Feb 29 2012 10:00am

Introducing the Palencar Project

The Palencar Project

One day I was walking down the hall past the Tor Books art department and noticed, not for the first time, a fine painting by John Jude Palencar in the hallway. On that day, my curiosity got the better of me and I asked Irene Gallo what it was to be used for, or if it had been used and I had missed it.

She said that in fact it was unassigned, and she needed to find a book for which it would be appropriate.

And without missing a step I said, “I could commission stories based on it.” You see, writers of a certain age and experience know what that means.

Long ago in the time of the pulp fiction magazines the cover artists often got paid more than the writers for their work. A good cover, after all, could really sell a lot of magazines. For the less prosperous magazines, sometimes a good cover was bought before the fiction was even written. This gave an ironic and ambiguous meaning to the phrase “the cover story” — which was sometimes, actually fairly often, written to fit the art.

Canny editors would invite a hungry writer up to the office to see the art, and tell them they would get their name on the cover if they could write a salable story using the cover image in a short amount of time. Occasionally, an editor would invite several such hungry writers, and tell them all to write a story for that cover, and buy the first or best, and maybe one or two others. Only the first bought would get the cover credit — the author’s name in display type on the cover.

This kind of thing went on for decades, and even into the 1960s and early 1970s in the digest magazines. And for all I know may still be going on today.

And that’s what gave me the idea. I could ask a bunch of really first-rate writers to write stories, knowing that each would be different, and make a kind of event of it. I asked fewer than ten writers, and five of them did it. And the rest declined only because they had too much work committed already for this past summer and fall.

Those writers and stories are:

“New World Blues” by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

“Dormanna” by Gene Wolfe
Appearing on on March 7

“Thanatos Beach” by James Morrow
Appearing on on March 14

“The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree” by Michael Swanwick
Appearing on on March 21

“The Sigma Structure Symphony” by Gregory Benford
Appearing on on March 28

Personally, I am delighted with the results. And I hope to do it again.


The stories inspired by John Jude Palencar’s art will appear on every Wednesday in March, starting off today with L. E. Modesitt, Jr.’s “New World Blues.” Can’t wait until the end of March? You can purchase all five Palencar Project stories as a $2.99 ebook.


David G. Hartwell is a Senior Editor for Tor Books.

Juan Avila
1. Cumadrin
That is totally awesome. I would love to submit writing like that, even just as a hobby.
3. Merrian
And not a woman among them. Given that this is a commissioned anthology are you saying that there was not female author you could trust with the task?
Irene Gallo
4. Irene
Merrin, I’m not unsympatheic to you point but eight of our last ten stories are by women. On balance, I think we’re doing Ok.
5. Louis Creed
Sounds an awful lot like this project from Cemetery Dance:
Irene Gallo
6. Irene
Realms of Fanatsy did it years ago, as well, with Charles Vess. (I should dig up those issues. I always enjoyed their galleries.) As David says, it’s not new....but it is fun!
Ian Tregillis
7. ITregillis
I have a feeling I know which book that jaw-dropping JJP painting had been intended for.
Steven Halter
8. stevenhalter
ITregillis@7:The same thought entered my mind. It does have that certain quality to it.
Melissa Shumake
9. cherie_2137
any chance we might get the art as a desktop background? it's lovely, and while i do love my way of kings artwork, it's time for a change (and i would LOVE to have the wot e-book artwork as backgrounds, but they keep offering them with all the other "stuff" on the edges. i have a netbook so there's not a lot of real estate to begin with...)
10. Tavvi
The art is fantastic. The Anthology sounds great with some of my favorite authors. BUT it's really creepy that Mr. Tregillis isn't getting any nod or even a slight mention for inspiring Mr. Palencar's cover art 'that never was' from the second book in the Milkweed trilogy.
11. Edward A Milewski
I would actually like a paper copy.
Steven Halter
12. stevenhalter
It really is a gorgeous painting. I've listened to "The Coldest War" now and I can see where Palencar was going. Cool. I applaud Ian for inspiring the inspiration.
It will also be quite interesting to see what the interpretations of the various authors are for this painting. Since I know who the woman is meant to be it will also be interesting how that colors my perceptions of the interpretations. A delightful experiment.
13. Steve Sargent
Ian/John - FANTASTIC to see that piece at last - it's a great pity one can't get hard-copy books with this cover, I am not an e-book fan, as such - give me a beautiful hardback book that I can hold and admire any day. Excellent stuff, guys!
Mordicai Knode
14. mordicai
7. ITregillis 8. shalter

I had the same thought; I clicked on the article thinking it was going to be about something else entirely...
Amy Houser
15. amylikestodraw
Man, I love the idea of the Palencar Project. Creating illustrations from stories is fun and challenging - it's nice to see it happen in the reverse and see what sort of excellent stories come out. I haven't read a Swanwick story I haven't liked... can't wait to see the rest.
16. Melinda M. Snodgrass
Yes, it would have been nice if Ian had been mentioned. Or invited to submit a story to the anthology. Still it is a powerful work of art, and sure inspire people.
17. Anko
I wish it was one of my illustration work...
Rich Daniels
18. bascule
I have a space on my bookshelf reserved for the book that should cover, right next to my copy of "Bitter Seeds". I am surprised that you thought no-one would recognise what book that was intended for.

