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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The Evolution of Process — A Writerly Tale

Thursday, September 28th, 2017 | Posted by Julie Czerneda

A Julie as Young Writer-small

The young author with her first electric typewriter!

This guest post by Julie Czerneda is part of the #againstthedark blog tour. Enter a comment below to be entered to win her latest book in hardcover, To Guard Against the Dark, plus a mass market of The Gulf of Time and Stars (US and Canada entries only, please). To enter the tour-wide giveaway of the entire nine-book series, click here before October 16th at 5pm EST.

Once upon a time, there was an unpublished, (and never-thinking-to-be-published) writer named Julie, who would scribble her stories on paper (which she scrunched up to make taller stacks that whispered and rustled in a lovely, ever-so-literary way), when not typing with two fingers on the ancient and indestructible Underwood typewriter her mother gave her. (Then, yes, would scrunch up the paper to make taller stacks.) Eventually, Julie’s stacks burst from her desk drawer. Her mother found her a used portable electric typewriter and filing cabinet, suggesting she stop scrunching and write.

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Making it on the American Grub Street: Hired Pens, Professional Writers in America’s Golden Age of Print

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

0821412043Last month I posted here about Researching the Habits of Highly Prolific Authors for a book I’m working on. Black Gate reader John Hocking kindly suggested in the comments section that I read Hired Pens: Professional Writers in America’s Golden Age of Print, by Ronald Weber. I took him up on his advice and I’m sure glad I did.

This book looks at the careers of writing and editing from the nation’s earliest days until the end of World War Two. Weber shows us a parade of successful writers and editors — many well-known to this day, many more now forgotten — who found success in the ever-changing market for American popular periodicals.

Until the middle of the 19th century, American writers were hampered by the lack of international copyright laws. Newspaper and magazine editors filched English publications for free and saw no reason to pay homegrown talent. As the population grew and both American and British writers managed to get their governments to set up legal barriers to such theft, the market for American writing blossomed.

These writers certainly didn’t waste their time moaning about their lack of inspiration and hoping the muse would visit them. As prolific and successful Western writer Zane Grey said in a letter to a friend:

This morning I had no desire to write, no call, no inspiration, no confidence, no joy. I had to force myself. But when I mastered the vacillation and dread, and had done a day’s work — what a change of feelings. I had a rush of sweet sensations.

This is a common thread throughout the book. In example after example, we are shown that writer’s block is a myth and that writers should not — indeed, must not — sit around all day twiddling their thumbs. These writers worked hard.

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Zombies Need Brains Needs You

Friday, September 15th, 2017 | Posted by Violette Malan

ZNB RazorsThose who know me, or who have read some of my previous posts on the subject, know that I’m a big fan of anthologies, particularly those featuring original stories. For my general remarks on the subject, you can look here. I’ve mentioned that the anthology is a wonderful thing for readers, who can encounter authors new to them, sample the work of people they’re not familiar with, and, in the case of the themed anthology, explore an idea that interests them.

The original anthology can also be a god-send for writers – in part because it’s an easy way for new readers to learn about us, and find out whether they like our style. But it’s also the all-important entry-level step for a lot of new and previously unpublished authors, particularly when the anthology, like the ones Zombies Need Brains publish, is recognized as a qualifying market by SFWA.

But even established writers benefit from anthologies. You get to explore an area or a theme that interests you, but that you don’t have a novel-length idea for. You get to write a short adventure for established characters – again, something cool that just isn’t novel-length. You can re-visit complex imaginary worlds, and sometimes, you can give new characters or worlds a test run before you run the larger version.

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World Weaver Press Open for Submissions, Both Novels and Short Stories for a New Anthology

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017 | Posted by Emily Mah

solarpunk-banner-submissions_2_origCongratulations are in order for World Weaver Press. Their Kickstarter Campaign is funded! (But don’t neglect those stretch goals, they still have cool stuff they want to do.) This means the Brazilian anthology, Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastic Stories in a Sustainable World will be coming out in English. It also means that World Weaver will be releasing another solarpunk anthology of original stories written in English called Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers. They’ve posted their call for submissions, and in it they say:

Solarpunk is a type of eco-conscious science fiction that imagines an optimistic future founded on renewable energies. It might take place in a wind-powered skyscraper or on a solar-powered robotic farm, in a bustling green-roofed metropolis or in a small but tech-saavy desert village. Often coupled with an art nouveau aesthetic, and always inclusive and diverse, solarpunk stories show the ways we have adapted to climate change, or the ways we have overcome it.

For this anthology, I want to see solarpunk summers. Show me futuristic stories that take place in summer, whether that involves a summer night in a rooftop garden, or characters adapting to extreme heat and weather, or an annual migration to cooler lands. Keep it planet-based (Earth or other), and optimistic. Solarpunk worlds aren’t necessarily utopias, but they definitely aren’t dystopias.

We’re a northern hemisphere publisher, but southern hemisphere summers are also welcome!

Their site even provides suggested reading for inspiration.

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