Meet Bert Henderson

This is a pretty amazing piece of work.

I had the good fortune to read “Death On The Moon” before it was published in Cirsova #6, and my response was to think that if I had been told that it was from, say, an issue of Astounding Science Fiction in the late 1940s I would have accepted that without question.

And this is me we’re talking about. I don’t just read fiction, I dissect it. I write at great length about semiotics and the subtle mechanism of word choice. The philosophy of fiction is my primary interest. So when I say that somebody can recreate a time period–not just the style, but the story beats, the language, the unspoken assumptions, everything–well enough that I would accept it as genuine, that’s saying something.

Now, I am not going to accuse Spencer Hart of having the pickled brain of Murray Leinster in a jar hooked up to a restored Underwood typewriter in his basement and that’s how he managed this. I’m not ruling it out, mind you, but I can’t prove it.

What makes this different from the average pastiche or homage is that Hart respects the material. There’s no wink, wink, nudge, nudge here. Most–heck, nearly all–authors who attempt to imitate an earlier style can’t resist the temptation to prove their temporal superiority.

“This was an unenlightened time–I’ll write the tropes of old-timey action and adventure, but I let you, the reader, know that I am evolved beyond such silly things. Sure, these characters have quaint and backwards opinions, but don’t think for a second that I, the author, share them.”

That attitude comes across on every page of the average “Hard Boiled” or “Pulp Era” pastiche. Sometimes subtly, sometimes in bright neon, but it is there and as a consequence there is an element of parody that makes the work feel false.

Spencer Hart doesn’t do that. In fact, I don’t think he thinks that way at all. There is nothing quaint or backward about Bert Henderson. He’s a tough and savvy man in a tough job and he delivers the goods. These stories are played absolutely straight.

It’s incredibly refreshing and I’ll admit I get a big kick out of these stories. Highly recommended and two stories for a buck? Such a deal.

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Duel Visions

About a year ago I started toying with the idea of publishing a book of short fiction. More than that, I wanted to publish a book of New Wave short fiction. I didn’t want to just do Collected Stories Of Misha Burnett, I wanted a collection that would be a tribute to the kind of stories that captivated me as a young reader.

Authors like Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker, George Alec Effinger crafted pocket fantasies, little reality excursions that could be read in minutes but stayed with you for a lifetime. And I believe the short story is the ideal medium for Weird Fiction precisely because the format makes you pare down an idea to its essentials. It’s an icepick jab, a short sharp shock that hits you and then vanishes away again into the night.

The problem was that I just didn’t have enough stories that I thought were that good. I was torn—on the one hand, I wanted enough stories to fill a book, but on the other hand I didn’t want to include anything that didn’t have that kind of left-handed sucker punch that characterizes the best of New Wave.

I had half a book, and I didn’t want to wait until I had enough stories for the other half.

That’s when a solution presented itself. I could get someone else to write the other half!

I thought of Louise Sorensen immediately. A while back I started putting together a project of 21st Century Pulp stories, and while it ended up not being published I got to read a number of authors take on the concept. Louise’s contribution was a chilling little gem called “Ragged Angels”. It had the sublime creepiness that I was looking for.

So I wrote Louise and I explained what I was trying to do and asked if she’d be willing to work with me on a collection, and did she have any more like that one?

It turned out she did.

And then something magical happened.

We decided that each of us would contribute five stories and as the collection came together it was like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups—two great tastes that taste great together.

Louise’s voice is very different than mine, but she works the same fertile soil of the uncanny. Her work has a dreamlike, lyrical quality while I tend to write about fantastic things in a prosaic, matter of fact style. The collection of stories took on a quality that I don’t believe either of us could have obtained on our own because of that contrast in voices.

Which is why when Louise suggested the title Duel Visions I agreed.

About this time I realized that actually getting this work to print was too big a job for me. I didn’t want this book to go up on Amazon and sink without a ripple, and I’m no publisher. My marketing and promotion skills are—well, they’re not. I couldn’t sell ice water in Hell.

