Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Pro Tip From Laura Anne Gilman

Sunday, July 5th, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Laura Anne Gilman-smallOccasionally, I’ll be hosting the wit and wisdom of professionals across the Spec Fic field. I’ve compiled a list of some of the most frequently asked questions posed by new authors, and provided that list to some of the pros. They’re invited to pick one and respond to it.

This week, Laura Anne Gilman — a Nebula nominated author, prolific novelist, former NYC editor, and author of the non-fiction book Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers — shares her advice on:

What do you do to get unstuck and solve writer’s block?

Someone asked me a similar question recently — I’d been talking about how I get up every morning, and from 7am to around noon, I focus on the work in progress, usually with a word goal in mind, and they asked “but what if the words don’t come? What do you do then?”

And my answer was that the words always come. The trick is, they’re not always the right words, or the best words. And there may not be as many words as I’d like. That’s okay. So long as I’ve shoved the scene forward, however ugly the shove, I can go back and fix it later. And — probably not surprisingly — once I’ve gotten past that first ugly push, with permission to suck… the right words usually show up. Being there is 70% of the gig. The other 30% is staying there.

Laura Anne Gilman is the Nebula award-nominated author of more than 20 published novels, including the forthcoming Silver on the Road, Book 1 of The Devil’s West (October 2015). Ms. Gilman also writes mysteries under the name L.A. Kornetsky.

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When is Reality Too Real? Or, Still Stuck in the Woods

Friday, July 3rd, 2015 | Posted by Violette Malan

Austen PrideLast time I was talking about those real life events and happenings that never seem to occur on TV, or in books. If you have a look, the comments are well worth reading, and not only because most everyone agrees with me (and William Goldman) on the whys and wherefores of this phenomenon. There were also many examples given of fantasy characters pooping, though not necessarily in the woods.

There did seem to be a consensus that we were in agreement with Goldman, that too much reality could slow things down, not only in TV and movies, but in the written narrative as well. If we do include what one commentator called “the earthier things” they’re usually plot or story related. Or, as another put it, “if it doesn’t propel the plot (not the plop!) strike it.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

The subject also sparked a lengthy comment stream on Facebook, thanks to James Enge sharing a link to my original post. One woman was prompted to point out that female characters in fiction don’t menstruate – in the same sense, that is, that they don’t poop, which is to say, we don’t talk about it. As a woman, it took me a surprisingly long time to become aware of this particular example of the phenomenon (or perhaps not, considering the dearth of female protagonists until fairly recently). It’s particularly odd, when you think about it, since so many of us link the appearance of psychic abilities in our characters with the onset of puberty.

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: What Should You Put In a Cover Letter?

Sunday, June 28th, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Writing a fantasy novelOver on Facebook, where I posted a link to last week’s article, “Ignore the Market Guidelines at Your Peril – How (Not) to Build a Career” – a writer asked in response:

So. What SHOULD I put in my cover letter? Don’t really know. I don’t think I’ve ever included a cover letter with a short story submission, because, well, I don’t know.

That’s an excellent question. Here are the answers I’ve gathered from reading dozens of market guidelines, listening to editors talk at cons, and gauging my response to cover letters I’ve received.

1. What I heard over and over again at the recent Nebula weekend is that any writer who mentions having been nominated for or won any writing awards, ever, immediately bypasses the slush pile. It doesn’t matter how long ago it was, or, in most cases, what award it was. (With the exception of awards made up by a small writers workshop who then hands them out to each other so they can say they’re all award-winners.) The nomination or win for a significant writing award will generally get your manuscript bumped to the top of the To Be Read pile.

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Some Writing Advice That’s Mostly Useless (And Why)

Friday, June 26th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

The Sword is Mightier-small

“Brilliant, an excuse to play online warrior all day!” — NOT

I’ve been spending time on writing forums — a substitute for actual work while convalescing from an operation  – and… well, I’ve noticed embedded in the culture are several pieces of advice that aren’t very useful for novice writers.

Rather than stringing them out into a series, I’m going to blast through them here:

“Work on Your Motivation” — Mostly Useless

Listen. I had a gig writing novels tieing into video games.

