Thursday, September 30, 2021

Mocha Memoirs Press Focus #4: Vonnie Winslow Crist

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

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

Dragon Rain is a collection of 18 stories of dragons and their kin set in the past, present, and future. Filled with magic, these dragon tales of adventure, dark fantasy, and romance occur in locations around the globe as well as in fantastical worlds. Dragon Rain was released  September 3, 2021 by Mocha Memoirs Press LLC  I think fans of dragons will find lots of stories in the book to love. Here's the link for those interested: 

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

When I was 3, my family visited an older friend on a regular basis. “Grandma Margaret” gave me a little 12-page booklet from The Platt & Munk, Co. Inc.'s fairy-tale/folktale series on each visit to entertain myself with while the adults chatted. The books were easy to read, had wonderful illustrations, and a poem on the back page. I think those booklets (I still have quite a few of them) influenced the direction of my life! In addition to my fiction, I have hundreds of poems and over 1,000 illustrations in print. So you never know what small thing you do might have a great impact on a child.

What inspires you to write?

Everything inspires me, but it is the need to tell stories that keeps me writing.

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

I think my fiction often deals with people making choices and the consequences of their actions and choices. Also, since I believe the world is still filled with magic, mystery, and miracles, nothing seems too strange to include in one of my tales—so wondrous things happen. Lastly, I suppose love is a theme I return to. Whether romantic, parental, between friends, for a pet, beyond death, etc., love is often woven into my fiction.

What would be your dream project?

I suppose once I'm fully re-immersed in The Chronicles of Lifthrasir (the world of my novel), an opportunity to see that world brought to life on film. I've always been fascinated by the process of using a book as the beginning place for a movie. It would be interesting to participate in that process.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

Every writer I've read, from good to awful has influenced me! Even when I was young, I noticed when a story rang true and held my interest. From childhood on, when I read a poorly-written book, I think about what I would do to make it better. If I get specific, I suppose for quality world-building J.R.R. Tolkien influenced me. For writing solid short stories, Ray Bradbury would be one of the authors whose work influenced me. As far as finding the magical in the every day, I think Neil Gaiman is a writer who influenced me. There are so many others I could mention. It's tough to choose just a few.

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

This is an easy question! My fantasy novel, The Enchanted Dagger, was a quick write, found a New York agent with a good reputation immediately, and seemed on its way to traditional publishing. Alas, my agent suddenly left the business and none of the remaining agents at her agency wanted to touch her old projects, so the book became homeless. After multiple “close, but no” agent attempts, I placed the novel with an indie publisher. It didn't work out. I pulled the book, then placed it with its current indie publisher. But the rest of the books in the series remain difficult to write. Years have passed since I completed The Enchanted Dagger. Lately, I've gotten 2 more books in the series well on their way to completion. If I could go back in time, I suppose I'd find a different agent AND (this is the most important part) I'd complete multiple books in the series before submitting the first book, so they could be released closer together.

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

I think writing is both! A good writer needs to know and understand the craft of writing—its rules and tools. A good writer also has to elevate the basic techniques to art in order to add magic to the story they are telling. By magic, I don't mean pixie dust and unicorns (though those are wonderful things). I mean the magic which allows a reader to suspend their disbelief and live in the world a writer creates from their imagination.

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

I live a busy life, so making the time to sit down and write is difficult. Once I've gotten myself in front of the computer, it's often challenging for me to focus. I think it's because so many stories are swirling in my head. I must sift through all the characters demanding to be written about, and select a protagonist and supporting cast. Then, I must stay focused on that narrative until it's completed. So focusing is the most difficult part for me.

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

Much to my regret, the Covid virus has limited in-person contact with my writer friends. Still, I try to touch base with them via phone or online. My writer friends offer honest feedback and encouragement, listen to my groans when my work is rejected, and share their experiences so I know I'm not alone in the writing journey. Though writing is usually a solitary pursuit, it's nice to know there are others walking the same path, stumbling over the same stones, climbing the same mountains, and hopefully, finding the same publishing success along the way.

What does literary success look like to you?

Telling all the stories in my head, having them published, and finding readers who want to share the worlds I've created.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

I'm working on two more story collections, one about fantasy horses and the other is science fiction. As mentioned earlier, I'm writing 2 more books in the world of my fantasy, coming-of-age novel, The Enchanted Dagger. I expect Beyond the Sheercliffs to see publication in 2022. I have a book on writing for anthologies due out in 2022 as well. Then, there are several non-fiction books based on soldiers' letters and diaries from World War II and the American Civil War I keep scribbling away at.

For more information, visit:

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: The Girl in the Book


Do you ever look back on your life as a writer and think that you should have been so much farther along than you are? That you should be more successful? That you should have so much more to show for all that time, effort, and the internal world you have committed to your writing life? Do those thoughts ever make you want to just stop writing and focus on something else?

If so, you really need to watch this indie drama film. 

Alice is the daughter of two literary agents. Her mother is doing okay and is fantastic at discovering new talent, but her father is even better at stealing them away from her and turning them into household names. That's how young Alice (an amazing performance by Ana Mulvoy-Ten) meets Milan Daneker (Michael Nyqvist), a new writer discovered by her mother and poached by her father. 

Her father introduces her as a budding writer, and she glances away and excuses herself. He says later over dinner: "I expect great things from you." Ouch. No pressure, as the cliche goes. 

Milan takes an interest in Alice's writing and strikes up a friendship with her that is more than a little inappropriate for a grown man to have with a teenage girl. 

While exploring the house, Milan intrudes on Alice as she is writing in her journal.

Milan: You're a writer? 
Alice: I don't know.

Is that not all of us at the beginning? Sure, we know we are writing -- that's what we are doing -- but are we writers? As if there is a chasm between the act and the person acting. 

