The Classics and Beyond

Working long nights at Kitt Peak National Observatory, I often get a chance to ask my fellow astronomers about their taste in science fiction. Some of these astronomers are young, just starting their careers. Many are still in grad school. I find the first authors many will name are people like Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Robert A. Heinlein, and Larry Niven—many of the same people I would have named when I was in grad school. Every now and then, someone else will pop up like James S.A. Corey of the Expanse series or Andy Weir, who wrote The Martian.

I find it interesting that so many of my peers in the astronomy world still gravitate to the classics of science fiction. When someone doesn’t mention newer works, I sometimes suggest some. Often I’m met with “I’ll have to look up that author!” It indicates to me that word about newer authors isn’t always spreading outside of writing or fandom circles.

Publishing does face a real challenge. There are many great writers and there are a lot of enthusiastic readers. However, there are limited resources to publish all the best writing and limited shelf space to display it. The internet helps the shelf-space issue, but it doesn’t always make discovering new fiction all that easy. Of course some of that shelf space should go to classics and people will gravitate to what they’ve heard good things about from peers and mentors. Perhaps it’s no surprise that people keep going back to the classics.

This is one of the reasons that I’ve always appreciated magazines and anthologies. They become a way for me to get a sample of what newer authors have done. Magazines, though, are struggling in the Internet age. Numerous magazines have ceased publication. An inherent problem for fiction magazines is that they carry a date, which as time goes by makes the fiction look increasingly dated. Of course, fiction doesn’t always age poorly as evidenced by all the classic authors who still influence young, contemporary scientists.

Good anthologies, though, do have staying power and I’m proud to have contributed to some great anthologies over the years. One of the anthologies I’m most proud of is Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales. In that book, I got to work alongside talented editors Carol Hightshoe, Dayton Ward, Jennifer Brozek, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt to choose the very best stories from the Full-Throttle Space Tales originally published about ten years ago. I was especially proud that my fellow editors chose my story “Hijacking the Legacy” as one of the best stories from those books. It meant that I got to have a story alongside such authors as Phyllis Irene Radford, C.J. Henderson, Shannon Page, Mark Ferrari, Jean Johnson and Mike Resnick. I’ll note, Phyllis Irene Radford was also the editor of my novels Lightning Wolves and The Brazen Shark. Sometimes publishing is a small world.

I think Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales has the potential to be a classic. I don’t say this out of ego, but out of the fact that I got to spend a lot of time with this volume as it was put together. I really got to appreciate the wide range of stoies that could be explored in a backdrop of space adventure. There’s humor, there’s adventure, there are scares, and there are cautionary tales. I lost track of how many times I read the book on the path to publication and I never got bored. There were many other stories from the original volumes that I wish we could have included, but I think this is a good sample.

I’ve often spoken of my love of classic space opera such as Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Space Battleship Yamato. I find the stories here excite me just as must as the best episodes of those series. If you’re looking to discover some authors, this is a great place to start. You can get a copy today at:

Interview with Danielle Ackley-McPhail of eSpec Books

Today, I’d like to welcome Danielle Ackley-McPhail, publisher of eSpec Books to my blog. Danielle’s work has appeared in my anthologies Space Pirates and Space Horrors plus she’s been featured in Tales of the Talisman Magazine. G&GRed-Gold Leaf-150 Her story “Last Man Standing” from Space Horrors will be appearing in the forthcoming anthology Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales coming from WordFire Press. My work has also appeared in some of Danielle’s projects including Bad-Ass Faeries 3: In All Their Glory and the steampunk faerie tale collection, Gaslight and Grimm. I was really impressed by the super job Danielle and eSpec Books did with the Kickstarter for Gaslight and Grimm. They’re running a new Kickstarter and Danielle has taken time from her busy schedule to talk to me about her company and what they have going on.

DLS: What is the mission of eSpec Books? What do you think sets eSpec Books apart from other publishers?


