A few days ago, I found a PDF e-zine in my inbox titled Worlds Without Master. It’s a mix of short fantasy stories, role-playing games, and other cool stuff. I loved the idea and the e-zine, and am so excited that the Overeditor, Epidiah Ravachol, agreed to do an interview on my blog!
1. What prompted you to put together an e-zine? Was this your first?
It is my first! I’m not a stranger to independent publishing, and I’ve wanted to publish a sword and sorcery periodical for some time now; but the idea was a bit daunting. So I kept thinking of it as the project I tackle after this next one.
Then I was seeking an outlet for my own fiction and getting frustrated with the number of ezines that paid you in “free electronic copies.” I could get free electronic copies by emailing the stories to myself, if I wanted to. While venting this frustration on the Internet, I joked about making my own magazine, calling it Words Without Master, as a play on the title of a sword and sorcery game I had in the works called Swords Without Master. (Later I changed the name to Worlds Without Master, but I haven’t scrubbed the web clean of the original title yet.) The joke had some heat, and I realized I might have an audience.
Then I discovered Patreon, which is an interesting take on this whole crowdsourcing business. It’s a subscription model where the patrons pledge to give a certain amount of money every time you release something, up to a maximum amount per month that they set. The patrons aren’t charged until you’ve delivered your product and as the creator you can see how much money you’ll make on the product when you do release it. This is exactly the model I was looking for. I would know exactly how much money I could spend on each issue ahead of time, which helped eliminate risk. And I didn’t have all the pressure of fulfilling a product people had already paid for.
There were a few other pieces to the puzzle, but once I knew about Patreon, it was pretty much a forgone conclusion.
2. Why distribute as a PDF?
Printing and shipping is too unpredictable. I have friends who had really successful Kickstarter campaigns fund and then, before they could ship their product out, the US Postal Service jacked up their prices. It was not a pleasant sight.
So, in the interested of making this venture as risk-free as possible, I’m going to stick to electronic distribution. Right now, that means PDFs, because I’m most familiar with that format. In the future I hope to branch out into other formats, as long as they let me comfortably include the illustrations, comics and all the strange formatting that comes with role-playing games.
3. Your e-zine contains both fantasy stories, comics, role playing games. How do these things go together?
The sword and sorcery branch of fantasy and comics have a storied history. They both were raised in the pulps, and before the eventual rise of the superhero, pulp genres like Westerns, detective stories, and sword and sorcery figured very prominently in the comic industry.
I really wanted a comic strip for Worlds Without Master, but I thought that was something that could only happen in the far flung future. Something I would shoot for if the Patreon budget got really big. But then Bryant Paul Johnson, a gaming buddy and an accomplished artist, drew a frame of his comic and posted it online where he knew I’d see it. I seized the bait and I’m so happy with the results.
Sword and sorcery and role-playing games kind of go hand-in-hand, and that might be a bit of a problem for me. In the back of the original AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide, Gary Gygax published a now somewhat famous list of influential fiction known as Appendix N. Not all, but perhaps the majority of the titles listed in this appendix fall within the genre of sword and sorcery. And when gamer goes back and reads these titles, they find origins of so many of monsters, sorceries and concepts found in the game.
The birth of D&D is the birth of the role-playing hobby, but it’s also the birth of a new genre of fantasy. One that is heavily influenced by D&D, as well as the fantasy role-playing and video games that have followed it. This genre is kissing cousins to sword and sorcery, but it’s not exactly sword and sorcery. And while I enjoy both genres, the D&D genre already has plenty of outlets. Sword and sorcery, in my opinion, could use another venue. I want Worlds Without Master to be that venue. So I’m drawing a hard line there, especially when it comes to the role-playing games I’m accepting. They’re under a little more scrutiny. Enter the Avenger, the role-playing game in the first issue, is a great example of a solidly sword and sorcery game. The list of places to visit in that game . . . I just want to grab my sword and leap into that world.
