I Need A Vacation – Or Is It A Holiday?

Friday, February 16th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

National LampoonI wonder if there’s still a distinction to be made between holidays and vacations?* Back before “holy day” became “holiday” was there even such a thing as a vacation? Or were holy days really enforced vacations, in the sense that for some of them at least no work was allowed? Would that make the Sabbath a vacation as well as a holy day? Hmmm.

I’m fairly certain that while the two words are now considered synonyms (at least in English) the concept of a vacation as a time of recreational activities is a relatively new one. That is, not just a cessation of work on the part of one’s self, one’s servants and even on occasion one’s animals, but the active pursuing of another activity altogether. Did the Romans go on vacation? Did travelling for a holiday start with the “grand tours” of the 18th century? Or with seaside bathing in the 19th?

Since seaside bathing was considered healthy, as was “taking the waters” in resorts like Bath in England, Lanjeron in Spain, and Baden-Baden in Germany was travel to these places a vacation?

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Write a Short Story a Week Like Ray Bradbury

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Once many years ago, Ray Bradbury decided the best way to become a good short story writer was to write a whole bunch of them. So he committed to writing a short story every week for a year. He also decided the only way to get published was to submit short stories, so he submitted a story once a week for a year too.

It’s a simple formula many beginning writers just don’t get — you got to put in the effort, and you have to send your stuff out there. As Bradbury explained in this speech, practice will help you, and it is impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row.

So let me introduce you to Write1Sub1, an online group where we encourage each other to write and submit a short story every week. They don’t have to be the same short story, because you probably want to let a story sit for a while before going back and editing it with a fresh set of eyes.

Many of us (including yours truly) are more novelists at heart, so if you don’t think you can face a weekly challenge, you can write and submit once a month. When I did this challenge back in 2014, I tried the weekly challenge. I burned out after four months, but got 16 stories written, more short stories than all previous years combined. Many got published in magazines and anthologies and the rest assembled into a collection I indie published. It really does work!

Check us out on our Facebook page. It costs nothing but your time, commitment, and perhaps your immortal soul. Keep on writing!

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Tell Me A Story

Monday, January 22nd, 2018 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

Tell Me a Story-smallMy resolution for 2018 was to write more.

(Me and almost every other writer on the planet. If there’s one thing writers fight doing, it is actually getting the words down. I don’t know why that is, although therapists make millions off the question.)

To that ends, our noble and fearless leader has allowed me a tiny corner here to once again regale (or torment, depending on how you feel about such things) you on what’s tickling my brain. In the past we’ve talked ancient myth, and I imagine we will be on the playground a bit.

But currently, I find most of my time these days absorbing different media. I don’t read as much as I would like (although I could read 18 hours a day and I would say the same thing), but the Mom Life means I spend a fair bit of time listening.

I’m not alone in that. The Audio Publishers Association reported last year that they’d seen three years straight of growth in sales above 30%. Audible doesn’t release membership numbers but did report in 2016 that they’d logged over 1.6 BILLION listening hours in the previous year.

It’s the age of the audiobook. Our ubiquitous phones mean that listening is easy and portable, and interfacing between devices means that it is almost seamless. I can pick up my phone, read a book for ten minutes while dinner is cooking, then switch over to the audiobook and let the narrator read the next chapter while I do the dishes, then switch back to the printed format to read in bed. And I’ll never lose my place.

For myself, audiobooks and podcasts fill a valuable function. I spend a lot of time in fairly mindless, rote tasks that are, for lack of a better word, really boring. I manage a household of two elementary kids, a husband with demanding work hours, two cats, and a dog. The laundry alone is a job, and let’s not talk about how many hours I spend in the car.

So I turned to audiobooks at first to confront boredom. Laundry is much more likely to be folded if someone will tell me a story while I do it. But I quickly fell in love with them as a form of art all their own. The performance of an audiobook can make or break a story. Bad readers can butcher even Shakespeare. An excellent reader can take flat, cliched dialogue and make it lively.

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It’s A Tragedy

Friday, January 19th, 2018 | Posted by Violette Malan

AristotleThere was a time when genre in fiction writing wasn’t quite the crowded mishmash of categories and sub-categories, and sub-sub-categories that we’re faced with now, which in any case double in number with the use of the prefix “YA.” There are so many that sometimes it gets difficult to decide which one you’re writing – or reading for that matter.

But there does seem to be a traditional genre that really doesn’t exist anymore: the tragedy. We’ve got most of the others, comedy, satire, the epic, we even have pastoral in the form of the popular song. It’s tragedy that we’re missing.

And I don’t think tragedy has disappeared because it’s really a dramatic genre. We not only still have drama in the traditional sense, but we also have modern versions of same in films and TV. Playwriting is really just an ancient form of scriptwriting.

Is it the definition?

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Results of a Writing Retreat in Cairo

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Obligatory pyramid shot

Hello, Black Gaters! I’m back after a month’s silence, and my silence on here usually means I’m drunk I’ve gone off somewhere. This time I spent three weeks in Cairo on my second writing retreat of the year.

During my previous Cairo retreat back in February, I started The Case of the Purloined Pyramid, the first in my neo-pulp detective series The Masked Man of Cairo. It’s set in Cairo in 1919, with the hero trying to solve a murder while the city is convulsed with its first major independence demonstrations. That book recently won the Kindle Scout program and is being published by Kindle Press on January 9. This time around I worked on the next in the series, The Case of the Shifting Sarcophagus.

