Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Researching Steampunk — And More

By Stephanie Osborn

I’ve spent a good deal of time researching history for my science fiction writing, which is funny, really, because history was my least favorite subject in school. But when you’re writing a story, somehow it takes on a completely different focus, becomes less dry and dusty and more malleable. And I’ve done it quite a lot by now, actually:

  • Burnout (postWWII to the present, military and space)
  • The Fetish (Native American post-European history)
  • “The Bunker,” Dreams of Steam (Victorian era UK and USA)
  • The Displaced Detective Series (Victorian era London)
  • The Adventures of Aemelia Gearheart (as-yet unpublished; Victorian era Europe, Asia Australia, Revolutionary War America)
  • Extraction Point (scientific history, Middle Ages to present)
  • The Sherlock Holmes: Gentleman Aegis Series (coming soon; Victorian era worldwide)

For our purposes, let’s focus on the Displaced Detective series. The Displaced Detective series has been described as “Sherlock Holmes meets the X-Files,” in that it is a series of science fiction mysteries in which Sherlock Holmes is yanked from an alternate reality into the modern day and can’t be sent home again. Instead he settles into the 21st century and, together with the chief scientist of the project that brought him there, solves scientifically oriented mysteries. So I had to start with a purely Victorian British man, and compare and contrast his world with a modern American one. It entailed considerable research on the Victorian era, and London specifically.

Building references

Did you know that if you went to Great Britain and got a hotel room on the first floor, you’d need to look for the elevator, or the stairs? That’s right. Their ground floor is our 1st floor.  Their 1st floor is our 2nd floor! In the Victorian era (and in Baker Street!) the ground floor in London would house the servants, kitchen, possibly the water pump (if it was indoors) – and of course, Mrs. Hudson’s living area, as well as possibly a shop of some sort on the street. But the principal, formal living area would be on the first floor and above. We know this is where Holmes’ rooms were, as well as the sitting-room; Watson’s bedroom was on a floor above this, judging by references in the stories.

Also it’s good to know that Baker Street had an Upper (north) end and a Lower (south) end. Upper Baker Street had no numbers, nor any real dwellings, in Victorian days. In fact, it didn’t get numbers until about 1932 or thereabouts. So 221b never really existed in our world. What exists where 221b should be? That’s heavily debated, and the property keeps changing hands, but there is a large block of buildings that started out as a bank headquarters sitting where the number should actually be. The mailing address is heavily debated between the bank and the Sherlock Holmes Museum, a little way farther up Baker Street.

So did the Baker Street Irregulars really exist? As a matter of fact — yes, they did, but not as street urchins. In WWII the headquarters of the Special Operations Executive, an espionage, reconnaissance and surveillance organization that eventually merged into MI6, and with which certain “names” (such as the late Sir Christopher Lee, and the celebrated author Ian Fleming) were reputed to have worked, was located in Lower Baker Street. It took on the nickname of the Baker Street Irregulars, which is not to be confused with the international fan organization of the same name.

Is there an Underground station nearby that Holmes and Watson could have used? Yes, the Baker Street Station, one of the world’s oldest — and which was refurbished and remodeled in recent years so that one part of the station (which connects two Underground lines) is Sherlockian-themed, and the other once again displays its original Victorian styling.

Is there anywhere nearby where Holmes and Watson could have simply strolled, as is mentioned in a couple of the Conan Doyle stories? Yes, Regents Park is at the upper end of Baker Street and is quite large.

What about household furnishings? Well, the ones that would most puzzle us today are actually all still in existence but use different names. The gasogene (aka domestic time bomb) was a seltzer maker. It consisted of two bottles held together with wicker or wire, one containing tartaric acid and sodium bicarbonate which reacted to produce carbon dioxide, and the other containing water. When the handle was depressed, carbonated water emerged for mixing into drinks – when the thing didn’t explode from pressure buildup, that is. The tantalus was simply a liquor cabinet, often portable (in an awkward, bulky sort of way). It contained crystal decanters rather than bottles, with metal labels on chains. The gasogene was typically kept here too. The tantalus was usually kept locked unless it was being used to pour drinks. (No sense in encouraging the hired help to raid the liquor cabinet, you know! Seriously, that would have been one of the rationales behind keeping it locked, in the day.)

Alcohol and Tobacco

If a gentleman were out and about, he might have ale, beer, or stout, typically at a pub. After dinner, or at his club, it was whisky, scotch or brandy, usually with a cigarette, cigar, or pipe. The combination was used because tobacco potentiates any other drug with which it was used, so the host could provide a nice buzz with much less expensive alcohol. (It was also why opium was usually smoked with tobacco in a hookah. An expensive drug, as it was imported, the tobacco enabled the same high with a lesser amount.) Cigarettes were hand-rolled, and there were tricks to handling a pipe: lighting it, keeping it going, and maintaining it are all more difficult than one would think if one hasn’t tried it.

How do I know? I learned to smoke a pipe expressly to be able to write Holmes’ use of it properly. This includes sipping whisky or brandy with it, which resulted in my learning first-hand how well tobacco potentiates the alcohol! I am NOT a heavy drinker, and I have never been so drunk before or since, nor do I wish to be.

There are a myriad of variations on a pipe. Holmes is usually depicted smoking a Meerschaum Calabash pipe, but this dates from the first stage portrayal of Holmes by William Gillette. He found that such a pipe had several useful advantages for stage use:

  • It was heavily curved, and so the bowl stayed out of the way of the face. This both enabled the audience to see the actor better, and the actor’s expressions and emoting to come through as a consequence. (It is sometimes debated how much of Gillette’s ego went into the choice.)
  • It was well balanced, and allowed the actor to speak around it even with it in his mouth, sometimes even without the aid of hands.

In all likelihood, however, Holmes would have smoked a long-stemmed briar pipe.

Then there is something called the dottle. This is the slightly charred, often soggy remains of the bowlful of tobacco left at the bottom after smoking. It can be removed, dried, and smoked, though it is often a bit harsh. Doyle tells us that Holmes had a habit of collecting the dottle from a day’s worth of pipe use, drying it on a corner of the fireplace mantel, then using this as his first-thing-in-the-morning smoke.

Lighting tobacco could be a risky proposition in those days. A smoker would have used a match, a hot coal held awkwardly in fireplace tongs, or possibly the jet of a gas lamp. There WAS the precursor of a modern lighter: the fusee, a kind of a flintlock or flare; it was bulky and dangerous, especially if the smoker possessed a beard.
For emergencies, brandy was used to “revive” a victim, I presume in much the same manner smelling-salts were and are used. Modern well-known liquors were available at the time, such as Glenlivet (a relatively new distillery at the time) and Hennessey, a British brandy as opposed to a French cognac, but it is the same beverage for all intents and purposes. (The difference arises from the requirement that “cognac” be applied only to those products of a certain region of France.) I thought Holmes might be an Anglophile, although possibly not; his grandmother was French (Vernet). Besides, Watson references brandy, not cognac. As a result, I chose Hennessey for my experiments with after-dinner tobacco pipes and brandy.