For some of us, that question continues to haunt us. Do you ever read fellow writers on social media admitting they suffer from "Imposter Syndrome"? No matter what they've written or had published, they still feel like they're just play-acting at being a writer, and the "real" writers are busy doing something else, something different, something that actually matters. 

It's an easy trap to fall into. 

Cut to years later when young Alice has become young adult Alice (Emily Van Camp). She works in the office of a literary agency, having long given up the ideals of discovering new talent to just maintaining the status quo of the current roster, basically hating her life and trying to disappear into one-night stands and hiding alone in her apartment. 

So, when her boss assigns her the task of helping prepare and market an ebook edition of the re-release of Milan's book, Waking Eyes, to stoke the fire for his newest novel, her world is thrown off balance, and she suddenly begins to evaluate her past and how it has led her to her unsatisfied life. 

One of the first memories she revists is when Milan confirmed that she was indeed a writer. She lets him read and edit her story, and he ultimately hands it back, bleeding. 

She is surprised to hear him he liked it.  

Milan: It's good.
Alice: But you made notes all over it.
Milan: I wouldn't have bothered if it wasn't any good. But it could be better. 

Can you relate? As an editor, I tell people who entrust their words to me something similar. I say something like, "If it's good, my job to is to make it cleaner and tighter, so you'll see a lot of edits."

Good writing is easy to edit. You aren't distracted by beginning errors or a slew of basic proofreading, grammar, and spelling mistakes. Bad writing is hard to edit because you're having to teach as your edit. You're having to explain 

But the flip side of that is important to remember too. The more our manuscripts bleed at the hands of an editor, the quicker we can be to judge ourselves as failures -- when the opposite is often true.

But let's return to Alice's life after the big crisis from her past that has led to her current lifestyle (which I'm not going to spoil for you). Remember that expectation from her father: "I expect great things from you." It's compounded when her dad discovers she's getting privately coached by Milan. So what went wrong? Why isn't Alice riding the bestsellers charts or at least the evergreen list with a publisher?

After she meets and begins dating Emmett, he asks her what she does. Rather than saying she works for a literary agency, she says instead, "I always wanted to be a  when I grew up," indicating clearly the gauge by which she measures her life and her failure. 

The conversation continues:

Emmett: And are you?
Alice: Grown up?
Emmett: Writing.
Alice: No.
Emmett: How come?
Alice: I set there waiting to hear the characters speak and instead I hear this voice in my head saying, "It's just shit. It's just shit. It's just shit."
Emmett: Aw, that voice? Everybody hears that voice. It's the same voice that says, "I caqna' t believe you just said that. You're a fucking moron." Everybody hears that voice.
Alice: Do they?
Emmett: Most people, they just ignore it.
Alice: I just succumb.

It seems Alice's life has become like this meme I saw the other day about folks formerly in the gifted program at school. 

There is often a law of inverses at play when great expectations are thrust upon young creatives (or young anythings, really). The pressure can lead to the opposite outcome. And when/if that occurs, the one who "failed" loads themselves with even more expectations they are failing to achieve. It's too easy to believe oneself to be a "how the might have fallen" character in your own life. 

So perhaps, this movie is a sort of warning. You don't have to live up to anyone else's expectations of you but your own. Put the past behind you. Move on. Write something new. And be kind to yourself. You're still a work in progress. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Sean Taylor Destroys the Pulp Heroes!

Occasionally on my Facebook page I post these sarcastic little #seantaylordestroys posts outlining what I'd do to a few core pulp and comics universes if given the keys to their toys. Here's one I was really proud of. 


As promised, here is my destructive mind unleashed on the classic pulp magazine heroes. For this little thought experiment, I'm recreating these characters in the time period of the actual pulp magazines, as if published in an alternate universe. I’m also trying to stick to the magazine characters.

Without any further delay, you may totally hate me now in case I have spread my nonsense all over one of your faves.

The Avenger -- Upon returning home to the U.S., David Cowen was lynched because he dared to publicly hug a white female friend he had met in Paris while touring with a jazz ensemble, but his story didn't end there. He was reborn to seek retribution for all who were punished unjustly, whether by mob violence, the justice system, or by killers who thought they got away with it.

The Black Bat -- Emily Jenkins used to have it all, but when her family name was smeared and her family fortune lost when he father was taken by authorities and blamed for an attempted assassination of the touring President Roosevelt, she grew bitter and swore she’d get even and steal it all back. As the thief and assassin, the Black Bat, she targets those she believes were responsible for her family’s ruin.

Captain Future
-- A disgraced spiritualist who really can see roughly seven minutes into the future, but failed as a medium to the high society because they wanted more than that, Antony Fratelli decided to end it all when he just happened to be able to glimpse the future of a woman near him who was about to be kidnapped. Using his knowledge of the future, he saved her life and was able to disable the two kidnappers. Now revitalized, he wears a cap and full face mask as Captain Future and seeks to protect those who don’t know yet that danger is just around the corner.

Dan Turner, Hollywood Detective
-- Dan Turner just escaped from an asylum, where he has been for 12 years after convicted of murder (he may or may not have committed, he remembered nothing about it) but considered unfit for trial due to his mental state. After leaving the Midwest and heading to California, Dan has recreated himself as a private eye. But how long can he keep the truth hidden, especially when a real PI shows up trying to track him down.

Doc Savage
-- Doctor Alex Savage was one of Chicago’s premier surgeons, but when a tragic reaction to risky medicine during a study caused him to regress to an almost feral state, he practically became a true savage overnight and was legally given to his sister’s care. After she was attacked and left for dead in a New York park, his sister now uses him as her weapon against those who would harm women as she finds brutal men and unleashes her savage brother on them.

