Friday, August 18, 2017

Only 16 hours left!

We're down to 16 remaining hours in our Kickstarter campaign for Mysterion 2. At this point, we're 71% funded, with 89 backers.

That means we need to raise another $1412 before 8:11 am tomorrow morning (EDT, or GMT-0:50) in order to succeed.

This is a lot, and it might seem impossible. But is that true?

For example, if each of our 89 backers increased the amount of their pledge by only $16, we would be funded. (Or, since obviously some backers are able to contribute more than others, if everyone increased their pledge amount by 29%.)

Or, if we were able to find just 15 new backers who were able to give $100 each. Or 29 who could each pledge $50.

When you break it down like that, it doesn't seem quite so insurmountable, does it?

So if you're as passionate as we are about the need for more thoughtful, high-quality fiction that openly and honestly explores both the successes and ambiguities of Christian faith and the Christian experience; if you want to see more markets that pay authors a professional rate for their hard work; if you're excited about independent publishing and how it gives creative people the freedom and ability to pursue projects that aren't easily categorized, for niche audiences who aren't finding all of what they want to read in the output from traditional publishing ... then please help us reach our funding goal of $5000, so we can pay authors for enough fiction to publish a second volume of Mysterion in 2018.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Stories We'd Like to See More Of

As our Kickstarter nears its end, we've put up some posts about the kinds of stories we don't want (or see too often). We thought maybe we should also talk a little about what we'd like to see more of.

So, if you're looking for ideas, here are some themes, sub-genres, and perspectives that don't show up in our submissions inbox quite as often, and where it might be easier to write a great story that stands out from all the others:

1.  Horror. We published maybe 4 stories (out of 20) that could be categorized as horror, and would have been open to including more, but we didn't get a lot that we both really liked. However, neither of us is especially fond of common horror tropes like vampires, zombies, Cthulhu Mythos, etc. Also, horror seems to be a genre where it's especially tempting to portray characters who disagree with your politics as monsters. Don't do that.

2.  Secondary world fantasy. This is actually the favorite sub-genre of both editors, but the Christian focus is often a difficult fit for fantasy set in alternate worlds. We only published 2 stories that could fall into this category. The problem is that, in this area, we tend to see either Pseudo-Medieval Europe with an actual Christian church, or Narnia pastiche (with an omnipotent Emperor / Ancient One / Creator, and some kind of animal Jesus). We don't really mind European-inspired secondary world fantasy, but it's going to be easier to stand out from the crowd with a less overused setting. (And if you really love medieval Europe, we'd probably be more interested in a well-researched historical fantasy set in an actual time and place.) Don't be afraid to be a bit heretical when creating your imaginary religion (Narnia is, after all--where's the 3rd person of the Trinity?). However, there does need to be some Christian connection, even if it's just through exploration of popular Christian themes such as forgiveness, redemption, self-sacrifice, the nature of the soul, the character of God. Also, we see a lot of secondary world fantasy about patriarchal monotheists oppressing the noble, egalitarian, environmentally-conscious polytheists, and we're honestly kind of bored by it. (Though we're not especially interested in the reverse, either, with noble monotheists persecuted by evil polytheists--in general, try to avoid "this culture is the good guys and this other one the villains".)

3.  Stories about encounters with the unfathomable mysteries of the divine. Especially stories that don't try to explain everything. Donald has written that "There's a tendency in Christian fiction to write theophanies as if they're altar calls. I would have liked to see more of the strangeness, fear, and bewilderment found in the theophanies you read about in the Bible. They are warnings, commands, prophecies. Even Paul's road-to-Damascus calling was more challenge than instruction. He needed other people to explain to him what he was supposed to do about it."

4.  Stories about Christians who aren't (only) American, Canadian, or western European. Christianity is a global faith, and we'd like to do a better job of representing that. We would love to see more stories about Christians in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean; and about Christians who live in the West but also have strong connections to another culture (including African-Americans and pre-European indigenous cultures of the Americas, Australia, and New Zealand). We do want authentic, well-researched fiction. Just as we're not interested in stories about Christians where it seems that the author doesn't really understand or know much about the aspect of Christianity that they're describing (very common in stories about missionaries, BTW), we don't want shallow portrayals of cultures from around the world. If you're writing about a culture that isn't part of your own heritage, make sure you really do know what you're talking about.

Our Kickstarter is now 52% funded, but we only have 4 days left, so we still need to get a lot more people on board for this anthology to happen. If you're interested in the kinds of stories we've been talking about, please consider backing us, and help us get the word out to others!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Kickstarter update: One week left

We're nearing the end of our Kickstarter for Mysterion 2, the second volume of our anthology of Christian-themed speculative fiction. With only a week left, and 44% funded, we still have a long way to go before we reach our goal. Since Kickstarter is all or nothing, if we do not make our goal, we do not receive any money, and Mysterion 2 will not happen.

While that would be unfortunate -- we believe that Mysterion is a unique market, paying professional rates for speculative fiction with Christian characters, themes, or cosmology -- we decided to use Kickstarter for exactly this reason.

For the first volume, we used Patreon. Patreon's normal campaign is as a monthly subscription, but it can also be set so that the patron pays for every post you mark as a paid post. You can put up multiple paid posts per month, or you can put up none. This allowed us not to charge our patrons anything until we delivered an anthology. We felt this was necessary since we were first time anthologists. My wife and I had no idea whether we would receive enough good stories to make a worthwhile anthology. Even if we did, did we have what it took to select the best stories, edit them, format them, put the book together in an attractive package, and deliver an actual book that we would be proud of? We thought we could, but given that we didn't actually know, we decided not to take anyone's money until we had the book ready. But whether we did the anthology or not was completely independent from the amount pledged on Patreon, although the pledges did let us add a couple of stories.

This time was different. We knew we could get enough good stories: we received over 450 last time, and only had room for 20. We also knew that we could put together a quality book. That was mostly a matter of figuring out who to pay to do stuff for us. Our main task was selecting and editing the stories, which admittedly was a lot of work, but now we had experience.

What we didn't know was whether it was worth it for us. Sure, we've sold some copies of the first volume, but we're still short of breaking even. If we were going to do a second one, we wanted to raise some money first, at least enough to pay our authors -- or, well, mostly enough to pay our authors. This time we didn't want to commit unless there was enough interest--in the form of people willing to exchange cash for books--to get us started. So the Kickstarter is a go/no-go for us, and a no-go is just as useful of a signal as a go, and certainly a lot less work. Once the Kickstarter runs its course, at least.

But I would be remiss if I didn't give you the opportunity to give us a go signal instead. So let me give you the spiel:
Mysterion is the only short fiction market that specializes in Christian-themed speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, and horror) and pays professional rates. 
Unlike many pro-paying anthologies, we don't reserve most of our space for established authors. The first Mysterion was assembled entirely from open submissions. This gives newer writers a better chance of acceptance, and gives us the freedom to select stories entirely on the basis of how much we like them and how well they fit with others we've chosen. 
Unlike many Christian publishers, we don't expect all our authors to be Christians. Nor do we maintain strict content guidelines around sex, violence, and language; or around theology. We've published stories written from deeply Christian perspectives, and stories critical of the Christian faith. We're more interested in the questions than the answers, in promoting dialogue than in telling people what to believe.
If Mysterion 2 sounds like something you want to see happen, please consider backing us, and--at least as importantly--help us spread the word on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, and other platforms.

Thank you for your support!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Stories We See Too Often

As we gear up to hopefully re-open to submissions (depending on how our Kickstarter does), we've been putting up some posts that might help authors who are interested in contributing to our next anthology decide what to write for us (or what to send us from the stories they've already written).

