Friday, April 24, 2015

[Link] Why self-publishing is the new punk

by Dylan Hearn

In mid-1970’s Britain, record companies were king. They controlled their industry. Any artist who wanted a career in music had to have a record contract – major artists on relatively good terms but many of the mid-sized to newer entrants on contracts that would have today’s employment lawyers licking their lips. There were a limited number of radio stations, all of whom relied on the record companies to gain access to artists, and in return the record companies’ product dominated the playlists. If you weren’t linked to a record company, you had no chance.

At the same time, the music itself becoming staid, some would say bloated. Established artists were given a free rein, which for many meant bigger, longer and – you will have to excuse me – just a bit up their own backsides. The pop charts, while containing some classics, were full of formulaic songs with high production values performed by the young and beautiful and written by songwriters in the pay of the studios. Yes, there were some artists pushing at the boundaries and trying new things but these were on the fringes. Profit was king and so record companies played it safe, churning out the same thing, over and over, knowing that it was the most cost-efficient and profitable process. I know that there will be some of you reading this and shouting how dare I, what about artists X, Y or Z. My answer is for you to look back at the charts of any week during 1973 – 1975 and tell me how many songs of true quality it contains.

Then, punk happened. Frustrated at the music on offer, the young rebelled. Advances in technology that allowed home recording for the first time and the kids took full advantage. At the same time a few, pioneering DJ’s were willing to promote their work (because mass distribution was still in the control of the few). The musical landscape changed within a matter of months.

Of course, there was uproar. Record companies and many established artists claimed it was just noise. Some bemoaned the sound quality and the lack of  technical skill of the performers. Small, entrepreneurial record labels sprang up to meet the demand. The energy, passion and self-belief created by this opportunity gave rise, not just the big-selling punk artists still known today, but thousands of musicians who continue to make money out of music through small but loyal followings to this day.

Before you accuse me of having the rose-tinted nostalgia of an old punk, I was five years old when all this happened. But it is clear now, looking back, that punk shook the staid music industry to its core.

Read the full article:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Role of the Innocent Hero

You can file this one under the "The More Things Change." Almost 20 years ago, I used to run a fansite called DCU: Next Generation that covered the teen and  young heroes of the DC universe. Comics had recovered from the wave of cynisicm of the 80s and were rediscovering a more fun and (dare I say it now?) innocent tone. So I did my first roundtable interview ever, (yes, ever), and I cold contacted lots of then popular comic book creators to pick their brains about that very idea. So, here is that blast from the past. (Just remember to read it in its context historically in the market, especially if you're an old fart like me.) 

A Note About the Art: All the art shown with this article is from the original fan art gallery on the DCU: Next Generation website. 


A long time ago, in a galaxy remarkably similar to this one, there once existed a group of super-powered (and not so super-powered) individuals who flew the skies and ruled the nights, making the streets safe for everyone else. They weren't driven by dark psychoses or private, hidden agendas. They simply believed life was precious and that there was a moral foundation for society to operate on. Well, that, and they believed flashy costumes were actually hip.

But, as with all things, time (and new writers and artists) assaulted these heroes, and twisted them into psychotic, tainted beings who kept society safe for reasons of their own. Some creators did so with admirable skill (Alan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns come to mind), but many merely followed what seemed to be the newest trend. It was no longer acceptable to be good simply for the sake of being good. Justice was no longer its own reward. Heroes had to be driven by attempts to purge their dark pasts, traumatic events that played forever in their minds' eyes, or some private (i.e., selfish) reasons that weren't necessarily noble -- that is, if the heroes still maintained a sense of heroism at all; many of them were simply villains stalking other (supposedly worse) villains.

Comic book creators and fans credit many reasons for this shift in thinking. Concepts and worldviews like Postmodernism and Deconstructionism are often blamed. Many also place the blame on events like the Vietnam War, Watergate, the me-ism of the 80's, and the Roe vs. Wade decision. Regardless of the reasons, the days of the innocent hero (i.e., the hero who acted nobly simply because it was the right thing to do, because he valued life and felt it worthy to be saved) seemed doomed.

Then came the 90's. Something in the grim and gritty, psychosis-driven mindset snapped. Fun came back to comics. Not in droves, to be sure, and it didn't commit a comics-wide genocide of "heroes" like the Punisher, Hitman, and Wolverine, but it was noticeable, nonetheless. Superman returned from the dead, his sense of honor intact. Bruce Wayne's back healed, and he reclaimed the mantle of the bat from his tainted and flawed successor. Fun-loving teen heroes (once the bane of comics readers) popped up again, some of them even as (Heavens no!) sidekicks. Captain America was restored to his iconic role as American patriotism personified under the care of Mark Waid and Ron Garney.

And then, like a thought that needed to be said and couldn't be contained, came Kingdom Come. As a statement on the state of heroism, it spoke volumes about how the superhero world could become if left to the villains and tainted heroes. But, it also made quite a statement on the redemptive power of good.

So, where does that leave us now?

Curious as to how current comics creators saw today's market, I emailed some of them a list of three questions concerning the future of the innocent hero. Nine responded: DC's Mike Carlin, Jim Valentino (Shadowhawk, A Touch of Silver), Brian Augustyn (Flash, X-O Manowar), Tom Bierbaum (Legion of Super Heroes), Kurt Busiek (Astro City, Thunderbolts, Ninjak), Marv Wolfman (The New Teen Titans), John Ostrander (The Spectre), Phil Jimenez (Tempest), and Jerry Ordway (The Power of Shazam).

Do you feel there is still room for "innocent heroes," or must even heroes be tainted in some way in order to be believable (i.e., marketable)?

Bierbaum: The current comic book market is reaching an extremely narrow demographic, and within that demographic, there generally hasn't been much interest in innocent heroes. But there's no reason why different twists can't work, even for that very narrow audience (i.e., some of the characters in Astro City and Batman Adventures). To us [Tom and his wife Mary], there's nothing less believable about an innocent hero because the world has plenty of people who live daily up to a very high standard of behavior. These people aren't especially common, but that's exactly what makes them interesting, appropriate, believable models for ficticious "heroes."

Wolfman: I think heroes can be both innocent and be real (i.e., have problems, etc.). The fact that you can make them real to some minor degree allows the characters to see the world as a place worth saving. If they're just dark and depressing then I'm not interested in writing about them, but if they see a dark world around them and still believe they can make a difference, then they're innocent and optimistic, which I like.

Ostrander: Having a character who is without flaw is reassuring when you're a kid; you need that. We tend to see our parents that way (happened in my age as well). As you grow older, you can no longer accept that because you're thinking on your own. You re-examine your heroes and your parents and find feet of clay (happened in my age as well). You NEED to find that. For characters to be believable, they need to be flawed. We need to find flaws. They also reflect more correctly our OWN positions, our own situations.

Carlin: DC does TONS of innocent heroes: Impulse and Captain Marvel and friends come to mind. Sure, there's room for everything out there!

Busiek: I think there's plenty of room for what you call innocent heroes, from Flash to Superman to many of the Astro City heroes to Iron Fist in Heroes For Hire, and more beyond them.

Augustyn: Yes. In fact, I think the pendulum is swinging back toward the direction of the innocent hero. Characters like Superman, Flash and Captain America have all experienced recent new popularity, and all are lighter in tone than the grim and gritty characters who've reigned for so long. More and more new, lighter heroes are being introduced all the time, so I think the trend is building. The days of the cynical hero may be numbered.

Ordway: I still feel strongly that there must BE room for innocent heroes, or all is lost. There's nothing to prevent an innocent from having feet of clay, or some other flaw, you know. Furthermore, I think an innocent hero provides a role model for even the most jaded readers. Pessimism might be the way of thinking these days, but optimism is what got past generations looking ahead to a better day, or better life for their own children.

Jimenez: I definitely feel there's room for heroes who are not grim and gritty, bearing razor sharp talons or guns as weapons in their fight against crime. Without a doubt, these have always been the characters that bored or disinterested me the most (Wolverine, Sabretooth, Cable, etc.). I actually believe that heroes can be just and good (I question the definition of this word "innocent") and still be desirable as heroes -- it's all in the way they're played. However, I think characters "tainted" by something -- not necessarily evil or violence but characters who are not solely good and pure -- are far more interesting for the sheer fact that giving them such flaws makes them multi-faceted and, therefore, playable on many more levels (same with the villains -- the most interesting villains are those that have a very human motivation or love -- like Mystique's love for her daughter Rogue, or Magneto's actions for mutantkind based on his past as a Jewish detainee in a Nazi death camp). Singularly good (innocent) or bad (evil) characters get real boring, real fast.

Valentino: Heroism implies the act of placing the welfare of others above one's own welfare. Therefore, in order for there to be heroes, by their very definition they must be innocent (as you're using the term). Whether or not they will succeed on a commercial level is an entirely different question.

What do you believe helped bring on the era of the anti-hero and diminish the comic-reading public's interest in innocent heroes?