Doctor Death
-- Byron Kincade is an African-American bouncer at Mama Joe’s in Savannah, Georgia. A former boxer who retired with a bum leg, he was at work one night when thugs busted into the bar and killed his secret lover, Desmond Smith. That night he made a hooded mask and built a mechanical brace to enable him to seek justice on the streets. Don’t expect mercy from Doctor Death.

-- Franklin Anderson was an actor, portraying the serial’s greatest matinee hero -- Ki-Gor the Jungle King. Only, an accident almost killed him and left him in a coma. When he awoke, he believed himself to truly be the jungle king he portrayed on screen, and now he only pretends to be Franklin Anderson by day, determined to prove himself the king of this new jungle in which he finds himself. And to do that, he must first protect from anyone who seeks to hurt his new subjects.

The Phantom Detective
-- Jeremy McDonald died in 1786, but that didn’t stop him. Connected to his wife’s broach due to her love for him, he eventually found himself in the presence of his great-great-great and then some) niece Agatha Breckenridge, one of Chicago’s few female P.I.s. Although only she can see and communicate with him, she’s learning that it can be really helpful to have a ghost as a partner.

Secret Agent X
-- They’re trained. They’re lethal. And they don’t know they’re even agents until activated by a sonic device carried by their handler, Mr. Washington. Certain citizens are born with a genetic predisposition toward activation, and it’s Washington’s job to find them and put them to good use for the U.S. of A. when dangerous spies are on American soil.

The Shadow (La Umbra)
-- Maria Rodriquez was killed in a mob shootout, but before she passed, her spirit took refuge in her shadow. Now a living shadow, she seeks out vengeance against the two mob groups that caused her death. Able to interact with the shadows of other people to affect the person to whom the shadow belongs, she’s more dangerous than she knows. Finally aware of her and her vendetta, the Andressi mob has called in a Voodoo priest to capture her and control her as a tool for the mob.

The Spider (Arachne)
-- Beware Arachne, criminal scum. Her touch is poison. Madeline Wilshire was born into one of the oldest and richest families in New Hampshire, but not even that could save her from being cursed by a Shaman from whom her father stole a tribal heirloom. Born with a touch that can seep a deadly poison, she was kept locked away for years until she was old enough to be sent away to an asylum in New York. Learning how to control her curse, she was able to finally be released at age 21. Now refusing to have anything to do with her family, she has decided to create a new life for herself in the Big Apple and just maybe trying out her hand as the vigilante schtick with her venomous abilities as an asset for once and not just a curse.

Domino Lady
-- Greta Hanwick may only be 17 years old, but she’s already a fantastic athlete with medals in swimming, archery, and gymnastics. Upon hearing of all the new masked vigilantes popping up, she decides to join the crowd and “age up” as the sophisticated but deadly Domino Lady, but is such a dangerous job a safe place to be for a teenage girl? Or will her determination be enough to help her succeed?

Green Lama
-- Born on Mars, D’jrk spent centuries studying and learning to fit into Earth culture. Now he has a family and a job as a district attorney in Los Angeles. He has avoided using his otherworldly abilities for years, but since his 10 year old daughter Margaret has begun to show signs of such abilities, he decides that it’s time to teach her now to use them without being discovered, even by her mother. And the best way to do that is to blend in with the new capes and masks crowd that is appearing all over the U.S.

Jim Anthony, Super Detective
-- A former cop with a perfect record of closing murder cases, Jack Yeoman was gunned down by the local gangster with a grudge. After healing, Jack changed his name to Jim Anthony and used the scars from his shooting (body and face) to open up shop as a P.I. with an ego as big as his abilities -- The Super Detective!

Moon Man
-- Moon Man isn’t even a man. Darla Hopkins has been on the run from her cult family and pretending to be a man for so long thanks to her (as she was told growing up) unwomanly build, she can barely remember growing up as a girl. Moving from circus to circus as a strongman (she always had been stronger than her brothers), and taking odd jobs as she could, she never stayed in one place for long -- until she met Lorraine Pierce during her stay in Nashville. Now, determined to stay and finally create a life for herself and Lorraine, she continues to pretend and has even allowed Lorraine to convince her to join the ranks of costumed vigilantes as Moon Man, since she patrols and protect under the light of the moon -- with Lorraine as her sidekick, Luna, of course.

Golden Amazon
-- Discovered in 1894 in a dig in the jungles of South America, a solid gold statue of a beautiful woman was excavated and brought back to New York and placed on exhibit at the Grover Museum of Antiquities. But when a child with one brown eye and one blue eye is born to the Mayor of New York, the statue suddenly comes to life. Its mission -- to destroy the child prophesied to bring about the end of the world.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Seeking Submissions for Sharp of Tooth and Dark of Claw: Operation Cryptid from Mechanoid Press!

Mechanoid Press, a small indie publisher specializing in science fiction and pulp adventure, announced a slate of anthologies for 2022.

The first anthology is entitled Sharp of Tooth and Dark of Claw: Operation Cryptid. The book is the brainchild of pulp writer Sean Taylor, who will also edit. In this twist on Mechanoid Press’s Monster Earth series, soldiers take control of cloned cryptids to make the world safe for democracy. Tales will include such famous cryptids as the Jersey Devil, Skunk Ape, Mothman, the Chupacabra and more, and is slated for a summer 2022 release.

What sets this anthology apart is that the writers are donating their stories and the proceeds will go to help Afghanistan veterans. Jeffrey Ray Hayes, of Plasmafire Graphics, will provide the cover.

The book has 9-12 slots for stories between 5 thousand and 7 thousand words in length. The story bible is available here. Stories may be submitted in standard manuscript format to Sean Taylor here: The submission deadline is March 1st, 2022.

For more information, visit:

Saturday, September 25, 2021

[Link] Our fiction addiction: Why humans need stories

by David Robson

It sounds like the perfect summer blockbuster.

