Interview – Apocrypha: The Art of Jason Soles

Today, I’m going to give up the spotlight (on my own blog, no less) and shine it on a profoundly talented friend and colleague. I’ve worked with Jason Soles for six years in his role as the lead developer at Privateer Press, and he’s one of the best game designers in the tabletop gaming industry. But Jason has other talents, just as noteworthy. He is a gifted sculptor who produces works in a variety of media that are both hauntingly beautiful and deeply unsettling.

Jason has partnered with Strix Publishing to produce Apocrypha: The Art of Jason Soles, a stunning premium edition art book that collects hundreds of photos of Jason’s work for the first time. I recently spoke with Jason about this essential volume for all fans of dark art.

Kickstarter project image

 1) Your work is very unsettling (in the best way possible). Where do you draw inspiration?

I draw a lot of inspiration from folklore and archaeology. As a kid, I loved books on Egyptology and witchcraft and heavy metal album covers. Later, I developed a fascination with horror movies, especially classical horror. And then German Expressionism via Fritz Lang. As I got older, I discovered visual artists I really appreciated, such as Hieronymus Bosch, H. R. Giger, Ian Miller, and Yasushi Nirasawa, but I have always drawn as much influence from science, anthropology, and the natural world. My earliest works look like the desiccated remains of Capuchin monks. I have also been influenced by what I have read, especially the works of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.

Resin Leviathan Cross  Watcher

2) What media do you typically work in?

I sculpt either in clay or with found objects. My found object work is fast and freeform. It is really an experimental process to rough out a shape in my head. My work in clay is a lot slower and methodical. I am always willing to tear down something I have spent hours on (sometimes weeks or months) if I cannot get it right and start over again. Once complete, I will cast it in a number of media. My found object works are never reproduced.

Originally, I reproduced my works in polyurethane resins that I would paint to a high degree of finish. Later, I discovered cold casting, which involves adding ground marble or bronze to a clear resin. The cold cast sculpture takes on some of the qualities of the added material. I especially like the look of cold cast marble, which looks like alabaster and polishes up to a fine finish. From there, I moved into casting bronze, which involves first casting your sculpture in a wax “pattern” that is later melted out to create a cavity for hot bronze to be poured. In recent years, I have really come to think of myself as a bronze sculptor.

3) The title of the book you’re Kickstarting is Apocrypha: The Art of Jason Soles. Tells us about the significance of the title.

One of the themes running through my work is the establishment of a false historical record, faux fossil remains that speak to a lost era of human, or proto-human experience. I like the notion that researchers are forced to redefine the origins of man with each archaeological find, and the facts as we know them are increasingly mercurial even as we move ever closer to likely extinction of the species. The title Apocrypha is a nod to that verisimilitude I seek to capture with my work.

Necromancer 1  Excarnate

4) You’re working with Strix Publishing to produce the book and handle the Kickstarter. What’s your connection to Strix’s Simon Berman?

Simon and I have a long history of working collaboratively together, first at Privateer Press and later on Unhallowed Metropolis, alongside Nicole Vega. Simon has successfully managed two publishing projects on Kickstarter via Strix, and I thought my book would be a good fit.

5) Okay tell us what folks can expect out of Apocrypha, the awesome rewards they can get through the Kickstarter, and how they can rush out and throw money at it.

The book itself is a retrospective of my work over the past eighteen years. In addition to some really great photography, the book also includes an in-depth look at my processes along with lengthy descriptions of my techniques.

The basic reward for the campaign itself is the book, which is going to be an impressive hardback. I am really happy with the look of the book. It is going to be incredible. Additionally, I have created a number of smaller sculptures that serve as rewards and add-ons for the project. These include a Cthulhu statuette and a bone-finished mask bearing the Leviathan Cross, an alchemical symbol for sulfur. Alchemical and occult symbols and themes are common throughout my work. A small number of these pieces will also be produced in bronze. The campaign will feature updates as I continue to work and finish the bronze through the month of July.

