Part eighty-nine in my comprehensive retrospective as I read the fiction in Realms of Fantasy and offer my thoughts, right up to the final issue. This time around we’re going to kick off a new era in the magazine’s history as I discuss the August 2009 issue. As it marked the first time the magazine changed publishers, there is a lot to discuss. It should also be noted the reason there is no restrospective for the June 2009 issue is because there was no June issue due to the transition process. In the magazine’s entire history, this marks the only time an issue was skipped in its publishing history.
As mentioned in the previous retrospective, Warren Lapine—former publisher of DNA publications—became the magazine’s new publisher, this time under the publishing company, Tir Na Nog Press. The former publishers of Sovereign Media—Carl A. Gnam and Marc Hintz—had a run of eighty-eight issues. With their departure and Shawna McCarthy remaining aboard as the fiction editor, Shawna became the only person to have been associated with the magazine since the first issue. I stuck around as well, and Warren handed me some additional responsibilities to boot as an in addition to remaining the fiction department’s assistant editor, giving me responsibilities as nonfiction editor and art director.
Since I know some people like to quibble about the definition of art director, I’ll clarify that this meant I commissioned the artists for illustrations, engaged them in back-and-forth discussion regarding said illustrations and their sketches, I oversaw the covers, and the Artists Gallery. I did not handle layout and design. I’ve had people tell me this didn’t make me an art director. I understand their point, but I can’t entirely agree with it. First, I didn’t pick out the title, Warren did. Second—and this one I’ve never bothered mentioning before—if one takes the time to flip through the back issues of RoF, they’ll discover there is a precedent for other people being given the title of art director while a different person handles layout and design. Since Warren and his publishing predecessors have literally put out thousands of issues of magazines—both in the genre and outside of it—I’d say they have some experience in these matters. When illustrations I commissioned appeared in the award-winning Spectrum series, its editors also had no qualms with crediting me as art director. I’ve also seen a lot of other people in Spectrum credited as art directors without handling design and layout. So while there may be more popular definitions concerning what an art director is, I feel perfectly comfortable in saying there is no blanket definition.
Let’s move on to the cover. The artwork here is by Dominic Harman, and as people familiar with RoF may realize, this particular cover sparked a controversy. Warren had a new way he wanted covers to be handled, but because the magazine was in major transition at this point, we wouldn’t be able to implement his idea for a couple of more issues (we’ll get to that idea in a later issue). So instead, Warren asked me to choose an illustration for reprint rights from Dominic’s website, an artist he had worked with before (and also discovered some time back if memory serves correctly). Since it was the first issue under the new regime, I roped Warren and Shawna into helping me choose an illustration. The mermaid was the one we settled on, though Warren had Dominic crop the nipples before using it on the cover.
Now as I said, there was a controversy around this cover. Since I was listed as the art director, I understandably took the brunt of the heat on this one …of course, had I kept a cooler head it would have been a much smaller issue. In a nutshell, someone I don’t get along with and whom I had had run-ins with before, posted on his/her blog about the cover (yes, I’m being as intentionally vague as possible on this tidbit), and also wrote some things about me. It was pointed out to me, and I decided to respond in kind on my blog …angrily, given what I read. Looking back, it was a huge mistake to respond at all. And if I didn’t know this person off-line, I doubt I ever would’ve taken the time to address the post. But since I did know this person, it felt like a personal attack, and I reacted to that. Yeah, that was a big mistake. I had been involved in the occasional unfortunate flame war, but I had never been at the center of an online controversy before, and to suddenly find myself smackdab in the middle of one about female nudity on covers due to my comments online …well, suffice it to say a lot of people were anxious to lend their two cents to the conversation, and it was a lot to digest/deal with.
While it wasn’t fun for me, it was nonetheless an interesting experience. Basically, there was a contingent of people who believed that the nudity had no place on the cover. There were other contingents, including those who believed it was fine because it wasn’t sexualizing the mermaid and those who believed it was fine, period. I also distinctly remember the artists that weighed in didn’t really seem to have a problem with this cover. Basically a wide range of opinions all got thrown into the stew, though without question the loudest and most numerous voices were those objecting to the cover. I did my best to listen and respond to everyone, and I learned a lot from the experience, both about online interactions and about how I would approach the magazine going forward. Now to be clear, yes, this is an abridged version of events. I have zero interest in dredging up every last detail and getting people riled up over ancient history, which is a big reason why I’m leaving names out of this. But if this series is a retrospective about the magazine, it would be dodgy on my part to not even mention this happened. If you don’t like how I’m presenting the information, that’s your right. And that’s really all I have to say about this matter.
Moving on …
There is one other tidbit worth noting on the cover as we have our first price increase in the magazine since the August 1998 issue. The previous price was $3.99. The new price is $6.99. (Don’t shoot the messenger!)
