Friday, August 4, 2017

From There to Here #OurAuthorGang



Joe Bonadonna

It was the summer of 1969. Very much like the one described in the song by Bryan Adams.
I quit the rock and roll band I’d been playing with since high school, went to work with my Dad, and had just finished reading The Lord of the Rings; a year earlier, while still in high school, I’d read The Hobbit. Now, after completing my magical journey through Middle-earth, I was totally hooked. I had found a liking — no, a craving for Heroic and Epic Fantasy. 

Not long after that, I discovered the Ballantine Books Adult Fantasy Series, wonderfully edited and championed by Lin Carter. Novels by Mervyn Peake, Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison, David Lindsay, William Morris, James Branch Cabell, Poul Anderson, and others fanned the flames of my passion. To say I was addicted would be a gross understatement. No, I had found novels that had changed my life and would continue to do so for the next 48 years!

Then one day, while browsing through a used book store on State Street and Congress in downtown Chicago, I came across three more novels that would further alter my life. The Tritonian Ring, by L. Sprague de Camp, The Swords of Lankhmar, by Fritz Leiber, and an anthology of short-stories by Lin Carter, Beyond the Gates of Dream. What was this new and exciting genre of fantasy fiction I had discovered? Sword and sorcery, of course! I was not only caught like an unwary Hyrkanian soldier, I was taken captive — axe, mace, and broadsword. I finished reading Leiber’s and de Camp’s novels in less than a week, and then I opened the “Gates of Dream” to Carter’s collection of stories. 

One story, in particular, hit me like a blow from a Cimmerian war hammer — The Hand of Nergal. Yes, the first Conan story I ever read was not even pure Howard, but a pastiche completed after his death by Carter. At the time, I didn’t know too much about Howard and his work. Sure, I had read some things about the big guy with the volcanic blue eyes in some articles and reviews in the old Castle of Frankenstein magazine. But I didn’t know anyone who had ever read Conan, or knew anyone who had even read sword and sorcery fiction, for that matter. Everyone I knew was familiar with Tolkien . . . but not with Howard. So I set out on my quest to find anything and everything I could that Howard had written. Going to major bookstores like Kroch’s and Brentano’s, and B. Dalton’s revealed even more of Howard’s treasures. Conan the Adventurer was the first all-Howard book I delved into. “The People of the Black Circle” was the first “pure-Howard” Conan story I ever read, and I was magically transported back to the Hyborian Age through the purple-edged pages of those grand old Lancer paperbacks with the amazing Frank Frazetta covers. After that, I discovered other Howard titles: the excellent Wolfshead, the grim and atmospheric King Kull, the even grimmer but no less grand adventures of Solomon Kane, and the dreamy Burroughs-inspired world of Almuric. And even though music and playing in rock and roll bands would lure me back time and again for the next 14 or 15 years, I was forever hooked on heroic fantasy and sword & sorcery fiction.

Later, after I subscribed to George Scithers’ immortal fanzine, Amra, I learned more about sword and sorcery fiction, and writers like Michael Moorcock, John Jakes, C.L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Gardner Fox, Jack Vance, and Andre Norton, to name a few. Then I found an ad for a place in New York called “Stephen’s Book Service.” So I wrote to him and received a mimeographed catalog where, to my delight, I was able to purchase books I couldn’t find anywhere else, (though some I had already ordered and received directly from the publishers.) So I ran to the currency exchange, bought a money order, and mailed it off faster than you can say Skullface!  Within a matter of two weeks or so I received the paperbacks I had ordered, plus an updated catalog. I spent the winters of 1969 and 1970 locked away, reading and rereading those wonderful books. 

Lin Carter’s informative introductions to so many editions of Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy Series, as well as his excellent anthologies such as The Young Magicians and the Flashing Swords series led me to even more writers. Some wrote sword and sorcery, some wrote heroic fantasy. But it was all the same to this lad of late teenage years. I devoured books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Joy Chant, Evangeline Walton, C.J. Cuttliffe Hyne, Fletcher Pratt, H. Rider Haggard, Talbot Mundy, Harold Lamb, and Clark Ashton Smith. Later, I discovered Dave Mason, Stephen R. Donaldson, David Eddings, Tanith Lee, Carol Kendall, and Terry Brooks, and others whose names I’m sad and embarrassed to say I’ve long forgotten. Numerous novels, countless anthologies, and who knows how many short stories later, I discovered fanzines such as Dragonbane, Beyond the Fields We Know, Dragonfields, Space and Time, and Whispers. I soon discovered writers and editors named Charles Saunders, Charles deLint, Andy Offutt, Karl Edward Wagner, H. Warner Munn, Galad Elflandsson, Thomas Burnett Swann, Gordon Linzner, and Stuart Schiff. Then along came an onslaught of anthologies like The Year’s Best Fantasy, edited by Lin Carter, Heroic Fantasy, edited by Gerald W. Page and Hank Reinhardt, and the incredible Swords Against Darkness series, edited by Andy Offutt. That’s where I discovered David Drake, Manly Wade Wellman, Orson Scott Card, David Madison, and so many others. And still later, through her science fiction series, The Silistra Quartet, I discovered Janet Morris, and from her I discovered her work in Thieves World™, Heroes in Hell, and then later in her heroic fantasy novels, many of which she wrote with her husband Chris Morris, novels such as The Sacred Band, Tempus Unbound, Storm Seed, and the Beyond Sanctuary Trilogy.

