Sunday, 29 January 2023

SUBMISSIONS CALL for Inklings Press anthology

Inklings Press returns for another Tales anthology! And a mysterious absence like ours calls for the best detectives of every conceivable type!

We are looking to solve murders, investigate disappearances, and find clues, but with a twist. Send us your stories of cyborg sleuths, goblin gumshoes, and enchanted investigators. We want tales of fantasy, sci fi and horror with a strong mystery or investigation theme.

Stories should be around 5,000 words, but that’s not a hard limit. We love to get submissions from members of unrepresented groups.

The deadline for submissions is 30th April 2023. Payment is $100 per story, upon publication. We are seeking first publication rights and will retain exclusivity for a period of one year. No reprints. You retain all other rights.

Send your stories or ask questions to

Check out our latest award-winning anthology Tales from Alternate Earths 3 to see the kind of thing we like. Visit for more about us.

Wednesday, 21 December 2022

COVER REVEAL: Tempest Blades - The Magick of Chaos, by Ricardo Victoria

My buddy Ricardo Victoria impresses the hell out of me. 

If you've been by this blog with any regularity, you'll have heard me talking about him before. He's part of the Inklings Press crew, and he's been writing a kick-ass series of science fantasy that you'll have heard me lavish praise on before. 

And he's got the third book of his series coming out next year!

He asked me if I would mind doing a cover reveal here on the blog and, well, his covers are just as awesome. 

That he does all of this and writes such great stories in his second language just makes it all the more darn impressive. 

So without further ado... here's the cover for Tempest Blades: The Magick of Chaos! 

So what is this third book about? Here's the blurb and... right underneath, see that? Preorder link. Preorder. Dooo it. Dooooooooo it. 

Tempest Blades: The Magick of Chaos

Action-packed adventure that blends science, fantasy, and anime-style battles into a thrilling, fast-paced story that will appeal to fans of anime, mangas, and RPG videogames.

Magick is in disarray. The Crown of the Dead has reappeared. Three gods appear, one fallen, one amnesiac, and one which corrupts. Two teams, two missions, and one world to save in a tight amount of time before everything goes to hell. While Gaby and Sam are dealing with their own inner turmoil, they must lead their respective teams onto a path that will make them both realize one important fact: You can choose who you want to be. Because in a world where magic and science intermingle, anything is possible. Including finding out if you are ready to step up. Are you? Preorder link for Amazon: link:

Tuesday, 15 November 2022

Sign up now for Altered Instinct Issue One

The chaos over at Twitter has convinced me to step away from there. For many reasons - not least of all that I used to be a union leader and I can't stand to see workers being mistreated. 

But out of chaos, something new can emerge. Something I've been meaning to do for a long time now. Altered Instinct is making a change - take a look right here:  

It will be a newsletter. It will be a zine. It will be available direct to your email inbox. And maybe other places too, we'll see how this adventure goes. 

Altered Instinct will include reviews, interviews, stories - and more. And I'm reaching out to guest writers too. More on those as things develop. 

You can sign up for Altered Instinct here or on the form at the bottom of this page. 

So, where else can you find me? Well, as I say, I'm stepping away from Twitter. There may be the occasional cross-post there but that's about it, so I won't link there. 

Apart from that, there is: 

Mastodon here.

Counter Social here.

Facebook here.

Goodreads here

Instagram here

Tumblr here.

Or email

I also have a YouTube channel with some readings of stories. Check out my reading of The Secret War right here: 

I hope you'll join me for my new adventure!


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Monday, 24 October 2022

Meet the Author: Harry Turtledove, author of Three Miles Down

 Dr Harry Norman Turtledove is an American novelist, who has produced a sizeable number of works in several genres including alternate history, historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction. He attended UCLA, where he received a Ph.D. in Byzantine history in 1977 - and has been dubbed “The Master of Alternate History”. He chats to Brent A. Harris about his new book - and much more. 

Hello! Recently, I was given the opportunity to interview author Harry Turtledove to discuss his latest book Three Miles Down. Now, if you haven’t read this book, go ahead and read it as we discuss potential spoilers. You can get Three Miles Down here but pop into your local brick and mortar indie bookstore instead if possible.

Now that you’ve read the book (you have, haven’t you?) I really want to ask Harry some tough, difficult, um, introspective questions, like: What would your cats say if it they could talk?

Feed me! Feed me more! Give me the really good stuff, with the shrimp! Play with me! Adore me!” What do cats ever say?

Okay, so now that we got you warmed up, let’s talk about your book Three Miles Down. For the people who didn’t do the reading (yes, you back there, I see you) it’s a novel of first contact during the politically charged Watergate scandal. Now all this happens under the real-world guise of the too-strange-to-be-true Project Azorian where the CIA cleverly retrieves a chunk of a Soviet submarine from the depths of the Pacific. But in Turtledove’s book, that’s all just a cover for … wait for it… …Aliens.

How did the idea for this book First Contact you?