DA-M: We created eSpec Books to form a more stable platform for speculate fiction in the niche market. So many of the independent publishers we have worked with have faded away over the years either due to burn-out or because they grew too fast and couldn’t sustain that growth. eSpec is starting from a foundation of solid industry experience. We also have the benefit of seeing in advance many of the pitfalls out there and have a plan in place to avoid them, growing slowly, but steadily, using a balance of strictly electronic publications and higher profile titles in both print and ebook. Since we as individuals have been a presence in the fan and publishing community we have the benefit of an established network of connections, a pre-existing audience, and a knowledge of what our audience is interested in. We also have a solid reputation from our previous work for other publishers as both designers and editors.

DLS: What are some of your favorite science fiction/fantasy classics? What makes those books stand out for you?

DA-M: My fandom started out when I was 13, firmly on the fantasy side of things with Piers Anthony’s Xanth series and Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels. From there I discovered Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series and PC Hodgell’s God Stalk. I pretty much read all over the place though. On the sci fi side, Andre Norton’s Forerunner and Joan D. Vinge’s Cat’s Paw. One of the reason all of these stood out for me is that I am a fanatic for myth and legend and strong world building. I also love character-driven fiction and mystical, magical things.

DLS: What do you look for in a book you’re considering for eSpec Books? In other words, what makes the ideal eSpec Books title?

DA-M: Because we are just starting out…our two-year anniversary is in three weeks…almost all of our projects have been in-house, with anthology projects conceived and developed by our own editors. That having been said, we know when to say yes to an interesting project when it’s brought to us. Our title The Weird Wild West is an anthology that was brought to us with Misty Massey as the packager. The concept and the names involved were worth making the exception. That brings us to the other thing that we are looking for at this stage in our growth as a publisher. Names. As a new publisher still proving ourselves to the industry names are important. Not only do they have a built-in audience that they bring to the table, but they also increase visibility of the press as a whole, helping to establish our credibility. This doesn’t mean we are only interested in names, but in our early days and with our plan for a smart, slow build, we are not yet in a position to entertain outside projects. Our anthologies, however, do all have a mix of beginning and established authors.

DLS: You publish a number of anthologies. How do you develop your anthology ideas? Do you take proposals from freelance editors, or do you develop ideas in house? Why do you take the approach you do?

DA-M: I am an idea person. I cut my teeth in this industry by creating anthologies for other publishers. Best known of these is the award-winning Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series. I have a real strength for developing themes and playing with concepts to come up with collections that capture the interest of our audience. I love taking an idea from concept to completion so for the most part our projects will continue to originate in-house. This is not to say we won’t strategically partner with seasoned editors that bring us a solid idea, provided it is one we can see an audience for. Because anthologies have a limited profit-margin this will likely remain our process even once we begin to grow as a company.

DLS: As a business owner, I like brand loyalty as much as the next guy, but as a reader, I recognize that variety is the spice of life! What are some ways small presses can work together to help each other as well as serve readers’ interests?

DA-M: One of the joys of small or independent presses is that most of them have been started by fans and industry professionals with a specific interest and focus. They are the epitome of niche, in fact, the most successful ones remain niche, focusing on what they know and doing it well. The way that we help one another is cross-promotion, by directing our fans to offerings by fellow presses that meet other interests. Sharing knowledge with fellow publishers also builds a community and helps improve the credibility of the industry as a whole.

DLS: You’ve run some exciting Kickstarter campaigns to fund your books for publication. Can you tell us about your current campaign? What is the project and what are some of the cool things supporters might get if they choose to back the project?

DA-M: Part of the eSpec Books business model is to use crowdfunding to fund our high-profile projects, the books we intend to produce in both print and electronic format. We do this for several reasons. From a business standpoint this ensures that we have the resources to produce the books in advance. This means we remain in the black from the beginning and do not need to earn back production costs before turning a profit. By using this model we can create a stable platform on which to grow as a publisher.

Our current project is an important part of that growth. It is our first campaign for novels by two bestselling authors, Jack Campbell (The Lost Fleet, The Lost Stars, The Pillars of Reality) and Brenda Cooper (Building Harlequin’s Moon (co-authored with Larry Niven), The Wings of Creation). We were fortunate enough to sign these books for two reasons. First, because they are very different than the authors’ previous titles and so their usual publishers passed on them. Second, because both authors are familiar with us and our skill in producing books.

