By Connie Jasperson
A few years ago I was challenged to write an Arthurian tale with a steampunk twist. I accepted the task, but immediately wished I hadn't, as it just seemed an impossible leap.
The first question I asked myself was: Where do Arthurian and steampunk connect well enough to make a story? The answer was--they don't. I felt that block we all feel when the story will not reveal itself.
But, sitting on my back porch and letting my mind roam, I found myself wondering what Galahad and Gawain would have really been like. The people those characters were based on were men of the 5th or 6th century, ordinary men, and despite the heroic legends, they were made of flesh and blood.
And what if somehow Galahad got separated from Gawain through a door in time? How would Galahad get back to Gawain? What if he was marooned in Edwardian England, with Merlin – can you say steampunk?
The title of that tale is Galahad Hawke. The main character is Galahad Du Lac, son of Lancelot Du Lac, illegitimate, some have said, but is he really? If he is, it implies the fifth century was a lot less concerned about the proprieties than we give them credit for. His line of work–nobleman and hero. Thus, he goes on quests to find strange and magical objects such as Holy Grail.
The story was told from Galahad’s point of view. I opened the story just after the Grail was found. Knowing that history and fantasy merges in the Middle Ages, I approached my story by asking these questions:
I wrote it two ways and picked the ending that moved me the most.
That story is done and was published. However, the idea of what happened next has been percolating in my mind. I think Galahad may have another tale in his future. This new tale is where the steampunk twist really takes off.
Versions of Galahad appear regularly in my work. I studied Medieval Literature in college, and found his story both varied and fascinating. What is the original story of Galahad that is bandied about most often?
Nowadays Galahad is a minor knight, but he figures prominently in Sir Thomas Malory's 1485 work, Le Morte d'Arthur, a reworking of traditional tales that were hundreds of years old even in his day.
Traditionally, Galahad, illegitimate son of Lancelot du Lac, finds the grail and immediately goes to heaven, raptured as a virgin – but was he? I mean raptured OR a virgin? If he was not raptured, what could have happened to make medieval chroniclers think he was?
And why was this notion of a virgin knight and being taken to heaven before death so important to the medieval chroniclers that they would write it as though it was true history?
Well, they were writing some 300 to 400 years after the supposed event, during the final decades of the Crusades. Religion and belief in the Christian truths espoused by the Church was in the very air the people of the time breathed. All things of this world were bound up and explained in ways relating to the Christian traditions of the day.
Literature in those days was filled with religious allegories, the most popular of which were the virginity and holiness of the Saints--especially those Saints deemed holy enough to be raptured. These people did not have to experience death, but instead were raised while still alive to heaven where they spent eternity in God’s presence.
Death was to be feared—a constant companion, and if possible, one to be avoided.
The concept of a knight pure enough in God's sight to be raised to heaven was a popular centerpiece of medieval tales. According to the fount of all knowledge, Wikipedia: "Medieval literature is a broad subject...the literature of this time was composed of religious writings as well as secular works. Just as in modern literature, it is a complex and rich field of study, from the utterly sacred to the exuberantly profane, touching all points in-between."
The High Middle Ages were a golden period for historical writing in England, but the craft of history was not an academic subject taught in school. It was something enjoyed by well-educated men of learning who were all men of the Church, but was not subjected to the process of verification and research that we attempt to apply to academic subjects today. The gathering of historical tales was a hobby for educated men who had the time, social position, and the talents to pursue it.
As a result, the histories from this period are highly questionable--but are quite entertaining and are great fantasy reads. I always think that if J.R.R. Tolkien had been writing history in a monastery during the 7th and 8th century, The Lord of the Rings would have the same place in our historical narrative that the Arthurian Cycle has now, and Aragorn would have been the king who united all of Britain.
Getting Your Name Out There: Why indies should write short stories
By Connie J. Jasperson
I’ve always been an avid reader, and one of my favorite things to talk about is what I am reading. Right now I’m reading several excellent anthologies, one of which was published recently by a collective of Northwest Indie writers, several of whom are NIWA members. Each of the stories I’ve read so far have been well-written and the anthologies were edited well. The cover art was awesome, but what was inside the book is what really intrigued me.