Bierbaum: In general, I feel that super-hero comics were once almost exclusively a juvenile medium and they gradually have become almost exclusively an adolescent medium. Adolescents tend to enjoy breaking away from and rejecting the more innocent pleasures of their earlier years, thus the innocence of the old heroes became a target very quickly, especially when they're perceived as the heroes of an older generation.

Ostrander: Essentially, the anti-hero arose partially in response to what was happening out in what we laughingly call the "real world" and the need, every once in a while, to "deconstruct" our heroes. We need to debunk our own myths every once in a while to re-examine the myths themselves, find out what still has validity, and the re-construct those heroes (or make new ones) who more accurately reflect our group social conciousness, a gestalt ethic of our society. Deconstruction has definite values and importance but we can't just get stuck there and, I think, by and large people don't. To stay stuck in the deconstuctionist mode is to invite cynicism and nihilism, usually of a very shallow mode. It leads to the concept that attitude is more important than thought, than belief. It's not more important; it's just easier. Having an attitude requires neither thought nor belief nor any real work; it just strikes a pose. And, ultimately, that's shallow and vain and, for most people, not enough. I resent that "Gen-X" has been depicted, more often than not, as being just attitude. Those of Gen-X whom I know may play with attitudes but there's also more depth to them. And they want more depth to the characters they read -- and that includes comics.

Jimenez: I think the general feeling across the country that not everything is sweetness and light -- that there are evil, greedy people that hurt others, that people we were supposed to admire and trust (priests, policeman, the president) are, in many cases, the greatest violators of decency, and therefore, innocence -- helped lead to this age of nihilism and anti-hero as hero. Further, when you understand that America itself is founded on an inherent injustice -- the destruction of the indigenous peoples here, and the slavery of others who helped build the nation -- you begin to understand the dubious reaction readers have to characters like Superman and Captain America and what they represent. And, of course, anti-heroes are generally more interesting to read about -- John Constantine, for example, a nefarious rogue with a checkered past, is amazing because he still acts, for the most part, heroically. Superman, on the other hand, is fairly one note.

Ordway: I believe movies played a big role in popularizing anti-heroes, starting with Dirty Harry, and the like. I spent my teen years seeing nothing but that kind of movie in theaters, movies where the hero dies, or movies with the main character doing whatever it took to get the bad guy. Then, in the early eighties, comics pros like Frank Miller on Daredevil started toying with motivations in long established heroes. Also, the influx of UK writers, starting with Alan Moore, brought realism to character motivations, and stories that made the simplistic comics of my youth seem empty and shallow. Let me state that I enjoy the work of these folks, but really, after Watchman, everyone in comics had to rethink their work.

Wolfman: "Innocent heroes" means heroes who don't reflect anything but childish optimism. I think as we grew up to some degree we saw you could still see the world clearly but believe you can do something to fix it. In comics, Spider-Man was certainly the first anti-hero. However literature predates that by centuries. Also, the counter-culture of the 1960s helped usher in the anti-hero because we saw the world wasn't exactly what we'd been told it was. There is nothing wrong with this.

Augustyn: The times, I suppose. The eighties was a very cynical, selfish decade and popular entertainment reflected that. As we move through the nineties a lot of folks feel adrift and searching for something. I think that "lost generation," initially fell easily into the cynicism of the eighties, and embraced the nihilistic anti-heroes out of some sort of sense that, while negative, at least these guys were consistent. But, I think the definition of heroism is shifting back to a more traditional one. Heroes are heroes again, and even some formerly grim and gritty heroes are lightening up some -- ala, Batman (particularly the Batman of the movies). There's only so much angst anyone can digest, after all -- entertainment should offer escape from everyday woes, not validation of them.

Valentino: Rambo, video games like Mortal Kombat, the declining trust in institutions from government to corporations. There are any number of culprits.

Carlin: What brought it in was that ten years ago, it was different -- eventually it wasn't different anymore and the ol' innocent was different. It's a vicious circle!

Busiek: I don't think their interest was diminished -- the era that saw the rise of the anti-hero was a popular era for both Superman and Spider-Man. However, I think that whenever any status quo gets familar, then readers respond favorably to stuff that rebels against the status quo, as Wolverine did, as Dark Knight did, and so forth. They were different, and thus they stood out.

With the popularity of books like Leave It To Chance, Impulse, Robin, Captain America, etc., and the return to a tighter tone in the Spider-Man books, do you feel that comic book readers are becoming more receptive to innocent heroes? If so, what do you think has contributed to the change?

Augustyn: Yes. As I said, we're actually at the crest of a groundswell that's been building for some time. The titles you mentioned are perfect examples, but Astro City, Quantum and Woody, Ash, Green Lantern, Justice League, Savage Dragon, Alan Moore's take on Supreme, and tons of other books are reaching back to reclaim the sense of fun that comics used to exemplify -- while continuing to be contemporary in every other sense of the word. Keep in mind, that Waid and Ross's Kingdom Come, was, in a way, a commentary on this very tension between innocence and cynicism -- and a damned hopeful and positive story, despite the very real tragedy that pervades much of the early chapters. I think the times, again -- and the general mood of the country -- is in part why this change is under way. Even those not on the conservative side of the political spectrum agree that the time for negativism and cynicism is past, and everyone longs for a resurgence of "good values," however you may define that. In general, I think NOW is a good -- and fun -- time to be creating comics.

Busiek: The grim-and-gritty heroes are no longer different; they've been around for over ten years, and readers are ready for something else.

Jimenez: As with any medium, comics work in cycles. Obviously, the popularity of anti-heroes and busty heroines in recent years was a reaction to a plethora of characters projecting "goodness and light" in an age where that seemed hypocritical. However, people are starving for examples of goodness and just living in this society, and, I think, have grown tired of seeing this constant barrage of darkness and sadness and gloom. People want to believe in hope, and in goodness, and I think that they will search for characters out there that bring them such feelings. But I would never want to see only one type of character or the other -- I think in this medium there's room for both Leave it to Chance and for Preacher, and for each to be entertaining, inspiring, and, perhaps, enlightening.

Ostrander: Part of the success of the books you mention is that a) they're awfully well written; b) they're FUN to read; and c) they make us FEEL good. Anti-heroes rarely make you feel good. It may be a wish to reach back more to childhood, when things were simpler. It may also be an evolving process; that we're ready to accept innocent characters, characters who believe in something, because we are ourselves, as individuals and as a society, are willing to believe again, having gone through a necessary deconstruction phase. Or I may just be an old gasbag who is rambling on too long and making more out of things than they really are.

Bierbaum: The market has shrunk and shrunk, so it's the real die-hard readers who are sticking around in greater percentages than the casual readers. I'm guessing that's meant a greater and greater percentage of the market is being made up of older readers, baby boomers, who're more interested in recapturing the feel of the comics of their youth, when comics were a juvenile medium, than in continuing to rehash themes of adolescent alienation and rebellion. In most cases, these innocent books may be selling no more than they would have five and 10 years ago, but now those sales figures look pretty good, because there aren't as many younger readers around to build up the sales of more adolescent-themed books. Also, of course, we've just reached a point where the more cynical approach has been done to death and people are simply weary of it and ready for a change.

Ordway: I think that the popularity of the books you mentioned is more a reflection on their execution, than on their tone. There is always a pendulum effect, in entertainment, where, if things get overly dark, then a light movie comes along to start a new wave. Same with comics. Please mention Power of Shazam, and the Batman/Superman cartoon books in your list as well, as they provide something for younger readers to get started in on comics with. That's the key to dwindling readership -- you need new kids to pick up the hobby, when the older ones go off on other endeavors. Without newsstands, where comics are easier to come by, that task is more difficult, but it still needs to happen.

Wolfman: I think all the books you mention have a "real" world, but with characters who are optimistic. There is a big difference between optimism and innocence.

Valentino: I think one must consider just HOW "popular" these books actually are in today's marketplace. What I see when I look at the top ten is that it is dominated by X-books, Spawn, Witchblade, etc... I doubt any of these fit your definition, so I call into suspicion your whole argument here. There really has not BEEN a change in the tastes of the marketplace. The day Phone Bone, Chance Falconer and others of that ilk replace the Lobos and Wolverines, we can say there has been change.

(©1997 Sean Taylor)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Nugget #48 -- Whose and What's Sake?

So yes, writing for art's sake can be freeing, and writing for sale's sake can be limiting, but the two can comfortably co-exist within a writer who strives to write the best stories within the parameters the market has officially or unofficially set.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Dropping Science on Yo' Fiction -- A Talk with Stephanie Osborn

Stephanie Osborn, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery, is a veteran of 20+ years in the space program, with graduate/undergraduate degrees in astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, is “fluent” in several more, including geology and anatomy. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to some two dozen books, including the celebrated Burnout: The Mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281 and the Displaced Detective series.

