Monday, October 18, 2021

Motivational Monday: Crawling Back? Not Yet!

 


Sunday, October 17, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: The Darkness

Because you've been so good this Halloween season, here's an extra movie review for writers for your candy bag. Enjoy!


Have you figured out yet that I'm a sucker for indie thrillers and indie horror? Well, this is another that I'm so glad I discovered. It's a low-budget, but well directed and acted, moody movie with a sort of invisible shout-out to the work of Hammer's House of Horror.

Lisa and David have booked a working vacation in Ireland so he can work on a business plan and she can begin work on her next book. He is easily distracted by the constant ringing of his cell phone calling him away from her, and she is plagued by the fear that she is an imposter as a writer. 

Lisa: I don't want to be a one-book wonder.

David: Babe,  you're book was great. You sold 200,000 copies. That's no joke for a first time writer. Just listen to your publicist. Keep writing. Something will come. 

Lisa: Yeah, but rom con wasn't exactly what I had in mind, and I donw know, I feel like I have this urge to write something and it is burning, but I have no idea where to start. Do you know what I mean? Yeah, I'm not making any sense, am I?

David: Sometimes you just need to be practical. Write for the right market. Write for yourself. Can't you do both?

Lisa: I just need some inspiration. that house is beautiful. That house is inspiration. I just need to put on my big girl pants and get out my typewriter and start typing. It'll be legendary. Because I'm legendary.

Does any of this discussion sound familiar? There's so much to unpack in it. 

1. Who doesn't suffer from the fear they'll never recapture the lightning in a bottle of a previous work?

2. The work is in the writing. So keep writing. 

3. Ever feel typecast as a writer of a certain genre and feel you can't break out? I do. I feel like my entire writing life (wouldn't call it a career) has been to move from one genre to another for a few stories at a time, at least until my recent foray into new pulp stories, where I feel I've been hanging out for longer than normal. 

4. Put on your big girl pants and write. Screw inspiration. It'll come when you show it you mean business with or without. 

5. Write for the market or write for yourself. There's no real wrong answer here, as long as you enjoy what you're writing. When you don't, that's a sign to change gears, even if just temporarily. And yes, you can do both? (This is not to be wrapped up in "chasing the markets" though, because that's trend-chasing, and you'll almost always be behind it.)

The one I really want to zero in on though is this one: I have an urge to write something and it's burning, but I don't know where to start. 

This can plague us all. It's usually a sure-fire sign that you're onto something awesome that will change the way you write. The trouble is that until you've done it, you're not that writer yet. You're a work in progress, and that "in progress" can be the kind of thing that either drives you on or locks you down. 

Luckily, for Lisa, that "burning urge" is something awesome, as she discovers a journal written by a woman who used to live on the land. It tells the story of Niav, an orphan who was married and happy, at least until... (okay, no spoilers). 

There are lots of movies that use the story within a story mechanic, but few that use a story about a writer within a story about a writer, and that makes this movie so much fun. Niav wanted to write her own journey to happiness, thus she started the journal, and Lisa finds her story so compelling she decides to make it the basis for ner next novel -- her own twist on the rom-com rut she's feels pigeonholed into. 

As Lisa begins to read and then write Niav's story, she learns a few things about the ways stories work in terms of building relationships and even community. 

The first lesson is that stories create bonds between people. Or in her case, between people and ghosts. But the truth is still the truth -- stories create bonds. 

I've seen it over and over again, from a love of Pride and Prejudice to a love of Edgar Rice Burroughs to a love of Zora Neale Hurston. The stories are the glue that gets folks talking and sharing and holds and creates relationships. 

Those bonds last. Those bonds defy and cross everything from racial to socio-economic to political divisions. Those bonds, that love of particular stories and authors, they tie people together in all the ways that even ideals and religions can't. 

And never discount this -- your stories can and will do the same thing. 

The second lesson is that stories are reminders, in this case even for ghosts. 

In Lisa's case, the best way to protect herself was to remind Niav of the story she told via the journal, to allow her to be herself again and not just vengeance in spirit form.

In my life, I learned this first hand with one of my sons. He has rapid shift bipolar, and the one constant is the story he has in his head of who he wants to be. So when all else failed, when the most obvious response was another argument or confrontation, I learned that by retelling that story and appealing to his desire to that person was the way to build common ground and remind him of the kind of hero he wanted to be in his story. 

The beauty of this lesson is that it doesn't just apply to readers but to the creators of stories too. Each time I re-read (or listen to the audiobook version of) one of my stories, I remember a lot of things that work-a-day stress and annoyances try to make me forget. I remember why I love to write. I remember how much my characters have meant to me as I told their stories. And I remember who I am through re-experiencing the stories.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

[Link] Noir Is The New Black Anthologizes the Best in African American Comics

New publisher FairSquare Comics makes a strong debut with its groundbreaking noir-centered anthology that celebrates Black comics creators.

by Andrew Firestone

Newly released from Fabrice Sapolsky’s FairSquare Comics, its first offering Noir Is The New Black is an old-school comics anthology that delves into the inner and outer reaches of some of the best African American creators in comics today. The anthology is a collection showcasing 16 tales of shadowy, psychologically-gripping drama in the vein of classic urban mystery. Featuring an impressive roster of some 40 top creators, Noir Is The New Black provides an incredibly diverse compendium of stories set in time periods as disparate as the 1700s and the far-flung future, encompassing genres as different as true crime and science fiction. What unites them, according to artist Shawn Martinbrough’s foreword, is “a distinct visual approach to storytelling,” and it is an eclectic journey like no other.

Taking a purist’s approach to the headspace of the African American experience, this penetrative series of stories range from tales of rollicking adventure, such as the opener “Vera’s List” by Tyrone Finch and Todd Harris, as well as more cerebral sci-fi in “Igbo Landing” by Melody Cooper and Eder Messias, while occasionally treading into controversial territory. In totality, it is a daring approach, asking difficult questions of its audience throughout the journey through time and tempestuous circumstance. “The unfortunate reality for many of our lives, and it's something I've said from the start, is that we've lived and breathed noir our whole lives and I feel that comes through in many of our stories,” said editor TC Harris. “My philosophy has always been that within all of us, there is a story begging to be free. As creators of Noir Is The New Black, we were able to see our stories come to fruition.

Writer David F. Walker, creator of the hit DC character Naomi who contributed the story “Hart of the Matter,” said he was particularly inspired by the often dismal experience he had during the height of the pandemic. “I wrote the actual story at a time when I was struggling both creatively and emotionally. The pandemic was in full swing, life had been altered, and I was in a deep depression,” he said. To that end, he wrote the tale of Bobby Hart (skillfully illustrated by Mark M.D. Bright and Toyin Ajetunmobi), a writer of escapist fiction who finds himself on the wrong end of the kinds of crime stories he writes about. 

Read the full article: https://screenrant.com/noir-new-black-fairsquare-comics-anthology-african-american/

Friday, October 15, 2021

GRAILS TO CAPTURE, ROADS TO TRAVEL, MONSTERS TO KILL -- QUESTS UNTOLD ANTHOLOGY DEBUTS!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Pro Se Productions proudly announces a wild three-author anthology! QUESTS UNTOLD is now available in print and digital formats.

It’s a trope as old as time itself.... Somebody’s always looking for something...And sometimes it means fighting, blood, monsters, and untold treasures just beyond one’s grasp. That makes the search something more -- a quest!