A handsome king is blessed with superhuman strength, but his insufferable arrogance means that he threatens to wreak havoc on his kingdom. Enter a down-to-earth wayfarer who challenges him to fight. The king ends the battle chastened, and the two heroes become fast friends and embark on a series of dangerous quests across the kingdom.

The fact that this tale is still being read today is itself remarkable. It is the Epic of Gilgamesh, engraved on ancient Babylonian tablets 4,000 years ago, making it the oldest surviving work of great literature. We can assume that the story was enormously popular at the time, given that later iterations of the poem can be found over the next millennium.

What is even more astonishing is the fact that it is read and enjoyed today, and that so many of its basic elements – including its heart-warming ‘bromance’ – can be found in so many of the popular stories that have come since.

Such common features are now a primary interest of scholars specialising in ‘literary Darwinism’, who are asking what exactly makes a good story, and the evolutionary reasons that certain narratives – from Homer’s Odyssey to Harry Potter – have such popular appeal.


Although we have no firm evidence of storytelling before the advent of writing, we can assume that narratives have been central to human life for thousands of years. The cave paintings in sites like Chauvet and Lascaux in France from 30,000 years ago appear to depict dramatic scenes that were probably accompanied by oral storytelling.

Read the full article:

Friday, September 24, 2021



A political priest. A gladiatrix bodyguard. The vilest occult evils ancient Rome could produce. Three volatile ingredients in author Frank Schildiner’s THE CHAINS OF ARES, the first volume in a new series and the debut book from SCHILDINER’S WORLDS, an imprint of Pro Se Productions, now available in print and digital formats.

Marcus Fabius Maximus is a Patrician of one of the most elite families in the history of Ancient Rome. Married to the daughter of the legendary murderous Dictator Sulla, he holds the highly prestigious position of Rex Sacrorum, one of the most elite priesthoods that is quite onerous and has zero political power. Maximus has a simple view of the world; Romans are the most important and intelligent people in the world and everyone else are barbarians.

His closest friend and bodyguard is a German woman named Kara. Kara is a powerful, muscular, scarred, tattooed former champion gladiatrix. A legendary warrior, she possesses a unique view of Romans and their obsession with politics and other unimportant activities.

Ordered by his murderous father-in-law, Dictator Sulla, Maximus and Kara are forced to investigate a murderous ghost, a monstrous specter claiming to be Sulla’s infamous archenemy.

Having helped save the Spanish armies from disaster, Kara and Maximus investigate a man claiming to be the high priest of the God of Sleep, Hypnos. Maximus suspects the true power is something quite ancient and terrible…

Sent to Sparta by the Senate, Kara and Maximus discover an ancient artifact devoted to Ares, the monstrous god of war, and a secret cult of Spartan warriors secretly being manipulated by some of the most dangerous monsters in mythological history…

At the request of the legendary Julius Caesar, Kara and Maximus explore rumors of a secret, bloody fertility cult inhabiting Rome. They must destroy the horrors that rise in the dark Vatican woods before Rome is transformed into a city of death and horror.

With a fantastic cover and print formatting by Antonino lo Iacono and Marzia Marina, THE CHAINS OF ARES is available in print for 7.99 on Amazon at

This first volume in a new series is also available for only 99 Cents for a limited time on Kindle, formatted by Iacono and Marina, at Kindle Unlimited members can get in on the first book from SCHILDINER’S WORLDS for free!

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital copies for review, email

To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to Like Pro Se on Facebook at

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Mocha Memoirs Press Focus #3: Rie Sheridan Rose

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

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My latest novel is Mutiny on the Moonbeam from Mocha Memoirs Press. It is the story of a runaway fleeing an abusive stepfather who winds up aboard a flying Elven pirate ship. There is adventure, romance, and derring-do involved—oh, and a really big spider.

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

I learned to read. Honestly, I wanted to be a writer as soon as I learned what letters were and how they fit together to make words. I have some things my mother saved that are written in crayon.

What inspires you to write?

All sorts of things. I got inspiration for a YA novel last week on vacation because there were children everywhere playing an interactive game, and it made me think “What if someone were drawn into the game for real?” Yes, it’s been done, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done again. It’s how you tell the story that matters.

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

Independence; self-sufficiency; learning from experiences; standing up to wrongs…

What would be your dream project?

My dream project (literally—the main character came to me in a dream) is a Space Opera/Sci Fi story set in a future world where power has been consolidated in the hands of a group called the Lords of Discipline and my band of revolutionaries is trying to thwart their injustices. It’s been written to an ending at least twice, but it is still not at the publishing stage yet. I’ve been working on it off and on since the early 80s.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

There are many. Anne Rice. CJ Cherryh. Anne Perry. Tanith Lee. Ray Bradbury. Lynn Flewelling. Those come to mind immediately.

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

Well, I’ve done this with my first novel—one that also took about thirty years to write—The Blood That Binds. I completely rewrote it after feedback from my writing partner incorporating more realistic tactics and logical action into The Luckless Prince. It was a major undertaking, and then it got another thorough edit before it was published by Zumaya Publications. It has since been re-released from Dragon Moon.

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

I would say it is an artistic science. I do believe that you can learn the basic requirements and hone them through practice, but you also have to have that creative spark of imagination or your writing will be lacking heart. Does that make sense?

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Finding time to work everything in. I have so many ideas, and only so much time that I am not editing, or cleaning house, or running errands, or…  It would be awesome to have no responsibilities except writing, but I think it would also become old fast.

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

Critiques to point out where something can be better. That is a big help. Also, posting about their accomplishments is a goad to get more done myself, and that always helps. Suggesting markets to try. Encouragement. We really are a big community. 

What does literary success look like to you?

