Monday, May 2, 2022

...We're Gonna Have a Good Time (...And I'll Cry If I Want To)


It's my birthday.
Please consider
come true. 


Sunday, May 1, 2022

End of Year Testing

Sorry for the readio silence (See what I did there?). As a teacher, I've hit that end-of-the-course (and year) testing schedule for my students, and that is killing my blog time. I'll be back shortly though. Just hold tight. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Top Ten Vertigo Series Most Ripe for TV or Movie Treatment

I know superhero comic book movies are all the rage now, but with so many streaming services looking to develop original material, I figure there's no time like the present to mine the glory of Vertigo's primo series that defy the superhero tropes and gimmicks. So, here is my list of the top ten Vertigo series that should become TV series or movies.  


This mind-warping series from Warren Ellis broke brains all over the reading public with its prophetic look at the role renegade journalism needs to play in standing up to the powers that be. Information as currency. Narratives as truth. Facts as malleable. It's scary how prescient Ellis was with this one. 

Punk Rock Jesus

What if scientists cloned Jesus Christ and created a reality show around the idea? What if the new Jesus wanted to be more than a patsy or symbol for his corporate owners? What if he really identified with the punk aesthetic?

The Invisibles

Everything is a conspiracy. Grant Morrison perfectly captured the post-postmodern zeitgeist in this one. 

American Virgin

A beautifully irreverent story of how belief can be a problem, a solution, and something that changes as humans grow into better people. 

Coffin Hill

Cops and horror. A classic combination. Throw in some Gothic family secrets and this one could be the next season of Hill House or Bly Manor... easily. 

The Crusades

This one totally deconstructs the idea of a costumed antihero by putting an actual armored knight in the urban blight and having him dish out Batman and Punisher style justice. But is he crazy?

Death: The High Cost of Living

There's really nothing more that can be said about this one. Death takes the day off to appreciate the joys of life. Neil Gaiman's magnum opus, this one. 

House of Secrets

Perhaps my favorite work by Steve Seagle. I love how this series updated the old horror anthology book by exploring the idea of secrets and how they affect the intrinsic sense of justice and our own ideas about justice. And can even the ultimate judges be biased? Plus it has one of the coolest art styles I've ever seen. 


Black detective drama (both racially and tonally) that pretends to be hard-boiled but comes off far more noir than at first glance. Some of Gary Phillips finest work. 


A former child star is disgraced over a sex tape. She becomes a cop, but her past won't stop following her. Then people start to die and it looks like it ties into the series she starred in all those years ago. 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

[Link] Nine sci-fi subgenres to help you understand the future

by Jay Owens

“Cyberpunk” has been the go-to imagery of the future for a startlingly long time—Bruce Bethke’s short story of that name is 35 years old, and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner was released in 1982. We need some newer words for what’s coming next.

So I punted a question out on Twitter, asking the fans, authors, and futurists I know to share what they saw going on in speculative writing around the world and (often) outside the Anglosphere. These visions are, ultimately, reflections of where people believe the world is headed now, and cyberpunk is not the only vision the world has to offer—indeed, it was never the only one.

Read the full article:

Friday, April 15, 2022



The unthinkable has happened… Assistance Unlimited is forced to confront the awful truth that their leader and founder, Lazarus Gray, has betrayed them all. The only hope for his redemption lies in a perilous return to Dread Carcosa… the realm of the King in Yellow! 

UNLEASH THE REESE Month continues with the debut of Barry Reese’s THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY VOLUME TWELVE as the second of four releases during the month of April! Now available in print and digital formats!

THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY VOLUME TWELVE continue the story after the shocking revelations in Volume Eleven’s ‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’ and Assistance Unlimited may have finally met the one foe they could never hope to defeat.


Featuring a thrilling cover by Jeffrey Hayes and print formatting and logo design by Sean Ali, THE ADVENTURES OF LAZARUS GRAY VOLUME TWELVE is available for 9.99 via Amazon at

This twelfth volume in one of New Pulp’s greatest hero’s adventures is also available on Kindle formatted by Antonino lo Iacono and Marzia Marina for $0.99 for a limited time at Kindle Unlimited Members can read this thrilling adventure for free!

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital copies for review, email

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to Like Pro Se on Facebook at

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Not So Famous Last (and First) Words

All writers tend to have their favorite opening sentences (or paragraphs) and closing lines from stories they've read. They tend to be so well know they end up on mugs and shirts and all kinds of what-nots and doodads. 

You probably know the lines so well, I won't even have to list the sources. Go ahead. Try it.

  • It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
  • So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
  • It would be pretty to think so. 
  • Call me Ishmael.
  • It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.
  • As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.
  • The story so far: in the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.
  • After all, tomorrow is another day.
  • Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.
  • But I don't think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt.
  • It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  • He turned out the light and went into Jem's room. He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.
  • The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
  • I am haunted by humans.
  • There was the hum of bees, and the musky odor of pinks filled the air.

But what about your favorite opening and closing lines from your work? Lay 'em on us. We want to know. 

