On Writing Advice

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

Black Gate clouds-small

This isn’t my view, but it’s pretty darn close

Good afternoon, Readers!

It’s a beautiful summer’s day here in Ottawa, Canada as of the writing of this. A lovely cool breeze is coming in the window, mitigating the heat of the sun, while cotton-puff clouds float through an impossibly blue sky.

I’m sitting by the window while my dad cooks a spectacular fry- up brunch, letting my thoughts drift with the clouds. I have nothing with me but his old iPad and a cup of delicious locally roasted coffee from my friends at JenEric Coffee.

This is all a poetic way of saying that I’ve been thinking a lot about writing advice of late, and I figured I would share my thoughts with you.

(You want clumsy segues? I’m your gal!)

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On Release Day for My Latest Novel, I Ponder My Inspirations

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019 | Posted by David B. Coe

Time's Children DB Jackson-small Time's Demon new hires-small

Two weeks ago, John O’Neill was kind enough to publish in Black Gate my review of Guy Gavriel Kay’s newest novel A Brightness Long Ago. In the review, I mention that Guy Kay’s work has long been an influence and inspiration for my own. As John and I discussed what I might write for a post marking today’s release of my latest work, Time’s Demon, book two in my Islevale Cycle, he reflected on that line in my review and asked if I might want to put together a piece on the works that have shaped my writing and my career. This is why the man is a World Fantasy Award-winning editor.

Authors writing about our inspirations quickly find ourselves in tricky territory. The fact is that everything we read influences us, just as does every other thing we experience. Our creativity comes from a deeply personal place, and each of us is the sum of, among other things, our experiences, our emotions, the people with whom we interact, and, yes, the art to which we’re exposed. Anything I read can help to shape my work-in-progress – even the worst book ever penned might at least point me in the direction of things I don’t want to do with my next scene. So clearly, when we talk about our influences, we mean something deeper and more substantive.

Then there is the fact that many of our closest friends are also colleagues, and we don’t wish to offend with an act of omission. Again, all that I read influences me in some way, and I am constantly inspired by the talent, vision, and passion of writers I know and care about.

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Writing Women

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

A Woman

A Woman

Also a Woman

Also a Woman

Good afternoon, Readers!

Full disclosure: I am a woman, and so have a vested interest in how women are portrayed in all media, not even just the speculative. Since, however, the speculative is so able to better reflect the real world and imagine a better one, I’m going to talk about that for today.

I had been, at one point in my past, privy to a enormous internet argument about how terribly some male writers write women. The primary complaint of the defenders of bad writing of female characters was, and this is a literal quote, ” writing women is hard.”

Congratulations, random male internet commenter, you have accidentally his upon an immutable truth. Writing women is hard. Writing men is hard. Writing a compelling scene is hard. Writing plot is hard.

Writing is hard.

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The Strange Tale of the Fighting Model T Fords

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


While writing my next novel in the Western Desert of Egypt (something I’ve discussed in several previous posts), I came across an interesting local landmark. Behind my campsite in Bahariya Oasis stands a grim heap of black volcanic stone called “English Mountain”. When I asked around about this unusual name, the local Bedouin told me that it was once home to an English soldier who kept watch for attacking tribes back in the days when Egypt was still a colony. I was told the ruins of his house could still be seen.

So of course I went up to see them!

But not before taking Ahmed Fakhry’s excellent book Bahariya and Farafra out of my backpack to see what he had to say about this. Yes, I travel through the Sahara with a bag full of books.

Written in 1974 but mostly based on expeditions the archaeologist took in the 1930s, Fakhry’s book is full of useful information and folklore. In it he says that English Mountain is actually named after a New Zealander named Claud Williams, who commanded No. 5 Light Car Patrol during World War One. Williams, Fakhry says, kept a lonely vigil atop that mountain for hostile Senussi tribesmen.

And therein lies a tale.

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Let Me Outline It For You

Friday, March 29th, 2019 | Posted by Violette Malan

Block Writing the NovelTo outline or not to outline? Ah, the perennial question. The question that’s answered in every possible way by all writers’ guides. The kind of question that often comes up when a writer is being interviewed: are you an “outliner” or are you a “pantser,” as in, do you fly by the seat of your pants? Some writers swear by one, and some swear by the other.

Which basically means writers do a lot of swearing.

Pantsers like to grab the end of a thread they see trailing out a door and follow where it leads – with a bit of guidance here and tweaking there, sure, but basically letting the story evolve organically, on its own feet as it were.  This method has led to some of the best books ever, and when it works, it really works.

When it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’ve had people tell me that they’ve gone as far as a couple of hundred pages before deciding the idea wasn’t going anywhere, and setting it aside. It takes a brave writer to do that.

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Cheque Please

Friday, March 15th, 2019 | Posted by Violette Malan

Canadian FlagWe’ve got a odd thing here in Canada that I’m not certain exists anywhere else. Oh I’m sure that other provinces, states and countries have Arts Councils, but I’m not sure that any of them do what the Canada Council for the Arts does for writers. Specifically, they have a little program called Public Lending Rights.