Let’s finally turn the page and get past the cover …
Not surprisingly, we have some activity in the masthead. Carl A. Gnam Jr. and Mark Hintz were the previous published as already mentioned, and were listed in the last issue as the Editorial Director and Chief Executive Officer respectively. Warren Lapine replaces them this issue as Publisher. Shawna’s title changed from Editor to Fiction Editor, though her duties remained almost exactly the same. Laura Cleveland was the Managing Editor and an employee of Sovereign Media, so the previous issue marked her last one. Laura actually had two stints with the magazine. Between the October 1998-August 2004 issues, she filled the roles of Copy Editor, Associate Editor, and finally Copy Editor. Then she was no longer with the magazine for a stint (I don’t know why) before returning to the magazine as Managing Editor once again with the October 2006 issue, a role she would continue until the April 2009 issue. All told, she contributed in some form to fifty-two issues, slightly more than half the magazine’s run. I should also add that she was tremendously generous with her time to me, answering various questions I had between Sovereign’s last issue and Tir Na Nog’s first of RoF. Her actual duties ended up getting split between me and Warren. Samantha DeTulleo is also no longer listed as the Art Director, a role she filled from the October 2000-April 2009 issues. Like Laura, this marked a run of fifty-two issues. Interestingly, while Sovereign Media had in past mastheads listed one person as Art Director and another handling design and such, Samantha only handled layout and design. Laura handled the artwork, much the way I would as her replacement. How Sovereign Media determined what title to assign to whom is a question you’ll have to ask Sovereign Media. While he’s not listed in this issue as doing such, Warren ended up taking on the role of layout and design.
As to me, my titles in the masthead this issue are listed as Art Director and Nonfiction Editor. Warren and I had discussed what to do about listing my fiction duties, since I was still the Assistant Editor in the ficton department. Ultimately, I asked him to just leave that out of the masthead, as listing me three times over struck me as too excessive.
Let’s turn our attention to the nonfiction. Warren was interested in preserving continuity with the magazine, so besides bringing me and Shawna back, he brought all the old columns back. Additionally, he wanted all the old columnists back, so he had me invite them to return to their old positions. Everyone but Eric Baker accepted. Eric handled the Games column, and when I contacted him he informed me that he was planning on stepping down from his post in the near future, so this was as good a time as any to walk away from his position. All told his contributions extended from August 1998-April 2009, a run of sixty-five issues (plus he contributed one work of fiction that I covered many issues back).
One of my new duties after Warren took over was the hiring (and firing) of the nonfiction columnists. So it fell to me to hire Eric’s replacement. While I looked at a few different candidates, like Warren, I wanted to preserve a certain level of continuity with the magazine. For this and other reasons, I ultimately chose Matt Staggs as the new Games columnist. Matt had joined RoF as one of the book columnists with the April 2009 issue, and when I contacted him about his old position, in addition to accepting, he offhandedly mentioned some of his other interests in the genre should the need ever arise with the magazine. One of those interests was games, so that’s the genesis of Matt’s role for the Games column. Since there was already a precedent with columnists contributing to more than one column—Jeff VanderMeer contributed to both Books and Graphic Novels for a time—I had no qualms about handing off these additional duties to Matt.
As to the nonfiction itself …
The Games column, the aforementioned Matt Staggs reviews Player’s Handbook 2, A Sourcebook for the 4th edition of Dungeons 7 Dragons, The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena for Atari, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and the PC, the RPG, Scion Companion, A Sourcebook for Scion, and the RPG, Summoners, A Sourcebook Mage: The Awakening; in the Movie/TV column, Resa Nelson covers the movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince; in the Folkroots column, SatyrPhil Brucato writes about the musical in the fantastical; in the Artists Gallery, Karen Haber covers the artwork of Michael Hague; in Books, Paul Witcover reviews The Dark Volume by Gordon Dahlquist, The Red Wolf Conspiracy by Robert. V.S. Redick, and Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman, and Matt Staggs reviews Green by Jay Lake, Blood of Ambrose by James Enge, Midwinter by Matthew Sturges, and The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint; in Young Adult Books, Michael Jones reviews Percy Jackson and the Olympians # 5: The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan, Beka Cooper: Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce, Highway to Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore, Soul Enchilada by David Macinnis, Fortune’s Folly by Deva Fagan, The Amaranth Enchantment by Julie Berry, Zombie Queen of Ashbury High by Amanda Ashby, and Hottie by Jonathan Bernstein; and in Graphic Novels, Jeff VanderMeer reviews Dungeon Zenith Volume 3: Back in Style by Joann Sfarr, Lewis Trondheim, and Boulet. At the back of the issue, Shawna also returns with an Editorial to commemorate our new publisher, while Warren provies an accompanying Publisher’s Note.
