Notes On Writing Spec Fic, Late 2014

Monday, November 24th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

A Book CoverIt’s such a predictable trap. In or near an elevator, I tell some newly met, well-intentioned stranger that I’m a writer, and they immediately ask, as if they’ve waited all their lives for this very opportunity to arise, “What sort of books do you write?”

And that’s the end, you see, or at least the end of any potential new friendship, because if I answer “I write fantasy,” which is true, they start sniggering and feel superior, or if I answer, “I write horror,” they run off, laughing hysterically at my bad taste –– and of course then they feel even more superior.

Worst answer of all: “I write literary fiction.” Then they assume I’m a genius and their eyes glaze over, because they feel they absolutely must pay attention to every single word I say, in hopes of gleaning a pearl. I become the social equivalent of bubonic CliffsNotes.

Thus Renner & Quist, and Check-Out Time, because I want to craft stories that employ elements of multiple genres and literary currents. The danger, I suppose, is that I wind up with tossed salad, but I don’t believe that’s been the result. What reviews there’ve been suggest that I’m correct to think I’ve avoided the splatter-punk of, say, Jackson Pollock.

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Methodology: Not Just For Scientists Anymore

Friday, November 21st, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Block Telling LiesI’ve been known, via Twitter and Facebook, to let people know how my writing is going. So I’m apt to say things like “chapter 16 is going feral on me, I need a net.” This prompts some of my writer friends to say “been there, done that” and others to say “you write in chapters?”

This isn’t to say that they themselves don’t write in chapters, per se. What I think this particular friend actually meant is that she just writes, and lets the chapters appear where they may. After all, we know that, with very few exceptions, all novels end up being divided into chapters. Exactly when and how that division occurs is part of each individual’s methodology. Or perhaps the sensibilities of their editor.

And all advice on writing tells you the same thing: there’s no right or wrong way, there’s only the way that works for you.

I tend to work and think in chapters of about 25 to 30 pages, or somewhere between 5000 and 6000 words. Why? Because when I was starting to write my dissertation (don’t ask, you don’t want to know) the Chair of the Department gave me this advice: “Make your chapters about 25 pages long, Violette. No one wants to read longer ones.”

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Selling Short Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror Fiction, Part III: Reprints

Saturday, November 15th, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


The Polish magazine Nowa Fantastyka

This is the third of three posts about selling short fiction. We’ve talked about how to know how to fit your story into the ecosystem of short fiction markets and what the business side (contracts, rights, etc) look like. This one is about reprints.

Other than the rule of never selling your copyright or paying to have your short fiction published, the big strategic rule to keep in mind when selling fiction is: reprint rights are usually far less valuable than first English rights.

So why consider reprints? (1) It’s more money, for no extra work, and (2) it may expose your work to other audiences.

So where can you sell reprints?

In the olden days, some magazines would accept reprints. Not the top line magazines, but some. And they would have been paying penny for the word or less. You can still find those markets on But when I sell a story now, there are three places I actively try to resell after the story has finished its run.

One: Audio markets

Podcastle for fantasy, Escapepod for scifi, and Pseudopod for horror. Each episode of these podcasts gets downloaded 5,000+ times, so that’s a big market expansion, which often doesn’t cross over into wherever my story was initially published.

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Tête-bêche: Can a 2-in-1 Book Revival Offer New Life for Genre Novellas?

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014 | Posted by G. Winston Hyatt

Cat Rambo Near and Far-smallNovellas (usually considered to be 20,000 — 50,000 words) are notoriously difficult for authors to place with publishers, which is unfortunate because it’s a wonderful length for genre stories. Sword-and-sorcery, science-fiction adventure, hardboiled crime, and horror stories all lend themselves to lean, compact novellas.

Most short fiction markets top out at about 5,000-7,000 words, though, due to the practical considerations of available space in the publications, as well as available editorial reading time. Stand-alone novellas struggle even more.

Digital printing has eliminated the technical issues of shorter print editions in last-generation printing presses, but the length is unfamiliar to readers (who often are hesitant to pick up a smaller book).