Elizabeth Donald: ​

Sara Harvey thought she was doing pretty well until the corpse started in with the puns. -- Blackfire

It really was a dark and stormy night. -- A More Perfect Union

Ernest Russell: 

1st line; Orland squinted as he tilted the bottle.-- From an unpublished short story

Last line; As he hit the river, his hand closed on liquid nothing. -- From an unpublished short story

Larry Young:

 It's been so long I forgot how much I hate sportin' the aluminum underwear. -- One Shot, One Beer

Anna Grace Carpenter: 

Opening -- On a hot July day Mama went cracked, locked my sisters and me in the tool shed, and lit us up like a Christmas tree. - Of Lips and Tongue

Opening -- Opening: During my last days on Malachee, I told Diamondback Jack it didn't matter how many souls I sent to an early grave, I could only die once for my sins. -- A Fistful of Dust

Van Allen Plexico: 

Down rained the night, cloaked all in fire and brimstone. -- First line of Lucian

Hawk awoke naked and screaming in the heart of a shattered galaxy. -- First line of Hawk

My father burned. -- First line of Barnak

The ghost of a god stood on a dead world and screamed his frustration at the shattered stars. First line of Kings of Oblivion

John Linwood Grant: 

Private Carter failed to die tonight. -- opening line of Songs of the Burning Men

David Wright: 

Everything you know about Genghis Khan is wrong. -- unreferenced

Allan Kemp: 

Nell cradled the semi-automatic assault rifle like a baby, keeping it close to her body and giving it plenty of support with both arms. -- unreferenced

Lucy Blue: 

To make the black cat bone, you have to boil the cat alive. -- The opening line from a horror/romance story in Eat the Peach, "Black Cat Bone"

Guess what, he told her, whispering in his mind, knowing she would hear him. I can do magic, too. -- My favorite closing, from The Devil Makes Three

Marian Allen: 

My wife and Lonnie's wife leant against the back door with their arms crossed over their chests and that blank look they always get when they're trying to decide whether to laugh or rip us new ones. --First line of "Lonnie, Me, and the Hound of Hell"

“You make me sick,” said Tartarus. -- Last line of Silver and Iron

Bobby Nash: 

Abraham Snow knew he was about to die -- and the thought of it pissed him off to no end. -- Snow Falls

Ef Deal: 

When a guy like Czesko says he wants to get baptized, you know it's gonna be weird night. --  "Czesko," F&SF March 2006

Mari Hersh-Tudor: 

She was alien, and she was going to die before he could find out where she came from. -- The War Dogs

The backflow regulator exploded in a shower of hot metal and sparks and this time it definitely, absolutely, was not Arin Riobi’s fault. Starfly lurched and threw Arin across the cramped compartment as it dropped out of hyperspace. Unintentionally. -- How Not To Hire A Mechanic

Danielle Palli:

So you see, my darling. You're not the only one with secrets. -- Between the Layers, Book #3 in The Data Collectors trilogy 

Sean Taylor:  

The woman across the table from me wasn’t really a woman at all. -- -- From "It's Christmas, Baby, Please Come Home," Show Me A Hero

The man who killed me wore a tattoo of Santa Claus across his chest. -- From "Sin and Error Pining," Show Me A Hero

The woman’s accent was just German enough to get his attention, all dripping with sexy gutturals and thick vowels, just exotic enough to trick a man’s ears into thinking he was having a drink with Marlene Dietrich instead of some two-bit nightclub singer in a no-account New York dive like Belle’s, but the comparison stopped cold at the woman’s voice. -- Opening from "Die Giftige Lilie,” The Ruby Files Volume 1

 “Oh boy. I should’ve tried harder to get killed.” “Like I’d let you get off that easy.” -- Closing from "Die Giftige Lilie,” The Ruby Files Volume 1

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Movie Reviews for Writers: Salem's Lot

Stephen King is perhaps the writer most guilty (not that it's a bad thing) of using writers as his main characters. You'll find them everywhere in his work. 

Secret Window. The Shining. Misery. But this wonderful vampire flick is often forgotten among King's writer stories. 

David Soul (Starsky and Hutch) is Ben Mears, a successful novelist who has returned to the town in which he grew up so he can be near the old Marsten house, a building that has haunted him since he was a kid and that he wants to write about in his newest novel. Only, the house is soon to become a nest of creatures of the night that plan to take over the town of Salem's Lot. While most of the movie's plot is focused on the action of trying to fight the vamps as they grow in number and become an increasingly dangerous infestation in town, there are several moments when Ben gets to demonstrate the way being a writer affects his life. 

For starters, perhaps the most common stereotype of a writer is based in the need to be valued as an author, to have been read, and to be appreciated for what he or she or they contributed to the world. When Mears goes into the local property rental company to see about renting the Marsten house, he is confronted by the owner Larry Crockett, played with subtle comedic panache by Fred Willard.

Crockett: Are you a writer?
Mears: Yes.
Crockett: What do you write?
Mears: Books.
Crockett: Have I read any?
Mears: Have you read any books?
Crockett: Your books.
Mears: I don't know.

I remember when I visited the library in the town I grew up in a few after I had become a published author, and particularly after having several books on the shelves in Barnes & Noble, and even one in Wal-Mart. I had a conversation very similar to this with the librarian when I dropped off a few of my books. While I was reminiscing about looking up "wrong" books and making out with my then girlfriend in one of the nonfiction aisles back in my younger days at that very library, she was gazing through me, ready to ask the question: "Anything I might have read?"

