Category Archives: Writing

Hiatus Howdy

Some of you might have noticed a lack of posts for quite some time. The internet is full of cat pictures. I have full confidence they kept everyone entertained while I was focused on writing and science-ing.

While you were watching cat videos, there were many, many, many days of science-ing and book 3 of the Crossroads of Fate series is in edits and due out early 2018. Also of interest, my publisher, Pro Se Productions, started a digital thriller short story of the week collection.


Consisting of Harridan, The Out-of-Timers, AKA The Sinner, and Murder, AR, the four different series will rotate, telling a new tale each week. Yours truly will have a short story in the Harridan series. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, it’ll be FREE and $1.49 for everyone else. To keep up with the releases of this or other stories, be sure to like ProSe’s Facebook page so you don’t miss out!

I have a scifi book I’m shopping around and if anyone nibbles, I’ll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, let me know if you want more content on Zane’s log or Diary of an Accidental Sidekick by visiting and sharing some love.

A number of people stopped by ProSe’s table at MCFC and cleared them out of copies of Daughter of Destiny and put a nice dent in the stack of copies of Betrayals. I hope everyone who bought a copy enjoys and if you’re stopping in because you saw me at the con, welcome! Feel free to poke about and take a peek into my worlds.




Writer’s Ramble: Alexander S. Brown

Today we welcome Alexander S. Brown, a Mississippi author who was published in 2008 with his first book Traumatized.  Reviews for this short story collection were so favorable that it has been released as a special edition by Pro Se Press.  Brown is currently one of the co-editors/coordinators with the Southern Haunts Anthologies published by Seventh Star Press.  His horror novel Syrenthia Falls is represented by Dark Oak Press.  His most current work is his short story collection The Night the Jack O’ Lantern Went Out, published by Pro Se Press.

He is also the author of multiple young adult steampunk stories found in the Dreams of Steam Anthologies, Capes and Clockwork Anthologies, and the anthology Clockwork Spells and Magical Bells. His more extreme works can be found in the anthology Luna’s Children published by Dark Oak Press, Reel Dark published by Seventh Star Press and State of Horror: Louisiana Vol 1 published by Charon Coin Press.

Brown is also the producer of, and actor, in the short film The Acquired Taste inspired by a story in his book Traumatized and directed by Chuck Jett.T

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1.    What was your first introduction to horror?
When I was five, my grandfather introduced me to the original “Night of the Living Dead”.  I remember being frightened, but I couldn’t look away.  I couldn’t believe the creativity I was seeing and how unsettling it was with its imagery, characters, and soundtrack.

2.    Has it stood the test of time, and yes or no, why?
It’s safe to say that “Night of the Living Dead” has stood the test of time.   I think the reason why, is because it’s groundbreaking with its presentation.  As an adult, the movie is much more than just a story about zombies surrounding an old farm house.  It focuses on many natural fears that one might have, such as the fear of society.  One could watch this movie and consider that the characters trapped inside are people who want to progress in life, the zombies represent the masses who do not want to see them progress.  One could also see this movie as a statement on racism, and truthfully, the statement is very blatant, however, George Romero said that the comment on racism was accidental.

3.    Who/what is your favorite monster and why?
The werewolf has always been my favorite creature, which is probably why I made “Syrenthia Falls” my first novel.  I think the werewolf is a symbol that most people can identify with, as it represents our inner rage and sexual repression.  It is animalistic in nature, forever changing, and is untamed.  I believe, at some point, these are all elements that everyone has struggled with from childhood to adulthood.

4.    Do you ever write something and freak yourself out?
There were a few stories in “Traumatized” that freaked me out.  The tales “From Midnight to One” and “It’s All True” gave me the willies when I wrote them.  Since then, I have tried to grow a thicker skin.

5.    How do you handle what some might consider the darker aspects of your psyche when writing dark, disturbing, or emotionally wrenching scenes/stories?
When I write, I’m writing from a character’s perspective, meaning they will do things that I wouldn’t consider healthy.  When creating an antagonist, I have no problem separating myself from what they would do and what I would do.