I had watched a documentary about Project Azorian on one of the channels you turn on when you’re awake at 3 in the morning and are looking for something to stare at. So I sorta knew what it was. Then I saw an ad for a book about it, and it occurred to me to wonder, What if the Soviet sub didn’t sink by itself? What if it had some help...from aliens? So I bought the book, and it led me to some more books, and I started writing at about the same time as the COVID pandemic started shutting down the world.

What can you tell us about Project Azorian without running afoul of any alphabet agencies?

The CIA spent a moon landing’s worth of money--several hundred million dollars’ worth--to build the Hughes Glomar Explorer and raise the Soviet sub K-129 from three miles down in the Pacific to see what it could learn about Russian nuclear missiles and codes. One claw on the grabber broke, though, so they only raised part of the sub--and not the most important part, either. A hell of a lot of money mostly down the drain.

Okay, you’ve tried not to be topical in your fictional worlds, but really: Cold War tensions and the looming threat of MAD, an unhinged President that threatens to unravel the Republic, and a rapid advancement of our understanding of our place among the stars … are we talking about your book or current events? Was there an obvious parallel here that you wished to explore?

You can’t not notice the parallels. I referred to them, sure, but I also tried not to beat people over the head with them. To quote Theodore Sturgeon, “Thou shalt not sell thy birthright for a pot of message.” Readers are smart. You don’t have to send up a bunch of flares to show them where you’re going.

Three Miles Down reads as a mash-up of Clancy meets SF. But most of all, it reads like a thrill ride down memory lane. Was there anything autobiographical to Jerry’s grad school experiences?

Does the Pope poop in the woods? Does a bear wear a funny hat?

Three Miles Down is heavily steeped in the popular culture of its time and only hints at war. Do you see a shift within a-h away from stories of warfare and toward social and cultural topics? If so, why?

I’m steeped in the pop culture of the 1970s. I’m a year younger than my protagonist. War is always interesting because, like love, it shows character under stress. Wars are also easy changepoints for history. There are other ways to change things, though--aliens at the bottom of the ocean, for instance.

You certainly don’t shy away from puns. In fact, they appear quite deliberate as if you meant to write them and then somehow slipped them past your editor. If there is indeed an afterlife, what do you believe your pun-ishment will be?

My editor for this book was Patrick Nielsen Hayden. He has been known to pun himself. Oh, just a little. I don’t think there’s an afterlife, exactly. I think there’s reincarnation. I aim to come back as a boutonnièrre.

This isn’t your first alternate history story that deals with aliens. Why are aliens a recurring motif in your work?

Aliens are a recurring theme in most sf writers’ work. They let you play with the Other, and with the Other’s effects on people, which is what I was especially interested in here.

Have Spacesuit Will Travel plays an important part in the plot. But why this story of all the classics?

It’s one of Heinlein’s two best juveniles, imo--Citizen of the Galaxy is the other. It’s endlessly rereadable. And it involves humans unexpectedly meeting aliens. How could I resist? I didn’t even try.

Why, of all the SF writers in the 70s, did you pluck Pournelle for duty on the Glomar Explorer? Are there any other notables or Easter Eggs that we might have missed?

I knew Jerry for 40 years. Our politics didn’t mesh, but we always got on pretty well. He lived in Los Angeles. He was a conservative and an aereospace guy, the kind of sf writer the CIA might smile on. He seemed a reasonable choice

Three Miles Down is alternate history. However, we only see why history has changed, but we don’t learn how it changes. Is learning how things change an important part of alternate history? What is alternate history to you?

I didn’t really conceive of Three Miles Down as a-h. I thought of it as an sf novel that was necessarily set in the past. Alternate history to me is what happens when you get somebody who was rigorously trained as a historian and always wanted to write science fiction.

If First Contact were to happen right now, what do you think would happen, given the history of first contact between the Old and New Worlds?

I’ve written a novelette about this. It’s called “Vilcabamba,” and is available on the website. It’s pretty grim.

Your latest author photo is … unusual. How did that come about and is there a smirk hiding under that mask?

Three Miles Down was written as COVID was spreading around the world. One of my daughters took the pic. I thought it would be appropriate and amusing as a jacket photo.

What should the writers and gatekeepers of alternate history do to encourage diversity within the genre?

History is a question of perspective. The world does not look the way it does to a white male Christian from the USA if you’re a Nigerian Muslim woman. The more angles you can examine something from, the better off you are. We need those different perspectives.

What can you tell us about your forthcoming novel Wages of Sin?

Wages of Sin is set in 1850s England in a world where HIV got loose in the early 1500s. Given sixteenth-century hygiene standards--and given the simultaneous emergence of syphilis, which is real good at creating genital lesions--it would spread rapidly and be altogether untreatable. People would need a little while to figuire out what was going on, of course, but when they did, massive social changes would result. Since those necessary social changes fly in the face of humanity’s permanent impulse to get it on now and worry about consequences later, you have some obvious tensions. I’ve written about them.

