Saturday, April 29, 2017


by Len Levinson

I live in a small town (population 3000) way out here on the great American prairie.  Therefore I have little contact with the wider world of publishing although I’ve written 83 published novels to date.

Last Sunday (4/23) I attended the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in a Chicago suburb called Lombard, and became aware of the future of fiction publishing.  Many of you probably have come to this awareness already, but it was a major revelation for me.

I realized that there is a huge, growing indie publishing movement fully underway, and has come into being because traditional publishing has narrowly focused on conventional “safe” fiction, and tends to reject anything new, weird, crazy or bizarre.

This policy has left a huge vacuum now being filled by the new indie press which operates under a different business model.  They don’t have offices in Rockefeller Center in NYC like Simon and Shuster.  They operate out of home offices, barns or other low-cost spaces.  Everything is handled over the internet.  And they don’t pay advances.  Authors receive royalties only, as in the early days of publishing.  And they produce GREAT eye-catching covers that are works of art on their own.

During the convention I spoke with Ron Fortier, publisher and editor-in-chief of one of the larger indie publishers, Airship 27.  He said that famous authors sometimes call him about books of theirs that were rejected by their usual publishers, because those books were considered too far out.  But nothing is too far out for today’s indie publishers who market, among other items, novels about vampire cowboys, lesbian werewolves from Mars, hard boiled crime fiction, other action-adventure novels including traditional Westerns, and all kinds of sci-fi, fantasy and sword and sandal fiction.  They also publish new novels about characters in the public domain such as Sherlock Holmes.  It’s called “the New Pulp Movement."

I also spoke with Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions, which also is a major indie publisher marketing hundreds of titles.  He told me that the big five publishers are buying up some indie publishers, because they can see where the business is going.  But Tommy isn’t interested in selling out.  His main interest is exciting new fiction.

Evidently there’s a whole new publishing world out there of which I was unaware, although some of my old books have been republished by indie publishers such as Piccadilly, Destroyer and Blackstone.  But I never realized how important this New Pulp Movement is becoming.  It is wildly creative, fully energized and intensely ambitious, the new kid on the block fighting for a bigger slice of the pie.  The welcome result is more choices for readers, and hopefully more income for writers.

Friday, April 28, 2017


Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to announce the release of “Sherlock Holmes – Consulting Detective Vol 9.”

Once again, hidden on the fog shrouded streets of London are heinous criminals set upon their nefarious schemes. All that stands in their way are two men, stalwart and unafraid to take on villainy in all its insidious disguises; Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

“Every single time we put out a new volume, our Sherlock Holmes fans are delighted,” says Airship 27 Production’s Managing Editor, Ron Fortier.  “Honestly, they devour each one and then within weeks of a new release, I’m getting mail asking when the next one is coming out. The popularity of these characters appears to be as strong as ever to readers around the world.”

In this, the ninth entry in this bestselling series, the crime solving companions tackle five brand new mysteries that are totally unique from any of their previous adventures. Among these; an entire crew of a shoreline light house vanishes during a raging storm, one of Watson’s old army colleagues is accused of murder and a former Baker Street Irregular seeks out their aid on behalf of his crippled father. These three cases and two others are brilliantly delivered by writers I.A. Watson, Fred Adams Jr., Erik Franklin and Aaron Smith. Proving once again there is only one Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective.

Airship 27 Productions’ Art Director, Rob Davis provides the black and white interior illustrations as he has done with all previous volumes and Adam Shaw delivers a truly striking cover.  Sure to be another winner from the leading publisher in New Pulp fiction.


Available now from Amazon in paperback and soon on Kindle.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Why Diversity? It's Just Fiction. What's the Big Deal?

by Sean Taylor

Quick! What’s the biggest buzzword in modern fiction? Everyone together on the count of three… 1,2, 3…DIVERSITY!

“Way to go, Sean,” you’re probably thinking. “Way to piss off most of the people who might ever be likely to read your blog.” (And to be honest, you might be right.)

But if you’ll bear with me a moment, I want to guide us all to think about diversity as something deeper than a mere buzzword, something that gets beyond social politics and political correctness, and something that relates more to creating great fiction rather than trying to change the world.


What if Che Guevara had
written The Grapes of Wrath?
Writers are revolutionaries. It’s true. There’s no way to get around that. But first and foremost (pardon the cliche) writers are writers.

By that, I mean that writers are committed above all else to the story. But when writers surrender stories to the express purpose of changing the world through social and cultural order, they become propagandists and they pollute the very nature of telling stories.

Most every great piece of fiction that has helped to create change in the world has been an aftereffect of the story the writer wanted to tell. It began with story, not with revolution.

 Bear in mind, I’m referring only to fiction for this article. Non-fiction lives by different rules in this regard.

My take on this is simple: If you want to change the world as a writer, write great stories that change people. If you want to change the world through activism, go build someone a house, march in a parade, or work a crisis hotline. If you want to do both, do both, but don’t confuse storytelling with activism.

“But what about the history of stories, you know fables and fairy tales that taught morals? And what about books like the Narnia stories or The Fountainhead that were basically just thinly veiled religious or political primers?” you ask.

And you’re right. Fables and fairy tales were told primarily to encourage safe and “better” behaviour in children. But I’d argue that C.S. Lewis and Ayn Rand were wanting to tell stories to entertain and intrigue readers first and foremost and didn’t really give a damn about whether they picked up the religious or political symbolism or not as they read it (that could be something they learned later if the entertaining story stuck with them well enough and caused them to ponder).

But let’s go back in history a little earlier than that. Let’s look at myths and legends. They tried to explain the world, to put people in a place that made some kind of sense. They tried to uncover some truth about the human condition.