I have a pretty good relationship with P. “Alex” Alexander of Cirsova Publishing. I’ve sold him a couple of stories and I am a firm believer in his magazine. So I reached out and said, “I’ve got this really weird thing I’m doing with Louise Sorensen (who has also had stories in Cirsova) and I need a publisher—would you be willing to take a look at it?”

And so Duel Visions gained its third voice. Because Alex is a heck of a publisher, and he worked very hard on making the project what it is. He caught the idea right away and helped us iron out the rough spots in the stories themselves as well as doing all of the nuts and bolts that go into making a manuscript into a book—a thousand little details that readers don’t consciously notice but nonetheless go into making the experience of reading a joy.

It’s been a long strange trip, but we’re nearly there.

On Valentine’s Day, 2019, Cirsova Publishing will release a book called Duel Visions. We’ve all worked to make this the best it can be, and I honestly believe that it is something special. It’s a risky book in a lot of ways—it’s neither a single author anthology nor a collection from a bunch of different authors, it’s a collection of two authors. Who does that?

It’s all over the place in terms of genre. Alex is promoting it as Horror, but it’s not slavering monsters and gore, it’s the subtler and more unsettling horror of being in a world where the floors aren’t level and nothing is quite safe or sane. There is Science Fiction, time travel, alternate history, genetic engineering, things like that. There is Urban Fantasy, with sidhe and old gods come back to the modern world. There’s a story (I won’t tell you which one) where nothing fantastic or supernatural is happening at all.

I think it all comes together, though, to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. I have read through the entire manuscript literally dozens of times in the process of putting the project together, and the stories still get me. I still get sucked into that looking glass world and forget that I’m supposed to be proofreading.

I think this book is a game changer. I think it’s going to make people sit up and take notice.

 

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What I Learned This Year

Last year at about this time I announced my plans to concentrate on short fiction during 2018. How did that work out for me, you ask?

Pretty well, all things considered. I had eight stories published this year, and while I haven’t added up the exact word count, the total is probably around the length of one of my novels.

What’s more important is that I have a much better understanding of the craft of short fiction than I did at this time last year. Starting with the fact that this is what I should have been doing all along.

In the introduction to his collection Burning Chrome, William Gibson says that the short story is the ideal medium for Science Fiction in the same way that the single is the ideal medium for Rock ‘n’ Roll.

And while there are excellent SF novels out there (Gibson himself went on to write several) I think there is a core of truth to that. Nor is it limited to Science Fiction–tales of the fantastic in general often lose their impact when drawn out for too long.

I believe that much of the malaise affecting genre fiction today (and the loss of readership) can be traced to the decline of short fiction during the last few decades.

Fortunately I think that is turning around. This past year I have had the pleasure of working with several small presses (Superversive, Cirsova, Millhaven, and newcomer Lagrange) that are working to provide platforms for short fiction.

In addition I’ve assisted with a couple of self-published anthologies put together by indie authors.  That’s a trend I want to encourage, so if you’ve got an idea for a collection but aren’t sure how to go about it, drop me a line.

There are several reasons why I feel that short fiction is the medium for me, and not the least of them is the collaborative nature of anthology publishing. I enjoy working not only with publishers but also with other authors. There is a shared energy to being part of an anthology project and it’s fun to see how other authors approach a particular theme. Not to mention spreading the load of promoting the finished product.

There is also a freedom that comes from working in the short form. You can explore ideas that wouldn’t support a novel length project. You can take more risks, play with the subject matter and the form, go off in random directions. Readers will put up with a lot more abuse if they know it’s only going to last ten thousand words and not a hundred thousand.

So, in closing, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing and see where it takes me. I’ve already got one exciting project lined up for the spring, and several other promising markets to pursue.

Fortune Favors The Bold!

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But Wait, There’s More!

“Most of all, the idea of a magic shop is simply cool. If browsing a bookstore is exciting, with each book offering new possibilities of wonder, what if the books were all spellbooks? If a hardware store suggests new projects you could undertake, new skills to conquer, what if the hardware inside broke the laws of physics? It was largely because of the concept’s coolness that Ye Olde Magick Shoppe was born.”

