David A. Riley: Steve, you’ve been prominent in the swords and sorcery genre for some time now, not only as a writer but as editor and publisher with your own imprint Carnelian Press, through which you brought out two fanzines, The Hyborian Gazette and Twilight Echoes – Tales of Swords & Dark Magic. Which came first, the writing or the publishing, and can you give us a rundown on your career so far?
DAR: Which other writers have been the biggest influences on your own sword and sorcery stories?
SD: Ok, I’ll come clean. I’m influenced by all of them! Even the bad ones! Why not? Sometimes it’s just a mesh of everything and nothing. Even other genres!
DAR: Like many sword and sorcery writers your stories have a number of continuing characters, like Bohun of Damzullah. Do you think this is an important feature and something readers prefer?
SD: For me, it’s a fun thing to do and those who like the Bohun stories enjoy reading them. There’s just something fun about the serial format, following a character on a journey through a pre-classical world, exploring strange cities and hostile landscapes.
SD: I’m actually writing a short s-&-s novel at the moment. I’ve never quite got why people think they’re not common. There are literally hundreds. I could do you a top ten list of my favourites right now! The only reason sword & sorcery was written in shorter formats was because they initially started in the pulps which catered for the short-story market. But even then there were exceptions. A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar, for instance, was published in 1924 and Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword came out in 1954. There have been thousands of sword-&-sorcery novels since the ‘60s. Michael Moorcock wrote a fair few— The Eternal Champion, the Elric, Corum and Hawkmoon books. So did L. Sprague de Camp. Lin Carter did a series or two as did John Jakes and Gardner F. Fox. Then there were Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane novels, David C. Smith’s Oron, James Silke’s Death Dealer series…
DAR: Do you ever worry what constitutes a true sword and sorcery story or are you flexible in your attitude to the genre? Some people seem highly interested in laying down rules and lists of what’s needed to qualify as such. Does this bother you at all?
DAR: Print on demand and the increase in indie publishers has obviously had a big impact on the genre in recent years, with magazines like Savage Realms Monthly and the increased number of anthologies that seem to pop up with impressive frequency at the moment, as, of course, have online magazines such as Swords & Sorcery Monthly, not to mention eBooks – and, more recently, audio as well. Do you sometimes fear we could face an eventual glut of the market and that today’s apparent popularity might result in tomorrow’s boredom?
SD: Absolutely. It will happen, and go the same way the whole Cthulhu obsession did a few years ago. But as Lovecraft himself once wrote— ‘That is not dead which can eternal lie…’
DR: Where do you see the genre going next? Do you expect to see it shrink once more or, because of the proliferation of POD and indie presses, do you see it soldiering on? After all, without a reliance on the big publishers anymore, so long as there is a substantial enough core of fans out there to keep the genre alive, it will remain so. If so, who will be the next giants as such in the genre. In its golden age there were the likes of Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, followed by Henry Kuttner, Fritz Leiber, C. L. Moore, Michael Moorcock and a handful of others. Who do you see as today’s? Or is there instead a vast proliferation of names too numerous to mention?
SD: So long as the stories are good and the writers, editors and publishers are true to their craft there will always be readers. Those that will make a name for themselves in the genre will be those that can also write beyond it. All the writers you just mentioned are known for other things. Believe it or not, Howard’s biggest success in his lifetime were his humuorous western stories featuring Breckenridge Elkins—which everyone should read by the way. Kuttner was a diverse hand who worked in SF, horror and fantasy. Leiber won the Hugo Award for The Big Time and wrote critically acclaimed horror like Conjure Wife and A Spectre is Haunting Texas. Moorcock edited New Worlds and wrote The Dancers at the End of Time, A Cure for Cancer and Gloriana. A genre is only as healthy as the stimulus behind it.
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