(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
Joe is spot on with one of my complaints about glorifying war and the military through fiction in his novel The Fortress at the End of Time. I come from a military family and background. His thoughts hit the nail on the head.
The student loan crisis is also a spiritual crisis. We tell students this dream, sell them on the idea of a future where anything is possible. Then, we encourage them to sign up for the dream, and to take out loans. Then, after schooling and the promise of the bright, shining future arrives, it's not so bright, and not so shining, because wages have not kept up with the cost of tuition. That college degree becomes an anchor that holds aspirants down into the lower classes for the crime of trying to lift themselves up.
My family members all served in the military. (Yes, all of them. My parents met in the Army. My sister is a West Point graduate and decorated Iraq war veteran. My brother is a retired Marine. I got an MFA in Writing. I chose a different path than them. That is another story, though, for another time.) The military sells folks a dream of glory. There are all these videos of people jumping out of planes, and running, and shouting, and it's very exciting. On TV and Film, it all looks so vigorous and important and intense. Yet, that is not true to the stories I hear around the kitchen table. Even my sister, a decorated war veteran, an MP (the only combat MOS available to women at the time), who has jumped out of planes and all of that exciting stuff, will not tell you about shooting a weapon in the direction of an enemy. I will leave her stories for her to tell; they belong to her.
I just think that there's this huge disconnect between what is sold and what is experienced. In fact, from where I stand, military service looked like a lot of paperwork and a lot of training for something that, for most soldiers, never comes. The vast majority of military personnel will never stare down a gun barrel at the mythical enemy. The gunships will be kept ready, but rarely fire. What little extreme violence occurs will be rare, I hope, very short and precise. It's not a bad thing, that so few actually face down the guns and bombs, comparatively, but it is also the opposite of what is being sold to us in the stories of military service that are often not at all like 24 or Saving Private Ryan.
While I was reading Military Science Fiction, I felt that this fact of military life was not present. Very few members of the military actually train for combat. The rest live and work inside an exceptionally brutal version of a government bureaucracy. Inside this massive bureaucracy, the facade of war is maintained, and desk clerks shout HOORAH! but even in an actual war, most members of the service are not hopping between houses hunting after bad guys. The majority of the military is a bureaucratic support structure for those few and proud that do that dangerous, bloody, patriotic work. And, I did not see a lot of military science fiction about this side of the military: the soul-crushing bureaucracy that chews up bright, young, energetic people and dumps them out on the other side more broken than when they began, and nary a shot fired, nary a moment of the glory they dreamed about.
It's a hard career, and it isn't for everyone. And, everything around it, everything inside of it, sells this dream of glory; for an overwhelming majority, the glory never comes.
This is one of the things I was thinking about when I thought about writing an old-fashioned space opera. There are all these huge, beautiful exciting ships and battles and weapons. But, most of the people who spend their whole careers inside those ships will never get what they want. They will never experience the dream that they were sold when they were young.
That crisis of spirit, when the revelation comes, is what I wanted to write about inside this deep space universe, inspired by Ursula K. Leguin and Dino Buzzati and Julian Gracq. I wanted space to be the thing that strips the dreams away, to reveal the self, and the lengths that people will go to survive, mentally, the soul-crushing bureaucracy wrapped in a shell of the dream of glory. What happens at the deep space stations when the enemy is not imminent? What happens in those long stretches of darkness where nothing and everything is looking back, and you don't even know what you're looking for? What happens when you realize all those dreams you had are narrowed to a room more like a prison cell than a home?
Different characters deal with this crisis of spirit differently. Captain Ronaldo Aldo deals with this by committing a crime against every human colony in the universe, and calls his crime his triumph.
His confession is out in January from Tor.com, called FORTRESS AT THE END OF TIME, and I hope you check it out. Thanks, Jennifer, for letting me come around and talk about it.
JOE M. McDERMOTT is best known for the novels Last Dragon, Never Knew Another, and Maze. His work has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He holds an MFA from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast Program. He lives in Texas.
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
I've worked with Glenn in the past and I appreciate his deft story telling. I also like the way music inspired him unexpectedly. I love it when that happens.
Three years ago, I began a short ghost story for a writing group. I was trying to come up with something when Bruce Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town” came through my headphones. Bruce is one of my favorite artists of all-time, and although I had listened to this song about half a million times, I heard a line in it that I’d never really heard before: “tell ‘her there’s a spot out ‘neath Abram’s Bridge….and tell ‘em there’s a darkness on the edge of town.” The lyrics go on to tell about how “every man has a secret” and how they carry that secret with them “every step that they take.” I took notice. I asked myself what kind of darkness, what kind of secret was out ‘neath Abram’s Bridge?
My short story quickly turned into something larger. The deeper I went, the more the mystery aspect of the story began begging to come out. At that time, I’d never written any kind of real mystery piece, and I wasn’t comfortable trying to do so, but at the end of the day, the story dictated where it wanted to go. I took a shot and let go of the reigns.
Aspects of the book are heavily influenced by two of my favorite writers: Mercedes Yardley and Ronald Malfi. Without Yardley’s Beautiful Sorrows and Malfi’s Floating Staircase, I’m not sure this story would have ever come to fruition. Yardley showed me it was okay to write something sweet into the horror we create, while Malfi showed me how to capture atmosphere, and how to funnel that swirling danger into an explosive and effective crescendo.
When I was finished writing, I knew I had something special. Abram’s Bridge is a about a twelve-year-old boy named Lil’ Ron, and Sweet Kate, the ghost girl he meets beneath Abram’s Bridge. Ron sets out to discover who or what is responsible for her death. He discovers is that the small Maine town his father has moved him to is full of secrets. When he starts asking about Kate, he disturbs a slumbering darkness that digs deeper and closer than he could ever know.
Part ghost story, part mystery, and part coming-of-age, this novella is still one of my favorite pieces in my catalog. Not the blood and gore horror of some of my other works, Abram’s Bridge is more of a supernatural-tinged thriller. I am extremely proud of this book and happy to see it back in circulation thanks to Crossroad Press.
Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter and all around fun loving guy from the haunted woods of New England. He has studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Hunter Shea, Brian Moreland and many others. He and his wife, Meghan, have three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl. He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness.
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
Jean Rabe is a friend of mine whom I adore. She is kind, smart, generous, and talented. I've just started reading The Dead of Winter and I'm in love with it. The woman can write a mystery. If I didn't have revisions and a short story due, I'd be curled up in my comfy chair with some coffee, reading. Later. Work now, play later.
As an aside, this is the 100th “Tell Me" guest blog post. Woo-hoo!
…I’ll tell you that I’m worried, nervous, downright frightened.
I’ve read mysteries for years, decades. Love them. Harry Bosch, Elvis Cole, and any investigator penned by Val McDermid are among my favorite characters. My bookshelves are filled with mysteries.
And now I’m writing mysteries. I’ve written 35 fantasy, urban fantasy, SF, and adventure novels. And one mystery, The Dead of Winter, which came out in November. And which has been getting awesome reviews. It even received a glowing review by Steven Paul Leiva in The Huffington Post. Floating, I am!