We had a post on some of the most common reasons we reject submissions, and another on why we're usually not too keen on retold Bible stories. Today we thought we'd mention some of the story concepts we see too often.

These aren't necessarily concepts we dislike; but given our limited space, we aren't going to publish more than a couple of stories on any given theme. So rather than say that you can't send us any of these, we'll just caution you that the landscape is much more competitive, and you might have a better chance if you send something more unique.    

  • Stories about dead people who don't know they're dead
  • Time travel stories about someone trying to change the crucifixion
  • Stories about angels and demons that are all too human
  • Angels in general (we did publish four stories with angels in Mysterion 1, but we received a lot more)
  • Missionaries to aliens/natives/mythic creatures
  • Vampires and zombies
  • Gabriel annunciates to a modern woman
  • St. Francis meets a mythological creature
  • Someone famous meets a Lovecraftian monster
  • Retelling a Bible story (see our earlier post on this)
Having an original concept isn't everything, but it isn't nothing, either. 

Keep following the Mysterion blog for a future post on what we don't see enough of. And, if you want to see a Mysterion 2, don't forget about our Kickstarter! It's running for another 9 days, until 8:11 am on Saturday, August 19th (Eastern Time; GMT - 5:00).

Monday, August 7, 2017

Why We (mostly) Don't Like Retold Bible Stories

Last time we were open to submissions, we received quite a few retold (or re-interpreted) Bible stories, and didn't accept any of them. Why not?

While we're not necessarily averse to publishing these kinds of stories, we find that they mostly fall into three main types, each of which is irritating in its own special way.

Type 1 stories posit that whatever really happened is completely different from what most devout Christians have believed through the ages. God wanted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit and be thrown out of Eden. Jesus wasn't God incarnate, but a human sorcerer (or alien, or time traveler, or...). There's no such thing as miracles; here's a totally rationalist explanation for the plagues in Exodus, or the feeding of the five thousand, or the Resurrection (these probably don't even qualify as speculative fiction).

Type 2 stories go too far in the opposite direction, when careful Christian authors are so afraid that it would be heretical or even blasphemous to change anything in Scripture that they end up with basically a scene-by-scene retelling, sometimes with Jesus's dialogue lifted straight out of a popular Bible translation (usually either the King James or NIV). At that point, why should we even read your story? Why not just read the Bible? Even if you're expanding on the original material--filling in dialogue and adding characters--if you don't provide something that either deepens our understanding of the story, or pushes us to look at it in a new way, what's the point?

Our problem with both types is that the story itself is too often subservient to whatever point the author is trying to make about Christianity, and that doesn't usually lead to fiction that either of us wants to read (whether or not we agree with the point being made).

Type 3 stories are those set in the modern day, or in another historical period different from the original setting, or in a different culture. The main problem with these stories is that--like modern settings of Shakespearean plays--they're so overdone. It's usually pretty easy, for Bible geeks like us, to figure out which story it is, and from that point on there are rarely any surprises.

Type 3 stories often fall into Type 2 errors at the same time, which can be as jarring as watching characters in 1980s Manhattan speak Elizabethan English. We once watched a short film retelling of Jesus's encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The filmmakers were obviously going for an "edgy" modern version, set in the present day and starting with the woman's backstory before she meets Jesus. She has a fight with her abusive boyfriend, runs off to be alone at her special place in the woods ... and meets a guy in a white shirt whose face is never shown but who is surrounded by a nimbus of light. From that point on, the two characters just recite, word-for-word, the dialogue recorded in John 4. Never mind that the dialogue doesn't make any sense transposed to 21st century Massachusetts, or that it didn't address what the first scene had set up. We understand and respect that some Christians don't feel comfortable changing any of the details recorded in Scripture, even in fiction ... but if that's you, you should probably avoid Bible retellings if you hope to sell us a story.

Are there any Bible retellings we'd be interested in? Yes, definitely. There were a few that we seriously considered for the first Mysterion anthology, even though they didn't quite make it. You are probably better off telling Bible-adjacent stories, not least because you're less likely to be rehashing material that's been done and done to death. Your protagonist might be a minor character from a Biblical narrative, or an event that appears in the Bible might be part of your story but not the main plot. You might tell the story of a different stage of a character's life, before or after events described in Scripture. We don't actually have a problem with re-imagining, rephrasing, or rearranging Biblical content, or with stories in which certain events or perspectives recorded in the Bible aren't true. We're publishing fiction, not Bible commentaries. But we do have a problem with unoriginal stories.

In terms of content, there are lines we won't cross, but we're hesitant to say what they are, since some of the most interesting stories come close to the edge and we don't want authors to self-reject. Don't be afraid to try us with a story you're not sure about! The worst that can happen is that we'll say no.

So send us your Bible retellings (once we re-open to submissions)--but keep in mind that we do get a lot of them, so competition is fierce. And show us something we haven't seen before.

Our Kickstarter for Mysterion 2 has only 11 days left to go. We're now 36% funded with 56 backers. If you like what you've read here about the kinds of stories we're interested in, please consider making a pledge!


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why We Reject Stories

At Realm Makers, we spent some time chatting with Robert Liparulo about the reasons why stories are rejected. His feeling was that many editors reject stories on the thinnest pretext, looking for the least mistake of grammar or spelling as an excuse to toss the story. This was confirmed for him by the fact that many of the same editors would tell him, as a famous author, not to worry so much about grammar and spelling.

While he's not wrong, I like to think that's not how we approach it. Many of the most prestigious magazines reject somewhere close to 99.9% of their submissions. When a story only has a one in a thousand chance of making it in, you really are looking for reasons to reject.

