Stone Skin Press, the fiction offshoot of Pelgrane Press, has been running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the release of their first four short-story anthologies: The New Hero vols 1 and 2, Shotguns vs Cthulhu and The Lion and the Aardvark: Aesop’s Modern Fables.
This is interesting to me because I like the Pelgrane folk immensely, they have had the considerable good sense to appoint Robin D. Laws as line-editor on the books, Robin has had the lesser good sense to include a new story of mine, ‘Alms and the Beast’ in New Hero vol. 2, and it is featured on the front page of the Stoneskin Press site today.
The basis of the New Hero series is a great concept. In each story, style and genre are less important than the character of the protagonist. He, she or it must be a catalyst within the narrative: provoking change and fuelling the action and reactions, but coming out at the end fundamentally unchanged by what has happened. Conan is a good example but not a great one; James Bond and Judge Dredd come closer to the platonic ideal. So there’s SF, fantasy, modern-day, weirdness, and quasi-historical fiction. Which is where I come in.
For ‘Alms and the Beast’ I’ve revisited some of my favourite themes for short fiction: medieval England as a backdrop; dark forces at work in the world; the interplay of duty, honour and faith; and a protagonist stripped back to their core, trying to find a new role in life and striving how to be a good man who must do bad things. People who know my earlier work may spot similarities with the nameless priest of Morr, god of Death, who appears in the novel Hammers of Ulric which I co-wrote with Dan Abnett and Nik Vincent, or the mutating hero of my Marks of Chaos novels for Games Workshop, who fights Chaos in the Old World and within his own body. And the background might as well be the Dragon Warriors RPG, which I published until last year.
I don’t keep coming back to these themes because I find them easy to write about. The truth lies in the other direction: these are meaty subjects that demand to be explored in different contexts. I don’t write for my own satisfaction, but if I don’t believe in what I’m writing then neither will you. I am drawn to these ideas and the characters who embody them because they fascinate me and pull me in. Easy? If I wanted to write easy fiction I’d be churning out post-Dan Brown thrillers.
Plus I enjoy torturing protagonists, giving them a difficult time, and sinking their barges, whether real or metaphorical. That way lies strong emotions and conflict, and if you don’t have those in a story you might as well be writing a letter to your mum.
So we have a nameless protagonist who wears a leather cloak covered in silver and tin badges from a hundred different sites of pilgrimage; dark schemes and strange rituals in the English summer; disaffected knights returned from an unfinished crusade to a land where their roles are increasingly undefined; and a man who has lost everything in the name of trying to protect what he believes in. It feels like fertile ground for more stories. If you agree, go and throw some money at the Stoneskin kickstarter.