QUESTS UNTOLD features a trio of tales by three of today’s best New Pulp writers exploring in their own way that most timeless of story, told around campfires and over various kinds of drink for centuries. Follow Dewayne Dowers, Teel James Glenn, and Kenneth Robkin as they set off into worlds all their own, all three taking you on QUESTS UNTOLD! From Pro Se Productions.

With a captivating cover by Perry Constantine and formatting by Cookie Morris, QUESTS UNTOLD is available on Amazon for 7.99.

This three-story anthology is also available on Kindle formatted by Morris for $0.99 for a limited time. 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 editorinchief@prose-press.com.

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Mocha Memoirs Press Focus #6: Alexandra Christian

This month I'm following up the previous series (eSpec Books) with a new one -- this time the amazing writers of Mocha Memoirs Press. Meet Alexandra Christian!

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

Falling Into Rhythm is my latest from Mocha Memoirs Press. It’s a contemporary small-town romance about a kindergarten teacher who falls in love with one of her students’ dads. It’s a seasonal story in the vein of a Hallmark movie. Nothing too complicated, but a light, feel-good read. 

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer?

My family is full of storytellers and readers. My father was the master of telling a joke or funny story and definitely passed that on to his children. My sister, novelist Lucy Blue, was the first to pursue writing as a career, and watching her put down stories that were entertaining and the kinds of things I wanted to read, was really inspiring.

What inspires you to write?

Finding stories that I want to read. I know I can’t be the only person that wants a good, character-driven adventure with a romance at the center. I always loved movies like Romancing the Stone and Crocodile Dundee that are essentially romances with an awesome adventure for the couple. 

Unfortunately, finding books with that same sensibility is not easy, so I decided to write my own.  

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

Unlikely pairings and small-town weirdness are probably my favorite things to work into a story. 

What would be your dream project?

I’ve always wanted to write a Harley Quinn YA novel. She’s one of my favorite comic book characters and I think she gets a bum rap for being a stupid nymphette in most iterations. 

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

My sister, Lucy Blue, has definitely been a big influence—by proximity if nothing else. I’ve also been heavily influenced (get this mix…) by Stephen King, Anais Nin, Nora Roberts, and most definitely all those “old school” romance writers — Julie Garwood, Sandra Brown, and other purveyors of the bodice ripper.

Where would you rank writing on the Is it an art or it is a science continuum? Why?

I definitely think writing is an art. Or it should be, anyway. Just like singing or painting, or acting—one can be taught technique, but to be good, one must have natural talent. Art is an expression of the soul that comes from the artist but can be interpreted in a thousand different ways by the receiver. It takes that little spark of magic to make that happen and not everyone is gifted with it. Which is great. I mean, I can’t do math. I was not gifted with that spark. If one approaches art from a scientific standpoint, it shows. If a writer is using a marketing formula to create, you might sell a few books, sure. But the books will never speak to the reader’s soul. They won’t be remembered in a few weeks’ time. 

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Finding the time to do it. 

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

I have a couple of things out right now that I’m super-excited about. First is my squishy contemporary romance, Falling Into Rhythm. It’s a small-town romance about a kindergarten teacher and a retired rock star. It was so much fun to write and the perfect “curl up with a cup of tea on a rainy day and read” book. The other is the second novella in my Shadow Council Archives series starring Dr. Watson, Dr. Watson and the Ladies Club Coven. In this episode, Dr. Watson finds out that his landlady, Mrs. Hudson, is a witch whose coven is charged with protecting the secrets of the philosophers’ stone. That one is especially dear to me right now following the death of Una Stubbs, the incredible actress who played Mrs. Hudson in the BBC’s Sherlock

For more information, visit:

I can always be found on Facebook and haunting the outskirts of Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. My website is under construction at alexandrachristian.com, but you can still find my links at https://lexxxchristian.wixsite.com/alexandrachristian 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: Nightbooks


When I saw this one on Netflix, I knew I needed to add it to my list of movies about writers and to the list for this series of reviews. A kid is kidnapped by a classic wicked witch and forced to write scary stories and read them to her -- or she'll make him regret it in classic fairy tale fashion. 

The gist of this tale: Writers can be a little different animal, a horse of a different color, as the cliche goes. Sure, some of us function in normal society just fine, but deep down, there's something just plain weird in us that has us contemplating everything from murders to political coup d'etats to vampiric orgies to art gallery thefts to the seduction of a crowned prince or princess. 

There's a weird, weird world happening beneath our outward expressions. The trick is to own up to it and embrace it. 

It's a point this creepy, cute flick presents admirably. Based on J.A. White's book, Nightbooks centers around Alex, who at the beginning of the movie, storms into his room and threatens to destroy his notebooks of horror stories he has written. Something has happened to make him second guess writing them, but it's not revealed until later. 

Cue the creepy score. 

On his way to the boiler in the basement to hurl his notebooks into the flames, he is tricked into an open apartment, which slams shut and locks him in before the door disappears entirely. 

There he meets Yasmine (a fellow captive), Natacha (the witch), and Lenore (Natacha's sometimes invisible spy-cat). When threatened with... well, a "you'll wish you were dead" kind of fate... Alex blurts out that he can help the witch by writing scary stories. She's sold and immediately agrees to spare him -- as long as he keeps her entertained with creepy tales. 

But fate has other plans. Alex confesses later both to Yasmine and to Natacha that "I'll never write another story."

He longs to be more or less normal, and he's sick of being seen as weird by his friends.

Oddly enough, both his fellow captive and his captor have some helpful advice for him and his predicament. 

Says Yasmine: "Well, you are weird. But the thing that makes you weird makes them ordinary. And no one likes to be ordinary. Ordinary sucks. So they're going to try to take that away from you."

Says Natacha: "I'm mystified by you, storyteller. This beautiful darkness dances inside your brain and you should celebrate it, but you run from it. Why?"

They're both right. 

As writers, we really should embrace that weirdness that lives inside us. Don't be ashamed of it. It reminds me of a story my wife told me of a story she wrote when she was a child. I don't remember much about the plot, but at one point a head went flying by the protagonist. The reaction from her parents was basically, "Why can't you write nice stories without loose heads flying around?" 

I remember my writing partner on The Ruby Files, Bobby Nash, and me sitting in a restaurant discussing murder and mayhem for the book. And I also remember the odd looks we got from many of the tables around us. 

Celebrating that inner darkness or oddness puts a wall between you and the world of "norms," but it also can be fulfilling in so many ways. 

Alex's time held captive by Natacha begs the question, "Is he a captive or is she helping him become a better storyteller? Or both?" 

Is she both his muse and his jailer somehow? 

I tend to believe that's absolutely the case. She drives him to write better, always criticizing his work with what he feels are nit-picks, but as he takes them to heart, his stories do become better. Even if her goal is to belittle rather than instruct, the result is the same for Alex. 

We may have those kinds of "dark muses" in our lives as well. They're not the most supportive nor the most kind, but their constant badgering or ridiculing can somehow help us in the long run. Or course it's a fine line to balance between enduring toxic folks and learning from them without accepting their toxicity. That's a line all writers in that situation must discover for themselves. 

Still, Natacha is helpful in the end. A few of her "lessons" stand out to me in particular. 

When Alex reads a story that isn't one he feels connected to, a purely 'made-up' story, the witch tells him it is weak and that, "Every good story hints at truth. The more truth, the more powerful the story."