It's the question that sounds an awful lot like "Are you a New York Times best-seller or do you have a movie based on one of your books? If not, why would I care?"

It can hurt the first time you hear it. Then it becomes a sort of expected inside joke between you and every other writer you know. 

There's a famous quote that goes like this: You can't go home again. There's a lot of psychological and emotional truth to that statement, but it's a truth we writers tend to ignore and always go back home again. 

For some (like me) it's literally turning my MeMe's house into my preferred writer haven, physically going home (since we moved around a lot, MeMe's house was my only real home growing up) again to find my most at peace place to write. 

For others it's returning to the themes and story ideas of our earlier work (whether finished or just old ideas jotted down in notebooks) to return home to the parts of you that made you want to write in the first place. 

For Mears, it's a combination of both. The Marsten house has haunted him since he was a child, and he not only wants to return to it as inspiration for his new novel, but he also needs to return home physically to be near it (since he couldn't rent it himself and live in it to write). While on a date with a local teacher, Susan Norton, Mears confesses the following:

Norton: You had to come home. Retreat.
Mears: Sanctuary. I was all beat up. Glad to have a little loving care.
Norton: How long since your wife died?
Mears: Two years.
Norton: Are you writing about that?
Mears: No. I'm writing about a house.
Norton: A house?
Mears: The Marsten house.
Norton: The Marsten house? I see. No, I don't see. 

Of course Susan doesn't see. It's not her "home again." It's Mears' compulsion, not hers. Only he truly understands why he wants or needs to write about that house. Just like only you understand why you want or need to write about zombies or growing up in the city or raising horses or superheroes in space or, well, whatever. 

Last, Mears has an opportunity to catch up with a former teacher, Mr. Burke to share something vital to all creators of fiction. 

Mears: My name is Ben Mears. You probably don't remember me.
Burke: Of course I do. I've read your books.
Mears: I wouldn't have written them if it hadn't been for you.
Burke: You just said a very large thing. I'd like you to explain it to me.

For me, Mr. Burke was Ms. Geraldine Warren, my high school Literature and Composition teacher. She's the one who instilled in me a love for reading and writing. And Shakespeare, but that's a story for another time. At the college level it was an American Lit professor, David, with whom I became a friend over the course of the class (I really wanted to say "course of the course") and kept in touch with over lunch afterward. He ignited my zeal and passion for short stories. 

It's Burke's line "You just said a very large thing" that resonates in this exchange, at least to me. 
At the time they were inspiring me, neither David nor Ms. Warren knew anything about the thing they were causing to happen inside me. Hell, neither did I. Not really, anyway. Not fully. It was only in hindsight I could see the picture form in its entirety. And it was a very large thing. And I do wish I could let them both know now that "I wouldn't have written them if it hadn't been for you." 

One has died, and the other has been lost across the changing of the Web from bulletin board systems to the original AOL to a real web of interconnected websites and various trendy email services of the moment. So, I really have no way to let them know. 

All that to say, tell somebody if you still can. Find your Mr. Burke. 

It's telling in this conversation that Mr. Burke actually knew about Mears' writing and had read his books, as opposed to the conversation with Mr. Crockett. The people who matter, ultimately really matter to you as an author, they'll know. They'll value you. They'll have read your work. They'll appreciate your contributions. And they'll have most likely been there throughout the journey in more cases than not. But you'll never know unless you let them know how important they are to your writer's life. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Close to the Vest—Embracing the Mystery in Your Fiction

Quick! What does the green light at the end of the dock mean for Gatsby? What is the significance of the colored rooms in Poe's “Masque of the Red Death”? There are lots and lots of guesses, and lots and lots of critical papers even about such things, but honestly, only Fitzgerald and Poe know for sure. And that's just fine. The reason these two stories continue to resonate with people is because of the mysteries they still hold.

Fine, fine, fine. Those are literary masterpieces. What about popular fiction? Okay. Challenge accepted. I'll go as low-brow as movies. Is Decker a replicant or not? Are you sure? What's really going on with the titular Spider Woman in that movie about her kiss? Is “the shape” in the original Halloween killable or not? (Before the endless sequels, of course.)

See? Mysteries.

And not just the “Was it Colonel Mustard in the dining room with a pipe wrench?” kind of mysteries (though those can work too.)

The best stories, and again, as with any essay on this blog, in my heavily read and studied opinion (vanity, thy name is Sean), all leave a bit of mystery unsolved for the readers, whether in some character's story (What is Ned Land's story?), some symbol that isn't defined (Is the rain really a stand in for sex in this scene?), some action unexplained (What did he say to her in that aside the author didn't reveal?), or some thematic idea unspoken (If good triumphs over evil, why did Hannibal escape?).

And we can learn a lot from them.

Yes, yes, I know. We live in a world of best-sellers and Summer blockbusters where every secret is supposed to be revealed by the end of the final act and we fill in all the blanks for our audiences. After all, that's what modern readers want, right? Everything wrapped up in a pretty little bow with the right tag and a proper message on the card so it gets delivered to the correct person who can open it up and suddenly make sense out of everything he or she or they has seen or read. That's what publishers look for, neat little bows. All the ducks in a row. All the questions answered.

But think about it for a few moments... What if we didn't?

Why mystery?

