Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Nugget #119 -- The Infinite Short Story

Short stories don’t always have a clear beginning or end. 
Just as the best short stories begin after the beginning, 
they also end before the expected ending.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

[Link] 5 Types of Dialogue Your Novel Needs

by NowNovel

Dialogue is a key part of any character-driven novel. What characters say and how/why/when/where they say it is revealing. Read 5 types of dialogue your novel needs, and illustrative examples from books:

1: Dialogue introducing key characters
Dialogue is useful for introducing characters because:

  • It allows subtlety. We can show crucial details of characters’ personalities without explicitly stating them in narration
  • It moves quicker. Dialogue is nimbler than paragraphs of narration
  • Characters’ voices gain immediacy. We meet characters through their own voices

Take this example from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). The dystopian novel about a near-future world where women are enslaved for reproductive purposes is narrated by one such woman, Offred.

Here, we first meet Cora who works in the kitchen at Offred’s residence. Offred describes eavesdropping:

Sometimes I listen outside closed doors, a thing I never would have done in the time before […] Once, though, I heard Rita say to Cora that she wouldn’t debase herself like that.
Nobody asking you, Cora said. Anyways, what could you do, supposing?
Go to the Colonies, Rita said. They have the choice.
With the Unwomen, and starve to death and Lord knows what all? said Cora. Catch You.

Cora’s voice is grimly practical. [Note: Atwood leaves out speech marks in her original text.] Cora is quick to shoot down Rita’s dream of greater freedom.

Read the full article:

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Nugget #118 -- Writers as Revolutionaries

Writers are revolutionaries. It’s true. There’s no
way to get around that. But first and foremost
(pardon the cliche) writers are writers.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

[Link] Diversity in Your Characters: A Conversation About Economic Inclusion with Stacey Cochran

by Fiona Quinn

Stacey - 
So I'm not entirely sure why love stories generally feature middle class, working class, or upper middle class characters. I think it has something to do with escapism. But, yeah, there's a whole population of people in America and around the world who don't fit those socioeconomic categories, and they want the same things the rest of us want. A roof over their heads, a committed, meaningful relationship, a sense of peace and hope, and a safe place to raise their kids. Eddie & Sunny is a novel that represents that population, a population that is too often under-represented or simply ignored. The irony is their love story is all the more poignant for its unconventional nature. At least I hope readers see it that way.

Fiona - 
I thought about the books from the depression era but in those books all of the population faced the same daunting situation. In this book you juxtaposed those with means and often wealth with those who had gone days without food. Was that hard to write?

Stacey - 
Yeah, I've not thought about that aspect of it before, but America in 2012-2014 is not the depression era. It was some neo-recession era, where a small portion of the population is just very wealthy, and the rest of us are struggling to pay the bills each month, keep food on the table, etc. It's like there's two polar opposites in America today. I think that was definitely one of the things I wanted to put on the table for readers to consider and discuss. I mean how many of us are rich? Seriously? And how many of us worry and struggle each and every month to make ends meet? I suspect the vast majority of us. Eddie & Sunny, in that respect is our story.

Read the full article:

Saturday, January 13, 2018


by Lincoln Michel

This morning I took my cup of coffee and laptop to a desk to work on an old short story I’ve been kicking around when I made the greatest mistake any writer can make: I opened Facebook.

Between posts on the current horrors of the Trump administration, my timeline was filled with discussions about Sadia Shepard’s debut short story “Foreign-Returned” in this week’s New Yorker, which the author Francine Prose had been attacking in a series of Facebook posts. Prose was offended by the fact that Shepard’s story used plot elements and even language from a story by the late Mavis Gallant: “the only major difference being that the main characters here are Pakistanis in Connecticut during the Trump era instead of Canadians in post-WW II Geneva,” Prose said, calling the story a “travesty.” Other authors pushed back, with Marlon James, for example, noting that he didn’t notice this “self-righteous venom being dished out […] when Jonathan Safran Foer took as much as he wanted from Jessica Soffer’s “Beginning, End.”