I received an email this morning: “So... Good time to be reading your book. :-) I'm a handful of chapters in, and really loving it. In fact, I think -- though you've done well in many genres -- you may finally have found your "thing." So far, this sings "Jean Rabe" to me more than any of your other stuff I've read. Of course, I've never read a bad book or story by you, but something about Piper and her cast strike me as "it."
I worked really really really hard on The Dead of Winter. I wrote and rewrote and polished until my fingers ached. I “knew” I had a good book. I was pleased with it. It was a finalist for the Claymore Award. I love my publisher, who asked that it become a series. Floating, I am!
And nervous. Worried. Downright frightened.
I fret that I can’t equal that effort. I suppose a lot of authors feel that way, but I hadn’t until this plunge into mysteries. The genre is tough because there are sooooo many mystery books out there. Can I equal the effort with the next book?
I’m working on it now, 10,000 words in. I should be 40,000 words in, but I’m writing, rewriting, polishing as I go. I’m the sort of writer who can’t keep going until I’m happy with what’s in the computer so far. I fiddle. I finesse. I fret.
And I keep going. Because I made the jump to mysteries. And this is where I want to be. This is the stuff I want to write. I’m determined to win at this. Losing isn’t viable for Piper Blackwell and her fellow cast members.
I’m hoping my readers will stay with me as I meander through the sleepy little county and spice it with murders and thefts and cold cases. Here’s an excerpt of The Dead of Night:
The old man sat in the middle of a bench under a big oak, his shoulders hunched and back curved, reminding Piper of a turtle. Hard to make out more details from where she stood under the streetlight.
The light didn’t quite reach his perch, and she suspected he’d picked the spot for that reason; there were closer benches. The clouds hindered, a dense gray dome that coupled with the hour had turned the stretch near the bluff into a mass of twisting shadows. Lights in houses at the edge of the park were flickering dots, will-o-the-wisps, she mused, more fitting for Halloween than spring.
She started toward him as threads of lightning flashed. Maybe the rain would hold off for a little while. Despite the frequent storms of the past several days, Piper hadn’t brought an umbrella. The ground felt spongy, comfortable to walk on. She quickened her step.
Maybe this wouldn’t take long and she could go home and crawl into bed with the latest Harry Bosch book.
USA Today bestselling author Jean Rabe has written thirty-five fantasy and adventure novels and more than eighty short stories. The Dead of Winter is her first mystery, a cozy police procedural, of which she was told there is “no-such genre.” When she’s not writing, which isn’t often, Jean edits. She has edited more than two dozen anthologies and over one hundred magazine issues so far. She’s a former news reporter and news bureau chief who penned a true crime book with noted attorney F. Lee Bailey. Her genre writing includes military, science-fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, mystery, horror, and modern-day adventure. Jean teaches genre writing courses at conventions, libraries, museums, and other interesting venues. Her hobbies include reading, role-playing games, visiting museums, dog-minding, and buying books to add to her growing stacks. She lives in central Illinois near three train tracks that provide “music” to type by, and she shares her home with three dogs and a parrot. Visit Jean at her website: www.jeanrabe.com
Jean has newsletter filled with tidbits about her upcoming books, reviews of things she’s reading, and writing advice. You can subscribe here.
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
I am completely biased on this one. I edited Jon's new book, Star Realms: Rescue Run. I think it's a hoot. Especially the singing AI. A great tie-in novel.
One topic I often am approached on for Star Realms: Rescue Run is regarding my artificial intelligence who bursts into song when he starts going haywire. I have a lot of lyrics interwoven throughout the text, and people ask if I wrote them myself, if they come from favorite bands, or if the songs in the story have any deeper meaning.
To the first question, yes I write all the lyrics myself. A lot of people don’t know that I write songs but I actually released an album in 2006 with the band Aprilsrain, and a couple of those songs were picked up by MTV’s Real World: New Orleans and actually play in the background of that show.
I love music. I am versed in piano and guitar, and can sing decently well. As of late I haven’t had a lot of time to play music, so sometimes I have to live vicariously through my characters, which I had a lot of fun with while writing this book.
The singing AI also served as a nod to one of my favorite writers, Anne McCaffrey, of which I tend to write a lot of references to her in my book. This particular one is in homage to her short story, “The Ship Who Sang,” which is one of the most powerful emotional stories ever written. As much as I hate to admit it, I cry every time I read that story. I wanted to have my main character have a reference to an emotionally powerful piece while she saw her best friend and AI slipping away.
Beyond that, I tried to put some thought into the lyrics, but wanted them to flow naturally as if randomly from an AI’s archive. Though most of the AI’s singing is couched in silly romance songs, as I imagine most pop songs from here to eternity will have those themes, I tried to have the lyrics match/mirror the story to some degree whether that be in the feel of the song or more directly what's going on around it. The AI has an awareness of what’s going on and is at least trying to communicate.
I started out with a longer verse to get the reader used to the fact that the AI would be singing, and then did short one-off lines from that point forward to try to highlight the glitchiness of the AI’s virus that slowly overwhelmed its programming throughout the course of the book.
Lyrics and poetry have a long tradition in sci-fi and fantasy. Tolkien used them to great avail and another of my favorite writers, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, weaves them into a lot of her work. I had a lot of fun continuing that tradition with these and hope to be able to work them into future pieces as well.
Jon Del Arroz began his writing career in high school, providing book reviews and the occasional article for the local news magazine, The Valley Citizen. From there, he went on to write a weekly web comic, Flying Sparks, which has been hailed by Comic Book Resources as “the kind of stuff that made me fall in love with early Marvel comics.” He has several published short stories, most recently providing flash fiction for AEG’s weird west card game, Doomtown: Reloaded, and a micro-setting for the Tiny Frontiers RPG. Star Realms: Rescue Run is his debut novel. You can find him during baseball season with his family at about half of the Oakland A’s home games in section 124.
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
I'm reading CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON and I have to say... Charles is an entertaining writer. His mythos inspired apocalyptic western is exactly the kind of popcorn reading I love. I think you'll love it, too.
Developing Doomed Characters
A lot of people talk to me about how to write horror stories. I've written quite a few short stories in the genre and I've recently released my post-apocalypse horror novel CTHULHU ARMAGEDDON which does it's best to mix action with the macabre.
However, the trick of creating true horror is a tough one to master because it asks the reader to become invested enough in the storyline that they care enough about the characters that they're worried they might come to harm. Then you must convince them they will.
This is why I recommend a strategy of developing doomed characters. Basically, if you really want to sell a horror story then you had best have a selection of cannon fodder for the monster to eat which the audience cares about. It's a simple enough strategy, right? I mean, slasher movies have been doing it for years. You have a bunch of likable or semi-likable characters and only one of them makes it out alive. Should be a piece of cake, really.
Well, yes, and no.
One of the reasons which The Walking Dead, in all its incarnations, has been so successful is they're not afraid to decimate the cast in both surprising as well as heart-rending ways. However, it's a series which also has suffered from killing characters which the audience cared about while sparing those they didn't.
It's easy to drift into a dark sinkhole of apathy where the audience for your story just doesn't care what happens to the survivors. If everyone is rooting for Character A instead of Character C, Character A dying could make them tune out. Worse, Character C as the star makes the entire purpose of killing Character A pointless. So what's the best strategy for making sure you keep a careful balance of development as well as risk?