That’s my calling as a writer and my understanding of the craft. And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one. I want to put stories in a context to understand the world and its people, even if I do it under the goal of entertaining readers. If I somehow contribute to changing the world or its people in the process, that’s just icing on the cake. The cake is the body of work, the stories themselves. Did they entertain? Were they worth sharing in the first place?

All that said, don’t mistake writing less diversely for the sake of story with the idea of setting out intentionally to offend by ignoring diversity. Just as the heads side doesn’t add up for me, neither does the tails side. If you choose not to be as diverse, it should be from a commitment to craft, not from being an obstinate jackass to further your own viewpoint, which is (you could call it) a sort of reverse propaganda by way of intentional absence.


Perhaps I should have given this section the subheading “What Not To Do” instead.

Sadly, the first place beginning writers (even more sadly, some experienced writers) turn when trying to make their work more diverse and accessible is to the paint-by-numbers approach. It’s a method seen most obviously in the cartoon Captain Planet and in Power Rangers.

Pink is for girls. Yellow is for Asians?!
And black is for... Wait... really?!
It works like this: “Okay, we need our main white guy. Right. He’s there. Sure. But we need to make sure there’s a black guy too or people will think we're racists. Oh, and we need a girl. Or how about two? Let’s make one white, and for the other let’s go Latina or Asian, since we already have African-American checked off. No, no, it doesn’t matter if it makes sense for the story or not. We can work around that. We just have to check all the boxes or we’ll never sell this book.”

Obviously, that description is a bit over the top, but the mindset is pretty spot-on. I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve talked with at conventions who see this as the most efficient approach to create multicultural casts in their works. Even those who'd never admit it to anyone can't still be found out by the way it shows up in their work. It's the kind of lowest-common-denominator "diversity" that turns people off from writing better diverse casts in the first place.

The problems this approach creates are fairly obvious, but in the interest of complete transparency, I’ll outline them here.

  1. It kills otherwise good stories with characters that don’t belong. If you need to tell a story about a solo adventurer or a pair of thieves, forcing a larger starring cast for the sake of diversity only weakens your story. Better to save that for your background cast and your "world-building" cast of extras. 
  2. It kills characterization. That’s how you get characters who seems as flat as the pages on which they’re written, at best -- or are offensive as stereotypes and caricatures at worst.  
  3. It’s demeaning to your readers. You’re telling them as a writer that they did this to you, that it’s their fault you have to write like this. You’re also telling them they’re too dumb to enjoy your work if it didn’t include all the right plug-n-play pieces. 
  4. It builds a story from the wrong foundation. If you’re a long-time reader of the blog, you’ll know that I believe strongly that story is that magical baby that happens when a plot and great characterization meet and start a family. (And if you’re a new reader, well, now you know too.) By forcing characters to fit an arbitrary model of inclusion, you end up shoehorning them into your plot. And any writer worth his or her inkjet cartridges will tell you that’s only a prescription for trouble further along the creative process. 

So, if that’s “bad diversity,” then what is “good diversity”?

  1. Good diversity is a natural outgrowth from story and character. It is part and parcel (as the saying goes) of the storying process. 
  2. Good diversity begins when you start to create a story. It is there with you at the inception, and it stays with you throughout the telling of your tale. 
  3. Good diversity relates to your setting. Does a multicultural group make sense in terms of when your story happens in history and/or where in the world it happens? If not, what is the plausible (in terms of the rules of your story, as this can change based on genre) reason to have an unconventional character or cast of characters inhabit your story?
  4. Good diversity enters a story because it’s part of what the story needs. Put simply, it “works” because it a necessary turn of events or addition without which the story couldn’t take place successfully. 
  5. Good diversity comes from the hard work of plotting. It’s something that a lot of thought and effort is put into. It is never an add-on. It is never a list of check marks you can review after the fact or fix in “easy edits.”
  6. Good diversity makes sense in the context of your fiction. Good diversity will never rip your readers out of a story. It helps to create the immersion experience for a reader, rather than to create a greater suspension of disbelief to be accepted no matter how out of place.

Because this is apparently what
it means to grow up white.

Believe it or not, I still hear this often, and yes, mostly from old white guys in my age range. But for any writer with the drive to remain relevant and continue to tell stories about the world as it is, was, and will be, I find it to be a huge cop-out.

In my experience this excuse comes from either writers too lazy to learn different habits to improve their storytelling or from writers who, to quote the speaker from one of the conversations with a old guy in my age range, “don’t give a damn about that multicultural shit.”

Either way, for any practicing and publishing author, it’s an empty excuse in this day and age.

The good news is that you don’t have to be White, Black, Latino, Asian, Male, Female, Gay, Straight, Trans, etc. to write a greater diversity of characters. You can be an anything and still write an anybody. Why? Because you’re a writer. It’s the nature of what you do. Period.

The axiom of “write what you know” still applies. Do you have friends? Are they all one gender? One race? Bleed them onto your pages. Use them as reference material. Use them for research material. Ask questions. Pay attention. Understand them.

While the Internet isn’t a perfect research tool, it does contain thousands upon thousands of resources for understanding history and cultures other than your own. Need to learn about slang or jargon? (Just be careful with that. Can I get a “Sweet Christmas”? Anybody?) Need to know what race relations are like in the country of Rwanda of even the state of Rhode Island? What about videos of places and people you’ve never been? It’s all there.


This is the crucial point of this article for me as a pulp writer. Historically, the world of the pulps is a very whitewashed world, much like the movies and radio drama of the time. It’s not that people of color didn’t exist to inhabit stories of The Shadow, Secret Agent X, or Philip Marlowe. It’s that they didn’t have the social power to prove they mattered to the narrative.