Thanks, Harry! And everyone, if you want to connect with him, head over to his Twitter account at @HNTurtledove where he regularly posts pictures of his owners cats!\

Three Miles Down is available on Amazon at 

• Interviewer Brent A. Harris is a twice nominated Sidewise Award author of alternate history and an editor behind the acclaimed Tales From Alternate Earths series. He writes stories and scripts about dinosaurs, steampunk Dickens, and smart homes that try to kill you. While he currently lives abroad one day he’ll return home to the sands of California to claim the Iron Throne.

Sunday, 2 October 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Star Wars: The High Republic - Into The Dark, by Claudia Gray; The Crossover Paradox, by Rob Edwards; Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, by Brent A Harris; Hell Divers, by Nicholas Sainsbury Smith; The Silver Archive: Dark Skies, by Matthew Kresal; Apotheosis: Stories of Human Survival After The Rise of the Elders Gods anthology; The Fall, by Alan Baxter

 It's been a while since I did a review round - for reasons I'm hoping to blog about in the very near future - but time to catch up on what I've been reading, starting by picking up a lightsaber... 

Star Wars: The High Republic - Into The Dark, by Claudia Gray
Star Wars blew my mind when I was a kid. I remember getting my parents to walk me backwards out of the cinema so I could see the credits rolling up the screen for as long as I could. 
After that, I devoured the pages of the Star Wars Weekly comic, with stories about the Starkiller Kid or Valance the Bounty Hunter and more. 
And yet, I've been away from reading Star Wars for a while.
I picked up this book in the High Republic series after a recommendation - and the appeal of it for me was new characters on new adventures rather than being too closely hooked into movies or TV shows. 
In it, a padawan, Reath Silas, is travelling on board a transport ship in a group of Jedi when a disaster hits. Some kind of explosion rips through hyperspace, throwing ships violently into normal space. Silas and his allies find themselves near an ancient space station, and pull together with other survivors to get on board. 
Once on board, they start to explore - and the station is not quite as empty as it first seemed, with a sinister presence making it felt at the edge of their senses. 
So far, so good - and with the prospect of an alien menace to top it all. 
I probably enjoyed about half the book - but I'll confess it frustrated me. The trouble was, the Jedi themselves are regarded as wise and powerful, but it's mostly their decisions that mess everything up. 
The central plot events simply don't happen if the Jedi aren't there to cause the problem. It's like that whole debate about Indiana Jones and the Ark of the Covenant, where the Nazis don't get it without Indy's involvement. 
That and there are some moments where it beggars belief that the lead characters could be quite so dim or give up so easily. 
So, while the setting is great, and the characters draw you in... in the end, the book just annoyed me. 
I'll dive back in to another Star Wars book before long, but this was the wrong one to pick for me. 
AI Rating: 2/5

Star Wars: The High Republic - Into The Dark is available on Amazon.

The Crossover Paradox, by Rob Edwards
It's sequel time! The Crossover Paradox is the sequel to The Ascension Machine, a tale of alien superheroes learning to handle their powers and... well, life itself, at a futuristic academy. 
I loved the first book, in which the lead character, Grey, finds himself masquerading as someone else and unexpectedly making friends along the way. 
The sequel brings the characters back for a new term at the academy - but there have been some unexpected shifts along the way. There's a distance between Grey and some of his closest friends, which leaves Grey feeling a little out of place again. Which would be fine if it wasn't for the murder. 
Oh yes, there's a murder. And after a year of lying about who he really is, Grey becomes a suspect. There's only one person who knows he is innocent - Grey himself, and so he sets about investigating who the real killer is. 
What he uncovers won't just impact his own future at the academy, but perhaps even the academy itself. 
It's full of twists and turns, without getting too slowed down by the mystery - there's plenty of action along the way too. 
Most of all, I love the personal touches, the way in which Grey questions the friendships he has unexpectedly come to rely on, and the way those friends prove their worth as the mystery deepens. 
It's a fun read, a warm, witty, clever read, and I loved it. 
AI Rating: 5/5
The Crossover Paradox is available on Amazon.

Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon, by Brent A Harris
Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon is a short story collection from Brent A Harris - and I'll freely confess I'd read most of these in different publications over time, but it's lovely to have them all collected together. 
Let's start with the headliner - Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon was nominated for a Sidewise Award, and deservedly so. A collaboration with Ricardo Victoria, it told of time travelling space dinosaurs trying to save their future. I'll say that again: Time. Travelling. Space. Dinosaurs. 
C'mon, a hook like that, how can you not want more? And more you get, because this collection has a new story in the same setting, a prequel. 
There are a lot more stories in here to discover - with hardly any other dinosaurs in sight. Ok, maybe a couple more dinosaur stories. I loved The Terrible Lizard of Holborn Hill, for example, or the story Dust of the Earth, which imagines a world where Jurassic Park was never written. 
Personally, perhaps my two favourite stories are Lost Treasure, about time pirates, and The Ellian Convergence, which is as sweet a literary love letter to Star Trek as you could wish for. 
The nicest thing of all about the collection, however, is you can never tell where each story will take you - the world is not the limit when there are different worlds, different universes, different dimensions to go and explore. 
Dive in. Have fun. Don't get bitten by a dinosaur. 
AI Rating: 5/5
Twilight of the Mesozoic Moon and other Time Travel Twists is available on Amazon.