Clothing and modes of dress
A gentleman's dress varied depending on where he was or where he was going. If he was in the city, his outerwear would include an overcoat, top hat, frock coat, ascot, cane, and possibly spats. But if he were in, or traveling to, the country, he would attire himself in tweeds; a boater, deerstalker or flat cap; and an overcoat, cloak, Inverness cape, or duster-type coat, depending upon weather. All of these would fasten with buttons or hooks & eyes; there were no zippers and no belts. Trousers were held up with suspenders, or “braces” as they were usually called. Jeans were just being invented, and were not used in the UK. The cloth was produced in France (twill de Nimes — “denim”). The first cowboy hats by Stetson in the US had avid competition by Christy's in the UK, who is still a provider to the Crown.
A proper gentleman such as Holmes would be attired from the skin up as follows: vest and pants (these today would be called boxers and undershirt – NOT a t-shirt, but a tank-top style), stockings (socks), a shirt with replaceable collar (ring around the collar? Throw it away and get another), button-up trousers (modern pants, trousers, or slacks, but with a button fly) held up by braces (suspenders), a double-pocketed waistcoat (“WES-kət,” now known as a vest), and if in public or with visitors, a suit-coat of various styles, and a tie of some sort, approximating the modern bow or regular tie, or something even fancier. The tie was often referred to as a cravat. Shoes were leather, usually ankle height, and buttoned up. Note also that some men of the era wore corsets, although there is no evidence that Holmes or Watson did so.
Accessories would include cufflinks and a pocket-watch. The watch was properly placed in one waistcoat pocket; the chain (if the wearer was of sufficient means to afford a long chain) was threaded through a buttonhole in the waistcoat and over to the other pocket. On the other end of the long chain would be some necessary trinket such as a pipe tool (for cleaning and/or tamping one’s pipe) or a jack-knife (pocket knife), and this would be tucked into the waistcoat pocket opposite the pocket-watch. If the wearer could not afford such, then a single swag ran from the waistcoat pocket to hook around one of the waistcoat buttons. In addition, when going out, no London gentleman would be caught dead without his cane (young or old, handicapped or no), kid leather gloves, and silk hat (top hat). Optional accessories included studs instead of shirt buttons, a stick pin for the cravat, spats (to protect expensive leather shoes from the mud on the streets and in the gutters, which not infrequently still contained the contents of chamber pots, at least in certain parts of London), watch fobs, and overcoats and wool scarves in winter.
The only skin which showed on a PROPER Victorian male or female in public – if they were of any station at all – was the skin of the face and upper neck.

Personal hygeine
The era had very little running water. Instead they used pitcher and basin, with water from a pump (often outdoors). There were, of course, no hot showers, but there were clawfoot tubs with water lugged from the ground floor; if heated water was desired, it was heated on a wood or gas stove.

Straight razors and soap with a brush to lather it did for shaving; the “safety razor” had just been invented — the ancestor to the modern razor. In addition, one could get periodic touchups by the corner barber.
Toothbrushes were uncommon but existed, made of natural materials (wood, boar bristle). No toothpaste — they used tooth powder made by their neighborhood chemist (apothecary, pharmacy). This powder ranged from baking soda to powdered pumice and sometimes did as much harm as good. The first commercial deodorant came into being about this time — Mum, later known as Ban, it was a paste or cream applied by the fingers. Colognes, aftershave, personal fragrances, all were compounded at the chemist's. Aftershave was probably no more than a simple alcohol and/or witch hazel blend with possibly fragrance added. For men, bay rum was a popular fragrance of the day; women’s fragrances tended toward the single-note florals.

Non-London Research: Colorado

Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs (~6000ft) pre-white-man were literally areas of springs, some of which are naturally carbonated, all of which are artesian. They were natural winter havens for Native Americans (mostly Utes). Ute Pass (US 24) was used by the Utes to get to the summertime pasturage behind the Front Range, in the high meadows (~9000-10,000ft). Lots of bison were in the area then, at low and high altitudes, so there was plenty of food.
The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument (used in book 1, The Arrival) was an ancient Eocene redwood forest valley. A massive volcanic eruption from numerous volcanos in the area (part of the 39-Mile volcanic system) dammed a stream and flooded it, killing the redwoods before “petrifying” (remineralizing) them; it also fossilized insects and animals. When the first settlers came through the area, there was so much petrified wood they had to move it just to make a road, and often took souvenirs with them. There’s very little left now except what is preserved in the Monument. The conjoined Hornbek Homestead, moved to the site from its original location nearby, was a frontier homestead run by Adeline Hornbek. This amazing woman was widowed once, married again, and her second husband Hornbek disappeared, leaving her with a ranch and kids. She made a go of it and had one of the wealthier frontier homes, complete with:

  • glass windows
  • 2 stories
  • 4 bedrooms
  • ornate Victorian furnishings
  • a milk house, chicken house, and stables!

She even ran the local mercantile and was a contemporary of Holmes — or rather, would have been.
Cripple Creek & Victor were gold/silver boomtowns. They sit in the middle of an ancient volcanic crater, where to this day, miners dig into the volcanic neck for ore. (Yes, I’ve been down in one of the gold mines in the area.)

Non-London Research: RAF Bentwaters & RAF Woodbridge

Now we get into WWII history.  RAF Bentwaters & RAF Woodbridge (used in books 3 & 4, The Rendlesham Incident & Endings and Beginnings) were built for emergency landings returning from Germany over the Channel. The ancient Rendlesham Forest is in between the two bases. There was even an accidental German bomber landing there due to an inexperienced crew! They got turned around, lost over the Channel, and thought they were over Nazi Germany. The crew was immediately taken into custody as prisoners of war, and the aircraft was stripped down for secrets.
In the late 20th century they became NATO bases. In late 1980, “England's Roswell” occurred. UFO appearances were documented by base security, and soldiers’ IR night goggles indicated a “hole” in the center of the unidentified object. Under regression hypnosis, a military sergeant indicated the beings were time travelers. There were many explanations, but there was enough there for me to take it and run for The Rendlesham Incident & Endings and Beginnings!