My first recommendation is you should make it so the doomed characters are ones who feel like they're going to be a major supporting character to begin with. Heck, make it so they are. You should always kill characters who feel like they have more room to grow.
If Jane, John, Jack, and Wilma go to a cabin in the woods then make it so they have a complex web of personal relationships. Jane is dating John, Jack is brother to Wilma, and Wilma is cheating on her girlfriend with Jane. The death of even one of these characters will send reverberations throughout the story which should followed up on.
Next, you should follow up on the deaths of the characters you do kill so their deaths have meaning for the survivors. A lot of novels effectively drop the dead once they leave the narrative. If you keep the loss fresh in the mind of the characters, then that will have more meaning.
It’s best to avoid making any character's fate related to their likability. Jerks shouldn't die any more than innocents unless you're making a point about behavior and that may undermine the terror of death. Likewise, deaths shouldn’t be telegraphed too much either. If you can make someone look like the hero before killing them without alienating the audience, you’ve really accomplished something special.
In conclusion, it's not just an art form to create characters. It's an even greater art form to make a character's death which exists to make the story scarier.
C.T Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is the author of The Supervillainy Saga, Cthulhu Armageddon, Straight Outta Fangton, and Esoterrorism. He is also a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles."
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
Curtis is one of those good guys I enjoy meeting up with at conventions. He's smart and eloquent. He's also a good writer. Here, he talks about the importance of names in his debut novel, WAYPOINT KANGAROO.
DOFF THY NAME
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title...
— Juliet, Romeo and Juliet (Act II, Scene II)
Shakespeare did many clever things as a writer, and Juliet’s “balcony speech” is one of the cleverest. The literal interpretation of her words is, of course, false: names do matter, especially in fiction. “Humbert and Juliet” would have been a totally different story. (See what I did there? Referencing Lolita to creep you out? The power of a name, my friend.)
When I’m writing a story, I always check my character names for variety (dialogue between “Mike” and “Mick” is hard to follow), historical and cultural associations (“Monique” implies a different person than “Millicent”), and the quality TV writer Jane Espenson calls “subliminal”—when a name alone implies things about the character.
Over several cycles of revising my debut novel Waypoint Kangaroo, some characters changed names a lot. I was also writing more short fiction over the same period—i.e., naming lots of new and different characters—and I got into the habit of always doing a quick web search to make sure I wasn’t inadvertently Tuckerizing a real person. (TV showrunner John Rogers’ “LEVERAGE Post-Game” blogs often mention name clearance issues: network lawyers prefer either something totally unique and unreal, or something very common. That’s also my rule of thumb.) This research was why my randomly-named-in-the-first-draft characters “Alan Parker” and “Jerry Manning” had to change later.
Other names in Waypoint Kangaroo changed because I wanted to make them more meaningful. “Andrea Jemison” started out as “Pauline Deschanel”—again, chosen at random, because we’d recently watched an episode of Bones (starring Emily Deschanel) with our friend Pauline. I renamed that character “Jemison” to honor the first woman of color in space, and “Andrea” from the Greek for “adult male”—because she does present as fairly masculine, and that’s important to her personality.
Another change was “Eleanor Gavilán,” who started out as “Ellie Sparrow”—a nod to both Ellie Arroway from Contact and Mary Doria Russell’s book The Sparrow. There, the primary motivation was to make my cast more ethnically diverse (this is an actually post-racial future setting), and also to connote greater strength: “gavilán” is Spanish for sparrowhawk.
(Changing those two names did preclude one of my favorite dumb jokes, where Kangaroo realizes the women call each other “Polly” and “Sparrow” because they’re “a couple of birds,” but I’m so glad I can share that bit here and now. YOU’RE WELCOME.)
And what about “Kangaroo”? I never divulge my protagonist’s “real” name, because every name he adopts—from his spy agency code name “Kangaroo” to his current alias, “Evan Rogers”—is real. Each identity simply implies a different way for him to interface with the world. We all use different monikers in different situations, and whether someone calls you “Robert,” “Bobby,” “B-dawg,” or “Mr. DeNiro” says a lot about the relationship between you two.
So what’s really in a name? Pretty much everything. That’s the irony of Juliet’s speech: she knows exactly how significant Romeo’s name is, and she’s trying to convince herself that it’s a surmountable obstacle (“Just change your name, dude!”). But we all know how that story ended.
Once a software engineer in Silicon Valley, CURTIS C. CHEN now writes speculative fiction and runs puzzle games near Portland, Oregon. His debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, a science fiction spy thriller, is forthcoming from Thomas Dunne Books on June 21st, 2016. Curtis' short stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, the Baen anthology MISSION: TOMORROW, and THE 2016 YOUNG EXPLORER'S ADVENTURE GUIDE. He is a graduate of the Clarion West and Viable Paradise writers' workshops. You can find Curtis at Puzzled Pint Portland on the second Tuesday of every month. Visit him online at: http://curtiscchen.com
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
Food is a huge part of culture, everyone can agree on that. It has whole networks and TV channels devoted to it. Game shows, reality shows and competitions. People blog their dinners, and subscribe to boxes that promise healthy food in under half an hour. For a long time now I've been outside looking in on a world of food I can't eat. I'm allergic to corn, wheat, peanuts, and I can't eat sugar. I just can't (and this isn't the place to describe why).
About seven years ago I decided to write a book, back then it was a comic book, about my drink of choice tea, my favorite fantasy characters, witches, and all the food I couldn't eat. It was my ode to cake. Originally, Tea Times Three was going to be a comic book. A manga based on a genre I'm not sure exists but which I like to call "Eccentric English Village Comedy". It was going to take place in England. There would be a charming Cotswold style village at the heart of it filled with eccentric residents, none entirely sure they wanted a magical tea shop in their village.
That version of the story got rearranged and, instead, the book takes place in the made-up town of Midswich, Maine. While the setting changed, the food did not. I wrote in all the food I love but can no longer eat. I filled the pages with dessert, or as much as I could justify without turning it into a cookbook. There are cookies, cakes, and Scottish shortbread, which I can eat in a modified gluten free, sugar free form. I even have the character with the most food hang-ups, a sugar free, gluten free carob cheesecake based, again, on something I can actually eat.
Tea Times Three was written during my transition from a time I ate sugar to having – for health reasons – to giving up sugar cold turkey. Not an easy task if you've tried. I poured all my cravings and longings into the food described in that book. Years of obsessively watching Food Network went into that. Recipes I could never eat. Food I wished I'd eaten more of. I even made magical marshmallows into a climactic plot point.
My inability to eat wheat, corn, and sugar is unlikely to change anytime soon, but I have learned that writing your obsessions can not only be fun, but productive. I also learned how to have my cake and eat it too thanks to the wealth of gluten free recipes and the availability of stevia powder.
So, for everyone out there with food allergies I'd like to leave you with the recipe for gluten-free, sugar-free Scottish shortbread. One of my favorites, and one which shows up in Tea Times Three.