Since you're the only writer I know who is actually a rocket scientist, how do you feel about the weird blending that happens when science fiction meets science fact?

I guess it depends. If it's obviously space opera or the equivalent, and it's well written, I'm up for suspending disbelief and enjoying a good romp. If it's really badly written, I want to fling something. Preferably something hard and massive. (Those who have heard me discourse on certain “science fiction” films will know what I mean.)

But a well-written hard science fiction book (or TV show, or film) is a treat, and can often inspire brainstorming as to how we might make it a real thing.

One of the theories you built from in your writing is the idea of parallel universes by way of String Theory and M Theory. For those of us who haven't been through the wormhole with Morgan Freeman and back again, could you explain the difference between those theories?

Ha! Well, “let's start at the very beginning; it's a very good place to start,” as Maria said (sang) in The Sound of Music. So. Most of the physics that the average person knows revolves around 4 dimensions: length, width, height, and time. But as “modern physics” (including relativity theory, quantum mechanics, and more) began to develop, we began to realize that the various fundamental forces of nature (nuclear forces -- there are two, the weak and strong nuclear forces; the electric force; the magnetic force; and gravitational force) could be unified, at least in part -- which is to say we found a way to relate them mathematically so that they can be described in the same way and their interactions readily predicted. Everybody's heard of electromagnetics; this was the first pair of forces to be unified, back in the late 1800s by James Clerk Maxwell. By now, all of those forces have been unified — except gravity. There seems to be something different about gravity, because it's not behaving properly per any of the theories. Some scientists speculate it may not even be a force in and of itself, but rather the response of mass to...something else. It's the “something else” that we're trying to figure out.

Anyway, all of this led to the development of something called cosmic string theory. This adds a new structure to the universe in addition to the particles of matter that we're used to: an infinitely long, infinitely dense string. (Imagine grabbing a black hole in your hands and jerking it out into an infinite string, and you pretty much got it. The “energy ribbon” from the movie, Star Trek: Generations was in essence a cosmic string, although the whole business about a world inside it invokes some other theories.) These probably do exist. Maybe. But that theory didn't explain all the observations.

So then they added a few more dimensions to the 4 we know, and came up with superstring theory. That's kinda like an interdimensional cosmic string. And at this point we start to realize that other universes, parallel continuums, could exist. But it still didn't explain all the observations.

So then M theory was developed. It requires at least 11 dimensions, possibly as many as 40, or even more. And it introduces another structure: a membrane, or “brane” for short (hence the M in the name of the theory).

There are several different versions of M theory, five to be precise, developed by five different teams of researchers, and it is looking like just maybe this might do the trick. Because while no one version of the theory explains all the observed facts, together they appear to do so. So if we can combine all five, we think we got it. And so we wind up with three basic multiversal structures:

1) closed-loop strings, kinda like Cheerios, that behave like particles called bosons, which carry the fundamental forces and can float between all the other structures, across dimensions;

2) bound, open strings, basically enhanced superstrings whose ends are connected to the third structure,

3) branes.

And it almost certainly invokes parallel universes in the “bulk,” or multiverse.

And lo and behold, some of the stuff that M theory predicts looks to be showing up in our observations. (So rather than trying to find the observations in the theory, we now are starting to get things in the theory to go look for.) There's even some very small nonuniformity in the background radiation of the universe that may — MAY, mind you, it’s not definite yet, and a lot of scientists think it's BS — indicate “bruises” where other universes have “bumped” ours. The imagery for that is pretty cool, by the way.

And it also makes for some fun science to play around with and extrapolate for science fiction novels! I've invoked it two different ways in two different series: the Point series with Travis S. Taylor (first book out, Extraction Point; I’m trying to shake him loose to write the other books with me), and the Displaced Detective series. (There’s going to be a kind of related series to Displaced Detective soon, over at another publishing house. The editor in chief of Pro Se Productions is a Displaced Detective fan, and has contracted me to write the Sherlock Holmes: Gentleman Aegis series, chronicling the adventures of “my” Holmes with his Watson in his original continuum’s Victorian Era. I’m working on the first book now, Sherlock Holmes and the Mummy’s Curse.)

You've mixed science with Sherlock and done so admirably. Are there other historical or scientific characters from real life you're itching to work with in fiction or other physics theories that are influencing you creative juices at the moment?

Thank you most kindly! I try hard.

Oh, I've brought in several scientists from the Victorian era in various works. I've used Nikola Tesla no less than three times in different works, one of which is still looking for a publishing home! That latter one is a YA steampunk novel, with a planned series behind it, and it pulls in quite a few historical personages in thinly-veiled form.

I actually kind of developed my own “science” in the Cresperian Saga. The first book of that series, Human By Choice, was written by Travis and another writer, Darrell Bain; I didn’t have anything to do with it. They invoked an alien race, the advanced Cresperians, whose science was so advanced it was almost magic to us. They had something that best translated into English as an “unreality drive,” but neither Travis nor Darrell had worked out the mechanism behind it. Well, Travis bowed out due to heavy workload for book 2, The Y Factor, and the publisher tapped me as his protégé to step in and work with Darrell as his co-author. By book 3, The Cresperian Alliance, Darrell — who is in his 80s — decided the character list was getting too big to deal with, so he bowed out and I took the lead. And I found, with the plot I wanted to write for that book, I needed to know how that “unreality drive” thingie worked. And neither of ‘em could tell me. So I sat down and racked my brains, and finally came up with something. It feels a little hokey to me, but it's still kind of a fun concept. It works like this:

There is a concept in more advanced mathematics called i. Now, i is an “imaginary number,” and is the square root of -1. The reason it is considered imaginary is that any time you multiply two negative numbers together, the solution is a positive number. Therefore, for instance,

(-2)2 = 4, not -4.


(-2) x (-3) = 6, not -6.


i2 = -1.

It violates the multiplicative rule, thus it is “imaginary.”

Now, interestingly, i tends to crop up in physics equations from time to time, and generally physicists take those “imaginary” terms in the equation and toss them, as not representing anything in the “real world.”

But the Cresperians had supposedly discovered that they DID represent actual phenomena in the multiverse, and had taken those terms in the equations and harnessed the phenomena they predicted, and this became the foundation for their propulsion systems and some of their power generation.

You cannot imagine how I racked my brains to come up with that explanation...

What advice do you have for non-scientists who are looking to use real-world science in their work?

Find a scientist who knows his/her stuff, who is willing to work with you, and USE 'em! Make the scientist your advisor, your teacher, your beta reader — and above all, LISTEN to 'em. I can't tell you how annoyed it makes me when another author consults me about the science to do a particular thing in a book s/he is writing — and quite a few do — and then when I explain the science and how to do it in the book, s/he blows me off with a, “Nah, I wanna do it THIS way.” When my solution would have been just as simple, not that different, but the modification of only a few details would have made it technically accurate. (Frankly, it makes me wonder if the writer really cares enough to get it right, or is just lazy, or whatever. A harsh thought, but if, for the same number of yet-unwritten words, you could make it technically accurate, and not affect your story, why wouldn’t you? Not to mention the ones who present me with their story concept and ask, “Will that work?” So I spend an hour or better explaining why it would NOT work, only to get, “Meh. I’mma do it anyway.” Then why did you bother asking me? You just wasted a big chunk of time for both of us, when I could have gotten in several hundred words in my own book.)

And then, at the end, make sure to thank him/her in your author notes.

 Editor's Note: For more information about Stephanie's work, visit her website.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #322 -- Reflections on the Author as a Young Man

What were you like at school? Were you good at English?

I guess, yeah, I was pretty strong at English and writing during school, but even then, I wasn't interested in writing. Or in thinking onto paper much, for that matter.

Grammar and structure, on the other hand, have always been important to me. I was one of those kids who went around correcting people's grammar and reciting ad naseum sayings my mom had told me (such as "you and I, don't put yourself first" -- which caused no end of confusion regarding "I" and "me").

My storytelling grew out of not my proficiency in English and grammar though, but instead from my ability to play with my action figures all wrong. Han Solo was never Han Solo, nor was the giant Mazinga Shogun Warrior robot a metallic hero. Nope. Han became an evil wizard and the robot his obedient golem, and the Jawa and his Fisher Price sidekicks were the heroes who had to save Leia and Luke from bad guys.

I told all kinds of stories. I just didn't do it on paper.

When did I make the move to stories on paper? Let's save that one for another day, shall we?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

PulpFest and the New Fictioneers

It’s called new pulp – stories by modern writers who recreate the style of fiction that appeared in the pulp magazines of yore. Back then, the authors who labored for the rough paper industry liked to call themselves scribes, word-slingers, penny-a-worders, and, perhaps the most favored term of all, fictioneers. Join PulpFest as we celebrate today’s fictioneers—the authors writing the new pulp fiction.

If you’re a writer who has been inspired by the work of yarn-spinners such as Raymond Chandler, Lester Dent, Frederick Faust, Walter B. Gibson, Edmond Hamilton, Robert E. Howard, H. Bedford-Jones, Henry Kuttner, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and countless others who churned out commercial fiction for the pulp market, PulpFest is looking for you!