I’ll also add a brief mention that the vast majority of nonfiction this issue was originally written for and/or purchased by Sovereign Media, and later transferred over to Warren as part the purchase of the magazine. My records are a bit spotty about which pieces were written for the magazine after Warren took over, though working from memory, I know that Matt Staggs’ Games column and Jeff VanderMeer’s were both written after Warren took over, and I know that Resa’s movie column and Karen’s Artist Gallery column were both paid for by Sovereign Media. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell you anymore. I keep pretty detailed records, but only to a point.
On to the fiction …
As with the previous issue, there are only four stories this issue (though three of them are rather long). This marks the second and last time the magazine published as few as four stories in a single issue.
The lead story and first story in the Tir Na Nog era is “Our Lady in Scarlet” by Tanith Lee, which marks her fifteenth story in the magazine. This one is an historical fantasy about a scholar and alchemist who seeks a cure for the bubonic plague in medieval Europe experiences a crisis of non-faith (i.e. he doesn’t believe) when he starts receiving visits by a red goddess of death, known as the Red Virgin. He summons alchemic angels and such to defend him, but to no avail, and ends up learning more about his future than he wishes to from an entity he never expected to believe in. Art to this one was procured from Canstock Photo. Understandably, Warren wanted to kick off his first issue with the biggest authorial name we had in inventory. This was Tanith Lee. However, due to the transition, there simply wasn’t enough time to commission original artwork, so he asked me to find something suitable on Canstock Photo.
Next up we have “Healing Benjamin” by Dennis Danvers, which marks his second appearance in the magazine. In this one, a teenager inexplicably wills his dying cat back to life. The cat proves immortal and learns new skills such as human speech while its aging master takes care of it and tries to hide the truth about his extraordinary cat. This one is a lot better than I’m making it sound. Plus Shawna bought it, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, she always was rather picky about buying her cat stories (even if there was also a cat story in the previous issue). Art to this one was provided by Eric Westbrook, which marks his third illustration in the magazine. I’ll be sure to let you know when the art that started appearing came from yours truly, but this particular piece was commissioned by Sovereign Media.
After this we have “Digging for Paradise” by Ian Creasey. In this science fantasy, magic is employed through power-stones, and these stones build up their power by storing the earth’s energies inside them. In order to harvest a massive amount of energy in one of the power-stones, a sorcerer buries one of them in the earth and brings a select crew untold millennia into the future to the End of Days, where they will unearth the power-stone, which has been accumulating energy all this time. Everyone but the protagonist is a servant to the sorcerer. The protagonist himself is a miner of sorts, and was tricked into journeying in this far-flung future, as the sorcerer will need his expertise to unearth the power-stone. In this future, the human race is seemingly dead, something that hurts extra for the protagonist because his wife is gone. But the sorcerer claims the power-stone will have so much energy they can all remake this future in whatever fashion they see fit. But as you might expect in this situation, trust issues arise, as seeds of doubt arise whether the sorcerer can be trusted with so much power. Art to this one was another piece commissioned by Sovereign Media and was provided by Rob Johnson, which marks his sixth illustration in the magazine.
Finally we have “Well and Truly Broken” by Bruce Holland Rogers, which marks his eleventh appearance in the magazine. This a brief story about some three girls who are sisters who stumble upon some fairies and wish to join them. But in order to do so, it is required to break a heart. Unfortunately, the end of this story is cut off in the magazine. It was a series of unfortunate events that led to this happening. This story was not originally slated to appear in this issue. But since this was the first issue in the relaunch, there were a lot of moving parts. In this case, Warren made the call to shift a different story out and this one in right before going to press. For whatever reason, the file Warren received from Sovereign Media for this story had the ending cut off. Where it did end was abrupt and a little puzzling, but no blatant enough for the ending to be obviously missing. As to me, the version we received from Sovereign Media was the first one I had ever seen. Bruce was one of Shawna’s clients for her literary agency, and these folks often submitted to Shawna directly. So I was in the dark as much as Shawna about this. As to Shawna, like I said, Warren made the call to switch this story in right before we went to press. I don’t think she saw this “version” of the story until it appeared in the magazine. So like I said, a series of unfortunate events led to this happening, alas. I have to give Warren credit for being a stand-up guy about the whole situation though. Not only did Bruce get paid for appearing in the magazine, but Warren made Bruce’s story—the full version of it—the first one to appear on the magazine’s new website, and he got paid for that as well. While it wasn’t the scenario we envisioned, Warren made the best of it and Bruce was quite pleased with the way Warren’s handling of this matter as publisher. Art to this one was a classic illustration by Edward Reginald Frampton. We didn’t have artwork in inventory at the time Warren made the call to run the story, so there was no choice but to run a reprint. Warren dug up the artwork for this one.
So that wraps up one of the longer (if not the longest) retrospectives I’ve written for this series. And my favorite story? “Healing Benjamin” by Dennis Danvers. And my favorite original artwork? Eric Westbrook’s illustration to the same story.
Next time around I’ll dive into the October 2009 issue. Until then …