There are lots of great reasons to leave mysteries in your work. I'll cover just a few of them hear. Feel free to explore the rest of them in your own writing and reading.

1. Mysteries allow the writer to hide inside the work.

Typically writers tend to not want to directly inject themselves and their opinions into their work in order to avoid writing propaganda, and when they do, they tend to avoid mystery. I'm looking at you, Narnia and Atlas Shrugged. But if you look deeper, there are plenty of amazing works of both literary and popular fiction that have a lot to say—maybe or maybe not. And that's because the writers who created them embraced the mystery.

Some might call this subtlety instead, but it's more hidden than that. It's almost like one of those hidden eye puzzles from the 1990s that were so popular. If you learned the trick, most people could see the hidden picture in all the weird zig-zag patterns. But, if you have an astigmatism or just the wrong level of near-sightedness or far-sightedness, you were screwed from the get-go. Try as you might, you just weren't going to be able to see that horse, or sea turtle, or “I love you, mom!” in calligraphy.

And that's how this kind of mystery works. If you're the right target, you probably see it, but you'll never quite understand if it's just something you're bringing to the story yourself or if it's really there.

A case in point—The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I know, I know. The epic high point of literature, right? Regardless, I have a strong opinion that this movie is about a hell of a lot more than just two prudes who get stuck at the secret lab of a transsexual alien. I hear you saying, “Of course it is, stupid. It's about LGBTQIA+ people being trapped and unable to truly be themselves in an American patriarchy. I think while it may also be about that, what it truly has to say is something that remains more hidden, a mystery if you will allow me. That mystery is this: When the sexual revolution is all said and done, the only people to survive it were women. The revolution happens, but traditional maleness like Rocky and reckless individualism like Frank are quick to pay the price. Even Brad, the bastion of patriarchal mores and values is broken (“Help me, Mommy!” he sings). Only Janet faces the revolution and survives, thriving even finally. Rocky Horror is about how women won the sexual revolution of the 1960s and early 1970s.

Am I right? Who knows? Who cares? The important part is that the mystery allows me to play with notions that perhaps Richard O'Brien was trying to hide the story of Rock-n-Roll giving way to Glam Rock in his screen play. Or maybe it was only about LGBTQIA+ feelings all along and that was all. Or maybe it was about the conflict between nostalgia and moving forward into new types of stories. It doesn't matter. O'Brien's views are so deep in that screenplay we may never know, but they're shrouded. They're open for everybody to take a guess. And that's okay.

A few other examples from actual books, for you more high brow types:

– Political Views –

Dickens' perennial classic, A Christmas Carol, isn't just a a fun holiday ghost romp about a mean old miser. It's a political jab at the views of Thomas Malthus. Malthus believed that if people took care of the poor, then they would just continued to procreate and eat up resources. Best to let them starve or work themselves to death and stop using the resources that should be reserved for the industrious providers or the well-off. (I know; sounds familiar today, doesn't it?)

Sophocles, in his play Oedipus at Colonus, is taking pot shots at not just how Greek culture is declining, but why it is declining and how the leaders are pressing the gas pedal on the chariot toward hell.

“Does Sophocles actually say any of these things? No, of course not. He's old, not senile. You say these things open ly, they give you hemlock of something. He doesn't have to say them, though' everyone who see the play (Oedipus at Colonus) can draw his own conclusions: look at Theseus, look at whatever leader you have near to hand, look at Theseus again—hmmmm (or words to that effect). See? Political.” —Thomas Foster, How To Read Literature Like a Professor

– Social Views –

What about traditional religious and cultural rules that trap people into loveless and disastrous marriages? Look no further than Eudora Welty's Ethan Frome or Kate Chopin's The Awakening. With Chopin you also get the added value of early feminism. How about The Bell Jar? Or The Catcher in the Rye? Too fancy for you? Okay. How about Bradbury's cultural beliefs in mankind's rebuilding on another planet in The Martian Chronicles? Or even H. Rider Haggard's evolving views of might makes right between Allan Quatermain and She and the softening of the great white right to expand in later works. And what is E.R. Burroughs saying about the rugged individualism of American male unstoppable-ness in his Mars series?

– Religious Views –

Compare the religious allegories of C.S. Lewis to the religious metaphors and mysteries of J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis dots all his “i”s and crosses all his “t”s so the point isn't lost or even having to be thought about. Aslan is God and Jesus. You got that. Good. Don't forget it. 

But who is Gandalf? God? Sometimes. Jesus? Well, he does come back from the dead in white robes. Is he a fellow traveler? Sure. Okay. Who the hell is he? And don't even mention the returning king or the friend who sticks closer than a brother? Confused yet by the religious mysteries in the work? Don't worry. It's entirely intentional. Much to Tolkien's credit, he doesn't answer the questions. He lets the mystery linger in the mind of the reader. But can we be sure it is there intentionally? Don't forget that Lewis and Tolkien regularly got together at the pub with the rest of the Inklings to drink and discuss literature and religion and politics and writing.

Bear in mind, though—and I can't stress this point enough—that none of these interpretations are stated. None are set in stone. (Except for Lewis' Aslan.) They are all inferred, not necessarily even implied. They are mysteries in the subtext. And they keep the works fresh in the minds of readers and on the shelves of bookstores each year.