So what does a wandering writer do when he goes to Cairo to write a novel? Try desperately hard not to let his research take too much time away from his writing!

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China’s Silicon Valley, but With More Tea: Derek Visits Hangzhou

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Derek Visits Hangzhou-small

As a writer, I don’t usually suffer from imposter syndrome, but some wonderful moments can appear from nowhere and blindside me. My latest such moment came via The Future Affairs Administration, a new online Chinese SF magazine (imagine a Chinese Lightspeed or Clarkesworld).

FAA partnered with Ant Financial to fly 9 scifi writers into Hangzhou to learn about Ant Financial’s high-tech financial operations and some of what they’re dreaming about for the future, in the hopes that we writers would each write a scifi story inspired by what we saw. It was pretty cool.

Six of the writers were from the west: Australia’s Samantha Murray, the UK’s Ian MacLeod, USA’s Lawrence M. Schoen, Carolyn Ives Gilman, and Stephany Quiouyi Lu, and me from Canada. Three of the writers were from China: Stanley Chan (whom I met in Chengdu a couple of weeks earlier), Jiang Bo, and Qi Ge.

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There’s No Place Like Home

Friday, December 22nd, 2017 | Posted by Violette Malan

Peake gormen 1We’re always hearing about using setting as a character , and there’s no doubt that some stories simply can’t be told if they were set somewhere other than the place they’re in. Like, say, the wuthering heights in Wuthering Heights. You know, places that aren’t just somewhere for the characters to be (everyone has to be somewhere) but that in some way inform the whole story, and perhaps the characters as well.

I’m not here today to talk about setting in general, however. No Middle Earth, no Barsoom. No landscapes, thank you. At the moment I’m far more interested in human-made structures: people’s homes, public buildings, etc.

I’m tempted to suggest that buildings first gained their literary eminence in the gothic novels of the 18th century.  Works like  Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otronto, and Anne Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho relied so much on their buildings – which gave the novels their sense of place and situation – that we’d have to ask ourselves whether the gothic would even be possible without the dark creaky old house/monastery/castle? Sure, we’ve also got the natural sublime, the mountain crags, the fogs and the mists, but they’re just the background for the titular buildings.

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Off on Another Writing Retreat in Cairo

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


The title of this post is a not-so-clever way to say I’m taking the month of December off from blogging. Back in February, I spent a few weeks in Egypt writing my neo-pulp detective novel The Case of the Purloined Pyramid, which recently won the Kindle Scout contest. It’s coming out soon and I’m using part of my advance to head on back to Cairo to write the next one, The Case of the Shifting Sarcophagus.

I’ll be seeing friends, hopefully making new ones, helping a colleague with his fascinating book proposal, and visiting some sights. Mostly I’ll be wandering around the old medieval neighborhood, where one of my heroes has his antiquities shop. Nothing like walking the actual streets to get the old brain pan bubbling!

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Party Of The First Part

Friday, November 24th, 2017 | Posted by Violette Malan

3 musketeers ballEveryone likes a party. Many of us even like to plan parties, especially writers (who, if they didn’t like process, wouldn’t be writers.) But do we like to write about them? Maybe not so much

Of course there are some memorable parties to be found in Fantasy and SF literature. The two that immediately come to mind are the birthday party that opens LOTR, and the high tea that opens The Hobbit. Is it significant that both of these involve not only the same author, but the same character?  I think so. I also think it’s significant that Bilbo doesn’t plan the party in The Hobbit (it’s Gandalf’s do), but he does plan the one in LOTR. Seems like it might take a little age and experience to organize a big affair.

MatrixFor the most part parties in literature seem to be limited to pre-WWII novels where omniscient narrators can give us interesting overviews, occasionally zooming in to present important detail. Look at Jane Austen: with or without zombies these people spend a lot of time at balls, dances, tea parties, supper parties and the like. Otherwise, how would the characters, particularly the women, meet one another? Even Cinderella meets the prince at a ball.

A party is also a great way to allow your characters to interact in public, and reveal all kinds of details about themselves that you might otherwise have to take chapters to show. Still, unless you are using an omniscient narrator, a party scene can be deadly both to read and to write. Think of the last big party you attended. If the narrative of the story was told from your point of view only, the reader would get a very limited understanding of what happened.

Do parties have any other narrative use? Do they forward the plot? I’d say they do, but only by what we’ve seen already: introducing characters to the reader and allowing characters to meet each other. By the way, however planned they might be, I don’t think we can include ceremonies in our definition of parties. Maybe the reception, for example, but not the wedding itself.

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Hit That Word Count! Reading The Fiction Factory by William Wallace Cook

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


Street & Smith was one of the many publishers Cook worked for.
This is their book department in 1906, at the height of Cook’s career.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been studying the careers of hyperprolific authors. No study of the field would be complete without looking at the life of William Wallace Cook. Around the turn of the last century his work was everywhere — as serialized novels in newspapers, as dime novels, and later in hardback books. We wrote everything from boy’s fiction to romance to mystery to science fiction.

His two most enduring books, however, and really the only two that are still read today, are both nonfiction. The first is Plotto, a plot outline device that allows you to link up various plot elements to create a virtually infinite variety of stories. It’s on my shelf but I have yet to try it. The other is The Fiction Factory, in which he describes his early years breaking into the writing business in the 1890s and his climb to steady success in the early years of the 20th century. Despite having been written more than a hundred years ago it remains useful and inspiring reading for any aspiring or professional author.

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