In recent years fantasy novels have become increasingly dark and gritty, as authors try to replicate the phenomenal success of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. (You know, the one that became Game of Thrones.) Fantasy author Craig Shaw Gardner has mixed feelings about this trend, known as “grimdark.”
“I love some of the grimdark stuff,” Gardner says in Episode 303 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “But it does tend to get depressing after a while.”
Gardner is best known for a completely different style of fantasy—”funny fantasy,” in which lighthearted banter, talking animals, puns, and slapstick humor tend to predominate. The genre’s heyday was the 1980s, when humorous fantasies by authors such as Terry Pratchett, Piers Anthony, Robert Asprin, and Gardner himself achieved bestseller status.
“My books have sold a ton,” Gardner says. “The Ebenezum series was translated into seven or eight languages, and between all those different [editions] it sold over a million copies.”
In the ’90s Gardner’s publisher worried that funny fantasy was going out of style, and they encouraged him to move in a more serious, more mainstream direction, which he thinks may have been a mistake. “Publishers are always chasing trends,” he says. “They’re always trying to get ahead of stuff, and I think sometimes they’re wrong.”
Gardner recently published a new funny fantasy trilogy, the Temporary Magic series, and is at work on a new Ebenezum book, though he admits that publishers are still leery of humor. But he points to authors like A. Lee Martinez as evidence that it’s still possible to break into publishing by writing funny fantasy.
“I’ve read a few of his books and some of them are very good,” Gardner says. “Gil’s All-Fright Diner is a lot of fun, and it proves that somebody can still sell funny fantasy out there.”
Listen to the complete interview with Craig Shaw Gardner in Episode 303 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Craig Shaw Gardner on movies:
“My wife got a job at the Orson Welles Cinema—wonderful cinema, it doesn’t exist anymore—and all the independent theaters in town, if you had a job at one of those places, you or your spouse—which was me—could go to any of the other movies for free. So I would go to see movies like four nights a week. … I think at any particular point—especially in places like Boston, where this was—there’s always a group of filmgoers or film cultists who always get together. You get to know each other, but it doesn’t really form lasting friendships, because you only see each other in the dark.”
Craig Shaw Gardner on funny fantasy writers:
“Terry Pratchett and I sat down at a convention at one point because we both had a major character named ‘Death’ in our series, and Terry was terribly worried that he was running over the same ground that I was. We sat down for 15 minutes and basically agreed never to read each other’s books. So I still haven’t read his Discworld series at all. … I met [Robert Asprin] in passing. Other funny fantasy writers at the time I knew better were like Lawrence Watt-Evans and Esther Friesner, who both wrote a number of books, and this guy named Lionel Fenn, who was really Charlie Grant. I knew all of them very well.”
Craig Shaw Gardner on the Batman novelization:
“I was out of the house—this is back in the days when we didn’t have cell phones—and they needed the rewrite within three hours. They had changed a major part of the end of the [movie], and they needed the rewrite, and I was not there. I got in later in the day and found a message where they said, ‘We couldn’t get you so we had Denny O’Neil do it.’ … Often you get the script pages week by week as they’re making the movie, so things change constantly, and then there comes a point where the book has to go into production before the movie’s actually finished. So there are always differences between the novelization and the movie.”
Craig Shaw Gardner on the Kirk Polland Memorial Bad Prose Contest:
“We did this for about 25 years at this convention called Readercon—which has since changed its committee, and they don’t want us anymore—but we would take a number of examples of actual bad prose—bad science fiction and fantasy prose—and we would read half a passage, and we’d get four or five people up front and they’d all write their own endings to the passage, and the audience had to guess which one was right, and it ended up being very, very funny. … I think it’s going over to Boskone, which is one of the longest-running conventions in the country. It’s the big Boston convention that happens every year.”