Well, I’ve been doing my best to expand my writing horizons with the stories I choose to write, though many of them have been zombie tales, just like my novels. Still, I have managed to produce other types of horror, comedy, bizarro, science fiction, western, spy/action-adventure…so it was only a matter of time before I got back to my roots and decided to dive into the realm of fantasy once again. When I would write as a youngster, that was the type of stories I wrote: fantasy tales that transformed into fantasy adventures during my days of role playing. It was rough stuff that I didn’t want to share with anyone else, which was okay, because publishing was not on my mind back then-it was for the pure joy of writing. I still have some of the dust covered stories buried in a paper file, because back in those days I was using a typewriter. Yep, in the days of yore we didn’t have the arcane sorcery of computers to save our work, we got a paper copy of it and that was pretty much the best you could do. Fortunately, that means that none of my more atrocious early attempts at writing are circulating around on the internet. Now as for my more recent atrocious attempts at writing…that is a different story.
Anyway, I digress. I saw a posting perhaps six months ago calling for traditional tales of swords and sorcery in the style of the classic Conan the Barbarian stories and that potential authors should draw inspiration from paintings of Frank Frazetta, among others. In other words, plenty of pounding base lines, thunderous orchestras, spurting blood, voluptuous maidens, heroes NOT with six packs, but with eight or ten packs at a minimum. We were to have fun with it and flavor our tales with plenty of fearless, steely-eyed warriors who fight nasty monsters and perhaps a dark god or two, thrown in for good measure. It was to be entitled, appropriately, Tough As Nails.
I didn’t start out with a plan to write for this anthology. I loved the idea, and thought it would be great to dive back into the fantasy pool, as it were, but I was focused on some other projects at the time, and this one had a due date that was out past the horizon, in the new year. So I put it at the back of my mind and as time has a tendency to do, it sped up and flew past me to where this submission call had perhaps a month left before the deadline. I still was hesitant until the editor, someone who I have worked with before, started asking me if I planned on submitting something for the anthology. He wanted me to do so, because he knew I loved the concept and for some odd reason he’d liked my work in the past. So there I was, scrambling to come up with an idea. I initially crafted the first scene, which takes place in a tavern (the classic locale for the start of many an adventure tale), and gave my story a name, just because I liked how it sounded: “The Sunken Lands.” It sounded cool, and I knew I could wrap a quest around the idea of my hero/anti-hero needing to get to such an ominous place.
So I kept on writing, adding one scene after another, and introducing my different characters, putting them in harms way, etc. It occurred to me about five or six thousand words into this thing that there was no way this story was going to qualify as a short that would fit within the word count guidelines set up by the editor. At that point, I was in too deep, and told him that I planned on writing this tale whether it was acceptable for the anthology or not, since I was back in the mode of writing fantasy, with all the intricacies that go along with that, including all the behind the scenes “stuff” (that is the technical term) you have to put together to make the world you have crafted in any way believable. This stuff usually starts with a map, then you add history, cultures, alliances and enemies, the habitats of strange creatures, what those strange creatures are, etc. etc. And believe me, there is a lot more than that to it, but you get the idea. Fortune smiled upon me, and the editor, Matt Nord, encouraged me to write the story to its completion and he would look at it regardless of whether it fit the size limitations he had put forth (8,000 words) or it went significantly beyond that, because he wanted to see what I had come up with.
Well, as fantasy tales have a tendency to get expansive (as anyone who has read any of the more involved fantasy series out there can testify to) and it was fast becoming clear to me that this story was in no way, shape, or form going to end up being considered a short story. The only thing short about it would be the fact that it would be shorter than a novel by a good stretch. But at approximately 23,000 words, this was definitely in novella territory. Having that high a word count was the only way to effectively tell the tale in my humble opinion (for better or for worse) and also presented me with a cast of characters who could carry on in more tales of this world I had created, if I so chose. Matt did take a look at it and I think the fact that I broke the story into two parts gave him the flexibility he needed to fit it into the book. So despite the fact that I crafted something almost three times as long as what the editor wanted, he somehow liked what he saw and took it anyway. Actually, he really liked it, which was great, because I wasn’t so sure, which is pretty normal for me as a writer. I tend to never be all that sure whether what I have written is worth a damn. I had other folks read my story before Matt ever got a look at it, naturally, and got some good constructive criticism from them, which helped shape and transform it into a sharper story than the original. They liked it to, so I am hopeful others will as well.
Below is the cover of the book, and while I have absolutely LOVED the covers of my novels and most of the anthologies I’ve been in, the idea of something I’ve written being in a book with fantasy cover art makes me as giddy as a child.
More details to come as the book is released. I hope some of you fantasy lovers out there will check this one out when it hits the shelves.