13450905_1763531783894310_731814454920194884_n  Cthulhu Statuette


Jason Soles is a Seattle-based sculptor and game designer. He is the lead developer of Privateer Press’ award winning WARMACHINE and HORDES tabletop miniature war games and is the co-creator of Unhallowed Metropolis, the gas mask chic roleplaying game of Neo-Victorian horror. As a sculptor, Soles works primarily in bronze and clay. He also possesses keen interests in history, folklore, anthropology, travel, and rare spirits.

 

Ranks of the Rejected: Mark Allan Gunnells

Time for another Ranks of the Rejected. This time, I’ve convinced fellow horror and fantasy author Mark Allan Gunnells to reveal the dark, squishy truths about writing and rejection. I first met Mark over on the Shock Totem forums where he was a regular in the bi-weekly one-hour flash challenge. I was immediately impressed by his style and subtle grasp of horror . . . and his ability to knock out a bad-ass flash piece in under an hour. Mark has definitely been around the block in the publishing world, and he’s published a slew of excellent novels, novellas, and short stories. If you like horror or dark fantasy (or just great writing), do yourself a favor: read this interview, click the links at the end, and pick up one of Mark’s books. You won’t be disappointed.


1) What genres do you typically write? Do you have a favorite? If so, what about that genre draws you to it?

I favor fantasy and horror, by far my preferred genres. I do step outside those genres from time to time to stretch my creative muscles. I even have a romance novel under my belt. However, fantasy and horror keep me coming back. I’m not sure what it is about those types of stories that draws me, I have loved them since I was a child. I do love the limitlessness of fantasy and horror.  It’s a playground for the imagination.

2) What does your typical writing work day look like? Do you have daily goals? Word count targets?

I’m actually very lucky in that I get to write at work. When I was on third shift I got a lot of writing done, but since I’ve been on first, I don’t have quite as much spare time. I’ve trained myself to write in the pockets of downtime that crop up. I may get fifteen minutes at a time or five, but it all adds up. I tend not to pressure myself regarding daily goals. My only goal is to write. Some days it may be several pages, others, only several paragraphs, but as long as I’m writing, I don’t beat myself up.

3) Okay, this blog is called Rejectomancy, so tell us about your first rejection letter or the first one that had a significant impact on you as a writer.

I started submitting as a teenager to various small horror magazines I found out about through the Writer’s Market, and I quickly started racking up form rejection letters. I had read that Stephen King had collected his when he started, so I copied that, posting them on the wall above my desk. While an acceptance would have been nice, when I would look up at the rejections I would feel proud because I was trying.  I was writing. I was submitting. I was working at making my dream of being a professional writer come true.

4) In your opinion, what is the most important lesson writers can learn from rejection?

I think I have two answers to that one. One, you can learn a lot from rejection. You can’t let your ego get so big that you can’t see that sometimes criticisms have merit and you can actually use it to strengthen and tighten your writing. Two, not ALL criticism has merit. Some of it is just opinion, and those can vary from editor to editor. I’ve received some rejections that have really torn a story apart and then found an editor that loved it just as it was. If you believe in your story, you have to just keep putting it out there until you match it with the editor that gets it.

5) Got a favorite rejection? Memorable, funny, mean, just straight-up weird?

Recently, I posted about a rejection I got from a small magazine where I’d submitted several times. The editor finally sent me a message asking me to stop submitting because I wasn’t a very good writer. He went on to provide a detailed and loooong list of all the things that made me a bad writer. Basically he didn’t like the types of stories I told or the types of characters I used, and said, and I quote, “You may not realize it, but your stories consciously or subconsciously (whichever) are written to appeal to middle-class audiences and lifestyles.” As if the middle-class is not an audience you should be interested in. I used that rejection as great motivation to keep writing the kinds of stories I love.

6) What’s the toughest part of rejection for you? Pro tips for dealing with it?

I guess the toughest part for me is when I write something, I’m very excited about, and I have a deep desire to get it out there for others to enjoy. I crave feedback from readers, which you can only get once the story is available. Rejection keeps me from having that two-way relationship with readers. As for dealing with it, just keep writing what you love. As long as you are enjoying the process, everything else will just be gravy.