While we did reject 95% of our submissions, that's still an order of magnitude better chance of acceptance. We felt like we were looking not for reasons to reject stories, but for reasons to love them. So what are the reasons those stories didn't make it in?
  1. Weak prose. If there's a reason we stop reading after the first couple of paragraphs, it's probably this. We're not looking for perfection, but we are looking for clarity and flow--does your writing clearly communicate what you're saying, and is it painless and easy to read? Minor imperfections of grammar or spelling, or the occasional awkward phrase, we can handle, but if it's a slog to get through, we don't want to inflict it on our readers. Now this is harsh, and it's hard to fix. Grammar and spelling you can learn, but how do you make your writing good?  The best advice is to read more and write more, and over time, you'll get better.
  2. Unrelated to the theme. We're pretty broad in our interpretation of "Christian-themed". We'll publish stories that don't mention church, God, or the Christian faith, if they delve into concepts or ideas with special significance for Christians (like forgiveness, or the existence of the soul). But if your story is about fairies in a Celtic-inspired secondary world, and, hey, some of the Celts were Christians! ... don't send us that one. Also, having an angel in your story doesn't automatically make it Christian (see below, under "Unoriginal").
  3. Nothing happens. This is especially a problem for long stories. If we get ten pages in and we're still reading backstory, or an uninteresting debate between characters we have no reason to care about, or some character's moping about their feelings over some unspecified event in the past, we're going to lose interest.
  4. Shallow characterization. We want to care deeply about the characters. For Mysterion, we're especially interested in the faith of our characters, and how it moves them. We find that if we don't have any investment in the characters, and no insight into what ideals and desires drive them, we tend to lose interest. This is especially a problem for antagonists, who are often egotistical, amoral atheists or hypocritical, self-righteous believers, rather than real people who have an understandable reason for opposing the protagonist.
  5. Preachiness. Most sermons are less preachy than some of the stories we've received. People read stories to be entertained, and to encounter interesting questions. If your story presents easy answers, your questions aren't hard enough.
  6. Not compelling. A story that's compelling, where we care about the characters and their problems, where we want to keep reading to see what happens next, can keep us going through a lot of technical issues. We’re far more forgiving of problems with the writing if we're invested in the story. By the same token, technical excellence isn't enough to keep us reading an uncompelling story.
  7. Unoriginal. You may think your take on vampires/zombies/angels/demons is amazingly original. It probably isn't. And no matter how great your vampire story is, we're not going to publish more than one or two, and we receive a lot of them. So make sure there's more to your story than a vampire who wants to be saved, and then ask whether the vampire part is necessary at all.
  8. Doesn't deliver on its promises. If we reject your story for this reason, that means we were engaged enough to read all the way through, but ultimately didn't think you had written the ending the story deserved. Sometimes stories just trail off, and we wonder whether the writer forgot the last few pages. Sometimes there's a strong climax, but it doesn't address the conflict the author introduced in the beginning. When you write those first few paragraphs and show us the protagonist(s) and their problems, you're making promises to the reader. Not necessarily that the protagonist will solve their problems, but that they will address them in some way--whether they defeat the problem, are defeated by it, decide it's not really a problem, or turn away from it in favor of defeating a bigger problem. And we expect important characters and concepts from the beginning to play a part in that resolution. When they don't, we feel cheated.
  9. Not good enough to be so long. We'll consider stories up to 10,000 words long, but most of what we published was under 5000 words. Sometimes we get to the end of a 9000-word story with interesting characters, a compelling plot, and strong prose ... and we just don't like it enough to justify the amount of space it would take. This doesn't necessarily mean that the story would work better if it were shorter (although sometimes it does). It does mean that it wasn't special enough to have earned 10% of the anthology's total available word count.
  10. We don't have room. At the end of our submission period, we had winnowed the submission pool down to sixty stories that we would have loved to publish, and only had room for twenty. This is an issue with all publications, especially those paying pro rates. There are more good stories seeking publication than there are resources with which to publish them. We did try to make sure we published the handful of stories that we both ranked among our favorites; but we also needed to make sure we had enough from each genre, that we didn't have too many angel stories, that we had stories that spoke to each other, that we could trade off between Kristin's favorites and Donald's favorites. Some stories didn't make it in not because they didn't deserve to make it, but because there simply wasn’t room.
We hope this post has helped writers to see their antagonists (i.e., editors) as real people with believable motivations (i.e., getting a book or magazine out without having to spend hours on each story, even the rejected ones). Keep an eye on this blog for additional posts about the kinds of stories we're looking for (and not looking for)!

Also, our Kickstarter campaign is still ongoing. We're 34% funded, with 54 backers, and 13 days left to go. If you haven't pledged yet, and would like to see more of the sort of fiction we've been talking about, head on over and help us bring Volume 2 of Mysterion to life!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Reason #7 to support Mysterion

The seventh reason to support Mysterion on Kickstarter is because you want to help us promote the work of newer writers.

Most anthologies that pay professional rates of 6 cents/word and up for fiction don't have much space for authors who aren't already established. If they consider open submissions at all, it's usually for a maximum of 4 or 5 spots, after the rest of the Table of Contents has already been filled with recognizable names.

While we've read and enjoyed many such anthologies, we also know that amazing stories are being written by authors who aren't already well known. And we want to give those authors a chance to shine.

We assembled the first Mysterion anthology entirely through open submissions, and we intend to do the second volume the same way. Yes, we invited established authors whom we knew personally to send us stories, and we even ended up publishing one. But no one had a spot reserved. We didn't accept any stories until we'd had a chance to review and consider each one submitted to us.

Now, our choice to proceed this way is not entirely unrelated to the fact that the two of us are new editors who don't exactly have long lines of famous authors clamoring to send us stories about Christianity. But we are absolutely committed to reserving the majority of our available publication slots for stories sent to us through open submissions, where new authors can compete on equal footing with established professionals and the only thing that really matters is how much we loved your story.

So if you also believe in making space in publishing for writers yet-to-be-established, please consider supporting us on Kickstarter!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Realm Makers Con Report

Enigmatic Mirror Press (i.e., Donald and Kristin) spent the last weekend at Realm Makers in Reno, Nevada. Realm Makers is a speculative fiction conference for (primarily) Christian writers, and this was its 5th year. It just keeps getting better. When we first attended two years ago, we weren't convinced it was worthwhile for most authors aiming to get published by general market vs. Christian publishers, but each year the conference organizers manage to bring in more agents and editors with general market credentials, and we run into more and more authors who may be Christian, but are aiming for a broader audience.

We were particularly excited to connect with other independent publishers that are--like us--coming out with books that don't fit into a traditional Christian publishing mold (Uncommon Universes Press and The Crossover Alliance, for instance; check them out!). Bestselling Christian horror writer Ted Dekker was this year's keynote speaker, with plenty of interesting and provocative ideas to share with the crowd. A great weekend, and we encourage other Christians who are speculative fiction authors and artists to look into Realm Makers for next year. (Although you certainly aren't required to identify as Christian in order to attend!)

We also met with our friend and fellow anthologist, Travis Perry of Bear Publications, who may be helping us out on the next volume of Mysterion. We finally got to meet Jessica Snell in real-life (Jessica reviewed the first Mysterion, and shares a Myers-Briggs personality type with Kristin). And we enjoyed chatting with Scott Thomas, Arpit Mehta, Kat Heckenbach, Peter Leavell, Teddi DeppnerDavid Farland, Robert Liparulo, and Paul Stevens--and many others!

We were thrilled to see our friend Frederic S. Durbin win the Realm Award for Best Fantasy by a Christian author, for his novel A Green and Ancient Light (which Kristin is still looking forward to reading, after Donald gave it to her for Christmas). Fred wasn't at Realm Makers--we know him from the World Fantasy Convention--but he's a great guy and an excellent writer (Kristin especially enjoyed his incredibly creepy Locus-Award-nominated story "The Bone Man", published about 10 years ago in Fantasy & Science Fiction).

And of course, we told anyone and everyone about our Kickstarter for the next volume of Mysterion. It's not the only reason we went, of course, but Mysterion is what initially inspired us to start attending Realm Makers and get more connected with the Christian speculative fiction community.

But what about the food, you ask? Don't Enigmatic Mirror Press con reports usually include restaurant reviews?

Well, unlike most of the cons we attend, meals were included in the overall registration fee. Most meals. This meant that, to Kristin's horror upon realizing it at the end, we didn't go outside even once between arriving at the hotel on Thursday afternoon and leaving on Sunday morning. (It was probably for the best; daily highs in Reno were hovering around the mid-90s.)

We did, however, manage to eat at two different restaurants, both within the hotel (which was actually a casino; but are there any hotels in Reno that aren't also casinos?). Because Kristin is a picky eater, considers breakfast the most important meal of the day, and doesn't like to stand in a long line for food when she's really really hungry, she decided that the continental breakfast provided to conference attendees wasn't going to cut it, and opted for the hotel buffet breakfast instead, at Toucan Charlie's. This was amazing! And Kristin is very hard to impress, food-wise. On weekdays, it was cheaper than the buffet at the last convention hotel we stayed at, the Boston Marriott Quincy, and about 10 times better. What didn't they have? Whether you were in the mood for Mexican, Chinese, a carving station (pork belly the first day, turkey and brisket the second), fried chicken, or traditional American breakfast favorites (including made-to-order omelettes and pancakes), they probably had whatever you wanted (amusingly, they had about 4 bacon stations scattered throughout the buffet, including at the end of the Mexican food section--they know people love their bacon!). Oh, they also had continental breakfast favorites (boring!), a good variety of fruit (strawberries, cherries, sliced peach/nectarine/plum medley, stewed figs, etc.), lots of pastries, house-made gelato, smoked salmon ... the list goes on. And the food was actually good. Seriously, if you're ever in Reno, you should eat here.