Every year since 2009, we’ve featured readings by some of the best writers of today’s pulp fiction. Jim Beard, Christopher Paul Carey, Win Scott Eckert, Ron Fortier, William Patrick Maynard, Will Murray, and many others have read excerpts from their work, showcasing a wide range of exciting new fiction. Afterward, they’ve talked with their audiences, answering questions, fielding comments, discussing works-in-progress, and selling their books. Both our writers and their audiences have loved these sessions.

We call these hour-long events our “New Fictioneers” readings and we’re hoping to have some great ones at PulpFest 2015. As we have for the last six years, PulpFest is seeking writers for its New Fictioneers program, scheduled for Friday, August 14th, and Saturday, August 15th. If you’re a writer of contemporary genre fiction who would like to participate in this year’s festivities, please send an email to PulpFest marketing and programming director Mike Chomko at Let him know that you’d like to be one of our celebrated New Fictioneers. Mike is seeking four writers to present their fiction at this year’s convention.

In the past, we’ve selected our readers on a first-come, first-served basis. This year, given our dual themes celebrating H. P. Lovecraft and WEIRD TALES and the Thrilling Group of pulp magazines, we’re going to try something different. Although the sooner writers apply to be our 2015 New Fictioneers, the better, priority will be given to those creators who have written fiction inspired by the work of Lovecraft, the Cthulhu Mythos, WEIRD TALES and such writers as Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Seabury Quinn, or the pulp offerings of Standard Magazines – the Black Bat, Captain Future, the Ghost, Lone Eagle, Masked Rider, Phantom Detective, and so on. Since PulpFest 2015 will also be exploring Standard Comics--also known as Better Publications and Nedor Publishing–creators of works featuring such characters as the Black Terror, Doc Strange, Fighting Yank, Kara the Jungle Princess, Miss Masque, and Pyroman will also be given priority. However, all new-pulp or writers of supernatural fiction are welcome to apply.

In order to give the convention time to prepare its marketing of this year’s New Fictioneers, all reader applications for PulpFest 2015 need to be submitted by June 1, 2015. Space is limited – only four readers will be selected for this year’s convention. If you’re writing contemporary genre fiction, we look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Submissions Sought for 12-part Sherlock Holmes Novella Series

While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle left this earthly realm on July 7, 1930, his character of Sherlock Holmes has never been more alive.  Through the current films and TV shows starring the great detective, his popularity only increases.  Publishers such as Gasogene Books and MX Publishing focus mainly on new books about the great detective, and many more presses have at least one new Sherlock Holmes book in their catalogues.  Now another publisher has an opportunity for pastiche writers to compose new tales for the Sherlock Holmes canon.

Authors Needed

18thWall Publishing is creating a 12 part Sherlock Holmes novella series called The Science of Deduction that will be released in 2016.  One title will be released each month that year, and then in December, all 12 novellas will be bundled into a complete anthology. The stories themselves must be novellas of 15,000 - 30,000 words in length, with the author's voice and narrative style coming through.

"People rarely realize how short the Sherlock Holmes novels are," explained James Bojaciuk,  CEO Duobus of 18thWall.

"A Study in Scarlet and The Valley of Fear are short novellas (padded out by long memories of the United States), and The Sign of the Four is a longish one. Only The Hound of the Baskervilles is, as they say, feature length -- but even then it is very short indeed. Yet when I look at my Sherlock Holmes shelves, it is overwhelmed with three-, four-hundred page novels and dozens of short story collections. I'd like to reclaim the novella form for Sherlock Holmes, which, personally, I think is the best length for his adventures."

Authors seeking to submit a story for the series should note that submissions may be traditional or can feature a Holmes of an alternative universe. "We're especially keen on well-researched alternate history," said Mr. Bojaciuk. "All the more so if this alternate history is in the vein of Kelly Hale's "Black Alice" (which reimagines Holmes and Watson as Enlightenment Era gentlemen modeled on Samuel Johnson and his own Boswell), or Michael Kurland's "Four Hundred Slaves" (which examines what Holmes and his biographer would have been like if they were Roman citizens)."

Some Rules Apply

While writers have freedom to explore a unique take on Sherlock Holmes, there are some strict ground rules.  There can be no erotica, no parodies, and no tales which disrespect the great detective in anyway.  As stated on the 18thWall website, "please keep the characters as close to their canonical counterparts as possible. Sherlock Holmes is not a werewolf; Watson did not murder his wife; Mycroft is not Moriarty’s lieutenant; Professor Moriarty is not a tulpa. This stance on canonicity extends through political opinions, sexuality, biography, and characterization. You can work outside these bounds, but do note that this may or may not be a harder sell to the editor."

Submissions are due to 18thWall Publishing by November 1st, 2015.  For more information, please see the 18thWall website.  Authors retain full rights to their characters and stories. And for those of you stuck on where to start a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, Mr. Bojaciuk  did say, "While not outré at all, I'd love to see war stories (particularly in the First World War) with Holmes and Watson." 

Story submissions can be sent to  Happy writing!

For full submission guidelines, visit:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Horror Is Art!

Online horror blog, review and news site, announces the publication of its first ever book, HORROR IS ART! Authored by one of The Blood Shed’s staff writers, The Film Phreak, HORROR IS ART! is a collection of essays and interviews discussing examples of horror cinema as art, not just "exploitation" Horror movies famous and obscure are featured.

Interviews include Ari Lehman (Jason Voorhees, Friday the 13th), Teri McMinn (Pam, Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and Ed Guinn (also TCSM), Dan Yeager (Texas Chainsaw 3D) and director Jim Wynorski (Chopping Mall). Also included are essays on Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Texas Chainsaw 3D, the Friday the 13th franchise, Rob Zombie, David Cronenberg, Cabin in the Woods, Cannibal Holocaust, Guillermo del Toro, Roman Polanski's Repulsion, Anderzej Zulawski's Possession (starring Sam Neill), Jess Franco's A Virgin Among the Living Dead, indie directors Henrique Couto and Dustin Wayde Mills, A Serbian Film and more.

HORROR IS ART! is available in an 8.5 x 11 trade paperback edition and runs 236 pages. Presented and published by The Blood Shed and Book Devil Press via CreateSpace, the book is now available for purchase at $14.95 retail. It may be ordered by visiting:

The Film Phreak’s HORROR IS ART! will soon be available at in both print and Kindle ebook editions. For updates, keep your eyes peeled at,, and

The Film Phreak lives in a cave in Southeast Arkansas where he terrifies locals and argues vehemently with his neighbor, the Fauk Monster, who fled his home territory due to all the Legend of Boggy Creek fans. When not devouring tourists and the aforementioned locals, The Film Phreak is busy devouring horror films and other cinematic delicacies, especially the works of David Fincher, Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino. He digs Archie and other comics, and also books without pictures. He drives around listening to Britney Spears and other dance pop, plus hip-hop, R&B, reggae/dub, industrial, electronica, rock and, of course, metal.) He does not generally like Bigfoot movies, which is why he argues with his neighbor, who is hairy and very vain. Despite being a Luddite, he has an online presence as a staff writer at, as well as a few blogs, including, and Email him at

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Time After Time -- Writing in "Period"

This week's Writer Roundtable is another from the open call for ideas and topics. With many of the writers I know and love being period writers, this one really grabbed my attention when a reader suggested it. So keep those suggestions coming and we'll keep sending them to the roundtable for the peanut gallery to respond to.

Do you tend to write in a particular time period? If so, why are you drawn to it? If not, what keeps you popping around from time to time?

Robert Krog:
I don't gravitate to a particular historical time period but I do tend toward, when I'm not writing for a particular story call, to a setting with a generally ancient world feel to it. However, my work bounces around from settings that are ancient, to medieval, to modern, to futuristic, to indeterminate.

I started reading fantasy at an early age so ancient and medieval settings pop to mind very easily. I studied ancient history for years, so that setting edges out the fantasy one by a slim margin. But, I'm a fan of many genres and settings, so no one time period or setting predominates. Between that and writing to particular story calls I have pretty well eliminated the tendency to fall into a rut and write stories in just one such setting.  

Stephanie Osborn: The two periods in which I find myself writing most often are "near future" and Victorian era. I figured, when I started writing SF, that I'd do a lot of far future stuff, but I actually don't. See, I write hard SF, because scientist here. That means that the science in the story should at least be plausible, even if the extrapolation eventually proves incorrect. The farther ahead you go, the harder it is to do anything like a reasonable extrapolation of current cutting edge science, and have it turn out semi-realistic. I've played some games with advanced cultures contacting ours, and one novel I wrote with Travis S. Taylor jumps around in time a bit, but in general, if it isn't Victorian, it's pretty close to the modern day.

