Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Pro-Tips From Cat Rambo

Sunday, October 4th, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Cat RamboAhead of her trip to the Midwest for writerly things, this Nebula and World Fantasy awards nominee offers up two Pro-Tips for the blog this week. Chicagoans will have the chance to hear Cat Rambo read from her debut fantasy novel, Beasts of Tabat, at Gumbo Fiction Salon on Wed. Oct. 7th.

I have trouble finding the right starting point for my story. Got any suggestions?

Start writing in the middle of it and worry about the beginning later. Often the beginning is something I don’t finalize till the very last end of the draft, and often looking at how the story ends will provide me with ideas for an ending that returns in some way to a moment, location, theme, or other structure from the beginning and helps create a sense of closure. At the end of a story, you need to hear the click of its door swinging shut, and part of creating that is opening the door into it in the right way.

What’s one thing I can do to improve my writing?

Read it out loud. This is perhaps the single best piece of advice I can give any writer other than get your butt in the chair and start writing. Reading out loud will help you create something that sounds good in a reader’s head, as well as to catch all sorts of errors, typos, and ungraceful things.

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Armored Rampage!

Friday, October 2nd, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

SVT 256

“Write what you know”, they said.

Somebody yells, “Form a wedge! Form a wedge!”

This is my last chance to experience something I’ve craved since reading Ronald Welch’s Sun of York back when I was twelve. I love my plate armor, but I’m now in my forties, a dad, and my days of hitting the road with my armor are numbered. (“Write what you know”, they said. So I had set out to know what I wanted to write about.)

“Let me go first!”

I take my place at the front of the knot of my friends in armor from different periods. Everybody jostles around and, without the benefit of NCOs, forms a rough triangle with me at the point.

Ahead, the Viking ranks stiffen, dress their shields. Locals mostly, and many of them students, so there’s a lot of quilted armor and even some linen shirts.

I grin into my visor. We’re older, heavier in build. One-to-one we outweigh them and we’ve concentrated our weight into a human battering ram…

…and yes, it’s a small multi-period medieval faire at St Andrews, Scotland. The weapons aren’t sharp. It’s not real.

But read on, because the experience was illuminating…

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Choosing Your Narrative Point of View

Sunday, September 27th, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Part 1 in a Series: A Few Questions to Get You Started

Princess With SwordWhen you’re trying to choose which point of view (POV) to write your short story from, you need to ask yourself several questions. It’s okay if you don’t know the answers to all these questions immediately.

The point of these questions is to get you thinking about these things and help you figure some of the answers out. (Many of these questions are equally relevant for novel writing.)

1. Whose Story is It?

Who is your lead character? (Also known as the protagonist or hero.)

This is not necessarily an easy question. The most obvious choice may not be the best one. Sometimes a more interesting story comes out of choosing a character who is not heroic or powerful in traditional ways. We’ve seen many a knight in shining armor kill a pesky dragon. But what if all the knights are away, and the princess, or her handmaiden, has to tackle the problem?

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Slushpile Blues

Saturday, September 26th, 2015 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

Heroic Fantasy Quarterly 24I’m going to start this by getting on my high horse for a second.

When we started Heroic Fantasy Quarterly back in ’09 we had several goals; one of them was to bring a little class back into the public face of editing. We had seen one too many editor panels at conventions that turned into sad little pity parties. We vowed (and at HFQ when we vow something, blood oaths are involved) that we would not do that.  Further, we would blood-eagle ourselves before we bitched, pissed or moaned about having to read slush.

In fact, from day one, we don’t even call it reading “slush”, we call it reading submissions. “Slush” is a fundamentally derogatory term. And I want everyone to know that if you see me on a panel and someone else is going on about the slush pile, I’ve got a devil on my shoulder telling me to bust their stupid face into next week. And all the angel on my other shoulder is telling me is just not to use a closed fist to do it.

With all that out of the way, I will be using the term “slush” and “slushpile” in the following article, as distasteful as it is for me to do so.

I ran into this article at New Republic: “Cheat! It’s the Only Way to Get Published.” The writer was an intern at a literary magazine and, aside from the usual denigration of, and projection onto, the writers on the slushpile, the important part is this.

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Feeling Cozy?

Friday, September 25th, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Macleod VaultMost of you already know that I’m a big fan of mystery fiction. I’ve been reading all kinds of it for almost as long as I’ve been reading Fantasy and SF, starting with Agatha Christie’s Mystery on the Blue Train when I was fourteen. For that matter, I was the co-founder of the Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime Festival, and many of my friends are crime writers.

I’ve often talked about crossovers, and mixed genre novels, but I don’t think we have anything in our world that’s the equivalent of the cozy mystery. Read on, and let me know what you think.

The easiest way to describe cozies is to say they’re like Agatha Christie mysteries. Though she wasn’t deliberately trying to write cozies – there being no such thing at the time – Christie established many of the standard conventions used by the cozy mystery today. See if any of this sounds familiar to you:

There will be a murder, which often takes place “off stage” and of which no graphic or gory details are given.

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How One Award-Winning Author Thinks About Awards

Thursday, September 24th, 2015 | Posted by Sarah Avery

Sarah L. Avery (photo by Theodora Goss)

Sarah L. Avery (photo by Theodora Goss)

A funny thing happened on my way to lifelong obscurity. I accidentally won a book award.

The award didn’t quite fall out of the sky and land on my head. After all, I had put the best I had to give, day after day, for many years, into the book’s drafts. Then I’d sent it to the most exacting readers I knew, and put the absolute best I had to give into revising it. Tales from Rugosa Coven was worthy. I had just stopped expecting anyone who didn’t already know me to notice.

