Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Nugget #106 -- Don't Surrender Your Stories to Propaganda

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.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Using Cover Mock-Ups... Why Waste the Time?

If you follow me on Facebook you'll know already that I'm a big proponent of mocking up cover designs for books I haven't written yet.

Here are a few of the mock-ups I've done to help me stay motivated just so you have an idea what I'm talking about (or don't follow me on FB).

This is a designed I built solely from a title, and by the time I was finished with the design an entire mysteries series had developed from it. Obviously inspired by seedy, sleazy 60s crime novels, this one will feature a lady of the 80s who gets drawn into the underbelly of city life in Atlanta.

A man holds up the office of a private detective. Why? I don't know yet, but when I do, it'll be because this mock-up has been constantly playing in the background of my brain. 

This one will feature a serial killer who specializes in neo-burlesque dancers. Clearly a fetishist at work. 

This one will be for a line of "Extreme" line of crime novels, all pretty clearly inspired by sleazy 60s pulps. Boy meets girl. High school ends. Boy becomes detective. Girl becomes hooker. Girls gets killed. Boy owes her this one and must solve the crime.

And to answer your question, yes. I've heard it lots of times: "Why waste time on those when you could be actually writing the book instead?"

That's actually a darn good question, but I think I have a darn good answer for it.


1. It creates an image that will rekindle the inspiration later when I'm ready for that book. Just looking at it again will bring all those feelings of excitement I had initially about the concept, and it will also remind me of the plot ideas I was playing around with in the pre-pre-pre-pre-writing phase.

2. It helps me practice the design side of my brain. It's a different way to think about a story, image rather than verbal, and that keeps my brain exercised and more trained for I sit down to write.

3. It keeps me motivated. I never have to ask, "What can I possibly work on now?"  because I have a ready-made project eagerly awaiting my attention.

Would I recommend this practice to other writers? Sure, especially if you are the kind of learner who responds to and thinks in images. If so, there's no better way to trigger memory and excitement for a project, at least that I've found. If you're not a writer who also has to exercise that design side of your brain, the side that tries to speak to you in pictures just as much as words, then mock-ups probably going to be helpful to you, and you might as well just stick with your .doc file with a short write-up about the project.

But... before you completely turn your nose up at the idea, why not give it a shot and see if it helps? You might be surprised the kind of ideas that releasing some visual creativity can give you.

There are lots of great resources online so you don't have to pay for expensive design software. Serif Drawplus is one, and so is Inkscape. Both of those are vector based (meaning anything other than the bitmapped images can be scaled up or down without loss of quality). For more traditional free image software, both PaintNet and Gimp are favorites of mine. All four of those can be downloaded and run offline. If you're looking for something you can do online for free, try either Canva or SVG-Edit.

If you decide to give it a shot, send me some of your mock-ups, and I'll share them in a future post here on the blog. Happy mocking up... er, mockupping... er, playing with fake book covers!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

[Link] 7 Tips to Writing Horror

by Dimir

Horror is the one of the toughest genres to write. That is why so many horror writers today have resorted to gritty violence and gore. writing horror is to write about something most people would like not to think about. True horror takes something of a personal touch, in that it has to crawl into the audience while staying separate. I can’t tell you how to write the perfect horror story, but I can give you some tips to enhance the level of horror of any story you write.

Write Horror for the Senses

Darkness is scary. Tons of horror writing takes place in the blackness of shadows, and it is not wrong to rely on darkness for horror when you write. Though, people forget there is sound, smell, hearing, and touch just waiting to sneak it's way into your horror writing. Don’t start to write about the dark house alone, but write in some new horror sensory latches as well.

Write away the character's sight. Write the character in darkness with just the sound of tapping on metal. Writing horror is about making the character, and reader feel vulnerable.

“Clink, clink, clink. A loud crash. She looks, but sees nothing. The clicking is coming from everywhere and nowhere. It is all around. The smell of wet cement sticks in her nose. She can feel something cold, but what? Concrete or sandpaper beneath her? Clink, clink, clink. The sound rattles closer: chains shaking? Could it be him?”

You can write you horror as “she saw a ghost in chains, the same ghost that had left her in the darkness of the warehouse.” You can write a large horror description about how "the black smoke poured from beneath his cape and sheets," but senses as a whole are more powerful than just sight when you write horror.

Read the full article:

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Mechanoid Press Announces a New Book and a Bundle!

Battles for the Night Bundle

Battles for the Night is a 10-book box set about planetary conquest by some of today's best storytellers!

Comrades in Arms By Kevin J. Anderson
Europa Nightmare By Wayne Faust & Charles Eugene Anderson
The Final Survey of Andrei Kreutzmann By Stefon Mears
Mars: The Machine War By Joseph Robert Lewis
Only Sheepdog on the Moon By Stefon Mears
Archer of Venus By James Palmer
Stealing from Pirates By Stefon Mears
Blaster Squad #1 By Russ Crossley
Athena Setting By Sean Monaghan
Five by Five 3: Target Zone By Kevin J. Anderson


From the Files of Her Majesty's Clandestine Service

This book brings together for the first time the steampunk adventures of Sarah Frost, agent of the Queen! Clockwork robots, a despotic superhuman intelligence, and a spring-loaded attacker await you.

The Clockwork Conundrum:

Sarah Frost is beautiful, wealthy, intelligent, and bored out of her mind!