Since I'm fond of a) steampunk and b) Sherlock Holmes, I do a fair bit of writing in the late Victorian era too. (1880ish to around 1900) I think it's just a cool timeframe. Very elegant, a wide blend of prim-and-proper and ain't-got-no-clue-guv'nor from which to draw characters, and SO VERY much science and engineering going on! A significant chunk of our "modern" physics was being developed during this period, much of which was then confirmed in WWII's Manhattan Project and the space program of the 1960s. Just a fun time to dink around in.

Mark Bousquet: I'm drawn to the mid-to-late 19th century. I don't write there exclusively, but it's where Gunfighter Gothic is set and so I tend to come back to those characters and that universe. I like that time period and I like those characters, so there's always two reasons to jump back to the 1860s and muck around.

Bobby Nash: I'm all over the map with the time periods I've written. My preference is to do stories set in modern times so I can explore the world outside my window. Of course, as I also am a work-for-hire and tie-in author as well, I often find myself working on characters that are set in a specific time period by the publisher. This is especially true when it comes to writing pre-existing pulp characters. Many of these pulp characters and books have become period pieces, with the publishers preferring to keep them in the time frame that their original stories took place. That is, of course their right so when I write Domino Lady, The Spider, Green Hornet, Ghost Gal, or whichever pulp character is set in a specific time, that's the time period I place that story. Sometimes I think it would be fun to see what adventures Domino Lady found herself in during the WWII years. I suspect she would have made herself useful to the war effort.

After spending time in the past, it is nice to step back into present day and have characters use modern technology.

Walter Bosley: I prefer the post-Civil War 19th Century and early 20th Century up to World War 2. Society had not jettisoned elegance and technology was not so advanced as to make people lazy. There was still some mystery in and about the world. When I write in the present, it's either in a time travel story demonstrating the contrast of how today sucks, yesterday remains still more desirable, or tomorrow can't get here soon enough; or it's just for convenience but the story will still be a throwback in style.

Nancy Hansen: I do a lot of quasi-medieval stuff in my fantasy line, anything that is before gunpowder. But I'm really all over the place these days, with a buccaneer era (mid-late 1600s) novel series, a modern day PI series, and a children's book series that is contemporary and has magical otherworlds (including economies based on chocolate and genie GPS units) as well. I've done period pieces in short fiction. So I don't limit myself that strictly. The project has to interest me, and then I'll worry about how to set it in the proper time period.

Erwin K. Roberts: I've written the most in the so-called "Pulp Era" in the 1930's and '40's. But that's largely because I've used a lot of public domain characters from that timeframe. Dr. Watson and the Masked Rider in the wild west came fairly easy for me given the huge number of radio, TV, and movie westerns and northerns I absorbed while growing up.

I.A. Watson: I write a lot of Victorian-era stuff, but that's mainly because that's the era SHERLOCK HOLMES, CONSULTING DETECTIVE is set in. These days the Victorian period (which was pretty much the US Wild West period) has become a fictionalised world of its own, so it's challenging to keep it "real"; one has to remember that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wasn't writing historic fiction, he was telling contemporary mystery tales. That era was the crucible of modern culture and civilisation. It's where the shadows of the past meet the coming modern world. It's the first time period where society and people's reactions are recognisably like our own, making it a great mirror through which to see ourselves and a lens by which to focus on what has changed.

I've also done four books of ROBIN HOOD stories, which are set in a fictional version of 12th century England, the middle of the mediaeval period of knights and castles. That time in England was a fierce mix of shifting and solidifying power bases, a hundred and twenty-five years after the brutal conquest and ethnic cleansing of the Saxons by the Norman invaders. The stratification of society, where 80% of the population are serfs, effectively slaves tied to a geographical location, the independent and authoritative church institution, and the overwhelming might of feudal overlords makes it a situation ideal to apply a laughing resistance-leader bandit to make everything change.

My most recent historical was a two volume ST GEORGE AND THE DRAGON set in 4th century North Africa. The appeal there was that it was a time and especially a place I knew less about. It required me to learn something and make some creative choices. If there was an historical St George he was a Roman knight, of the later Roman legions that had moved on from the "traditional" footsoldiers with auxiliaries that we generally think of. He lived at a time when the empire was crumbling. Rome was marginalised. Byzantium or some other eastern city was the capital. The Empire formally recognised a state religion but was overrun by Christians, Mithraists, eastern mystery cultists and others. The formerly rich and fertile Libya was suffering from climate change and rebellion, gradually devolving from its former glories like the dustbowl towns of depression-era America. It seemed to me to be an interesting place to tell a dragon story.

I've done other historical works as well, in part because that's the period I was asked to use because that's when the characters were active -- Gideon Cain, Demon Hunter (18th century Europe), airman detective Richard Knight and the Zeppelin crew of Airship 27 (pre WW2), Semi-Dual (pre-great crash 1920s), Hawkeye the Mohican (Anglo-French conflict in colonial America), Sinbad (Caliphate-era Middle East), Armless O'Neill (1930s Congo), and some other stories due for my WOMEN OF MYTH anthology in August 2015. In many cases the setting is essential to the plot. In others the setting is essential to the mood. Some character4s can only exist in certain times and places.

Lee Houston Jr.: I tend to go to whatever time period the story dictates. If I'm drawn to any specific time period, I would say the 1960s/1970s because that's basically my childhood. Despite such serious issues like the multiple assassinations, the Vietnam war, Watergate, etc; there was also a lot of positive aspects of those 20 years like the original Woodstock Music Festival, the Apollo 11 moon landing, the bicentennial, etc; that I would either love to experience to begin with or relive.

Allan Gilbreath: I am a complete hack -- I write what is on the story request.

When you begin to write a period story, how to you begin? Research? Just diving in? Watching documentaries (don't laugh, I've done this for inspiration)?

Stephanie Osborn: Actually, the documentaries -- and sometimes even well-done period fiction films -- are very good ways to get a feel for the dialects and lingo. I was having trouble getting the hang of phrasing and speech pattern for a rural Englishman, and my editor tagged me onto a British film -- can't recall the name, but Ian McKellan was in it -- where the characters were basically the Brit version of rednecks. Half an hour in, I was writing the dialect like a champ.

But in general, yes, I dive head-first into the research. I may not have all of the history accurate in a given story, but by golly if it isn't, it's because I did it DELIBERATELY. (Yes, I have a steampunk novel I'm shopping, where I played fast and loose with a few historical events just for fun. I figure, I'm playing with an alternate timeline as it is, I can "adjust" a few things here and there for more excitement.) And there's a ton of stuff I study that sometimes amounts to only one or two words in the manuscript, but they're the PROPER terminology for the situation. I spend probably as much time researching history, culture, and such, as I do the science. Sometimes more, depending on the science -- for a Victorian setting, I already know most of the science and engineering.

Robert Krog: I generally dive in, if I am already somewhat familiar with the era in question, and research as necessary along the way. While I don't write anything with the intention that it be strict historical fiction, I do research so that the setting seems close enough to an actual historical setting, if you follow me. I am an historian, and one would suppose that I'd love to play around in accurate historical settings, but the truth is that I'm afraid I'll do that and get important or even minor details wrong. For that reason, I never try write something that is in an actual historical setting, just one that resembles a particular era.

I do research as much as time allows on the era my story resembles. I've read up on the intricacies of clockwork, on the making of iron into steel, on the process of dyeing wool, etc.. I don't mind documentaries, but I always double check the assertions of such shows. The state of documentary film making is often sketchy. Documentary film makers and their publicists frequently make unfounded assertions a central point in their work in order to attract viewers.

Where one hasn't had time to do rigorous research on every aspect of life in a historical setting, even for merely pseudohistorical stories such as mine, there is the marvelous trick of deliberately vague language. If you really don't know what the clothes looked like and don't have time before the deadline to research them, and they aren't vital to the plot anyway, avoid describing them as much as possible. If the clothes are essential, you'd better make the time.

Mark Bousquet: It's usually character based. I come up with a character and a scenario and then I research to make the world of my story a more lived-in place. There are times, however, when I'll be watching a movie or a documentary and think, "That would be perfect for Character X" or "I need a character to walk in that world." George Michael once said he knew he wanted to be a songwriter when he was listening to a song and realized he would have done one particular part of that song differently. I think there's a lot of truth in that, for me. I can't read/watch a Harry Potter story and not think how I would've told this whole universe from Hermione's perspective. So if I'm watching a documentary, part of me is definitely mining it for future story possibilities.

Bobby Nash: I usually have a story idea in my head when I start so I just dive into the writing, stopping to research as I need to as I go along. It's usually the minor details that I have to look up. A few that I've run across. When were binoculars invented? When did they become available to the public? Price of a payphone in 1936? When were seaplanes invented? What was the price of gas in 1940? How would a prostitute dress in 1935?