And that’s something that I can do differently with my stories today, but not because I want to be a social justice warrior (not that there’s anything wrong with that, thank you, George and Jerry) but because I think the stories can be a lot more compelling when they include the whole of the truth of history instead of only the white parts.

That is is why when Bobby Nash I and created Rick Ruby (of The Ruby Files series) for Airship 27 Productions, it was important to us that the world he inhabited included blacks, whites, Chinese, etc. Rick’s world is primarily a black world, and that helps to define why he is who he is. A more realistic portrayal of the racial issues of the 1930s made the stories that much more interesting to me both as a reader and as a writer. They give the tales more weight, more gravitas, and they provide a far more interesting backdrop than just a bunch of white good guys and white bad guys.

But it had to be believable. Having a black-white buddy cop drama just wouldn’t have worked -- not without a damn good reason for readers to buy it other than just “because I wrote it that way.” But Rick being a white man who found refuge in a black world did work, because it was part of his character, and not just part but the core of his DNA as a more authentic person, albeit a person of fiction. And it was something that I as a writer could relate to. After all, I grew up with a caregiver named Sarah, a black woman who helped to shape me as a child and still ultimately as a man long after she had passed on.

It’s too easy to assume that the world was whiter back then just because that’s what the bulk of our media of the time shows us. But the world then had just as much color on its palette. It had just as much variation of rhythm to its music. We can enjoy the stories the media of the time tells us, but we can’t let ourselves believe those stories are the “real” truth of the world at that time.

Are you writing a 1790s historical romance? Are you writing a WWII battle epic? Are you writing a Roman tragedy? The world was diverse, even then. If you don’t know to what degree, then do your job as a researching writer and find out. Then tell the truth of your story in all its fullness. Build your world on a more honest model.

Like with so many issues we writers face, it comes down to research. If you don’t know the truth of the time period you plan to write, then look it up. Find out the hues of that world. Then paint with all those shades.


Why diversity? Does it matter?

Yes. Clearly it matters, or else I wouldn’t have just devoted 2000+ words to it. Nor would so many other writers give their opinions and advice on the matter. (See the links at the bottom of this article.)

Not only is it an important issue for the world of fiction to consider, it’s also important that we get it right.

And that means thinking about diversity like writers, not politicians... like authors, not activists... like storytellers, not philosophers. There’s a place for all that, sure, and if it’s something we’re passionate about, believe me, it’ll come through in your work. You don’t have to force it and turn your stories into causes.

Yep. I said that, and I meant it. 
It’s also important for you even if it’s not something you’re passionate about. Why? Because it’s only going to make your work that much better, that much more “real” (not in the non-fiction sense, but in the deeper reality that is the human experience).

Reality is diverse. That’s a narrative truth we must understand in order to create the best stories we can. And no matter how out-there or weird or horrific or super-hero-ish or sci-fi or fantastic or vampire-y our stories can become, they still owe allegiance to the things that are intrinsically true.

It’s just fiction. Sure. But even “just fiction” is always more than mere fiction.

We write to put stories in a contextual narrative to understand the world and its people, but we do it under the goal of entertaining readers. We create the illusion of reality into order to help readers escape to a safe place that feels enough like home in all the true things that ultimately matter.

But we only do that by becoming better tellers of our own special lies called stories, and we only do that by somehow basing them on a foundation of truth about the world and its people.


NOTE: Clearly, this is a passionately debated and crucially important subject for writers. Obviously, I’m neither the first nor last to tackle it. These are just a few of the links I’ve found helpful or interesting while researching for this article.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Nugget #96 -- Fallen People, Broken Lives

Because of my faith, I believe that ultimately good triumphs 
over evil and therefore, I couldn’t be true to myself and 
write nihilist fiction. But it doesn’t keep me from writing 
people as they really are, with all the foibles, fallen natures, 
“bad” words and habits they really have, because I firmly 
believe that one potter molds all the clay and molds into all 
kinds. I don’t feel any kind of “calling” to write the world 
into something that has stories ending with doves flying off 
into the sunset and filled with only happy good people who 
live like the children’s versions of Bible story heroes. My 
heroes are fallen people with lots of stuff to overcome. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Getting to the Point with Dave Creek

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

I have two novels coming out in the next few weeks/months.  One is CHANDA'S AWAKENING, and it's the first full-length work about my series character Chanda Kasmira.  She's trying to save the inhabitants of the planet Splendor.  Two pre-industrial species live on Splendor, which is under a death sentence after a nearby star went supernova.  Making things worse, two other alien races are interested in Splendor, and Chanda has to travel to both their homeworlds to try to stop an interstellar war.

The other book is THE UNMOVING STARS.  The starship Shen Kuo is attacked just as the Star Rebellion opens hostilities against Earth.  The ship survives, but is thrown so far away from Earth it will take decades to get home.  Yes, I'm very aware this is a trope used on LOST IN SPACE, STAR TREK: VOYAGER, and FARSCAPE.  But I wrote the book with that knowledge and, I believe, took it some places those earlier works didn't go.

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

I especially like writing stories that take place in space or on other planets.  You might call it space opera, but especially in my short stories, there isn't a lot of violence.  Rather, my characters deal with cultural misunderstandings between humans and aliens, or they're making the first steps onto a previously unexplored world.  I'm eager to write a story visiting the Trappist-1 system, with its seven Earth-sized planets!

