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Editorials

A New Home For Short Historical Fiction

 


Ever since the 18th Century which is when authors began writing works of long-form fiction, historical novels have always been popular.   Even back in ye olden days, there were highly successful novelists who more or less specialized in historical novels.   However, for some reason, shorter length historical fiction has never reached the popularity of historical fiction novels.    


During the era of the pulp magazines, that were inexpensive fiction magazines, the 1890's to the 1950's, there was only one magazine that specialized in historical fiction from ancient times to the near present day.  This was Golden Fleece Historical Adventure that published nine issues during October 1938-June 1939.  There were others that published a significant amount of historical fiction such as Magic Carpet MagazineOriental StoriesAdventureAll-Story and Argosy in addition to the dozens of pulps in the Western Sub-genre.  However when the pulps died off due to the advent of TV, so did the publishing of original short historical fiction.  During the period of the early 1960's, through the early 2000's, there was but little activity in short historical fiction publishing.  While non-magazine projects such as original anthologies in other genres flourished, there was practically nothing going on in historical fiction.


Then, out of the blue, in 2003 and for 13 issues through 2009, Paradox magazine was published.  This was a professional magazine that featured all varieties of historical fiction although it became best known for alternative historical stories.  Just as the 9-issue run of Night Cry during the mid-1980s set the stage for the flowering of the horror fiction small press boom of 1985-1995, so too did Paradox for historical fiction.  


Roughly around the year 2013, there were a number of historical webzines being published including CircaThe Copperfield Review, and Lacuna.  When you include the Western sub-genre webzines Frontier Tales, Rope & Wire and The Western Online, its pretty clear that there was a renaissance in online historical short fiction publishing.   You could arguably add the fantasy webzine  Mirror Dance that zine publishes more historical fantasy than just about any other webzine.  More to the point, it was the period of the most short length historical fiction stories being published since the 1950's when there were a number of digest-sized Western magazines around to say nothing about such slicks as Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post.


The boom in short historical fiction publishing also extended to books.  During the years 2007-2010 Russell Davis and Martin H. Greenberg collaborated on editing a trio of original Western anthologies entitled Ghost Towns, Law of the Gun and Lost Trails.  These books published a fair number of lesser-known writers some of whom have gone on to do bigger and better things.  In 2010 Gardner Dozois and George R.R. Martin collaborated on a trio of original military fiction anthologies entitled Warriors.  Close to half the stories in these volumes were historical fiction although the paperback books were labeled "Fantasy" on the spine and marketed as such.  Even worse, all the authors of the stories in these books were big name types with lesser-known writers not given a chance to submit their works for consideration.  


However, this boom was not to last.  Circa, Lacuna and The Western Online have all ceased publication.  It was not until the 2018 launching of this webzine, The Magazine of History and Fiction, that a new historical fiction publication was brought into being during the last few years.  During the meantime, a lot of writers have evidently lost interest in historical fiction.  If you point your browser to both http://lacunajournal.blogspot.com/ and http://blog.meganarkenberg.com you will find Lacuna editor Megan Arkenberg complaining about being swamped by historical fiction submissions to the point where she often did not make a decision on a submission until six months after her receiving them.  Although she did not give any figures, it appears that only a very low percentage of her submissions were ever accepted for publication.  


In contrast, roughly 70% of all the submissions to this webzine were accepted.  This was due to the sheer lack of submissions.  As a result, only one issue of the webzine could be published this year instead of the hoped-for two.  At this point, it's doubtful that we'll be able to reach the goal of four quarterly issues next year.  And no, there were no submissions that were accepted merely to fill out the issue.  Basically, what happened was that for a month after H&F was listed at Duotrope, there was a flurry of submissions, but for the last three months or so, submissions have been coming in at the rate of only one every other week or so.  


Once this premier issue has been finally put to bed, I'm going to bring it to the attention of bloggers and others and hopefully get some link exchanges made.  If everything goes right, this webzine could make its mark and help get historical fiction roaring again on the Internet.  


For what its worth, the goal is for Issue #2 to be published by the end of March 2019 and to go on a regular quarterly schedule of publication from here on out.  .  

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Editorial for Issue #2

The Foundation of H&F

Now that you have read the second issue of The Magazine of History & Fiction, you might be wondering just why I made the decision to start a new historical fact/fiction webzine instead of something that would take a lot less work.  Well, it's like this, originally my favorite reading was science fiction/fantasy along with some mystery reading.  Except for the works of C.S. Forester, Ray Hogan, and Louis L'Amour when I was growing up I did not read much historical fiction.  This despite the fact that history was by far and away my favorite kind of nonfiction. 