There are certain plots that technology has rendered ineffective. In the 60's or 70's, you could have a plot where you P.I.. character uncovers an assassination plot all the way across town. He cannot get hold of his police contact on the pay phone so he rushes to get there in time to stop the shooter. That's your plot. These days, cell phones, texting, heck, even social media have made that basic plot a lot more difficult to pull off without adding another layer to it that will keep you P.I. from making contact. And yes, using "no signal" is a cop out. You have to come up with something better than that. That's one of the challenges of writing to time periods, but it's a challenge that makes the writing better, I believe.

Erwin K. Roberts: Sometimes I just dive in, if I have have an idea hit me. But, at some point, I will do research to back up what I have written. I definitely do not want to do something insane, like putting the Grand Canyon in Idaho.

Huge numbers of experts and teachers tell the writer to "Write what you know." That works, sometimes. When I agreed to do a Masked Rider story for Airship-27 I immediately remembered my son and I stoppin g for a brief visit to Devil's Tower. Ka-Blam, I decided the Robin Hood Outlaw would end up having to climb the thing a decade or two before anybody really did.

Like Sean, I have pulled fiction ideas out of documentaries. I've also been known to search a date on-line so I can use real happenings as a backdrop to the stories I tell.

Walter Bosley: The beginning of each of my stories is usually driven by the character's motivational issue or angst -- or my own.

I'll usually set a story in a period I am familiar with and the research comes in on details for authenticity, i.e. clothes, accessories, guns, ladies underthings (I know I said clothes, but it's fun to say 'ladies underthings'), food, etc etc.

A favorite research tool of mine is finding various series of historical encyclopedias popular in the 70s and 80s, like Time-Life books because they're always full of old photos from the particular era that you don't always find online. And there's something authentic about looking it up in a book in a library. After that, I'll go online and watch films from the silent era so I can see people actually in that time and moving and breathing and still alive.

I find my personal desire to be there impacts my period writing.

Nancy Hansen:  Really depends on the project, but regardless, I do a  lot of research. If there is background material on a storyline, I'll go there first, and then branch out to what the area it takes place in would have looked like, whatever vehicles, weapons, and any other props that might delineate the era. I want to get the setting right, and kind of visualize it so that I can 'see' what people are doing and how they'd move around on my canvas. So I'll dive in with a visitors guide firmly in hand.

Right now I am up to my eyeballs in the second historical fiction pirate novel in a series I'm doing for Airship 27. Previous to starting the first one, my only knowledge of pirates was from Hollywood action flicks (including those ever-popular Disney movies). I spent more hours researching material for the first one than I did writing it, because I know virtually nothing about sailing or the Caribbean of that era, which is where the stories take place. While I was wading around in there, I learned a ton about possible cargoes and treasures, how world politics of the era affected colonial government, local weather patterns, medical knowledge, even how often colonial areas changed hands between countries. There's so much more to know, because I am only just getting to the point where I can recognize ships by their rig and sails, and can barely recall what to call the darn things. I still spend a lot of time looking stuff up, poring over my growing library of pirate and sailing ship info, and just trying to wrap my brain around how things worked. At night, before drifting off to sleep, I read, and my Kindle is filled with piratey adventures. I'm now quite fond of Rafael Sabatini, who sure could tell a rousing good tale. I can also tell when an author is fudging it, because I know just enough to understand what should be going on.

Anybody have any good historical pirate documentaries to recommend?

I.A. Watson: It depends upon the period. Victoriana is reasonably easy. I'm British. My grandmother who helped raise me was a Victorian. There's a wealth of literary and scholarly sources easily available, many of them in my library downstairs. I have maps of 19th century London and the world within reach of my writing chair.

The middle ages require more research, although mostly I prefer to go to primary sources rather than textbooks that interpret them. For example I'd prefer to read the actual treatise on law attributed to Henry II’s Justiciar Ranulf de Glanvill on raptio - illegal rape (as opposed to the legal kind by husband upon wife) which sets the compensation prices and outlines the enforcements to make the rapist marry his victim than wade through modern commentaries on it. That way I form my own impressions.

When I'm out of my "periods" entirely, as with the late Roman African story I mentioned earlier, I start with what primary sources I can get. Several Roman authors wrote travelogues and descriptions of the place. The Greeks who has founded Cyrene, capital of Libya, eight hundred years earlier had also described the place. The ruins of Cyrene, at modern Slontah, are a World Heritage Site - a very endangered one, partly lost just two years ago by local bulldozing for new housing and by war damage and looting - but there's good archaeological evidence and maps dating back from Victorian-era investigations. Working from the oldest sources up to the modern commentaries helps me form my own "artistic" choices as I go. I'm not looking to write a textbook. I'm selecting those elements of history I want to weave into my story. It has to be "true" like a painting is true, not like a photograph is.

Finally, to help me assimilate what I've learned I write myself little essays. I sometimes inflict these on other people, such as an authors message list. Some got collected in my non-fiction book WHERE STORIES DWELL. Others get hurled at the reader in the form of copious footnotes to satisfy those who want to know more than should be properly told inside a fictional narrative. I can't resist a footnote.

Lee Houston Jr.: Research is very important, and a topic of debate unto itself. Depending upon the when of the story, I usually go to a book or online references. Yet I've also found that the music, movies, and television of a specific period (at least from the late 1950s onward) can convey much needed information too; like the fashions and atmosphere of the day in question.

Allan Gilbreath: Research, research, and research -- no limit to research. Other works in the time frame, online, books, and even documentaries.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Nugget #47 -- The "Good" Ol' Days

Too many of those "good ol' days" tales 
have the impact of one wall getting smashed 
into another, with no change affecting 
anyone, even the peripheral characters.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

On Killing Your (Fictional) Children

Editor's Note: This week I'm pleased to highlight a very special guest article from my dear friend and a talented fellow author, Ellie Raine. 


by Ellie Raine

Like most writers I know, my characters are my children.

No matter their personality, their mistakes or accomplishments, I love each one with all my heart and soul—especially the main characters, since their back stories are usually more fleshed out. And it’s no wonder we think of them as our own flesh and blood. We’ve been there since they were born—hell, since before they were even conceived. We watched their parents raise (or abandon) them, watched them grow, watch them stumble on adolescence, held their hand when they reached adulthood and then thrust them into unspeakable challenges we unleashed upon them in our books.

We gave them life, and as writers it’s our job to make them learn something before their story is over. And sometimes, the lesson they learn is the same lesson we, their creators, need to learn with as well:

They will die.

Even if their time doesn’t end within the story we set, they will still die after the back cover is closed, at least figuratively. “Lived happily ever after” sounds wonderful, but unless your characters are immortal beings, they obviously don’t continue living. They grow old, they die, and perhaps their children take their place. Your books only captured the highlight of their lives, but not always the end. Not that we don’t think about how they bite the dust. On the contrary, I think we often have no choice but to ponder such grim events. Giving them life is the same as starting their deaths, anyway.

And as much as I love “happily ever after,” and wish, wish, WISH my children could reach it… it’s not going to happen in their story. They have to let go of that ideal to meet their potential. And as much as it hurts me to say it, so do I.

So, it really is like parenting. The older our children get, the less we can hang on to them. They draw their own paths, they make their own decisions and will fight us if we try to change it. It takes strength to set them loose, and only the strongest parents have the ability to accept when it’s time to let them go.

As a writer, it’s painful to realize you have to kill your children. It’s even worse when you have to describe every last detail in full color. But healing them last minute or jerking them out of a ‘terrible dream’ would seem an insult to their sacrifice, at least that’s how it feels for my kids. It’s like saying their enlightened moment was an April Fools joke. So, they must die.

I’ve read too many epic stories where the heroes were revived at the last minute or the spear barely missed their hearts by some incredible miracle… when really, they should have let the axe swing.**

I hate, hate, hate having to kill my children.

But by Gods, I must.

**As a side note, I don’t think every hero should be killed at the end of their journey. It depends entirely on the story and what their deaths would mean for those they were close to, vs. what their revival would mean instead. Whichever feels right for the author, really.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #321 -- Struggling with POV

Any advice for new or beginning writers who are struggling with POV?

Just the same advice I use for anyone doing anything complicated -- KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid or Keep It Short and Simple, if you're less annoying than I can be.)

The simplest, most basic point of view from which to write is the third person. The simplest form of that is third person omniscient because you don't have to worry about what you characters know and don't know since the narrator knows all.

The drawback to third person omniscient is that many readers today find it tedious and prefer to be in the characters' heads. And no, that apostrophe isn't in the wrong place. Characters. As in multiple characters. For that, you'll need to bounce around and use what's called the third person limited POV. That means you write from the third person (he, she, it said or did) but only about what the character whose head your currently knows. Unless your character can read minds, then he or she shouldn't know about something he or she hasn't seen, heard, read, or inferred.

That can be tricky. Especially when you jump from head to head.

To keep that simple and easier (note that I didn't say "easy"), I suggest the following:

1. Only uses one character for POV per scene.
2. Limit your POV to core/main characters the readers really want to know.
3. Re-read what you've written often to make sure you're not revealing stuff your characters shouldn't know. Make a list of what they know if it helps.