The short story I had opened, and then abandoned as I fell into the social media hole, is titled “A Feeling Artist.” It is an homage to Kafka that takes the plot of “A Hunger Artist,” but sets it in a version of the contemporary world where a “feeling artist” finds his popularity eclipsed by young cellphone app and YouTube artists who do rapid-fire feeling acts instead of his carefully crafted long-form sadness performances. I don’t know if this story will work or not, but I know that taking an element or two (or even three or four) from a work I love and reconfiguring them into something new is one of my most generative practices. So I immediately got sucked into the debate.

In the comments of Prose’s posts, other authors said they were contacting the New Yorker to complain and many suggested they’d never read something that was inspired by another piece or used similar structures or plots because they wanted to read “original” pieces with “imagination.” No matter how one feels about Shepard’s story, the ahistoricity of these comments, though predictable, was still surprising. We know, for example, that William Shakespeare’s plays frequently borrowed plots, characters, and even names from other plays. And we know that countless great works of art have been created by adapting Shakespeare’s plots to different settings (Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood) or reworking his characters in a new way (Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead). And yet time and again I see authors act like homage, pastiche, and remixing is some kind of lesser form of creation. That it doesn’t count.

An art form is a conversation between artists. Literature is massive ballroom stretching through time in which authors debate, rebut, woo, and chat with each other. (A genre is perhaps a dialogue in one corner of the party.) They steal ideas to make them better. Or to make them different. Or to expose the problems in them. We know all this, and influences are regularly discussed in English lit classes. And yet, in the world of contemporary creative writing, people get upset when that dialogue is something we overhear.

Read the full article:

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Can Non-Series Fiction Compete with Series Fiction? (A Reader and Writer Roundtable)

Is it possible to build a strong reader base without writing a series? The logic today for selling books and building readership seems to be a series of series, where one book leads into the next, then into the next, etc. Is the time of the stand-alone adventure novel is legitimately over (except in the case of big-name writers)? What are your thoughts, oh readers and writers and publishers? (Oh my!)

Tally Johnson: Things seem to be main-character driven. Like the Jack Reacher books for example. The sequential series do well but an overarching lead seems to be the key.

James Palmer: Generally speaking, series are easier to build audience interest. I'm trying to go with trilogies that end after three books, then starting a new unrelated trilogy. We'll see if it works.

Simon McCoy: Stephen King developed a fan base even though most of the time his characters appeared only in a book or two, but he was writing horror for the most part rather than adventure or pulp. I think it's more common for a reader to fall in love with character(s) or setting more so than the style the books are being written.

Evan Peterson: King really has a lot of cross-pollination of characters between his novels, regardless of whether they are stand-alone books or parts of a series.

That said, King came up in a time before everything was a series like it is now. Were he to just get started today, I wonder if he'd have the same success with the same books. The successful stand-alone novel is a rarity now, and even rarer is a second successful stand-alone novel from the same author

Richard Laswell: As a reader, I prefer stand-alone books, no matter the length. I often feel that a sequential series is more of a marketing ploy by the publisher in a bid to milk more money from a storyline.

As an example, had Stephen King not had control of The Stand, I could easily see a publisher chopping it into two or three separate novels.

That said, there is something which appeals to the human mind in the idea of linear narrative. To be able to experience a character grow into their full potential is very rewarding.

Robert Freese: I'm not much into series. I read Joe Lansdale's Hap and Leonard series but that's it. I've never had any interest in writing a series, but I am currently writing a sequel to one of my earlier books. But that will end the story. No interest in writing about these characters over and over again.

Selah Janel: I mean, comics not included, most of Gaiman's work is stand-alone, but he tends to tap into archetypes and pantheons that people are at least aware of or has really strong protagonists in his YA stuff. Andrew Davidson's Gargoyle blew things up when it came out and I don't know if he's done anything else since then. I think if anything, series get promoted more constantly because the character names etc are constantly in the public eye vs a single title which has a marketing shelf life to an extent. I think it really depends on genre, audience, and a good story as much as anything else.

Amanda Niehaus-Hard: I’ll read a good series, but I don’t mess with serial novels at all since I have never read one that was well done (apart from The Green Mile and Dickens).

They need to be stand-alones to get me interested or marketed as a long series, like Game of Thrones or Wheel of Time.