One reason for this is the fact that I have always wanted to become a writer.  When I entered Platteville High School in the Fall of 1979, was introduced to the world of fiction magazines in the form of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.  Eventually, I discovered that there were several other science fiction magazines as well as mystery magazines.  There was also a Westerns magazine called Far West, but that was poorly circulated so much so that to this day I have never laid my eyes on an actual issue of that magazine which ceased publishing in 1982.  BY 1982, most of the fiction magazine market was controlled by a lackluster outfit called Davis Publications and in that year the Elinor Mavor edited Amazing Science Fiction Stories was sold to TSR, the company responsible for Dungeons & Dragons and that magazine took a nosedive in quality from which it would never recover died off by the end of the 1990's.  What killed it?  There are some who would offer the knee-jerk accusation that the Internet killed off the small press magazines.  However, during the 1990's there only a very few online-only magazines that were consistently good such as most notably Clique of the Tomb Beetle in Horror and Dark Planet in Science Fiction.  Back then, almost all of the literary action on the Internet was confined to just a few genres.  It was not until around 2010 that you saw much of a presence in the Historical Fiction genre.  For some odd reason, there does not appear to have ever been a single Romance fiction webzine despite that genre's tremendous popularity among paperback book readers.  


 As a direct result of all this, my focus as a writer for over two decades after I took my first high school creative writing class during the 1982-1983 school year was on Science Fiction with some messing around in both Fantasy & Horror.  After all, it was in those genres were the action was at least as far as publishing was.  This impression was also furthered by the way that the news media covered Hollywood.  Both  Horror and Science Fiction and to a lesser extent Fantasy were presented as the genres where the action was.  Movies in those genres often received extra attention and coverage just because they were in what was perceived as being the "hot" genres.  Great movies outside of those genres received far less coverage than flicks that often seemed to be little more than special effects festivals.  For example, the excellent historical epic film about the first major battle of the Zulu War of 1879, Zulu Dawn, that was released in 1979, received hardly any publicity and its U.S. release suffered as a result.  I first learned of it when I found a VHS copy of it in a Wal-Mart in 1989 for about $8 and it turned out to be one of the very best movies that I have ever bought in a store.  Likewise, the wonderful Western The Long Riders in 1980 was released to almost zero publicity so much so that my diehard Westerns fan father never even learned of its existence until years later when it was on television.  Needless to say, the times were not good for historical movies no matter how good they were.    As a direct result of all this when a lot of young people who wanted to become professional writers chose what genres they wanted to focus on, not too many of them picked Historical Fiction.  


Only problem was now what kind of website should I create?  One obvious idea was to create a new book blog especially since blogging is something that I seem to be pretty good at.  The only problem is that there was already a number of such blogs.  Most pf them are updated much more regularly than what I could do and most of what I read is historical nonfiction instead of fiction.  About the only way of differentiating my blog would be by either adding a political slant or writing about the webzines and the stories that they run.  However, how many readers would be interested in that?  My aim in creating a blog would be for something that's heavily read, something that would rank right up there with The Magic of History, Reading the Past and A Writer of History.  Before going on, you might be wondering why the blog at H&F has hardly ever been updated and the reason is that editing a webzine combined with taking a junior college course in Web Design are things that really eat up your time.


Some attention needs to be devoted to what is the most disappointing Historical Fiction blog, that being the one at https://hfebooks.com/blog/ aka the blog of the Historical Fiction Authors Cooperative (HFAC).  You would think that such a group's blog would be geared to reporting the news of the Historical Fiction genre.  You would also be wrong.  The HFAC has shown zero interest in webzines and short fiction in general.  Another problem is that both the main HFAC website and its blog are not divided into various and sundry sub-genres such as Historical Mysteries, Historical Romances and Westerns.  Both when H&F was opened for submissions and then when the First Issue was finished, this writer emailed the HFAC about those developments and got no response and the HFAC blog never ran anything about H&F despite the fact that you would think that such information would be of interest to the HFAC membership and its larger readership.  


In Science Fiction circles, there is a concept called "internet infrastructure" that comprises websites related to a specific genre or sub-genre in addition to blogs.  These include author's websites,  group blogs, organizational blogs, reference websites book review and film review websites and other kinds of websites.  One thing that Science Fiction and related genres have going for them is the existence of an organized fandom.  Is there any sort of fandom in Historical Fiction?  One possibility to keep in mind is that there are all sorts of grassroots historical groups such as state and county historical societies some of which publish their own journals.  Perhaps Historical Fiction writers and others interested in the genre could make contact with and/or join such groups and try to get at least some of them interested in genre fiction and perhaps even get some original fiction run in their journals/websites or get their journals/websites to review genre works.  There is no reason why such groups could not grow into the Historical Fiction equivalent of Science Fiction fandom.  


If any of you doubt that such actions are needed, one only needs to look at a trio of websites in the Mystery genre.  Now, Mystery is not generally thought of as having a particularly strong presence on the Internet.  However, if you were to go to Mystery*File, you will see cause for concern.  MF was started over a decade ago by Steve Lewis as a typical one-man blog and it has since grown into an operation with numerous contributors writing all sorts of reviews of books and films as well as articles about authors and magazines.  The next place is Kevin Burton Smith's Thrilling Detective, which is similar to MF but which is organized in a much more user-friendly way.  TD also carries a great deal of news relating to the Mystery genre.  Originally, it was a regular website, but it has recently started moving over to WordPress.  The last website is the British institution Shots Crime & Thriller EZine.  Shots is literally loaded with all sorts of neat stuff including feature articles, interviews, and reviews.  The number of writers who have contributed works to this zine numbers well in the hundreds.  The Shots editorial team consists of five hard-working guys.  If you want to do something for the Historical Fiction genre, or any of its sub-genres,  but don't want to mess around with original fiction, then something like one of these three websites is a good idea, particularly if you have any friends who could help.  

