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Pirate Writings

Entry updated 25 April 2020. Tagged: Publication.

US Semiprozine, 26 issues, Winter 1992 to October 2005 (last two issues undated), published by Pirate Writings, New York until issue #16 (Spring 1998), thereafter by DNA Publications, Radford, Virginia; edited by Edward J McFadden III. Retitled Fantastic Stories of the Imagination from issue #19 Spring 2000. Intended as quarterly but only occasionally hit a regular schedule. The original title was never fully explained; like a pirate ship, the magazine wanted to be outside the norm, publishing radical and "cutting edge" stories, not just sf but fantasy and mystery fiction. The first few issues, in slim, octavo format, looked innocuous and uninspiring and published nothing alarming. They had a print run of around 250-300 copies. The fourth issue, Summer 1994, was a marked improvement, perfect bound with a colour cover by Nicolas Jainschigg, and from this point the magazine regarded itself as semi-professional. The print run had shot to 2500 copies and now had newsstand distribution. Tom Piccirilli also came on board as associate editor. With the next issue, Fall 1994, it stepped up to letter size, fully illustrated throughout and, with a growth in adverts front-and-back, looked the part of a magazine. It oozed greater confidence. The short-short story department, which had rather overwhelmed the early issues, giving it a shallow, staccato feel, now felt part of a much bigger concern surrounded by substance. Bigger-name writers now appeared: Don D'Ammassa, Paul Di Filippo, Jane Yolen in issue #5, Ian R MacLeod and Jessica Amanda Salmonson with issue #6 (Spring 1995) and, with issue #7 (Summer 1995), the big time – a new Amber story by Roger Zelazny, an interview with Lawrence Block (crime fiction remained an essential element) and the start of a new series of stories by Algis Budrys. It did not seem easy to hold on to the big names, though, other than by interview (Peter Straub, C J Cherryh, Terry Bisson) or by reprint (other Budrys stories, Bill Pronzini). But by dogged persistence, McFadden kept the magazine maturing. The fiction was rarely cutting-edge, at least not by mid-1990s standards when the whole field was reshaping itself, but none felt out of place – thanks chiefly to contributions by Paul Di Filippo, Chris Bunch and, as McFadden's persistence paid off, Alan Dean Foster, Ed Gorman and Mike Resnick.

The title change to Fantastic Stories of the Imagination was sudden and the result of discussions with Warren Lapine at DNA Publications, who had taken over publication of the magazine from issue #17 (undated, but February 1999). It was felt that this new title was more appropriate and less confusing. With the change, the magazine made a spiritual connection to the Ziff-Davis Fantastic (ceased publication 1980) which under the editorship of Cele Goldsmith had adopted the name Fantastic Stories of the Imagination and proved a watershed in the resurgence of Fantasy from a low in the 1950s. The change also meant that Fantastic dropped mystery fiction and, with that, Tom Piccirilli stepped down as associate editor. One last piece remained in the new issue, the particularly violent story "Death Threat for a Hitman" by Gary Jonas. Paul Di Filippo's "Karuna, Inc." (Spring 2001 #21) neatly bridged that divide between crime fiction and fantasy by exploring an organization which is intent on doing the right thing in the future but which has to contend with a vicious psychopath. Disquieting though the story is, it is ultimately optimistic – one of the most satisfying stories McFadden published and the only one from Pirate Writings/Fantastic to be nominated for any award.

In its new guise the magazine generated a more solid identity, as much sf as fantasy, with strong stories by Chris Bunch, David Bischoff and Allen Steele. However it was also at this time that the magazine began to suffer from the increasingly erratic financial status of DNA Publications: issues became more sporadic and it began to lose some credibility. Issue #26 appeared at the end of 2005 and a further issue was long promised but in the end relationships became strained and in January 2007 McFadden resigned as editor. Both as Pirate Writings and Fantastic the magazine showed a determination to succeed and publish good quality material, and by and large it met its goal, though it always felt as if there was further progress it could make, if given that extra chance. Two anthologies were derived from the magazine, The Best of Pirate Writings, Volume 1 (anth 1998) and The 2nd Coming, The Best of Pirate Writings, Volume 2 (anth 2003) both edited by Edward J McFadden III. [MA]


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