William (Bill) Ledbetter is an author, member of the National Space Society, and one of the editors of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly. In his spare time he administers the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. He sat down with me at ConDFW to discuss writing in general and sword and sorcery in particular.
AF: How did you get involved with Heroic Fantasy Quarterly?
BL: Adrian and David had started it up several months before they approached me to help with some of the editing. I was really busy and worried that I wouldn't be able to hold up my end of the agreement, so I instead do the editing on one story per issue which includes all the interfacing between author and the team. That’s pretty much what I do for the magazine, and I really enjoy it.
AF: What type of stories would you like to see more of, both as an editor of a magazine and as a reader? So it’s kind of a two part question.
BL: Considering the kind of fiction we print, we tend to get a lot of stories that are almost D&D adventures somebody wrote down. I think the stories need to be a lot more cohesive and have more of a plot than just going from one adventure to the next hacking and killing. Even though we like the swordplay and barbarians fighting each other at Heroic Fantasy Quarterly; we still need a full story arc and we like to see how all of this affects the characters. Some of the ones I’ve liked the most come at it from a different tangent. We had one called “Living Totem” and one called “The Last Free Bear” Both of these take place in the ice age in very cold, icy environments and are both from the point of view of a lone traveler on a quest. But neither of these characters are your standard barbarian or sword and sorcery type hero. They’re very sympathetic characters. One of them is dealing with a polar bear that’s intelligent, and they end up realizing they’re working towards the same goal, and they end up working together. I like to see unusual twists or takes on this type of fantasy. So anything that’s out of the ordinary, things we haven’t seen before, is probably going to get our attention if its well written.
AF: Adventures Fantastic is a blog that focuses a lot on heroic fantasy and historical adventure, and in that type of fiction you often have barbarians as central characters. What qualities do you look for in a barbarian?
BL: That they have more human qualities than just the urge to kill or get rich or revenge. One of the stories I was just telling you about, some people have come and stolen the guy’s family, and he was just trying to get them back. That’s kind of a common trope that’s been used before, but the author did good job making the character believable. Of course there is still a lot of fast paced action and combat in the story. That should satisfy just about any fan of the genre, but the protagonist was doing it for his family, not glory or honor.. Any plot driven by human, realistic motivators, gives the character a lot more depth. I think a barbarian with depth instead of a mindless killing machine is a lot more interesting.
AF: Do you think that we may be beginning to see a renaissance or resurgence in sword and sorcery, or do you think the market is about saturated?
BL: (laughs) I read a lot of sword and sorcery back when I was in college, which has been a long time ago, and even then there were people saying, “Ah, it’s gonna die out”, and it really never has. It rises and falls. Most of the fantasy fiction winning awards right now isn’t sword and sorcery, but I think there’s been a solid base all along. I don’t really know that it’s having a resurgence, but I keep talking to people who say they’d like to see more of it. That’s one of the reasons why Adrian and David decided to start this magazine. They couldn’t find the type of fiction they liked to read, and they knew a lot of people who were having the same problem. So there was a void in the market they wanted to fill. I think HFQ has done a pretty good job of that.
AF: You also write. What do you have in the pipeline, what’s available right at the moment, and coming out in, say, the next six months from you?
BL: I’ve been working on a novel that’s devoured up most of my writing time, but have a few new short stories in the pipeline. Oddly enough most of those aren’t fantasy. The novel I’m working on is science fiction and I just finished a story about two guys on Mars. Probably my last fantasy piece was a fantasy pirate story, and that one sold to the anthology Sails and Sorcery. That’s still available, and you can buy it online.
AF: Is that the one with the mermaids on the cover? I have a copy of that.
BL: Yeah. And the floating ship. There are some great stories in there. My story “Thief of Hearts” got some pretty good reviews, so I was really happy with that.
AF: What about science fiction? Is there science fiction available? The question wasn’t meant to be limited to sword and sorcery.
AF: Adventures Fantastic doesn’t just focus on sword and sorcery. It also does some science fiction.
BL: Some of my science fiction is still available too. I have a story called “Medic” that’s at Baen’s Universe. Baen’s Universe closed down, but the archives are still there. I think you can buy stories one at a time for .99 cents. I have a horror story in Something Wicked, a South African magazine. Those are all still available if you order them online. You can go to my website, http://www.williamledbetter.com, for a list of all my published works. Most of those still available have links at each story.
AF: Last question.
AF: If you were conducting this interview, what one question would you ask that I have not?
BL: Wow. Let me think here.
AF: This is your chance to talk about anything you want.
BL: I guess it would be a question for our readers. You asked me what we were looking for. Obviously, the kind of fiction we want to read, the sword and sorcery, the quest type fiction, stuff like that, but we also want to know what the readers want. What do you want to see more of in Heroic Fantasy Quarterly? I’d invite our readers to send us some notes or emails. If there’s something you’d like to see more of, if there’s a particular writer you really like and you want more from them, send us an email and we’ll try to make it happen. If we just wanted to read this stuff ourselves, we wouldn’t bother making the magazine.
AF: Thank you.
BL: Thank you.