In our world, there is a great deal of evil.  To find inspiration to write about evil persons, I don’t have to look within myself to write about horror, all I have to do is turn on the television or access social media news feeds.  When writing of a subject that I feel is vital, I have to desensitize myself from that subject so I can hit the audience hard.

Also, there has to be balance.  When writing of something depraved or brutal, I have to step away and find something positive to equal out myself.   I’ve been asked before, “What would you not write about?” My answer is, I will write about anything, as long as it is necessary and isn’t utilized for simply shock value.

6.    Is there a genre outside of horror that you haven’t written in, but really want to?
I would like to write a drama. I have toyed around with a concept, but I haven’t completed anything. The subject that I want to write about is a personal one and each time I try to fictionalize it and hit hard, the story catches me in its emotions.

7.    What’s the most helpful piece of writing advice you were ever given?
I one time wrote Clive Barker, and he was gracious enough to write me back.  I still have the letter and I will probably frame it and hang it in my new library. He explained to me that I should learn my limits and break them. With each short story or novel that I write, I try to honor his advice.

If you enjoyed this interview and would like to find out more about Alexander S. Brown, you can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Amazon, or check out his blog.

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Writer’s Ramble: Interview with J.H. Fleming

Today we welcome J.H. Fleming to Writer’s Ramble. J.H. Fleming started her first novel in the 9th grade. That novel will never see the light of day, but it sparked something that has resulted in numerous short stories and 5 novels so far. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Central Arkansas, and it’s very possible she’ll try for a Master’s at some point.

She owns roughly 1,100 books and spends her free time befriending dragons, fighting goblins, and learning the craft of the bards. J.H. lives in Northwest Arkansas with a dog, a cat, and a turtle.


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1) The tag line on your website says that not every character gets a happy ending. What inspired that?

So when I first began to take my writing seriously I noticed that pretty much every story I wrote ended with someone dying, or the bad guy winning. I didn’t intentionally set out to do this. My stories just naturally tended to go that direction. This has changed a bit over the last few years (there are some happy endings now and then), but I’m definitely not the sort who believes everything will always work out. Bad things happen sometimes, so why shouldn’t this be reflected in my fiction? The tag line serves as a reminder, and a warning for readers.

2) Do you know at the front end whether your main characters will get that happy ending or not?

It depends on the story, but most of the time no. I’m more of a pantser than a plotter, so I really discover the story as I write. Often I’m just as surprised as a reader will be when a character dies.

3) You have works out of many varying lengths, including poetry. Which do you find the most challenging to write?

Definitely poetry. I actually used to write a lot of poems and songs when I was in high school, which I forgot about. I only remembered when I discovered old notebooks. But most of the time I stick with short stories and novels. I recently tried poetry again because I was inspired, but it’s not a form I’m comfortable with. Perhaps I just need more practice, lol.

4) What are some challenges you deal with for each (novel, short story, poetry) that are unique to those formats?

I have the same problem for both novels and short stories, actually. The way I write tends to be too long for short stories (too much detail, too much going on, too many characters), but a little short for novels (not enough of everything). So maybe I should actually be writing novellas. I have to be aware of exactly what I’m doing, whether I’m adding too much or glossing over things that should be expanded on. I actually have a unique situation with one tale because of the way I decided to publish it: I write only a thousand words at a time and post it on my blog. I intended this to be a different story every week, or at most only a few weeks for each story, but I’m on week twenty-something now and am still on the first one. So what started as a short story is currently novella size, and fast morphing into a novel. I have a general idea for an ending, but I really don’t know week to week what exactly will happen. This makes finding that balance I mentioned a little more difficult, because I’m still not entirely sure what the finished product will look like.

For poetry, I find the whole process challenging. You would think it’d be easier, considering the form as a whole is shorter than a novel or short story. But that just means each word has to be exactly the right one, and that’s no easy task.

5) Do you have a favorite fantastical species or mythos? If so, what about it do you find compelling?