John Hartness: The horror genre is mostly standalone, as is literary fiction and several other genres. Fantasy and science fiction are largely driven by series, but then you have runaway successes like The Martian. So traditional publishing can still make best-selling stand-alones when they throw their weight behind it. But most successful indies in sci-fi and fantasy are working in series. Today. But wait six months, the industry will reinvent itself again.

Neen Edwards: I think that's why I like The Dresden Files. Each story is different and can stand alone, but I love the main character enough to read his different adventures. However, I'm not big on series in general that go on and on about the same plot. It gets boring after a while.

JH Glaze: I say screw conventional series!

Rob Cerio: The big exception to this in recent years was Ready Player One, but that book hit the nostalgia drum so hard...

David James: I think Dan Brown seems to be doing okay with his Langdon novels and he's still a relatively new author being popular only after The DaVinci Code took off a little over a decade ago. I suppose it's all a matter of the readers and the type of book. I had read Brown before he became popular, so I was already satisfied and wasn't "jumping on the bandwagon" at that point.

Series that have built over time isn't fully a recent trend, although it's more prevalent now. Think the Dune novels by Frank Herbert (especially before his son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson finished the story after his death, although you can consider those too), the Foundation novels by Asimov, even Robert Jordan began his series (which I think is really what began this current trend) in the early 90's.

Yet, Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Dean Koontz, and others, all had series of novels with the same characters, and even if they could be individual adventures, each one tended to flow into the next. I just love the adventures of Dirk Pitt, Jack Ryan, and Odd Thomas.

Kevin J. Anderson is an established author, and he still works hard to get out as many different novels as possible. I would recommend his Dan Shamble novels to you as a good example of something he attempted recently -- kind of along the lines of what you're suggesting - which has gained a following.

There are a lot of examples out there and others might be able to name some. I guess it depends on just how big of a following you desire.

John Gerdes: What about somebody like Kurt Vonnegut who did not ever write a series but had a lot of recurring characters?

Pj Lozito: We were all stunned at Pocket when Walter Mosley deviated from Easy Rawlins. He wanted to publish new characters, a literary novel, a science fiction novel, non-fiction, a play, YA. It didn't hurt his career in the least.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Nugget #117 -- Rule Number One

So that's rule #1 and rule #Only. A good story opening
should trigger something in the reader that makes him
or her want to keep reading. It has no other purpose.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Stephanie Osborn, "The Interstellar Woman of Mystery"

Few can claim the varied background of award-winning author Stephanie Osborn, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery.

A veteran of more than 20 years in the civilian space program, as well as various military space defense programs, she worked on numerous space shuttle flights and the International Space Station and counts the training of astronauts on her resumé. Her space experience also includes Spacelab and ISS operations, variable star astrophysics, Martian aeolian geophysics, radiation physics, and nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons effects.

Stephanie holds graduate and undergraduate degrees in four sciences: astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, and she is "fluent" in several more, including geology and anatomy.

In addition, she possesses a license of ministry, has been a duly sworn, certified police officer, and is a National Weather Service certified storm spotter.

Her travels have taken her to the top of Pikes Peak, across the world’s highest suspension bridge, down gold mines, in the footsteps of dinosaurs, through groves of giant Sequoias, and even to the volcanoes of the Cascade Range in the Pacific Northwest, where she was present for several phreatic eruptions of Mount St. Helens.

Now retired from space work, Stephanie has trained her sights on writing. She has authored, co-authored, or contributed to over 35 books, including the celebrated science-fiction mystery, Burnout: The mystery of Space Shuttle STS-281. She is the co-author of the Cresperian Saga book series and has written the critically acclaimed Displaced Detective Series, described as "Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files," and its pulp-bestselling prequel series, Gentleman Aegis, the very first book of which won a Silver Falchion award. She has dabbled in paranormal/horror as well, releasing the ebook novella El Vengador, based on a true story. Her recent popular science book, Rock and Roll, a discussion of the New Madrid fault and its historic quakes, was a multiple-genre bestseller! Currently she's launching into the unknown with the Division One series, her take on the urban legend of the people who show up at UFO sightings, alien abductions, etc. to make things...disappear.

In addition to her writing work, the Interstellar Woman of Mystery now happily "pays it forward," teaching math and science through numerous media including radio, podcasting and public speaking, as well as working with SIGMA, the science-fiction think tank.

