Helpless in the Face of Your Enemy: Writers and Attack Novels

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 | Posted by Harry Connolly

Great-Way-Final-Cover-eBook-3-copySome writers plan their careers.

They scan the top of the best seller lists, think Hmm… here’s a police procedural, this one’s steampunk, these two are zombie novels, and this one’s about angels. Great! I’ve been wanting to try steampunk. I’ll write a steampunk murder mystery about a pair of mismatched cops. One will be a zombie and the other will be an angel. No, a fallen angel who has lost his celestial whatsit.

Which is a silly example, obviously, but authors manage the non-silly version to great success. As I recall, John Scalzi has said that he wrote Old Man’s War because MilSF seemed to be selling well. There are others, too, but I hesitate to name them because writing to the market has a bit of a stigma attached to it, although it shouldn’t. More power to them, I say.*

Me, I can’t do it. Not that I haven’t tried, but I can’t make it work. I don’t read fast enough to sample the sales lists widely, I can’t make myself write a book without screwing around with the tropes of the genre, and I suffer from attack novels.

Attack novel: ( əˈtak ˈnävəl) n: a story idea that a writer can’t stop thinking about, even (especially) when they’re supposed to be working on something else.

The first book I ever sold was an attack novel. So was the first book I ever started and abandoned. They haven’t all been, but when they come on me, all I can do is put them off until I finish whatever’s on deadline.

At the beginning of March, I released an attack novel that I started five years ago, and in every way that matters, it was a book I shouldn’t have written.

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The Forging of Swords of Steel

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 | Posted by Dave Ritzlin

Swords of Steel-small

He was met at the gate of Hades by the Guardian of the Lost Souls, the Keeper of the Unavenged. And he did say to him, “Let ye not pass Abbadon! Return to the world from whence ye came and seek payment, not only for thine own anguish, but vindicate the souls of the unavenged.” And they placed in his hand a sword made for him called Vengeance, forged in brimstone and tempered by the woeful tears of the unavenged. And to carry him on his journey back to the upper world they brought forth their demon horse called Black Death, a grim steed so fearsome in might and black in color that he could stand as one with the darkness, save for his burning eyes of crimson fire. And on that night they rode up from Hell! The pounding of his hooves did clap like thunder!

Would you doubt someone if they told you the above text came from an old sword and sorcery paperback with a cover by Frank Frazetta?

Likely not, unless you knew the source: “Dark Avenger,” a song by heavy metal giants Manowar. One day, while listening to this song, an idea struck me like a thunderbolt: To release an anthology of fantasy stories written by authors from heavy metal bands. And thus, the concept for Swords of Steel was born.

The past several decades in fantasy literature have displayed a lot of safe trends not much to my liking. What happened to evocatively-written tales of strong-willed heroes conquering (or succumbing to) exotic, dangerous landscapes? Rather than such epic fare, we’ve been treated to volume after volume of thousand-page Tolkien tributes. (Considering Tolkien spent 20 years on The Lord of the Rings, one would think maintaining quality through each successive sequel would prove difficult.) So rather than wait for someone else, I decided to publish a book myself. I simply needed to find people to write these stories; and who better than the heavy metal bards?

One prerequisite of the metal lifestyle is steadfast resistance against mainstream trends. It shows in the character of men like Cauldron Born guitarist Howie Bentley and Twisted Tower Dire guitarist Scott Waldrop, who founded their bands in the early nineties. At a time when metal was believed truly “dead,” they persevered without any establishment acceptance. This attitude, plus their lyrical talents, made them perfect candidates for Swords of Steel.

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West of January, Probably Near the Middle of Wednesday

Friday, March 13th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Duncan WestA few weeks ago I was talking about Dave Duncan’s series The Great Game, and that led me to reread his brilliant 2002 novel West of January.

West of January is science fiction that doesn’t, at first, seem to have any science in it. The story is an odyssey, narrated in first person by the main character, Knobil , who tells the tale of his life, from his childhood as part of a herdmaster’s family on the great plains, through to his days as an old man, teaching the young.