I could list several, but I’ll go with faeries. A lot of people have some sort of image in their head when they think of them (Tinkerbell, for example), but they’re much more complicated than that. There are Seelie (good) and Unseelie (bad), and within these there are all sorts of different species with varying appearances and dispositions. Gnomes, for example, or goblins. Both are technically fae, yet many people don’t realize this. They think only of tiny people with wings. And even when you know a faery is Seelie or Unseelie, their thoughts and motivations are so different from humans that you can never be completely sure what to expect.

6) What is it about fantasy and magic that you find personally appealing?

For me it’s about endless possibility. Absolutely anything can happen, and you don’t have to get technical about how everything works. When there’s mystery, or something that can’t be explained, it feeds my sense of wonder and inspires me to expand my imagination. If ‘x’ can happen, why not ‘y’? What else is possible?

If you liked what you read, check J.H Fleming out on your favorite social media platform and don’t forget her books are available on Amazon!

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Writer’s Ramble: Phillip Duncan on writing horror

Today we welcome Phillip Drayer Duncan to discuss writing horror (Note: NOT the horror of the writing process, publishing, or marketing. Those are different beasts.). Phillip is the author of 4 novels and 14 short stories. He has work published with Yard Dog Press, Pro Se Productions, and Seventh Star Press. His work includes The Moonshine Wizard, Assassins Incorporated, The Warden, and others.

He was born in Eureka Springs, AR and has spent most of his life in the Ozarks. Along with reading and writing like a madman, his passions include kayakin’, canoein’, fishin’, and pretty much anything nerd related. More than anything, he enjoys spending time with his ridiculously awesome friends and his wonderful family. During the warm months he can be spotted on the river or around a campfire. During the cold months he can be found hermitting amongst piles of books and video games. You might also see him at a concert or attending a con. His earliest books were acted out with action figures and scribbled into notebooks. Today he uses a computer like a real grown up. His greatest dream in life is to become a Jedi, but since that hasn’t happened yet he focuses on writing.


We begin our interview by strapping our victim to a chair and turning on our interrogation spotlight…..

1) What was your first moment in childhood where you experienced what some might see as horror?

Well, my very first memory is taking a nose dive off the bathroom counter. Not sure what I was doing up there to begin with, but my life might have been cut short if not for the fact my underwear caught on a drawer handle, leaving me dangling upside down. My mother quickly came to the rescue.

In addition to that, we lived way out in the middle of nowhere in southern Arkansas. I remember we had an old barn beside the house. There was a creepy mannequin in the barn made out of chicken wire and who knows what else. It was terrifying. In an attempt to keep my brother and I from wandering into the copperhead infested barn on our own, our parents told us that the mannequin was the bogeyman and if we went in the barn it would kidnap us. We didn’t go into the barn.

And there were copperheads everywhere.

My mom still has pictures of ones they killed. Seemed like they were an everyday occurrence, everywhere except the backyard. It was the only safe place for us to play. But the reason the backyard was safe was because there was a giant king snake that lived under the house and roamed the backyard. It was quite friendly and would let me play with it as a toddler. But because it was there, the copperheads stayed away from the area directly behind the house. My mom would joke that it was my first babysitter.

Also, from the same toddler time period, I got to hold my first gun, which was a rather large revolver. Somehow I managed to pull the hammer back and then pulled the trigger. Of course it wasn’t loaded or anything, but I was holding it up against my chest so when the hammer came down it grabbed a hold of my tender child flesh. I can still remember the look of my chest skin twisted into the hammer, and I can remember clearly the black and yellow oil mixed with the blood. I still have the scar today.

2) Have you used it in your writing?

I don’t know that I’ve ever used those specifically in my writing, but certainly each of those things played some role in shaping my imagination. Now, that’s it’s been brought up, I probably will find a way to fit them in somewhere. I like to draw from real life experiences because much of the time they’re more horrifying or hilarious than what I can think up.

3) Do you prefer gore, psychological or a merging of the two? 