In 2014, I figured out how to create a fanzine and the result was Fornax that you can access at http://www.efanzines.com/Fornax/index.htm.  In terms of traffic, this was an immediate success and the fanzine remains strong.  However, as time went on, I started losing interest in Science Fiction as that genre has been suffering a drop in quality.  Basically, there has been an increase in hack work combined with a drop of really good stuff being published.  There was also some unpleasant stuff in fandom that also made the genre less interesting.  Also, Fornax was only a sub-domain instead of being its own domain name.  In addition, I was increasingly finding a lot of really good Historical Fiction novels and that genre really went up in my estimation.  As time wore on, I really got to thinking of starting a new website, this time in Historical Fiction.


Originally, I was going to start a Westerns webzine since Westerns are the single most popular sub-genre so much so that many bookstores have separate Westerns sections while other kinds of Historical Fiction are either sold as Mysteries, Romance or in the general fiction areas.  However, I got to thinking that given the fact that both Frontier Tales and Rope & Wire had a head start, they would probably continue getting the best submissions since they would have more prestige than a recent startup.  If the rumor that the folks at The Western Online were about to start accepting new material after taking a few years off, then that would make things even more difficult.


About this same time, I noticed that the only then existing webzine covering the entire historical fiction genre from ancient times to the present, The Copperfield Review, limited submissions to stories under 3,000 words.  That is an absurdly low standard since it limits that particular zine to short-short stories only.  On top of that, Frontier Tales, while open to longer pieces for serialization, generally wants submissions shorter than 5,000 words.  What this meant was that if you write a story that was over those limits, then you were out of luck at least as far as genre webzines were concerned.  Given the widespread aversion to novelettes and novellas by the editors of literary publications both in print and on the Internet, there was a clear opening for a new genre webzine open to long-form pieces.  Hence the decision to launch a new webzine with a 20,000-word limit (since raised to 25,000). 


Additionally, there was the problem of the lack of historical fact webzines.  Outside of wargaming, there are no webzines that regularly carry original historical writing.  This is really surprising given the popularity of many historical subjects such as the Civil War.  You might be wondering about if Cindy Vallar's Pirates & Privateers count and that's really an E-Zine that's distributed via E-Mail with all the contents added to the main website and most of the contents written by just one person, so its not really a webzine.  Just why the is a lack of history webzines is something that probably has to do with the popularity of conventional historical websites that accumulate content about given topics.  Given that so many of these websites are successful in attracting traffic, it's perhaps not surprising that there has been so little interest in webzines by history-minded entrepreneurs although you would think that there would be some writers interested in giving it a shot.


As it happens, one thing that was pretty noticeable about the other Historical Fiction webzines is that outside of The Western Online, none of them ever had anything much in the line of historical nonfiction.  One thing that you need to do when creating a new webzine is that you need to differentiate it from the competition.  What the situation called for was a webzine that covered both historical fact and fiction from the whole of the human experience.  That, in turn, lead to the self-explanatory title, The Magazine of History & Fiction.  One feature of H&F is a list of links to other Historical Fiction related websites that is expanding as H&F  adds more issues with the goal of becoming a comprehensive source of information pertaining to what might be called the Historical Fiction Internet.  


Back when I had the idea of creating a Westerns webzine, I found a free webpage website called NeoCities and created what was supposed to be a webzine called The Magazine of the Old West.  However, I soon realized that you could only use subdomains there instead of having your own domain name.  That would not be good for search engine rankings.  I cast about looking for a replacement hosting service and upon my oldest brother's recommendation, came up with Go Daddy.  However, there are problems with Go Daddy.  Go Daddy's title space that is only 25 characters so titles combined with author's names longer than 25 characters had to be placed along with the stories themselves at NeoCities.


 Even worse, Go Daddy uses robots.text which is something that while search engine friendly is anathema to the Internet Archive aka the Wayback Machine.  Sooner or later this webzine is going to stop publishing and when that happens, I want its contents to be accessible by future generations.  Also, there's something inconsistent about a historical publication not making sure that its contents are saved for posterity.  What that means is that by the time that this webzine's time at Go Daddy expires in late 2022, its probably going to be necessary to find a new hosting service that could mean having to re-do everything in hand-coded HTML/CSS.  One possibility of such a service is Tripod where the Lost Souls webzine at http://lostsoulsmag.tripod.com/ is run.  Although Horror oriented, this particular webzine and its excellent contents help inspire my idea of creating a new webzine. 

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This is a content preview space you can use to get your audience interested in what you have to say so they can’t wait to learn and read more. Pull out the most interesting detail that appears on the page and write it here.

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