Great games. Great gig. But rather than going, “Brilliant, an excuse to play online warrior all day!“, I had a go at them, then handed each off to my son for a thorough exploration (a chore he greatly enjoyed, though being something of a sniper, he got regularly kicked from servers).

I like video games — I’m playing through Mass Effect at the moment — but I like writing better.

See where I’m going with this?

Nobody ever posts online, “How do I motivate myself to complete Halo 3?”

Video games are automatically fun out-of-the-box, because the challenge is the game itself, not the business of getting around inside the virtual world; most games even have similar key bindings (e.g. awsd). So if writing is not as much fun as gaming, then it’s probably because you’re still struggling with the basics of writing rather than wrestling with storytelling.

Therefore  if motivation is a problem for you, work on your craft. Success breeds success.

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Dave Gross on Pitching and Pinching

Sunday, June 21st, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Pathfinder Tales Lord of Runes-smallYou know, of course, we love us some Pathfinder (the role playing game, not the Viking-American Indian movie) here at Black Gate. And I don’t just say that because Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones has written two novels (with a third coming in October) for their excellent fiction line, Pathfinder Tales.

There have been 30 novels in the series so far. The first (Prince of Wolves), the most recent (The Lord of Runes) and three in between (Master of Devils, Queen of Thorns, King of Chaos) have come from the prolific pen of Dave Gross.

With his tales of half-elven Pathfinder Varian Jeggare and his devil-blooded bodyguard Radovan, Gross has successfully blended the fantasy and mystery genres. Dave has taken some time out of his busy schedule to share some thoughts. Of course, I love the ‘Holmes and Watson’ references.

You can find more info on the Pathfinder Tales line here, including free web fiction. And here’s a link to some Black Gate coverage of the line, including The Lord of Runes. Check out the fine fantasy writing that’s taking place in Pathfinder’s world of Golarion. Take it away, Dave…

As a writer, I hate throwing what Hollywood calls elevator pitches — you know, those snappy “X meets Y” descriptions of a screenplay. We do the same thing in publishing, often still referencing movies rather than books. “It’s Star Wars meets Sixteen Candles,” or “Ocean’s Eleven meets Ghostbusters,” or “Casablanca with orcs as the Nazis.”

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Things Your Writing Teacher Never Told You: Ignore the Market Guidelines at Your Peril – How (Not) to Build a Career

Sunday, June 21st, 2015 | Posted by Tina Jens

Book of Dead Things edited by Tina Jens and Eric Cherry-smallI was the editor of a small press that published genre anthologies and short story collections for about 13 years, and I’ve been writing, submitting, and selling my fiction for about 25 years. So, I’ve been on both sides of the editorial desk, at least in a small way. I now teach fantasy fiction writing at Columbia College — Chicago.

One of the questions that comes up every semester is, “What should I put in my cover letter?” Students, and many new writers, are afraid of cover letters.

What they don’t know is, that many editors are afraid of cover letters, too.

Way too many writers torpedo their chances at making a sale by saying ridiculous things in their cover letters – things so out of bounds that the editor has no choice but to reject the story without even reading it, or risk losing all self-respect if they don’t. Getting ready in the morning is hard enough without having to avoid meeting your own eyes in the mirror.

The small press that I ran was tied to Twilight Tales: a weekly reading series in Chicago. We also ran the reading track or open mics at many local and national genre conventions, and published national and international authors monthly on our website. The point of that was to make it possible for authors out of Chicago to participate in a Twilight Tales event. To submit to our anthologies, you had to have taken part in at least one of those activities. In the 17 years that the show ran, through those combined projects, we estimated that we dealt with more than 1,000 authors, from pretty close to all 50 states, seven countries, and across the full spectrum of genres.

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On Becoming a Full-Time Writer

Saturday, June 20th, 2015 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

23121915In five days, on Thursday, June 25th, I’m very happy to be making a life transition. I’m taking a 2-year leave from my job to spend more time with my son. And while he’s in school, I’m going to write. I know more than a few people who have become full-time writers. For some it has worked. So I did a lot of thinking about how to make this work for me, and also why now is the right time.