Truth powers fiction. Without the reality of societal politics, War and Peace would mean little to readers. Without the racism of the Southern past, They're Eyes Were Watching God wouldn't ring so true and make the characters so heroic. Without a history of worldwide cultural dominion over women, The Handmaid's Tale would just be another empty sci-fi story that flew under the radar. Truth powers ficion. And to make it more personal... YOUR truth powers YOUR fiction. 

At one point, Alex defaults to a heroic ending where the protagonist helps to save a ghost from a haunted graveyard, only to have the apartment shake and moan (yes, moan). Natacha quickly exclaims, "A happy ending?" Alex is floored, wondering what's wrong with that, before quickly changing the ending to have the boy captured by another spirit from among the graves. The witch tells him quickly, "Happy endings are a dangerous thing. Never forget that." 

In her case, happy endings are a physically dangerous reality, but even in our cases, we still need to be careful of overdoing them. You know what happy endings are -- they're actually endings. They're the period at the end of your fictional sentence. A hard stop. The reader no longer has to worry or wonder or review. Every emotional question is answered and it's finality staked in the ground forever and ever, amen. 

A romance writer friend of mine once shared the idea of the 'almost' happy ending. Sure, things end up on an uptick in the story curve, but it's not fully resolved yet. It's just the beginning of the real resolution, which is presented in such a way to linger in the reader's imagination. 

I prefer the bittersweet ending, the ones where the protaganists survive to get hurt again, but they do learn something from the awful things they've had to face. They're a little broken, but they're still around, still pushing forward, still willing to give it 'the ol' college try' as the cliche.

Later on, after facing Natacha's criticism so frequently, Alex asks after "The End" of another story if she liked it. Was it better? The witch, rather than setting his question to rest and giving his fragile young ego the boost it so clearly needs, responds, "Writers. So insecure."

I totally felt called out in that moment.

How many times have I asked, "Well, what did you think?" of a beta reader, not because I wanted a critique, but because I wanted them to feel absolutely floored by the indomitable power of my prose. I wanted to be liked and praised, not to become better. 

Sure, at other times, and maybe even just moments later, I'd want to better the work, but the first inkling to cross my brain was whether they liked it. In a way, I was asking if my continued journey on this writing path was worth it. Did I have what it took? Was I (and here's the rubber meeting the road with a loud slap) GOOD ENOUGH?

We all wonder about that, never really outgrow it, regardless of whether we're at the beginning of our journey or further along, just like we never really outgrow fairy tales, especially those this compelling. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Is Your Setting Just a Place or a Character?


As writers, we all have our favorite setting in which to tell stories, and we also have our favorite passages that establish those setting. As a reader I've seen the masters at work, from the arid tone and sparseness of Capote's In Cold Blood...

"The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there.'"

...to the rambling, darkly poetic tour of Manderly in DuMarrier's Rebecca...

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate."

But let's make it personal. How do YOU establish setting in your fiction?

On a range of "the setting is another character" to "a few words about the weather and the name of the town is more than enough," how important is setting to your stories?

Gordon Dymowski: For me, the setting is one of the key elements of making a story work. Even if I'm just writing a modern-day tale, providing an appropriate atmosphere is critical. I'm strictly in the "setting-as-character" camp since it provides a backdrop for the flesh-and-blood characters. Providing that atmosphere enhances both my writing and the reader's experience.

Elizabeth Donald: When I first began writing fiction, my stories were like the Star Trek original series episode “The Empath.” You’ll remember that one - they ran out of money for sets and the whole thing takes place on an empty sound stage with a square block for the characters to occasionally sit. It’s actually a pretty good episode, but I was always struck by how it seemed to be taking place in nowhere.

That’s what my writing was like. People did things, said things, died horribly, but it might as well have been in that nowhere space for all the description I put into place and setting. As I grew and developed my craft, I realized that setting can absolutely be a character, and knowing a place can really inform your story. I’ve infested Memphis with vampires and rusalka and a number of other critters, because I lived there for several years and I know the city will. I’ve often used settings like Illinois river towns, because it is territory I know, having lived and reported in Illinois river towns for more than 25 years. 

In the micro sense, where you place a story can greatly influence the reader’s opinion. For example, a recent story I submitted to my MFA workshop was set in a cheap, kind of slimy motel. My colleagues said that having this moment take place in that kind of setting led them to expect it would be a tawdry moment, something illicit - cheating, drug-fueled, perhaps people on the edge of homelessness - none of which I intended form the story. Setting matters to the characters, influences the readers, and thus it needs to matter to the writer.

Vonnie Winslow Crist: For me, setting is almost another character. I choose a setting for my fiction that has an impact on the story. Sensory language is the most important tool in my toolbox for creating a strong sense of location. That said, the sensory details need to carefully selected for maximum impact. No one wants to read pages of sensory observations. Sometimes, one well-chosen detail can define the location, set the mood, and start the action in motion.

Anna Grace Carpenter: I am very fond of setting as character, but fluctuate as setting as a reflection of the central characters, and setting as a contrast to my central characters. (For example, The Gear'd Heart is all rainy and dark and cold as the characters fight otherworldly, serial killers. But the current work-in-progress is a desert setting but with characters who are desperate to live.

Selah Janel: It depends on the story, but setting matters in a lot of my work. I gravitate towards forests and small towns, and both can be portrayed to convey tone and characters. In one form, they can be romantic and comforting, in another they can be suffocating and foreboding. For me, setting can be an extension of my characters or a character in itself, yet another antagonist working against the characters like in Candles or Mooner, or something that’s more supportive like a quiet best friend in a story like Holly or Ivy. Even in my short stories, I use setting to echo the tone and feel quite a bit.

HC Playa: Setting sets tone. It is both little more than background and yet absolutely integral to the story. In genre fiction it can outline the realities and rules of the world, whether there's magic or aliens or we are reading by candlelight.

I sketch it out through my character's eyes and senses, dropping things in as they go. IF I am using a real place I may put in less description, but still want to paint an image in the reader's mind because not everyone has been to the same places.

Herika Raymer: As setting is when and where the story takes place, I agree with HC that it sets tone. Usually setting through a character's eyes helps, but there is the added measure of setting through a character who had not been in your setting before. That way, not only the character but also the reader are exploring a new area. It allows the reader to (hopefully) connect with characters as well as get the background and events of the Setting to help understand what is happening.

Bill Craig: In my Marlow books, Key West is every bit a character as well as setting.

Bobby Nash: The vast majority of the time, setting is very important to me and my work, especially in a series where the setting is visited and revisited often. Sommersville is a fictional city and county I created that has become an important location in multiple books fronted by different characters. I think it’s a very important character in the stories. I want the reader to have a feel for the settings.

Murky Master: So it depends. In the last two short stories I wrote, they were short so going verbose on the setting wasn't an option. In my novel, it's set in San Antonio and I didn't really think much about establishing setting in that one. But, when I write my fantasy stories, I like to think of it this way.

Ian Totten: Setting is extremely important to me. When I write I see everything in my mind and try to convey that to the readers. Generally speaking, my settings either serve to create a sense of dread (such as the place where a killer is going to strike), a false sense of safety, or an actual area where the characters don’t need to have their guards up.

What is your most effective tool in your writer's toolbox for creating a strong sense of setting in your work?