Where Did I Find All That?
Lots of places, really. In most of this research, I found that Google was my bestest friend. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find the right combination of keywords on which to search, though. It’s definitely worth sitting down with the browser open to your search engine and trying different combinations and permutations of keywords on your subject. Sometimes you need to exercise a bit of discretion on the results; I try to avoid the obviously over-the-top websites — you know the ones I mean — unless, of course, I am actively LOOKING for something over-the-top.
Wikipedia is a surprisingly good jumping-off point. Given my background, education, and experience, I know enough of certain sciences to tell if a Wiki article is “on” or not, and if I can trust it; history and culture, different ball game. However, within certain limits it can give you an overview of your subject (don’t trust political commentary, etc.), and the references at the bottom of the article are invaluable. You can chase reference trees for hours, if you aren’t careful and lose track of time. And learn a lot in the doing. I know, because I have!
Travel is one of my favorite sources of information. I love to travel and explore, and often used business trips as a springboard for exploration. The extensive knowledge of the Colorado Springs area I use in the Displaced Detective books, as being one of the homes of the detectives, is partly because of such business trips, and partly because I had a friend living in the area at the time. It was easy to tack on a weekend to the business trip, taking advantage of my friend’s spare bedroom, and explore the area, sometimes with her, sometimes on my own. There are very few places in Colorado that I mention in the books that I have not visited myself. And I have several future books in the series planned around other locales I have visited as well, such as New Orleans and the Pacific Northwest.
Believe it or not, I’ve been learning to use social media as a really good source of information. For instance, I now have a selection of Facebook groups where, if I’m stuck on a particular detail, I can post a question and have expert historians, keepers of museums, and re-enactors, all providing feedback on the “sticking point” — and I’m soon past it and writing on!

This is just a sample of the information my research has uncovered, as well as how I dug it all out, and I continue to explore history, looking for cool things to work into stories. It’s been a fun ride so far, and I’ve no doubt it will continue to be!

Stephanie Osborn, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery, is a veteran of more than 20 years in the civilian space program, with graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, and she is “fluent” in several more, including geology and anatomy. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to more than 20 books, including the celebrated science-fiction mystery, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. She is the co-author of the Cresperian Saga book series, and currently writes the critically acclaimed Displaced Detective Series, described as “Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files.” In addition to her writing, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery now happily “pays it forward,” teaching math and science through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank.

(© 2013, 2015 Stephanie Osborn)

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #329 -- In Five Years

Where do you hope to be as a writer in 5 years?

I'm going to have to answer this one 2 ways. It all goes back to when I was a corporate chair monkey, and each year, I'd have to turn in my budget along with my realistic goals and my dream (or push) goals. So I'm going to do that here too.

Realistic goals:

1. Having a few novels under my belt, I will be focusing on novel projects and publishing far fewer short stories.

2. I will have at least 4 more comic book projects from reputatable publishers either in the production or already published.

3. I will be a more fit writer physically, and because I was able to take control of my health life, I will find that I'm more able to take control of my writing life (scheduling, persistence, etc.) as well.

Push Goals:

1. I will have in development one novel with a major house, not because I expect to get rich of it, but because it will help me build my platform as a writer from which to increase sales across the board for all my body of work.

2. I will reach a point in my writing career in which I can achieve a sustainable income by writing alone. Not a fancy income, but a sustainable one that alones me to be a full-time writer and keep the bills paid.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

King of the Bastards Preorders Available Now!

Apex Publications
Contact: Lesley Conner, managing editor

King of the Bastards Preorders

Apex Publications is happy to announce that preorders for our next release, King of the Bastards by Brian Keene and Steven Shrewsbury, are now open. King of the Bastards is a sword and sorcery/horror novel that brings together characters and mythos from both Shrewsbury and Keene’s popular novels. All preorders receive an exclusive 40 percent off discount code for another Apex product, and free shipping on all domestic orders. The expected release date is July 21st.

King of the Bastards can be preordered on the Apex Publications website.


Rogan has been many things in his life as an adventurer — a barbarian, a thief, a buccaneer, a rogue, a lover, a reaver, and most recently, a king. Now, this prehistoric bane of wizards and tyrants finds himself without a kingdom, lost in a terrifying new world, and fighting for his life against pirates, zombies, and the demonic entity known as Meeble. And even if he defeats his foes, Rogan must still find a way to return home, regain his throne, save his loved ones, and remind everyone why he's the King of the Bastards.

Title: King of the Bastards by Brian Keene and Steven Shrewsbury
Preorder dates: June 22, 2015 to July 20, 2015
Release date: July 21, 2015
Price: $15.95 (trade paperback)

BRIAN KEENE is the Bram Stoker and Grand Master award-winning, bestselling author of over forty books, including Darkness on the Edge of Town, Take the Long Way Home, Urban Gothic, Castaways, Kill Whitey, Dark Hollow, Dead Sea, and The Rising trilogy. He’s also written comic books such as The Last Zombie, Doom Patrol, and Dead of Night: Devil Slayer. His work has been translated into many foreign languages. Several of his novels and stories have been developed for film, including Ghoul and The Ties That Bind. In addition to writing, Keene also oversees Maelstrom, his own small press publishing imprint specializing in collectible limited editions via Thunderstorm Books. Keene’s work has been praised in such diverse places as The New York Times, The History Channel, The Howard Stern Show, CNN.com, Publisher’s Weekly, Media Bistro, Fangoria Magazine, and Rue Morgue Magazine. Keene lives in Pennsylvania. You can communicate with him online at www.briankeene.com or on Twitter at @BrianKeene.

STEVEN L. SHREWSBURY lives, works, and writes one day at a time. Over 365 of his short stories have been published in print or digital media since the late 80s along with over 100 of his poems. He writes in the realms of horror and sword & sorcery. His novels include Within, Philistine,Overkill, Hell Billy, Blood & Steel, Thrall, Stronger than Death, Hawg, Thoroughbred, Tormentor, Godforsaken, and the just released Born of Swords.

APEX PUBLICATIONS (www.apexbookcompany.com) is a small press dedicated to publishing exemplary works of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Owned and operated by Jason B. Sizemore, Apex publishes the thrice Hugo Award-nominated Apex Magazine. The Apex catalog contains books by genre luminaries such as Damien Angelica Walters, Catherynne M. Valente, and Brian Keene.

Saturday, June 27, 2015



Pro Se Productions, a leading Publisher of Genre Fiction and New Pulp, proudly announces the latest release from its Reese Unlimited imprint! The first such author centered imprint of the company, focused solely on author Barry Reese’s work, is now the home for the character Reese is most known for, albeit working his heroic magic under a new name. The Peregrine Omnibus Volume One is now available in print and digital format.

“Change,” says Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief of and Partner in Pro Se Productions, “is sometimes inevitable. But with change often comes the best of benefits, and that is definitely the case with The Peregrine! Although he fights under a new name not yet familiar to his die hard fans, Max Davies is still the two fisted, double barreled hero that Barry has meant him to be and now, finally, his complete adventures will be collected into three colossal books! This first volume collects his earliest adventures and over the course of the next three months, two more omnibuses will be released, reprinting all six volumes of Max’s action packed tales as well as the two volumes of Tales of the Peregrine, with tales penned by Barry as well as other authors, including myself. It’s been a very long time in coming, but it was the perfect time to bring every tale of this classic New Pulp character together, flying high under a new name. The Peregrine has indeed taken flight!”

ADVENTURE HAS A NEW NAME! Award Winning Genre Fiction Author Barry Reese, known for creating such fantastic characters as Lazarus Gray and Gravedigger, revitalizes one of his greatest creations for fans old and new! Max Davies lives on as The Peregrine! An adventurer. A man of mystery. A hero. Max Davies, newly moved to Atlanta, Georgia, finds himself unable to avoid danger, intrigue, and death. Donning the mask of The Peregrine, Davies seeks to bring justice to a world dying for it and peace to his own troubled spirit. And the only price he may have to pay is his soul. The Peregrine Omnibus Volume One brings the first three book length volumes of this classic New Pulp hero’s adventures together into one massive two-fisted collection. Fly again for the first time with Barry Reese’s The Peregrine!