This is compounded by pricing issues. A book needs to provide the publisher a certain margin of profit. However, a novella can’t be priced in the same way as a novel that offers two or three times as many pages.

This means it’s tough to price a print novella in a way that makes editing, layout, cover design, and publishing economically viable.

Some publishers have taken to releasing novellas in limited, collectible editions — a good route if the author already has an established following, but a harder sell for emerging authors.

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Finding Your Groove in NaNoWriMo:The Rhythm of Writing

Saturday, November 8th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page


Finding your groove is about getting the hang of dragooning the words into some kind of order without needing to think about it all the time.

NaNoWriMo rumbles on. Some of my friends report impressive word counts. Others are strangely silent. Possibly some of these last have plotted themselves into a corner. The best way around this is to consider your conflicts, who the players are, but I’ve talked about that. However, I suspect a lot of people who are stalled have got caught up in a war of attrition with the mechanics of narrative.

We take narrative for granted. It’s what we do in the pub, or when swapping stories with fellow con-goers. However, if we sit down to write — type – narrative, we suddenly become aware of the words themselves. It’s a bit like driving a car and being overwhelmed with the physics of it all. From there it’s easy to get lost in a warren of second guessing, sniped at by injunctions we picked up at school; use joining words, be elegant, write complete sentences etc etc.

Finding your groove is about getting the hang of dragooning the words into some kind of order without needing to think about it all the time.

Some people do this naturally or get there by trial and error. Others learn how to do this by following their natural inclination and having a really good think about it so they can then stop thinking about it. It’s the Geek Way.

That’s what I’m going to do here. Specifically, I’m going to pull apart a selection of passages from genre books on my Kindle so we can see how established authors do it…

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The Series Series: The Godless by Ben Peek

Friday, November 7th, 2014 | Posted by Sarah Avery

The Godless Ben Peek-smallA fresh, fascinating story hides in this book. The gods are dead — their bodies litter the earth — but their powers leak into the lives of mortal men and women. And sometimes, tragically, children. Deific power is messy. One sprouts extra limbs, trails plagues in one’s wake, or combusts and takes out whole buildings. It’s a curse, isn’t it, to bear such power?

Ayae, a young apprentice cartographer, took refuge in a city built on a dead god’s bones when her homeland fell. Now an army of fanatics marches on her new home and those fanatics seem to want to wake the dead gods. What will Ayae do now that she’s cursed with the local god’s power over fire? She could be a doomsday weapon or a loose cannon that destroys the people she cares about. Her best hope for help in mastering her powers is a man so old he remembers the world as it was before the gods died, fifteen-thousand years ago. He’s been wise. He’s been mad. He has done terrible things with the power that curses him. Ayae wants to trust Zaifyr, but he doesn’t always trust himself. The dead — human and divine — talk to him, and the dead have their own agenda.

Alas, the story is hiding, not in the sense of requiring a brisk readerly workout to piece the clues together, but rather in the sense of having been copyedited so poorly that it’s hard at times to figure out what the author is trying to make many of the sentences say.

I’ve written reviews before of books with lots of promise that could have used one last pass of polishing. This is not that.

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Firefly Friday: Going Behind the Scenes

Friday, November 7th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Firefly the Official Companion-smallThe cornerstone of the fans’ love affair with Firefly is the 13 television episodes, culminating in the film Serenity. But if you’re a fan of the show, you’ve probably watched all of the episodes numerous times – maybe even with the audio commentary from Whedon, the stars, and other show creators. For real fans, though, this may not be quite enough. Is there any way to dive into the individual episodes more deeply?

Titan Books helped out the fans by publishing a series of stunning, glossy fan-gasmic volumes that include not only images of the props and various production stills, but also full scripts of the episodes of the series. Across these three books – ultimately collected into a single volume – there’s a glimpse into nearly every aspect of the production process on the series, why it was ultimately cancelled, what the various actors felt about their characters, and even some new stories.

And so very many shiny, shiny pictures.