Probably more of a combination of the two. When I’m writing ‘scary’ things I don’t know if it usually would fall under the common concepts of horror, but is more creep factor. Everyone once in a while I come up with an idea that creeps me out, and if it creeps me out, then there’s a good chance it will creep out the reader. For example, my clowns in the Moonshine Wizard, people love them. I still I can’t believe I wrote them. But in order to create something super creepy, I find that the psychological and gore factors kind of have to walk hand in hand. The clowns are scary because they mutilate and eat people. They are terrifying because our beloved character is helpless to their will, and they’re funny, and oddly friendly, and their insanely evil leader is in the form of a small child.

 4) What pacing do you find works better, a slow build of tension or a bam/keep hitting them with more approach?

 I tend to lean toward a fast pace, and that’s one of the things that my fans seem to appreciate. But, I still try to build tension as the scenes fly by. Having tension gives the fast pace a solid ground to build on.

5) Do you have any colors or symbols that you like to drop into your stories as foreshadowing?

Actually, in the last novel I wrote, there is the mention of a colored object which is a big clue for what’s going to happen later, but I don’t want to go into too much detail. One of the things I’ve been toying with lately is carrying some things between universes. Again, without going into detail and giving it away, there’s a symbol which plays a key role in one of my novels, which inevitably will show up in other unrelated novels, maybe as a quick cameo, or it may play an integral role in the story. There’s at least one character I’ve also been doing this with. Over time, people who read my work will run across this character in different universes and will have the leg up to recognize them. This is all assuming that my publishers don’t catch on and make me stop torturing my readers.

If you’d like to find out more about, please visit or check out his Facebook page. If you like what you’ve read, and want a creepy read, check out his books on Amazon!


Writer’s Ramble: William Alan Webb

Today we welcome William Webb who will demystify how an author can use Twitter. This post deals with the pitch and sale of a story. Marketing is a whole other beast for a different day.

The Twitter Tornado

On January 1, 2016, I did not have a Twitter account. I didn’t know what a hashtag was and I didn’t care. Now, four and a half months later, I have 1500+ followers, more than 1400 tweets, am following more than 2000 people…oh yeah, and I sold my first novel, because of Twitter- within six weeks.

Say what?

Twitter is the center of the 21st Century literary world. You can post on Facebook, have a really tricked out website and be the life of every party. You could be a prose sorcerer, writing novels so magical they change lives. It does not matter. The literary vortex for the modern writer is Twitter. Fortunately, Twitter is easy.

Many writers may already have an active twitter account, and simply need some hashtags to get going with the writing scene. Others might not have a clue what Twitter is, or why it matters. So let’s start where I started, the beginning.

Think of a tweet as a post, except a tweet can only have 140 characters. You quickly learn the Twitter shorthand, but an unexpected side benefit to this is learning how to be concise. Your tweets are visible to anyone who is following you, or who checks out your profile. To make them visible to a larger audience you use a hashtag.

Hashtags are the pound or number symbol on a keyboard, #, put before a word. That sends the post to a page where all such hashtags are posted. Think of it as a bulletin board. Common ones for writers are #amwriting, #amediting, #amwritingsf, etc. On a busy day, these hashtags can get more than 5,000 tweets.

You will have to create a twitter name an your online ID, and a way for people to connect to you. This will be prefixed by the @ symbol. For example, when someone wants me to see something, they type in their tweet my ID, @jointhebrigade1. Think of this as my address. It will also display a name I want to be known by. For authors, it is recommended that you use your real name, as I did, William Alan Webb. That way, readers can find you more easily.

You can find all kinds of commiseration on Twitter, as writers share the common experience, but the fun part is selling your book through a Twitter event. These are scheduled well in advance, and the following is a short sampling of the dozens of events:

#sonofapitch, #pit2pub, #pitchapalooza, #PitFest, #PitMad, #QueryKombat, #PBPitch.

All of these events have differing rules, and those rules are posted well in advance at their hashtag. What makes them awesome is that you never know who is reading the tweets.