Featuring a fantastic cover and interior illustrations by award winning artist George Sellas and logo design and print formatting by Sean E. Ali, The Peregrine Omnibus Volume One is available now at Amazon  and Pro Se’s own store, 806 pages for only $30.00.

This first of three omnibuses is also available as an Ebook, designed and formatted by Russ Anderson and available for only $5.99 for the Kindle and for most digital formats via Smashwords.

For more information on this title, contact Morgan McKay, Pro Se’s Director of Corporate Operations, at directorofcorporateoperations@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.

Friday, June 26, 2015

[Link] Fantastic Adventures and Amazing Tales: Encouraging Creative Writing and Storytelling

Editor's Note: Want to help kids develop their inner writers? Try these resources.


by Katherine Handcock

If there’s one thing anyone who spends time around young kids knows, it’s that they are born storytellers! Children’s vivid imaginations and lack of preconceptions make for wild, fascinating, unexpected stories, and during their toddler and preschool years, we encourage them to explore and elaborate on their inventions. And most kids are thrilled when they start learning to write — finally, they have the opportunity to make their vision permanent, and share their ideas whenever they please.

But as kids move through elementary school and beyond, it’s all too easy for them to lose their love of writing and storytelling. The scrutiny of teachers and peers can make kids doubt their ability to create a “good” story, and too often writing becomes a chore, rather than a pleasure.

Fortunately, that’s not the way things have to end! It is possible to kids to keep their love of telling a good story, and develop it into a lifelong passion — and for some, even a career. This blog provides a selection of books, toys, and activities for all ages that will get your child’s creative writing juices flowing. And who knows? You might find your own fingers itching for paper and pen…

Read the full article: http://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=4937

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Nugget #56 -- &%$!-ing Offensive

That's not to say that I ever set out to offend intentionally, 
but I can't let the story suffer because someone might take 
something my narrators or characters say at face value 
and believe that's also the opinion of the author.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Bast Lisa M. Collins Made

The House Bast Made: Reid Cannon, Archaeologist 

Reid Cannon and his friends discover myths need not be fairy tales. Set in the Valley of the Kings, peril and the paranormal collide in THE HOUSE BAST MADE

Adventure has a new name, and it is Reid Cannon!

The House Bast Made features Reid Cannon - who is Reid and what sort of adventures does he become involved in?

Reid is a Ph.D. student in Archeology from the University of Chicago. He hails from Arkansas and got his bachelor’s from University of Arkansas, Master’s from UCLA. He is fond of the ladies and likes long walks on any beach where they serve drinks with umbrellas. There is a long line of archeologists and anthropologists in Reid’s family tree. This particular adventure finds him on one of his father’s worksites. Reid got his nose for adventure from his grandmother Jane Roberts (Her story will be in an anthology this fall). Much like grandma Jane, Reid has an uncanny ability to sniff out the fantastical and paranormal. 

What's the basic gist of this particular story?

The House Bast Made is an adventure where a young archaeologist, Reid Cannon, learns myths need not be fairytales.

What drew you to Reid’s story?

I have a deep and abiding love for all things ancient Egyptian. When I was little, I found an old, worn book about the country, which I still have to this day. Imagine me out in the backyard doing excavations trying to find bits and bobs of interest. In my mind, I was a great archaeologist. As time moved on, other subjects took the place of archaeology in my heart. By the time I graduated college, I considered myself a historian.

When I was writing my latest novella, The House Bast Made, I got to put my archaeology hat back on. It felt good, like I was revisiting an old friend…you know the kind that gets you into trouble but you love every moment. This book was such fun to write. I knew the setting in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings was going to be perfect for some fantastical paranormal fun. Our archaeologist, Reid Cannon, comes to the realization—myths need not be fairy tales. Reid and his friends get embroiled in a war between gods and goddesses that has raged for eons. Reid and his crew must come together to save a friend from the brink of death and the world from utter chaos. My hope is you will enjoy your time in the Valley of the Kings and join us next time when Reid Cannon travels to South America!

Where can readers find out more about you and where can they buy The House Bast Made?

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Lisa-M.-Collins/e/B00PPV5QYO/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/coolvstar650
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lisaauthor
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisacollins
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/coolvstar650/
Google+: http://google.com/+LisaMCollins/posts
Instagram: http://instagram.com/coolvstar650
Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/lisa-matthews-collins
Pen and Cape Society: http://penandcapesociety.com/lisa-m-collins/

Bio: Lisa M. Collins has always been interested in Outer Space, Adventure stories, and Southern culture. She was born in Dixie and has always lived south of the Mason Dixon Line. She graduated from the University of Arkansas with a bachelor’s degree in history with specializations in American and Russian history. Lisa lives in central Arkansas with her husband and an adorable cat, Baby Girl, who believes she is Lisa’s co-author. Lisa has one adult son who is married to his high school sweetheart.

Lisa’s non-fiction has been published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. . She copy edited and researched on Understanding Global Slavery by University of California Press. Her science fiction story, The Tree of Life, is in the 2013-2014 anthology by Holdfast Magazine. These days she edits for Metahuman Press, and is an upcoming creative contributor with Pro Se Productions and Mechanoid Press. She is a Sally A. Williams Grant winner from the Arkansas Arts Council for writing.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #328 -- It's Elementary

When did you write your first story and how old were you?

If I remember correctly (after all, it was a long time ago), I wrote my story in elementary school as an assignment. I want to say it was either fourth or fifth grade. But I do remember the story. It was an absolutely awful super hero story that barely made it to the back of the handwritten, wide-ruled page torn out of a wire notebook and handed in.

It was full of every comic book cliche I could cram into 250 or so words. But it was a start. And like all starts, it was a crucial first step.

(For the record, I think I made a B- on it.)

Saturday, June 20, 2015



A leading publisher of Genre Fiction, Pro Se Productions announces the release of an anthology that places women in the driver’s seat of each story. Heroines, villainesses, and more are the order of the day in The Dame Did It, now available in print and digital formats.

“Even though,” says Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions, “having a woman as a lead character is not exactly new, even in Pulp, it’s an arena that still has so much room for fun storytelling and innovation. And the authors in The Dame Did It do just that with both a surgical precision and all the over the top craziness readers expect from Genre Fiction.”

A death rattle echoes down a shadowy alley….
Guns blaze like exploding suns in the dead of night…
And make no mistake about who’s responsible….


Pro Se Productions presents a collection of new stories wrapped in the shadows of Noir and definitely Hard Boiled with a feminine touch. Authors Joel Jenkins, Christofer Nigro, Shannon Muir, and Percival Constantine deliver two fisted, gun shooting hard core action in these blood soaked pages, and each tale revolves around a woman. A heroine desperate to save the day, a villainess hungry to destroy, or someone trapped in the middle. All and more will be found in The Dame Did It!