1 cup room temperature butter
1/4-1/3 cup stevia powder (I buy it at Trader Joes)
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 cup potato flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 cup all purpose gluten free flour
2 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
Mix and pat into an 8x8 inch pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 25 minutes
Che Gilson is the author of several graphic novels including Avigon: Gods and Demons from Image Comics, and Dark Moon Diary from Tokyopop. Her short stories have been published in Luna Station Quarterly and Drops of Crimson. She draws copious amounts of Pokémon fan art which can be found with her original work at http://spiderliing666.deviantart.com.
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
What Time Is It?
Write every day.
Make writing part of your daily routine.
Set aside time to write.
Anybody who has set out to become an author has been told some version of the above advice. Panels at conventions, critique group members, author friends, and even the iconic Stephen King in his work, On Writing, all stress the importance of putting your butt in a chair every day and placing words on paper. Or, the computer screen, but I think you know what I mean.
I had heard the advice for years and believed I was following it as well as I could around regular life events with my wife, kids, and work. I had sold multiple short stories, nabbed an agent, and completed four novels.
But then in 2014 something happened with my writing that drove home the point of setting a specific time to write every day.
I experienced a perfect storm in my life. My work life, which had always demanded more than 50 hours per week, settled down to the point where I was home every night by a decent time. My four kids had all reached an age where they did not require constant supervision and my wife's job as a surgical nurse had established a regular schedule. So, for the first time in my writing life, I set a specific time to write every day.
Well, technically I set a time at night. School was in session so all of the kids were off to their bedrooms by 10 o'clock. My wife needed to be scrubbed in for surgery every morning by 6:45 so she also headed to bed at 10 p.m. So my writing time was set from 10 o'clock to two in the morning.
The television was off. The house was quiet. No one needed help with homework or to cook something in the kitchen. Those four hours were my time to write.
At first I did not see much of a difference. I was being productive on my new novel but it did not feel like anything special.
But then the words started to pile up. I was dropping full chapters every sitting. The four hours flew by and many nights I needed to force myself to stop so I could get enough sleep for the next day at work.
Before I realized it, I had a full novel at 84,000 words in three months. I sent the manuscript off to my beta readers and began working on my next novel, the idea of which had come to me during the preceding few weeks. I was eager to see if the new productivity would continue with the regimen or if the word count was only a result of my drive for the first book.
The words continued to flow. Chapters followed chapters in that four-hour block of time. The first book came back from the readers and I made changes before returning to the second book. A Saturday came along when everyone was gone from the house and I had no chores on my honey-do list. I knocked out 10,000 words on the novel that day, still a record for me.
The second book took more research than the first and that slowed me down a little but in the end, it was finished at 92,000 words in four months.
Two books and more than 170,000 words in seven months—a production level I attribute directly to setting a specific time to write every day.
My day job has changed since I learned this lesson in 2014 and I now work for a different company. The regimen was amended—I write every night from 9:00 to midnight—but is still in place. The words are flowing and I am on track to complete more than two novels this year.
It is dark outside as I finish this post and my first thought is easy: What time is it?
Kirk Dougal has had works in multiple anthologies and released his debut novel, Dreams of Ivory and Gold, in May of 2014 through Angelic Knight Press with a 2nd edition in February 2015. His YA science fiction thriller, Jacked, leads the launch of Ragnarok Publications' Per Aspera SF imprint in 2016. He is also waiting on the publication of his SF/LitRPG novel, Reset, while completing the sequel to Dreams, Valleys of the Earth.
Kirk is currently working in a corporate position with a group of newspapers after serving as a group publisher and editor-in-chief. He lives in Ohio with his wife and four children. Discover more at his website or hanging out on Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter: @kirkduogal (https://twitter.com/kdougal)
Publisher Website: www.ragnarokpub.com
Netgalley Link: https://s2.netgalley.com/catalog/book/
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
Camille is a lovely woman and wonderful author. I blurbed her most recent release, New Charity Blues. Today, she talks about how writing is like taking care of horses.
Even Cowgirls Get The Blues
Growing up in the eastern prairielands of Montana, it was hard not to become a girl who fell hard for horses. Though almost two decades now sit between me and my halcyon horsey days, they came rushing back as I settled in to write my second novel, New Charity Blues.
The book is a post-pandemic reimagining of the Trojan War. We meet Cressyda (Syd) Turner in the first chapter, as she stumbles through the ruins of a city unable to rebuild because of the water-hoarding greed of her upstream hometown, New Charity. When she receives word of the death of her father, she is allowed to pass through the gates of her isolated birthplace. Under the guise of settling her father’s affairs, she plots to open the floodgates of the reservoir. But before she can set about her adventure, she has to get back on the horse – literally.
The process for Syd was not so unlike the process of saddling up to write a second book. Here are five ways “horse sense” is remarkably applicable to the process:
1. Stay close to the horse’s ass, or really far away.
Horsewomen know about the kick zone – the area where a horse’s hooves can do a fair bit of damage. Accordingly, there are two ways to safely navigate an equine backside: 1. hug the tail or 2. give the butt a wide berth.
I’ve found writing to be similar in many ways. When I approach a project, I need to stay close to it, giving it the thought, time, and attention it needs. For my personal process, thinking and decision-making time is imperative before I commit to point of view choices, tense, and character arcs. Over the course of two novels, I haven’t yet fully shrugged off the mantle of a pantser, but I’ve also discovered too much exploratory writing can be detrimental. Though exploration works for a lot of writers, when I spend a lot of time working aimlessly, I end up hating my ideas, my writing, and, sometimes, the entire concept. I’ve been accused a time or two of being an all or nothing person, and it’s true here. When I begin to create, sticking close to a project is good, as is staying far away, but picking at the road apples in the middle of the strike zone is a sure way to end up with manure on my face.
2. Be mindful of your surroundings, but not too mindful.
Three flighty Arabian horses lived in our barn when I was a child. Because I started riding quite young, I hadn’t yet grasped that animals, much like people, weren’t guileless. It was not until I was 11 or 12 that I began to realize that my horses didn’t necessarily want to ride out into the hills with me instead of standing in the sun snacking on hay. One of their favorite tricks – a specialty of many Arabians, as owners will tell you – was spooking at any small thing on the trail. Be it bird or plastic bag, grasshopper or garden hose, their feigned surprise would often be my unseating. As I got older, I learned to anticipate their antics, which didn’t stop them, but kept me on top of my mares instead of underneath them.
I was under contract for New Charity Blues when my first novel, Letters to Zell, was released. Finishing a book while another is just making its way into the world is a fairly common writerly experience, but I hadn’t learned to tune the rest of the world out very well. In particular, I hadn’t anticipated any harm in skimming my reviews each morning before I started to write. There were so many nice reviews, but I was mostly obsessed with the bad ones, the insulting ones, the nasty ones – no matter that I’d been warned to expect them. I knew, academically, all writers had bad reviews, but I wasn’t prepared for how they’d feel. But after a stern talk with myself (some people will like our books and some won’t and that’s okay), I stopped looking around and started looking at my laptop again. I learned to anticipate the antics of the world-at-large and kept my seat in the office chair.