Subjected to a life of parties and dances and mindless chatter when she'd rather be running her missing father's factory, Sarah is intrigued when a strange fog descends over London that leaves chaos and missing people in its wake. With her long-suffering valet/bodyguard Wednesday in tow, Sarah vows to get to the bottom of it, but what she discovers is something far more earth-shattering. It will take all her genius and resourcefulness to untangle a plot by inventor Charles Babbage and Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace to destroy the British Empire, and uncover the bizarre purpose of the secretive Voyeur Society. Victorian spies, mad scientists, and other-dimensional entities cross swords in this wildly pulpy steampunk romp that will leave you asking for more.

The Drood Enigma:

Charles Dickens is Missing!

Sarah Frost has just settled into her role as an agent for the Queen when she gets her strangest assignment yet. A man has been found wandering the London streets, naked and delirious. He is none other than Wilkie Collins, writer, friend and confidant of the reclusive author Charles Dickens, whom Collins claims has been kidnapped by a shadowy foe no one has ever seen. A man known only as Edwin Drood.

Sarah takes the case without hesitation, dragging her valet and bodyguard Mr. Wednesday deep into the poverty-stricken East End to find clues to the famous author’s whereabouts. What she finds is a powerful force that can ensorcel anyone into doing its bidding, a cadre of chimney sweeps busily building something in a moldering warehouse, and a superhuman intelligence with designs on the British Empire. It takes a woman’s touch, as Sarah Frost must once more do her best for Queen and country in this latest tale from the files of Her Majesty’s Clandestine Service!

Don't miss the exciting follow-up to The Clockwork Conundrum!

The Spring-heeled Jack Affair:

In this never before published adventure, Sarah must come to the aid of a group of women suffragists who are being attacked by a spring-footed fiend. But it will take all of Sarah's fortitude to overcome the malevolent foe when she becomes Spring-heeled Jack's next target!

Check it out here.

Friday, August 25, 2017

[Link] Diversity in Your Characters: Writing Physical Challenges

by Fiona Quinn with Katie Mettner

Continuing in our series on diversity in literature, today we are talking with Katie Mettner and her use of physical challenges as a character quality.

Fiona - 
Katie, I introduced myself to you from social media after I learned about your book Liberty Belle. First, could you give us your book blurb; and second, can you talk about why you decided to write about a character with physical challenges?

Katie - 
Main Street is bustling in Snowberry, Minnesota, and nobody knows that better than the owner of the iconic bakery, the Liberty Belle. Handed the key to her namesake at barely twenty-one, Liberty has worked day and night to keep her parents’ legacy alive.

Now, three years later, she’s a hotter mess than the batch of pies baking in her industrial-sized oven. Photographer Bram Alexander has had his viewfinder focused on the heart of one woman since returning to Snowberry. For the last three years she’s kept him at arm's length, but all bets are off when he finds her injured and alone on the bakery floor. Liberty knew falling in love with Bram would be easy, but convincing her tattered heart to trust him may be impossible. Armed with small town determination and a heart of gold, Bram shows Liberty frame-by-frame how falling for him is as easy as pie.

In the opening scene you meet Bram Alexander, who is at the bakery to pick up the baptism cake for his niece. His sister-in-law Snow and his brother Jay are both in wheelchairs. Snow is very prevalent in Liberty Belle because she is a researcher for MS where Liberty is being treated for MS. Snow is married to Dully Alexander, Bram's older brother, and Dully is a special education teacher. They foster a boy with Down Syndrome.

All of my characters have some form of disability or special challenge. When I write a new character I internally know, by whatever power is telling me, what their name is and the condition they will have. The rest is up to me to figure out and carry out.

MS is a disease that is so varying and runs a different course for each patient that it was very easy to focus on just one or two parts of the disease for this character physically, but really explore the emotional and social aspect of the disease and how that affects the whole being.

Read the full article:

Thursday, August 24, 2017


EDITOR'S NOTE: Guys, gals, and green tentacle beasts from the planet Yyyyarchazaick... this is hands-down one of the best articles I've seen on how to trim the fat and cut words to tighten your prose, fiction or non. You owe it to your career to read this article. 


by Paul Bishop

The experience of editing over fifty books and repeatedly slashing red ink across the same words and phrases, has made me hyper aware of the same issues in my own writing. I now mercilessly try to eliminate all of the same fat in my manuscripts I’ve scalpeled from others.

To write leaner more impactful prose, you must not only be willing to eliminate flabby sentences and fat words, you need to be able to recognize them. To help with this process there should be a self-help program for writers to join—Word Watchers: Lose 10% Of Your Manuscript In 10 Days...

Members of the writers’ group I mentor know I am on a quest to eliminate the word that from the English language. As an editor, I’ve found the dreaded word to be riddled unnecessarily through almost every manuscript I review. My rule is, if you can remove that from a sentence and the sentence still makes sense, run the word out of town on a log.

Compare the following:

•She needed to tell him that the car wouldn’t start.
•She needed to tell him the car wouldn’t start.
•I was glad that she was doing better.
•I was glad she was doing better.

In both examples, the sentence becomes stronger by removing the weak link of the word, that.

Use a word search to see how many times that appears in your manuscript. You’ll be shocked. It’s especially overwhelming when you realize 95% of thats could be excised. Removing this scourge will strengthen your sentences without changing the integrity of your prose.