It was author Charles Saunders who first believed in me and encouraged me, and who bought my first short stories for his "fanzine," which in those wild and woolly days of the 1970s was more or less the equivalent of today's small press and indie publishing. (He even put me in touch with the wonderful and sadly, the late Tanith Lee.) Charles is a true pioneer in the sword and soul genre of heroic fantasy: he created Imaro, the first black hero to grace and stalk and hack his way through the pages of S&S history, a complex hero with real emotional baggage, and he's considered the Father of Sword and Soul Fantasy. Sometime in the mid-1980s, through a mutual friend, I met Ted (T.C.) Rypel, creator of Gonji Sabatake, the lone Samurai, hero of such novels as The Deathwind Trilogy, Fortress of Lost Worlds, and A Hungering of Wolves. What Rypel gave us was another complex, thoughtful, and even cultured warrior born and bred in the samurai tradition, a warrior trying to live by the Bushido Code, against all odds. Five excellent novels of Gonji were published, again pushing the envelope, breaking through boundaries and expanding the genre of sword and sorcery; a sixth, Dark Ventures, contains 2 novellas concerned with Gonji’s present and future, while we get a glimpse of Gonji’s past, his origins, by way of meeting his parents in the forthcoming novel, Born of Flame and Steel. I also discovered Guy Gavriel Kay, whose Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rassan, and A Song for Arbonne are classic examples of great storytelling and human drama.

As the late John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” So the distractions of Life took center stage in my own life, and for many years I just didn’t have the energy or the time to do any further writing. I had also become involved with rock and roll again, for one last hurrah.

In 1984, Life steered me back to the ink-stained road, and I started to write sword and sorcery stories again, only now I was determined to create something totally my own, something that might even be considered unique. So I resurrected an old character, Dorgo the Dowser, and merged his world of Tanyime with that of Greek mythology, the Roman Empire, Victor Hugo, and Charles Dickens. By this phase of my life, I had totally immersed myself in mysteries and World War II thrillers, and in the glorious works of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, James M. Cain, and the amazing Chester Himes, in particular. Now, I’ve always loved the Warner Brothers gangster films of the 1930s, and the film noir of the 1940s-50s, and one night, after watching a marathon of Cagney, Bogart, Robinson, and Raft pictures, I got this sudden flash of inspiration. What happened was this, see? It occurred to me, for no really apparent reason, see — that it might be kind of cool to put a special form of dowsing rod in Dorgo’s hand, and — voila! Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser was born, and finally, in 2011, it was published. (Recently it won the 2017 Golden Book Readers’ Award for Best Fantasy.)

In 2010 I met John O’Neil, publisher of Black Gate Magazine, at a local book store where I had joined an author support group. A short time after that I had the pleasure of seeing John again, at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Con, which takes place in Lombard, IL, just west of Chicago. That same afternoon I was also very proud to meet Jason Waltz of the late and lamented Rogue Blades Entertainment, and Ron Fortier and Rob Davis of Airship 27 Productions.  (Funny aside: Back in the early-mid 1970s, Ron and I were both members of the same writers group —SPWAO: Small Press Writers and Artists Organization, though we’d never met before; this group also included Charles Saunders and a few other writers who have gone on to do great things. Ron and I still have our membership cards, too!) For Airship 27 I later wrote my first space opera, Three Against The Stars, and about 2 years later I wrote a mythological fantasy called Sinbad and the Golden Fleece for their series, Sinbad: The New Voyages. My forthcoming novel from Airship 27 will be the sword and planet adventure, The MechMen of Canis-9, a sequel of sorts to Three Against The Stars.

Sometime around 2011 I reconnected with Charles Saunders through Facebook, who introduced me to Milton Davis (Changa’s Safari.) I later wrote my first sword and soul story, "The Blood of the Lion," for Davis' and Saunders' anthology, Griots: Sisters of the Spear. And then, out of the blue, as recounted in my blog (To Hell With Writing) I got involved with fantasy and science fiction Janet Morris, and started writing for her legendary Heroes in Hell series. Still later, I encountered author and illustrator Erika M Szabo, who is the found member of A Small Gang of Authors, and she helped me publish. Then we collaborated on Three Ghosts in a Black Pumpkin, which won the 2017 Golden Books Judges’ Award for Best Children’s Fantasy, and we are currently working on a sequel, The Power of the Sapphire Wand — both of which are part of our Creepy Hollow Adventures.  

Kismet and serendipity indeed, all rolled into one. I've been around a while, but was a bit late getting to where I had always wanted to end up. It's truly interesting how so many people and names from the past kept popping up over the years, and even helping me to get "from there to here."

The wonderful thing about all this is that I never planned any of this. It all just happened. I had planned to write and publish only one novel, and then find a part-time job somewhere. It’s a movement, an army. Sword and Sorcery, Heroic Fantasy, Sword and Soul, Pulp Fiction . . . they're all continuing to grow. They're on the march and are a force to be reckoned with. The only sad thing about it all is this: I used to be able to buy four or five books a month, and have the time to read and keep up with almost everything that was happening in sword and sorcery, and fantasy in general. Nowadays . . . forget about it!  There’s too much out there and just not enough time . . .  a whole new world waiting to be explored.
And I couldn’t be happier!

Thank you, and please check out my Amazon Author page, where you can find all my titles and anthologies in which I have had stories published.