3. Listen to your mount.
When I was in high school, my most placid and well-behaved mare, Ileah, and I were on a short trail ride in the hills near my house. She almost never refused obstacles of any sort, so it was odd as we climbed a springtime-damp hillside when she stopped in her tracks. I urged her forward, insisting that it was a teachable moment. What I didn’t know was that there was a piece of barbed wire in the soft ground. She tore the skin on her leg badly as she pulled her leg from the mud. At first I thought I’d killed her, there was so much blood, but I bandaged her with my purple bandana and watched shakily as the vet sewed her leg up with something that resembled an upholstery needle.
As with a trusted friend or equine, it can be important to listen to our manuscripts. Sometimes when things aren’t working, there’s a reason and instead of digging our heels into a chapter’s side, it’s best to circle back around and find another route through. I spent a couple of months trying to keep a character in the early chapters New Charity Blues who, if I was honest, had no true function except that I wanted him there. But in the end, the book was better served by placing him far on the periphery, finding another way into that part of the story.
4. Never let your horse run home.
Just as there were periods of trepidation during the writing of New Charity Blues, there were periods of complacency. I wasn’t ever complacent with the writing itself, but I was surely careless with time management. After all, I’d written one novel. I could do another with one hand tied behind my back. Except that I couldn’t.
There’s a rule – or at least there was back when I took endurance and trail-riding lessons – that you never let your horses run home. I even mention it in the book when Cas and Len are out checking fences. It’s generally thought to be good discipline, and, well, safer. In my case, letting the horse run home always gave me trouble on what came to be known as “Double Buck Hill.” I wish I could tell you how the terrain was named for two kindly, male deer. I must admit, however, when I let my hot-tempered mare, Dawn, have her head before our last, small descent toward home, she would manage to unseat me, not once, but twice almost every time.
I turned in my novel edits at the end of an almost six weeks of contiguous travel. At the end of it, I felt like I’d been bucked off a horse more than twice. Talking to my editor from a hotel in Missoula, she suggested that perhaps I make things easier on myself schedule-wise the next time I turned in a book. She isn’t wrong. Conventions and festivals and readings are all wonderful things for authors to do, but I didn’t have to be Superwoman, and I probably won’t try to be again. Though I’m told I fall surprisingly gracefully, I haven’t managed the flying part yet.
5. The best way to end a good ride is a stiff brush and a cube of sugar.
Talking to a friend recently, I remarked how we as artists and writers deny ourselves lots of things. Writing is a luxury for a lot of us – time given up to something we love, but often in the sacrifice of other things we love, like relationships or other passions. It’s worth it for almost all of us, or we wouldn’t do what we do, but often we forget to reward ourselves.
If a horse isn’t wiped down, dried off, and brushed after a ride, their coats get slick with sweat and can be rubbed bare, both unsightly and uncomfortable. And rare is the horse that declines an after-work apple or post-adventure alfalfa pellet. I don’t think it’s any different for writers. If I had to give one piece of advice to the hard workers I’m surrounded by in my own literary community it would be this: reward yourself for meeting your goals, small or big. Reward yourself for hitting your word count. Reward yourself, especially, for finishing, for turning a corner or solving a problem. It doesn’t have to be a milkshake – it could be a short walk or a round of tug-of-war with the dog or even a nap – just let the thing bring you joy and you’ll be that much more refreshed when you put the saddle on once again.
Camille Griep lives just north of Seattle with her partner, Adam, and their dog Dutch(ess). Born in Billings, Montana, she moved to Southern California to attend Claremont McKenna College, graduating with a dual degree in Biology and Literature.
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
I met Josh at Origins in 2015. We had the pleasure of both being up for the same award. We decided that made us nemeses. In truth, we’re both pretty bad at being each other’s nemesis because Josh is one of the genuinely nicest authors out there. I loved ENTER THE JANITOR so much that I insisted that he let me blurb MAIDS OF WRATH (so I could read it early). I wasn’t disappointed. Writing and editing are Josh’s reasons for being… and this is his explanation why.
A Lifelong Cure for Boredom
I hate being bored. When I was a kid, the times I got bored were the times I invariably got in trouble, whether because of trying to mix up explosives from a chemistry kit or finding ways to booby-trap my sisters’ bedroom (look, I didn’t understand the concept of ‘plausible deniability’ back then, okay?).
Books quickly became mainstays of my attempts to ward off boredom, and remained a central part of my free time as I grew up. I could find endless adventure in the stories they held. I could be transported to whole new worlds, meet impossible people and creatures, and always wonder what might come next. Whenever the threat of boredom loomed, I now had an escape nearby, if not already in hand.
In my early college years, I knew that whatever career path I took, it needed to be something that would constantly challenge me. Something that would provide ongoing variety and force me to keep growing and learning and expanding my experiences. If I got stuck in a rut with a job, it just wouldn’t last. I looked at lots of possible paths—everything from art to politics to stage magic to psychology. Nothing stuck.
Then, one afternoon, I was reading a fantasy novel when a thought came to me: “I could’ve written this! In fact, I could’ve probably done a better job, too.”
And then a little voice spoke up in the back of my head, saying, “Prove it.”
In that moment, a goal crystallized for me. I would be an author. A career author, at that, who would spend the rest of his life crafting stories like the ones I’d grown up loving and, in many ways, living through. At the same time, I realized that in pursuing this dream, I could tap into something I didn’t realize actually existed until right then—a lifelong cure for boredom.
See, being a writer—and now a published author as well as an editor—gives me a chance to experience endless variety. There’s really no end to what I can learn and experience and turn into a story, unless I choose for there to be (and that’s not going to happen in any foreseeable future).
I can write in different genres, like fantasy, science fiction, horror, cyberpunk, urban fantasy, pulp, and more. I can write in different voices, whether I’m evoking the unfathomable horror of the Cthulhu Mythos or indulging my love of humor with novels like Enter the Janitor and The Maids of Wrath. I can write different story lengths, from flash fiction (1,000 words or less) to doorstopper epic fantasy novels. I can write in different industries, whether I’m a freelance copywriter producing blog content and sale letters or writing roleplaying game tie-ins like Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes.
In all this, not only am I giving myself a reason to endlessly pursue the new with every story I write, I like to think I’m giving other readers the chance to experience the same joy of discovery and adventure that thrills me to this day. For me, there’s always going to be another story to tell.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Author and editor Josh Vogt’s work covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel is Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes, published alongside his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor and The Maids of Wrath. He’s an editor at Paizo, a Scribe Award finalist, and a member of both SFWA and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
It is my pleasure to have Peter tell you about the Flotsam trilogy: Exile, Frost, and Crusade. It's still one of my favorite works by him.
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO NOSTALGIA AND COLLECTIVE PERCEPTION
I started writing Flotsam because all my friends were watching Supernatural and raving about the show. In reality they probably raved about all sorts of things, but the bowerbird like brain only remembers the bits that make for a good story, and in this instance this came down to three details:
- the decidedly late eighties/early nineties influences in the soundtrack
- two brothers driving around in a black chevy Impala, fighting evil
I still haven’t gotten around to seeing Supernatural, which will probably cause some friends to break into my house and force me to watch the entire series, but that combination did get me thinking about what an Australian version of supernatural would look like. In the aussie version of that, I figured, it would be a guy driving around in a ute with a dog in the back.