Hell Divers, by Nicholas Sansbury Smith
Never mind the logic, look at how freaking cool everything is!
Hell Divers reads like a computer game shoot-em-up turned into a book. The lead characters are Hell Divers - big, brave heroes doomed to die parachuting from the huge flying airships housing the last of humanity to retrieve precious supplies from the ravaged Earth below. 
It's a turn-the-brain-off kind of book. There are two airships left, each of which holds around 500 people, and yet somehow people don't recognise one another within these ships that has been their only home for their entire lives. Then there's the supplies down below, somehow still usable a couple hundred years after global war torched the Earth, and somehow packed nicely into what seem like loot boxes ready to attach a hot air balloon too and lift back to the airship. 
That's before you even get to the inexplicable mutant monsters, but hey, if you can accept the rest, go all in. 
It all plays out in as macho a fashion as you would expect, with thinly painted characters about to get into life and death situations that some of them aren't going to get out of intact. 
But you know what? Sometimes, you need something to clean the palate. It's a speedy read. It goes exactly the way you'd expect it to. And if that's what you need? It scratches that itch. 
It makes no sense. But it's fun. 
AI Rating: 3/5
Hell Divers is available on Amazon.

The Silver Archive: Dark Skies, by Matthew Kresal
OK, this is a very, veeeery niche product, so I gotta give you some homework. Stop reading this, and go and watch every episode of the 1996 one-season wonder that was Dark Skies, and sadly never got a second season, then come back. It's probably on YouTube these days. Go ahead. I'll wait. 
Ok, you probably didn't go do all that, and if you're reading this still, you're probably aware of the show, perhaps even a keen fan. It was a conspiracy show, weaving a story of alien invasion around particular moments of American history. 
Matthew Kresal delves behind the scenes of the show in this book, and discovers all kinds of interesting nuggets. Think of it as a DVD commentary on the show, if you will. 
There is, for example, the very weird interactions the showmakers had with shady people who claimed the show was closer to "the truth" than they realised. I laughed out loud at the moment where one showmaker declared he wasn't going to go and meet someone at midnight in a cemetery for anything. 
Then there are the details of the show itself, and the resolution it found its way to when they got word that it was being cancelled. 
Dark Skies was a great little moment in US TV, and this book adds depth to the experience for those who have fond memories of the show. It's really absolutely not for someone who doesn't know the show - and more than 25 years on from the show, there's not many newcomers finding it now. But if the series still tickles an itch in your brain, this is a delight. 
AI Rating: 5/5
The Silver Archive: Dark Skies is available from Obverse Books.

Apotheosis: Stories of Survival After The Rise of the Elder Gods
What if the bad guys win?
That's the premise at the bleeding heart of this cosmic horror anthology - and the bad guys here are the elder gods of Lovecraftian mythology. 
It starts with a belter of a story. The Smiling People, by Andrew Peregrine, follows the last survivors of our world, going about their daily business in a city surrounded by a wall made of the dead bodies of their loved ones. As they struggle to exist, they are followed by the Smiling Ones, strange entities who watch, and provide packages of food, and follow, and destroy whoever they wish. And they smile. 
It follows one character as he hides his remaining secret, as he tries to talk to a woman he works with, as he perhaps hopes of escape. Brilliantly written, and utterly terrifying. My first work I've read by this author, I look forward to more. 
I also thoroughly enjoyed The Pestilence of Pandora Peaslee, in which partisan resistance fighters take on Ythians who have occupied the world, but might just open the door to worse. 
Some of the other stories aren't as strong, and a couple are a little muddled - but The Smiling People makes the anthology worth reading alone. 
AI Rating: 4/5
Apotheosis: Stories of Survival After The Rise of the Elder Gods is available on Amazon.

The Fall, by Alan Baxter
This is a return to the world of The Gulp, the five-story collection of interwoven stories from Alan Baxter that tells of the bad town of Gulpepper, where reality warps and twists so hard it will choke the life out of an unwary visitor. 
The first book introduced us to the world, and this visit again sees stories bumping into one another's locations as Bad Things begin to happen. 
This time round, the greater evil at the heart of the town starts to show itself. But not so quickly. Baxter takes his time to show his hand. First we have a curio shop that ensnares an outsider with its weird magic. Then there's the fishing boat that takes us to a place even local residents are afraid of. Then there's the disintegration of a farmer's life and the extent he goes to in order to cover up a crime he has committed. And a group of scouts who find themselves pursued by horror and forced to seek refuge in the one town they shouldn't set foot in. All that before the grand finale itself. 
Think of it as a series of Twilight Zone one-shots that wind together in the end, but with an Australian accent and a satisfying squelch as a shotgun blasts a whole in something that used to be flesh. 
Warped. Twisted. Fabulous. 
AI Rating: 5/5
The Fall is available on Amazon.

