What could these two things possibly have in common?

A couple weeks ago, in my class at Bellevue College, we were discussing how characters interact with the world they live in, and we went through an exercise inspired by the idea of people as members of various groups, which I covered in chapter 19 of The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction. None of the students were willing to act as test subjects, so I volunteered to dissect my own life, via the white board, in terms of the various different groups I belong to. We got some basic stuff out of the way: I’m an American, I’m a father, etc., but were then hard-pressed to list any other associations.

Turns out I’m not much of a “joiner.” Here are a few groups that I am not a member of: any trade union, any political party, any organized religion, any softball team, any bowling league, or any terrorist cell. I am a member of a fantasy football league—we missed that one. But that exercise was actually an eye-opener for me. I really don’t join up with people, pretty much ever, on anything.

But then just last week I put the finishing touches on the e-book novella Nirvana Gates by J.M. McDermott, the third release in the ongoing series The Fathomless Abyss.

Available Now!

I am a member of that group—I even started it myself.

See? I can be a joiner.

And I’ve never been happier to be a part of any group, which also includes Mike Resnick and his writing partner Brad Torgersen, fellow Seattle Eastsider Cat Rambo, my Arron of the Black Forest cohort Mel Odom, steampunk living legend Jay Lake, and our amazing cover artist Mats Minnhagen.

When I was editing (mostly) Forgotten Realms novels at TSR and Wizards of the Coast our editorial approach tended to be rather “top down.” The properties we were working with, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering, were multi-million dollar intellectual properties and us lowly editors were merely transitory caretakers. It was our responsibility to care for the property first, which means we all ended up occasionally having to (figuratively) beat our authors about the head and shoulders to preserve the “line voice” over their own.

But the Fathomless Abyss is entirely new, is not (yet, anyway) a multi-million dollar property, and there is no corporate master to serve. The basic premise came from me, but we all worked as a team to develop the setting and though there are a couple authors who seem to want to defer to me as some kind of Boss of the Abyss, I’m really not. I’m an editor, a coordinator, a facilitator, but I’m no more an “owner” of the Fathomless Abyss than any of the other authors and Mats. This really is a team effort, a creative collective, and it’s a pleasure to be a part of it.

In fact, I want to do more of these, and to that end I recently threw in with the fine folks over at Monumental Works Group. The first project I’ll be involved in with them is gathering speed now, and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Now, about that bowling league . . .


—Philip Athans




About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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