That’s from Oren Litwin’s introduction to this collection, and frankly I couldn’t say it any better than that.

This is a cool collection. The idea of a magic shop is an old one in SF/F fiction, but these stories have taken the concept in some exciting new directions.

My own story, “Grand Theft Nightmare” asks the question, What happens when a magic shop gets burglarized? (Spoiler: Bad things. Very bad things.)

Other stories range from an absurdist tale of the owner of a shop fighting against city bureaucracy to stay open to chilling survival horror to an interestingly mercantile take on Sword & Sorcery. Frankly, all of the stories are at least good, and several of them are real gems.

It’s also the first publication from a brand new publisher, Lagrange Books, and that’s always exciting. The publisher has issued calls for submission for his next two anthologies, and I’m planning on submitting to both of them.

Good stories, and a well made book. Currently out in Kindle, coming to POD soon. I’d recommend it even if I wasn’t in it.

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“Millhaven’s Tales of Adventure” is almost here!

Millhaven Press

January 1st is quickly approaching…check out the latest Millhaven Tales anthology.  Nine tales of action and adventure to keep you warm on the cold winter nights.

Stories:

  1. The Dawn of Reason/The Reliquary of Job by Dan Gallagher
  2. Powder for a Periwig by Brian Wagstaff
  3. The Strangers by Jeffrey L. Blehar
  4. Above It All by Maxine Kollar
  5. Homer and the Painted Lady by John H. Dromey
  6. The Tale of the Masked King by Matt Ingoldy
  7. Murder Valley by Robb White
  8. Dak by Jimmy Jones
  9. Progress by Russell Doyle

With great cover art by Kristen Eisenbraun.

Available January 1st on Amazon!

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Waiting For Utopia


Actually I didn’t have to wait long at all.

Back in late September I was approached by an author I worked with on Fauxpocalypse. She had an idea for a collection with the theme of Utopia.

It sounded like a fun idea–there are so many collections about Dystopia and I figured it would make a nice change.

It turned out to be tougher than I expected. Partially because if everything is going good, where’s the conflict to hang a story on?

Mostly, though, I think human beings are just wired to expect the worst. We look for problems, we imagine problems, and when we get bored I think we invent new problems, just to have an excuse to use our big brains and clever hands. But maybe that’s just me being cynical.

Every idea I started with seemed to want to become either a travelogue of my perfect vacation, or a dark “looks like Utopia on the outside but is really Hell on Earth” kind of thing.

But I persevered, and I think my story in this collection, “Endless Summer” strikes the right balance between hopeful and dull. I expect the other authors were struggling a bit as well.

It’s clear, reading over the other stories, that Utopia is kind of slippery concept. A couple of the stories, in fact, went in directions that I would call Hell on Earth.

But that’s okay. It’s a very diverse collection, philosophically. I’m sure my version of Utopia–put the maintenance men in charge–won’t sit well with other people.

All in all, a thought provoking collection, and maybe a bit disturbing, considering it’s supposed to be about Perfect Worlds.

We humans just don’t handle perfection well, I think.

Currently available on Kindle Unlimited, or you can buy it for a buck and get change back.

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2019 Millhaven Press Release Schedule

Millhaven Press

2018 was a busy year…too busy.  2019 promises to bring more exciting releases despite a scaled back release schedule.

  1. “Millhaven’s Tales of Adventure” (Millhaven Tales Volume I, Issue 4) (January 1st)
  2. “Cloud of Dust…Cry of Death” (Western/Weird Western Anthology (March 1st)
  3. “Millhaven’s Tales of Wonder” (Volume II) (April 1st)
  4. “Fierce Tales: Lost Worlds” (May 1st)
  5. “Home Sweet Home” (Volume 2) (September  1st)

“Fantastic Tales of the Future: Beyond the Barrier” (TBD with a tentative summer release)

If you are interested in contributing a story to one of the anthologies, we would love to see science fiction stories for the “Fantastic Tales of the Future” project anytime and will start accepting stories for “Home Sweet Home” in the spring.  You can find the submission guidelines at millhavenpress.com.   All other 2019 projects are closed to submissions.

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