Featuring a terrific cover and logo design by Jeffrey Hayes and print formatting by Percival Constantine, The Dame Did It is available now at Amazon and Pro Se’s own store at  for only $10.00.

The anthology is also available as an Ebook formatted by Forrest Bryant for $2.99 on the Kindle and for most digital formats via Smashwords.

For more information on this title, contact Morgan McKay, Pro Se’s Director of Corporate Operations, at directorofcorporateoperations@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.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Oh, the Horrors (of the Publishing World)

For this week's roundtable, let's talk horror stories. No, not how to write horror stories. Instead I want to hear your horror stories from the world of getting and staying published. Please don't name names, as this is a small world (after all), but it would be good (I think) for new writers to be prepared for the inevitable stuff than can go wrong.

Alan Lewis: My first two books, published by different companies, were messed up initially. Each company uploaded the wrong (unedited) file to the printers. As a result, I was hit with bad reviews until they were able to upload the correct (edited) versions. This pretty much killed early sales since reviews help drive ebook sales, and negative reviews kill them completely. Having it happen once, I can understand. But two time in a row and by different companies? I almost quit writing completely as a result. They say lightning doesn't strike twice, but in my case, it does.

Mark Bousquet: I have a story in with Publisher X now for a book that was supposed to come out in January. It's now June and on track for a July release. Publisher X has valid reasons for not hitting the January deadline (some his fault, some not), but when you're excited to get a story out and it's not out when it was originally supposed to be out, it sucks, and I get mad at Publisher X.

Also, Publisher X is me.

And yes, there are valid reasons - my own long-term unemployment and never-ending search for a full-time job, formatting issues between different submissions, one nightmare file that doesn't play well with Pages, difficulty with a cover artist, someone getting sick, someone else disappearing, a file getting misplaced, and so on.

Valid reasons - It still sucks, though, and I feel terrible for that anthology's writers. But the contracts are signed, the final edits are being done, and the anthology will be out in July.

Instead of sharing any particular horror story beyond that, I would say that new writers need to be aware that horror stories will happen. A copy editor will miss an easy grammatical mistake. Or twenty. A publisher will tell you your book will be out in June and then it won't come out until October. Your name will be spelled wrong (this happened to me on my first publication credit, which came from Yale University Press! (I was an Illustrations Researcher on the Encyclopedia of New England book which came out a decade ago.) An artist will disappear, another will deliver the wrong content. You'll have a release your excited about come out on the same day as a horrible tragedy, which means you're caught between wanting to get the word out and not looking insensitive (this is happening to me right now). What I've learned is that whomever your publisher is, your artist is, your copy editor is, your graphic designer is ... ultimately, the final responsibility lies with you, so the more you can take control of your own career (not doing everything but being intelligent about everything that's being done), the greater your happiness.

R.J. Sullivan: Haunting Blue was rejected by a major publisher for being "too exciting."

Lucy Blue: I probably should leave this topic be -- I come across as the hag on the hill screeching doom every time I get started on it. My biggest horror story is the collapsing dominoes that were my writing career a few years back. After working with an A-list agent for a decade and publishing six mid-list paperbacks with a Big 6 publisher, in the space of three months I found out that 1)my publisher didn't want my next book and in fact wanted me to basically "go erotica or go home;" and 2)my agent was retiring, closing up shop, and the nice girl who'd been taking care of my stuff while he, my actual agent, was ill had decided (AFTER I had chosen to NOT go with the new people taking over the agency but stick with her out of loyalty) to not be an agent after all because the market was just too horrible. When I was a new writer, I thought that once I had an agent who knew everybody's name in NYC and signed a contract with a publisher, it would be smooth sailing, and I could just concentrate on being the Shakespeare's sister of historical fantasy/romance. Yeah.. . not so much. BUT--BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT -- and please, any new writers reading, this is the most important part -- it hasn't stopped me writing, or publishing, or finding readers, or making money as a writer. I just have to work harder and take more responsibility for my own stuff. I don't expect somebody else to take care of me and my career and my ego any more - which is good because nobody will. And in a lot of ways, that's been really liberating. But it sure didn't feel liberating while it was first happening.

Tamara Lowery: Before I found a publisher, I found a "publisher" that seemed very interested in my manuscript. I sent it in; they looked it over and sent it back with the advice to have it professionally edited then resubmit. The snag was that they preferred I use only an editor THEY recognized. For me, that was a red flag. Sure enough, when I did a more thorough bit of research of this "publisher" I found that several articles warning about them had been posted on SFWA's "Writer Beware" blog. Bullet dodged.

For quite a while, I kept an eye out to make sure my story did not turn up under a different author name/title.

Desmond Reddick: I'm still a neophyte to being published, As such, I don't necessarily have any horror stories about staying published. That horror story is still very much in progress. I do, however, have a story about my first anthology acceptance that gnaws at me to this day for reasons beyond my control.

I had written many stories in the first quarter century of my life, mostly yawn-inducing screeds sure to bore even the most diligent and forgiving of readers. Then the submission notice came out. It called for zombie stories and the anthology was specifically geared toward authors who had yet to be published. Perfect! It just so happened that a brilliant idea popped into my head. Of course, looking back, it's far from brilliant, but it was unique and fun in a sick way. I wrote it feverishly and submitted it. Lo and behold, it was accepted. I was ecstatic! It wasn't a major publishing house or anything, but it offered a token payment and an author copy. That was more than enough to stir my excitement.

Then, thanks to a particularly nasty internet battle between said publisher and an author he once worked with, it was revealed that the publisher spent more than a dozen years in prison for four counts of first degree sexual abuse of his former step-children. He admitted it, referring to his past mistakes, and said there would be no hard feelings if someone wanted to withdraw their story from the anthology. In a stunning turn of events, I appeared to be the only one to do so. I am an educator, so being in any way associated with a convicted sexual predator is not necessarily something I need in my career. Further than that, as a human being, it would certainly bother me. Yet, here I was: the only person who didn't see that "he'd paid his debt to society" or whatever. Honor had certainly kept me away from other situations that would have been boons earlier in my life, but this was my first foray into becoming a published author, my dream.

I eventually would be published, shortly after, with a different story. Though, that anthology made zero attempt to copy edit and completely neglected to put in a Table of Contents, but that's far lower down on the publishing horror story ladder. Today, with my first professional short story sale and my forthcoming first novel, I feel a little better about the publishing world, though that zombie story is still sitting in my completed drafts folder. I still sneer a little bit when I see it sitting there. Maybe one day I'll get over myself, polish it up and send it off.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

[Link] How to Write with Substance and Improve Your Communication

by Gregory Ciotti

Nothing drags down writing more than spreading good ideas over too many words.

Making keystrokes matter has only grown in importance as communication and the text that powers it become increasingly inseparable. Many tools we rely on each day—Gmail, Slack, Asana—would be empty shells without the words.