2. Mysteries allow readers to wonder.

Good mysteries put a question into a reader's mind. Great mysteries worm their way into a reader's brain one centimeter at a time, gnawing and licking at the soft tissue of the brain and pushing each stray thought to the side to gain dominance over all the synapses so that the mind can focus on one question alone—my question.

Great mysteries are the kind that make you talk about a movie after you are driving home from the theater. “Was Darth Vader the necessary evil to balance a force that was leaning too far to the good side?” “Is Baby Doll in her real reality when she was lobotomized or could it be just another, more realistic dream?” “What actually happened to Lucy when when transcended her human form?”

Great mysteries are also the kind that keep readers talking about a book when they are online or at their writers group or sitting around the basement doing homework.

Yes, even YOUR book.

But they don't work if you don't write them into your work. And they also don't work if you answer them and fill in all the blanks for readers.

We see it all the time in series fiction. Will they or won't they? Oh, look, they like each other now. I wonder what will happen in the next book. Oh, crap. His wizardess fiancée showed up. I thought she was dead. How will they move past this one—and solve the current dilemma of course.

But what about non-series fiction? And what about fiction that isn't so plot driven or is so plot-driven it doesn't have time for those kind of questions. Well, stick in pin in that right there because you never are so plot-driven that you don't have time for mystery. It just has to be subtle.

For example, in Ian Fleming's 007 novels, you never really wonder if Bond is going to get out alive. That's a given. But what about one of those side characters that Bond actually cares about. What if Moneypenny gets in trouble somehow and that figures through a few books? What if a love interest manages to survive and come back to visit in another volume? No, I doubt you'll see that happen in a Bond book, but it could very well happen in yours.

Just think of the “what if” questions you could plant into your readers minds.

3. Mysteries allow readers to pick a side.

If you really want to see your fiction live forever, let your readers pick sides in an argument about the mysteries that you choose not to spell out and put into a convenient box. 

For example, let's look at the room colors in Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death" referenced above at the beginning of this article. Pretty much since the time that story was seen by readers, people has argued about what the colors symbolize. Is it the seven deadly sins? Is it moods and psychological issues as thought by post-Freudian critics? Is it just a random collection of colors that doesn't mean anything? Don't expect those arguments to be ever really be settled for good. Poe was a genius. As long as people disagree on his unsolved color code, that story will continue to live in the public mind. 

Now, you may not have the clout of Poe or Fitzgerald or Fleming or Dent, but you do have readers, and if you want them to remember your work forever and ever, till death do you part, consider helping them break into camps and argue with each other about what you mean by that character or that location or that plot point. 

This works because all people have an innate desire to be right—especially about their own opinions. Play into that. But remember... DON'T WRAP THE ANSWER IN A BOW AND GIVE IT AWAY. When you give the answer, the argument stops. People stop talking about and thinking about your puzzle. 

Let's look again as something like Sophocles, referenced above:

“Was the cave symbolic? You bet.

"Of what?

"That, I fear, is another matter. We want it to mean something, don't we? More than that, we want it to mean some thing, one thing for all of us and for all time...

“What the cave symbolizes will be determined to a large extend by how the individual reader engages the text. Every reader's experience of every work is unique, largely because each person will emphasize various elements to differing degrees, and those differences will cause certain features of the text to become more or less pronounced. We bring an individual history to our readers...”

“One of the pleasures of literary scholarship lies in encountering different and even conflicting interpretations, since the great work allows for a considerable range of possible interpretations.” —Thomas Foster, How To Read Literature Like a Professor

One of the best tools in your writer's toolkit is the puzzle creator and one of your best writer super powers is the ability to portray images and events that can mean different things to different readers. 

4. Mysteries allow a story to stick with readers after they close the book.

Let's look at a few memorable books and movies that have stood the test of time and the questions they leave with readers or viewers:

  • John Carpenter's The Thing – Which of the two survivors is harboring the creature? What of neither of them are? What next?
  • Roman Holiday – But couldn't they have gotten together if... Will they both be forever unhappy?
  • A Farewell to Arms (the book, not the movie) – what happens next to Frederic? Was the universe really out to get Frederic and Catherine for trying to be existentially happy?
  • The Wildcards series – how will the Aces ever rebuild real credibility? Can the Jokers ever get genuine acceptance?

There's a wonderful little (or not so little) epic fantasy series by one of my wife's favorite writers, Stephen Lawhead, called the Song of Albion trilogy. One thing about about that series that has always puzzled her though is the introduction of a family in the first volume that helps the main character get from point A to point B in the plot. Then they disappear. My lovely, literate bride spent the entire series looking for that family to appear again and discover their grand purpose in the story—because clearly they had one. Right? Did Lawhead simply forget about them? Did he feel they had served their purpose and didn't need any further "screen time"? Or did intentionally leave their story untold, knowing it would make my poor little wife's head shift into overdrive to wonder about long after she had closed the book on the series and moved on to Cadfael or Evan Evans? 

I used to believe it was an accident, that Lawhead simply forgot about them and let them fall into the cracks between the pages. But the more I thought about it, the more I began to lean toward it being an intentional omission. I believe there story was simply a single point of intersection and that by making the family interesting it would compel readers to wonder about them, particularly to wonder enough to pick up books two and three in the series. 

It's a mystery. 