Not going to Amazon and seeing all the books I am involved in ranked over 1 million would be a start. But seriously, I think that literary success is a very personal call. I will feel like a literary success if I ever get something accepted to Clarkesworld. But I also feel proud of my bibliography on Amazon. When I look at the body of work I have been a part of, I feel successful, even if not monetarily. Some money would be nice…

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

At the moment, I have nothing big in the works, but I would like to plug the book I am currently editing, because I think the series is outstanding. I am working on Blood Stew by Todd Sullivan for Mocha Memoirs, and it is the first novel-length book in the Windshine Chronicles (Book Three counting the novellas.) I think it is a fascinating world he’s created, and I think everyone should check it out. I didn’t edit the novellas, but I have read them, and I hope that this series continues for a long time.

For more information, visit:

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: Grace

This exercise of reviewing movies about writers and about storytelling has led me to quite a few wonderful films I wouldn't have probably noticed otherwise. Take this one, for example, Grace. Every writer I know (and those I don't) should watch this endearing and insightful flick. 

Charles Elliston is a writer who is unproductive in his solitude and unproductive with the assistants his agent sends him to help him with everything but the writing so he can focus on getting his overdue work done. So when "the Supreme Narcissist" the agent's wife's nickname for Ellison) runs off yet another helper, his agent send him Dawn -- a hard-assed, take no crap writer at the beginning of her journey -- to clean the house, run his errands, etc. Her initial take on his latest book -- "self-indulgent bullshit." Cue the obvious Odd Couple plotline without all the comedy sass.

Grace succeeds in exploring the dynamics between a writer's solitude vs. intrusion from others. It encapsulates the problem of how careful we writers can be regarding who we let into our solitude. We tend to divide our lives into the solitude of actually writing or being "in the zone" and the other, regular stuff of going to the grocery store or visiting family and friends. But we are notoriously picky about the folks we invite into the "zone" with us. That's a private, personal, proprietary space for us.

Dawn and Charlie clearly have preconceptions about each other when they begin their time together. Dawn sees the world through the eyes of someone who looks up to a "genius" whose work she enjoys, and Charlie though the eyes of a writer who expects people to want something from him and disturb his settled world.

Dawn: "Do you ever get lonely?"
Charlie: "Not really."
Dawn: "How'd you start writing?"
Charlie: "I don't remember not writing. Are you a writer?" 
Charlie: "Most writers write about their childhood, which is a travesty in my opinion. I write about what embarrasses me, what makes me nervous, what enrages me beyond the pale. Write for yourself first; worry about the world later."

He's right. Those who chase markets like cartoon lawyers chase car accidents are usually just behind each trend they're following. And those who chase their own catharsis create cocoons that may never hatch. But those who write from the heart, from the story that just has to come out -- markets be damned -- that's the voice that's authentic. That's the story that rings true for readers, at least ultimately. 

In terms of their burgeoning friendship, Charlie has his issues; of that there is no doubt. He prefers walkie-talkies to texting with Dawn. Because of his past with him mother, he doesn't allow Dawn access to the swimming pool. Before Dawn explains it to him, he can't run a dishwasher. He watches her from his window with binoculars during the day. And most bothersome to Dawn, he is acutely bad at being social with another human being. 

Dawn isn't without issues either. Prior to assisting Charlie, she had slept with Bernie, his agent, as a way in to show her work to an agent.

However, Dawn has hidden depth that Charlie notices when he asks her about her favorite author. "Faulkner," she answers, and he gives her a look that says "Just another student of college writing classes." 

Dawn is quick to set him straight about her interest in the popular southern writer: "When I read Faulkner I think of dirt," she says. She explains further that dirt can be hard and brittle and break apart in your hands or hard to dig through, but once you get through it, it can also be soft and cool. 

Consider Charlie intrigued. When he finds a copy of her draft on the kitchen table. She quickly snatches it back from him and they literally fight over the document. 

Dawn: "You're such an asshole. I hate you."
Charlie: "And you're a coward."
She tosses it back to him to let him read it after all.
"I'm not a coward."

That's a good lesson for us as creators. We have to be willing to put our work out there and risk it not being loved like we think it should. It's easier to believe it's awesome to an audience of just us than to be brave enough to face rejection "out there" -- or praise -- that's always a possibility too. 

Charlie does read it, and soon Dawn gets a one-on-one lesson from the best-selling Charlie. 

Charlie: "You've got opinion and action but no inner life, but the passage at the end, where she's alone in bed, there you're captured that private emotional landscape I'm talking about. Her shame, it's visceral in the in the halting rhythm of the sentences, the start choice of workds. It's, well, it's breathtaking." 
Dawn: "It just came out that way." 
Charlie: "Well, if you wanna be a writer, you've got to find your way to go deeper into those channels."
Dawn: "I don't know how to do that." 
Charlie: "You've got talent, a ridiculous amount of talent. You're just cluttering up the good stuff, the raw stuff."

When she insists that it all felt right to her and that she still can't quite see what he's talking about, he questions her approach to writing. 

"I'm not letting you off the hook," he says. "Do you want to be clever or do you want to be great?"

And that's when their friendship really begins. Dawn is able to get him out of his house ins what appears to be the first time in years. She plans a birthday party for him. She discovers that his agent is stealing from him. 

In turn she becomes his muse to create something unlike any book he has written before, a book called Grace.

Rather than spoil any more of the plot for you, there are four other quickies I want to mention that really jumped out at me while watching.

1. Writing is researching. Charlie has a bookshelf (a unit, not just a single shelf) of research for his "baseball book," one for his "guitar book," etc. He jokes with Dawn that it's a form of "Karmic payback. I got kicked out of high school, and now all I do is research."

2. Writing isn't just recording. It's transliterating. It's not enough to simply jot down what you see. It must be filtered through you before it hits the page. Says Charlie when critiquing Dawn's story, "If you want to be a writer you have to interpret the world around you, not merely regurgitate your tawdry life experience."