For dinner on Saturday night (which was not included in the price of admission), the Atlantis Steakhouse was the obvious choice, given Donald's love of steak. Donald liked it, but Kristin thought it was kind of meh, honestly. But she usually feels this way about steakhouses. Also, she probably ate too much for lunch and wasn't hungry enough to really appreciate a steak dinner at 6:15 pm. There was nothing wrong with the steak, really, but the sauce it came with was too sweet and just not very interesting. Also, Kristin got a side order of sauteed wild forest mushrooms, and they mixed those with the same boring sauce, so they might as well have been more of the white button mushrooms that already came with the steak (except those stood up better to the bold flavor of the sauce). The steakhouse does have killer cocktails, though! (And Donald liked his steak just fine.)

We hope we can attend the 2018 Realm Makers Conference; in the meantime, we're thrilled that a bunch of other Realm Makers people are going to be at World Fantasy this fall, in San Antonio (there are still World Fantasy memberships available, currently selling for $275, so if you're a Realmie who doesn't want to wait until 2018 for your next speculative fiction fix ... you can see who's already signed up here).

Friday, July 28, 2017

Enigmatic Mirror Press is at Realm Makers

We're at Realm Makers this weekend, in Reno, Nevada. In case you haven't heard of Realm Makers, it's an annual conference for Christian speculative fiction writers. Unlike the science fiction conventions we typically attend, the focus here is more on instruction by experienced pros, vs. panels by lots of different authors.

If you're also at Realm Makers, keep an eye out for us and say hello!

Of course our Kickstarter for Mysterion 2 is still ongoing. Currently holding steady at 27% funded, with 3 weeks left. Please consider making a pledge, and help us bring you another great anthology!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Reason #6 to support Mysterion

The sixth reason to support Mysterion on Kickstarter is that we can't do it without your help.

Anthology projects often come to Kickstarter with a complete table of contents, all the stories contracted and in hand, and a final cover ready to go. At that point, it's pretty obvious that the anthology is going to happen whether anyone contributes to the Kickstarter or not. Kickstarter becomes just another way to pre-order your copy. Which is cool--but it's not the same as having helped make it happen.

Supporting Mysterion is different. If you contribute, those funds will be used to pay the authors for the stories we select. And we pay on acceptance, not on publication, so our authors don't have to wait until we get around to publishing the book before they're compensated for their work.

Each story costs us between $30 and $600 (depending on length, and whether it's a new story or a reprint), with an average of about $280. So, depending on your pledge amount, it might be covering a significant percentage of an individual author's payment for their story.

Also, if we end up surpassing our funding target, we have stretch goals that will enable us to commission art for a full wrap-around cover instead of only a front cover, and to purchase additional stories and pay our authors more.

So support Mysterion on Kickstarter, and help us bring you another anthology!

Friday, July 21, 2017

Reason #5 to support Mysterion

The fifth reason to support Mysterion on Kickstarter is because you want to see better dialogue within and between the Christian and speculative fiction communities.

Certain controversies over the last few years have not, we're sad to say, brought out the best in our communities.

Good stories can bring us together. The characters, the themes, the conflicts and epiphanies. And most of all, the flaws, the weaknesses, and the plot holes. We love to geek out about those. You can bond over these things, or at least get into really good arguments that can change the way you view the story, each other, and the world.

And the stories themselves talk to each other. We love stories that argue with one another and take different perspectives on the same idea, and we're thrilled when we can make that happen in one book. That's why the same anthology that had "Cutio" and "Of Thine Impenetrable Spirit" also had "St. Roomba's Gospel," that gave you "Golgotha" also gave you "This Far Gethsemane." This way you can read different perspectives without arguing or name-calling or ALL CAPS SHOUTING ON THE INTERNET COMMENT SECTION, but rather good stories where believable characters struggle with hard questions.

If you want to see more of this kind of dialogue, support us on Kickstarter!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reason #4 to support Mysterion

The fourth reason to support Mysterion on Kickstarter is because you read the first anthology, and you loved it.

Our first anthology contained twenty short stories, by newcomers and old hands alike, all dealing with Christianity in some way. From fallen priests to desperate missionaries, from angels to demons, from astronauts to poachers to robots, we included it all: science fiction, fantasy, horror, and everything in between. If any of our stories beguiled you, thrilled you, entranced you, or scared you, you know that you want more. And we want to provide it.

If that's the case for you, please support us on Kickstarter.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Reason #3 to support Mysterion

The third reason to support Mysterion on Kickstarter is because you want to see a new professional market for short speculative fiction that engages with Christianity.

There are never enough markets for science fiction and fantasy short stories, especially places that pay a pro rate. When you're an author, you're always looking for new places to send your work, and it's like a miracle when you find the perfect fit for your story.

Whether you're an author or not, if you want to see a new pro-paying market, please support us on Kickstarter!

Friday, July 14, 2017

Reason #2 to support Mysterion

The second reason to support Mysterion on Kickstarter is because you want to support authors of speculative fiction that engages with Christianity.

The best way to support artists in their work is to pay them. We at Enigmatic Mirror Press are firm believers in Yog's law: "Money should flow toward the author." We believe in promptly paying our artists, whether authors, cover artists, cover designers, or layout artists, a fair amount. That is why we pay a professional rate of six cents per word upon acceptance, once the editors and author agree on edits and sign the contract, so they don't have to wait until the book comes out.

We decided we needed a Kickstarter so we could raise the funds to pay our authors. If you want to help us do that, please contribute!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Reason #1 to Support Mysterion

The first reason to support us on Kickstarter is that you want to read high-quality speculative fiction that engages with Christianity.

Not all Christian fiction is bad, but it's not uncommon to read Christian fiction that is preachy, that gives pat answers to straw man questions, and that censors a fallen world in order to be clean enough for children. Nor is all mainstream speculative fiction unfair to the Christian faith, but too often you find Christians stereotyped as repressed theocrats and bigots, the divine shown to be evil or a lie, and wicked monotheists oppressing the enlightened polytheists and atheists.

In short, we can all do better. You want to read stories that treat the faith seriously, but acknowledge the problems and shortcomings of the faithful; that ask the hard questions and look past the easy answers; and above all, you want to read good stories, with authentic characters, engrossing plots, and adept prose.

And we want to give you all those things, in Mysterion 2, so support us on Kickstarter!


Monday, July 10, 2017

Mysterion 2 Kickstarter

When we released Mysterion: Rediscovering the Mysteries of the Christian Faith last year around this time, we were very happy with the result. Now that we've had a chance to rest, we've decided to do it again. But publishing an anthology is expensive, so we could use your help.

We're currently running a Kickstarter to raise the funds to pay our authors. To the best of our knowledge, Mysterion is the only Christian-themed anthology that pays professional rates of 6 cents per word, and paying pro rates for twenty stories adds up.

You can make pledges to the Kickstarter for copies of the anthology, both the new one and the old. We'd also really like your help spreading the word, and letting others who would be interested in this anthology know about Mysterion and our Kickstarter. So be sure to share the news on Facebook, Twitter, your blog, or wherever you hang out online (or even in real life, if you’re into that sort of thing).