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Kickstarter Spotlight: Thunder Child, by Mad Robot Comics and Madius Comics

Bloody Martians. Every time you think the chances of them showing up are a million to one, there they are!

In this case, the return of the Tripod Tearaways is particularly welcome, in a three-part reimagining of HG Wells' classic novel The War of the Worlds, telling the story of that most marvellous of ships - the HMS Thunder Child. 

Mad Robot Comics and Madius Comics have teamed up for this Kickstarter offering - which given my love of all things Wells made me an easy target as a backer! (Some of you may be familiar with my own wander in Wells territory with my story The Secret War).

The team behind this offering describe it as follows:

The crew of the HMS Thunder Child venture into a discovery unlike anything that's ever been witnessed on this planet. Their investigations of suspected meteoric debris that's fallen into the ocean reveals something vastly more terrifying. 

From out of the oceans, the alien Tripod rises. A harbinger of destruction from another world. The Thunder Child's crew, a motely band of humanist scientists, war-hungry militants and jaded ship leaders, find themselves scrambling to salvage and defend what they can from the marauding machines. 

Thunder Child: The Spectre of a Dying Planet is a tensely enthralling sci-fi steampunk adventure drama. Its ferocious, dynamic art and vibrant colours match the energy of its powerful, complex characters in the first issue of this three-part reimagining of HG Wells' classic novel The War of the Worlds. 

The creative team behind the project sees Rob Jones and Matthew Hardy team up on writer duties, while Kevin Castaniero is the artist for the series. Simon Gough provides colouring duties, while Rob Jones is on lettering. Fred McNamara is the editor.

That's not the end of the creative forces involved in the project, however, with a variety of variant covers and more as part of the stretch goals. 

Variant cover by Tim Dowler

Interior art from Thunder Child

To back the project, visit Kickstarter here - oh, and you could do far worse than follow Mad Robot Comics and Madius Comics on Twitter. Nice folks. 

There are more variant covers to discover over at the Kickstarter - so go take a peek. Or else the Martians will come for us!

Thursday, 1 September 2022

Meet the Author: Laura Frankos, author of Broadway Revival

Laura Frankos is the author of Broadway Revival, currently shortlisted for the Sidewise Award in Alternate History which will be presented at Worldcon Chicago this weekend.

For those who are not familiar with either your novel Broadway Revival or the Sidewise Award for alternate history, could you tell our readers a bit about your book and what it means to you to be nominated for this award?

In BROADWAY REVIVAL, David Greenbaum is an actor-songwriter whose husband has just died from the latest designer drug addiction in 2079.  David pulls himself out of despair with an outrageous plan. He couldn’t save Ramon, but he might make a difference in other lives cut short. He hijacks his brother Nate’s time machine, the SlingShot, and jumps to 1934 to save George Gershwin from the brain tumor that killed him at age thirty-eight.

That’s just the start of David’s “Broadway Revival Project.” Gershwin wasn’t the only one who died too young. David has a suitcase of modern medicine and the advance knowledge of nearly 150 years of musical theatre history. He’s determined to make the Golden Age of Broadway shine even more brightly.

But David’s actions are causing changes to the timeline that have the Rippers—the international time travel research consortium—very worried. So Nate climbs in the SlingShot, determined to track down his brother in 1930s New York.

I’m incredibly honored that BROADWAY REVIVAL is a finalist for the 2021 Sidewise Award. Alternate history is kind of a big deal in our house; my husband, Harry Turtledove, has written a lot in that sub-genre and is a multiple Sidewise winner. But I would be the first to admit that BROADWAY REVIVAL is a weird kind of alternate history, so I’m extremely chuffed by this recognition.

One of the things that worried me about starting your book was that I’m completely ignorant of Broadway, especially of the 1930s. Yet, the prose is breezy, easy to read, and every character, historical and fictional, leaps to life. How did you approach writing these historical figures and what to you think makes them approachable even to people like me who may not know the era?

First of all, thanks so much for that. I figured I could hook the theatre geeks, but whenever somebody with little background in Broadway likes it—wow, that makes my day! I’m an historian by training and a Broadway nut my whole life, so I already was very familiar with the personalities of this era. That said, I did spend years doing homework, especially trying to get into the complex head of Lorenz Hart. The way I approached portraying these figures was first and foremost as people: they have relationships, eat and drink, argue, brag, discuss sports, go to parties. That’s something any reader can relate to, even if they’re doing all that in the 1930s. It’s also true most readers won’t have written musicals themselves, but you don’t need to have done that to be familiar with pressing deadlines, changing work circumstances, and the problems of collaborations. 

As for the specific characters like the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, et alia, my ace in the hole was my protagonist, David Greenbaum. As a newcomer to New York (albeit one with secret, vast historical knowledge), he’s getting to know these folks and this era just as the reader is. He can mention his plans in a way that gives the reader background on these Broadway legends and his new home—hopefully, without too much exposition.

What inspired your passion of musical theater? What has been your favorite show on or off Broadway?