Why do the mysteries like those covered in this article live on in readers' heads after the books are closed and put back on the shelves? Precisely because they are unanswered, lingering, hinted at but not expounded upon, barely shown but kept interesting, "squirrels" that cause the readers' focus to shift and chase through the yard. 

But how do you do that as a writer?

Well, for starters:

  • Untold backstories for interesting side characters
    (Where did that reporter she used to date come from? What was their time together like?)
  • Symbols that don't have specified meanings
    (Gatsby's light, Poe's paint jobs)
  • Actions that seem initial out of character
    (Why would a big softie like him do THAT?!)
  • A lack of denouement
    (So, what happened to the femme fatale who wasn't the killer?)
  • The unexpected and lesser preferred ending, i.e. the "WRONG" ending
    (Why didn't they get together, you big meanie?)
  • The third act resolution introducing new issues that don't get solved
    (Wait... If that's whodunit, then what will happen to the butler after all?)
  • World-building issues that aren't part of the main plot
    (What about that poverty-stricken part of town; is the hero going back there to help or not?)
  • Lack of clarity in the resolution
    (Is the heroine in her right mind now... DUM, DUM, DUM... or is it just another multiple personality?)
  • Turning a key symbol around in the last act
    (What if Aslan wasn't really God after all, but an imposter?)
  • Symbolic bits and bobs that are secretly the writer's opinions about religion, politics, culture, etc.
    (Does that chain on the hero's car mean he is hampered by his caste or not?)

This is just a starter list. The more you exercise this part of your brain as an author, the more avenues you will see open up to you. 

What now?

So, you see, the important thing in all of this is to keep those meddling kids from actually pulling the mask off and revealing the secret. 

Hopefully, this little introduction has started or helped you keep thinking about letting mysteries remain mysterious in your work. Or maybe for some of you, actually weaving some mystery into your stories. Or just looking for them in other books and movies as you read and watch to help you continue to grow in this area of writing. 

The key is to remember that poor dead/alive kitty cat in Schrödinger's famous box. Nobody knows anything for certain until that box gets opened. And as long as you are doing your job as a mystery-creating writer, you're going to do your damnedest to hide all the scissors and utility blades in the house, so that the stupid box never gets opened. 

Friday, April 8, 2022

MOONSTONE DOUBLE SHOT -- Kochak Stalks the Night!

Writers: Bobby Nash, Paul Kupperberg, Nicole Kurtz

Cover Art: John K. Snyder

62pgs, prose, b/w, 6” x 9”, $5.49

Two brand new stories!

Kolchak teams up with Bennu as what we have known about our universe may need to be amended.

And the first appearance of Pythias the oracle! Her origins are shrouded in mystery, but her power is highly sought after. You may want guidance, but be careful what you wish for.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Spring Break 2020!

 Just a heads up that I'll be taking most
of the week off for Spring Break
to recharge the batteries. 

Saturday, April 2, 2022

iHero is back as!

That's right. The award-winning superhero fiction of iHero Entertainment is back with the same cast of writers you know and love from the original run -- Frank Fradella, Matt Hiebert, and Sean Taylor

Featuring all new stories of characters both old and new. 

Check it out at

Friday, April 1, 2022



Kimberly Richardson’s jazz loving, novel writing detective is BACK! JACKIE VERONA: THE DEVIL’S MUSIC is now available in print and digital formats from Kimberly Richardson’s Pulp Gothic, her author imprint, and Pro Se Productions.

Jackie and her husband Clovis welcome an old friend, a talented New Orleans jazz musician, to the Moon City jazz scene, yet all is not what it appears to be. Lies are told, secrets are revealed and above it all . . . MURDER. Jackie and her partner Mooney soon discover that the Devil has made a new home in Moon City!

Jackie Verona: The Devil’s Music! By Kimberly Richardson. From Kimberly Richardson’s Pulp Gothic and Pro Se Productions.

Featuring a fantastic cover and print formatting and logo design by Sean E. Ali, JACKIE VERONA: THE DEVIL’S MUSIC is available for 7.99 via Amazon.

Formatted by Antonino lo Iaocono, Richardson’s second mystery in this series is available as an ebook for only 99 cents for a limited time from Amazon. Kindle Unlimited members can read for free!

JACKIE VERONA: A MURDER OF GYPSIES, the first volume in the series, is available on Amazon from Pro Se Productions.

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital copies for review, email

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to Like Pro Se on Facebook at Pro Se Productions.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Narrowing the Target -- Publishing with a Single Audience in Mind

Let's talk about the idea that certain types of stories are traditionally for specific genders or targets. For example, romances were clearing published throughout much of publishing history with women readers in mind. Men's adventure magazines clearly wanted to appeal to the manly man (or those who imagined themselves to be) market.

Today, with our focus on diversity and inclusion, we have books that are targeted to fill in gaps traditionally missed in publishing, such as books specifically for certain racial audiences or for lesbian, gay, and trans markets (different things to marketers). And then there are books published (even fiction) for those of a certain political bent as a reaction to real or perceived slights in the culture (I'm looking at you, Comicsgate). 

What does all this mean for us are writers and readers? I was lucking enough to get some time from two of my favorite folks -- HC Playa and John L. Taylor -- to pick their brains about just this issue.