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My current work is the Division One series. It's a whole series where I envision my take on that urban legend of the guys in the dark suits who show up after UFO encounters, alien abductions, and the like, and make the evidence disappear. It's been used a lot in fiction, especially by Hollywood (the eponymous MIB films, the Matrix films, the X-Files, Outer Limits, etc.), but I'm going in a slightly different direction with it. The organization, in my version, is part of a much larger bureaucracy, the Pan-Galactic Law Enforcement and Immigration Administration (PGLEIA), the law enforcement arm of the galactic government. The precinct in which Earth falls is Division One, hence the title of the series.

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

Oh, I don't know that I have themes that run through everything I write. Some series use parallelism, others use friendship/family/clan/tribe, etc. If there's a subject or theme that is in most of my books, I think it's probably something along the lines of, "serendipity isn't."

What would be your dream project?

I have two. One is an epic series about Atlantis as a worldwide culture as well as a place, and its ultimate downfall in an asteroid impact. It'd be somewhere between fantasy and hard SF, actually. The other would be a life of Christ with emphasis on the essential Jewishness of His life and world; too many Gentile Christians have lost sight of that and lost some lovely symbolism in His actions and teachings as a result.

The problem I'm having with both projects is the incredibly large scope. I don't know where to start. The fact that I'm not myself Jewish doesn't help me on the second project, either. I have to learn it before I can write about it, and I'm not sure what I need to know.

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

My first book, Burnout. I've learned so much and grown so much as a writer, I just would like to go back and rewrite it and let it reflect that growth.

What inspires you to write?

Ideas. Characters. Situations. There is no one thing. If I get an idea for a story, or a character, I run with it.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

Wow. That list would almost be an article in itself, I think. But the principal ones would have to be, lessee:
Arthur Conan Doyle
H.G. Wells
J.R.R. Tolkien
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Lois McMaster Bujold
And those are just for starters.

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

Right about halfway, at least the way I write. Because I spend probably at least as much time researching as I do writing. And I use the same research techniques that I did when I was doing active science and technology for NASA & DoD for a living.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

I'm releasing a new Division One book roughly once per quarter, and there's already four books out. So the new books are coming quick, in every sense of the phrase!

Already released:
Alpha and Omega
A Small Medium At Large
A Very UnCONventional Christmas
Tour de Force

Coming soon:
Trojan Horse (Jan 2018)
Texas Rangers (May 2018)
Definition and Alignment (July 2018)
and more past that!

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

I've never NOT been a writer. I was writing poetry in elementary school, and short stories by junior high. But when I started getting ideas for entire novels, probably, oh, 25 years ago, I realized I might be able to do this as a professional author sort. It took a long time to get my first book published (which was NOT the first book I wrote, but hey), and then things took off. I'm still not making a living at it, but I have hopes as the royalties numbers start to increase.

What are the books that made you want to be a writer? What are the reasons they "got" you like they did?

No one particular book that I can recall. I've read far too many for that. It was rather the overall effect, rather like a storm surge from a hurricane -- there's no one particular wave that causes the flooding; rather, the water just keeps coming up, and up, and up...

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Being unable to "see" the events about which I'm trying to write. I'm very visual when writing -- my writing has been described as "cinematic," which is a legitimate adjective to apply, because it's like I'm watching a movie play in my head and then writing down what I'm seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, etc. So if I know what comes next, but I'm literally not seeing it, I can't write it.

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

It depends on the writer! LOL No, some of them really do help -- by teaching me things about the craft of writing (e.g. head-jumping, how to structure dialogue, etc. are all things that other writers have taught me about -- Travis Taylor was my writing mentor for many years, and not only did he help me get started, he taught me a lot about that sort of stuff). Others teach me about the marketing and promotion aspects. Others...seem to actively discourage other authors. I'm not sure why.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Filling in the gaps. I write cinematically -- which not only means I visualize it first, it means I do NOT write sequentially! I write as the scenes come to me, then splice it all together and connect the dots. Sometimes I'm temporarily stuck figuring out how to get from point A to point B.

What does literary success look like to you?