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

Among writers of my generation, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Ray Bradbury were probably the biggest influences.  I believe Asimov and Heinlein have probably affected my style and technique the most.  I aspire to the soaring prose of Clarke and Bradbury.  Other writers who have been great influences on me include Poul Anderson and C.J. Cherryh for worldbuilding and Lois McMaster Bujold for characterization.

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

It's gotta be both.  If it's not art, it doesn't affect the reader emotionally.  And why else would you read fiction?  But you also have to have technique.  Without some kind of framework giving your story a form, you might never put your point across.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?  

I have two short stories forthcoming:  "A Grand Gesture" in ANALOG SCIENCE FICTION and "Short on Thought, Quick on the Trigger" in PERIHELION SF.

You can also sample two earlier stories by going to my website,  "Pathways" was originally published in ANALOG and is available in my collection A GLIMPSE OF SPLENDOR.  "The Human Equations," available in the collection of the same title, also first appeared in ANALOG.

My website also features links to all my books, background information on the Future History in which most of my work is set, and reviews of my stories and novels.

You can also catch up with me on Facebook.  Just look up "Dave Creek."  On Twitter, I'm @DaveCreek.

Monday, April 24, 2017

#MotivationalMonday (Stress and the Indie Author)

by Jana Oliver, @crazyauthorgirl

A couple months back I attended Coastal Magic in Daytona Beach, and besides having a great deal of fun, I was reminded that downtime is good. This should be obvious, but sometimes I forget. I suspect I’m not the only one.

In the weeks leading up to this convention I’d been slaving over my current book—the last in the Demon Trappers series so the reader expectations are off the chart—and preparing our house for sale in June. On top of all that we’re hoping to move to Europe this summer, which requires jumping through numerous immigration hoops plus clearing out nearly ALL of our earthly possessions. My stress meter has been redlining for some time.

I can handle a lot of stress, but eventually it screws up my ability to think clearly. By the time I arrived in Daytona Beach I was seriously “airy fairy”, as a friend of mine kindly phrased it. In other words, I had the intelligence of a boiled potato. Since I’m a Scorpio, this is not my default setting.

Though I didn’t get a chance to walk along the beach, just being close to the water seemed to reset my brain, as did hanging with my fellow authors, as well as some dear friends. By the time I returned home I was back online and felt refreshed.

No doubt all of us have been compromised by stress, at one time or another. It can manifest in physical symptoms—headaches, intestinal issues, mental fog, to name just a few—as well as affect our sleep patterns. Juggling our many responsibilities can be overwhelming, especially if those include raising kids, working a full-time job and, perhaps, caring for your parents’ welfare. That doesn’t include being an indie author.

So how do you lower your stress when you’re buried and can see now way out?

Here’s a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Read the full article:

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Airship 27 presents MORE NEW MYSTERY MEN (& Women) Volume IV

Airship 27 Productions thrilled to announce the release of our latest volume of Mystery Men (& Women) Volume # 4.  As in previous editions, the volume offers up another quartet of new, original pulp heroes by today’s finest pulp writers.

Ron Fortier, Managing Editor of Airship 27 Productions reminds fans of the series’ beginnings. “After a few years of publishing new adventures of the classic pulp heroes from the 30s and 40s, many of our writers started asking if they could offer up tales of their own, new creations. We thought it was a great idea and a natural evolution of what we were doing.”

In this new volume, you’ll find “A Waltz in Scarlet.” From the pages of the Shadow Legion, comes the Ferryman; a blind man who sees through the eyes of ghosts. Created by Thomas Deja. “Cult of the Stranger.” The popular Eel and Adder, aided by another mystery man ally, must take on a gang of modern Thuggees lose in the city. Created by Joel Jenkins. “The Cult of Kali Kill,” is another rousing adventure starring Chicago’s most unique avenger, the bumbling hero the Bagman as invented by B.C. Bell. And rounding out the book is “The Grey Mantis Strike,” wherein a masked martial artist races the clock to save a group of kidnapped children. Created by C. William Russette.

“We couldn’t be any happier with this volume’s action packed stories,” says Fortier. “Then add interiors by Rob Davis and a beautiful evocative cover of the Ferryman by Zacharay Brunner, and we think Mystery Men (& Women) Vol 4 is sure to delight our loyal readers.”

Four thrill-a-minute tales of suspense, mystery and action that keep the true spirit of the classic pulps alive!!


Available now in paperback from Amazon and soon on Kindle.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Apex Magazine’s New Reprints Editor

Apex Publications
Contact: Lesley Conner, Managing Editor

Apex Publications is proud to announce that author/editor Maurice Broaddus has taken on the role of reprints editor for Apex Magazine. Apex Magazine publishes one reprint in each issue. Maurice will be responsible for finding those reprints beginning with issue 98, July 2017.

Maurice Broaddus and Apex Publications have a long history together going back 10 years. He has been published in several of our anthologies, including most recently in Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling edited by Monica Vallentinelli and Jaym Gates. He has also had several books published through Apex, including Orgy of Souls (co-written by Wrath James White), I Can Transform You, and the anthologies Dark Faith and Dark Faith: Invocations which he co-edited with Jerry Gordon. Most recently, Maurice Broaddus guest edited an issue of Apex Magazine—issue 95 (, which included original fiction by Walter Mosley, Chesya Burke, Sheree Renee Thomas, and Kendra Fortmeyer, poetry by Linda D. Addison and LH Moore, and nonfiction by Tanya C. DePass.

We are extremely excited to see what reprints he will bring to the magazine each and every month, and to have Maurice be part of the Apex Magazine team.

APEX PUBLICATIONS ( 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.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Airship 27 and Redbud Announce Simon Pryce Comic!

Veteran comics writer Ron Fortier and newcomer Bill Gladman, have created an old fashion hero straight out of the paperbacks of the 60’s and 70’s and deliver up three stand alone mysteries wonderfully illustrated by Brian Latimer, Rob Davis and Barry McCalin Jr.  Welcome to Motor City and its newest hero, Simon Pryce, Private Eye.

Note, Amazon misspelled the character’s name in their listing. You can find the book at this link.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Visceral, Visceral, Visceral (to the tune of Marcia, Marcia, Marcia)

by Sean Taylor

On their way to New Orleans...
More than once or twice, and if you’re a long-time reader of this blog you’ll have noticed, I’ve talked about what I consider one of the most important parts of writing strong genre fiction, particularly when that genre fiction ventures into adventure fiction.

What do I mean by that? Well, genre fiction has a sliding scale of tone, just like all other fiction. There’s a world of difference between the literary tone of much of Bradbury and Vonneguts’s sci-fi and the political satire of Heinlein and the straight out action of Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey or Deathworld by Harry Harrison. If you’re looking to make your mark on literary fiction with your genre work, you might at first feel this may not exactly be the article for you, but...

I would argue that the principles here don’t hurt any tone, from literary to pulp and all points in between (thank you, ZZ Top). In fact, the skills you learn in writing visceral descriptions only make your better at your writing game -- whatever court you choose to play on.

Still with me? Good.

Let’s all settle in on our starting point. What is visceral writing?

1.  felt in or as if in the internal organs of the body :  deep a visceral conviction
2.  not intellectual :  instinctive, unreasoning visceral drives
3.  dealing with crude or elemental emotions :  earthy a visceral novel
4.  of, relating to, or located on or among the viscera :  splanchnic visceral organs

To keep it simple for the sake of this tutorial, visceral writing means to me writing that seeks to bypass the brain and aim straight for the emotions and a tight feeling in your gut. That means that visceral writing triggers responses a reader can’t help but feel automatically, sort of the storytelling equivalent of a doctor tapping your knee with that annoying rubber mallet.

Why Visceral?

As an English major, I’m usually the last person to tell you to go for a lowest common denominator engagement. I hate seeing concepts reduced to bumper sticker slogans, and I particularly detest strawman arguments in politics and culture. But, when it comes to grabbing a reader’s attention, I have to change my stance.

Visceral writing, while I wouldn’t call it lowest common denominator thinking, does however go straight to the feelings and reactions most human beings have in common. It goes for the sensation of queasiness from pain, the warm glow of a lover’s touch, the hunger in the stomach for one of grandma’s fried apple crumbles. When done well, it’s the closest a book (which is, at best, let’s just agree here, a series of words and has not real impact outside the imagination) can come to creating a physical sensation in the reader -- a knot in the stomach, a quickening of the blood to the nethers, perhaps even salivation.

No seeing dead people here... Only five senses...
Well-crafted visceral storytelling can reach every kind of reader, from the Oprah book club zombie to the Doc Savage collector. After all, even literary readers enjoy a little gut clench with their cerebral exercise.

Why Does It Work?

It’s not just a writer’s hocus pocus. It’s science. You see, our brains are hardwired by years of history, and we are automatically triggered by certain stimuli to react with an appropriate sensation.

As writers, if we want to be effective (and better yet, profitable, popular, able to remove the stigma of our chosen vocation from our parents who still don’t get it), we need to bring some science to our writing desk.

Though we humans have large, sophisticated brains, and like to see ourselves as thinking, feeling creatures, deep inside the basement of our minds there still lurks the brain of a reptile that continues to behave not by logic or emotion, but gut instinct. When triggered, this visceral brain still has the primal power to override all higher rationality. This is why otherwise calm and intelligent persons can panic when in danger or be driven to violence if strongly provoked. The visceral grips the mind in an excited, irrational state – a sensation not unlike what we feel when held in the grip of a great movie. Though our rationality should tell us the film is fake, our hearts still pound, our blood pressure rises, and we cannot tear our eyes from the screen. A great film makes us slaves to our reptilian minds. 
Great storytellers manage to exploit the power of the visceral by presenting situations that trigger the primal instincts that remain hardwired into our brains. But what are these instincts? If one observes animal behavior, it becomes clear that life revolves around one thing: survival. Nature is harsh, and death is always around the corner. This forces creatures to be forever preoccupied with either the search for food, successfully mating before one dies, or running for one’s life. To put things simply, the survival of the fittest has honed animal instincts down to either LUST or FEAR. “Lust” here does not necessarily have a sexual connotation. Though the urge to procreate is among these instincts, lust can be defined as any undeniable urge to fulfill a physical or deep-seeded behavioral need. We have all heard of a “lust for food,” a “lust for power,” and even a “lust for life.” All are expressions of irrational impulses to fulfill a deep, primal, often unexplainable craving. “Fear,” as used here, hardly needs definition. It is the compulsion to avoid personal harm.  

In other words, we still startle when an unknown someone taps our shoulders from behind because somewhere in our brain, we know that could be a man-eating beast ready to pounce. We still react sexually to a person we find appealing because we somewhere in our brain, we remember the importance of carrying on our tribal group.

See? Science. Like I said.

Cool, But How?

Story narrative is based in what characters see and hear. There’s almost no way around that. Those are the foundations on which you build the frame. And that’s okay. But remember, nobody lives on just the concrete slab. You actually have to put up walls.

(For a cool drinking game as you read this, take a swig every time I switch over to a new metaphor. You’ll be reading the final paragraph from a ditch somewhere with a missing liver.)

a) Get in touch with your feelings.

What makes you cringe? Not just the image of it, but the very thought of it.