3. Writing is inspired by reality. But you don't put yourself in the book. Or others. Not fully, anyway. Dawn is convinced Grace is about her, and in a particularly bad fight, Charlies tells her, "It's not about you. You're just a muse. It's fiction." 

4. Writers can be weird. We just can. Don't try to deny it. Charlies escapes into him mind with headphones and air guitars. We each have our methods. Charlie would be lost in a dining room conversation at Thanksgiving. How many of us would (or are) also? I know I'd much rather talk about the latest book I've read, board game I've played, or existential point I've recently pontificated. Sometimes I just don't fit in with... well... normal people. 

This powerful indie flick takes you into the mind of a gifted writer, well, two of them at different points on their journeys, and it demonstrates with compelling drama just how one writer's iron can sharpen that of another. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Geek Culture: Leading the Way AND Pulling Us Back?!

Sadly, I think geek culture may be the last hold out for the old "we want our women to look nice in this office" and "he's one of the good ones" and "get back in the closet" white boys' club, since we've had it that way so long in our comics. 

Ironically, geek culture is also helping to lead the way out of that boys' club with its current forward momentum on inclusion and showcasing heroes across racial lines and gender spectrums.

Of course, with every step we take forward there's somebody with a sign saying to stop putting our agenda in their comics. First, getting better as people isn't an agenda, it's a society's goal, last time I checked. Second, those are their comics; they belong to all of us who read and watch the things they inspire, and they've been in the hands of those who would resist growth for far too long.

The latest social media hoohaw about the costume change for Faye Valentine really just drove it all home for me. All the creators of the live-action show did was slightly alter her costume to make it work for a real-live woman who is supposed to be a true ass-kicker. But then some of the anime fans lost their shit because either (a) the costume wasn't just like the animated version (I can see your point, but c'mon, don't these costumes need to work in real life if you do a real-life show with real-life actors?) or (b) the costume didn't portray Faye as the dream fantasy wank material that whiny, horny, entitled fans wanted her to remain (to which I say, please grow up and understand that women, even drawn and animated women, were not put her solely for your eye candy). Though, to be fair, even in the new costume for the live-action show, Daniella Pineda is super sexy.  

Anyone remember the uproar when Wonder Woman got pants and "fans" went nuts because they believed it was their God-given right to see Wonder Woman's butt in bathing suit armor because the world owed it to them... or some equally asinine reason?

How 'bout when the gawky version of the new Wonder Girl created by John Byrne suddenly became "hot" and blossomed into a model -- because, as we all know, superheroines can't be flat-chested. It's a fantasy! They're supposed to be built like fit porn stars. (Right? And so are the men by the same fantasy argument, but ironically, not for the female readers. Instead, because that's how every American, red-blooded male is trained to see himself since birth, well, all the normal ones anyway.) 

I can almost hear -- We are the white, straight men, and we are tired of all you, well, other people who are not white, straight men telling us there are problems with the way we ran the world (and by extension, the entertainment industry). Stop insinuating we were ever doing something wrong. Stop changing things. We want our women to look sexy and appreciate our leering or at least realize that when we stare at their ass or their boobs or their legs, it's really a compliment and they should be thankful we think they are attractive (like they're supposed to be). We want our heroes to be white and musclebound and to have women flock to them in appreciation for being saved. (It matters not that we have now or ever looked like those strapping young shark killers or Nazi smashers on the covers of Men's Adventure magazines.) 

We see ourselves as King Conan with the women who adore us at the feet of our throne. Funny how Conan looks so much like our goal rather than a dark-skinned man. I mean, sure, give him a tan from all that walking from ancient land to ancient land, but not too much. He's not Middle-Eastern or African or from the indigenous peoples of South America. We created an ancient land of whiteness just for him. And if we ever need a person from one of those lands, we'll just "Iron Fist" it or "White Goddess" it and put a Caucasian who was orphaned there and grew to become the tribal hero or village leader or chosen one. 

We are Luke Skywalker atop the triangle with Leia gripping our leg for safety. Can't we have our one last bastion of male power fantasy where white guys still run the world and women love us, and we can be benevolent leaders to our sidekicks and B-players (where all the "good" multicultural characters are supposed to be?

It's like I'm hearing the same message through all the bumper stickers, op-eds, whiny complaints, conversations on social media, or griping over the comic book store counter. 

That message?

"Why are all the major heroes now black or Latinx or gay or women and not being relegated to the sidelines as sidekicks and B-listers like they used to be? Where are all my white guys going? We resent all our white guys suddenly having to take the sideline roles to make way for other folks. And why do the females character have to hate 'real men' so much?"

I haven't done the research on this other than by simply watching TV and movies and reading comics, but I'm pretty sure the truth still is that if you counted heads, the comics and entertainment industry remains predominantly represented by white straight guys in main roles.

In spite of the complaints about women finally getting to lead films without having to be romantic partners, in spite of black actors finally getting to play parts that haven't been traditionally black or characters who "aren't black in the source material," in spite of LGBTQIA+ roles no longer having to be the token gay for comedic distraction or over-the-top flameliness, in spite of all that, the bulk of the entertainment world hasn't really changed. Count the characters and do the math. 

But it's Captain American! But it's Superman! But it's... !

They're not supposed to be at the top of the triangle. 

There's the rub. Don't take our icons. Our white straight icons. Go create your own. These are my toys. 

No, they're not your toys. They never have been. And so what if we finally have a black Superman or a trans Flash or a black Captain America or a female Captain Marvel or a Muslim Ms. Marvel or a bisexual Robin. Do the math. The straight, white guys are still way ahead and still by and large write all the checks. 

But that never stops folks from arguing that they're having an agenda "shoved down" their throats. But to be fair, that sounds like a story I've heard before... 

Back in the days of emancipation, white landowners didn't want the anti-slavery agenda shoved down their throats. 

Back in the days of Irish immigration, citizens didn't want the "Irish are citizens too" agenda shoved down their throats (and they were white too!) 