Stage of Life

I turned 44 a few months ago. My son is 10 years old now. He loves being with me and vice versa. That may not be the case in a few years, so I’ve now got the next three summers to skip rocks with him, go camping yard-saling, bike-riding, tree climbing, fort-building ad exhaustium. During the school year, I’ll pick him up every day after school to go sledding or swimming or play MTG or video games or do homework or go to museums or science centers whatever is right. That’s a good plan for where I am in life.

And there’s the writing. I’ve been dreaming of being a writer since I was ten. When I was twenty-five, I dreamed of being a best-selling author by the time I was twenty-eight. Since that super-realistic dream, I’ve mused about different ways to write full-time, including retiring early. But really my choice is doing this while I’m young or doing this much later.

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Is the Grail a Force For Evil? Understanding Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page


What better quest story to unpick than this classic Indy adventure?

The Holy Grail – purportedly the last cup that Christ drank from, echo of the zombie-making Cauldron of Rebirth – is it actually a force for evil?

Until the 20th century, its main fictional outing was in the King Arthur cycle when its effect on the Round Table is akin to introducing the knights to crack-cocaine: the fellowship scatters, those who achieve the quest – the best knights – go straight to Heaven (read, die), Lancelot gets badly injured, and Britain ends up littered with the graves of knights who would be more useful protecting the realm from the King’s enemies.

Then we come to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

I’m looking at Pulp and Pulp-inspired stores because I’m working on a retro-Space Opera, provisional title “The Eternal Dome of the Unknowable” (Sarah, this is ALL your fault). What better quest story to unpack than this classic Indy adventure?

What I found is rather odd.

Here’s the plot — I’ve added story questions in the form Question Answer But Now

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Your Greatest Fan

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015 | Posted by Sean Stiennon

John C. WrightJohn C. Wright, the author of the Children of Chaos and Count to Eschaton series (among others), recently put up a post on his blog which contains the most sublime encouragement I’ve ever seen offered from one writer to another. I’ll admit that I felt a mist of manly tears come to my eyes while I read through his words.

If you’ve ever written, or considered writing, you owe it to yourself to read his post: “The Brazen Author of the Book of Gold.

Wright includes some musings on the Muse at the end, but the beating heart of the post is the offset section.

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The Media Expansion of a Sword & Sorcery World

Monday, June 15th, 2015 | Posted by Christopher Kastensmidt

The Elephant and Macaw Banner The Fortuitous Meeting-smallWhen Douglas Cohen pulled “The Fortuitous Meeting of Gerard van Oost and Oludara” from the Realms of Fantasy slush pile, he wrote on his blog: “I expect Christopher Kastensmidt’s dynamic S&S duo of Gerard van Oost and Oludara to do wonderful things in the future.” So I suppose I can blame everything that followed on him — I would never contradict Doug, after all.

In 2011, the novelette was a finalist for the Nebula Award, perhaps the first S&S story since Fritz Leiber´s “Ill Met in Lankhmar” in 1970 to receive that honor (at least that I’ve found — Saladin Ahmed´s Throne of the Crescent Moon made the list a year later). The story also tied for the Realms of Fantasy Story of the Year Award, as chosen by readers.

When RoF closed, the second novelette in The Elephant and Macaw Banner universe (as it came to be known), was accepted at a different magazine, where it awaited publication for four years, greatly delaying the series´ progress in the U.S.

In Brazil, however, things have taken a different path. In 2010, Roberto de Sousa Causo, one of Brazil´s most well-known speculative fiction editors and authors, asked to see the story. The news that RoF had published a Brazil-inspired S&S novelette had aroused his curiosity. The day after I sent it to him, he asked if he could publish it in Portuguese.

The story went to Devir Livraria, the Brazilian distributor of an envious set of licenses: Dungeons & Dragons, GURPS, World of Darkness, Magic: The Gathering, board games, graphic novels and much more. It turned out to be a great fit for the fictional universe I would build.

From 2010 to 2012, Devir published the first three novelettes in pocket book format.

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