And in that idea, Flotsam was born. The ute and the dog never made it into the book, but the music sure did. The day before I started writing, I went down to my local music store and picked-up their complete supply of Guns N’Roses albums. Appetite for Destruction. Use Your Illusion I & II. G’N’R Lies. Songs I hadn’t listened to since I was fourteen years old and just starting to figure out how much I disliked living on the Gold Coast.
I spent a good hour listening to Paradise City on repeat, which had become a very different song in the twenty-five years since I’d first heard it on the radio. It surprised me how nostalgic the song had become, how much it was laced into my memories as the song that understood the ironies of living in a place most people go to for a holiday.
But the nostalgia was the easy part. The city was where it got tricky.
THE ACCUMULATION OF NAMELESS ENERGIES
One of my favourite scenes in Don Delillo’s White Noise takes place where Jack and Murray visit THE MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN IN AMERICA. Murray settles in and comments on the inherent irony of tourism and collective perception.
“No-one sees the barn,” he says. “Once you’ve seen the signs about the barn, it becomes impossible to see the barn.”
There are few things that have resonated with me quite so much, in fiction.
Given time, any place, any city, will begin to accrete stories. Eventually those stories harden into a specific narrative, a thing that overlays the experience of being there. There are stories that feel like they’re are built to exist in Los Angeles or new York, stories that are naturally set in Paris or Berlin. Go to those places, and you’re consuming the stories as much as the city.
The Gold Coast doesn’t fuck around. Its narrative is built on tourism. The quick trip in for a few days at the beach and local theme parks. Schoolies week, where flocks of recently graduated high-schoolers hit the tourist spots and party. Family trips to Coolangatta, away from the crowds.
It’s easy for tourists to lose sight of a place, simply because their repeating the experiences of those who came before them. But it also makes the Gold Coast a weird place to grow up, because that narrative is so strong, so central to the city’s existence, that it makes living there outright weird.
I had friends who drove cabs on the Gold Coast, and passengers would routinely ask where they were from. The idea that someone resided there permanently - a resident of a city a population of over a half-million people - was deeply unfathomable to the tourists.
BEING HERE IS A KIND OF SPIRITUAL SURRENDER
Another quote from White Noise, which I kept my computer as I wrote.
California deserves whatever it gets. California invented the concept of lifestyle. This alone warrants their doom.
If Australia has a place that sits in the national psyche like California does in America, its Queensland. And if there’s a bit of Queensland most Australians wouldn’t miss, should it slide into the sea to kick off an apocalypse, it’s the Gold Coast.
The accumulated stories about the Gold Coast are all about anonymity and waiting for something bad to happen. For a city people love to visit, the fiction surrounding it universally touched by darkness and loathing.
I went into Flotsam intending to give the city everything it deserved, but the surprise of writing Flotsam was discovering exactly how much the Gold Coast meant to me.
Guns N’ Roses did that, way back at the beginning, bringing back all the memories of nights spent wandering the beaches when no-one else was around, or laying claim to little bits of the Coast for art when it wasn’t a particularly art-friendly city.
I’d intended to focus on the mutability of the Gold Coast with the story, but I kept finding islands in the chaos. Little bits of reliability that served as touchstones for me, when I lived there, and bits of the story.
It’s still a deeply weird city, custom built for horror and urban fantasy stories where things tend to lurk behind the shifting population, doing bad things to humanity. But, much like Keith Murphy, there’s a party of me that is never really going to leave.
Peter M. Ball is a writer from Brisbane, Australia. His most recent book is Crusade, the third novella in the Flostam series about Ragnarök and the Gold Coast, and his short stories have appeared in publications such as Apex Magazine, Eclipse 4, and Daily Science Fiction. He can be found online at petermball.com and on twitter @petermball.
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
Rachel is a hot, sexy vampire story set in Tokyo. I really enjoyed it. Also, I think Dobromir is a great guy and an excellent author.
The Man in Rags
Rachel was a mess.
Not the character, though she had her own problems, and they were entirely intentional on my part. But the story was going nowhere, and I was getting frustrated.
Rachel was my first novel, started as part of National Novel Writing Month in November, 2010. I had a beginning I liked, and Rachel herself appeared fully-formed, leaping off the page (iPad screen) and almost writing herself. I’d started with a dream of writing the best vampire story I could imagine – punky and violent; urban, gritty and drenched in blood; with that weight of history I love about the genre. Lost souls looking for succor in the wrong places, the beast within, et cetera, et cetera. It would be diverse and interesting, and take place in “real” Japan, not the stereotyped version we often see. I even set most of it in familiar locations. Rachel would fight and almost be killed a few blocks from my old apartment.
But a sinister man in rags was spoiling it all.
See, the second part of the book takes us away from Tokyo, and I’m not going to say where, but I’d finished 50,000 words by the end of November and most of it was a mess. I’m what George R. R. Martin calls a “gardener”; I write without planning, just get stuck into the words, then see what I have. Cut away most of the first draft and start again. And that’s how the ragged man crept into the book.
I knew when I wrote him he shouldn’t have been there. I’d added him as a disturbing antagonist in part 2, someone to challenge Rachel and drag her down, force her to the limit to survive. But he never belonged. Nothing seemed to improve him.
And I tried! I made him a vampire, then a human. A serial killer. I gave him sharp teeth, teeth all over his body. Made him pitiful and sad, then lord of where he lived. Then sad again. Friends who read my early drafts (and I am so sorry for what they had to plow through!) were polite, but I could tell none of them liked him. “Cartoonish” was the word I came up with, and people agreed. The rest of the story was gritty, the characters real and deep, but he was obviously in there to be “dark” and “edgy”, and it stuck out like a bloody knife handle.
There was only one recourse, and I couldn’t put it off any longer.
I cut him out. Just stripped him from the book. I deleted words, started again. Kept the darkness subtle. Pitted Rachel against real fears and situations. Her biggest enemy was always herself, I realized, and that’s when the pulsing heart of the story revealed itself, ripe and ready to be eaten, dripping down your chin. Rich and filling, like any good narrative.
Writing is rewriting, as better authors have said, and I rewrote a lot. Still do, and maybe that’s how I need to write. I don’t have the patience for planning, but I like writing and being surprised, and Rachel provided that for me. I hope other people respond to it in the same way now it’s out of my hands.
The best part, however, is that the man in rags is still in the book. I left traces of him, though you’d never know it. But I see them. It’s like he’s haunting the book; a sad, clownish figure, hiding between the words. That’s how I like to think of it, anyway. A swish, swish of his rags in the dead of night. Footsteps on creaky floorboards. The stench of his clothing as you lie in bed.
A hidden history, visible to a few, behind words that are much more effective for his absence.
Dobromir Harrison is from the UK, spent 11 years in Japan, and recently moved to Northern California. A childhood spent reading the likes of Clive Barker has given him a love of the grotesque. He especially loves stories told from the monster's perspective, and is committed to writing diverse fiction exploring the lives of women, people of color and LGBT characters. When not writing, Dobromir plays board games with his wife. They live in Crescent City with their cat, Koshka, who keeps them awake most nights with a truly hideous meow.
Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
Ever since the day I died, I’ve been trying to write my story. On September 18th, 1988 at the young age of 18 my family, everyone I’d ever known or cared about, killed me.