Of is another overused word I can guarantee is cluttering up your manuscript like a bad case of acne.

Compare the following:
•He examined the damaged paw of the dog
•He examined the dog’s injured paw.

You decide which sentence is stronger, leaner, expressed more concisely. Now think about how many sentences in your manuscript are being blemished by the of virus.

Read the full article:

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Nugget #105 -- The Intrinsic Truth of Reality

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.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

[Link]7 Simple Steps to Writing Great ‘How To’ Content on Your Blog

by Darren Rowse

Yesterday I announced our ‘How To…’ group writing project and issued readers of ProBlogger with the challenge to go away and write a ‘How to‘ post for their blog.

On Twitter a number of people told me that they were having a little trouble with writing a ‘how to…’ post because it wasn’t their normal style of writing on their blog so I thought I’d jot down a few tips for writing ‘how to…’ content (something I’ve been creating for 10 years now on my blogs).

How to Write ‘How to’ Content on your Blog

What follows is how I personally tackle writing ‘how to’ or ‘tutorial’ style content. By no means is it the only way to do it – if you do it another way, please tell us about how you approach it in comments below – I’d love to learn from you!

1. Start with a Problem

Perhaps the best advice I can give on writing effective ‘how to’ posts on a blog is to put some time aside to identifying the problems that your readers have because the most effective how to posts are written about actual challenges that your readers might face.

As I’ve already written 11 tips on how to identify reader problems I won’t rehash them all here again – read this post!

2. Break it Down

With a problem or challenge that you want to solve for readers identified now is the time to break down the process for solving that issue.

With a problem in mind I generally take a little time before I start writing to come up with a list of steps to overcome the problem. I personally do this usually but jotting down some bullet points in a notepad (retro of me I know) or in a text document on my computer).

If the problem I’m writing about is more complex I also occasionally will break down the process for solving it using a MindMap (I use MindNode either on my iPad or computer).

I find by identifying what I want to write about before I start writing that I’m much more effective in writing the post because I know where I’m headed!

I also find having this helpful because as I’m actually writing I will often have other ideas for the post (or for followup posts) on the fly and I jot these down on the list so I don’t lose them.

Read the full article:

Sunday, August 20, 2017


Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to present the fifth book in their continuing new adventures of that classic pulp hero, Jim Anthony – Super Detective.

Jim Anthony had battled all manner of evil and villainy in his illustrious career as a globe-trotting adventurer. But now he finds himself challenged by three unique criminals, each with devastating weapons of destruction; the Flame Wizard, Baron Strum and Prof. Meteon. Each is determined to wreak unimaginable havoc on the world and vanquish the Super Detective in the process.

The hero soon comes to suspect there is a fourth nemesis; a super Mastermind orchestrating these other villains in a cunning, deadly plot for reasons he is unable to fathom. But the Super Detective is never alone thanks to his various allies ala pilot Tm Gentry and British butler Dawkins and along the way he is joined by the beautiful Maria Flores and her All-Girl Squad.

Writer Adam Mudman Bezecny has plotted a fast-paced, action-packed novel in four parts creating some of the most dastardly pulp villains ever to challenge the Super Detective. “This is a really interesting collection,” explains Airship 27 Productions’ Managing Editor Ron Fortier. “Although each of the chapters works very much like a stand alone adventure, ultimately they create a longer narrative plot leading to the Super Detective’s newest arch-fiend, Mastermind.”

Artist Richard Jun provides the marvelous black and white interior illustrations and Adam Shaw delivers the stunning cover based on one of those pieces. All of which are assembled under the guiding hand of Airship 27 Art Director Rob Davis.

“Jim Anthony is one of our favorite pulp heroes,” Fortier adds happily, “and we hope to continue this series of new books for as long as our readers enjoy them.” So buckle up for a wild ride, pulp fans, this is adventure with a capital A …for Jim Anthony!


Now available at Amazon in paperback and on Kindle.

Saturday, August 19, 2017




DATELINE: New York City 1967. Headlines scream that The Silver Manticore, criminal mastermind, is dead. If he’s dead, who broke out of his City Morgue drawer? Find out in Author PJ Lozito’s third installment in this popular New Pulp series-SILVER MANTICORE:STILL AT LARGE. Available now in print and digital formats from Pro Se Productions.

The Silver Manticore is at large, up to his mask in trouble! The Daily Sentry learns the Federal Reserve is being knocked over. Is the Silver Manticore behind it?

A clever police detective, a determined reporter, and deadly ninjas trail the Silver Manticore and Bako. SILVER MANTICORE: STILL AT LARGE takes you through the winding streets of Chinatown, the mean streets of Brooklyn, the greenery of Long Island and deadly duels on rooftops with advanced autogyros darkening the skies.

U.N.D.E.R. is breaking up and can’t help.

Why was transplant surgeon Bernard Christian kidnapped?

Who is the beautiful and alluring Lai Choi San?

What invisible raider busted up a jail? Was it crooks from England, Italy, and Japan who cross swords with the Silver Manticore –literally.

Or is it scoundrels from the Soviet Union, India, France, and China? Can they succeed if the Elixir Vitae keeping them alive is wearing off?

All This and More in P.J. Lozito’s SILVER MANTICORE: STILL AT LARGE From Pro Se Productions.