Literary success to me is having a regular schedule of book releases and making enough money from royalties to pay all the bills and still be able to bank some for a rainy day. REAL success would be a NYT best-seller that enabled me to buy a bigger house! LOL

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book or story?

I have several series; I tend to enjoy writing them. If I get hold of one or more characters that I love, they become like friends and I don't want to go off and leave them, so I write more books in their universe.

But I also have some stand-alone books, too. It all depends on what the story demands.

Which famous writer (dead or alive) would like like to have coffee (or tea, no coffee snobs here) with, and what would you want to talk about with him or her?

Aw! I only get to choose ONE? Decisions, decisions. I'd probably go with somebody dead, because I've already met so many wonderful living writers and had coffee, tea, lemonade, whisky or entire meals with them!

I think, if I had to settle for just one, it might be Arthur Conan Doyle over high tea, because I love Victorian gentlemen and I love his characters -- Sherlock Holmes, Professor Challenger, etc. I'd enjoy picking his brain about where his ideas came from, both for the characters and for the stories. Not to mention a comparison of forensics, then and now, could prove interesting.

For more information about Stephanie and her work, visit:


Amazon author page:

Alpha and Omega:

Friday, January 5, 2018

Preach it, Rev. Green! (aka, It Ain't Easy)

Note: A little something I felt the need to remind myself.

I started writing with a more lit focus, but with a love for genre fiction, and my earlier writing reflects that struggle between lit and genre in a way that made me, well, me... I want to embrace all kinds of work and style and create something new in pulps, horror, fantasy, sci-fi, superheroes, whatever.

As Kermit sang:

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why
But why wonder why wonder
I am green, and it'll do fine
It's beautiful, and I think it's what I want to be 

So, I'm gonna be green because, well that's what I am.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Barbara Doran and Her Immortals of Wuxia

A New Pulp writer of SF and Fantasy, Barbara Doran was infected with a love of reading from an early age thanks to her father. It was he who introduced her to S.J. Perelman and P.G. Wodehouse, as well as Heinlein and Asimov. 

Reading, for some, inevitably leads to writing, and Barbara started early. Pulp titles like The Shadow and Doc Savage were among my early influences. She also adored The Green Hornet TV series, in part because of Bruce Lee and in part because it was ahead of its time when it came to how it treated minorities.

She has two sons, both teenagers, a husband and a dog. There’s also a cat who thinks Barbara belongs to her.

When she's not chasing the teenagers, husband or dog about on their appointed rounds, she is generally writing and can be reached at

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My latest book, Tales of the Golden Dragon, continues the adventures of Tiger and Dragon, the masked heroes of Strikersport. When several gangs of thieves descend on Strikersport and accidentally summon four of the Eight Immortals of Khaitan, it's up to them, and some new and old friends, to keep the town in one piece.

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

Being of Chinese descent, I often draw on themes from Chinese mythology and fantasy. I'm particularly fond of wuxia (martial arts) and xianxia (fantastic martial arts) stories so they show up quite frequently in my pulps.

What would be your dream project?

Aside from being allowed to write a good Green Hornet movie (and there are others I'd trust with that first), there's a Doctor Who story I'd love to see filmed. There's a type of Dalek the Doctor created back in the Troughton days who deserves a comeback.

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

There are bits and pieces of Claws of the Golden Dragon I'd like to improve on, especially now that I have a better idea of the world.

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

Somewhere around the middle. I think of the science part as being the framework that holds the plot up and keeps it from flopping around. The art is how you cover that framework and present it. Put too much on top and it's going to slump. Put too little and the inner workings reveal themselves.

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

One of my writer friends and I facebook each other about our trials and travails. She's taught me a huge amount of stuff about the publishing world, and I get to give her someone to laugh at/with when we run into odd fandom/writing problems.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Vocal editing. One of my steps in the process is to read the story aloud so I can hear where I'm getting too wordy or missing a word. I've tried using text to voice software but it never pronounces the names correctly. By the time I'm done, my throat feels like sandpaper. Painful but so worth it in the end.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book or story?

I like having connections in my stories. The one I'm working on now (Goldrush Wuxia/Xianxia) is set a great deal earlier than the Strikersport stories and has nothing to do with them directly, but there's a connection and will probably be more if I get to do a series.

Find Barbara on the Web: