and elsewhere. Some of her flights were filmed, and suddenly she was news. Reporters met her ship when she returned to New York, and she played to the press with a prepared biography that gave her a more interesting life and cut a few years from her age. She knew that the goodwill of the press would be vital in accomplishing her new ambition – to found a flight school for African Americans.
Bessie hit the air show circuit. Refusing to appear in any air show that did not allow blacks to attend – “No Uncle Tom stuff for me,” she said – she fought both racial and sexual prejudice. She also dropped advertising leaflets. While preparing for an air show in Los Angeles in early 1923, she suffered a bad crash and was hospitalized for three months. It would be September before she was fit to fly again, and she filled in time by giving a series of lectures on aviation. She was scheduled to appear in two air shows in September 1923, but neither took place, and she started to get a reputation for being temperamental and unreliable. Air shows became reluctant to book her, and it was May 1925 before she succeeded in lining up an air show and lecture series in Texas. By September she had added parachute jumping to her repertoire. In early 1926 she lectured in Georgia and Florida, raising money to pay for a plane of her own to replace the one she had crashed.
Edwin Beeman, the wealthy owner of a chewing gum company who was fascinated with aviation, gave Bessie the money for her final payment, and the plane, a Curtiss Jenny, was to be delivered to Jacksonville, Florida, in time for an air show scheduled for May 1st, 1926. It barely made it, as its 90 horsepower engine was so worn and badly maintained that it was developing less than two-thirds of full power. The morning before the air show, Bessie took off to check out landing places for a parachute jump. With her mechanic at the controls, Bessie unfastened her seat belt so that she could look over the side of the plane. Ten minutes into the flight, the plane suddenly went into a tailspin and flipped over, throwing Bessie out; she fell to her death. An examination of the charred wreckage revealed that a wrench had slid into the control gears and jammed them.
In 1995, the US Post Office issued a Black Heritage postage stamp in Bessie’s honor. Every year on the anniversary of her death, African American pilots fly over her grave in Chicago to drop flowers.