SILVER MANTICORE: STILL AT LARGE featuring a captivating cover by Adam Shaw and print formatting and logo design by Antonino lo Iacono and Marzia Marina is now available on Amazon and in Pro Se’s own store for only $15.00.

The continuing adventures of the Manticore are also available as an eBook formatted by Antonino and Marina for the Kindle for only $2.99. This book is also enrolled in Kindle Unlimited and all members of Kindle Unlimited can get it for free!

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital copies for review, contact Kristi Morgan-King, Pro Se’s Director of Corporate Operations, at

For more information on Pro Se Productions, go to Like Pro Se on Facebook at

Friday, August 18, 2017

[Link] Women Who Conquered the Comics World

by Lisa Hix

The day after she returns from the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con International, comics icon Trina Robbins sits down with me outside at a café just around the corner from her home in San Francisco’s Castro District. As we talk and eat, trains from the Muni Metro railway come thundering by. Robbins’ partner, Steve Leialoha, a comic artist for Marvel and an inker for the DC/Vertigo series “Fables,” arrives fresh from Comic Con with his bags and joins us at the table for half an hour or so.

“When I got to San Francisco in 1970, I discovered that maybe it was the mecca of underground comix for the guys, but not for the girls.”

As both a comics creator and historian, Robbins is particularly interested in the unknown history of female cartoonists and the ways they were celebrated and thwarted throughout the last century. Late last year, Robbins published a Fantagraphics book called Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists, 1896-2013, and now, the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco is presenting an exhibition of Robbins’ personal collection based on the book.

The subject is particularly relevant right now, given that new comic-book-based movies are hitting the big screen every few months, yet not a single one has revolved around a female hero. Marvel has taken bold steps by making a Pakistani American teen the new Ms. Marvel, in a comic-book series written by a woman, and turning Thor into a woman in its upcoming revamp of the series. At the same time, the major publisher raised feminist ire with a sexualized variant cover of its new Spider-Woman series. If a woman had drawn Spider-Woman instead of a man, it’s unlikely she would have sacrificed the hero’s comfort and mobility in favor of an erotic pose.

Robbins knows something about the glass ceiling for women cartoonists because she first hit it herself in the early 1970s, when she tried to join the male-dominated “underground comix” movement based in San Francisco. After the men cartoonists shut her out, Robbins joined forces with other women cartoonists to create their own women’s-lib comic books. She went on to become a well-respected mainstream comic artist and writer, as well as a feminist comics critic who’s written myriad nonfiction books on the subject of great women cartoonists and the powerful female characters they created. Naturally, Robbins has spent some time hunting down the original cartoons from the women who paved the way for her career, and as luck would have it, she found the very first comic strip ever drawn by a woman, “The Old Subscriber Calls” by Rose O’Neill, practically in her backyard.

Read the full article:

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Nugget #104 -- No Other Purpose

A good story opening should trigger something 
in the reader that makes him or her want to 
keep reading. It has no other purpose. 

Bill Hart at the typewriter. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


by Paul Bishop

In fiction, backstory is what has happened prior to the current narrative frame of the story—the history created for a fictional character or situation. Properly used, it enriches a story by revealing cause and effect. Improperly used, it is a cumbersome boring information dump of exposition.

My first novel, Shroud of Vengeance, was part of an ongoing western series featuring a character named Diamondback. The books in the series were written by several different authors using a publishing house owned pseudonym. The editor gave me the bible for the series, which provided the limited information needed as part of the character’s backstory: Diamondback got his nickname after being the victim of a horrible whipping; he is wanted for a murder he didn’t commit; he wanders the West acting as a travelling judge settling disputes between outlaws and he is popular with the ladies.

The goal was to include this background information in an unobtrusive manner enabling the books to be read in any order without intrusive information dumps or large chunks of narrative explanation. Drop the nickname on the first page, show his scars when he takes off his shirt, and tie the plot into a dispute between dangerous outlaws for Diamondback to settle. With a series of this type, the main character remains static. There are no consequences or character arcs to carry over from one book to the next—as if each was a standalone novel.

Until the last decade most television series were also examples of this type of storytelling. This was perfect for reruns, as series could be shown in any order. Think about I Love Lucy. It doesn’t matter which episode a viewer watches, the set-up is immediately clear—wacky redhead doing wacky things. There is no need to know what has happened in prior episodes. There are no ongoing storylines to confuse the narrative if episodes are shown out of order. Many, many mystery and cop shows operated, and still operate, on the same principle. However, times have changed. Now, books and many of the most popular television series thrive on ongoing storylines continuing from episode to episode, or book to book, to maintain viewer/reader loyalty.

Read the full article:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Blackthorn of Mars rides again!

Blackthorn, Princess Aria and Oglok ride again! A young man desperate to save his sister from the raiders who kidnapped her to slavery... An ancient undead released after half a millennium... Four sorcerous First Men who will kill half a world to keep their darkest secret... And three champions who will stand for Mars against horror and tyranny--or die trying! Join Earth General John Blackthorn, Princess Aria of Mars, Oglok the Mock-Man and an ever-expanding cast of rebels, monsters, magicians and villains battling to solve the mystery of the ancient Harmony Spires. From award-winning author, I. A. Watson comes a new novel in Van Allen Plexico’s Blackthorn universe, where magic and technology are one and Humanity must face its ultimate challenge.