And that was all right. I had other projects in process, and I when I sat down to work at them, I put the best I had to give into them, too. It’s joyful work. Universe willing, I’ll get to do it for the rest of my life.

Well, someone noticed. When the Mythopoeic Society shortlisted me for their award, it was such good news I was sure it had to be an error. The award may not be widely known in mainstream literary circles, but in the world of fantasy literature, it’s a big deal. I traveled to Mythcon to meet my unexpected readers, who were excited to see me. People who’d never met me had actually read my book and wanted to talk about it. I’m not being facetious when I say it was an utterly disorienting experience. The strength of the rest of the shortlist was such that, every time I sat down to write acceptance remarks just in case I won, I found myself drafting congratulatory emails and rehearsing what I’d say to my hotel roommate, a fellow nominee. If she hadn’t insisted that I must at least prepare a few notes, I have no idea what I’d have said at the podium when my hosts put the Aslan in my hand.

Even now, a month later, it’s hard to believe it really happened. Now I know what trophies are for. They’re how dark horse candidates who win things confirm for themselves that it wasn’t all a dream.

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Multiple Passes: A Post About Editing

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Aaron Starr

Playing it where it lies is sometimes not so simple: an editing allegory

Playing it where it lies is sometimes not so simple: an editing allegory

The Black Gate executive golf course was built on the highest volcano in Scotland, and, between the snow and the lava, I would have been hard pressed to make par. Had I been actually playing, the round of golf would have taken far longer, and, looking at the rumbling caldera to one side, I wasn’t certain we could spare the time. John O’Neill, however, was having the sort of game that allowed the group to clip along at an unprecedented pace.

Being the cart driver, I listened to him chatting on a phone to this or that business associate as we navigated the narrow tracks between holes. But, as the sixteenth hole approached, he had not gotten another call, and I took my chance.

“I was thinking about a new blog post, and wanted your opinion, sir,” I ventured. Mr. O’Neill , startled from his reverie, grunted and looked over at me.his eyes opening into narrow slits.

“Are you still blogging, Starr?” he asked.

“Uh, yes, sir,” I replied. “I was thinking about the topic of editing, actually, and –”

“Editing?” he asked, his incredulity awakening him fully, and he fixed me with an icy stare. “Why can’t you write anything exciting? Like something about aliens?”

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Seven Common Approaches to Stories That Use Mythology, Fairy Tales & Other Established Source Material

Sunday, September 20th, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

writing myth-smallThis week in both my fantasy writing classes, I talked to the students about some common approaches to writing stories that incorporate characters or plots from world religions and mythologies or public domain stories and characters. I’ve identified seven distinct techniques.

1. Old Tale – New Audience

A simple re-telling of the original story or myth is perfectly fine – if you’re dealing with a story that is relatively unknown to an American English-speaking audience. A simple retelling of Dracula won’t work; we know all about this Romanian vampire. But a retelling of the doomed love of the Shinto god and goddess Izanami- and Izanagi-no-Mikoto would be fine, as most Americans don’t know that mythology (though, through anime and manga, that is changing).

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A Deal You Can Refuse, But Shouldn’t

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015 | Posted by Aaron Starr

Black Gate HQ in downtown Chicago

Black Gate‘s Manhattan offices

There were seven hundred and seven stairs leading to John O’Neill’s desk within the Black Gate publishing complex, twelve more than last time, and I was exhausted when I reached the top. There, I waited, watching with trepidation as he finished reading a sheaf of papers, each heavily marked with the red pencil in his white-knuckled fist. His youth of back-alley boxing had left his hands suited to little more than holding an editor’s pencil, and this he wielded furiously, gold rings glinting in the dim light. From behind his massive chair the bodyguard, Tolstoy, glowered silently. Finally, the publishing magnate looked up at me and scowled.

“Starr,” he muttered, running a finger down a printed agenda on his desk. “Something about a blog post.”

“Yes, sir,” I stammered, holding out the two flimsy pages in my hand. Sweat had made the paper soft and slightly rumpled, and he considered them with distaste before taking them. His eyes flicked down the length of the copy before he tossed them down on his desk.

“Rubbish,” he declared.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Pro-Tips From Paul Dale Anderson, Installment #2

Sunday, September 13th, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Paul Dale Anderson (photo by Tim Hatch)

Paul Dale Anderson (photo by Tim Hatch)

For our Pro Tip this week, we’ve got the second of what will be several installments from the prolific and generous Paul Dale Anderson, who answered all the questions on our list.

Chicagoans will have a chance to hear the Rockford native this Wednesday, when he’s the featured reader at the Gumbo Fiction Salon reading series. (Details on the event are at the end of the article.)

Paul has written across a variety of media and genres for more than twenty years and all across the spectrum of commercial fiction, including romance, westerns, science fiction, erotica, and especially horror. He’s written a huge amount of non-fiction for television, radio, newspapers, and academic journals, along with poetry and book reviews.

His latest novels are Darkness (2AM Publications, 2015), Abandoned (Eldritch Press, 2015), and Axes to Grind (Crossroad Press, 2015). He has new short stories coming out this fall at The Horror Zine magazine, Weirdbook 31, and Pulp Adventures 18.

To Outline or Not to Outline – What Works For You?

I outline only after the work is complete in manuscript. I let my characters tell their own story and each work writes itself. Then I write an outline, synopsis, elevator speech, and what I want to see as jacket copy. If I try to do that first, the story loses momentum. I put all of my creative energy into the story. Everything else is foo-foo.

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