What sounds make your eyes squint and get that tiny sliver of headache along the edges of your brow?

What smell makes you both afraid and compelled to turn to see what’s behind you?

What kind of touch makes your skin crawl or gives you excited gooseflesh?

What taste turns your stomach? What taste creates a hungry nostalgia?

Okay, but I can still write about shooting things, right?
b) Now go deeper.

Think about your “metaphysical” senses. While visceral writing is designed by nature to affect the physical body, don’t forget that the brain is still a part of that body.

What ideas create longing for you? (Remember, not just the idea of longing as an intellectual exercise, but the actual sensations of longing within you.)

What type of sensual experience makes you feel at peace?

What does “home” feel like to you?

What comes to your mind when you feel lost, even in a place you know well?

These are all feelings just as valid as a gut punch or a tasty pie. Each of them creates a physical connect somewhere between your brain and some nerve ending inside you.

c) Don’t confuse visceral stimuli with visceral reactions. 

What do I mean by that? Well, creating an emotionally empty list of ways your protagonist responded to something, regardless of how “visceral” he or she did so, isn’t the same thing as triggering that same response in your readers.

Make no mistake -- while using the idea of gut reactions to help you character react more authentically is a fantastic way to improve your characterizations, it isn’t visceral writing. It’s only better character writing.

The goal of this article is to help you create those sensations in readers, and keep their eyes glued to your story, not to make your characters more realistic (although that can be a wonderful added-on value as you master the techniques).

d) Visceral doesn’t mean gross. 

Sure, the feeling of needing to vomit is a visceral reaction, but just as the saying goes, “All poodles are dogs, but not all dogs are poodles,” visceral writing isn’t limited to the realm of the painful or the gross.

This belief tends to lead to one of two errors in thinking:

  1. I don’t write crime stories or horror stories, so visceral writing doesn’t concern me.
  2. I only need to think about this when I’m writing some kind of fight or heavy action sequence.

Wrong. And wrong. As you’ll see below, even literary fiction benefits from connecting with raw emotional response. Not only that, but one of the least bloody genres out there, romance novels, has been a bastion for years for writing that gets a physical response.

It’s not just for headless corpses and fist fights.

e) General Pointers to Improve Your Gut Punches (and your work period)

Use concrete, to-the-point word choices. Don’t slow down your readers with concepts. Let your nouns be the most accurate noun possible and your verbs be the most accurate verb possible.  For a useful list of strong verbs that convey both action and emotion, click here:

Have a K! And a P! And another K! And here's a D!
It’s a common thread here on this blog, but I’ll add it here too. Listen to the sound of your words. Punches sound better with hard, stopping sounds like k, p, d, etc. Running moves faster with the sounds of soft letters like s, z, m, and n.

Watch your pacing. Let a fight have a dance and flow. Let a moment of passion vary from slow to fast. Let the scent of baked macaroni and cheese linger in the reader’s nose then chop off into short wisps of scent with sentence fragments. Let form meet function.

Putting It All Together

Here are a few examples to help demonstrate how it all works inside the framework of your story (or, inside the framework of other people’s stories, since I probably haven’t seen your story yet).

From Raymond Chandler, THE BIG SLEEP:

The main hallway of the Sternwood Place was two stories high. Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair. 
The knight had pushed the vizor of his helmet back to be sociable, and he was fiddling on the ropes that tied the lady to the tree and not getting anywhere. I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him.

Why is it effective?

Chandler could have left the description of Sternwood Place to just the eyes, but he was better than that. The detail of the knight and the naked women not only set up his worldview, but also appeal to lustful affectations of a male reader of the time, but not just lust, no, lust with a side of chivalry, that good feeling in the heart to accompany the happy feeling in the groin. And… for the really astute readers, even the name of the place creates a sound of disgust in the the throat. It has no flow. All stops.

From Ray Bradbury, “The Veldt”:

And he  marched  about  the house turning  off the  voice  clocks,  the stoves,  the heaters, the shoe  shiners, the shoe lacers, the body scrubbers and  swabbers and massagers, and  every other machine be could put  his hand to. 
The house was full of dead bodies, it seemed. It felt like a mechanical cemetery. So silent. None of the  humming hidden energy  of machines waiting to function at the tap of a button.

Why is it effective?

Ray counters the clean efficiently of clocks and stoves with the introduction of “dead bodies.” The words carry a smell and a sight, but not only that. It also has an emotional context, particularly when combined with the silent “mechanical cemetery.” And listen to the “hidden, humming energy of machines,” which ironically contains the very hum the reader has just been told he or she can’t hear, creating conflicting feelings.


The men noticed her firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye. The women took the faded shirt and muddy overalls and laid them away for remembrance. It was a weapon against her strength and if it turned out of no significance, still it was a hope that she might fall to their level some day.

Why is it effective?

Because it doesn’t even matter what the hell the word "pugnacious" means. We’re already worked up by grape fruits and a rope of black hair. To top even that, Morrison gives us the tinge of sadness by noticing the fleetingness of such a heavenly view, “saving with the mind what they lost with the eye.”

No blatant advertising here. Nope. This
actually relates to that paragraph right there.
And, because this is my blog, after all, here’s one from my own work. This one’s from the story “Lucky Strikes” in my collection SHOW ME A HERO:

The Senator’s death was a textbook shooting. Muldaine had taken one slug in the temple and died instantly. His body slumped in the leather desk chair, and his head lay back, eyes still open, staring in vain at the office’s high ceiling. 
The intern wasn’t so lucky. His body lay in the doorway, arms and legs spread out like a stomped spider. He had taken eight rounds, three in his chest, one in his right kneecap, two in his face, and the remaining two in his right arm. The bullets that had disfigured his face had done most of the damage. One had taken his left eye and left a bleeding, empty socket in its place. The other had shattered his jaw, exposing the muscle and bone of his cheek. The three chest shots were clean—though none of them had pierced his heart. The shot to the knee had made walking away impossible. With any luck, he had passed out before he died. But judging by the pained grimace on his face, that hadn’t been the case. 
And there was the matter of the word “Atlanta” he had scrawled in his own blood on the hardwood floor.