Should you decide to do the decent thing and release "The Coldest War" wearing that cover, I promise I will buy it at full cover price on day of release, I'm sure others would too.
Irene Gallo
19. Irene
During the course of a year there are a number of covers that do not see print for one reason or another. This is not unusual. (In fact, I’ve written about it before.)

The great thing about blogs and ebook publishing is that it allows us to present formats and experiments that we didn’t have room for in print novels. The work these five authors did is in no way diminished because there are other stories in the world. I am happy to have an outlet that can now publish these paintings that would only have been seen by a few of the artist’s freinds in the past, and to have an outlet to commission more authors to bring us more stories.

Artists win, writers win, readers win....and Ian wins because we did the “decent thing” and listened to the market place about his covers.
William S. Higgins
20. higgins
I believe Alfred Bester's great story "5,271,009," also known as "The Starcomber," which punctures many tropes of lazy SF, was written for a cover painting. Fred Kirberger's cover March 1954 Fantasy and Science Fiction shows a prisoner chained to a drifting asteroid; Bester duly worked the preposterous image into his story, right down to the number on the prisoner's chest. Here's the cover.
Irene Gallo
21. Irene
That is a very funny painting.

There are also times when we'll get two or three really good sketches in for one project and then pick one to use right away and save the others for later books.
Ian Tregillis
22. ITregillis
Bascule @ 18--

I appreciate the enthusiasm for my books (do I ever!), although, as I've said on my blog several times, I believe the repackaging has absolutely been the right thing to do. I am a squeeing fan of Palencar's work, but I also love the new covers by Chris McGrath (enough to have them framed in my house). Publishing is a confluence of many considerations.
Samuel Montgomery-Blinn
23. montsamu
Fantastic idea. I'm looking forward to the rest of the stories.
Ian Tregillis
24. ITregillis
Melinda @ 16--

As I've said on my blog, I'd never, not for a nanosecond, place myself alongside the other authors in the Palencar Project anthology.
25. Kenneth James
I'd love to see someone publish a stand-alone edition of the Palencar-illustrated version of Samuel Delany's short novel "Empire Star," which appeared in a larger Delany anthology called "Distant Stars," published by (I believe) Byron Preiss in the '80s. Palencar's numerous illustrations for "Empire Star" are fantastic -- and extensive. It's easily the most successful entry in the anthology and would work very well as a stand-alone work.
26. Adin
just popped out to read Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregellis....I see what all the hubbub is about – the art is intimately tied to the milkweed universe.

A pity that it's not going to be used, though I do hope that someone involved with the art decides to at least release a print of the art. I'd love to have that hanging on the wall next to a Brueghel.

And a shout out to @24 - I didn't realize you were a fellow resident of the land of enchantment! Hope to see you at bubonicon this year!
Ian Tregillis
27. ITregillis
Adin @ 26-- I'll definitely be at Bubonicon this year. Wouldn't miss it!
Mordicai Knode
28. mordicai
Ugh I can't wait for tomorrow & the Gene Wolfe story. #Fanboy
29. SageP
Um, is the next story (“The Woman Who Shook the World-Tree”) delayed in its release? It's now the 22nd and I can't access it yet.... Yes, I'm a petulant child who wants MY STORIES! (I'll be sitting in the corner, now....)
30. SageP
Oops, sorry! It just isn't link on this page! Thank you!
Irene Gallo
31. Irene
Thanks Sage, you reminded me to update! Glad to know someone has bookmarked this. ;-)
32. Trekjn
Loved this idea and format. Do it again! Do it again!
33. shooz
This was really great! thoroughly enjoyed the format and would love to see similar projects... well done to all the writers :)
Irene Gallo
34. Irene
We’e serioulsy thinking about diving into something like it soon. It’ll take a while -- stories have to be written and then the reagular publication process -- but we hope to present something like it as soon as we can.
35. dangerousnerd
Any chance we can get a bigger image of the art work? I'd love to have it as my desktop!
Darren James
36. b8amack
I just purchased this. David Hartwell is a brilliant editor. His "Dark Descent" and "Hard SF/Space Opera Renaissance" anthologies occupy a permanent place both in my heart and on my bookshelf. I was all pleased when I bought it to see the "At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without DRM" line. Good stuff, Tor!

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