4. Artwork features prominently in your e-zine. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
Last summer I had the opportunity to see an art exhibit on imaginative realism, which is a style of art that takes fantastic subjects and portrays them as real objects. Or just a fancy name fantasy illustrations. One of the things that impressed me about the exhibit was the power of a single image to light a fuse that would eventually make my head explode in implied narrative. This quality was always vital to my experience of the fantasy art. When I’m sifting through the used book stores looking for lost classics, I’m judging a lot of these books by their covers. And there are so many role-playing games I’ve played based on the strength of their illustrations alone. And don’t get me started on Iron Maiden album covers.
So narrative is an important part of my art direction. I want the illustrations to present the viewers with a world they can’t help but step into and adventure in. I’m not as interested in seeing the characters in action as I am in implying the story around that action.
And it helps me make the e-zine something that teenage Eppy would buy. That’s a dude who could be swayed by some fancy drawings.
5. As an editor, what do you look for when reading submissions? Can you share any tips for writers?
I crave wonder in my stories. But this would be ridiculously useless advice if just said something vague like, “Make sure you deliver the wonder.” So let me instead point you to the more practical advice of a more experienced writer on the subject.
Michael Moorcock said, as part of his instructions on how to write a novel in three to ten days, “You need a list of images that are purely fantastic: deliberate paradoxes, say: the City of Screaming Statues, things like that. You just write a list of them so you’ve got them there when you need them. . . [T]hey have to cohere, have the right resonances, one with the other.”
My submission requirements ask for something a wee bit smaller than a novel, but this is grand practical advice for plugging wonder into your stories. I mean, when you read “City of Screaming Statues,” you were already picturing, and hearing, it in your head, weren’t you? What are these statues? How is that they scream? And why?
As a reader I cannot pass over a detail like that not literally wonder about it. If a submission does that to me then I have to pause and take it seriously. Even if it doesn’t exactly meet my other submission requirements or if it’ll take a lot of editorial massaging, if it pulls me in like that, I have to consider publishing it.
6. As a writer, what authors have inspired you?
Whoa boy. I’ll try my best to keep this list short by just naming the ones I can off the top of my head in no particular order: Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Robert Luis Stevenson, Michael Moorcock, Tanith Lee, Jack Vance, Charles R. Saunders, Harold Lamb, C.J. Cherryh, Leigh Brackett, Andrew Howard Jones, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Clark Ashton Smith.
And, of course, the lyrical genius of the late Ronnie James Dio.
7. What else have you written?
Most of my other work is in my role-playing games: Dread, Time & Temp, Vast & Starlit, and my proudest accomplishment, What Is a Roleplaying Game? which is a 463-word long role-playing game my mom used to teach my aunt about the hobby. But I do have a very short fable in The Lion and the Aardvark published by Stone Skin Press.
8. Do you ever edit your own work?
I have editors and proofreaders for most of my stuff. Though I am embarrassed to say that, due to deadline constraints, a few of the peripheral parts of the first issue were not seen by anyone else before it was published, and there are a couple typos to be found. But most of them have been hunted down and eliminated.
I really like the people I’ve worked with so far. I need their eyeballs, expertise, and opinions. Since I’ve got the final editorial say, it ends up being something of a dialog between our tastes and voices. And the end product seems better for it.
9. Where can we get a copy of your e-zine?
You can buy the first issue for $3.99 using this PayPal link: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=3VUDUTN3VLXMW
But more importantly, if you want to make sure you get future issues for only $2.99 each, you should join the Patron Horde: www.Patreon.com/Epidiah
I say more importantly because, as I mentioned in my answer to the first question, Patreon lets me know how much money I have to work with for each issue. As this amount grows, so does the size and content of each issue. More sword and sorcery bang for your electronic buck, and all that.
10. Anything else you would like to add?
If you dig sword and sorcery and you’re interested in submitting, here are my guidelines: www.dig1000holes.com/words/submissions/