Why is it effective?

Which body do you immediately care more about? The Senator? No. The intern. He doesn’t even have a name, making the death that much more “forgettable,” but the words won’t let the reader forget someone seemingly unimportant. The language of “stomped spider” and “exposing the muscle and bone of his cheek” and “bleeding, empty socket” have visuals that immediate create a picture in the mind, a picture most find anything but soothing. And hopefully, if I’ve my job write, you want to walk around the word “Atlanta” drawn in blood on the floor.

Take Me Home, Daddy

Feel free to post some of you favorite visceral examples below in the comments. I’d love to see them.

Until next time.


Note: For more information about this topic, visit the roundtable article, “Pow! Right in the Viscera! -- Writing Prose with a Gut Punch.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Nugget #95 -- Team Sports and Solo Sailing

Comics is my team sport, but prose is my solo
sailing journey. They’re both very important to
me, and having them both as outlets helps me
to be fully me instead of just half of me.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Exploring My First Novel -- Meet Stephen Ramsay!

I'm always happy to share interviews with new writers, but I'm particularly happy to share this one. Why?

Because this one features Stephen Ramsay. I met Stephen when he was a card gamer at the comic book and gaming story I used to manage. I only discovered later that he was a writer, and I'm pleased to announce that his first novel, Shadowgrave, is finally available. 

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My latest work is the story of the young necromancer Abaddon Delekran who, after nearly being killed by his master for a power he cannot possibly understand, is forced into a new and unknown world. He seeks power in any way and place possible to stop his former master, Radax, for when he returns. Along the way, he learns of his dark origins and what the possible ramifications of those same origins could mean for those around him.

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

Recurring themes and subjects? For this work, I’d say the loss of innocence, the sense of adventure amidst the constant of tragedy in life, and finding friends despite danger and death.

What would be your dream project?

My dream project is to write a full-blown epic. A saga that spans several books and can potentially even inspire others.

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

I have no former projects as of right now that I would revisit to improve. Perhaps that might happen later in my literary career. Heck, maybe later down the road I would say that I would improve my first work (Being this one).

What inspires you to write?

Well I’d have to say that I’m inspired by all the authors I’ve read over the years as well as my time that I was submitting to the literary magazine at my old college. And of course, playing a few years of Dungeons and Dragons helped a little too.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

As far as writers are concerned, influences for me would include authors such as Stephen King, T.A. Barron, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling just to name a few. I grew up with these authors and it’s thanks to their works I even began reading novels in the first place.

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

I’d say writing is more of an art than anything. While there is a science to it, that part of it mostly involves what you could learn in school. Now it’s an art in the same sense that an artist paints. Works of art that hang in galleries are an artist’s vision of the world. Well books are the same for writers, it’s an art, creating a new world for themselves as well as the audience they pander to.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?  

As far as upcoming projects are concerned….I do have 2 more longer-length novels planned for the Shadowgrave line over the next few years. And after this series is done, I do have another longer, untitled series in the works.


For more information and to pick up a copy of Shadowgrave for yourself, click here.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Award-Winning Ghost Stories from Dark Oak!


For the 2017 Darrell Award for Best Short Story, the winner is The Nature of Ghosts by Carolyn McSparren.

First Runner-Up is Drive-In Miss Daisy by Phyllis Appleby. (Both of these short stories appeared in Malice in Memphis: Ghost Stories).

History and Hauntings

The ghost stories and the characters in this book are pure fiction, even if the locations in which they were set are not. The tales, written by members of Malice in Memphis, showcase some of the Mid-South’s more interesting historical locations.

The geographical locations include the Mississippi River and the areas across from Memphis, as well as several of the villages and farms that survived the onslaught of Union soldiers. They’ve included graveyards and battlefields, some Memphis landmarks that survive and some that don’t. Memphis has been touched by wars, the Yellow Fever epidemics, the flu epidemic, floods, tornadoes, murders, and other hateful occurrences. Plenty of misery for the ghosts to feed upon. Many interesting locations to attach themselves to.

Whether you believe in the supernatural or not, we hope that you’ll enjoy these eerie stories of southern supernatural doings.

The Tales:
A Grave Situation by Elaine Meece
After Hours by Richard Warren Powell
Noblesse Oblige by Carolyn McSparren
Cadence by Seth Wood
A Dance with the Devil by Juanita Houston
Drive-In Miss Daisy by Phyllis Appleby
Fallen Soldier by Susan Wooten
Going Back Home by Barbara Christopher
An Indisputable Event by Steve Bradshaw
A Haunting in Midtown by Kristi Bradley
The Misadventures of Mama Lou: Victorian Mayhem by Angelyn Sherrod
The Adventures of Sonny Etherly: Special Powers by James C. Paavola
War is Hell by Geoffrey Meece
Kolopin by Seth Wood
The Nature of Ghosts by Carolyn McSparren

Friday, April 14, 2017



An independent Publisher of Genre Fiction, Pro Se Productions proudly welcomes author Jim Gillentine to the company. Gillentine’s HEART OF THE BEAST, which is a massive novel drawn from three smaller books, one previously unpublished, will debut in late 2017 from Pro Se Productions.