Traditionally single publishing has been divided along gender lines -- adventures for men, romance for girls. How do you see that changing? Are those divisions beginning to fade as men and women are reading similar things? Or do they still control a significant place in the publishing world?

HC Playa: So I am mostly answering as a reader vs as an author. I literally started writing BECAUSE so much fiction aimed at women seemed to be formulaic or focus only on romance and the writers I admired most found a way to write a damn good story with good characters and a dash of romance only made it that much better.

On gender division--TBH it rather depends on how our society progresses or regresses. Thanks to some big name authors (Like Laurel K Hamilton, Sherrilyn McQueen and many others that I don't know off the top of my head) many a male reader discovered that so-called "romance novels" were just adventures with some spice and well crafted characters. The gender division in writing reflected society. "Men's fiction either excluded women in the plot or used them as plot devices whereas "women's fiction" paints larger than life men that can do all the things AND treats their women right...well mostly. There are plenty of project-save-an-a**hole plot lines 🤣 in books out there. It was never that women only wanted to read romances or cozy's all that was marketed to them. The divide is and was a pillar of mysogeny, the idea that men and women are so inherently different that she can't possibly be interested in adventures and vice versa that a man can't possibly want to read a story that puts him in touch with emotions.

I think to some degree there will always be a market for fiction aimed at specific audiences. There are are plenty of people that find a reading genre niche they like and stick with it, but I don't know that hard and fast gender-divided marketing has as much a place as it once did.

John L. Taylor: As a horror writer, I feel this very much as huge amounts of the genre are aimed at young men. So here are my takes. I don't see my genre as becoming any less gender focused in writing, just more youth focused. Series like Goosebumps and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark were some of the bestselling horror books of the last 30 years, and I'm seeing renewed interest in youth driven projects. Those seem to trend more in a gender neutral direction. But in terms of gender specific genre fiction, I'm seeing more self aware or apologetic works. Men's Adventure specifically seems to be in the doghouse with editors right now. Titles like the Executioner were discontinued by Harlequin recently, and I see this continuing. 

Do you see single audience publishing becoming more propagandized and/or reactionary rather than driven by markets? Are new single issue or single audience models becoming more based on reactions against the way the world is changing or are publishers just trying new directions in an ever changing world?

John L. Taylor:
Yes, in many ways. Horror in particular has a reputation for misogyny it's fighting to shake off. That has been of mixed success. While "post horror" movies are going strong and producing amazing films like Midsomer and Get Out, it's a genre trying to fit into a culture where it's traditional tropes are simply no longer relevant to it's core market (lower middle class men ages 16-25). Most genre fiction is becoming more message/virtue driven, as is media in general. Romance is also in a tug of war at the moment. with trope bending progressive narratives aimed at a media savvy urban readership or an ocean of Amish bonnets and "All American Country Girl" romances aimed at rural Evangelicals fight for shelf space while competing with Harry Potter for the same audience. I believe the emphasis of message over substance is really hurting their appeal right now.

HC Playa: I hadn't given this much thought before and to be honest the idea is rather frightening. I write views that speak of tolerance and I admit that I have a hard time enjoying anything that smacks of misogamy or racism or anything along those lines. So I suppose the answer is: quite likely.

Art reflects life, so unless we as a society become less polarized, then yes.

Let's look into the future. Of the single audience markets that are trending nowadays, do you think many of them will still be around in the next 20 to 30 years? Do you think that proves that the markets are a good idea for publishing or that as a people we will continue to divide along cultural lines and publishers will still be trying to keep up?

HC Playa: I have no idea what's trending. I am always late to the game or do it absurdly early and then like 20yrs later people are like, ooooh this is cool. 👀

Trends come and go, so give it enough time and the answer is always yes, it'll again be popular.

John L. Taylor: Some single audience fiction will never fade totally. The longing for adventure, romance, and horror are to deeply ingrained in the human psyche to lose appeal. The subgenres, however, will change quite a lot. Westerns will die off. There's no way to separate those themes from a very dark period in U.S. history. Military adventures will take their place, as well as things like Sword and Sorcery and Sword and Planet will take their place. Master Chief is the new Mack Bolan, it seems. Post Horror will continue to grow and explore new themes and audiences, as horror always does. Romance, I believe will find a new, untapped market: Men. Many young men are socially isolated and dream of genuine emotional connection, and editors will soon realize this. New classics are on the way that will be cherished for decades. But I think this is all about ten years down the road from now. Works from the period between 2014 and 2025 will not age well, in my esteem. They'll be a perfect time capsule of the Culture Wars era, but I don't see any of them having the timeless appeal of what came before. Hell, the bestselling movies in America right now are based on Marvel comics from 30+ years ago. I doubt material being produced right now will have that kind of staying power. 

Here's the big one. What are the "good" uses of single audience markets? What are the "bad" uses of it? Or is it just way too complex to be defined that narrowly?

John L. Taylor: Defining good or bad uses of single audience fiction is based on a logical fallacy: that it was ever single audience. Every genre has some crossover appeal. For example, despite the male nerd stereotype, half of the Dungeons and Dragons players I know are middle class women with college degrees. They like the appeal of adventure outside the office, as men before them did. Tapping that longing, with whomever it lies, is the way forward.