I was raised a strict Jehovah’s Witness and when they disfellowshipped me, everyone, even JW’s I don’t know, treated me as if I were dead. I’d been disfellowshipped once before when I was fourteen. It lasted for six months and it was hell to get reinstated. I couldn’t do it again. So, I’m still dead to every JW the world over, including my mother, father and sister.
I left that confining existence, where you aren’t allowed to associate with anyone but other JW’s, and went out into the real world. That experience is told in Jolene, but fictionalized big time, in Jolene, You're Not a Monster. Instead of a JW, Jolene was created and raised in a lab. Military Intelligence trained her and uses her as a spy, but one of the doctors that created her is trying to terminate her and another group is trying to capture her.
I made her birthday September 18th 1988 and the story is set in 2009. She’s hardheaded, resourceful and wants to live. There are so many things she’s never done, just like there were so many things I’d never done.
One of the first things I did when I got out on my own was have sex, so does Jolene and it kind of sucked for both of us. I’ve never talked to anyone whose first time was all that good. Still, like me she doesn’t give up until it gets better. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an erotic novel, but it is a character driven a science fiction thriller and young twenty-somethings do it. (Okay we all do it, I hope.)
Another aspect of Jolene that mirrors my life is that from a young age, her father figure, Dr. Carter taught her to never kill. They may have kicked me out of the religion, but I still believed that Armageddon was coming soon and when it did I was going to die with the rest of the worldy, non-JW people. I had nightmares for years about Jesus riding down as explosions went off around me, pointing his sword at me personally and yelling, “You betrayed me.” Lightening would flare out of his sword and I’d explode with my last thought being I’d screwed up.
It wasn’t until college that I managed to chip away some of that brainwashing it. It’s hard to look at something you’ve believed all your life and pick holes in it. Jolene goes through what that feels like when to save herself and others, Dr. Carter tells her to kill. Everything she’s believed about Dr. Carter was from a daughter’s perspective. She has to see Dr. Carter as a person not just a parent. She has to go through everything I did when I got hit in the face with that realization at 18. My parents who were supposed to love me more than they feared dying at Armageddon, didn’t.
I am not 18 anymore, I’ve had children of my own and I’m no longer brainwashed, but that 18 year old, naïve girl is still inside of me, just a little less now because she’s also out there as Jolene who is now her own person born of my pain and joys at that time in my life. It wouldn’t surprise me if she knocked on my door and asked who gave me permission to write her story. It would scare me though, because she is a bad ass monster.
Kacy Jey is an award winning author with short stories in Bonded by Blood Anthology III, SNM Horror Magazine and articles in various magazines. Jolene, You’re Not a Monster is her debut novel. Kacy, born in San Bernardino, California, currently lives in Texas via Michigan after six years.
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
My first professional short story sale was a zombie story without any zombies in it, and zombie fiction has always had a special place in my heart. But while I love zombies, I generally prefer science fiction and fantasy to horror, and optimistic stories to grim ones.
To me, there's a connection between zombies and rebirth—it's a twisted connection, but that doesn't make it less real. Zombies do come back from the dead, after all. They're animated by a hunger for brains and human flesh, but they are up and moving around. Undead is as much of an opposite to dead as alive is. And in some zombie mythology there is at least a vestige of the person that they once were, hidden deep beneath the hunger.
I wanted to explore that connection, and I ended up writing this zombie novella. It never felt like the best idea, really, but It was one of those stories that I couldn't help but write, even though I had a list of other projects as long as my arm. I also wanted to explore the thing that makes zombies scariest to me—their ability to take anyone that you care about and turn them into a monster.
In every zombie movie that I've ever watched, the instantaneous and correct response to a zombie bite is suicide—because death is preferable to transformation into a zombie. But in Moving Forward, people can survive infection. They can live for years, even decades, before the virus catches up with them and transforms them into ultra-dangerous, living zombies. Is suicide still the correct choice? Or is the time that you have left worth more than the danger to those around you when you finally turn? Is there a way to manage the danger, a way to be prepared for the worst while taking advantage of the life you have left?
That is where the infected sanctuaries come in. Infected people are isolated from the rest of society, where they can't infect anyone else. They're like leper colonies, except that the residents could lose it and start attacking everyone else at any moment.
Jamie Lackey earned her BA in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford in 2006. Since then, she has sold over 100 short stories to places like Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the Stoker Award-winning After Death... anthology. Her fiction has appeared on the Best Horror of the Year Honorable Mention and Tangent Online Recommended Reading Lists. She read slush for the award-winning Clarkesworld Magazine from 2008-2013, and she worked on the Triangulation Annual Anthology from 2008 to 2011. She edited Triangulation: Lost Voices in 2015 and is currently editing Triangulation: Beneath the Surface. She studied under James Gunn at the Center for the Study of Science Fiction's Writer's Workshop in 2010. She's a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her short story collection, One Revolution, is available on Amazon.com, and her debut novel, Left Hand Gods, is forthcoming from Hadley Rille Books. Find her online at www.jamielackey.com.
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
I love it went writers tell me something I didn't know about them that makes me look at their books in a different light. Wendy is an excellent author and now I understand what makes her meals scenes in her novels so good.
I have a weakness for skill-based reality TV shows. I’ll watch participants design, drive, build, forge, style—you name it—but it’s cooking shows that really hook me in. So when I heard the buzz about The Great British Baking Show, I binge watched the season. It delivered everything I love about the genre. No surprise there. But I never expected it would also give me an “Aha!” moment about my writing. THIS. This is what I was going for.
The connection grew with each episode and by midseason I’d started to play around with elevator pitches. “The Cross Cutting novellas are The Great British Baking Show meets Half-Resurrection Blues and Supernatural” or “The trilogy is like TGBBS with fewer cakes and more monsters.” Clearly, I won’t be teaching a pitch class any time soon; however, the spirit of the show is an example of what I wanted to capture.
Those bakers put their all into that competition. Each contestant clearly wanted to win the big prize. There was loads of dramatic tension. And yet, despite the stakes, the atmosphere remained warmly supportive. The drama mostly focused on the task at hand instead of personal conflicts.
In the Cross Cutting trilogy I wanted to create a fundamentally harmonious group of characters to face the darkness. The problem is there’s a danger of making them sticky sweet and—boring. Trying to hit the right balance is a cool challenge. I tried to tackle it in the novellas because they’re long enough for character development and short enough to keep a lot of the attention fixed on action.
The route I chose began with thinking about the magic. My main character, Trinidad, has magic that’s cooperative in nature—she has to work with whatever city she’s bonded to. She needs a strong will and a stronger sense of self, but she can’t be selfish. One of the trade-offs is that she doesn’t deal with many people. She relates to the fringes and periphery better than the mainstream, anyway.
I balanced her by making Achilles a clairvoyant. His abilities are tied to his empathy and connection to people. It feels like a different form of cooperative magic. The rest of the supporting crew are family—tied together by blood or by choice. Put them all together and you have a group of characters engineered for harmony. It doesn’t always work, of course. A little friction is like salt. You need some for flavor amplification.
My favorite thing to do as a writer is to experiment with tones and genres. I learned a lot about finding balance while working with the novellas. I’m hoping it will help me out when I tackle more divisive characters.