My mom loved musicals. So I grew up on cast albums, listening to her playing sheet music on the piano, and watching movie musicals on tv. My favorite show is SWEENEY TODD, THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET, because I think it’s about as close to perfection as a musical can get.

Let’s talk about hats. It irks me when hats are ignored in historical eras. So, I loved your character’s reaction to seeing everyone sporting headwear. How did you breathe life into your Broadway of the 30s and beyond?

“Does anyone still wear a hat?” is a famous line from Sondheim’s 1970 musical, COMPANY. I agree with you about being irked by historical novels and films that get period wardrobe wrong. Again, I’m helped by my time traveler as the outsider—and one who, as an actor, was accustomed to costumes. Practically the first thing he notices, arriving in 1934, is that everyone looks….like they’re wearing costumes. Hats everywhere, and clothes made with far more natural fibers than he’s used to in 2079. It takes effort to adjust to that.

I wanted the reader to feel a part of that past too, so I tried very hard to concentrate on the details of daily life. This included all those restaurants. That was critical not just for the awesome descriptions of the meals (go to the NYPL online digital historical menu collection! Such a fantastic site!), but because Broadway creatives did a lot of their work at the bars and restaurants close to the theatres. And David’s first job is playing piano at a restaurant in Greenwich Village, a real place with a storied history that I cheerfully pillaged for my fictional purposes. David does complain about some aspects of his new life: the coffee’s terrible, there are no delicious microbrews, not so much good ethnic food.

But it’s not the different clothing and food that really throw him. It’s the sudden loss of the wealth of information available in the late 21st century. He goes from instant access to everything to relying on radio, newsreels, and newspapers. He brings the equivalent of a 2079 iPad with him, and has to restrain himself from checking it all the time. I think even if people today were plopped back in, say, 1980, they’d go bonkers at losing the Internet. I suspect it would be worse for someone in 2079 going back to an even less technologically advanced era.

It’s also so much fun researching historical details! Like Bronx cocktails. I have those show up in the first chapter, where David is drinking them because they were Ramon’s favorite drink. Ramon discovered them while researching a Jerome Kern musical, which I thought was a good, single fact that tells reader not only a lot about Ramon, but also how much David is missing him. Once David jumps to 1934, he drinks Bronxes all the time—they were one of the most popular drinks of the decade, but eventually were supplanted by martinis, a close cousin.

For a number of years, while I was writing and trying to sell BROADWAY REVIVAL, I ordered Bronx cocktails in restaurants. This freaked out the waiters, who’d never heard of them, and had to google them. This is dedicated research, people. I do all my own homework!

Broadway in 1934

There are many cameos and namedrops of historical figures (and at least one by a fictional one). With minor spoilers, a certain ballplayer from Harry’s House of David {editor’s note: House of Daniel, sorry} slides in and steals a scene. How did that come about, and what was your favorite cameo or name drop to write?

Oh, there are Easter eggs galore, though many will only be spotted by theatre nerds. When David’s brother Nate is searching for him, there are about a half dozen historical figures lurking in that chapter, especially at the restaurant. And they’re all people who logically could have been in Greenwich Village in 1934, so I plead simultaneous plausibility and fun.

When I was writing BROADWAY REVIVAL, Harry was working on THE HOUSE OF DANIEL (**not House of David—that’s the real team). {Editor’s note: this is a hazard when reading alternate history}. That novel is set in a 1930s America, except with magic and vampires and zombies, along with semipro baseball. Now, I ask you: what are the odds, in a two-writer household, that BOTH writers would be working on material involving alternate 1930s Colorado at the same time? My protagonist had reasons to go to Colorado Springs; Harry’s baseball team played in a tournament in Denver…adapted from a real one in our timeline. So I asked him if I could have his protagonist briefly cross paths with mine (I had him make a stop in Denver). If you look closely at THE HOUSE OF DANIEL, there’s an unnamed variant of David Greenbaum in the Denver chapter. He’s the guy juggling oranges. My David spills a bag of oranges. This falls under Weird Stuff Writers Do To Amuse Themselves.

That crossover tickles me no end, but my favorite historical cameo has to be the couple of scenes with Lotte Lenya, Kurt Weill’s wife. The only thing more fun than putting words in the incomparable Lenya’s mouth was writing dialogue for Oscar Levant. I had to restrain myself from going overboard with both of them; they were so much fun to write.

If you could pull together anyone from theater history to write and perform a show, which ones would you cherry-pick and what sort of show do you think they would put on?

Ooh, dream production time! That’s easy. There was a report that Sondheim was considering a musical based on the Paris Peace Conference and the Treaty of Versailles, but nothing came of it. I want this so much, I’m practically drooling over the possibilities, especially with a libretto by Moss Hart and Peter Stone, Hal Prince directing, and Michael Bennett doing choreography. Dream casting—and keep in mind, the actors here are plucked from the timeline at roughly close the age of the characters they’re portraying.

Woodrow Wilson—William Daniels (hey, he has experience playing musical presidents!)