Bobby Nash: The setting you create has to feel real, not just to the reader, but to me as the writer. I need to be able to imagine walking down the streets of that location, recognize the smells, the colors, the things that make that place unique. If I believe it’s real, that translates into the story.

Herika Raymer: Using the senses, but trying not to be too descriptive. I do not want to be a writer who uses two pages to explain what one thing looks like or tastes like. However, a reader experiencing their surroundings through the senses of the character can definitely be instrumental to setting the scene.

John L. Taylor: Depending on the story. If the setting is fairly fantastic, I'll go more detailed and emphasize the contrast between it and the known. If more down-to-earth, I'll write it as a metaphor for the POV character's mood/personality. 

Selah Janel: I really like to lean into details, and if I don’t have the space for that, I try to use setting just enough to induce a mood in the characters, and by extension my readers. Little things matter, though, and knowing a place or type of place well can give you so much to work with in terms of story.

Bill Craig: The places where I set a lot of the action are real places where I have been. I try to make descriptions of places as vivid as I can in order to make readers feel as if they are visiting the island. For Key West, the sights and sounds are well known by many people, so it is easy to incorporate them, from wild chickens running all over town to iguanas coming out of the trees to swim in hotel swimming pools. Island music is everywhere as there is some sort of musician playing nearly 24 hours a day, giving a flavor from salsa to calypso, to Jimmy Buffet. 

Gordon Dymowski: Details, details, details. It's amazing how some writers will point to obvious landmarks (like the Empire State Building) as if to say "We're in New York". Writing places that are out-of-the-way or suggesting a deeper history can do a lot for setting place, tone, and mood.

For example, when I write about Chicago, most of my action tends to take place on the city's south side. Part of it is that there's a historic tension between the North Side and South Side (due to both class and racial factors that are too lengthy to go into here), but part of it is...I know Sears Tower exists (and nobody calls it Willis Tower, just like nobody calls where the White Sox play Guaranteed Rate Park -- it's Sox Park or, if you're older, Comiskey Park). Anything that suggests that the setting has a history improves your ability to tell a story.

Elizabeth Donald: Live your life. I know that’s not the craft response, and certainly addressing metaphor and descriptive passages and details are all very important, but the reader can tell if you’re making up a setting from what you’ve seen in a movie or TV show rather than real-life experience. I learned to shoot guns because I was writing a lot of shoot-em-ups and it was blindingly apparent I’d never shot a gun in my life. I wrote an early novel in New York City that was fairly terrible, as I had never been to New York and I didn’t realize a lot of aspects you only realize once you’ve walked around on its streets. 

If you want to create a place, first visit it or something similar. Pay attention. Take notes. Engage all five senses and experience a place if you want to recreate it in fiction. And then send in the zombies. It livens everything up. 

Davide Mana: I started writing my "Buscafusco" stories, about an unlicensed PI working in the wine hills of southern Piedmont where I live, as a collaboration with the local Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. The idea was to use my stories to promote tourism in the area. The place had therefore to be really another character in the stories, and I used a mix of historical details and contemporary color to give the readers as strong an impression as possible. I had to be as close as possible to the authentic places I described and tried to use as much true detail as possible in setting up action scenes and plot elements. I used real people whenever possible.

The result was highly satisfying for me as a writer and (based on feedback) for the readers and paid back the extra research and effort needed.

Ef Deal: I like to focus on texture and sensory details like scent and taste. I also will describe a general layout as it affects the plot or action. For example, an opening of a second chapter describes the history of the chateau only to highlight the engineering genius of my heroine in bringing it up to date (1843), since those changes will play a part in the action later in the book.

Anna Grace Carpenter: I focus on those visceral details. The chill and misery of a rainy setting, the exhaustion and thirst of a desert setting. If the characters have injuries I focus on how the environment affects those wounds.

HC Playa: Invoking the senses. I do admit that this is something I feel is a work-in-progress skill. I joke that a reader might accurately guess without knowing me that my sense of smell is not very good. My characters tend not to smell much unless it's really strong and generally ick 😂. Yay allergies.

How important are sensory details when establishing setting? Internal monologue to establish "connection"? Omniscient telling for all the facts?

Robert Waters: Internal dialogue is important to me. But it's something you have to balance and not have it dominate the story. I've seen stories with whole paragraphs of internal dialogue, to the point of annoyance. IMO, not a good way to go. What I often do is have the character thinking / brooding / contemplating over something as part of the main narrative, and then, he/she will say a few words to him or herself to cap off the thought. That to me is a better way to handle internal dialogue. 

Selah Janel: It depends on word count and what’s going on in the story. I love sensory details, because they help build a world and immerse readers, as well as giving characters so much to work with externally and internally. Sometimes, though, showing their own thoughts about a place is enough with less emphasis on external description. It really depends on what the goal is for the scene.

Bobby Nash: It all goes to set the stage. I like to have the narrator let us know not only details about the place but how they connect to the POV character in that chapter. I can drop details about Sommersville, and they work, but when I tie those details to Tom Myers’ life, they take on greater meaning.

Bill Craig: Sensory details are hooks to put the reader into the story and setting. 

Anna Grace Carpenter: I only write 1st or close 3rd person. So the voice is always immediate and tied to the centralized character. (Even in third, everything is very close to the character who is the focus of the chapter. So those details are personal.)

Elizabeth Donald: I struggle with interiority in my writing, and it’s something I’ve been focusing on in my craft. Internal monologue comes more from character than setting, in my humble opinion, but both of these help develop a rich narrative that draws your reader into that total immersion for which we strive when we’re writing. Those sensory details go much further in terms of setting, as far as I’m concerned: when you’re standing in an open-air market in San Antonio, hearing mariachi music, smelling the street corn and tamales, watching the brightly-colored flags flutter against the blue sky, feeling an overly-warm breeze on your face… that puts you in a place, at a time, and you have established a place. 

HC Playa: I avoid omniscient telling in my writing. As a reader, nothing makes me skip ahead quicker than a setting info dump from an invisible omniscient narrator. If I skip it and don't enjoy it, I don't write it. While I do occasionally use internal dialogue, I rely mostly on the character's POV to relate setting. It gives the reader a more immersive experience.

Gordon Dymowski: Sometimes the way to "dot the I" when crafting a setting is ensuring that every sense is involved. For example, my high school years were spent commuting through Chicago's Maxell Street market. I could discuss how I took the Number 8 Halsted bus, but the reader would be more intrigued by describing the storefronts along the street (with metal covers for the windows), the vendors hawking wares on the sidewalk (including hubcaps), and the strong odor of grilled onions and Polish sausage wafting through the air.

I've just painted a picture for you of that experience. The Market has since moved (and the street is now covered by amenities for college students), but that sense memory still lingers.

As far as internal monologue/omniscient narrator, it depends on the type of story. Leaving out details can be critical in setting the scene (just read Poe's short stories), and having the "innocent bystander" narrate can drive insight into actions and behaviors (paging Dr. Watson). All of these are tools that any writer can and should use.

Vonnie Winslow Crist: Used judicially, internal monologue can let the reader see into a character and their motivations, goals, etc. Again, a little goes a long way. Too much internal monologue slows the pace of the story. I'm not a fan of omniscient telling -- it usually feels like "telling" and not like a story unfolding. The setting doesn't work in my fiction when I "force" a story to be set in a place. When I allow the narrative to settle comfortably in a location rather than force it to fit into an environment, it's easier to write and the resulting tale works better for readers (and editors). 

I'm a fan of George Martin's term "gardener" for a writer. One organically selects details, adjusts the narrative, and makes decisions about location, internal monologues, pov, etc. much like one gardens -- well, much like I garden. For me, it's less about straight rows and perfect flowers, and more about the beauty that comes from discovery and adapting to the unexpected.

Herika Raymer: Sensory details are important because we all (unless otherwise incapacitated) experience our reality through our senses, makes sense we would want a bit of sensory in the stories we real.

Internal monologue can help establish "connection" with a character because it helps the reader either comprehend, understand, or even approve/disapprove of a character's motives and actions.

Omniscient telling for all the facts can be fun, but it depends on the presentation. For instance, I am watching an anime right now based of a manga series. Though a different presentation, the author's way of presenting omniscient facts is to have a narrator make hilarious remarks on what is happening. It adds spice to an otherwise pretty cut and paste story. This may not be feasible in a traditional written format, but I have read some authors who have ways to bring in omniscience without it being too much of a data dump and thus taking away from the lure of the written word.

What have you read or written that absolutely didn't work in regard to making the setting feel real or important to the work? Why didn't it work?

Bill Craig: Longmire did a great job in character and setting. The only book I have read that failed in this respect is a book about a pulp character by a "Name" mystery writer. Sadly, it was so poorly written that I could not finish it and returned it. It ignored the history of the character and turned him into a secondary character rather than being the titular hero.

Elizabeth Donald: I will be generous and pick on TV, because they make a lot of money and won’t care. I always had myself a huge giggle at Smallville, as the teens of Smallville High would go swimming in the lovely alpine lakes shrouded with evergreens in… Kansas. Seriously, folks, at least try to hide that you’re shooting in Vancouver. Shows like Supernatural were equally ridiculous about this - claiming to be in St. Louis and an establishing shot of the Arch really doesn’t qualify as establishing a setting. At least when Doctor Who lands on Earth, he’s honest enough to admit he mostly toodles around London because budget. 

How can we apply this to the written word? Know the territory. If you can’t physically visit a place, use your Google-fu and explore. Try to find someone who lives there or has visited there and interview them. I did this when I set a Blackfire adventure in the Philippines, and before I even ventured close to that one, I interviewed a friend of a friend who grew up there. I see it as no different than interviewing experts in advance of writing something technically different, like asking an arson investigator how you can most efficiently kill someone with fire and get away with it. (Just be sure they know you’re a writer; it’s far less likely to result in a search warrant for your apartment.)

Murky Master: Setting is only the combined sensory input going into a character's mind. The details that are important to the character are important to the story, so they will rise to the top.

A missionary about to face Elder gods in the Vietnamese jungle would see the following

"The dark of the night gave every biting insect an echo. The vines strangled like tentacles, their origins in the pitch black of the tree forks, like they were dropping out of the unknowable night..."

But, an adventuring doctor rushing to get medicine through that same jungle would see this

"Every branch, every vine clawed and tugged at Dr. Nguyen, grasped and clawed at his sweat-soaked pant legs. Even the air dragged on him as he swam through the humidity, every leaping stride through wet, leaves feeling like a backhand. Like the one that mother would deal him if that girl drowned in her own pneumatic lungs).

Bobby Nash: Sure. Probably. I can’t think of an example off the top of my head and wouldn’t want to throw another writer under the bus. As a writer, if the author isn’t giving me those details, my brain fills them in, which could hurt the scene the author is trying to convey. If I don’t connect to the location, it becomes a generic location in my imagination.

Anna Grace Carpenter: I can't say I have written anything that was disconnected from setting. I write a lot of suspension of disbelief stuff, but setting is rarely a part of that. But, I did stop reading "The Lies of Locke Lamora" after a particular scene that was particularly brutal but also ignored some general physics.

Herika Raymer: The most glaring example that comes to mind was reading a sample chapter in Amazon from a highly recommended book (though not so much later on once more facts were discovered about the author). Her description of the scene was fair, setting the tone of tension and the fear of being chased. However, when it came time for the main character to act -- that is when it did not work. She had her character running on a broken ankle. Yes, broken. Readers can suspend belief for some things, but unless the author establishes right away that the main character is in some way supernatural, I have yet to meet someone who could run on a broken ankle with no problem. It was not the only problem with the story, but it was the first of many.

HC Playa: I can't think of any specific examples off the top of my head, but plenty of romance-type stories and contemporary fiction really have no connection to the setting. You could pick up the entire story, plop it in another city and it wouldn't matter.

Davide Mana: There is a notorious thriller novel, published a few years back by an Italian writer, and set in London. It was so successful Amazon did an English translation - that was pretty popular with the American public and got the British readers rabid (we talk a few dozens one-star reviews).

The author did not do any research, and what she produced was a story in which the London police carried guns, in which Scotland Yard is closed for business on weekends (!!), and the big set piece is a car chase and shootout on the streets of London (but the geography is all wrong). The plot was OK, but all the setting details that should have propped it up were wrong, and a lot of people noticed. It was an absolute failure on the worldbuilding side, caused by an obvious lack of research.

So, the bottom line: using actual places as setting can be a disaster if you don't do the minimum of research needed to establish an authentic sense of place. Sometimes Google Maps is enough.

Also, sometimes researching the worldbuilding changes the direction of your story: while writing my first novel (historical adventure), I spent a weekend working with my brother (who studied Chinese), browsing Chinese-language websites in search of the actual location of the Italian consulate in Shanghai in 1936. I could have played it fast and loose, but the time spent on research revealed the consulate was across the street from the British police barracks - which changed the whole dynamic of the action in the first third of my story. I had to do a lot of rewrite, but it was well worth the effort.

Gordon Dymowski: As part of my review duties for I Hear of Sherlock, I read one pastiche which read more like a cliche screenplay than an actual Holmes work. (I'm not going to name it here). By the end, it was more concerned with being clever than setting a great mood or driving strong characters. Let's end on a positive note: some great examples of authors who use setting well are Robert B. Parker's early Spenser novels, Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski novels, and Jim Thompson's novels (which, yes, are unsettling but that's half the reason why I enjoy them).

John L. Taylor: Best example, again from an in-progress book of mine is introducing main characters who can travel in dreams by cornering their target in a dream of an abandoned decaying mansion meeting them at a chessboard with a game in progress. Both characters are damaged people, past their prime, but still intelligent and elegant in their ways, and ruthless hunters of their quarry. The visuals are symbolic of that.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS THE GREAT CHICAGO FIRE CONSPIRACY

An obsessed, twisted maniac targets the city of Chicago for destruction in retribution for the burning of Atlanta ten years earlier during the Civil War. But he has been hunted around the world by an ex-Union officer named Philip Avers who knows his true identity.

Both men converge on the bustling metropolis on a hot summer night of 1871 as the Arsonist sets his plans in motion, Avers is too late to stop him. Now, with the help of a Chicago Tribune reporter names Richard Cromie, Avers will race through a fiery hell on earth to capture the fiend and bring him to justice. But only if he and Cromie can survive the holocaust themselves.

Writers George Tackes spins an incredible tale set against the background of one of the greatest tragedies in the history of America. Artist Gary Kato provides the interior illustration with artist Chris Rawding handling the amazing cover.