Happy writing!

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Airship 27 Productions is excited to announce the release of their first ever Domino Lady anthology.  “The question I’m always asked is, when are you going to do a Domino Lady book?” says Managing Editor Ron Fortier.  “Truth is, we had one half done several years ago but through a series of bizarre setbacks, it ended up being finished and released by another publisher.  Getting a new Domino Lady book done under our own imprint has a personal goal of mine ever since.”

The Domino Lady first appeared in the pulps in 1936.  After graduating from the Berkeley College in California, Ellen Patrick goes off to Europe on a joy filled jaunt.  Her trip is cut short when her widowed father, D.A. Owen Patrick is murdered by gangsters.  Upon her return home she learns the corrupt authorities have no intention of finding her father’s killers. Thus she puts on a domino mask and a backless white dress to avenge him.  Though arming herself with a small .22 automatic and a syringe full of knockout serum, the Domino Lady’s most effective weapon was her sensual beauty, which often distracted her opponents until she could turn the tables on them.

Now new pulp writers, Greg Hatcher, Gene Moyers, Tim Bruckner and Kevin Findley offer up four brand new adventures of Los Angeles’ most notorious, and sexiest, crime-fighter of them all, the Domino Lady!

“Of course you can’t do a Domino Lady book without recruiting the best artists available,” Fortier continues.  “And that’s exactly what we did.”  Well known comic pro, James Lyle, provides twelve gorgeous black and interior illustrations and graphic artist Ted Hammond, known for his amazing pin-up work, produced the stunning cover that graces the cover.  All of which was then perfectly assembled by Art Director Rob Davis to create a truly beautiful package no real pulp lover should do without.


Available now at Amazon and soon on Kindle.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

[Link] Authors: end to censored versions of books is 'victory for the world of dirt'

by Alison Flood

Clean Reader app, which changes swear words and so-called offensive terms, removes all titles from online catalogue after writers protest

Chocolat author Joanne Harris is claiming a “small victory for the world of dirt” after an app that blanked out the profanities in books, replacing them with so-called clean alternatives, removed all titles from its online catalogue following a week of angry protests from writers.

The Clean Reader app, launched by a couple in Idaho in the US, has announced that after significant feedback from authors, many of whom did not want their work being sold in connection with the app, it has “taken immediate action to remove all books from our catalogue”.

Clean Reader set out to enable customers to, in its own words, “read books, not profanity”. A filter could be applied to ebooks purchased from its online store, which exchanged words that were judged to be offensive with alternatives.

Read the full article:

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Long and Short of It -- Tips for Writing to Word Counts

I periodically put out a call for topics for these roundtables. And this particular post is one of those come to fruition. One of the fans of the blog sent in a request for an article about writing to word counts. And never let it be said we don't listen to our readers.

Do approach a story differently based on the word count limit? In what ways?

Jim D. Gillentine: I never have done the 'shoot for a certain word count amount." I just let the story play itself out until I get to the last two words 'The End'. I feel like the story is a child that should be allowed to grow as long or short as it is meant to be.

I.A. Watson: If the story is size-limited I try to plan an appropriate number of beats/events for the size of the story. I aim to write something about 25% shorter than the target. That way I sometimes don't go over. Sometimes.

My Robin Hood trilogy started out intended to be one book. The trilogy now has four volumes. My 15k Byzantium novella became five 25k novellas. I may be the wrong person to ask about this.

Robert Krog: I do approach a word limit differently in some ways. I keep the language tighter. I think up a story with fewer complications and avoid introducing any character, plot element, etc that might detract from the point. I use fewer adjectives and adverbs. As I write, I do word count every few pages to see how much room I have.

Allan Gilbreath: If there is a fixed word count, I start backwards at the resolution then work backwards adding in the number of complications and characters needed to hit the target.

Bobby Nash: Of course. If I'm given a 15,000 word limit, that is probably not the project to try and write a big epic opus that spans countless generations. I've been doing this long enough now that I can tell what type of story I can tell based on the word count I'm given. The lower the word count, the fewer side trips away from the main plot, for example. with shorter prose I'm focused on telling the story first and adding extras only if there is room.

Percival Constantine: I now have a word count in mind for every story I write, whether it's long or short, for a publisher or for myself. And one way to help hit that word count is by outlining. If I look at an outline and I think, "this needs more to hit that goal," then I'll add more. Of course, it's not an exact science—there have been times when I've fallen short, times when I've overshot, but for the most part, I get the count hovering right around that target.

Gordon Dymowski: Since my tendency to write to word counts is more of editorial/publisher mandate rather than my own, I don't really worry about word counts. When it comes to limited word count, I tend to plan out a story with a much more limited time span (1 - 2 days) and in chunks of 1,000 - 2,000 words (thank you, Nanowrimo, for helping me learn how to pace out writing!). For me, stories with word count requirements are the equivalent of "bottle episodes" on television: limited in scope of time, setting, and character....but I can do a *lot* with these limitations.

Marian Allen: My life is very unscheduled and unpredictable right now -- more so than usual, I mean. I've learned that I do better at writing in these circumstances if I have some idea how the story is going to go before I begin. That way, if I'm interrupted, I have some chance of getting back on my train of thought. So, if I'm writing flash fiction, I'll write out a one-to-three sentence story arc. If it's going to be longer, I'll write out a five-to-seven point outline.

John Hartness: I outline way more intensely on longer works. For my Bubba novelettes, my outline is usually about three-four lines long. On a novel there's a lot more depth in my planning, because there's more room to get lost. When I run long I just charge more for the book. :)

Ray Dean: Of course... a 3k story vs a 10k story is very different. Same 10k to 100K. The amount of plot points that you can cover changes. The amount of 'lead up' to a plot point changes. It reminds me of when I make costumes for plays at my son's school. The important thing is to have all the costumes... ensembles that convey the character and their world, made to last through all the performances and complete the experience for the audience member... then, if you have time and money (more word count) you can add more details, a costume change for a scene that might help bring more of the character out... or bring more depth to the message of the show.

Walter Bosley: I never do anything on word count limit. I do it on page number limit and lately I use the same style approach for any length. I wrote mostly screenplays my first several years of writing, going with the general rule that a page equals a minute on screen and a feature film is between 90-120 pages. And since I started my publishing company, I work in number of pages, never word count. Thus, as a writer, I think in how many pages I want to write. When I published other authors, I never based a contract on word count per book/story. In fact, length was usually 200 pages but I never told an author their novel had to be limited specifically to that. For the magazine stories I would try to limit stories to around ten pages, expressed as such. As a writer, I keep my pulps novels to under 200 pages. I haven't worked in word count since I was in college writing reports and articles.

Mark Bousquet: I only ever seriously fret about word counts when I'm writing for someone other than me. In those instances, if I've been told the publisher wants X number of words, then I make sure to hit X number of words. Usually, this involves coming up with a tighter outline. For work that I'm going to produce, assessing the length is something I do after I have an idea of the characters/plots/ambitions of a book. At that point, I can say, "Ok, I think this story needs 15k or 50k to tell," but then I just tell the story and let it determine how long it's going to be. That initial guess on length is important, though, because the same story told in 15k is told much differently than one at 50k or 100k. If I totally pants the process, I'm going to end up with bloated texts. Case in point:

My latest novels are significantly shorter than my early novels. DREAMER'S SYNDROME and ADVENTURES OF THE FIVE: THE COMING OF FROST were something like 140,000 and 160,000 words, respectively, but my most recent works tend to be half that. Why? One, it's based on reader feedback, and two, what you learn real quick in the POD market is that longer books cost more. My first STUFFED ANIMALS FOR HIRE book is right around 35k words, I sold it for 10 bucks physical, $3 ebook, and not only has it been one of my big sellers, I make more money per copy sold on that book than I do on either DS or A5. Also, no one has complained about the price relative to the brevity of the material, though I did get a lot of complaints about the physical copies of DS and A5 being cost prohibitive at $20 physical, even though, bang for buck, it was a much greater value.

Now, I think I'm a better writer now than I was a decade ago, so perhaps this is just a sign that readers only care about the price/length if they don't enjoy the reading experience.

Lance Stahlberg: Yes and no. One of my biggest challenges is that I am really wordy. Not when it comes to descriptions or letting talking heads gab too long. I lean toward really dense plots. I don't think I'm even capable of writing a true "short story" word-count definition. I always feel like I need 5,000 more words.

So knowing that I have to get to a satisfying ending with at least one cool hook or twist within a certain word count, I need to outline the plot much more carefully before I can get started.

But even a full length novel has to end some time. You can't meander too much or the reader will get lost. Knowing that if I let myself, I'd keep going forever, I have to force myself to stop. So even then, I have a rough outline.Armand Rosamilia: For me, it has to do with the experience of writing so many different stories over the years, no matter if it is flash fiction or a novel. If I have an idea of basic word count, I automatically know how much character, plot, subplot, action, dialogue, etc. I need to shoot for. Each story has to be looked at differently depending on what length you are looking for. I usually come really, really close. Then it is a matter of adding or subtracting in edits to get even closer to the goal.