Back in the days of suffrage, men didn't want the women's voting agenda shoved down their throats. 

Back in the days of desegregation, whites didn't want the black agenda shoved down their throats. 

Back in the days of equal rights for women, men didn't want the feminist agenda shoved down their throats. 

And now, folks are quick to jump on the train that they are having the LGBTQIA+ agenda shoved down their throats. 

They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. 

And they never stop to think about the years of having white, straight, patriarchal culture shoved down the throats of others. As if one is "normal" and the other is "other than normal" and needn't be presented as such. But there's another word for that -- default. For far too many, the default culture is the one of the white straight patriarchy and it's perfectly fine to have your little "representation" as long as it doesn't intrude on the "normal" or the default culture. 

You see, the thing is that by "agenda being shoved down our throats," what they mean is "we don't want to have to acknowledge your right to representation" and "we don't want to see you showing up on our shows and in our comics" and "we don't want to actually have to see you as people IF it forces us to confront nasty realities we'd rather avoid."

But here's the real, five-dollar deal for you. 

If you have a virtual highlighter you might just want to put this in yellow. 


Just having greater representation in the publishing and entertainment world isn't trying to shove an agenda. It isn't. It's trying to make us a better people, better citizens, more welcoming and loving individuals. It's trying to make our published entertainment look more like the world outside our doors and give all people someone with whom they can identify in the entertainment they see. It's trying to help all people of any race, nationality, gender, spectrum, feel like they belong in America (and by extension, existence). It's trying to help all people feel they matter and are important. 

And if you still want to call that an agenda rather than progress up the scale of what it means to be a better human, then I really feel sorry for you. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Top 100 Writing Blogs?!

Hey, folks, my little writing blog got featured on Feedspot's Top 100 Writing Blogs for Authors. Don't know enough about feedspot to put a value label on this, but it does look like a nice list of websites for writers, and I'm honored to be on it.

After all, my goal has always been to maintain the "best damn writing blog" for indie writers. 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

[Link] Scrivener Scenario: Creating a Series Bible

by Gwen Hernandez 

I was about halfway through book three in my series when I realized I needed a series bible. And since I write in Scrivener, creating it there was the obvious choice.

In case you haven’t heard the term before, a series bible (or series guide) is a collection of key details about everything and everyone in the world of your series, from the characters’ eye colors, birthdates, personalities, and the cars they drive, to their family history, the name of pertinent streets, and the timeline for major and minor events (current and backstory).

If you’d like to maintain a series bible in Scrivener, you’ll want to consider whether to put the series of books and the supporting material all in one project file, or to keep the books in separate files.

I use a hybrid version, so I’ll cover the pros and cons of each and give you a sneak peek at mine.

Here are some of the benefits to keeping a connected series of books—and all supporting info—in one Scrivener project.

Read the full article:

Friday, September 17, 2021

Teel James Glenn presents Cronicles of the Skull Mask: Revenge Is Justice

Six adventures of the Skullmask and the various people who adopt its powers to avenge others ... or, ofttimes, themselves!"I was fashioned from the skin of the first victim I would avenge. I am the collective experiences of all who have worn me in their quests for just Vengeance. I am the means to redress wrongs. My wearer may die but I live on. I am the path to justice. My wearer shares my memories, which are longer than any who live today. I am a candle of justice in a cathedral of evil. Snuff me out and a new life will relight me. My causes are many. My lives are innumerable. I am the angel of vengeance. I am the demon of justice. I am the last and only hope of the hopeless. I am the Skullmask; pity those who wear me. Wear me if you dare."

Available on Amazon.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Mocha Memoirs Press Focus #2: Todd Sullivan

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

Tell us a bit about your latest work.

My latest novel, BLOOD STEW, is the third in The Windshine Chronicles, an ongoing fantasy series that takes place in an imagined version of South Korea called South Hanguk. ‘Hanguk’ is simply the Korean word for ‘Korea’. 

In BLOOD STEW, a young man with scoliosis, a malformed curvature of the spine, wants to go on a quest alongside mighty warriors and prove his worth to the people of his country by becoming a hero. 

The novel’s release date is October 1st, 2021. 

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

It was probably a combination of external and internal factors. I was born with a severe speech impediment and spoke very little throughout childhood. As a result, I lived in my head more than in the real world. 

Externally, my mother is a reader and had a closet full of books. The shelves in our home were filled with books that she’d brought me and my five brothers and sisters, and we often went to the library to get new books. 

And then, my father is a natural orator. Every night my family would sit down at the table for dinner, and my father would tell us about his day. Mostly they were funny stories, as people can be strange in their daily behavior, and my father would regale us with the tales of everyday people he encountered at his job as a stockbroker. 

These 3 factors probably created the writer in me—thoughtfulness from my speech impediment, a love of reading from my mother, and an ability to weave events into a compelling narrative from my father. 

What inspires you to write?

I think really I write because I’m good at it. At an early age, I got praise for my writing. I got praise for other things too, but writing was highlighted more than anything else, and so it became a lifelong pursuit. 

At 43 years old, I write mainly because it’s a habit. Plus, I’ve basically trained my mind to view the world as narrative. With people, I see characters; in conversations, I hear dialogue; with life, I see plots. I would suspect that the part of the brain that deals with communication and words is probably shaped a bit differently in me than others simply because I’ve been diligently using that portion of the brain over my lifetime. 

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

Some of my usual themes are characters trying to achieve something greater than themselves, and fighting against the odds. My characters are usually more realistic, despite the fact that I write genre fiction. I don’t like to be dishonest with myself, and so I create characters and situations that reflect how life actually is, not how I want to paint the world to be.

This is probably why my writing is darker, and why there are often horror elements in it. I try to write about humans as they are, not as they present themselves to be through their public personas. 