7) Okay, plug away. Tells us about your latest project or book and why we should run out and buy it.

Most recently, I released three books back to back (talk about over-saturation): two collections and one novella. FLOWERS IN A DUMPSTER, COMPANIONS IN RUIN, and FORT. I have a few projects coming out, including two collaborative novels (one with James Newman and the other with Aaron Dries) and a sequel to my earlier novel THE QUARRY.  I’m currently working on a couple of novellas.

Flowers in a Dumpster  Ruin  Fort


Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC with his fiance Craig A. Metcalf. Blog: www.markgunnells.livejournal.com/, Amazon Author page: www.amazon.com/Mark-Allan-Gunnells, Facebook: www.facebook.com/mark.gunnells

New Flashpoint Cover & Lock & Load Book Signing

I’ll be saying this a lot over the next couple of weeks and months, but I wrote a book, and it’ll be available in your favorite reading format (including dead tree) on July 15th. The book is called Flashpoint, and it’s set in Privateer Press’ steam-powered fantasy world of the Iron Kingdoms. I’ve shown the cover before, but it was updated just before it went to press, and now it looks like this:

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Pretty cool, huh?

One other bit of news: Privateer Press offered a special pre-release of the book at their annual convention Lock & Load GameFest here in Seattle from June 10-12, and I was on hand to do my very first official book signing, which was a lot of fun. (Apologies to all for my atrocious signature.) Anyway, here are some photos of me at the signing, where I seem to be making weird faces in pretty much every shot. Oh, and a shout-out to my fellow authors Douglas Seacat and Zachary C. Parker with whom I shared the author’s table. (You should read their books too: The Blood of Kings and Wrath of the Dragonfather)

Thanks to my lovely wife, Melissa, for snapping these photos and a bunch of others. She did the absolute best possible with a very difficult subject.

IMG_9787  image2

image1 (1)  IMG_9779

A sincere thanks to all the folks who came out to Lock & Load, bought a copy of Flashpoint, and let me scribble my name in it. I appreciate it more than I can properly express. I hope to see you all again next year and sign one, maybe two more books.

 

Poll: How Many Rejections Before You Retire/Revise?

Recently, I had a story accepted after sixteen rejections. I know; that’s a lot, right? I felt pretty confident about the story despite the mounting number of NOs, so I kept sending it out. I found an editor that liked it as much as I did, and in July, you can judge for yourself if it was worth all those rejections.

Anyway, the rejection count on that story got me thinking: How many rejections is typical before an author decides to retire or significantly revise a story*? With a few exceptions, I have my own target number, but I’d like to hear from all of you about yours. So I’m gonna try out WordPress’ handy poll feature and ask you to vote in the poll below. Yes, I know there are a lot of factors that go into deciding when to revise or retire, so feel free to expand or qualify your answer in the comments. I’ll update the post with my own magic number next week.

One more thing: my little jokes in the poll answers are just that, jokes (bad ones). I don’t mean to imply one answer is better than the other (I have stories that fit them all).

*By significantly revise, I mean rewrite at least fifty percent of the story or radically change the theme, arc, or POV. By retire, I mean shelf the story and stop submitting it.

 

 

 

It Came from My Hard Drive! Part 1 – The High Road

I’ve been working in the tabletop gaming industry for over ten years. In that time, I’ve written more RPG adventures, supplements, and bits of game-related fiction than I can easily count. While most of that stuff was published in one form or another, some of it never saw the light of day. I have entire manuscripts for 100-page RPG supplements collecting digital dust on my hard drive, and I found a few recently I thought I might share. Well, parts of them anyway.

One of the publishers I used to work for was Goodman Games, a great company run by a great guy, Joseph Goodman. They’re doing some awesome stuff right now with their Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, and I most definitely urge you to check them out. Anyway, around 2009, I wrote or co-wrote a bunch of player-centric Dungeons & Dragons supplements for Goodman Games. Two of them were never published, and they included a bunch of short fiction vignettes I’ve always liked. With Joseph Goodman’s kind permission, I’m going to post some of them here.

