by Patrick Swenson
Fifteen years ago I started Talebones magazine with big dreams and a tiny budget. Even while the magazine was churning along, I often pulled out old issues and looked at the covers, at the stories and poems inside, at the artwork and columns, and it was like pulling out old high school yearbooks at a ten-year reunion. I’m a twenty-five year veteran high school teacher, and have seen my fair share of yearbooks, even though I missed my own high school’s thirty year reunion not too long ago. With these Talebones copies, nostalgia reigned. Nostalgia is a good enough reason for me to put out this volume now. It’s a selfish reason, but there you go. Perhaps you’ll enjoy my selfishness.
In the introduction to Barb Hendee’s story “The Winds of Brennan Marcher,” I explain how Talebones owes much to the magazine Figment that she and her husband J.C. published. I sat in on slush reading sessions and even helped pick out a few winners. I decided early on that I kind of digged that whole scene, so I vowed that if I saved enough money to purchase a new computer, received a raise at work, and found myself a little more time, I’d start my own magazine. I never did have enough extra time, but two out of three was close enough, and when Figment closed up (due only to the busy lives of the editors, who were grad students at that point), I made my plans to take the small press speculative fiction market by storm.
The magazine took shape. It wasn’t a storm, exactly, but a strong wind that swirled around, grew to respectable size, rattled a few window panes, and left its mark, I believe, after a fourteen year run.
Along for the ride for a good majority of it was Honna Swenson. We married after the magazine started, and a half dozen years later our son Orion was born. Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn, and in 2007, Honna and I parted ways. But before all that, near the closing months of 1994, we moved wholeheartedly into this small press adventure, spending a lot of time trying to figure out the magazine’s niche, size, frequency of publication, and — well, what should we should call the thing? If you don’t know the story about how the name came about, it happened when my old roommate bought a mountain bike for his girlfriend, but also had to buy a more comfortable bicycle seat separately. Honna and I saw the name of the company that manufactured the seat — Tailbones — and the lights clicked on upstairs pretty quickly. The name, after a subtle but creative twist, was set. As far as fiction was concerned, it was pretty simple: we wanted literate but entertaining stories. We liked to think of the stories as skeletons that the writers had fleshed out with their unique tales.
“Fiction on the Dark Edge,” the magazine’s original subtitle, caused more than a little confusion. Talebones was typecast early on as a horror magazine, something I suppose we brought about ourselves by using that old bone font, as well as including darker stories during those first few years. Writers somehow got the idea that we wanted hardcore blood and guts horror (or something similarly vicious), even though for more than half of the magazine’s run we were buying a good mix of SF, fantasy and dark fantasy, and virtually no horror. Were we “edgy?” I don’t know. We published a lot of fiction that blurred the boundaries, perhaps. I think we were ahead of the “slipstream” craze, but we did feel we were a market where writers could place some of those stories that defied classification. We didn’t shy away from taking risks from time to time.
We premiered our “zero issue” in the summer of 1995 at the Portland Westercon to decent oohs and ahhs, and the first full issue came out that fall. I believe its modest first run was something like 100 copies, the interior pages right out of the laser printer, the black and white cardstock cover folded by hand and stapled with a long-reach stapler. The magazine started quarterly and didn’t miss an issue for the first six years of its life. When I started Fairwood Press in 2000 to publish books, the frequency switched to three times a year. When Orion was born in 2002, Talebones moved to a twice-a-year schedule and stayed right there until its closing in 2009.
We had a system, and it worked. We both read the slush, and we both had to agree on a story before we put it on the hold pile. We’d make our tough decisions and come up with the stories for the issue we were reading for, which was always just one ahead of the issue we were putting together. We never bought stories for more than one issue ahead, never stockpiled stories to be published years later. We didn’t hold onto anything for more than a week if we weren’t seriously considering it. (Later, that particular policy had to give way to all matter of life interruptions and increased submissions, and response times naturally had to go up.) The system continued to work right up to the very end, except that for the last five issues I was on my own. This did not, by the way, have anything to do with the magazine folding. It could have continued for quite some time with the resources I had, but I felt the time was right to gain back some time, mainly for my own writing, and for my son Orion. A few months after making the decision to close up shop, Orion was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, so the choice seemed somewhat fortuitous.
I’m not sure when the cries of “When will we see a Best of Talebones anthology?” started, but the magazine garnered nice reviews early on and gained some respect in the small press community. Some stories grabbed the attention of awards committees and Best of the Year anthologies. Writers who published their very first stories in its pages started selling more and more. Some launched novel careers. The names and the fabulous stories started adding up. I’m now a little sorry I didn’t do this anthology sooner, because coming up with the table of contents for it was not easy in the slightest. I didn’t even start thinking about it until the early part of this year. How was I going to pick from a list of nearly 300 stories from the magazine’s thirty-nine issues?
I had to dream big. That’s why this book has forty-two stories in it! Perhaps I should have gone for twenty or twenty-five, with the idea of doing a “Volume Two” later. I may still do that, since a number of wonderful writers published more than enough “Best of” quality stories to fill up another good-sized volume, though not as hefty as this one. Who knows? I’ve never given up on the idea of Talebones morphing into something different down the road, such as a yearly anthology, or perhaps an e-publication. Then, maybe, I’d have some stories to add to the mix. Time well tell, as in all things.
Early on, I decided I wanted to pay tribute to the fabulous artists who made Talebones a wonderful, visual experience, so I have included thumbnail graphics of the covers from the issues each of the stories appeared in. Because not every artist did a cover, I want to say a special thank you to all the artists who worked with Talebones, as well as all the writers and all the columnists.
During the magazine’s run, we always began the stories with opening blurbs to allow the authors and myself space to share something about the concepts. I’ve included a little introduction for each story here as well, although. I mainly talk about the writers and the artists, because along the way, many of them became very good friends and many of them became colleagues in this crazy fiction business. I’ve also passed along some interesting historical nuggets related to particular issues, too, that I hope you enjoy.
At my “Goodbye Talebones/Birthday Party” in December of 2009, I had a cake decorated to say “The Bones Will Never Die.” And here’s the Bones, because you, dear readers, like a strong wind fanning hot coals, keep bringing the fire back to life. I hope you enjoy your look back at this reunion. This selfish yearbook. I have a goal to get as many writers who are in it to sign my own copy as is humanly possible. Until then, I’ll sign off on my own foreword here.
Thanks for the good times — it was fun.
Have a nice summer.
Stay cool, and don’t ever change.