HC Playa: Good uses: well as a parent I liked age demographic lines at least until they graduated out of easy readers and small chapter books and into actual novels.

I don't really pay the slightest attention to how a book is marketed. I read the blurb and the first page or so and if it intrigues me, it's a sale.

I suppose some good uses can be to market more diverse fiction, so that people see that there ARE stories out there that they connect with. Bad uses would be to spread propaganda and hate.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Oh, Oh, Oh, It's Magic! Building Magic Systems in Fiction.

It's a staple in the worlds of fantasy fiction. Not just that, but you also encounter it in some sci-fi tales and quite a few of the various "-punks" that scatter the literary landscape. But outside of just copying the classics, how do writers actually put together a system of magic that makes sense in their settings?

How much thought do you put into your magic systems in fantasy (or even sci-fi in some situations)? Is it similar to the world building or even like another character or setting in its own right?

HC Playa: How deeply I delve into the system rather depends on the story. Generally there are some things that I have to consider:

  1. Does everyone use magic?
  2. Is it attached to divinity/religion?
  3. Is it innate or conferred through special objects or rituals?
  4. Do all beings in the world use or view the magic similarly?

Ernest Russell: Great Topic! I have found codifying the basics is important. I liken it to Asimov's laws of robotics.. here are the guidelines now, normally more than three, then ask can this work according to these guides in attempt not to break the system. Of course, someone often ends up breaking or trying to break the system. Intentional- they're usually a villain. Unintentional - often the McGuffin for the story.

Marian Allen: In my fantasy trilogy, Sage, the "magic" and "religion" are pretty much the same thing. I did quite a bit of research and thinking and note-taking to separate this into two different attitudes/approaches, one of harmony and one of domination. I wouldn't say the two are characters, but they certainly reflect and define the "good guys" and the "bad guys."

Frank Fradella: When I write in a magical setting, it's important for me that magic is vital to the story. If I can take magic out of the story and still tell the story, then I'm doing it wrong. For me, it can't be something you tack on for flavor. Magic IS the setting.

Tamara Lowery: My magic system is pretty soft, and I tend to make things up as I go. I have been pleasantly surprised when my subconscious applied known science on some aspects. For instance, I have gold coated vines which are carnivorous. Most real carnivorous plants develop in environments which don't afford much sunlight for photosynthesis. I didn't do that on purpose, but it works.

Sean Taylor: For me, magic is not a typical part of my fiction, but in the case when it is important, I like to take the time to figure out why and how it works. I like to get beyond the sort of "djinn" approach, where anything goes. I like the idea of tying magic to things like the five senses, the four humors, or the base elements, that sort of thing. 

What are your rules/guidelines for designing a magic system in your novels and stories?

Marian Allen: The rules/guidelines are the same as anything else: a magic/religious system has to have its own internal logic and has to have a solid reason for being part of the story or novel, not just be window dressing.

Frank Fradella: I try to think of magic as "science we don't yet understand." I don't bend science to fit my stories, and I give magic the same respect. I have clearly defined rules for how magic works, what it can do, and what it can't do. I work within the broad limits of those rules.

Mari Hersh-Tudor: I have two magic systems in my fantasy world: one for humans and one for nonhumans. Humans require study and spells and accoutrements. Nonhumans have an innate ability and require only discipline and willpower.

Kaleb Kramer: I tend to do a lot of thought, and no real rules, because it is very different for each project, and so much of the thematic and symbolic elements are tied into magic, that addressing magic is, for me, fundamentally addressing the theme, tone, and feel of the entire project

Sean Taylor: The best idea for magic I ever heard, and the one rule I've stuck to throughout my career came from you, Frank. It's this: If magic is energy, then it must follow the laws of energy. If something happens, an equal and opposite happens elsewhere. Nothing new can be created without pulling from something else. The law of energy conservation must be maintains. We even wrote a pair of stories that did this for a holiday themed posting on iHero. So much fun. And such a good rule for energy-based magic. 

Ef Deal: I put a lot of thought into it. Recently I researched both zombies and vampires before literature or film defined them. Once I realized the variety of types in myth and legend, I had to establish my own world’s version of these, and my workshop members who were not genre readers insisted it was a huge mess of disinformation. EVERYONE knows vampires sparkle and burst into flames in sunlight. EVERYONE knows zombies are the result of science gone awry—radiation or patient zero. But I spent hours and hours of research that didn’t involve watching movies. I had to take info time refuting the misapprehensions. In the end, I had my MC mock the sources of those tropes.

Ernest Russell: Another aspect to figure out what type of magic and is there more than one type? Will it be physical magic? Energy based? Spirit based? Is the mana high, low, none.

I have a series of short stories all set in a low mana version of our world. The magic is based on will and is channeled through the pineal gland. A few people can use a focus to do magic. Others have to make intense preparation, have large number of people, ritual and so to create magic. And the vast majority don't have a clue. The currently published is in All That Weird Jazz. Another, following different character will arrive in a Gothic horror anthology.

HC Playa: Much like with my plots, in my early writing magic tended to be as I go, making up the rules as I went. The more I have written, especially after taking a world building workshop, I tend to treat it as part of the world building and decide the things listed above before diving into the story. One of my most common choices is to apply different "rules" OR different views of it to different groups, which automatically builds conflict into the system and plot.