Longtime denizens of the Pulp Factory may recall the multi-author SF setting put together by Van Plexico when we were all much younger. It's post-apocalyptic Mars by way of Kirby and Burroughs, and there was an anthology. Then Van made me do a novel. Then I wrote some weekly (or was it daily?) promotional shorts for the novel. Then the shorts became a novel. Then Van threw away his computer with it on (this is extreme editing). Now, much revised and again expanded, said novel has appeared to drag you back to the Red Planet where science and sorcery meet swords and swashbuckling.

Anyway, if your SF taste runs to matinee-cliffhanger and warring arch-villains vs a princess and her hero then you may wish to give this a look. It's there on Amazon.

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Airship 27 Productions is happy to announce the release of our second “Tales From The Hanging Monkey” anthology.

When Irishman Corky O’Brian opened his bar, the Hanging Monkey, on the island of Motugra he had no idea it would become a magnet for some of the most colorful rogues ever to ply their trades in the South Seas.  The cast includes his lovely, but deadly Chinese waitress Miko, Khuna the powerful island warrior, sea captain Nick Fortune and pilot Jimmy Dolan.

Together these five colorful characters fight their way through one breath-taking adventure after another courtesy of writers Bill Craig, J. Walt Layne, Don Gates, Nancy Hansen and Lee Houston Jr.  From chasing after a cursed diamond to uncovering the mystery of a lethal mermaid, when you stop in at the Hanging Monkey, there’s no telling what will happen next.

“Reaction to our first volume was overwhelming positive,” reports Airship 27 Productions Managing Editor Ron Fortier. “Enough so that we knew we had to whip up a second quartet of these fun adventures.”  Fortier then recruited professional artist Mike Harris to do the twelve interior illustrations with Award Winning Art Director Rob Davis taking on the cover to complete the project.

These are old fashion South Seas tales as done New Pulp style with fast paced action amidst tropical sea breezes that will have readers soon clamoring for more…Tales From the Hanging Monkey.


Available now from Amazon in paperback and soon on Kindle.

Friday, August 11, 2017

[Link] 100 Must-Read SFF Short Story Collections

by Margaret Kingsbury

While classic authors like Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells wrote some of the earliest SFF fiction, the popularity of SFF as a genre started with short stories. Both the Pulp and Golden Age eras of science fiction and fantasy (from about 1920-1960) were steeped in short stories, with publications like Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction publishing the first works by SFF giants like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury, among many others. SFF short stories were hugely popular with the public, and its thanks in part to these short story writers and magazines that we have epic SFF franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek.

Nowadays, short stories take the back burner to novels and epic series for most SFF fans. However, many fantastic SFF writers write short stories, for many reasons. Some get their own start in shorter works and later turn to novels — like Ken Liu, Yoon Ha Lee, and Theodora Goss. Others prefer writing short stories — like Kelly Link and Carmen Maria Machado. Still other SFF authors readily switch back and forth between long and short works — Catherynne M. Valente, China Miéville, and Neil Gaiman, among others.

I read SFF short stories for many reasons. I love their brevity. They encapsulate the emotional impact of a single moment much like a poem does, but unlike poetry, they still give richness and depth to character and setting. And hey, I like that feeling of being completely immersed in a new world for 20 minutes, and then being finished. I love my epic series like any other SFF fan, but sometimes I crave bite-size pieces. It’s like chocolate. And short stories are great places to discover new authors. It requires less commitment than reading a novel, and I love discovering authors through their short stories before they’ve written their first novel.

Also, shorts are often far weirder than novels. And I do so love weirdness.

I’ve compiled 100 must-read SFF short story collections so you can set out devouring these bite-sized chocolaty treats of weird worlds and astounding stories too. I tried to pick newish authors and collections, so you won’t find any of the Pulp and Golden Age writers on this list (well, I snuck in an Ursula Le Guin, but it’s a new release!). There are 60 collections of individual author’s short stories, and 40 anthologies of multiple authors. For the anthologies, I only used an editor once. Many editors compile a ton of anthologies, like John Joseph Adams, Terri Windling, and Ellen Datlow. But I wanted to give as diverse a list as possible, so I only listed one by these editors.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I!

Read the full article:

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Forget the Scissors, I Need a Machete!

Will these do?
For this week's writer roundtable, we're going to talk about cutting words -- and not just a word here and there but a significant amount of them. 

Here's the scenario... You finish your latest novel or novella, but you're WAY over the word count. 


How do you get it back to the side your editor wants? 

What are your techniques for serious trimming on your work?

Lee Houston Jr.: Actually, there have been a lot of times where my writing buddy and friendly neighborhood beta-proofreader Nancy Hansen says I write too tersely and always fall short of the minimum word count, so I go back and keep re-reading and adding more until I've reached the goal.

In the end, if I'm over, I just reverse the process. I keep rereading and subtracting. Making choices in that category is tougher because you cannot be so in love with your own prose that you are unwilling to cut anything, even if in hindsight the passage in question actually doesn't add anything to the overall story.

But whichever way you're headed, you have to be careful not to subtract too much or your story might not make sense and adding too much could have your readers think you "pad" your stories.

It's a tricky tightrope to traverse, but every writer finds themselves walking it at one point or another during any project. The real trick is to get to the other side successfully.

PJ Lozito: I am a big believer in cutting out (but save it to a file!). That's one reason I don't think giving a daily word count means much. As for getting up to size, I have notes I can and do use. Nothing makes me prouder than finally being able to use some interesting tidbit I was saving.

I heard you were looking for a word-cutter.
Nancy Hansen: Anybody who's had to edit or publish me knows, I write too big at times. I have to cut all the time, and it's hardest with your own work. I can show you where to cut, but I can't seem to see it in my own stuff—at least not initially. So first off, if I have time, I set the piece aside and go on to something else. It's kind of like cleansing your palate with something in between courses. When I go back, I have fresh eyes. If that doesn't work, I'll hand it over to someone else, a trusted beta reader or even the editor who is waiting for it, and explain that I've tried to cut back but I am too close to the material to see where, and could you please take a look. Nine times out of ten with a short piece people are happy to help, and they give you an idea where and what should go. On longer pieces like novels, the usual advice is to look for a spot where something momentous is about to occur and taper it off there. Most times I can figure it out myself, but now and then you need a different pair of eyes.

Frank Fradella: Step One: Check your ego.

Step Two: Ask yourself if you have started this story as late as possible. Do I need this first chapter? The first three? Am I creating too much preamble? Do I REALLY need this characters origin or can it be revealed as necessary through dialogue or flashback later on?

Step Three: Ask yourself what purpose each character serves in the story. Do you have two characters who play the same or similar role? Can you eliminate one of them?

Step Four: Identify the purpose of each and every scene. Chances are you have one or two that you're chalking up to "character development" that can be axed outright.

Step Five: Push back. If every single character or every single scene has an unshakable purpose, present your case to your editor and ask them to suggest edits, and then be prepared to show why those scenes or characters need to be there. But remember Step One. Very often, they're right and you can make the cut. So cut.

Robert Krog: I start by searching for and deleting adverbs, interjections, needless intensifiers, words like just, so, and well. That always reduces the word count by a bit. Then, I go through and find wordy phrases that can be supplanted by fewer or even one word. Why be lazy and write "very happy" when "elated" means the same thing and so much more? When this too has failed to reduce the word count into the acceptable range, I begin looking for passages that don't advance the plot or build character. This is the painful part because I thought they all advanced the plot and added to characters when I was writing. I have, occasionally reduced the role of or even cut extraneous characters from stories. This usually does the trick. If the protagonist is still able to do all that needed doing without the sidekick, and the sidekick didn't add much or anything meaningful to the story, then out the sidekick goes. This greatly reduces the verbiage. Sometimes, I have already written lean enough that such cannot be done, in which case I've had to ask the editor for leniency on the word count. This has been known to work, but not often. Sometimes the editor will shoot back with suggested cuts, and I will have to admit that the editor is correct. Another trick is, of course, to look for inadvertent info dumps and eliminate them. Working the required information into the story in a show rather than tell format is usually less wordy, and the reader didn't buy a work of fiction expecting textbook style writing, anyway. Information dumps often insult the intelligence of the reader. Respecting the reader's ability to pick up what is needed from context is a good policy and should be used whenever possible.

The Internet called and said you wanted an editor.
Ellie Raine: Usually, I first look at each chapter and determine if I can afford to cut those out, or cut them in half. Sometimes, the hardest things to catch are the not-so-integral scenes before and after the good, important, meaty bits that actually matter, and firing those. It's usually mundane things like the character asking the desk clerk to check in, when that can be wrapped up in a paragraph to get to the scene where his hotel suite is broken into. Basically, I just look at what I think should be the focus of the audience's attention and cut the fat out.

Bobby Nash: The first things I look for are any side trips or character moments that, while can be great, don't necessarily advance the plot. After that, it's looking for extraneous words, adverbs, and tags that can be cut.

Lance Stahlberg: I am literally going thru that scenario now. Was also thinking it was blog worthy of listing off what I did. (Posted here:

Matt Hiebert: The words "Kill Your Darlings" always haunt me. But I don't kill them. I cut and paste them into another document. Although I never go back and read them, I know they're there and not gone. Not dead.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Nugget #103 -- Opening Your Tales

It's not just about your opening sentence. It's about your 
opening page, your opening few paragraphs, or maybe just 
your opening few sentences. That all depends on the story 
you're telling. Only you can know how long your 
opening section is. Regardless of its length, it 
must trigger the reader to keep going. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Writing the Scary -- 7 Tips for Creating Horror and Dread with Words

by Sean Taylor

What’s the scariest scene you’ve ever seen in a horror flick? Why was it scary?

Now I know some of you are going to default to either scenes of gratuitous (now there’s a loaded word if ever I’ve seen one), gore or perhaps others will immediately think of a jump scare, but I want us to think even deeper than that? What scared you even deeper than the moment of the scare? What really stayed with you and made you think twice about taking that dark alley, what caused you to make sure you got home before the woods at the park started to get dark, what got lodged in your brain and made you check the closet twice before being sure no one was hiding there so you could relax and go to sleep?

For me, those are the true scares, the deep frights, the fears that rattle us at our cores and stick with us.

Case in point. Okay, well, two cases in point. Both from my own movie-going experience.

Case 1: Window Scratching

I saw the original television broadcast of Salem’s Lot when I was way too young. At the time, my bedroom was made up of a former back porch and had glass shutters for the walls on three sides. Outside those shutters were short trees with limbs that moved in a good breeze. (Those of you familiar with the movie have already guessed where I’m going with this.)

In the movie, when someone was turned into a vampire, he or she would visit a friend or loved one and scratch outside their window, asking to be let in.