Georges Clemenceau (France)—John Cullum

David Lloyd George (UK)—Richard Burton 

Vittorio Orlando (Italy)—Alfred Drake

Saionji Kimmochi (Japan)—Takeshi Kaga

Henry Cabot Lodge—Richard Kiley

John Foster Dulles—Brian d’Arcy James (keep in mind Dulles was only 30 here)

Charles Dawes-Fred Astaire (with “Reparations” as his big solo)

Edward House—George Hearn

Sidney Sonnino (Italy)—Howard Da Silva (Sonnino is the guy who translated for Orlando, and I want to see this two old pals from OKLAHOMA! doing a comic number half in Italian)

John Maynard Keynes—Raul Julia

Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Ratzau (Germany)—John McMartin

Eleftherius Venizelos (Greece)—Chris Sarandon

Lou Tseng-Tsiang (China)—B.D. Wong (he’s even done Sondheim!)

Billy Hughes (Australia)—Jack Cassidy or maybe William Gaxton (not Hugh Jackman, as it’s not the right role for him)

Rob Borden (Canada)—Len Cariou 

T.E. Lawrence—I am so tempted to add Noël Coward here, except Sondheim hated Coward’s work. But if I am the producer (aka God), I may insist, though John Barrowman isn’t a bad choice, either

Edith Wilson—Angela Lansbury 

Marguerite de Witt-Schlumberger—Gwen Verdon (doing an extended dance for the women’s suffrage movement)

Three nameless doughboys, who sing and dance representing the lost millions—Joel Grey, Andre de Shields, Harry Groener 

The love between David and Ramon is central to David’s motivation. And I loved how you showed their strong connection with just a few lyrics of a show. It reminded me of how my wife and I bonded over skits by Stan Freberg. Pulling back the curtain, is this a peak into real life or how did this idea come about?

I’m extremely pleased you found David and Ramon’s relationship convincing. I’m a straight cis woman who’s been married to the same man for 42 years, so taking on a gay protagonist was a big leap. (Especially since I have heard some of my gay friends rail against straight women writers writing really awful novels with gay protagonists. And I really didn’t want to end up one of them.) 

It makes sense for David and Ramon, both actors, to bond over musicals and frequently quote lyrics at each other. I have found, among musical theatre folks, that a shared love of a flop musical (“OMG, you like AMOUR, too? Why didn’t it have a longer run?!”) leads to firm friendships. Likely romance, too, I suspect.

And that brings me to a pet peeve in science fiction: the obsession over 20th century American culture. Ever notice how (especially in tv and film sf) there are characters, living in the far future, who are just crazed fans of 20th century American movies, songs, cartoons, tv, whatever…? Like nothing worthy of interest was ever produced between 1980 and 2500?

The short hand answer is, it’s easier for a reader/viewer in the late 20th-early 21st century to identify with a far future character who is fond of, say, Humphrey Bogart, than one who goes all fanboy over “Zelurk-glarp, who stars as the steely eyed (all six of them) cop from the tough Dreeble sector on Wyrxx Prime.” 

This bugs me. Now, I’m convinced that by the 2070s, there will still be an interest in classic 20th musicals. I allude to David getting roles in the 100th anniversary production of Sondheim’s FOLLIES (1971) and a production of 1776 (first staged in 1969), done for the Tricentennial in 2076, and he played Perchik from FIDDLER ON THE ROOF (1964) in high school.

But I also added (fictional) plays, musicals, songwriters, and actors from the years between now and 2079, as well as events that haven’t happened, like the closing night of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Because even though I sent David Greenbaum back to 1934, I wanted to indicate that there’s much, much more musical theatre history by the time he was active in the field. The show that David and Ramon regarded as “their show” was a dreadful flop from 2050. Of course, the other thing about inventing a show meant I could invent lyrics, too—and not have to worry about licensing!

Broadway Revival is unique in its topic, but there’s a broader rise in stories that want to see artists keep producing. Bryce Zabel did this well in Once There Was A Way. And Broadway Revival excels in doing the same. So, is this desire for artists to keep working simply mere fandom or is it a deeper, more universal societal need for exceptional art? Does an artists’ premature death elevate their work? Could someone like Gerswhin still have survived yet only released flops afterwards?

Sure, the fan in me who wanted a world where Gershwin didn’t die so young was indeed the driving force behind BROADWAY REVIVAL. However, I never intended to delve into any deep societal need here; the decision to write it went more like this: I’m a Broadway buff and this is an alternate history scenario I can definitely write. Do I want a world with more exceptional work from a longer-lived Gershwin? Hell, yes, and I think a lot of Gershwin fans would agree with me (and they should all go buy my book, right now). And Gershwin was a towering figure in American music, extending well beyond Broadway, yet we only had 19 years of his professional work. That’s all we got. We should have had more, much more.