What would be your dream project?

I’m not sure I have a dream project, as that implies something that I’m waiting to happen. I have goals, not dreams.

What writers have influenced your style and technique?

There are too many to name, but Herman Hesse, Anne Rice, and Octavia Butler are big influences. Really, though, the writers from a summer writing camp I did in my late teens and early 20s had a massive impact on my construction of narratives. That was with the National Book Foundation between 1997-2002. We were instructed by many established authors, and they’re the ones that taught me that life is narrative.

The best lesson I learned from the NBF was that there is no such thing as writer’s block. Every moment of your life is fuel for writing. 

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

Nothing, really. Taking what you learned from the past so that you can optimize your future is key. 

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

Interesting question. I’m not sure how science is being defined here, but I’ll still say, ‘art’. 

Writing is an exploration and discovery of reality from a personal, subjective viewpoint. Whether or not a story “works” is decided upon by readers. The greater number of readers who agree that the writing is good, the better the writing is perceived to be.

Science, in my view, doesn’t work that way. The distance between the Earth and the Sun isn’t agreed upon. It’s measured, and someone from America and someone from China should get the same measurement. Whether or not you can breathe in space isn’t agreed upon. There’s a reason why humans can’t breathe in space, and the specifics of that reason are derived from science. 

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

Lack of money derived from writing. 

Though narrative is everywhere, having time to pull it together and write it down are essential. And making more money from writing, which would allow that extreme luxury—time—would be helpful. 

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

I’ve always belonged to writer workshops. They’re all online now, though I’ve done writing camps and writing groups that fizzled out in a few months. 

People reading my writing and giving me feedback, and me reading other people’s writing and giving them feedback, is essential to optimizing wordcraft. 

What does literary success look like to you?

That’s changed over time as I’ve learned more about the industry of publishing. At this period in my life, literary success is book sales and reader reviews. There’s a bit too much politics involved with the publishing industry to define literary success any other way.

Any other upcoming projects you would like to plug?

I’m working on a web series and a play series with some creative folks in Taiwan. I’m also hoping to get a web series and play series started here in South Korea, where I currently live. 

For more information, visit: 

I have a YouTube Channel where I interview publishing writers. Please support by subscribing:

Also, check out Books 1 & 2 from The Windshine Chronicles, published by Mocha Memoirs Press:

And those who are into vampire fiction, check out my extreme horror book series, published my Nightmare Press:

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Movie Reviews for Writers: The Bat

We writers get our ideas from crazy places. We get them from events in our lives, from dreams, from what-if questions, and even from weird conversations with others. 

Why do I bring this up? Because I just watched the 1959 version of The Bat with Agnes Moorehead and Vincent Price. Besides being a tightly scripted and suspenseful whodunit, it has enough twists and red herrings to keep Marlowe and Hammer guessing. But, in addition to all that, it also says a bit about how our experiences as writers help to shape our stories. 

For example, upon learning about the murder method, Moorehead's Cornelia van Gorder, a famous mystery writer, perks up with the story-crafting side of her brain. 

Lizzie Allen: His specialty seems to be killing women, my goodness, two of them in one night, all his victims died the same way, like their throats had been ripped open with steel claws.

Cornelia van Gorder: That's charming, I'll have to try it some time.

[Lizzie stares at her with a weird look]

Cornelia van Gorder: In a book.

Have you been to a convention or conference where people ask you where you get your ideas? From now on, I want to remember Ms. Cornie's quote here for the next time I'm asked. 

I remember my buddy and occasional writing partner Bobby Nash telling me how when he talks about murders and the like, people will overhear in a restaurant, and he'll throw in an explanation that he means in his books. 

Of course, it's not always about murder. Sometimes, at least for me, inspiration comes from a song I'm listening to -- for example, when Prince's "The Beautiful Ones" triggered a comic book pitch about a group of aliens disguised as human women who learn to love high fashion and city nightlife and break off from their mission of destruction to save the earth instead. Or from conversations, such as when I wore a t-shirt with a movie poster for Hot Rod Girl on the front to a writer/artist get-together, only to be asked if that (Hot Rod Girl) was the new project I was working on. Well, before my mouth could say no, my brain quickly put together an idea about a dead female hot rod racer who uses her driving skills to help Death recover lost souls. 

And if the only thing The Bat had to say about writing, it would still be worth a watch (or in my case, multiple watches across my life). But it doesn't. It also has a little something to say about that cliche of "write what you know." 

After Cornelia and Lizzie are attacked in the house, Price's Dr. Wells offers his help and protection.

Dr. Wells: But do let me help you. Oh, don't forget that once I'm gone, you'll have to climb those stairs alone.

Cornelia van Gorder: Oh, I'm all right. I'm armed now.

Dr. Wells: Can you shoot one of those things without shutting your eyes?

Cornelia van Gorder: Oh, doctor, there are guns in every book I've ever written. I don't write about things I'm unfamiliar with.

In other words, Cornelia van Gorder writes what she knows. She doesn't just "make shit up." If she doesn't know it, she learns it. She clearly indicates that she has gotten to know how guns work... intimately. 

And that's the trick, isn't it? Writing what you know doesn't mean avoiding subjects you don't yet know. It means learning them. Experience them. Research them. Move them from your "don't know it" to your "know it" box. 

Last, Cornelia gets to experience almost every writer's fantasy in this creepy, campy flick. She gets to, in essence, live inside one of her novels. 

It's something we think about almost without thinking about. At the risk of saying that all of us Mary Sue ourselves into our work, we do have to figure out the working of choices and voice. What would our characters do in this situation or that? Who and how would our characters speak when presented with this deadly risk or life-changing choice? 

Even if we deny it, there is a part of us that enjoys those plotting and character moments that let us, even for so brief a time, be the hero, be the lover, be the killer, be whatever our work needs.