These are two very different coming-of-age stories.

Jack Campbell’s The Sister Paradox is an urban fantasy turned epic adventure, where a teen boy crosses dimensions to fight dragons and basilisks and other manner of magical creatures beside the sword-wielding younger sister he never had.


Brenda Cooper’s POST is a post-apocalyptic journey novel, where a girl name Sage leaves the safety of the botanical garden she grew up in to discover the world outside and, with hope, help rebuild it.

We have all the basic pledge rewards you find with any publishing campaign: ebook only, print only, both together, but we also have pledge levels where you can get additional autographed books, where you can be a character in one of the books, and even pledge levels that will get the backer an ultimate fan experience at next year’s Balticon, where we cover air fare, hotel, and convention membership, plus the backer gets one-on-one time with their favorite author. From a production standpoint we have some premium pledge levels where the backer can have their work evaluated or even created by an experienced editor, designer, and crowdfunder.

In addition to the pledge rewards we have both a Pre-Funding Bonus (electronic bonus stories every backer will receive when we hit $3000 regardless of if we fund) and a We-Funded Prize Pack (a prize one backer pledging $20 or higher will win at the end of the successful campaign, details available on the campaign page).

We are 73% funded with 20 days left in the campaign. Those interested can check it out at


Balticon 50

This weekend I’m at Balticon 50, which is being held at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland. This is especially exciting, since it’s my first convention on the East Coast and I’ll finally get the opportunity to meet several people I’ve corresponded and worked with over the years including Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Christine Norris, and Patrick Thomas. As the name implies, this marks Balticon’s 50th anniversary and the guest of honor is none other than George R.R. Martin. Not only that, many past guests of honor will be attending including Jody Lynn Nye, Kaja and Phil Foglio, John Varley, Larry Niven and more. You can learn more by visiting the Balticon 50 Website.

Here’s my schedule:

Saturday, May 28

8:30-9:50pm – Tortuga Readings – Pride of Baltimore. Authors will present their short stories of the high seas and those daring opportunists that call the ocean blue their home. Costumes are encouraged for a special prize from the authors. I’ll be sharing a reading from my Captain Firebrandt adventures. Reading with me are: Laura Nicole, Alan Spencer, Jack Campbell, and Misty Massey.

Sunday, May 29

9:30-10:20am – Finding Balance (Tentative) – Pride of Baltimore. Do you wear more than one literary hat? Having trouble divvying your time between your editing duties and your need to write? The Pros share their tips on how to do it all. I’ve labeled this as “Tentative” because I’m listed on this panel on one schedule, but not on the other. Since I don’t have any apparent conflicts, I’m planning to at least be in the audience, so it’ll be a place you can find me.

11:00-11:50am – The Biggest Mistakes by Beginning Writers – Parlor 9059. The panel will discuss (from a reader’s point of view) not only writing mistakes but also promotional mistakes: How writers have screwed themselves over and killed their chances of making it in the publishing world after doing easily preventable things! On the panel with me are Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Michael Ventrella, David Wood, and Christine Rake.

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7:00-9:00pm – Gaslight and Grimm Launch Party – MD Salon B. Help us celebrate the launch of Gaslight and Grimm. Kirkus Reviews says, “in this tasty short fiction anthology, the editors have combined two appealing genres into something greater than the sum of its parts.” Most of the contributors to the anthology will be on hand including Jody Lynn Nye, Gail Z. Martin, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Christine Norris, Jean Marie Ward, Jeff Young and more. Come hang out with the authors and editors, eat great food (and my mouth has been watering watching the planned items on Facebook!), and win awesome door prizes, including one of my wife’s hand-crocheted airships!

Just a note, the official convention schedule shows me at an autographing from 1:30pm to 2:20pm on Saturday. Unfortunately, my plane isn’t scheduled to land until 3:05pm That said, when I’m not on a panel, there’s a very good chance you can find me in the dealer’s room at the eSpec Books table. They’re the publishers of Gaslight and Grimm and many of my novels will be available for sale there. I’ll be more than happy to sign for you anytime you see me. Looking forward to making lots of new friends in Baltimore!