These really are vignettes, not full stories, and they were meant to introduce a gaming concept (usually a new class option for players of 4E D&D). They’re also what you’d call high, epic fantasy. Oh, and these are kind of first draft-y, so, you know, cut me some slack.

Here’s the first one.


The High Road

Tarnak snorted in irritation when he saw the two dwarven warriors standing in the middle of the road, blocking his path. Both were armed with short-hafted battleaxes and wore sturdy coats of riveted mail. Each dwarf also carried a heavy wooden shield nearly as tall as the warrior behind it.

“This is King Ivar’s road, beast,” one of the dwarven warriors called out. “Your kind has no business on it.”

Tarnak wasn’t overly surprised at the dwarves’ reaction. He was a minotaur and that meant ‘monster’ to most. No matter he had served in the dwarf king Ivar Stonehammer’s armies as an auxiliary field commander. No matter he had personally led the charge that shattered Azagar Bloodfist’s goblin horde in the Battle of Ivory Plateau, assuring victory for the dwarven monarch whose name was now used to reinforce dwarven bigotry.

He set the head of his poleaxe on the ground, letting the haft rest against his shoulder. He took his hands off the weapon and held them out, palms up. “I understand your concern, and your dedication to protecting the road is admirable,” he said. Tarnak had learned long ago those who showed him the most prejudice expected a violent response from his kind, a stereotype he was not about to enforce. “I have papers from the court of your noble king proving I am his servant. Will you let me show them to you?”

Both dwarves scowled but said nothing. This was not the response they had expected . . . or wanted.

Tarnak took advantage of the dwarves’ silence and dug into his pouch for the writ of passage bearing King Ivar’s personal seal. “I promise, if you give me a moment, I can prove—”

“We’re not interested in your forgeries, beast,” one warriors said. He was the older of the two, his beard long, braided, and streaked with gray.

Tarnak stopped looking for the writ. “You would bar passage to a servant of your king on simple bigotry?”

The older dwarf’s face twisted into an ugly frown. “If bigotry means keeping the likes of you off roads used by decent folk, then aye, I’m a bigot,” he said and shifted his shield into a more comfortable and battle-ready position. “The only way you get by the two of us, ghrakha” – the dwarven word for ‘animal’ was not lost on Tarnak ­– “is with an axe between your horns.”

Tarnak sighed and lifted his poleaxe from the ground. “Are you sure this is what you want?”

The elder dwarf smiled and turned to his companion. “Uthar, let me show how you how to deal with a big lummox like this.”

“Take him down, Borgrim,” the younger dwarf said, grinning.

“Oh, this is exactly what I want, beast,” the dwarf named Borgrim said and started forward, axe held high, shield tucked beneath his bearded chin.

Tarnak let the dwarf advance and took his poleaxe in a fighting grip, one hand below the axe head and the other on the worn haft some two feet below that. He spread his legs and let the weight of his body settle evenly over his stance.

Borgrim’s advance turned into a charge, and he dropped his axe low to his side, where he could more easily strike at his opponent’s legs–classic dwarven fighting technique. The stout race had been battling creatures bigger than themselves for millennia, and every dwarven warrior had learned that ogres, trolls, and minotaurs were easier to dispatch when cut down to a more manageable height. But Tarnak had been fighting alongside dwarves for years, and he was well versed in their battle strategies. He took a step back and whipped his poleaxe up over his head, letting both hands slide to the end of the weapon’s haft, then he brought the axe down with every ounce of strength he possessed.

Tarnak’s great reach allowed his blow to strike first, halting his opponent’s advance for a crucial second as the dwarf caught the axe head on his shield. Borgrim had likely anticipated the attack, but he had underestimated the power behind it.  Tarnak’s poleaxe smashed through the dwarf’s shield with a loud crack of splintered wood, then it parted the mail between Borgrim’s head and shoulder, cut through the thick padded gambeson he wore beneath it, and finally plowed a ragged swath through his body, lodging in his breastbone with a hollow, metallic thump.