Well, that night, there was a strong breeze, and when the tree limbs brushed against my window-walls on all three sides, needless to say, I was terrified and imagined that vampires were outside begging to be let in to drain my blood. And no, I did not open the shades to check, not until morning light sent the vamps packing.

Case 2: Door Bumping

I was an adult when I discovered the absolute scariest motion picture ever made. For those who realize it, that movie is 1963’s The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s equally “haunting” story, The Haunting of Hill House. That movie had few jump scares and relied more on a constant, building sense of madness to keep the viewer off-center and off-balance.

Lots of folks remember the sudden face at the top of the spiral staircase, but for me, it was the bumps on the door while Nell and Theo hugged each other, huddled in shared terror. In reality, I will most likely never see a ghost, but I will hear lots of loud bumps in the dark, and that’s something that triggers memories of that scene almost every time.

I share these examples to show that the best horror isn't forced or faked or manipulated through tricks, but maintained through the steady use of narrative technique.

What made Salem's Lot scary was how the story affected me. And the same goes for The Haunting. And guess what? Each of those was a terrifying book before it became a motion picture -- and if they hadn't both been so damn scary as books, they never would have been made into movies.

You’re Not in Control, Like in the Movies

Writing scary is hard. Movies have it a lot easier when it comes to horror. They control the eye, and thus, they also control the mind of the viewer.

Writing scary is hard. Books are stuck in one place, but the reader isn’t. Skip ahead a few pages and the suspense can be ruined. Put the book down, and the tension is released. The writer has no control of the reader’s eye, no power to keep them from turning a page... besides those specific to all other genres of writing of course.

Writing scary is hard. It's really hard because it takes an understanding of the human mind, memories, senses, and universal generalities about the human condition. In a story, you don't have the luxury of visual shorthand to creep readers out like directors do in a scary movie.

Jump scares? Nope. Sorry. The reader controls the pacing. And he or she can skip ahead or backward at will. That clutching crone hand can go backward and forward and be skipped altogether based on the reader's whims.

Graphic visual scares? Gore? Sorry again. Unless you're the most visceral writer ever, written gore falls short. And overused, it simply becomes words on a page made less by the sheer volume of them.

So, as a writer, you're stuck with having to be a psychological and writing genius. But how? While I'm far from an expert on horror outside of reading it for years and knowing what I like (as the saying goes), I have written several tales in the genre, from ghosts to monsters to zombies and creepy human beings, and I've learned a few things with each telling.

Thanks for Reading Thus Far; Now Here’s Your Reward

The key to writing horror, as least as I see it (and you’ll find as many different takes on this as you can find authors, I’m sure), is to camp out in the concepts of discomfort and dread. You’re not going to surprise scare a reader. You’re going to slowly overwhelm them with several smaller “uneases” that become a full-blown “creepy” and finally if you’ve done your job right, all-out dread.

Dread is that feeling that keeps a reader’s stomach unsettled, that scene that makes them feel phantom pains in the same limb or joint the killer keeps sticking a pin into, the sum of all the chills up a spine and “what if” scenarios of the mind a reader keeps accumulating during the time it takes to read your tale.

But how?

1. Be visceral. But don't mistake visceral for gross. For example, while a limb being removed and force fed to a tied up victim is certainly a compelling image in a story, it may not be as effective as something as simple as a sewing needle being wedged into the soft skin beneath a dry fingernail.

My friend Kimberly Richardson is a master of this technique, as demonstrated in her story “Silk” from the collection Tales from a Goth Librarian. I won’t spoil it, but you definitely need to read it to see perhaps the best lesson on this topic you’ll ever see.

2. Tap into the universal fears. For example, when I wrote "Nymph" for the Gene Simmons House of Horror graphic novel collection (yes, I know that it's not pure prose, but bear with me), I wanted to recreate the sense of being lost in the woods, in a place where you're at the mercy of the natural world. When I was a kid the woods were creepy more often than not, and I had lost that feeling after moving to Atlanta and growing up. But I knew there was something innate, subconscious about being afraid of being lost in the woods, and I wanted to tap into that.

In Robert W. Chambers’ tale “In the Court of the Dragon,” from The King in Yellow, the narrator begins to notice he is being followed by a sinister church organist. Very few people enjoy being singled out, and none I know who like being singled out for a nefarious purpose. Add to that the idea of the messenger of death, and Chambers is able to touch on two universal fears at once in this story.

Another master of this technique is Neil Gaiman. What’s worse for a child than to have your own mother against you? And yet, that’s the premise for his newly classic Coraline. Is there any more universal fear than being hunted by those who are supposed to protect you?

3. Discover the specific, individual fears make a person tick. For example, in my zombie tale "Posthumous" (from Zombiesque by Daw/Penguin Books), it's not the decaying body of the zombie that makes her creepy. It's her determination to save her marriage, her blind, unwavering determination to do so regardless of the consequences to anyone else. Incidentally, this is something I learned from the writing of C.S. Lewis, that the great goods also have the capacity for becoming the greatest evils.

Stephen King did this well in the story “N.” Bear in mind that I have OCD and I constantly rearrange books on a coffee table, look for even numbers on everything from the radio volume to the number of french fries I eat at a time. Yeah, I know. Weird. But look it up online. I’m not alone in this. So when King asked what if those crazy little habits are the only things keeping a terrifying other universe from invading our own, that really resonated with me.