Since everyone in the company is responsible for communicating well, everyone is also responsible for writing well. The importance of this is multiplied when working in a remote culture.

For essays, updates, announcements, emails, and more, here’s an abridged guide to writing with clarity and substance.

Write to express,
not to impress

Communication is a mix of vision and conversation. Having noticed something interesting, you now seek to direct the attention of the reader so that they might see it with their own eyes. What you choose to write is for the use of someone else. Always choose selflessly.

The bloated prose found in academia and “legalese” is a reminder of what’s at stake. In The Sense of Style, Harvard linguist Steven Pinker points out that smart people sour their thoughts through attempts to impress others. They spurn simplicity from a desire to prove that they are not bad scientists, lawyers, or academics—in doing so, they unwittingly prove they are bad communicators.

Read the full article: http://publicationlife.com/how-to-write-with-substance-and-improve-your-communication/

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Nugget #55 -- Broken, Angry, Hurt & Fallen

When I write, I write gritty, pulp-style narratives or 
adult literary prose. I write about real people (or 
at least the closest I can get in prose) getting into 
life or death situations and struggles who react like 
the broken, angry, hurt, beleaguered, wounded, 
faulty, fallen people we all can be. My bottom 
line is to be true to the characters.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Still Swimming Like a Shark ( or "I Wish I'd Known This Before I Started")

By Percival Constantine

Ever since the age of 10, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Every aspiring writer has a medium they aspire to—for me, it was comic books. But getting published was a different story. Since 10, I continued to write just about every single day. Before my family got a computer, it would be stories scribbled in notebooks and then later typed up on an old typewriter. Throughout high school and college, I would devote most of my energy to writing comic book fan fiction and also comic scripts for my own original ideas.

While in college, I first heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). And under the advice of my friend Derrick Ferguson, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. The first attempt went nowhere. As did the second. The third time I actually managed to meet the 50,000-word goal with a few days to spare.

The next step was trying to see if I could get it published. I revised the manuscript and then handed it over to a friend for editing before doing further revisions. And then I began querying agents, following their submission guidelines to the letter. Of the fifty or so agents I queried, I received about twenty responses. Of those twenty responses, around three were more than form letter rejections. And those three all basically said the same thing—a good start, but I’m not sure how I’d sell this in today’s market.

This was in late 2006, so it was long before the self-publishing revolution Amazon kick-started with the advent of the KDP platform. Ebooks were very much in their infancy at this point—there was no Kindle and an ebook was essentially a PDF you read on your computer or PDA (anyone remember those?). Self-publishing did exist, but it was virtually indistinguishable from vanity publishing.

Derrick had published his first book, Dillon and the Voice of Odin, through iUniverse (now a subsidiary of the very shady Author Solutions) a few years before this. So I consulted him for advice. He told me about his experiences with iUniverse and I looked them up. And I have never been so happy to be a broke college student, because the prices were so far out of my range that there was no way I could have afforded their services. I almost got suckered by the PublishAmerica scam, but fortunately I had done my research and found out what a predatory company they were.

Derrick recommended I speak to Joel Jenkins, who told me about Lulu. Unlike many of the other services out there, Lulu’s print on demand service didn’t charge any upfront fees. You had to purchase a proof copy of your book and there was a fee for expanded distribution to get an ISBN and have your book available for purchase on websites like Amazon (and it could be requested at bookstores), but altogether, that brought the total cost to less than $50, definitely within my range.

Of course, Lulu offered other services for book layout and cover design, but these were optional, not mandatory. I had some knowledge of Photoshop and InDesign, so I made the cover and formatted the book myself in those programs (which required a massive learning curve). After approving the proof, my first novel, Fallen, was available.

My marketing consisted of telling friends. I started a Facebook group called “Help make my book a bestseller” and included the link to Amazon and how people could find the book. Despite virtually everyone on my friends list joining the group, only a small fraction of them bought the book. I published in March of 2007 and in that first year, I sold a grand total of 28 copies.

When I talk about my first publishing experience, I actually consider the first seven years of my writing career to be my first publishing experience, because I really didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t discover the ebook revolution until around 2011 or 2012 and my efforts at that point consisted of relying solely on Smashwords. Up until that point, I was only doing paperbacks. I didn’t know anything about the Kindle. I didn’t know about the self-publishing success stories like Hugh Howey or Amanda Hocking. I completely missed the Kindle gold rush and the glory days when KDP Select actually helped you sell books. I didn’t know a thing about mailing lists or series branding or anything like that.

By the time I did learn about all these things, I had a much steeper climb, one that I’ve only started to make. It’s been said that a shark has to keep swimming or else it dies and the same is true of authors.

I’d advise everyone to learn from the mistake I made and do your research on the market. Even if you think you know everything, keep researching. And learn about marketing because there are so many titles out there that you have to figure out a way to get the word out that isn’t spammy or just asking your friends. The world of publishing is in such a state of flux these days that things are changing every day. The current market is very different from the market in 2007 or even the market just a year ago.

Percival Constantine is a pulp action author responsible for several series, including The Myth Hunter, Vanguard, and Luther Cross. Visit PercivalConstantine.com for more information on him and to find out how to get free books and stories.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #327 -- Magicaliteragenre-ism

What are your favorite genres to blend when you write?

Would "all of them" be an acceptable answer?

I didn't think so either, but it was worth a try.

Probably most of all, I like to combine magical realism and literary with genre adventure. Some of you are perhaps scratching you heads at that response. Don't feel bad. I totally get why that might be. For starters, magical realism is something best left to the Latin American writers, the literati would have us believe. Not only that, but mixing hi-falutin' literary fiction with low-brow genre (and dare I say it, pulp) adventure is tantamount to heresy, like pouring a 400 dollar a glass w(h)ine into a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

But I stand by my statement.

I love to take the ideas of magical realism, with the miraculous woven into the day to day happenstance of regular life without having to give it a second thought. My Show Me a Hero super hero story collection is full of this very conceit.

Mingling the "high ideals" of literary fiction, with its focus on characterization, meaningful symbolism, and grand themes, and putting those ideals into the "common writing" of adventure fiction, likewise, really gets me motivated. There's nothing in the rule book that says a genre writer should write poorly or ignore the history of classic fiction. Most of my favorite stories have already paved the way for this mixture, from Dracula to The Heart of Darkness to The Odyssey.

Most of my pulp writing falls right in line here. In fact I'm sometimes at odds with my pulp-writing buddies when I argue that typically one-dimensional characters can still be just as interesting when they are more fully developed beyond a mere good guy or mere force of nature. Rick Ruby is perhaps the most literary of my pulp characters and I probably enjoy writing him more than any other. He's a mixed bag of darkness and light, hope and hopelessness, love and anger, and he has no qualms about using the women in his life to try to compartmentalize those divergent parts of himself.

