Brandon Butler from T.Spec talks Tarot Cards
Brandon Butler from T.Spec talks Tarot Cards
By Angelique Fawns
Does the idea of writing about a Science Fiction Tarot card intrigue you? TDOTSPEC and Brandon Butler are looking for 22 stories; one tale for each of the major arcana cards. The submission call is open until October 4, 2022, and pays at a rate of 3 cents a word. I sat down with Butler to learn more about his concept and journey into the publishing world.
AF: The Science Fiction Tarot is your first anthology. Why and what made you expand from short story writing to publishing an anthology?
BB: The community and the strength of the idea. I first joined the T.Spec writing community in Toronto at a time when they were in the midst of starting their first pay anthology, Strange Economics. I subsequently served as an editor on their third effort; Imps & Minions. It was a lot of fun and interesting to take a look at the publishing side of things. So, when I conceived of this idea a while later, I jumped at the chance to work with them again.
AF: Why the Science Fiction Tarot? How did the concept come about, and can you explain your choice to use Kickstarter?
BB: It started on a pandemic Zoom call. People just getting together any way they could when you couldn’t see anyone in person without a mask. Someone was talking about how they were starting to do Tarot readings, and either the conversation switched to Millennials or her relative age came up, and I suddenly had an idea and wrote it down: a tarot card deck for a new generation.
At the time, the idea was ‘The Millennial Tarot’ and was going to be a short story. I made a couple attempts in that direction, but nothing was coming together. Eventually I thought up the notion of a whole anthology with each story dedicated to a new Major Arcana card, but with the 22 cards totally different from the traditional deck. I then had subsequent conversations with Andy Dibble, a team member and fellow Writers of the Future winner, who suggested a focus switch to purely Science Fiction. I thought that was brilliant swap, and here we are.
Kickstarter was and is a blast. I got a lot of help from David F. Shultz, the head of T.Spec who had run campaigns for the previous anthologies, as well as advice from a few other friends. It was a lot of work that first day of launch! I reached out to a few folks to help promote over social media, like Juliana Rew over at Third Flatiron, Brett Reistroffer at Bad Dream Entertainment, and Scot Noel, Editor-in-Chief of Dreamforge Magazine. They even went on to become backers! Meanwhile, Graeme R. Cameron was generous enough to give us a prominent ad in his Polar Borealis publication. We didn’t stop there, though. I went ahead and had business cards made up and started distributing them, which involved a lot of myself, fellow author and Aurora award nominee Y.M Pang, and other dedicated volunteers running around Toronto foisting our Kickstarter promotion on local bookstores. Fortunately, local businesses were only too willing to indulge us.
But the biggest takeaway has to be the opportunity to get back in touch with some old friends I’d lost touch with over the years like author Steve Saville, my old WOTF roomie and partner in Los Angeles tomfoolery, and of course Ken Liu, who was only too happy to help promote our project once he heard of it. An amazing experience all around.
AF: Interesting that you were interested in journalism but shifted to computer programming. Can you talk about that?
BB: Well, I always wanted to be a writer growing up. However, once I hit high school, it came to my attention that careers in writing might be few and far between. Clearly, I had not planned for this development.
With my interest in politics as they existed in the dear, departed ‘90s, going into journalism seemed a natural fit. But after a taste of working on a few stories for my university newspaper, I came to the conclusion that journalism might not be for me after all. Quality journalism is a precious thing, and we need more of it, but it felt like I was wandering pretty far from writing fiction.
It was then, after graduating, that my best friend suggested programming since he was in the field. I dismissed the idea at first: I was this total ‘arts guy’; writing was the only thing in which I figured I had noteworthy talent. I mean, I’d dropped out of calculus back in grade 10 (not my wisest move). Left brain vs. right, and all that.
My friend simply shrugged and said, “ok, so what? Who cares? Try again”. Seemed a reasonable response. So, I did. I went back to school, made up all the necessary academic ground in the sciences, and it turned out programming was one of those particular set of skills I could possess, if I worked at it. And I’m glad I did.
AF: You are a writer yourself. Why the genres of speculative fiction?