Knobil is expelled from his family at puberty and vows revenge on the intruder who murdered his father and mother. While he never completely loses sight of this objective, circumstances take him on a journey through most of the other societies on the world of Vernier, from the Sea People, the Miners, the Traders, and even the Angels in Heaven. It becomes apparent that this world is not Earth, and that while it is suitable for human habitation, its rotation and relationship with its sun causes a cyclical and catastrophic climate change which necessitates the virtual rebuilding of civilization each time.

West of January is a testament to just how important point of view can be. As in the best fiction of any kind, Knobil doesn’t explain anything to the reader that he takes for granted himself – though he might explain things that he knows to his young listeners:

The angels define the world by strips – twelves strips running north and south, seven east and west. The names of these are very old, given by the firstfolk. It is a sensible arrangement with only nineteen words to be learned. Any place can be located by reference to this grid. The west of January is but one example. Geographical features can be named also, like the March Ocean or the Wednesday Desert. This is much easier than remembering an endless arbitrary list, and much more practical when a forest may soon become a desert, or a desert ocean.

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Wanderings on Writing by Jane Lindskold: Enter to Win a Signed Copy!

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Emily Mah

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I am back! In the months since you last heard from me I started up a ebook and paperback formatting company, and we’ve formatted some very cool stuff. The coolest, I will post about here on the site (note, this is not all I will post about and I do not benefit commercially from these postings. This is all stuff I want to shout from the rooftops because of its coolness.)

First up is: Wanderings on Writing by Jane Lindskold, which is a compilation of essays about writing, plotting, storycrafting, characterization and much, much more. She is giving away a signed copy here –> a Rafflecopter giveaway.

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When I Win the Lottery; Or, I Should Be So Lucky

Friday, February 27th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Jackson LotteryThe phrase “when I win the lottery” seems to be used in two distinct ways. The first and, I hope, the most common usage, has the same “ain’t gonna happen” meaning as “when pigs fly,” and connotes a certain sense of realism on the part of the speaker. The second, and I think sadder, usage stands for a certain lack of foresight. It’s been said, for example, that a sizable percentage of people include winning the lottery as an element in their retirement plans.

In our house the phrase also stands for any unlikely event beyond our control that we would nevertheless welcome. Like “when they finally come up with a retina chip that will fix my right eye,” or, “when the Dhulyn and Parno novels are optioned for TV.”

The lottery as a phenomenon is now so pervasive that it’s almost impossible not to think about lotteries and winning/losing them. The concept has formed the basis of a wide variety of movie and TV plots – mostly on the negative aspects of winning, but I think that’s meant to comfort those of us who, well, lost.

How are lotteries treated in Fantasy and SF writing? I don’t mean games of chance as such, though that gives us magnificent stories like “Gonna Roll the Bones” from Fritz Leiber. Nor do I mean criminal activities like numbers running, or even straightforward betting, whether on or off track or line. No, I mean actual lotteries. You get your ticket, and you wait your chance.

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The Making of a Dark Fantasy Anthology

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 | Posted by Salome Jones

Cthulhu Lives-smallLike all books, an anthology begins with an idea. In the case of Cthulhu Lives! the idea was simply this: the eerie feel of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror stories without the lengthy exposition and racist diatribes. I called for submissions using the tag line “Lovecraftian cosmic horror stories with a modern sensibility.”

The cool thing about asking creative people to respond to a call is that you will often get more than you expected. For CL, I got some stories about things that Lovecraft never imagined because he was from a very different time. For example, 3D printers, spying internet programs, Higgs bosons – and steampunk Europe.

I didn’t have access to a group of known cosmic horror writers. In fact, I didn’t know when I put out the call if we would even get enough good stories to fill the book. At the same time I put out another call for a different book, this one for dark, modern fairy tales, and I got only three stories that I considered suitable, so I had to cancel that book.

After the open call for Cthulhu Lives!, I had thirteen good stories, stories I felt could make the grade either with or without a bit of extra work from the author. After putting them all together, I only had 55,000 words. Tim Dedopulos, the managing editor of Ghostwoods Books, told me I had to get the word count up to at least 70,000 before we could publish.