And if you'd like to submit a story, watch this blog or sign up for our newsletter, so you'll be one of the first to know when we open to submissions.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Enigmatic Mirror Press is now on Twitter!

Enigmatic Mirror Press now has a Twitter account, so be sure to follow us @EnigmaticMirror for all the latest news on Mysterion and other projects!

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Review of The Ghost Box by Mike Duran

Reagan Moon is a paranormal reporter working for the Blue Crescent, an LA tabloid. He's good at his job, and one of the things that makes him so good is he doesn't believe. Oh sure, there are strange things out there: cults and designer drugs and brain hacks, but nothing supernatural. Nothing that can't be explained. He hasn't believed in much since his dad died, and his girlfriend Ellie's death less than a year ago only made him more of a cynic.

But tabloids don't pay a whole lot, and if a rich eccentric wants to pay him to talk to a medium, he's game. The problem is that Klammer wants him to make contact with Ellie, hinting that she wasn't incinerated in a freak accident but rather harvested for some grotesque purpose. In grand noir tradition, Reagan is soon dodging the police on suspicion of being involved in the death of said medium. Whether holed up with the Mad Spaniard and his daughters, Kanya and Cricket, in their Asylum for strange artifacts, or following a lead to the Spiraplex, a grand building/science experiment built by Klammer’s old business partner and rival, Soren Volden, and centered around a giant statue of Anubis, Reagan is constantly in over his head.

Mike Duran, the author of The Ghost Box, is known in Christian circles as the author of The Resurrection and The Telling, traditionally published in the Christian market. Both contained supernatural elements that didn’t neatly fit into Christian theology, for which he received blowback from many readers of Christian fiction. The Ghost Box, published independently, is an effort to get outside the narrow restrictions that limit what he can do in Christian publishing. That is something that we here at Enigmatic Mirror Press greatly appreciate. In doing so, Mike Duran doesn't hide his Christian worldview, though he avoids words like "Christian" and "Jesus". He wants to make this story accessible to  those who aren't Christians, without turning them off by evangelical vocabulary. We don't think it's necessary to go quite that far. It's possible to engage with Christianity, as we would call it, without being preachy, or writing what's usually called "Christian fiction", in the sense of being written by and for Christians while avoiding anything the least bit heretical. That said, The Ghost Box would meet Mysterion's theme guidelines, since it deals with Christian themes and Christian cosmology.

It is not about a Christian character, however. Some of the side characters, such as the ex-priest Mad Spaniard, may be, but it's pretty clear that Moon is not, and there's no conversion experience in this book. Or rather, it's not a conversion to Christianity so much as a conversion to hope, an acknowledgment that there's more to this world than the physical, that we do survive after death, and that some of us even go on to something better.

Of course, to get there, Reagan Moon first has to see it with his own eyes. Enter Rival's Curtain.

Rival's Curtain looks like aviator goggles with amber crystal lenses. What it actually does is reveal the world of the Invisibles. Most people can only look through Rival's Curtain for a few minutes without getting physically ill, but Reagan takes to it naturally. And once he sees what's on the other side, he can't go back to his comfortable cynicism. Not only are there ghost currents moving through the air, but there are whole worlds, occupied by such beings as a fiery-mouthed, many-limbed cytomorph, and a burnished angel whom Reagan nicknames Bernard. In Rival's Curtain, most ordinary objects are dimmed, but people can glow, or be ridden by demons, or be revealed to be something not even remotely human. And some objects are revealed to be not so ordinary, such as the Tau, an oddly shaped cross which Ellie gave him, along with the mandate to protect it. Through Rival's Curtain, it crackles with electricity.

The Tau is the key to what’s happening, as Soren Volden’s minions try numerous times to recover it. Bernard guides Reagan and Kanya to Volden’s Spiraplex, where they learn the truth about Ellie's death and the Lovecraftian horrors her murderer intends to release.

Reagan is not a typical hero. He's not particularly brave or bold, and he has an annoying tendency to freeze up or gawk when he encounters something strange. In the beginning, at least, he doesn't really believe in anything, and it takes some effort--and money--to get him moving. Ultimately, it's Ellie that gets him motivated, the desire to first learn the truth of what happened, and then to do something about those responsible. It's pretty late in the game where he begins to grasp that maybe he has a larger responsibility, that those behind Ellie's death may be a threat to the entire world, and that somehow he's the only one equipped to stop them.

By the end of the novel, though, he's changed. Oh, he's still not particularly bold, and he's a long way from knowing what to do with the gifts he's been given, but he's started to see the world in a new way, and accept things which he did not acknowledge before. He's not ready, but he's no longer hiding, either.

The Ghost Box is available for $0.99 on Amazon for the ebook, or $7.49 for the paperback. There is, unsurprisingly, a sequel.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Mysterion 2

Yes, you read that right. We're planning to do a second anthology. We'll be doing a Kickstarter in hopes of getting it going this year.

Keep your eyes on this blog for more information soon.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Movie review: SILENCE

Martin Scorcese's Silence asks whether Christians should ever deny their faith to save the lives of others. Like Rodrigues, the film's Jesuit protagonist, viewers receive no final answer, only silence.

It's the early 17th century. Two Jesuit priests have traveled to Japan in search of their mentor, Ferreira, rumored to have renounced the faith. Christianity has been outlawed and Japanese Christians forced to practice their religion in secret, with the threat of execution if discovered. Ultimately, the two priests are captured and pressured by the authorities to deny the faith by trampling on a carved plaque bearing an image of Jesus. If they refuse, they are threatened not with their own execution by slow torture, but that of Japanese Christians.

[Spoilers ahead. Be warned.]


Image result for silence movie images
                                   

This is not a triumphalist movie. A character quotes Tertullian's famous line about the blood of martyrs being the seed of the Church, but the relentless persecution of Japanese Christians does not bring about a renewal of faith in the hearts of those forced to watch. Christianity is only driven further underground, with those who continue to practice Christian rituals in secret claiming openly to be Buddhist. Ferreira, now writing a book that denounces Christianity, says that the Japanese converts were never true believers.

Although many Christian reviewers have praised the film, others denounce it for condoning apostasy. But does it? In a pivotal scene, Rodrigues hears a voice that he believes to be that of Jesus, telling him to go ahead and trample on the image. Tellingly, a rooster crows immediately after he obeys, while he falls to the ground, weeping.

Unlike the apostle Peter, though, Rodrigues is never given the opportunity to repent. Mercilessly, the film follows him through the rest of his life. We see him and Ferreira using their knowledge of Christian symbols to help the authorities identify banned devotional items. Every few years, he is required to write out a new renunciation of his old faith. When his servant Kichijiro is caught with a Christian amulet and dragged away, Rodrigues does not dare to intercede for him, or even express sorrow. We do see a tiny crucifix hidden in Rodrigues's hand when he eventually dies and is cremated, but does it still mean anything, after so many renunciations?

I think a viewer's interpretation of the film's "message" may depend largely on what they already believe about Christianity and apostasy (or what they assume the director, Scorsese, believes--Scorsese previously directed the film adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ). I couldn't see the consequences of Rodrigues's denial of his faith as anything other than tragic. Not because stepping on the image was an unforgivable sin, but because each subsequent scene shows him betraying more and more of what he used to hold sacred, each time with more to lose if he refuses. When Kichijiro is taken away, presumably to torture and execution, we see no evidence that Rodrigues even considers risking himself to save him. But wasn't it to save others that he first stepped on Christ's image?

