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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The Beautiful and the Repellent: An Interview with Charles A. Gramlich

Monday, January 21st, 2019 | Posted by SELindberg


It is not intuitive to seek beauty in art deemed grotesque, but most authors who produce horror/fantasy actually are usually (a) serious about their craft, and (b) driven by strange muses. Weird fiction masters (Robert E. Howard, Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft…) held serious beliefs that their “horror” was actually beautiful. This interview series engages contemporary authors & artists on the theme of “Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction.” Previously we cornered weird fantasy authors like John FultzJaneen WebbAliya WhiteleyRichard Lee ByersSebastian Jones, and Darrell Schweitzer.

Charles Gramlich grew up on a farm in Arkansas but moved to the New Orleans area in 1986 to teach psychology at Xavier University. His degree is in Experimental Psychology with a specialization in Physiological Psychology; Charles served as chair of the department several times between 1988 and 2002. He was instrumental in developing the Psychology Pre-medical program for the department. He’s since published eight novels, three nonfiction books, five collections of short stories, and a chapbook of vampire haiku. Charles likes to write in many different genres but all of his fiction work is known for its intense action and strong visuals. Check out his Razored Zen blog and Amazon page.

Previous interviews are revealing: in 2007 Shauna Roberts interviewed Gramlich about his Talera Cycle (also included in Write with Fire) and in 2014 Prashant C. Trikannad’s interview focused on his western Killing Trail. This round we focus on his poetic take on pulp adventure. In addition to publishing many short stories that fit the bill, he published an essay in Weird Fiction Review #7 called “The Beautiful and the Repellent: The Erotic Allure of Death and the Other in the Writers of Weird Tales” (Fall 2016 edition).

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Cheat Endings As Bad As Deus Ex Machina

Thursday, November 29th, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

Deus... Ex Machina...!

We still make like confused crusaders and cry “Deus Ex!” because it’s a cheat ending

Deus Ex Machina endings are so despised that people still use the Roman term from thousands of years ago, itself a translation from the older Greek, “God Out of the Machine”.

For those who’ve just tuned in to plot geekery and tropes: Imagine a Greek play, everybody in masks under a Mediterranean blue sky. The Furies are rejoicing, the hero is trapped by his enemies, the dilemmas are unsolvable and — WHOOSH! — a crane or a trapdoor-elevator — yes, a machine — literally plonks Apollo onto the stage and He — boringly — fixes everything.

These days, the Deus Ex Machin need not be a god — it can be the king, an airstrike, friendly aliens, whatever. We still make like confused crusaders and cry “Deus Ex!” because it’s a cheat ending: unearned victory or salvation is boring, and dodges the questions raised by the story.

However, Deus Ex Machina is not the only cheat ending. It has mutant cousins that often get a free pass because they ramp up the drama. Even so, they suck the life from stories by making them less rich.

Let’s call the first, “Boss out of the Box” and take Wonder Woman as an example (not because it’s a bad movie, but because we’ve all watched it). Spoilers after the cut.

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