So, hand me that half-empty can of cheap American beer and watch me pour your fancy-pants, hoity-toity wine right inside it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

So Sayeth Myron David Orr

"Pulp writing has for its basis the nucleus of all good writing. It requires a highly trained and specialized ability to present the story without fuzzy focusing. It rejects all superficialities and demands extreme clarity and sharpness in every detail. It is a great taskmaster for any writer." 
-- Myron David Orr

Saturday, June 13, 2015

PULP! The Art of Rob Davis

Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to announce the release of its newest title which shines the spotlight on one of the finest graphic artists in the media, Rob Davis.  Ten years ago, when the company was first launched, Davis accepted the position of Art Director and in that time has overseen the look and design of all the Airship 27 Productions novels and anthologies now numbering over a hundred.

With a background as a successful, highly respected comic book artist, Davis quickly established himself as a gifted book illustrator when he took on that role for the company’s first titles three titles, The Hounds of Hell, Brother Bones – The Undead Avenger and Secret Agent X – Vol One.
“It was always agreed our books would feature interior illustrations,” explains Airship 27 Productions’ Managing Editor, Ron Fortier.  “Having Rob Davis on board to provide the illustrations for those early titles was such a thrill for us and a major part of our success in the burgeoning New Pulp field.”

In the ten years Davis has been associated with the company, he has done hundreds of illustrations featuring both classic and new pulp heroes to include Secret Agent X, Captain Hazzard, the Moon Man, the Black Bat and dozens of others.  In his drawings for the Airship 27 Sherlock Holmes anthology series, he’s made a reputation as one of the premier Holmes & Watson artist working today.  That was solidified when he won the first ever Pulp Factory Award in 2009 in the Best Interior Illustrations category for his work in Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective Vol One.

PULP – The Art of Rob Davis is the first published collection of Davis’ remarkable work and contains 175 black and white pieces; all of which have appeared in the pages of various Airship 27 Productions books.   Adds Fortier, “We’ve no doubt this book will soon become a collector’s item to any true pulp fan who appreciates the role of art in the history of pulp fiction.”  The book features an Introduction by award-winning British writer I.A. Watson and Fortier provides a post-essay to round the volume.


Now available at Amazon.

Friday, June 12, 2015

ANNOUNCING : LEGENDS OF NEW PULP FICTION (A benefit anthology for Tommy Hancock)

Airship 27 Productions is extremely happy to announce their newest project will be a very special New Pulp Fiction anthology to benefit New Pulp publisher/editor/writer Tommy Hancock. Tommy was recently hospitalized and diagnosed with having congestive heart failure. In a recent to letter to friends and colleagues, Tommy elaborated on his condition and the challenges ahead on his road to recovery.

Within hours, writer Jaime Ramos approached Ron Fortier, Managing Editor of Airship 27 Productions about the possibilities of producing a one-of-a-kind New Pulp anthology that would benefit Tommy and his family and help defray some of the medical bills they will be accruing in the weeks and months ahead. Fortier was immediately receptive and the two will share co-editing credits on the project.


If you are a published New Pulp writer or artists and would like to contribute to this benefit anthology, you are asked to contact Fortier and request the book’s guidelines and set deadline for both story and artwork. Note, this being an Airship 27 Production, it will feature interior illustrations for each and every story featured in the anthology. Also important, this is a call for new stories, not reprints. Once the book is assembled, it will be available at Amazon in both hard copy and on Kindle. All profits from the sale of the book will go directly to Tommy and his family.

This is an opportunity for the entire New Pulp community to come together as a family that truly cares for one another. Again, interested creators should contact Fortier at Airship27@comcast.net to sign on and request the official guidelines.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Have It Your Way -- Genre-Blending in Contemporary Fiction

This week's roundtable deals with genres and how they never seem to remain a "pure" work of a single genre. Just like we like to have our burgers "our way" and mix up our favorite latte with our choice of flavors, as writers we tend to like to mix up our genres to a desired preference.

What are your favorite genres to blend when you write?

Selah Janel: It really depends on the story. I think aiming something at a genre is exactly the wrong way to go about stuff. If you're looking for a gimmick, absolutely try to cram things together, but otherwise start with the story and see where it goes. Often times, the question of merging genres will solve itself. That being said, a lot of what I prefer to write is fantasy, urban fantasy, or horror, so I often blend those together quite a bit. I also take a lot of inspiration from the literary fiction I've read, as well as historical accounts and all sorts of other things. If there's an element or theme or genre device that I think will work, I'll use it. Often times that approach brings me to using elements from genres that I'm not comfortable writing wholesale, so that's always fun, too.

Lance Stahlberg: Urban Fantasy, as in fantasy with a modern day setting. I wrote one fantasy blended with a heist/crime story with a superhero story. And one fantasy with a Western. I have another urban fantasy idea I want to run at some point, a fantasy-mystery I suppose.

Lisa M. Collins: I love to write action/adventure and blend in elements of fantasy or science fiction.

Allan Gilbreath: Suspense and sensual-ism blended into everything else.

Mark Bousquet: My favorite genre blend was horror and journal writing, in which I wrote a first person story of a woman working in a haunted estate. I really liked how that daily desire to keep a journal mixed with the descent into horror because it added another layer to the tension - there was the terror and horror of the individual acts, but there was also the step back from it, since one largely writes a journal in quiet times while reflecting back on unquiet times.

What are the advantages of blending multiple genres in a single story?

Selah Janel: It gives you more tools in the belt, more paint colors in the palette. It can also technically appeal to more readers, bringing in those who prefer certain genres together. What I love about it, though, is it helps me to expand a story and take it away from the formulaic and into a unique direction. Kingdom City would be nothing without my love of HP Lovecraft or my adoration of regular people historical literature. Granted, all of that is put through a fantasy/fairy tale filter, but that's the real thing - you have to blend the genres until they become their own thing and not jam them together. I love the comic series East of West because it just excels at this. That title is it's own unique world. It has western elements and sci-fi elements, but it has a ton of other little things in it that give it its own unique look and feel. It's incredible. Stories like that are so good they're their own thing - they make me /not/ want to define it by genre, because that takes away from the brilliance that is that particular story.

Lance Stahlberg: Today's savvy readers need more variety to keep their interest. Traditional storytelling runs the risk of falling into predictable patterns and overusing the same tropes that everyone recognizes by now. Something like urban fantasy is easy in that it's whatever genre you want your story to be, but with magic and dragons thrown in.

Lisa M. Collins: My genre is speculative fiction, and I mostly write science fiction or paranormal. Dictionary.com defines speculative fiction as: A broad literary genre encompassing any fiction with supernatural, fantastical, or futuristic elements. In this genre I can throw out all the rules. I can have a unicorn walk down main street, a plumber who flushes herself to other dimensions, or psychologist who lives on a distant world.

Allan Gilbreath: Gives the reader a deeper experience bringing in all the senses

What are the disadvantages of blending genres?