And was it really Jesus telling him to trample? I was reminded of the angelic child in The Last Temptation who encourages Jesus to come down from the cross instead of dying, but is later revealed to be Satan himself. It's up to us to decide how to interpret the voice Rodrigues hears (just as it was up to him).

In contrast, in a scene much earlier in the movie, Japanese Christians who initially went ahead and stepped on the image (at Rodrigues's behest) refuse the next test (to spit on a crucifix and call the Virgin Mary a whore), and are condemned to death. Despite Ferreira's later claim that they weren't true Christians, they die on crosses (set in the sea as the tide comes in), singing hymns.

Silence is brutally honest about the costs of both devotion and apostasy, and too honest to tell the viewer which is right.

This may be unpalatable for those who want an inspiring story to encourage and affirm them in their own faith. But I wonder if it's dishonest, on some level, to want only the stories of the Church's success; to refuse to face those of its apparent failure. Because Christianity really was almost wiped out in Japan. What can we say to that? What do we say to the thousands of Christians around the world who, even to this day, are executed and imprisoned for converting to or refusing to denounce their faith?

We might quote the last several verses of Hebrews 11, but perhaps there's something almost obscene about doing so from the relative comfort and security of the at-least-superficially-Christian west, where most of us won't face any worse persecution for our faith than being laughed at and losing friends. For those of us who believe in encouraging people in other countries to become Christians, Silence lays bare some of the consequences. This is what will still happen to some of those we've helped convert. Can we live with that? Should we?

Silence is an uncomfortable movie, and a long one (2 hours and 41 minutes). It wasn't a box office success, and most of the Christians I know have never heard of it. I'm not surprised it wasn't successful; I'm not sure how much sense some aspects of the film would make for anyone not intimately familiar with the Christian faith, and yet it's deeply offensive to many Christian believers (though not on the level of Last Temptation).

We don't hesitate in recommending it to anyone who appreciated Mysterion, though. While light on speculative elements, it's an unflinching examination of many of the questions we're most interested in here.

Just set aside plenty of time, and don't expect to be cheerful after watching it.

(Silence is a 2016 film based on the Shusaku Endo novel of the same name, directed by Martin Scorcese, and distributed by Paramount Pictures. Starring Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, Ciaran Hinds, and Liam Neeson. Available from Amazon for rent or purchase.)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Short story review: "The Dagger with Wings" by G. K. Chesterton

If you're a Christian who likes to read, sooner or later someone will recommend G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories. They've certainly been recommended to me on multiple occasions, usually with adjectives like "charming" and "delightful".

I was always at least somewhat interested. I do make a point of seeking out fiction in which the Christian faith plays a significant role, especially when that role is not "evil oppressive antagonist". A series of detective stories where the amateur sleuth is a Catholic priest, written by one of the most renowned Christian apologists of the twentieth century? What's not to like?

Plenty, as it turns out. But the fault may lie in me as a reader more than in Chesterton as a writer.

One of the acquaintances constantly recommending Chesterton finally handed me a stapled copy of "The Dagger with Wings", printed (I believe) from some online source. He thought this story would be a good introduction to Father Brown, and Chesterton's work in general.


Read "The Dagger with Wings" in The Incredulity of Father Brown
                                                           

[SPOILER ALERT]

In "The Dagger with Wings", Father Brown has been asked by an officer of the local police force to go talk to a man who's requesting police protection. Both the man's brothers have recently died, one an apparent suicide, the other in a factory accident. The surviving brother, however, believes that both were murdered and that the murderer is coming for him next.

Why does he believe this? Well, the three Aylmer brothers were born when their father was fairly old. Sometime before the father got married, when he assumed he was going to die a bachelor with no heir, he adopted a boy whose "origin seems to be vague; they say he was a foundling; some say he was a gipsy" (does this remind anyone else of Wuthering Heights?) When the old man died, he left most of his considerable estate to this adopted son and almost nothing to his "real sons". They disputed the will, claiming that the adopted son, John Strake, had intimidated their father into disinheriting them, and that their father hadn't been in his right mind when he did it. The courts took the sons' side, and they got the inheritance instead. Strake was furious and threatened to kill them all.


Wuthering Heights by [Brontë, Emily]
Not by G. K. Chesterton
                                                 
Since there's no evidence of foul play in the first two brothers' deaths, the police department isn't sure how seriously to take the last brother's claim that Strake is coming for him. Is he in genuine danger, or simply delusional? Father Brown is supposed to call on the fellow and do what we might call an informal psychiatric evaluation (Catholic priests apparently being in greater supply in 1920s rural England than actual psychiatrists).

When Father Brown gets to the house, there appears to be no one home. Which is odd, since Arnold Aylmer is reportedly too afraid of Strake to go outside. So, as any good cleric would do, Father Brown pokes around the exterior of the house until he finds an unlocked French window and lets himself in. Whereupon he meets Mr. Aylmer, in his dressing-gown, and is regaled with a wild story of how Strake used sorcerous powers to murder the first two brothers. The details don't quite add up, Father Brown calls the police when Aylmer steps out to "show you something", and it turns out that the man the father has been speaking with isn't Aylmer at all but Strake, who murdered Aylmer just a few moments before Father Brown appeared on the scene and then pretended to be him when the priest found a way into the house. (The sorcerous powers aren't real either, just a clever lie Strake thought up on the spot, expecting a priest to be gullible enough to believe any story invoking the supernatural.)

So, first of all, I'm probably not the ideal reader for these stories. While I did go through a phase in high school where I read almost all of Agatha Christie's novels, I'm not a big mystery fan. I'm especially not a fan of detective fiction at the short story length. There isn't space to introduce enough characters to make it at all challenging to figure out who the murderer is. In this particular story, we have Father Brown, "Aylmer" (actually Strake), and Dr. Boyne at police headquarters who sends the detective on his "quest". That's it for speaking parts. I knew Father Brown couldn't be the murderer. Dr. Boyne seemed equally unlikely, as we hardly see him at all. And the fake Aylmer acts suspiciously erratic all the way through their conversation. It's a bit of a twist that he isn't actually Aylmer at all (though reasonably well foreshadowed), but it wasn't that much of a leap to conclude that the apparently unbalanced fellow rambling on about hell-hounds and white magic was probably the real murderer, whomever he turned out to be.

And ... I am first and foremost a fantasy reader. I prefer stories where the supernatural element is real. "The Dagger with Wings" basically has a Scooby-Doo ending (despite pre-dating Scooby-Doo by almost 40 years). After all the build-up--silver bullets, cloaked and levitating sorcerers--it turns out that the murderer is just a common criminal who can spin a convincing yarn, and who hid the body by wrapping it in a long cloak and hanging it from a hat peg in the hallway when he heard Father Brown creep into the house. ("And I would have gotten away with it, if it hadn't been for you meddling priest!")

My understanding is that the debunking of an apparently supernatural explanation is pretty common in Father Brown stories. And while I can appreciate this in real life,* it's not why I read fiction.

I was also bothered by some of the story's underlying assumptions. Look at the back story from John Strake's point of view. An impoverished child in Victorian England, either orphaned or abandoned by his birth parents. For whatever reason, some wealthy landowner decides to adopt him. Then the guy gets married and has three kids of his own (his "real sons", as the police officer explaining the background to Father Brown calls them). No, I'm not suggesting that Strake's precarious position in an inegalitarian society justifies his attempt to have his step-brothers disinherited, and his subsequent murder of at least one of them (it's never made clear whether he was actually responsible for the first two deaths). But it's not clear that we're supposed to think anything except "justice was served" when the Aylmer brothers get the will thrown out and leave Strake with nothing.

Finally, there's the religious aspect. I appreciate that Father Brown is a more complex and believable Christian character than I usually encounter in fiction. That his belief in the supernatural and in the Devil doesn't mean he believes every yarn someone spins about either. Unfortunately, Strake gets to be the crazy religious fanatic, and I'm not sure the story is any more balanced in its treatment of westerners dabbling in eastern mysticism than all those other stories where one-dimensional Christians get to be the unhinged straw man villains.

"I've scarcely ever met a criminal who philosophized at all," Father Brown tells Dr. Boyne in the "drawing-room scene" at story's end, "who didn't philosophize along those lines of orientalism and recurrence and reincarnation ... It may not be like that in its real religious origins; but here in our working world it is the religion of rascals." I'm no expert on the spirituality of the English criminal underclass in the 1920s, but I can't help suspecting that an obsessive interest in eastern and other alternative spirituality may have been more typical among the wealthy (those with whom Chesterton often debated?). And, while the elder Mr. Aylmer did have a reputation for dabbling in the occult, the story seems to blame his adopted son for leading him astray. (The boy was how old when Aylmer adopted him? Thirteen, fourteen? And his adoptive father's obsession with mysticism is all his fault? Really, Chesterton?)

It's not easy to write fiction about religion or spirituality--or any strongly-held views--without making the protagonist a clever mouthpiece for your own opinions. It's also difficult to make characters express beliefs you disagree with, and may even consider harmful to society, without turning them into obvious villains or shallow caricatures. But until you can, no one who doesn't already agree with you will accept that you understand what you're arguing against (a corollary of the Chesterton's fence** principle, perhaps?).

I didn't dislike "The Dagger with Wings", exactly. Some of the prose is lovely, Father Brown gets some great lines, and I wouldn't have so many complaints about the way the story treats Strake if Chesterton hadn't filled in just enough of the back story to make me think there was more going on under the surface than even the author had imagined. But, unless someone can convince me otherwise, the other Father Brown stories will probably stay pretty far down on my ever-lengthening to-read list.


*I believe that demons exist and are active in the world, but also wish that evangelical Christians would be a little more circumspect about blaming so many negative outcomes or feelings on "spiritual oppression" or "spiritual warfare", especially in cases where there's a reasonable explanation that doesn't depend on the supernatural. Double especially when the reasonable explanation is that you were disorganized, or slacked off, or couldn't come to agreement with other members of your church committee because everyone insisted on getting their own way (or any other situation where blaming demons might be an attempt to absolve yourself of responsibility).

**Chesterton's fence: In his 1929 book The Thing: Why I am a Catholic, Chesterton writes, "In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, 'I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away.' To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: 'If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.'"

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Reviews

As you may have noticed, we're starting to do reviews here at Mysterion. In our theme guidelines, we mentioned a number of stories and books that have the sort of Christian elements we'd like to see in what we publish. We were thinking that people who are interested in what we're trying to accomplish with our anthology might also be interested in reviews of other work with Christian themes.

Let us know if you have any ideas about what we should review, including any of your own books and stories. We'll need the following information:
  • Story name or title
  • Author (let us know if you're the author)
  • Publisher (including self-published)
  • A link to where we could read a sample, or the whole thing.
Of course, we can't promise to read or review what you send us (or to give only positive reviews). In order to be considered, the work must engage with Christianity (Christian themes, characters, or cosmology), but also be of potential interest to readers who don't identify as Christian. There's no requirement that the work be "clean", or written by a Christian author, or that the treatment of Christianity be entirely favorable.

If it's a self-published fantasy book, Donald may post a review at Black Gate as well, if it's appropriate for that audience.

Send review requests to editors@mysterionanthology.com.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Review: Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw

We've decided to start posting book reviews on the Mysterion blog. Like the stories we publish, books reviewed here will feature Christian characters, themes, or cosmology. They won't necessarily be "Christian" books, as the CBA would understand it, or books written by Christian authors, but rather books that speak to our faith in some way, and that we think might appeal to readers interested in what we've tried to accomplish with Mysterion.

Dawn of Wonder cover
Our first review is for Dawn of Wondera 700-page novel of epic fantasy by Jonathan Renshaw. Mr. Renshaw doesn't need my help selling his book, as he's sold over 200,000 copies, has over 2,500 Amazon reviews, and has won a bevy of awards. I first encountered this book while doing reviews of self-published books at Black Gate, where a version of this review first appeared.

It is certainly a well-written book, with rich and poetic language and strong characterization. Aedan, the main character, is instantly likable, adventurous and bold but with a grave weakness that will haunt him throughout the novel. We're first introduced to Aedan as a boy, together with his friends, most notably Kalry, the daughter of the local noble. When tragedy strikes and Kalry is lost to slavers, Aedan is blamed, and his family has to leave the area. It is here that we are introduced to the source of Aedan's fears and weakness, his father's abusive temper. When they arrive in the city of Castath, Aedan's father separates from his family to return to the criminal lifestyle he had practiced before marrying.

Aedan quickly decides that what he wants is to become a soldier, independent of his father and the domineering woman his mother finds shelter with, and more importantly, able to pursue revenge on the nation of slavers who took Kalry. When he seeks out the training to become one, he quickly catches the eye of General Osric, and is offered a place at the Academy, studying to become a gray marshal, one of the spies and scouts who are Castath's first line of defense. Believing that becoming one would give him an even better chance to avenge Kalry, he leaps at the opportunity.

And it is here that the book bogs down, becoming more Harry Potter without magic than the epic tale of revenge I was anticipating. We learn a great deal about Aedan's training, in more detail than we need. We also learn of the antics he gets up to as a student, of which there are many, but mostly involving tame stakes. It is a credit to Mr. Renshaw's writing that he was able to make those scenes interesting enough that I did want to know what happened next, but I found the school scenes much less engrossing than the few exciting outings, involving monsters and spies, interspersed with them. The book would have benefited by cutting some of the training and class scenes and focusing on the adventures.

One thing the school does provide is an opportunity to meet similarly minded young people. Among Aedan's new companions are Peashot, a small, mischievous boy; tall, awkward Lorrimer; and headstrong Hadley. These marshals-in-training become Aedan's friends and rivals, and play off his strengths and weaknesses very well. While Castath is not egalitarian enough to train women as marshals, there is a separate program for the queen's envoys, teaching young women not just in languages and medicine, but in their own unique fighting style. Liru, one of those young women, is a foreigner with noticeably darker skin, and so an outsider among her classmates. She and Aedan gravitate toward one another, and her temper and quick wit help to keep Aedan in line.

There isn't a lot of magic in Dawn of Wonder. There are no magicians or wizards. There are odd, unexplainable events, such as strange bolts of light striking the ground like sustained lightning, and monstrous animals that may be related. But for the most part, the world consists of ordinary people faced with the threat of war, and training their utmost to be ready for it, with just bare hints that there may be something other out there.

You may be wondering where the Christian content is. There is no church, no doctrine of the resurrection, and most people practice a religion that is decidedly not Christianity. There is, however, an old faith, a belief in a supreme deity called the Ancient that only a few still seem to follow--among them Kalry, though we only see this in her diary.

Near the end of the book, Aedan experiences what can only be described as a theophany, a meeting with the Ancient. This is a turning point for Aedan, and the place where he starts to overcome his greatest faults. It is an important part of the book, and unfortunately not as original as I would have liked. As one of the editors of Mysterion, I've seen a lot of stories where God makes an appearance. Theophanies are hard to write, and the way Dawn of Wonder does it follows the conventions used in Christian speculative fiction a little too faithfully. There's a tendency in Christian fiction to write theophanies as if they're altar calls. I would have liked to see more of the strangeness, fear, and bewilderment found in the theophanies you read about in the Bible. They are warnings, commands, prophecies. Even Paul's road-to-Damascus calling was more challenge than instruction. He needed other people to explain to him what he was supposed to do about it.