Ralph L Angelo Jr.: First, I usually set a minimum that I work to meet The minimum Is always the same, about 65,000 words on novels. (If it's a short story I work toward the number count.) Then once I reach the minimum I just keep going until I feel it's wrapped up properly. If I feel I'm falling short I add a side story, or adventure. Just another few chapters dealing with something else that gets in the heroes way that they have to deal with. Mostly I self publish so there is no overshooting for me. I just write until I'm happy with the ending. I had one story that I had to shorten for a publisher. I wrote it to about 108,000 words and I had to cut it to 68,000. That took a lot of cutting. That was an odd situation in that I wrote it first and then a publisher/friend asked to publish it, so I had to cut it down after the fact.

Ric Martens: I really don't pay to much attention to word count at first, just say what I feel needs to be said.

When you fall short on the word count a story, how do you fix it?

Walter Bosley: Since I don't work in word count, it's easier to fix as working in page numbers gives more margin. If I set out to do a 170-page pulp novel and find myself wrapping up at 185, it's no problem because my hard rule is 200-page maximum on my pulps so I'm still in range. However, I also have my rough draft formula that hasn't failed me yet when it comes to writing the final draft and keeping it paced just so and almost exact on my projected page count.

Ray Dean: The first thing i do is read it again to look for 'holes' in the story, or moments that could benefit from more explanation. Is there something that I summarized that could use more description? That doesn't mean to add things in willy-nilly, or have dialogue ramble on for no reason. You can make things better by adding words... or you could water down a tight scene instead of adding more meaning or more development in a story. Adding word count should never be something you throw in without paying attention to the story and the ramifications of the additions.

Lance Stahlberg: There is no danger of that ever happening with me.

Percival Constantine: I'm actually in this problem right now. The last novella I wrote was 29.5K, which is 500 words short of the target. Now it's not that big of a deal, but I really want to get it over that 30K mark. So when I edit it in a week or two, I'll go back and look for places where I was maybe writing a bit more sparsely and could be beefed up.

Gordon Dymowski: When I read others talk about overshooting, they'll take on a smug tone and declare that writers should "kill their darlings."

I take the opposite approach -- I get rid of anything that *doesn't* work in a story. (Because some writers who advise "killing your darlings" rarely take their own advice :))

Marian Allen: If I fall short on the word count, I look for scenes that I can "break open" to add excitement, poignancy, clarity, humor, or atmosphere. If I'm far short of the word count, I look for a way to plug in a subplot that enriches the main plot.

Robert Krog: I never fall short of a word count. I write a lot of short fiction, but the minimums are always so short that there's no worry about it. If ever I came up with too little, I think I could easily add a few adjectives, some extra description, some lengthened action to account for the lack. If I was way short, for some reason, I could add an extra plot element or character and explore that until I was in the correct range, all the while staying true to the original story arc.

Bobby Nash: Remember those extra bits I mentioned above? There you go. When you fall short, you've got an opportunity to do some character building of either your main character or perhaps some of the secondary characters, maybe even... the villain. There's always good stuff you can add, but don't just add for additions sake. You don't want to water down the story.

Ric Martens: I don't have the problem of being to short very often. When I do I just add a bit more description.

Jim D. Gillentine: After I write a story and I reread it, if there are places I can add things into it to flesh it out and make it better, then I do it. You can always catch places where you left out a minor detail to make the story much better or make more sense to the reader.

Allan Gilbreath: Add another complication if somewhat close to to the target. If way short, add another character and rewrite.

I.A. Watson: I recover from shock and look where scenes could be amplified, and check the structure to see if there are places where an additional cutaway scene or character moment might serve the tale.

Conversely, when you way overshoot the word count on a story, how do you fix it?

Robert Krog: One can always delete adverbs and frequently delete adjectives. That's a cheap and easy way if one is just a little over. No one ever misses words such as "just," "really," and "literally." It's best to avoid them anyway, most of the time. "Big" works just as well as "great big," and so does giant or enormous. If one has felt particularly inspired and waxed eloquently verbose, one might have to take more drastic action and start eliminating extraneous elements. In short fiction, that can be hard, because one has presumably only used the most necessary devices to tell the story anyway.

I have deleted minor characters, though, and even found ways to eliminate whole scenes that I thought were crucial until I really examined my story. I have sometimes tossed manuscripts and started over because I found the efforts to be too wordy.

I have also found that there are sometimes whole phrases that can be rolled up into one, little word.

It's work, and it's sometimes painful, but it is rewarding. I never send in a story that is too long. I never beg permission for an exception in my case. The editor asked for a certain length, and I either respectfully meet that requirement or do not submit. I have sometimes had ideas that I allowed to get out of hand, that I liked too much to shorten, in which case I set that idea aside and start over for the particular story call with something that does meet the requirements.

Jim D. Gillentine: I always let my wife, Elizabeth Donald, take a look at my work and let her put her editor's 'Red Pen of Death and Destruction' to work. She kills my darlings perfectly and helps me trim out all of the useless fluff out of my work. It sometimes hurts, and yes, I'll grumble about it. But ultimately, I know she knows the craft far better than I and that it will make my stories better and more enjoyable to read.

Allan Gilbreath: Do the reverse of what I mentioned before. A big overshoot is the removal of a character. If just a trim down is needed, remove a complication or two.

Marian Allen: I weep and murder some of my darlings. Some words, conversations, scenes, and subplots can be dispensed with. Some characters can be folded together. The good stuff that needs to be cut goes in a special folder, where I can fish for characters and ideas for other stories.

Ray Dean: Usually this is in the revision process, so redundant words are easy targets. The prepositional phrase that is 'nice' but not necessary. If larger cuts are needed I look for transitional scenes that might be summarized in other places instead of spelled out step by step on their own.

Then the story has to be gone over again to make sure that cuts didn't affect the continuity of the story. Like the movies I watch on DVDs with the director's cut that change plot points by omission.

I.A. Watson: I declare a trilogy. When the word count is an issue I set it aside and write something else to replace it  I'm REALLY NOT GOOD at cutting things down. Fortunately I have editors.

And then there's:
"Ian, this George and the Dragon manuscript weighs in at 230,00 words. This is a doorstop."
"You want me to cut it down?"
"I want you to sign this two-volume deal."

Lance Stahlberg: I am always streamlining action scenes and/or exposition, or even tearing out whole chunks of subplot when I realize I've gone too far over to make it to my end scene in under X-thousand words.

Sometimes you have to decide which characters are actually important to moving the plot forward, and which am you spending too much time on just because you like them. Or you may realize that a particular subplot is derailing your main plot too much to be worth it. Maybe that sidebar is better left for a sequel. 

Bobby Nash: First, kill all the adverbs! Cut the extraneous words and dialogue tags. That's a good start. Then, if you're still over, comes the hard part. You have to start killing your babies and look at what scenes can go away without hurting the story. There's usually one or two you can lose and not hurt the story.

Gordon Dymowski: Ironically, this just happened: a story I'm currently writing came up under count by over 2,000 words. However, in reading my second draft, I realized that there was a *huge* plot hole that needed to be addressed. So when I come under, I tend to look for opportunities to expand/clarify the story (and then, when I edit, look for opportunities to cut down). I'm not very concerned about meeting word counts exactly (so if I get 14,900 out of 15k words, that's OK), but I'm willing to flesh out a story that looks a little rickety.

It means taking advice Derrick Ferguson gave on the EXPLODING TYPEWRITER podcast and eliminating "was" and "had". It's finding opportunities to take out long, rambling passages and turn them into tight, concise sentences. It means rethinking exposition (showing rather than telling) and reframing action (initially, a "lost child" subplot drove the bulk of "Crossing McCausland" on TALL PULP; in order to lessen the word count, I simply cut the bulk of that exposition and led with the outcome). It also means focusing on the *story* -- anything that moves the story forward stays in; anything that messes up the gears or feels wrong gets eliminated.

Percival Constantine: I've overshot a few times, and it usually depends on whether or not the book is for a publisher and whether or not it's part of a series. My Vanguard serial is in installments of 15K episodes and the final episode ended up being 20K. I decided not to cut out that extra 5K because I felt it would be a disservice to the story, and also because it was the final episode of that season, so a longer story did feel justified. My novel SoulQuest had an initial target of 50-60K, but ended up being 90K when I finished. But since that novel was self-published and not part of a series, I saw no need to cut out that extra 30-40K.

Ric Martens: I always overshoot the word count. I fix it by going through and cutting out unneeded adverbs and the like.

Walter Bosley: Never happens because my rough draft method ensures I never exceed a specific number of pages. Ever. Of course, I have the luxury of being my own publisher (and having publisher friends and associates, I prefer it that way, lol).