fantasy fiction novelette

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I have not been talking about writing much but the fact is I’m doing it. Some. Now and again. And even finishing things…infrequently.

Which is to say, so far this year three stories, two longish and one shortish. And a fourth I mean to complete before the New Year’s Eve submission deadline (get cracking, Jeffers!). I won’t say anything yet about #1 or #3 because they’re out on submission and jinx.

But #2 I can talk about because it just sold and will appear, Kindly Editor tells me, probably in the spring of next year.

As a dreamy, bookish, introverted, somewhat alienated sprog in the early 1970s I naturally fell under the spell of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. (I’ll give you a moment to snigger about the series title. Even in those innocent days, “adult” as a descriptor for, uh, “art” had undertones of “raunchy,” if it hadn’t quite become the euphemism for “pornographic” we now recognize. One wonders how Ballantine Books’ publicity department let it pass.)

Here is the scene: the summer before I started my second year at prep school in Pebble Beach, California—a peculiar gated community consisting primarily of golf courses and scenic vistas, adjacent to the equally peculiar village of Carmel-by-the-Sea, my hometown. My elder brother had attended the same school (would later return for a long career as a teacher), my younger brother came up three years later, and my mother had just been hired as school librarian. Conveniently enough, as the family couldn’t really afford my tuition. That summer she put in several hours a day familiarizing herself with the library and cleaning up inherited messes.

She dragooned me to help out. My wage was one new paperback book a week with the promise of no complaints if I chose trash (science fiction or fantasy) as I was certain to do. Friday afternoons after a few hours of work we would drive down to what passed for Pebble Beach’s commercial district for lunch at the drugstore before spending another hour or two swimming and sunning at the Del Monte Beach Club. But between the lunching and the clubbing I had a short precious period to rifle through the drugstore’s two spinner racks of new mass-market paperbacks.

I don’t suppose more than a quarter of them were SF or fantasy. Indeed, I’m not sure how those two racks managed to provide a book I wanted every week for the entire summer. I do recall that the first Ballantine Adult Fantasy title I encountered shocked me with its price—$1.25 instead of the 75¢ or 95¢ then standard—and I worried about choosing it since it was so expensive. Apparently my mother was pleased with my work that week, though, because she made no protest. I don’t remember which book it was, which novel or collection or anthology with which gorgeous Gervasio Gallardo or David McCall Johnston or Bob Pepper cover.

At any rate, I bought a great many BAF titles during my high-school years. I wish I still had them but they—and too many other books—were lost in the First Great Book Disaster when stored for several years in the damper-than-I-knew basement of a friend’s house. Alas.

But the point of this exercise in nostalgia is to bring up California poet/short-story writer/graphic artist/sculptor Clark Ashton Smith, whose fiction I first encountered in BAF editions…and who had something of a local connection. As a poet he was a disciple of George Sterling, who lived some while in Carmel and was one of the earliest champions of my grandfather’s work. CAS himself resided the last few years of his life in Pacific Grove, on the other side of Pebble Beach from Carmel.

CAS is probably least remembered of the great Weird Tales triumvirate of the 1920s and ’30s, after Conan the Barbarian’s creator Robert E. Howard and well after dread Cthulhu’s daddy, H.P. Lovecraft. When he is remembered it’s as the prose stylist of the trio…a judgment I’m no longer quite willing to accept. He had a distinctive style, surely (all three did), but it’s a good deal too empurpled, too incarnadined, too penny-a-sesquipedalian-word for my present taste. Teenage Alex, though, fell hard under the spell of his tales of necromancy and lurking unease set in the bejewelled tapestries of mediaeval Averoigne, prehistoric Hyperborea, postdiluvian Poseidonis (last fragment of sunken Atlantis), and, especially, in Zothique.

Zothique, in the CAS legendarium, is all that remains of the continents of Earth millennia hence as the planet and its sun near extinction. It’s a place of dusty deserts and ancient ruined cities, curses and bloodthirsty gods and necromancers—so many necromancers. It’s the direct antecedent of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth—Vance admitted as much—which I would discover a few years later, and hence of an entire subgenre of fantastical literature. Thank all Zothique’s dread, rabid gods, however, that said subgenre follows Vance more closely than CAS. The latter had a vivid, lurid imagination and a distressingly large vocabulary but his plots are primitive and his characters less than types, seldom criticisms that can be made of Vance.

That said, “The Garden of Sons and Husbands,” my own first (possibly only ever?) addition to the Dying Earth subgenre, is intended in part as homage to CAS and to the Ballantine Adult Fantasy edition of his Zothique stories with the deliciously creepy George Barr cover that so enthralled teenage Alex.

I came up with the novelette’s title some years ago back in Rhode Island (August 2009, to be precise) and drafted about half the first, long paragraph before setting it aside. But the title was too good to lose and in July of this year I wrote all the other paragraphs. A good many of them. Just under eleven thousand words’ worth. Sufficient that I will claim “The Garden of Sons and Husbands” as the first story written in Oregon, in distinction to the first story completed (#1 above, which I’m not really talking about), two months before but already two-thirds drafted before I crossed the continent. (Every word of #3 was written right here in Eugene. Also not talking about.)

And yay, the third market I submitted “The Garden” took it, that being the intriguing webzine dedicated to long stories of science fiction and fantasy This will be my third appearance, after “Tattooed Love Boys” in March 2012 and “A Man Not of Canaan” in July 2013. The first two sold to founding editor/publisher Ann Leckie before anybody knew who she was. Now that she’s deservedly famous (the Ancillary trilogy is so fine), GigaNotoSaurus is edited by Rashida J. Smith—who will doubtless become famous herself soon enough—and I am delighted to sell to the new management.


I will post a link when “The Garden of Sons and Husbands” goes live next year.

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