BB: I find the range of ideas to be a little broader. There’s something about the new possibilities of Science Fiction and the associative qualities of Fantasy and Horror that really appeal to me.
Also, there’s the opportunity to use the genres and their archetypes as metaphors and satire to indirectly comment on other things in the real world. That opportunity exists in all walks of fiction, but it’s particularly prevalent in the speculative realm. And I absolutely love that.
AF: How do you find time to write? What is your process, inspiration, etc?
BB: I try to keep my life simple. I’m fortunate enough to work at a job that I can put down at the end of an 8-hour day and concentrate on other things. My process begins with an idea that I can try to turn into a story – sometimes it’s just a neat premise and I have to really sweat at turning it into a manuscript, but once in a while the story’s conflict and arc come built into that initial spark, which is just the best.
The process itself is to finish the story as best I can, then leave it for at least three weeks or usually longer and work on something else. Then come back to it one day and read it after I’ve fallen out of love with what I’ve written. Treat it like someone else wrote it. Then repeat that a few more times in shorter intervals. Then take what I’ve put together to a writing group, get some feedback, and polish it up some more.
And, inspiration? These days I look to our illustrator for The Science Fiction Tarot, Marco Marin, and see the awe-inspiring images he’s come up with. The man is a privilege to work with and he’s a big reason for this project having legs.
But generally, for passion and dedication to the short story form, Harlan Ellison is a huge inspiration. So many stories that absolutely bleed emotion and skill. For brevity, and filling entire epics in a compact space? Roger Zelazny. His Amber series, particularly those first two books, was a revelation in how to get the job done and I’d recommend those volumes to anyone looking to study the craft. It might have even had a subconscious hand in developing this anthology. I really have to get around to reading Lord of Light one day.
But my biggest inspiration isn’t even a proper author. It’s Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. The means by which you can reach into yourself and bring out such emotive lines, both positive and negative, is really at the heart of what I want to do. And writing prose that can fit a particular lyrical rhythm as you read isn’t too bad either.
AF: Any hints/suggestions for authors hoping to be accepted into your anthology? What are you looking for?
BB: The biggest must is a well-told story that fits the Science Fiction genre. It doesn’t have to be hard SF by any means, and it can even play with genre boundaries a bit, but we’ll want something with a prominent aspect that we can distill into a card.
So, if someone submitted ‘Blade Runner’ (let’s pretend just the movie since I still gotta read ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ – I’m getting around to these masterpieces, I promise!), that might be distilled to a number of possibilities: ‘The Synthetic’, or ‘Cyberpunk’ or even, ‘The Corporation’. That said, some stories can be difficult to break down into even one archetype or subgenre. This can be harder than it looks! But be prepared for us to work with you on this if you’re selected. Length can also be a factor. We’re breaking some of these softer rules, but there’s definitely a bias towards stories that can tell their tale in under 5,000 words.
Beyond that, try to send us something that nobody else is doing. No small ask, eh? We plan to announce some story-specific cards as we go which will be an indication of what we already have, and might serve as an indication to either go in a different direction, or feature another aspect of your story more prominently. Just because we’ve chosen a clone story doesn’t mean we won’t also choose yours if it has clones, but if there’s something else in there that could also fairly represent your submission? You’ve got a much better shot.
AF: What’s in the future for Brandon Butler?
BB: No idea, truly. Short stories are always my standby, and I have a novel series I should get back to someday – I completed the first one over the pandemic, but it needs work. There are also a couple screenplays I’ve written that people seem to really enjoy, not all of which are speculative, so maybe I ought to try shopping those around. Or turning some of my short stories into more screenplays.
That said, as a writer, I’m ultimately at the mercy of a good idea like The Science Fiction Tarot. When one comes along, the future becomes following it as far as it can take me.
Contant Brandon at. @2BWritingStuff
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Angelique Fawns writes horror, fantasy, kids short stories, and freelance journalism. Her day job is producing promos and after hours she takes care of her farm full of goats, horses, chickens, and her family. She has no idea how she finds time to write. She currently has stories in Ellery Queen, DreamForge Anvil, and Third Flatiron’s Gotta Wear Eclipse Glasses. You can follow her work and get writing tips and submission hints at http://fawns.ca/.