[GUEST POST] Shawn Speakman on The Story Behind “Unfettered”


Shawn Speakman is the author of The Dark Thorn, an urban/epic fantasy hybrid novel bestselling author Terry Brooks calls, “a fine tale by a talented writer.” He is also editor and contributor of Unfettered, a fantasy anthology featuring some of the best writers in the genre. When Shawn isn’t lying for a living, he runs The Signed Page and Grim Oak Press. You can buy the hardcover of Unfettered at Grim Oak Press and the eBook at various eRetailers!

The Story Behind Unfettered

by Shawn Speakman

The anthology is a magical thing.

The most powerful aspect of the format though is its ability to invent new fans.

When I was diagnosed with cancer and lacked health insurance in 2011, I knew I had to create something unique. I did not want to claim medical bankruptcy; that seemed like a missed opportunity on many levels. If enough of my writing friends would donate a short story, I could build an anthology that would eliminate that debt as well as be a book that could stand the test of time-my swan song, so to speak-if my cancer claimed me unceremoniously.

I knew I needed a stellar cast of writers to do that. But most importantly, I knew I wanted my writers to be free to contribute what they wanted. They were donating their time and words. The least I could do is give them absolute freedom.

Unfettered is the result, a themeless anthology.

It was a risk. Many readers like anthologies that have themes. Thankfully, Unfettered has been published now for almost two months and reviews have been more positive than I could have hoped for. Fantasy fans have loved the themeless aspect and mention it often in their reviews. And every reader seems to find a different story to love and/or discover a new writer to follow.

There are other positive aspects to the themeless anthology. Not having a theme made my writers happy. During an Unfettered Reddit AMA featuring many of the contributors, a fantasy reader asked all of us, “In your opinion, what does the short story form offer fantasy writers that the epic novel does not?

Bestselling author Patrick Rothfuss immediately jumped in:

The ability to fail. A short story allows me to go in and try something experimental (kinda like my Unfettered story). I can try something a little odd, and if it doesn’t work, I get to learn things and not have six months of writing go up in flames.

Pat added later in the Reddit:

“The ability to play. Writing a short story gives me the chance to try something just for fun, knowing that I won’t have to be married to it for the next two years while working on it.”

The anthology is filled with such short stories, many of the contributions being very different from what an author is known for. For instance, Tad Williams, known mostly for his epic fantasy, wrote a humorous story. Naomi Novik, known for her dragon fantasy, wrote a science fiction Temeraire story set in space. Patrick Rothfuss wrote an experimental poem that, while set in the Kingkiller Chronicles world, could easily be a poem orated by young Kvothe. Daniel Abraham and R.A. Salvatore, both known for their fantasy, wrote dark horror stories, unsettling tales that get under the skin and reside there long after being read. David Anthony Durham, known for his George R. R. Martin-like epic fantasy Acacia, wrote a young adult story about a ghost cat that desires to succor his devastated owner. And Blake Charlton, also an epic fantasy writer, turned in a magical realism story about loss and beauty.

While the accompanying tales to those stories are set in the worlds those writers are responsible for creating — Terry Brooks contributed a Word/Void and Shannara tale, Brandon Sanderson submitted a Wheel of Time section omitted from A Memory of Light, Mark Lawrence donated a Broken Empire story, etc. — all authors were unfettered to contribute what they wanted. That kind of freedom has resonated with readers and many of them have said the quality of the anthology is due to that writer freedom.

The result? Unfettered readers finding new writers they otherwise would not have tried or had a hard time finding on their own!

That is the power of the anthology format. Readers finding new authors!

I hope you’ll try Unfettered!

And thank you for the support!