Selah Janel:  If done poorly, it can be confusing or obvious. I think a lot of people have started looking at it as a humor device or a marketing gimmick. That's fair, and it works to some extent, but it really takes away from the artistry of what makes good genre fiction. To me, stuff like that takes away from all the hard work I'm putting into my own stories and subverts authors who are doing it really well. I don't have fantasy creatures in Kingdom City using modern tech because it's funny (though it is, by default). I did it because that's the world that their progressive viewpoints would fit in, and it would be an interesting way to explore traditional fairy tale views versus more progressive world views, and what kind of characters would be caught in between.  It would be really easy for me to write funny stories about trolls using laptops, making the obvious jokes, but that sort of thing is so one-note to me. It's always going to be about what's best for the story, and the genres or tools you use should work for you, not get in the way of the world and tale you're creating. 

Lance Stahlberg: Only from a marketing perspective maybe. Wondering where to file your book on the shelf might be a confusing question. But not really.

Lisa M. Collins: When I blend speculative elements into a story I need my reader to suspend their real world limitations. The paranormal/fantastical/futuristic has to be believable. A unicorn walking down main street might be a hard sale, unless you had already read about our heroine having dreams of the event since childhood.

Allan Gilbreath: Getting lost in the details and not moving the story along.

Is blending genres something you do intentionally, or does it seem to just happen as your write? Why do you think that is?

Selah Janel:  A little of both. I don't tend to think in distinct genre lines. I like seeing how different things make sense - like how a lot of old fairy tale quirks like talking animals and trees, different elements of magic, etc could also read like Lovecraftian horror. I never intentionally went at it from that viewpoint, but it occurred to me one day that things lined up, and there was a lot I could do with it. It solved a lot of problems in my manuscript at the time. I don't throw vampires into tales about lumberjacks just to do it -- there happened to be a term for a forest creature that meshed up with vampire mythos and typical lumberjack life. I definitely don't shy away from blending genres, though. To me it can bring up interesting twists and things the reader may not expect, as well as provide some really nice metaphors, as well. If it doesn't read well, or seems to forced, I absolutely won't do it, but if it gives the characters more room to play, if it enriches the world, if it expands the story, I'm game for anything.

Lance Stahlberg: I never think about it consciously. There is so much cross-pollination of genres today that genre rules are almost meaningless. At least with the kind of audience I want to capture.

Lisa M. Collins: While writing my mind bubbles with ideas. I’ll be typing along and the next thing you know a mecha suited girl strolls through a barnyard with a cow tucked under her arm. LOL, something like that happens every time. :)

When I was kid I was interested in movies and books full of fantasy and science fiction. I can’t imagine not looking in to the future and wondering what might happen or who we will become.

Allan Gilbreath: I hope it happens naturally. At least I hope so. I think and see a story in more than just sight, thus I try to write it that way.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Nugget #54 -- Beyond Familiar

Yes, I want to write stories that feel like something 
familiar, but not merely something familiar. I want 
my stories to go beyond that and say something new, 
something memorable, something intrinsic to the reader. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Listening to Your Characters

by Selah Janel

I love genre fiction, obviously, but sometimes it seems authors get too caught up in tone, too worried about making it fit a niche. They’re so busy trying to make horror scary, sci-fi exciting, and fantasy fantastic, that the story loses something. You can have the best plot-twist in the world, the coolest action, the dreamiest settings, but if your characters feel like they’re stereotype fillers that have been seen fifty billion times before, you’re in trouble.

Characters aren’t there to just move the plot along. Even the reason behind why a reader loves a protagonist or hates a villain – even if they can’t verbalize the why behind it – is important. Your characters deserve to be brought to life, to have that little something more that makes a reader feel something when they’re cut down or finally reach safety. For those cool plot points to mean something, the characters have to mean something. They have to fit the story and vice versa.

I’ve read a lot of great stories that suddenly become disjointed along the way, completely throwing off the wonderful vibe they’d had going on, because out of nowhere it felt like the characters changed and didn’t fit in their own story. Don’t get me wrong, we all get excited about particular plot elements that are going to blow minds, we all get nervous about word counts, but if an author is intent on getting the best possible story, sometimes you need to stop yourself in your tracks and listen to your characters.

Would they actually react to a situation the way you assume they would? What might actually come out of their mouths if forced into the specific scene or confrontation you have in mind? If you’re honest with yourself, the answers might surprise you.

When I wrote Olde School, I was intent on giving it what I assumed was the logical, desired, movie-grade ending: hero (albeit an unconventional one) mans up after being down on himself, has an explosive fight with evil creatures, then finds himself presented with a bigger mystery.  Yay, done, let’s celebrate then point me to book two.

It sucked. A lot.

I quite possibly had twenty nervous breakdowns because I had no other options at that point, and couldn’t understand why things weren’t working, why the ending I had in my head just blew so very many chunks on paper. It was everything I’d set out to write, but the last fourth of the book felt off. A lot of well-meaning people tried to reassure me that I was just nervous and it’d all be fine after a few little tweaks. Here’s the thing, though.

I knew something was wrong.

I almost always know, honestly. It may take me a while to figure out what, specifically, needs fixing, and I absolutely hate being in that place, but I always know.

I think, quite honestly, a lot of us know things could be tweaked if we’d calm down about all the cool stuff we’re doing, stop playing God for five minutes, and really, really listen to our characters. 

Paddlelump the troll, my hero in the book, is many things: likeable, smart, savvy, trusting, compassionate…but he’ll never be an action hero. Mad Max or a fantasy story Terminator he ain’t. If confronted with Aragorn, he’d sit the guy down and want to hear his life story. In short, he is not a fighter, and by trying to force him into that role I made us both wildly uncomfortable.

I often do that crazy author thing of letting my characters talk back to me, but in this case, it just ticked me off. Unfortunately, Paddlelump’s so nice that he wasn’t really one to offer much help other than “Oh, I dunno, I just don’t want to bother you, is all…”

And then I’d get irritated and go off to watch Masterpiece Theatre and binge on chocolate.

Welcome to my headspace.

Truth is, he’s more of a listener, an empathizer than one to throw punches. When I not only realized that, but also took into account which other characters were in climactic scene with him, a completely different chain of events hit me….in some ways, the “real” sequence of events finally found me. It wasn’t what I had originally had in mind—was nowhere near it—though it still fused nicely with the overall direction of the book and the series. It meant a lot of cutting, a lot of rewriting…and a much, much better last fourth of the book. What takes place is much more unique to Kingdom City and to Paddlelump…and honestly, to me. In trying to force a fantasy-adventure vibe in that sequence, I had nearly lost the delicate balance of weird I’d worked so hard to create.

Sometimes I need to check myself, just like anyone else, and luckily I have many full casts lodged in my brain to do it. That makes me wonder, though, about what would have happened if I’d tried to force my way through ‘til the end. It makes me wonder how much of the stilted scenes and weird-feeling books I’ve read are actually authors hell-bent on ticking plot points off their mental list or outline. Style-wise, I get it, but story-wise? Sometimes you have to turn style and genre on its head and look at what’s actually going to be the best option. Sometimes you have to abandon those grand plans and leave things to those who know it best.