That said, I should note that BROADWAY REVIVAL’s plot has more than just  David Greenbaum saving George Gershwin. My interfering time traveler gets involved with Vincent Youmans, Cole Porter, Kurt Weill, Lorenz Hart, and Jerome Kern—to varying degrees and with varying results. Their names may not be as familiar to non-theatre nerds, but they all could (and did!) produce exceptional work. So am I just a self-indulgent fangirl, trying to conjure up what these Broadway legends might have created with better fates than they got? Well, I hope I did more than that, such as looking at the potential effects of having more work by these men on the evolution of the musical—and society as a whole. For example, Kurt Weill died of a heart attack aged 50, while working on a musical HUCKLEBERRY FINN. I imagined, had he completed it, that some of the score could have been adopted by the emerging civil rights movement.

Did Gershwin’s premature death elevate his work? Well, he was already at the top, with a Hollywood contract and plans for more serious symphonic work planned. The one place where his death had a definite effect on how his work was viewed was with PORGY AND BESS. It was not a success in its 1935 debut, and when George died in 1937, the score was valued at a whopping $250. His death led to the 1942 revival, where it was much better received. Some of that may have been prompted by sheer love of the deceased composer, but a good part was more people had heard the songs by then, and came to realize what a masterpiece it was.

Could someone like Gershwin have written only flops? No. Because. Gershwin. But he could write some flops; I do propose that some of his shows in BROADWAY REVIVAL are not successes, as the one he wrote in reaction to being called before the House UnAmerican Activiies Committee. Nor do the other songwriters whose lives David meddles with have perfect, stellar careers. There are more flops on Broadway than hits.

Do you see a shift within the genre of AH away from stories of warfare and toward social and cultural topics and if so, why do you think that is? What made you decide to contribute to this shift?

I can’t I track trends in alternate history, so I can’t really comment on this. We tend to be pretty careful about what AH we read here. If there’s a chance a boom touches on an area Harry might be considering for one of his own books, we won’t get it, for fear of it influencing his own ideas. I don’t think wars—or rather, alternate wars—are going to go away anytime soon. The best fiction often shows people in conflict, and there’s no greater conflict than nations at odds. 

The other reason why AH with a military or political breakpoint have dominated the field is that they’re more straightforward concepts. Everyone (well, mostly everyone—I hope) knows there were World Wars, that the North and South clashed in the Civil War. It’s a lot easier to market. I spent nearly a decade trying to sell BROADWAY REVIVAL. The sf houses said there was too much theatre. Uh, yeah. The mainstream houses didn’t like all that alternate timeline stuff. So I started calling it my platypus novel—a weird thing, but my own. 

But social and cultural changes are fascinating subjects for alternate histories, and I’m happy to see more of them and to have contributed one. As I said above, it wasn’t any deliberate plan on my part. I just thought the premise might work. The other thing I’d like to note here is that portraying the altered careers of the songwriters affected by my time traveler wasn’t the only thing I wanted to accomplish in BROADWAY REVIVAL. The other change is more subtle: what happens when a man with so many decades of advance knowledge of how this art form developed becomes active, and making contributions on his own in a variety of ways? Never mind Gershwin and Porter. What does David Greenbaum, and his late-21st century sensibilities, aided by his substantial bank account, do to affect the evolution of the musical? I had as much fun exploring that aspect as I did concocting Musicals That Never Existed, But Should Have. And that in itself is certainly uncommon territory for an alternate history.

Harry just sold a novel with a social and cultural focus. THE WAGES OF SIN is set in 1850s England, but it’s a world in which HIV/AIDS erupted out of Africa in the sixteenth century…and it’s a very, very different Europe, having coped for centuries with a terrible, incurable wasting disease. The protagonists are about the most ordinary types imaginable: a young law student and the daughter of a small town doctor. I may be a bit biased (!), but I think it’s damn good.

What’s next for you? Will we see more alternative history from you, are there any plans to save any planes full of ill-fated musicians?

What’s next? Well, just out this past spring from Routledge is a book called FIFTY KEY STAGE MUSICALS, edited by Robert Schneider. It’s a terrific addition to any library of musical theatre history…and I’m not just saying that because I wrote the chapter on the Gershwins’ OF THEE I SING. The book also has a nifty podcast, so if you want to hear me natter on about George and Ira, check it out!

I have some short fiction—sf and fantasy, with theatrical connections—that I’m trying to sell, but nothing has stuck yet. The current big work in progress is non-fiction. I did so much 1930s research for BROADWAY REVIVAL that I started work on a survey of the 1935-36 Broadway season. But when the chapter on Rodgers and Hart’s JUMBO grew to over twenty thousand words alone, I decided to see if I could do a whole book on this show alone. So here I am, still wallowing in 1930s musicals, but this time with an elephant!

Where can readers connect with you especially if they are also fans of Broadway and musical theater?

I’m on Facebook.

Thanks again, Laura and good luck on your shortlist for the Award! Now, everyone, go out and read BROADWAY REVIVAL, it’s a fantastic read, I absolutely enjoyed it and I loved that it’s a refreshing, unique entry into the expanding genre of alternative history.

BROADWAY REVIVAL is available on Amazon here.