Borgrim remained standing, his weapon dangling from nerveless fingers, eyes as big as saucers, Tarnak’s axe still buried in his body—it was all that was keeping him upright. Tarnak put a hoof on the dwarf’s chest and ripped his axe free. Blood sprayed from the hideous wound, splattering Tarnak’s face and tunic. Borgrim toppled forward onto the shattered ruin of his shield, dead before he hit the ground.

The remaining dwarf looked on, mouth agape, his weapon forgotten at his side. Tarnak advanced, his axe still red and dripping.

“P-please don’t kill me,” the dwarf said as Tarnak approached. He dropped his axe and shield in the middle of the road.

The minotaur bent down and pushed his horned head close to the young dwarf’s bearded face. He was barely more than an adolescent. “Uthar is it?”

The dwarf nodded, tears brimming in his eyes.

“I will tell you something, so you may learn from this day,” Tarnak said. “All the wood and iron in the world cannot stop a minotaur’s axe at full swing.” He straightened, towering over the young dwarf. “Sometimes you need to get out of the way.”

6 Rejection Records & Other Dubious Achievements

When you’ve submitted your work long enough, you start to notice certain “firsts” and “bests” in the meandering pattern of rejections and acceptances that define the freelance writer’s career. I certainly don’t have as many data points as some, but I’ve got enough to compile the following list of record holders and whatnot. So here’s my “all-star” rejection roster.

1) Fastest Rejection: 2.5 hours

This is a recent record, beating my old time of four hours. The market in question isn’t known for super speedy rejections like this, but my last submission to them was short-listed (and eventually rejected), so maybe, just maybe, the editor was actually interested to see what I’d do next (and hated it). Or maybe I used the wrong font or something.

2) Slowest Rejection: 419 days

This rejection was from a magazine that is known to be slow to respond, but this was a long time even for them. In fact, I’d given up on the story after I’d sent them query letters with no response, and submitted it elsewhere. Then, 16 months later, I received a personal rejection telling me they nearly published the story after much deliberation but ultimately decided to pass. I’m a patient guy, but 16 months is a long time to wait.

Coincidentally, the rejected story here is the same story in the next rejection record.

3) Most Rejections before Publication: 16

Another recent accomplishment. This beat my old record of 13 pretty handily. Nothing dubious about this one, though. I liked this particular story a lot, and it had received a number of close-but-no-cigar rejections, so I stuck to my guns and kept sending it out. I finally found a publisher who liked it as much as I do.

The moral of the story here, I guess, is if you believe in a story, the rejections shouldn’t deter you from submitting it again. That said, 16 is A LOT, and I wouldn’t blame most folks for throwing in the towel long before that. I think what kept me going is a) I like the story a whole bunch and b) a writer friend of mine who has seen a lot of success recently had a story rejected 37 times before publication. I figured if he can weather 37 rejections, I should be able to withstand at least 20.

4) Fewest Rejections before Publication: 0

I had to check my records to make sure, but I’ve pulled of the one-and-done exactly twice. It’s not common, really. For me, anyway. This might have something to do with my submission targeting, which I think can be a bit off at times. I think writers can get to a certain point where their name alone can greatly improve their chances at publication, resulting in more one-and-done acceptances, but I am most certainly not there yet.

5) Most Rejections by a Single Publication: three tied at 5

When I looked this one up, I was actually surprised. It certainly feels like I’ve been rejected a lot more by certain publications, but 5 is the most (there’s a lot of 4’s, though). I’m well into triple digits in total rejections, and I’ve spread my stories around quite a bit more than I’d thought. That’s the great thing about services like Duotrope; they keep track of all that interesting (and potentially useful) submission data you would never track yourself.

6) Most Acceptances by a Single Publication: 7

Bless you, The Molotov Cocktail. Bless you. A lot of these come from placing in the Molotov’s various flash fiction contests, though I’ve published a few in their regular issues as well. Hey, you find a market that digs your work, and you stick with them. I’m certainly not the first writer to have done that. There’s two more markets that might fall into this category, though I’d need at least one more publication with them to be sure.

Got any records of your own? Share them with the class in the comments.