4. Unleash your horrors on ALL the senses. Don't let just sounds and sights convey your protagonist's woes and horror. Go deeper. Is that smell like the burn ward at a hospital? Does the touch of the killer leave grease and sweat on a victim's neck? Does the hooker's kiss taste like she's been eating rotting meat? Engage all the senses that can convey fear and discomfort.

As simple as this should be to writers, it’s perhaps the most underutilized. It merely requires us to shift from the “first gear” of what we see and hear to the higher gears that are stronger and more efficient.

Jessica McHugh, a fellow writer I’ve met a few times on the convention circuit, really, and I do mean REALLY gets this one. If you can read her work without really feeling the tightening in your gut (even to the point of wanting to empty your stomach sometimes), then you’ve got a mind and gut of steel. Don’t believe me? Then try to sit through this one turned audio at The Wicked Library podcast: Extraction.

5. Use sounds that bother the reader, not just the characters. You can make up words that sound like stuff. The official literary term for this is onomatopoeia, and it works because it plays games with the reader's ear, whether they hear the sounds spoken aloud or not.

For example, in my steampunk horror tale "Death with a Glint of Bronze" for Dreams of Steam II: Brass and Bolts, I hit the reader right off the bat with the "crick-cracking of the neck bone where it attaches to the top of the spine." But the following sentence continues the idea, simply by using sounds that create a stop and reflow, like restricted breathing might sound: "Then there is the delicious constriction as the breath slowly ceases its movement through the windpipe."

6. Don't try to be "horror movie" scary. Aim for "imagination" scary. Go for the stuff that no movie could ever film, you know, the kind of sick, warped, crazy stuff that could only take shape in someone's imagination as they read. For example, does anyone really know by reading Lovecraft's stories what an elder god truly looks like? We have ideas, but that's all. We have the accepted image that has become synonymous with the tales, but let's be honest -- does that fully match the horror you imagined in your psyche when you first read the words of Lovecraft's description? On a similar note, isn't your personal nightmare of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky far creepier than any of the drawings you've seen of it?

Ray Bradbury is the master of this kind of scare, and he isn’t afraid to leave the action sequences “off panel,” preferring to let the characters fears become the readers’ fears. One need only read Something Wicked This Way Comes or his short story “The Veldt” to see this master at play.

7. Make your setting as important as your characters. Setting is perhaps the most effective weapon in your arsenal as a writer when it comes to horror fiction. Choose the right setting and you’ve already done half the work. Why does Stephen King trap people on islands so much? Isolation. An island is a cage full of open doors that don't matter.

Why is Gothic fiction (even Gothic romance) so creepy? It’s those castles and mansions. Empty spaces and echoes. Secret rooms.

But let’s think a little more contemporarily too. Movie theaters with the lights out. Joe Hill covered that to great effect in the story “20th Century Ghost” from the 20th Century Ghosts collection. From the same collection, “Last Breath” captures the eeriness of dirty, unkempt roadside attractions during long car rides on family vacations.

But Wait! There’s More!

These techniques aren’t just for horror. A little bit of scary can often improve even the best love story, or perhaps a dramatic literary book.

Don’t believe me?

Okay, smarty-pants. I’ll prove it to you.

1. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier -- What makes this book memorable? Is it the forlorn new bride left mostly alone in the big house (shades of The House of the Seven Gables, anyone?)? Is it the lingering tension that her new husband could be a killer? Perhaps it’s the big, creepy, gothic type mansion with rooms she’s not supposed to visit. Is it the way Du Maurier forces the reader to use his or her imagination just as the protagonist does? Why, yes. Yes, it is.  And guess what? All those are elements of horror. The key fear: those who are supposed to protect you turn against you.

2. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton -- Let’s look at setting first. The frozen, rural town. What is more isolating, more soul-crushing to someone whose biggest goal is to live vibrantly? The sense of oppression doesn’t let up from the moment Ethan kisses Mattie. Tension mounts as they try to break out and find freedom, but fate has other plans, and ironically it’s the setting itself that becomes the “monster” that kills their chance at happiness. The key fear: failure to find happiness, and becoming the very thing you hated in the first place.

3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte -- Not only is the Gothic setting of this novel unsettling, but it seems to pervade through all the characters as well. Not only that, there are visions of ghosts, multiple creepy (and needless) deaths in the house, and unpunished sins left to fester that plague not only Heathcliff, who ultimately must die alone with his ghosts. The key fears: loneliness, isolation, and rejection.

4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Ronald Dahl -- Who's creepier than Dr. Victor Frankenstein? Willy Wonka. It's like Friday the 13 for kids in this book. Who gets knocked off next? Sure, they make it out (kind of) okay, but wow at the horror in here. Mauled by squirrels, shrunk, juiced, almost drowned in chocolate, etc. That Wonka was one whacked-out mad scientist. Key fears: how about squirrels, getting shrunk, drowned, and juiced? How does that grab you?

Okay, Bye-Bye Now

That's all I've got to give you, but if you can learn to do even those seven things well, you'll never hurt for a job writing truly frightening horror stories.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Writer Will Take Your Questions Now #353 -- Favorite Short Story Collections

Since you're so vocal about your support and love for short stories, what are you favorite short story collections?

I'll play along, but to do this right I'll have to break it into genres. Sound fair?

Science Fiction: