The seed was there, had I looked.
Then came my first short story, then another, and another.
With each, I let myself imagine wider and wilder.
With each, I grew, or the seed grew, or we both did.
Until fantasy took root deep inside me, creating a space full of ideas and stories and passions, insisting on odd ways of writing I couldn't have imagined, and becoming an impossible, delightful nuisance.
I still paint dragons.
But now, I write fantasy too.
(* I paint during playoff hockey games, with a glass of wine at hand.)
Annotated List of Fantasy Short Stories
by Julie E. Czerneda
(by publication date, first to latest, to reveal my learning curve and those who helped me up it.)“’Ware the Sleeper” first published 1998 in Battle Magic, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff, DAW Books Inc., ISBN 0886778204. Marty and Larry were in the DAW suite at a convention, and asked me if I’d write a short story for them. I didn’t mention that I’d never written fantasy before. I just went out and did it. Battle magic, however, wasn’t where I started. (There's more about that in the introduction to the story. Which is on this page, if you haven't found it yet. My treat.)
“The Midas Spell” first published 2000 in Spell Fantastic, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff. DAW Books Inc. ISBN 0886778786. For this one, I took inspiration from football (in particular, running backs) and the devastating fires reported in the everglades that year. Oh, and geraniums. Bunny slippers. I don’t know why. But those all came together and I do love the result.
“Birthday Jitters” first published 2004 in Haunted Holidays, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Russell Davis. DAW Books Inc. ISBN 0756402239. Russell was the first anthology editor to ever phone me. At first, I had no idea who he was or what he was asking. Once I did, and he said it was a horror anthology, I blurted out something along the lines of: but I don’t write horror. I don’t read it. I don’t like it (for which I hastily apologized.) Russell, however, thought that made me the ideal candidate and wasn’t to be denied. The man’s a force. So ... I wrote him a horror story. The tin of candles, by the way, came from my mother-in-law’s cupboard. I have one too. Scared yet?
“Peel” first published 2005 in In the Shadow of Evil, edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers, DAW Books Inc. ISBN 0765402875. When John contacted me about this, I was almost as worried as I’d been about writing horror for Russell. I don’t have “evil” in my stories. Then, while visiting my brother-in-law’s new home, I noticed a bit of peeling paint. Suddenly, I had this notion of a world that wasn’t what it seemed on the surface. Excited, I wrote what I thought was a terrific little science fiction story about it and sent it off to John. After a slight delay, during which time I’m sure he was alternately laughing and wondering what to do, he got back to me. He was most polite (i.e. didn’t call me an idiot) and asked if they could hang on to the story for an upcoming science fiction anthology. Why? Because this one was fantasy and my story, though wonderful, wouldn’t quite fit. An understatement if ever there was one. (Hence my advice to other writers -- check the invitation a final time before submitting!) I took the story back, tore it apart, and thought ... hmmm. Sure enough, it worked much better rewritten as a fantasy. Darker. Richer. I’ve read “Peel” aloud several times and always enjoy the reaction it gets. It isn’t what most expect from me.
“What Sleeps in the Shallows Belongs to the Depths” first published in 2005, in the Eeriecon #4 Chapbook (The Buffalo Fantasy League), then, 2006, in Jim Baen’s Universe, edited by Eric Flint. This is a sequel to my very first fantasy story, “’Ware the Sleeper.” I’d hoped to return to that world a while ago, but the opportunity didn’t arise until Eric asked me for a fantasy story. He graciously let the convention publish it first. You’ll notice a bit more worldbuilding that in my earlier fantasy stories. I’d toyed with the idea of expanding this into a novel, then reminded myself I wasn't a fantasy novelist. (Feel free to chuckle. I do.)
“Ascent” first published 2007, in Fate Fantastic edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Daniel M. Hoyt, DAW Books Inc., ISBN 978-0756404406. Another one that made me hesitate. I don’t believe in fate. How could I write such a story? I gave it a shot, but as I wrote, sure enough, in my hands fate became something else entirely. However, Daniel was pleased, or didn’t notice. (I’m sure he did. He described my story as a “sublimely multilayered reflection of our relationship with fate” in his intro -- I smiled for months.) I must also confess. There is a cliff in this story. It wasn’t until I’d committed to said cliff that my friends, who are fantasy writers of great skill, unknowingly let it slip that having a cliff is, well, giggle-worthy, being one of the classic hallmarks of the newbie fantasy scribe. Mine, dare I say, is not a funny cliff. But that I have one at all is, I admit, giggle-worthy. And just goes to show. We meet the same landscapes in our dreams.
“Gossamer Mage: Intended Words” first published 2008, in Jim Baen’s Universe, edited by Eric Flint. Eric had enough science fiction for his upcoming issues, but needed more fantasy. Not any fantasy, but a novella. I didn’t have anything underway, but promised to see what I could do. A novella meant a significant increase in worldbuilding and backstory. It was a commitment similar to that of a novel, but with far less time. Not to mention I needed a story to write. Where did I find it? In the Lee Valley catalogue. (Wonderful reading, that.) I was on the page with all manner of stuff to make pens, including birch blanks and ferrules and arcane names for small bits ... when, suddenly, I had it. A magic system based on pens and inks made by mages. The words they wrote would be magic, or have magical effects. I began to research pens and inks. That did it. I learned the amazingly rich -- and often bloody -- history revolving around the raw materials and technology. For ink! The world and characters formed, I had maps, notes, I was writing like a fiend ... and stopped in my tracks, realizing I didn't have a novella but a novel. A big novel. A wonderful can’t-wait-to-write-you novel. Which, by contract and inclination, I needed to show my editor at DAW first. Eric was most patient. DAW bought the novel, to be called The Gossamer Mage. Meanwhile, all agreed Eric should publish the novella, “Intended Words” which, to all extents and purposes, is the prologue to the novel. A novel, I have to say, that feels already written in my head. I love it when that happens. I look forward to getting it out of my head and into our son's hands, since I've promised this is his book. You'll get to read it too, of course. All from a pen, in a catalogue.
“The Forever Brotherhood” first published 2009, in Campus Chills, edited by Mark Leslie. Stark Publishing. ISBN 978-973568813. I can say I don’t write horror all I want; that doesn’t stop dear friends from asking me to try. Mark’s anthology was also special in that it featured university alumni and our stories had to be set on our respective campuses. Fortunately for me, and Mark, I’d had 3000 words of something sitting in my drawer for a couple of years. It had been intended as a pop essay on Star Trek philosophy, but had refused to leave its lecture hall setting. Hmmm, mused I. That’s when I found the story of students trapped forever pouring out, spiced with several reminiscences of my own. What was really funny, though? We launched the book in that very same lecture hall -- but they’d completely renovated it! The horror was gone. Except for that in my little story.