Where the book works, it works really well, and events set up hundreds of pages ago can have significant payoffs. Aedan grows and develops in believable ways, maturing without losing that boyish sense of adventure, and characters like Peashot and Liru are great supporting characters, with their own faults and character arcs. But where the book falters, you're left worrying about whether things will ever get moving again. I found Aedan's brief infatuation with a fellow student to be particularly annoying. I've never seen anyone, even teenagers, experience quite that level of brain death the first time they fall in love. Thankfully, that section was mercifully short. There are also a few places where a professional editor might have helped. In particular, I noticed that Lorrimer just disappeared at one point during the winnowing process the Academy uses to choose only the best students. I was sure he had flunked out, until he suddenly showed up again later.

Fortunately, the book gets more right than it gets wrong, and even the slow parts usually have compelling writing, so even when I got annoyed I still wanted to read more.

Dawn of Wonder is available at Amazon for $4.99 for the ebook, and $14.96 for the paperback.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Mysterion stories on Tangent Online Recommended Reading List

We're excited to report that 4 stories from Mysterion made it onto the Tangent Online 2016 Recommended Reading List.

Short stories

  • “Forlorn” by Bret Carter
  • “Golgotha” by David Tallerman
  • “Cutio” by F. R. Michaels

Novelette

  • “The Monastic” by Daniel Southwell

Congratulations to those whose stories were recommended!

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Boskone 2017

Update (2/3/2017): Unfortunately, there's been a change of plans. Due to a death in the family, we will not be able to attend Boskone this year, so we're afraid we won't be able to host a party. Fortunately, Robert B Finegold has very kindly offered to attend the Boskone Book Party in our stead with copies of the anthology, and there will still be copies with Ian Randal Strock at the Fantastic Books table in the dealer's room.


Join us at this year's Boskone!  We'll be showing off Mysterion at the Boskone Book Party, with--schedules permitting--Mysterion authors Robert B Finegold and Kenneth Schneyer.  We're also throwing a party on Friday night, and Kristin has a reading and is on 5 panels.

Copies of Mysterion will be available for purchase, either directly from us, or from Ian Randal Strock at the Fantastic Books table in the dealers' room.

Here's our complete schedule.  All events take place at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel, 425 Summer St.



Friday, 8:00 PM
Don’t Quit Your Day Job Just Yet
E. C. Ambrose (M), Kristin Janz, Jennifer Pelland, James Patrick Kelly, David Anthony Durham
Marina 4 · 60 min · Panel

Mentors, teachers, agents, and editors continuously encounter new authors. These hopefuls possess abilities ranging from brilliant to talented but unpolished to … well, not so much. How do we balance criticism and praise, and to what degree? While it’s our aim to guide emerging writers and to help strengthen their work, is there ever a time to just say no? If so, how?


Friday, 9:30 PM-midnight
Mysterion Party
Location TBD (our hotel room)


Saturday, 9:30 AM
Reading by Kristin Janz
Kristin Janz
Griffin · 30 min · Reading


Saturday, 1:00 PM
Bioethical Issues Raised by SF … and Real Life
Stephen P. Kelner Jr., Priscilla Olson (M), Ken Altabef, Kristin Janz, JeffWarner
Harbor II · 60 min · Panel
Ongoing advances in biotechnology and biomedical research have delivered some important benefits, and promise more. But they’ve also brought ethical concerns, calls for moratoria, fresh regulation — and new moral dilemmas. There may or may not be something wrong with playing God: but are we playing blind? What might we unleash with stem cell research, modified viruses, bioengineered cures, self-replicating nanobots, cloning, and regrowth of organs or limbs?


Saturday, 6:30 PM
Boskone Book Party
Galleria – Stage · 60 min · Event
Join us for Boskone’s Book Party! See what’s just out from authors you love, and discover new favorites. The book party will include E. C. Ambrose ( Elaine Isaak ), Neil Clarke, LJ Cohen, Milton Davis, Grady Hendrix, Carlos Hernandez, Jeremy Flagg, Kristin Janz, Hillary Monahan, Cerece Rennie Murphy, Ian Randal Strock, Christine Taylor-Butler, and more!


Saturday, 8:00 PM
A Muddle of Mad Scientists
Jordin T. Kare, Debra Doyle, John P. Murphy (M), Kristin Janz, John Langan
Burroughs · 60 min · Panel
From Dr. Frankenstein to Dr. Faustus, Mrs. Coulter to Dr. Horrible, genre fiction is filled with a long list of the crazily creative geniuses known as mad scientists. Why do we love them? What makes the mad scientist character so appealing in horror, comedy, and everything in between? Join us for a mad, mad discussion featuring some of our favorite screwy scientists/inventors from the past, present, and future.


Saturday, 9:00 PM
Cooking with Chemistry!
B. Diane Martin, David G. Shaw, Kristin Janz (M)
Burroughs · 60 min · Panel
Foodies love to experiment with new equipment and techniques that reformulate their favorite ingredients into exciting new dishes. On the menu: unexpected contrasts of taste and texture, changes in serving temperature, and how to exploit naturally occurring components in new ways. Our panelists discuss chemistry, cooking, and cool culinary science.


Sunday, 10:00 AM
Chemistry: Spec Fic’s Critical Compound
Milton Davis, Kristin Janz, Mark L. Olson (M), Justine Graykin, Steven Popkes
Marina 2 · 60 min · Panel
It’s got a long history within speculative fiction, but it’s often overshadowed by biology, physics, and astronomy. From transmutating metals to creating fuels, gunpowder, poisons, and (in The Martian) oxygen, chemistry is often the unsung science of our genres. We’ll discuss chemistry’s practical aspects, and how they are successfully applied within a story. We’ll also look at a few bang-up examples where the science went wrong …

Monday, January 23, 2017

Awards Season

As some of you know, nominations are now open for the Hugo and Nebula awards. To assist any readers wanting to nominate their favorite stories from Mysterion, we've assembled a list of award-eligible stories, sorted by nomination category.

Short story

  • “When I Was Dead” by Stephen Case
  • “Forlorn” by Bret Carter
  • “Too Poor to Sin” by H. L. Fullerton
  • “Golgotha” by David Tallerman
  • “A Good Hoard” by Pauline J. Alama
  • “Yuri Gagarin Sees God” by J. S. Bangs
  • “Cutio” by F. R. Michaels
  • “Yuki and the Seven Oni” by S. Q. Eries
  •  “Ascension” by Laurel Amberdine
  • “The Physics of Faith” by Mike Barretta
  • “Horologium” by Sarah Ellen Rogers

Novelette

  • “The Monastic” by Daniel Southwell
  • “Of Thine Impenetrable Spirit” by Robert B Finegold, MD
  • “The Angel Hungers” by Christian Leithart
  • “This Far Gethsemane” by G. Scott Huggins
  • “Cracked Reflections” by Joanna Michal Hoyt

The other four stories are reprints, and do not qualify for this year's award nominations.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Arisia 2017

Enigmatic Mirror Press (i.e., Kristin and Donald) will be at Arisia in Boston next weekend!  Come to our party on Saturday night (check the party board for room number), or stop by our table in the Artist/Author Alley on Sunday and Monday.  We'll have copies of Mysterion for sale, and free cookies.

Arisia 2017
January 13th-16th