In the meantime, I’ll still be looking to The Great British Baking Show to satisfy my cravings for seeing elaborate pastries being constructed in a tent by lovely people.
In case anyone is disappointed by the turn I took here, I’ll end by saying the cake is not a lie in The Thin. All of the novellas do include actual food moments. It’s another way to create bonds, to show fellowship. Characters do need fuel to keep fighting, after all.
And yes, everyone gets dessert.
Wendy Hammer teaches literature and composition at a community college in Indiana. She has stories in Urban Fantasy Magazine, the horror anthology Suspended in Dusk, and elsewhere. The first of the Cross Cutting novellas, The Thin, has been published by Apocalypse Ink Productions. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s probably making a mess in the kitchen or telling herself “Just one more episode.” You can find her at wendyhammer.com or on twitter @Wendyhammer13.
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
I've worked with Ivan for years now as an editor. He's a great guy and I've enjoyed watching him grow as an author.
The biggest thing I learned while writing Famished: The Ranch (Book Three of the Gentleman Ghouls series) was just how much better a community can make a writer.
The first book I wrote, Famished: The Farm, was almost monkish. I wrote the entire thing on my own, and only sent it out for a review at Jenn’s insistence. I didn’t realize that was a thing, to be honest. Writing had always seemed a very solitary endeavor, and I made it so. The able assistance of Lillian Cohen-Moore and Jeff Meaders certainly improved the book, and I came to understand the value of beta readers.
After writing Famished: The Commons, I sent it willingly to a handful of beta readers. Unfortunately, that wound up requiring a rewrite of over half the book, cutting out a character whose presence didn’t make sense to most of the readers. At the same time, Jenn asked me to be an “alpha reader” for a book of hers.
Alpha reader? What?
She sent a chapter a week, more or less, for us to review as she was writing. It seemed half-mad to me at first. Don’t you need more time to polish and perfect the work? Well, as it turns out, you really don’t. That’s how I saw first-hand the value of these individuals. As an alpha reader myself I was able to catch one or two things which could have become bigger issues as the book, and I realized I could have saved myself a lot of headaches with The Commons by approaching alpha readers.
With Famished: The Ranch, I reached out to a handful of alpha readers. I wasn’t as quick or as disciplined in getting the chapters done, which meant I naturally lost a few of those original aides. Understandably, mind you. If I’m not willing to be disciplined around deadlines, I can’t howl when life gets in the way for people offering free assistance.
Those who remained helped a great deal, however. Two of them also served as beta readers once the entire work was done, providing more feedback in their close-up readings, along with a few additional readers who hadn’t seen the work before.
Finally, I was fortunate to have two wonderful friends and fans who saw I was flagging near the end. I was tired of writing, tired of the story, and tired and ashamed of missing my promised deadlines. These two picked me up when I was down and helped me cross the finish line with a mix of gentle encouragement, minor bribes, and very occasional threats of violence.
Famished: The Ranch was my first true community effort as a writer. It won’t be my last.
Ivan Ewert was born in Chicago, Illinois, and has never wandered far afield. He has deep roots in the American Midwest, finding a sense of both belonging and terror within the endless surburban labyrinths, deep north woods, tangled city streets and boundless prairie skies.
His work has previously appeared in the award-winning anthology Grants Pass, as well as the anthologies Human Tales and Beasts Within 3: Oceans Unleashed, while his culinary writing has appeared in Alimentum: The Literature of Food. An early treatment of the Gentleman Ghouls series appeared in the e-zine The Edge of Propinquity from 2006 to 2011. He was the sole author to span all six years of that publication.
In his spare time, Ivan occupies himself with reading, gaming, and assisting with the jewelry design firm Triskele Moon Studios. He currently lives near the Illinois-Wisconsin border with his wife of seventeen years and a rather terrifying collection of condiments and cookbooks. Ivan can be reached at www.ivanewert.com and on Twitter @IvanEwert.
(Crossposted from Jennifer Brozek)
I had the pleasure of meeting Chaz at LepreCon. I enjoy his artwork and his passion. He's one of the good guys.
I call my Patreon the "Ashelon Tarot Project" and it's been a long time coming. Ashelon is a world that my fiancée, Carolyn Kay, and I are creating. It's a blend of fantasy and steampunk and takes place in the mid 1800s. A comet struck what is now called South America and it had the effect of revealing all of the hidden faerie creatures the world over - no longer could they hide behind faerie glamour. Not only must they learn to co-exist with humans and their steam technology, but they must also deal with the most unscrupulous villain the world has ever seen... Queen Victoria.
The tarot deck will be divided into 4 courts of 13 cards each. Each of the cards will be a character in the world of Ashelon and will represent a virtue or a vice. You'll be able to read these cards to tell your fortune but the cards themselves will be much simpler to interpret than a standard tarot deck. For example: You ask the question, "Should I quit my job today?" You turn over a card, and instead of the card being the Chariot like in a normal tarot it will simply say, "Strength". You could then interpret that as finding the strength to stay because things will get better - or that you need to finally muster the strength to give your two-week notice.
Another thing that will set my deck apart from a lot of the others is that I'm planning on turning each card into its own art print that you can hang on your wall. So if you love the art on a particular card, you can purchase the art from me as an 11x14, 18x24 or even a 24x36 poster. As an illustrator, this is the thing that excites me the most, because I LOVE the idea of everyone having posters from my tarot deck prominently displayed on their walls. I'm even going to have a few exclusive pieces that will only be available to my Patreon members.
If all of this goes well, I plan on creating a booster pack of 26 cards next year which will have 2 new courts and all new virtues and vices that can be added to the 2016 main deck. In the not too distant future, Carolyn will be writing short stories and novellas within the world of Ashelon using the characters on the cards, which will be awesome. I'm also planning to turn the cards into a game and maybe even doing an Ashelon tabletop RPG down the road.
I have a ton of ideas and Patreon is giving me a portal through which I can really explore this new world that we're creating and it allows me to bring lots of friends along for the ride. This project really makes me happy and it's only just begun! If you want to see the project for yourself, take a look at: www.Patreon.com/ChazKemp.
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to tell your fans about my dream come true, Jennifer.
Bram Stoker Award finalist Chaz Kemp embraces an Art Nouveau style that incorporates vibrancy and color into fantasy and steampunk art in a way that is rarely seen. As an illustrator, the influence of Alphonse Mucha is evident in his award-winning work that combines the artistic energy of the Roaring 20s with the untamed possibilities of steampunk and fantasy.
Chaz Kemp is a featured artist in steampunk legend Paul Roland's book "Steampunk: Back to the Future with the New Victorians". Amazing Stories magazine featured him in the November 2014 issue, and his work has been seen in other publications such as Steampunk Magazine, Savage Insider and Aurealis. Over the years Chaz has created art for game publishers, sci-fi/fantasy conventions and several book covers including the anthology "Cthulhu Passant" by Travis Heerman & the Oilman's Daughter by Local Hero Press. In 2012, he illustrated his first graphic novel entitled "Behind These Eyes" written by Guy Anthony De Marco and Peter J. Wacks. The graphic novel was a Bram Stoker Award finalist.
Patreon Page: www.patreon.com/ChazKemp
Etsy Page: www.etsy.com/shop/ChazKempIllustration