For those of you who don’t already know about this, it’s money the government gives us writers (thank you Canadian tax-payers everywhere, including myself) to compensate authors for the royalties they miss from the use of library books.

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Exploring Bahariya Oasis, Egypt

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


A view of Bahariya Oasis from my camp on the outskirts of Biwati

When visiting Egypt, it’s hard to tear yourself away from the Nile Valley. After all, that’s where you’ll find the vast majority of temples and pyramids, as well as the lively city of Cairo, currently one of my favorite cities in the world.

On my previous trips to Egypt I’ve often looked longingly at the western horizon, wondering about the oases that are strung out across the desert far to the west of the river. Finally last month as part of researching my next novel, I got to visit one of them.

Bahariya Oasis is about 370 kilometers (230 miles) southwest of Egypt’s capital. The old caravan route (the one my characters have to take), was a waterless ten days on camel. I only had to endure a long ride on a cramped bus through a dreary landscape. This part of the Western Desert is not pretty. It’s flat, with few changes in terrain, and not even any real sand dunes to look at.

After this minimalist landscape, the road leads up a ridge of black volcanic stone and to an overlook above a wide valley. The entire valley is green with palm groves and cultivated land. The effect is startling, and must have been even more so for the travelers in the old caravans. The valley measures 94 kilometers (59 miles) long and 42 kilometers (26 miles) wide.

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Can You Write Several Books per Month? Maybe You’re Not Crazy

Tuesday, March 5th, 2019 | Posted by James Enge

Cristiane Serruya Plagiarism Scandal

As Sean McLachlan ably discussed here at Black Gate last week, there’s an evolving internet storm about a romance writer who discovered, to her surprise, that some of her novels “have plagiarism.” She says it happened without her knowledge; she was working with a ghost-writer on those, and she’s taken them all down. She is the object of much scorn on the internet today, and probably for some time. Indeed, in the future she may have to find a pseudonym under which to publish the fiction she does not write. (Click the image above for details.)

Attendant to that storm, though, is the issue of how much one person can reasonably be expected to write in a month. Some people say “several books” and other people say “are you crazy?” and then terrible things and animated GIFs start to happen.

As it happens, this is the sort of thing about which I have very little knowledge and lots of opinions so HERE IT ALL IS.

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In Defense of Escapism

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

In defense of Escapism

One of the many attractions of genre fiction is the ability to have deep, meaningful conversations with the world around us; where we’re headed and what it might mean, where we’ve been and how that affects us today, where we are and the struggles we face in the moment. It gives us a lens, via the imagination, through which we can tackle some of humanity’s greatest challenges and, perhaps, offer solutions.

Crucially, however, it is entertaining, delivering important messages or asking important questions along with epic battles, political intrigue, inter-personal drama, more battles and a touch of romance. With all the potential in genre fiction for tackling the difficulties of the human condition, it doesn’t come as a surprise that some in the field turn their noses up at stories that do not do so, the stories that are still horror, fantasy or science fiction but skirt the big issues in favor of something else: fun, entertainment, escapism.

We tend to devalue escapism for its own sake as being somehow lesser, or entirely unworthy.

This, I feel, is a mistake. Escapism has value in and of itself. That value might be different from the big-issue type, but it is not lesser by any means.

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In Defense of Professional Ghostwriting

Sunday, February 24th, 2019 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Well, the Internet just blew up again.

This time it’s because a romance writer has been caught plagiarizing dozens (and I do mean DOZENS) of other authors.

Last week, a fan alerted romance writer Courtney Milan that the book Royal Love by Brazilian author Cristiane Serruya included numerous passages lifted from Milan’s The Duchess War. Milan made side-by-side comparisons of the passages and called Serruya out on her blog.

Serruya denied any wrongdoing, blaming a ghostwriter she had hired on Fiverr, a freelance site for budget jobs. Twitter exploded, as Twitter does, and she quickly deleted her Twitter account, all other social media, and took down the electronic copies of her works. As of this writing, the print and audio editions were still available on Amazon.

For the latest developments, there’s #copypastecris on Twitter, and boy is it ugly.

At the time of writing, the list of plagiarized works has grown to 44 books, 3 articles, 3 websites, and 2 recipes, stealing work from 30 authors, including heavyweights such as Nora Roberts and Jamie Oliver. You can see a regularly updated list here.

I’m acquainted with Cristiane Serruya. She was part of the Kindle Scout program, having won an advance, 50% royalties, and publication for at least one of her works from Amazon’s imprint Kindle Press. Two of my books are also in the program. We chatted numerous times on the Kindle Scout Winners Facebook group and we even traded critiques. She read the first two books in my Masked Man of Cairo mystery series and I read Damaged Love, which turns out to contain plagiarized passages too. At the time I was surprised she would want me to be a beta reader on a romance novel, a genre she knew I didn’t read and knew nothing about. Now I know why.

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