“It’s not often I see a first novel this exciting and well written,” says Airship 27 Productions’ Managing Editor Ron Fortier. “Combining both elements of pure pulp action and history. Tackes delivers on all fronts.”

AIRSHIP 27 PRODUCTIONS – PULP FICTION FOR A NEW GENERATION!

Available now from Amazon in paperback and soon on Kindle!

Saturday, October 9, 2021

[Link] Has any author's reputation fallen further or faster than Dostoevsky's?

by Daniel Kalder

Few writers' esteem can have been demolished as quickly as the Russian master's fall from critical grace in 1846

My favourite Russian author is Dostoevsky, whose best books are not just profound examinations of the human soul etc, but also nasty, violent, ironic, caustic, and (at times) extremely funny. Recently I picked up Henri Troyat's Firebrand which is an old-fashioned, novelistic account of FD's life. It's a great read, so much so that I decided to ride the wave of pleasure and seize the moment to simultaneously plough through some of the heavier Dostoevsky tomes sitting on my shelves, including the selected letters and the joyless prose of Konstantin Mochulsky's critical biography. (I'm saving Joseph Frank's five-volume epic for later).

It's fascinating to observe how both the racy volume and dryly critical work were constructed from the same source materials. Meanwhile I have been reminded of Dostoevsky's dramatic life story: his father's murder; his mock execution and exile; his gambling madness; and his calamitous debut on the St Petersburg literary scene. For those who don't know the story, Dostoevsky's first novel Poor Folk was passed before publication to a legendary critic/blowhard called Vissarion Belinsky who promptly declared that Dostoevsky was the heir to Gogol. This was nonsense: Poor Folk is a mawkish tale that would have been forgotten had the same author not also written Crime and Punishment et al. Still, the 24-year-old Fedya D was suddenly feted everywhere as the new literary genius of St Petersburg. It went to his head and he soon became insufferable, alienating all his new literary "friends", who revenged themselves when he published his second novel, The Double. Not merely trashed, the book was denounced. Dostoevsky became a bad joke.

What I didn't know until now was the length of time between his moment of glory and terrible downfall. Authors then wrote much more quickly than they do today, and some of those impossibly fat 19th-century mega-books were composed in a quarter of the time it takes Milan Kundera to crank out a boring late novella. Bearing that in mind, take a guess: how long did Fedya D last as a cause celebre? A year? Nine months? Six? Three?

Read the full article: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2010/sep/24/author-reputation-dostoevsky

Friday, October 8, 2021

SEVEN CHARACTERS CREATED BY LESTER DENT LICENSED FOR NEW ANTHOLOGIES!


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Pro Se Productions, a Genre Fiction and New Pulp Publisher, is honored to announce a licensing agreement with the Heirs of Norma Dent that will see the publication of anthologies featuring all-new stories of characters created by Lester Dent, one of the best-known pulp authors of all time and the primary creative force behind Doc Savage.

The agreement between the Norma Dent estate, as represented by noted pulp historian and author Will Murray, and Pro Se Productions allows for Pro Se to recruit writers and artists to produce a single anthology featuring each of the following characters created by Dent-Lynn Lash, Foster Fade, Lee Nace A.K.A. The Blond Adder, The Silver Corporal, Curt Flagg of Scotland Yard, The Cowl, and The Black Bat.

The Cowl was a character Dent created as a rather unique Western series, but only saw life in one story. Dent’s Black Bat, a masked aviator, appeared once in a published story. The other characters had two or more published appearances.

“In 2014 and 2015,” states Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief and Partner in Pro Se Productions, “we were given the honor of publishing the first new stories featuring two of Dent’s characters, Lynn Lash and Foster Fade, since their original appearances. Not only are we going to be able to return to Fade and Lash with a new volume of stories for each, but the fact that we are adding five more characters, each with their own set of new stories all their own, is amazing and humbling as well. To contribute to the continuation of any character is an honor for Pro Se Productions, as it is somewhat of a mission for us. To be able to make characters created by Lester Dent a part of that purpose is privilege and responsibility that we are not only glad to take on, but appreciative of having proved up to it previously.  Plus, it’s an added bonus that this collection of characters includes some of the most fun heroes we’ve had yet to publish!”

In the coming weeks, Pro Se will issue submission calls for an anthology featuring each of the aforementioned characters. Proposals will be taken and reviewed and those accepted will be included in the anthology set aside for each character. Payment for these projects will be royalty-based.

For more information on this announcement, email editorinchief@prose-press.com.

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Mocha Memoirs Press Focus #5: Crymsyn Hart

This month I'm following up the previous series (eSpec Books) with a new one -- this time the amazing writers of Mocha Memoirs Press. Meet Crymsyn Hart!

Tell us a bit about your latest work: 

My latest work is called Forest of Bones -- Kaya is the only one of her kind: a hybrid vampire and magician. A demon from days past is trying to free its banished brethren from the dark realms by an ancient sun god. Kaya is the key to freeing them.

Valik, her vampire protector, must help her contain the demon. Stavros, the mortal king, will kill any vampire he comes across because they caused the death of his wife and son. Begrudgingly, he takes Kaya as his fiancé. To stop a war, Stavros must join forces with the very thing he hates and keep the demon at bay.

Old ghosts are stirred up. Magic is growing wild. Mysteries from ages past resurface revealing more questions about Kaya’s heritage and how she’s entwined with the demon. Can she reconcile the past?

Or will the demon claim everything she holds dear, including her soul?

What happened in your life that prompted you to become a writer?

Nothing happened in my life to prompt me to become a writer. I’ve always wanted to be a writer. My grandmother read to me as a child and I grew up loving books. As I got older, my imagination grew and I knew I wanted to be able to create my own stories.

What inspires you to write?

The inspiration from my writing comes from dreams, movies, other books, the world around me, my experiences as a psychic. I have to write to keep myself sane.

What are the themes and subjects you tend to revisit in your work?

Many of the characters I write about go through some sort of dramatic change in their lives -- normally revolving around death. I enjoy writing about vampires and grim reaper characters. After over a hundred books, the grim reapers show up in over half of them.

What would be your dream project?

My dream project would be... well I don’t know really because most everything I find interesting for a storyline I write. I guess the dream would be to have more time to do everything I want to get out of my head so my muses will leave me alone.

What writers have influenced your style and technique? Writers that have influenced me are:

Anne Rice, Karen E. Taylor, Nancy Kilpatrick, Nancy Collins, Poppy Z. Brite, Jean Auel, and so many more I can’t think of all of them over the years. 

If you have any former project to do over to make it better, which one would it be, and what would you do?

If I had a former project to do over again, it would be my Soul Reaper Series. It was the first big series I wrote over ten years ago. From it came my one character that crosses genres and universes, Azrael the Angel of Death, because why not ---death is everywhere. I would go in and make the writing tighter. The plot would be better than what it is and I’d fix a few scenes that are overly explicit, but I still love the series. 

Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?

I would have to weigh in on writing is an art. Sure you get books that have a “formula” to them that can be scientific, but in my opinion, you need the artistic spark in order to write a good book. You need something to give life to the book besides an outline telling you where to put things as in a formula. If you don’t have characters that work well together or an intriguing storyline, you can outline or have a great formula, but a boring story.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

The most difficult part of my artistic process can be when I have an idea and everything in me says to write, but I have no motivation to write something. However, that normally breaks after a couple of days. It’s not the same for me as writer’s block because when I am blocked I have no ideas. Plotting is easy and building the story and characters flows good too.