At that point, I asked writers I knew who I felt were up to the task. I have to say that Gethin Lynes was amazing here. He had been helping me copyedit the stories I already had. In order to help him grok some of the editing decisions I made, I suggested he read some Lovecraft. (He’s Australian, and Lovecraft isn’t as popular there as in the US.) When I needed stories, he wanted to write one. “The Highland Air” was the result, and it’s one of my favorite stories in the book.

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Writers as Barbarian Conquerors!

Friday, February 20th, 2015 | Posted by mariebilodeau

This is possibly the most brilliant way to think about writing ever. I can’t believe I’m just thinking about it now, and certainly won’t have to beat the metaphor into shape. Well, maybe a bit. But, who the heck cares. You can now view your writing as a freaking barbarian invasion! Like I said: brilliant.


Barbarians don’t post plans on the Internet, so I interviewed one and drew this. You’re welcome.


Like any good invading army, you must first plan which of your troops are going where. It’s known as “plotting” in the writing world. It doesn’t need to be super detailed, but you should know the attack plan of your knights (aka hero) and archers (aka secondary characters. Sorry, Hawkeye). Plus, you should know a bit about your enemy’s defenses (aka villain).

Build up enthusiasm in your barbarian army with awesome speeches (aka writing down cool scenes).


This is where you plunge in and WRITE! KILL! DESTROY! Your armies are in place. Your knights are totally rocking it! Your archers are shooting those little wooden arrows like they can’t run out AND THEY DON’T BECAUSE IT’S YOUR BOOK!

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Book Tour Tips for (Self-Published) Authors

Monday, February 16th, 2015 | Posted by Patty Templeton

book tourMy adventure begins sixteen tons of sundowns ago… maybe say, November-ish, when the Clarendon Hills Public Library in Illinois asked me to be a featured reader at their No-Shush Salon. They wanted an author for early 2015. My first response (which I thankfully didn’t send) was no. Grateful that they thought of me, but no way. Who can afford to travel 5 hours one-way for one reading?

And then, THEN! In a cosmic crapshoot of hell yeah, another Chicago reading series, Tuesday Funk, contacted me. They wanted me for a reading several days after No-Shush.

When the universe shimmies at you, you wink back. I said yes to both.

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Five Things Better Than Handing In Your Manuscript

Friday, February 13th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Nobel prizeThis is in the forefront of my brain this week because – you guessed it – I’ve just handed in a manuscript. Now even though this is only the current draft of the work-in-progress, it feels pretty good, so I started to wonder, is there anything better than this?

Here are some of my thoughts:

Winning the Nobel Prize. It’s true you get to call yourself a Nobel Laureate, but I’ve asked around, and apparently this isn’t as wonderful as you might think. To start with, you have to go to Stockholm in February. Nothing against Stockholm, but really, February. It sometimes gets given to people years, and even decades after the work it’s being awarded for was done – which means their thank-you speeches frequently have a heavy subtext of “what, that old thing?” The money’s nice, but again, it so often comes later than you’d like it. In fact, more than one Nobel Laureate has been overheard to murmur, “Great, something else to dust.”

Winning the Superbowl. This one I confess I just don’t get. I keep asking what’s in the bowl, and all I get are funny looks. I mean, there’s a big difference between a super bowl of popcorn, and a super bowl of sauerkraut. I’m just saying, I’d need more details to be able to tell whether winning one is better than handing in a manuscript.

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Writing: Why You Shouldn’t Tinker With the Beginning Until You’ve Written to the End

Thursday, February 12th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

Storyteller-Tools-New-Cover 255

Outliners like me, we write in layers.

The beginning of your novel is… Important. Vital. Critical.

It’s the bit that grabs the reader, and if the reader is your dream agent or an editor, then it can potentially grab you a career instead.

So, important, vital, critical. So much pressure to get it right. A nagging fear that it’s wrong.

And yet, you need to hone your beginning last. Here’s why…

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