When I think about it, over the years most of the works that stuck with me as a reader have been short stories.
Writing short stories and submitting them is important if authors of any stripe, indie or traditionally published, want to get their names out there. Millions of readers subscribe to online magazines, and also millions still get their reading material in hard copy form. Readers all over the world are reading works written in English, especially in Asia and Europe.
Having your work accepted and published is more than just balm for the ego—it establishes your credibility as a writer and your author name shows up on google searches in more places.
Something to think about—it is through writing short stories that people like Anne McCaffrey and Isaac Asimov first began to find acceptance in the publishing community.
In the 1950s and 1960s, magazines focusing on speculative fiction were popular and at that time, there weren't many authors writing in that genre. People didn't have the internet, but they did have limited free time and short attention spans. Not only that, thanks to the space race, they wanted science fiction.
Magazines offered surprisingly high-quality short fiction in lengths that fit into the busy lifestyle of the time. My father subscribed to four magazines as did my mother. Magazines or books would arrive in our mailbox each week, as my parents were also members of the Science Fiction Book Club and the Double Day Book Club. This meant that besides the eight magazines, four new hard-cover books would arrive at our house every month.
Frequently, those books were anthologies of short stories.
Times have changed and so has the publishing industry. But writing short stories is still the way to get your foot in the door and not only gain visibility, but you will grow as a writer. Magazines are springing up all over the internet, and they are accepting submissions.
It is a good idea to begin putting together a collection of short pieces in a variety of genres and in as wide a range of topics as you can think of. The following is a list of on-line sci-fi/fantasy magazines, and many in every other genre are also accepting submissions:
Fantasy Scroll Magazine
Asimov's Science Fiction
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction
Analog Science Fiction and Fact
The ones I've listed here are only the tip of the iceberg—there is opportunity out there for indies to gain both visibility and credibility by publishing short works through traditional routes.
But what if you don’t write speculative fiction? I writ in any genre I am in the mood for. Much of my published short work has been mainstream, although my novels are epic fantasy. But here is a good list of places accepting more mainstream work. Some may not be accepting submissions, but many are: BookFox Top 100 Journals Accepting Online Submissions
I hear the Ghost of Rejections Past wailing in the background, "But what if I get rejected?"
Rejection happens. I could wallpaper the inside of an outhouse with them. Step back, take a good look at the story, and if you still think it’s your best work, shop it to a different magazine. Every story I’ve ever sold was rejected at least once before it was accepted elsewhere. Sometimes, the place you submitted it was not the right market for that particular story. Read their guidelines carefully so you aren’t trying to submit a fantasy to a magazine like Analog—they won’t accept it, and won’t tell you why.
The thing is, magazines are not the only reason you need a backlog of short stories--consider CONTESTS. Many are free and have reputable histories. The Write Life posted this article on 27 Free Writing Contests.
Not all contests are free, and not all contests are reputable. Exercise "due-diligence" here. I enter the Lascaux Review contest every time a new one pops up, simply because it is highly reputable, is one of the friendliest to indies, and has a reasonable entry fee, usually $10.00.
Yes, that is cheap, and I know that entering contests can be far more expensive. I hear you asking if you must pay to enter and can't be guaranteed a prize, why should you do it?
It will develop your writing chops. Because you must write to the parameters of the contest, you grow your writing muscles each time you exercise them. Being forced to work within the confines of an arbitrary external limit forces you to become more creative if you are (as I am) of a naturally rebellious nature.
You have to use common sense here. If you can't afford it, don't enter that contest. Find one you can afford and see what you have that fits their needs. Every contest has rules and limits for the work they want to see in their submissions.
Writing short stories forces you to write more: more often, more widely on a wide range of topics, and more creatively using a variety of style. Using and building these writing-chops can only grow you as an author.
And the best part is, once you have a back list of articles and short stories you can draw on, you have an edge. When a submissions open for a contest or an anthology, or for that sfwa affiliated magazine you’ve been dying to get your work into, you will have an entry all proofed and ready to submit.