How do your writer friends help you become a better writer? Or do they not?

My writer friends are always helping me grow as a writer. They call me out on any bullshit, point out where my writing is lacking, and what my weak points are. They are also great to bounce ideas off of when needed and as friends lending an ear when needed.

What does literary success look like to you?

Literary success would look like for me is knowing that people enjoy my books. Having the knowledge people are reading and getting lost in a world I created and the pages would be wonderful.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug? 

I don’t have anything immediately coming up, but I am currently working on a tie-in to Forest of Bones, tentatively titled The Name Thief, but I think that will change in the future. 

For more information, visit:

Website http://crymsynhart.com

Twitter: @Crymsynhart

Facebook https://facebook.com/crymsynhart

Amazon http://amazon.com/Crymsyn-Hart/e/B002BMJ1Z0

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/crymsynhart

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/crymsyn_hart/

Bookbub:https://www.bookbub.com/authors/crymsyn-hart

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: Tenebrae

 

As if we didn't know this one was about a writer, it opens with the book Tenebrae itself, which is then thrust into the fire. So, someone is a little disgusted by the book this movie revolves around. 

That over-simplistic plotting aside, what we have here in this movie is perhaps one of Argento's best Giallo thrillers with perhaps the best absurdist kills. It's almost Giallo biting its bloody tongue in its cheek. 

Like any good Italian "yellow," people die (mainly women) and someone murders and a few folks get wrapped up in trying to solve the mystery before the (usually inept) police can. A special treat in Tenebrae is the role John Saxon plays as Peter Neal's agent, one in which he displays a not often seen talent for comic timing, particularly in regards to his new hat. Seriously, this role alone makes me miss him all over again. 

Beginning with the opening scene of Neal's novel being thrown into a fire and burned to ashes, it's pretty clear this movie has a lot to do with readers' perception of the author's work. This point is driven home early in the film when, Tilde, a reporter interviews Neal and puts the pressure on with perhaps the biggest accusation the 70s had to offer. 

Tilde: Tenebrae is a sexist novel. Why do you despise women so much?
Neal: Sexist. No, I don't think it's sexist. 
Tilde: Women as victims, ciphers, the male heroes with their hairy, macho bullshit. How can you say it isn't?
Neal: Tilde, what's the matter with you. You've known me for ten years, every since you studied in New York. You know very well that I -- 
Tilde:  Look, I'm talking about your work. 
Neal: Well, I don't know. Would you like me to tell you that I supported the Equal Rights Ammendment? 
Tilde: Okay, so explain the books. Do you write to a fixed pattern? Or do your publishers tell you this kind of sexism sells copies?

The argument is, therefore, "If it's not you, is your publishers then? Somehow, it's never "Maybe I misunderstood your intent." Because, as the movie so blatantly states, that doesn't happen. 

As if it were blunt enough from Tilde, even the detective on the case gets to poke his jabs at our poor novelist. Upon interviewing him, the detective mentions that Neal tends to include a lot of sexual deviants in his work.

"It's about sexual deviants. It's about more than that. Well two of the victims are deviants. One is gay. Did I say that was deviant? He's perfectly happy."

The assumption, again, isn't "Maybe I misunderstood the work." It's "if you didn't include stuff like that, maybe a killer wouldn't be using your book as a blueprint for serial murder." 

The characters are simply stand-ins for your readers. They're simply saying the same thing your readers are. Thank you for writing it, but it's our turn now to decide what this story is about. 

This all brings up to the main statement this awesome, bloody flick makes about the life of a writer -- particularly a famous novelist, but it really applies to us all, from self-published to indie house to New York Times best-sellers.

Take notes. Here it is.

After you publish, you lose all control over the message of your story. The words stop meaning what you say they mean or intended them to mean. The "truth" of the tales becomes whatever the eye (or ear) of the beholder feels like it is. Readers and critiquers take over. 

I recently read a bit in Thomas Foster's How To Read Literature Like a Professor that I think summarizes this idea perfectly:

"If I could wave a wand and get rid of everyone's sense of obligation to the writer, I would do it i n a heart. A reader's only obligation, it seems to me, is to the text. We can't interrogate the writer as to intentions, so the only basis of authority must reside in the text itself. Trust the words and the words only. You can never find the motivation behind them. Even if the wirter told you his intent, as a group theire notorious liars and not to be trusted. Plus, writers do thens sometimes because they "just feel right"; that is, not ever choice is made consciously, although that doesn't mean theire's no reason behind it."

I know. I know. That's not fair. Well... tough. 

Even in today's social media and writer's blog-driven world where writers have the luxury of saying what they mean between the lines and espousing out loud for all to see the politics and philosophies they hold dear that drives their fiction, even now, we still don't really hold on to that power anymore. The obligation to the writer is nil. The obligation to society to interpret the text is supreme. 

But instead of pulling out our hair, we can just grab a bottle of the good stuff and get to work on the next book. At least for a while, we can still have control of that one. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Paying Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain, or Ruining the Magic Trick for All the Right Reasons


My wife, Lisa, and I recently caught up on the final season of Lucifer (one of our favorite shows to stream) and when we got to the episode about the murder in the magic club, I felt personally called out. Called out, not because I'm a magician or even that I know any magic tricks save for one bad card trick and a few child-level "magic" gadgets for hiding coins in tiny plastic boxes. 

No, I felt called out because I have a tendency, nay, a calling to do exactly what Lucifer hated during the episode. Every time Chloe or any detective or magician's assistant started to explain the trick in order to provide clues for the detective and forensic teams, he would poke his fingers into his ears and la-la-la-la so he wouldn't discover the secret behind the trick. Ultimately, he desperately wanted to not lose the wonder of the magic. 

But that's exactly what I do here at this blog in regard to the magic of writing and reading. I've been told that all this talk about how writing works and the nuts and bolts of the mechanics of the art can destroy the sense of wonder when the art works like it's supposed to. 

Instead of letting the mystery of how Authors (with a capital A) create those wonderful worlds and characters and adventures settle and shakes its fairy dust all over the crowd, I actively dig in to see the clues behind the mysteries and the wires holding the fairies in the air and the hidden pocket all that fairy dust is coming from. Because, unlike stage magic, where few members of the audience have aspirations to be the magician, a relatively high percentage of readers do seek to become writers, and that percentage gets higher depending on the genre in question. Take comics for instance. Or Urban Fantasy. Or High Fantasy. Tucked away under readers' stacks of books and graphic novels, you're sure to find some scribbled (or even typed) pages of works in progress. It's the nature of the beast. 

I want to actively demystify the Author and help the "rest of us" become better writers. I want all the capital "A"s in all those bios all over the web to just disappear as if Thanos snapped his fingers and dusted all Authors into just plain writers. That's my goal. 

You see, I tend to observe it all through a different vantage point. I approach it in a far more Wizard of Oz way than a stage magician way. While the big scary head is shouting "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!", I'm desperately trying to sneak back there, like a deranged Toto, to see how it all works, to expose the secrets and make them my own.

However, I'm like that because I'm here for the writers. 

When I work on stories or general essays or what-have-you, my audience is the reader, and for those cases, my job is different. That's when I need to shake my fairy dust and inject magic and mystery into my work. I want above all for readers to feel the joy of finding "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" or to wonder if my vampire detective will find the killer before he stakes his sire. In those cases, I'm the man manipulating them from behind the curtain. 