“Jim Gillentine,” says Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions, “has a storytelling style that is steeped not only in his own unique voice, but also bears echoes of great Southern writers to come before him. Terror, both subtle and shocking, resonate through Jim’s work, and in all of that, he not only finds the story to be told, but he latches onto it and wraps it around the reader. Pro Se Productions is beyond proud to be the home for HEART OF THE BEAST, a seminal work of Jim’s career.”

The only thing that Andrew Bane ever wanted was peace.

Instead, he found love in the arms of Angela. She was the only woman he had ever met who loved him, even knowing his true nature.

But peace was something he could never truly have. Within Andrew’s chest beats the heart of the Beast, full of rage. When the rage is awakened, a price must be paid. A price of flesh and blood. What does it mean to be a monster that can feel love? And what does the government want with the Beast, that it hunts Andrew and Angela around the world?

Follow the story of Andrew and Angela’s horrifying journey, from the dark streets of Memphis to the cold reaches of Alaska, from faraway places to deep within each others’ souls, seeking peace and freedom to love one another - if only the world would let them. HEART OF THE BEAST, due in late 2017 from Pro Se Productions.

Jim Gillentine was born and raised in Memphis, lending a southern flavor to his creatures of the night. His debut novel, OF BLOOD AND THE MOON, was a finalist for the Darrell Award in 2009. Jim is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in English literature and philosophy at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He is married to author Elizabeth Donald, and they live in a haunted house in Illinois.

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, follow Pro Se on Facebook or go to

Thursday, April 13, 2017

I'm featured in the current issue of Violet Windows!

I've published the first poetry I've written in years, and it appears in this quarter's issue of Violent Windows, the online literary zine published by the "gothic librarian," Kimberly Richardson. Also features lots of other fantastic writers, artists, and photographers.

It's called "A Rock and Roll Story." Check it out:

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Role of Descriptions in a Literary Text

by Lucy Adams

Descriptions require full dedication, masterful treatment of the language (stylistics, dynamics, means of expression, etc.), and deep understanding of the text structure. Roughly speaking, they are a litmus paper for any writer.

Any part of the text, including descriptions, always performs a specific function, and sometimes more than one. So let’s shed some light on the moments that any novice author should pay attention to when working on descriptions.

#1 Bright and Relatable Picture

The first challenge that you’ll face is arranging the text in such a way that the reader can navigate it and imagine the events, places, and people. If you are able to create a colorful movie in the reader’s imagination while saving the proper sequence of actions and using emotionally meaningful words, your book will likely be in demand.

#2 Atmosphere

As most readers are looking for new experiences rather than knowledge, the emotional component of your writing is crucial.

You may think that descriptions have little to do with this, but they are extremely important for creating needed atmosphere. Moreover, that’s the atmosphere that attracts readers so much is some literary genres such as horror.

#3 Anchors of Perception

I often read books in which authors use a large number of characters. Let’s take, for example, in "A Song of Ice and Fire," George R. R. Martin uses up to a thousand characters that allow him to achieve a colorful and believable picture of events.

However, if it’s done clumsily, the reader will be constantly confused. Note that unlike you (who know the plot perfectly), the reader meets the characters for the first time. Here the biggest challenge is to create unique descriptions for characters by attaching at least one bright detail to each one. This detail is the anchor of perception that catches the reader's attention and ideally, should be deposited in the subconscious, creating the needed connection "the detail – the character."

#4 A Few More Pages

Vivid descriptions will help you to increase the number of pages of your book, which is always necessary to fit the requirements of the publishing house. Once you have invented an idea, you can develop it up to a needed volume, getting the desired fee.

Many pen wizards just fill the gaps with descriptions of towns, people, weather, nature, etc. Take and adopt this technique, as that will fill the number of pages for your book that your publishing house requires.

Long empty descriptions may decrease the quality of the narrative. Note that different scenes have different dynamics (for example, scenes of chases and fights are fast; scenes of conversations are slow). There are some exceptions, as always, but by extending the description, you can control the dynamics of the scene.
Descriptions without Clearly Defined Functions

There are many examples of descriptions that are not clearly defined. Although this is typical for beginners, below there are two issues with this that we can observe in the texts of already established authors.

Let me begin with the descriptions of nature. They appeared in oral folklore and literature. It’s nothing against cool breeze and squirrels bouncing on the branches – sometimes that’s quite to the point. But when I read about a group of brave heroes moving away from the pursuit and stumble upon the description of cool breeze and warm summer sun, I’m out at sea.

Such inconsistencies occur if the author doesn’t really feel the mood of the scene. For sure, evil can happen in good weather, but the laws of drama demand a different approach. Also, monotonous descriptions of the fields, meadows, and undergrowth are so clichéd that they are hardly perceived. Then I say to myself: "Well, here the author didn't know how to start the scene and so he put in this wonderful description of nature. Well done!"

The second unpleasant thing is the description of the appearance. Of course, if I were sitting on the porch of my estate two hundred years ago, I wouldn’t wonder about a three-page description of a noble lord. But the pace of life in those days was much slower than it is today! Alas, today’s novices often imitate the manner of good old writers. Let me remind you of the fact that actions, reactions, and emotions – not the detailed description of the nose – contribute to the authenticity of the character.

I wish you all the best in your writing endeavors and hope that bright and unique descriptions will help you to stand out.

Bio: Lucy Adams is a blogger and essay writer. She’s always looking for new acquaintances and cooperation. Lucy is a generalist, and that’s why she never has problems with covering a wide range of topics, from psychology to hi-tech. Share your ideas with the blogger, and soon you’ll get a high-quality article or a few for free.