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You Know My Methods, Or, How Do You Write?

Friday, November 7th, 2014 | Posted by Violette Malan

Huff FutureGet a bunch of writers together and , once you can get them to stop talking about the Oxford comma, you’ll find they talk about the three basics of writing, Where? When? and How much? (Where “how much” refers to word count, not bank account) As you soon figure out, there are no right answers to these questions, there’s only what works for you – except for those occasions in which nothing works, but let’s not go there. At least not today.

For fulltime authors, “Where?” is one of the easiest questions, because the answer so often is “in my home office.” Whether that home office is a dedicated room, the kitchen table, or a TV tray in the living room, “home” is the operative concept. Mystery writer Vicki Delany, for example, doesn’t write in her nice office with the big monitor and the wood stove. She writes standing up, having found that the pass through from her kitchen to her dining room is the perfect height.

Many who aren’t fulltime writers also write at home, but others, like my good friend and fellow Black Gate contributor Derek Kunsken (check out his series on selling short fiction) have other methods. Derek gets up hours before he needs to be at work (I won’t say where) and takes his usual table at a coffee shop near his not-at-home office. He likes this particular table because it’s perfectly situated for one of the available outlets… and other reasons that aren’t picky at all.

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Selling Short Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror Fiction, Part II

Saturday, November 1st, 2014 | Posted by Derek Kunsken


Don’t sell your copyright. Superman smash!!

Hey everybody. Welcome to the second of a three-post series on selling short fiction. Last time, I talked about knowing the markets and how your own writing fits into them. This week, I want to talk about sales, contracts, payments, and what rights you’re selling when you sell short fiction. This blog post is in no way a sleep-aid, despite the fact that the last sentence included the words sales, contracts, and rights.

To snap you awake, let’s assume you’re new and you’ve written something. What’s your second worry, after worrying about backing up your masterpiece of short fiction? That nobody steals your shit! You’ve heard about Siegel and Shuster. DC owns Superman. Same with Batman. They sold the copyrights.

You’ve probably heard some variant of “brilliant-but-shy-artist-shows-his-genius-to-a-Hollywood-producer-who-says-no-and-three-years-later-sees-his-magnum-opus-on-the-big-screen-with-all-the-names-changed.” I’ve felt that fear. I’ve written stuff I thought was genius. Hahahahaha. No, seriously. People are worried about losing what they created.

So, first thing: You own it. Only you can sell the rights. And the rights you sell are always described in a contract, that you can choose to either sign or not sign. So, sigh of relief. Let me explain what you are being offered by way of example.

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Find the Conflict: Unblocking (or Actually Planning!) your NaNoWriMo Novel

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page


Let’s imagine I’m my 20-something self and this is my NaNoWriMo project

Last week, I did a kind of public service announcement about “pantsing”, the “just write” school of  writing — discovery writing — applied to your NaNoWriMo novel.

Truth is, I hate pantsing. Pantsing is why my old hard drive had a dozen first three chapters gathering bitrot. The only thing I discovered in several years of writing this way was the need to outline.

OK, there are pros who do pants. However, there are lots of other pros who swear by planning. Not just minor writers like yours truly (bows), but rising stars like my mate Hannu, who is very much a planner and an outliner (though he drafts by hand — hello, the 17th century called ).

Now, NaNoWriMo is all about literary elan; “Get the words down, doesn’t matter how bad.” And if you’re all about the word count, then it’s probably asking a bit much to get you to metaphorically sit on your hands and sketch out your story before pushing out the paragraphs. Even so, there’s a good chance that you’ll write yourself into a corner, or get stuck, run out of plot. Get blocked. So I thought you might find it useful if I shared an approach I used last year when writing novels to order — professionally, my 2013 was like NaNoWriMo does Groundhog Day.

Just to keep me honest, I went over to the Thrilling Tales Derange-O-Lab, generated random pulp titles, picked one that jumped out and built a cover for it (right).

Let’s imagine I’m my 20-something self and this is my NaNoWriMo project, The Eternal Dome of the Unknowable.

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