But when I'm working on becoming a better writer, I need to know how the trick works, just how that woman gets rolled up into a poster, shot out of a cannon, and ultimately transformed into a tiger before being restored to sashay off stage with the magic gadget that did all that to her. (You think I'm exaggerating, but I saw that trick on TV as a kid and it really stuck with me.)

And I hope that you do too. As writers, we don't allow ourselves to see the magic fully anymore. Sure, we can observe, but much like a musician/songwriter at a rock and roll show, we start to break the songs down into verses and bridges and choruses, into octaves and chords and melodies. We can't help it. 

When we read, we take in details, sometimes without even realizing it. We pay attention to word choices, to characters, to symbols, to metaphors, to techniques. 

One the questions I always ask in my "Getting To Know You" interviews with other writers is this one -- "Where would you rank writing on the "Is it an art or it is a science continuum?" Why?"

To me, that's one of the most important questions I can ask a writer if I truly want to understand how they approach the craft (or the art, depending on their answer). One thing we all tend to agree on based on the responses I've received is that it's not really an either/or issue. Writing is something of a spectrum sliding between art and craft (and often back again). 

I've always felt that writing is a calling first. Something inside you gets the idea that yes, you can do that too. And you start putting words on paper. 

Then it becomes a craft. Practice and reading and hard work improve all those words you're writing. Your characters get deeper. Your settings become more real. Your dialog begins to fake a natural tone that fools your readers. Your writing becomes leaner and more direct. 

Then it becomes an art. All that stuff you learned about the craft seeps in through your skin into your soul and becomes second nature. You start to look into your work and find elements you perhaps weren't even aware of before. You find themes common to your stories. You find types who occupy your work and you learn what you as a person (not just a writer) think about them and why they follow you from story to story. 

Then you learn to actively work those "art things" into your work and "Bam!" -- suddenly you're thinking about it as a craft again. It's like leveling up in a legacy board game. You've got a bunch of new abilities/cards to work with and you have to practice them to get the hang of them. 

Eventually, even that art transforms into something called a "style." 

And style... well, that stuff is the real magic. But magic rarely just happens. It's a carefully orchestrated combination of skills and practice and learning and doing it all over again and again. So, to get there, you have to keep riding that sliding spectrum. 

A caveat -- to be fair, there are those rare creatures who emerge from the womb with a sense of style that transcends where they are in the craft. But to fair to your abilities and your writing career, assume that's not you. Because even they have to practice, and even they only discover later they were born savants in the art of writing. Not even they realize it at first. 

That's why it's so important to learn the nuts and bolts of the craft. Without the craft, you'll never realize the art. You'll never paint mysteries that help readers escape reality. As writers, we have an obligation to keep taking a peek behind the curtain and making sure we know that little man back there isn't fooling anyone with his delusions of wizardry. We're in on the joke with him, no matter how big and scary he makes that fiery head. 

And that's why I feel compelled to ruin the trick. I want to find where every hidden panel is. I want to know which way all the mirrors face and which are double-sided. I want to find the twin assistant already in the other cabinet ready to miraculously appear. Once I know those things well enough, I too can do the trick. And, more importantly, I can also take all those skills to create my own tricks. 

And that's when I can really, finally, genuinely share the magic with others who are looking for the wonder. 

If readers want to treat writers like Authors (again, that capital A), that's fine. But as writers, we can't fall into that trap or escape the truth we're still just that little man pulling levels and bellowing like a big deal wizard. And it is perfectly okay when others find that out. That means we can invite them into the club too. 

Saturday, October 2, 2021

[Link] How stories have shaped the world

by Martin Puchner

From a young age, Alexander the Great was groomed to be the leader of Macedonia. The small kingdom in northern Greece was perpetually at war with its neighbours, above all Persia, which meant that Alexander had to learn how to lead armies into battle. When his father was assassinated and Alexander ascended the throne, he quickly exceeded all expectations. Not only did he secure the safety of his kingdom, but he also defeated the entire Persian Empire, conquering a vast realm that stretched from Egypt to northern India.

Alexander possessed an additional weapon: Homer’s Iliad. He had learned to read and write by studying this text as a young man, and thanks to his teacher, the philosopher Aristotle, he had done so with unusual intensity. When he embarked on his conquests, Homer’s story of an earlier Greek expedition to Asia Minor served as a blueprint, and he stopped at Troy, even though the city had no military significance, to re-enact scenes from the Iliad. For the entire duration of his conquest, he would sleep alongside his copy.

Despite its place in literature, Homer’s epic poem had repercussions far beyond the libraries and campfires of ancient Greece. It helped to shape an entire society, and its ethics. “Homer… paints, among many other things, the ‘thought forms’ of early Greek culture,” writes Howard Cannatella. “This story would indicate… how the community was to embody, live, and enact… [events] were designed to reveal to the audience in an acceptable manner the kind of effect moral choices in life, like being courageous, could have on the general public.”

The influence between the Iliad and Alexander went both ways. Having drawn inspiration from the epic, Alexander gave back to Homer by turning Greek into the common language of a large region, thus laying the infrastructure for turning the Iliad into world literature. Alexander’s successors built the great libraries of Alexandria and of Pergamum that would preserve Homer for the future.

It was proof that stories can have significance outside the pages of a book. The philosopher Plato challenged the arts “to show that it not only gives pleasure but is beneficial both to the constitutions and to human life” – as Cannatella argues, “Poetry, for Aristotle (much like Plato), could arouse not only intense emotional responses, but equally, could inspire people to become better persons.”

Read the full article: https://www.bbc.com/culture/article/20180423-how-stories-have-shaped-the-world

Friday, October 1, 2021

EVIL STALKS VICTORIAN ENGLAND AND ONLY ONE MAN FRIGHTENS THE MONSTERS! ‘SEMPER OCCULTUS’ NOW AVAILABLE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

From the pen of multi-award-winning author Teel James Glenn arrives the first in a new series from Pro Se Productions-SEMPER OCCULTUS! This eerie thriller is now available in print and digital formats from Pro Se Productions.

Odd things prowl the foggy London streets. A muffled sound…carriage wheels rattling along cobblestones…or the sound of a killer approaching. The shrill scream of a police whistle followed by the cry of “Murder!”

Enter Dr. Argent, silver-haired Minister Without Portfolio for Occult Affairs. Accompanied by his fighting aide-de-camp Jack Stone and the intrepid reporter Horatio Venture, Argent fights to uncover the denizens of darkness in all corners of the British Empire. From a church in Scotland to the back alleys of Bombay and everywhere in, between the trio fight a shadow war against werewolves, vampires, demons, ghosts, and cold-blooded killers that threaten the peace of the Pax Victoria that is the British Empire. Join them in a battle that is always secret—Semper Occultus!

With a shocking cover by Antonino lo Iacono and formatting by Iacono and Marzia Marina, SEMPER OCCULTUS is available on Amazon at https://tinyurl.com/pkx958up for $9.99.

Glenn’s latest novel is also available on Kindle formatted by Iacono and Marina for $0.99 for a limited time at https://tinyurl.com/s4xzekcs. Kindle Unlimited Members can read for free!

For more information on this title, interviews with the authors, or digital copies for review, email editorinchief@prose-press.com.

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to www.prose-press.com. Like Pro Se on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ProSeProductions.