The daunting part is, you get a limited number of tweets, it differs from contest to contest, to describe your book, along with its genre and target audience. And if that makes no sense, let’s break it down.

I sold my book at the very first event I entered, #pit2pub. This stands for Pitch to Publishers. Forty three invited small presses were reading the tweets, along with who knows how many unofficial ones. During a 6 hour window you were allowed to make three tweets promoting your book. If a publisher was intrigued by your tweet, they would click the ‘heart’ symbol, meaning they liked it. During an event, this means ‘send me more material according to my query guidelines.’ It’s up to you to find their query guidelines, although honestly it’s quite easy most of the time.

During the event, I received four requests for material. It wound up being three requests for the full manuscript, and one partial. From this I was offered two contracts, accepting one from Dingbat Publishing, a small press in Texas. The publisher and I hit it off right from the start.

My winning tweet was: #pit2pub #A #SF #T In desolated America, innocent slaves are saved by Nick Angriff & the 7th Cavalry riding to the rescue. Bad guys beware!

Dissecting this, #pit2pub is the hashtag. #A = the audience, Adult. #SF = Science Fiction #T = Thriller. None of that is a secret code, the events, publicize these lists. The book pitch itself cannot possibly tell everything about your book, so you can’t try. I’m not going to lie, however, writing a good twitter pitch is hard and takes lots of practice. I probably wrote a hundred variations of this.

If you go to #pit2pub right now, all of those tweets are still there to see.

Other events are structured differently. One of them, I think it was #sonofapitch, had more than three thousand discreet entries. In other words, three thousand people with completed manuscripts were hawking them to the judges. The ones in your genre are your competition, and often become friends.

Finally, there are hundreds and hundreds of agents on Twitter looking for manuscripts. Want to have fun? Check out #mswl. That stands for Manuscript Wish List, a real time event where agents ask for manuscripts in genres they want to read right now. That event became so large there is now a huge website where the agents list what they would like to see from a writer.

Writer’s Ramble: Ethan Nahte’

This week’s Writer’s Ramble welcomes Ethan Nahte’ to my corner of the interwebs. Today’s discussion will be on the hazards and pitfalls of working with small and micro publishers. For the TLDR version:

  1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Money flows TO the author (maybe in pennies, but still).
  2. Network. Talk to other authors. If a company has a bad reputation, word gets around.
  3. Pick up a book by that press. Is it quality work or does it read like a ten year old edited it?
  4. How many authors does the press publish? Are most of the books by the owner?
  5. Check with reputable, professional organizations (Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors) to see if there are warnings or if there’s any positive indicators, like awards, and not the kind your kindergarten teacher prints for every kid in the class.

Now, I turn the digital mic over to Ethan:


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Ethan Nahté is an author, journalist, screenwriter, photographer and musician. He has also worked in TV/Film and Radio. He has nearly two-dozen stories and poems published in various anthologies and e-zines. His work spans speculative fiction, historical fiction, comedy, tall tale and young adult. He recently finished his first novel and will be releasing his first collection, Of Monsters & Madmen, which contains eight previously published short stories along with two new stories, complete with art by guest illustrators and introductions for each tale. At least two more short stories are due for publication spring/summer 2016.

When Indie & Small Press Suck

There are times when modern technology makes matters worse instead of better. The low cost of what was once very expensive equipment, programs and such has made it possible for about anyone to have a radio show, make a movie, publish their own book, record their own album and produce thousands of photographs because the cost of film and processing is no longer a factor for most people.

A lot of us in the entertainment field have felt the downside of modernization at one time or another. I work, or have worked, in all the fields mentioned above. Believe me when I say just because you can buy the Eddie Van Halen model guitar doesn’t necessarily mean you can play like Eddie Van Halen. Just because someone doesn’t have to spend a fortune on cameras and editing equipment doesn’t make someone the next Cecil B. DeMille. And with the opportunity to self-publish at the tips of every writer’s fingers, yes, including those whose writing is so terrible that even Stevie Wonder would pick up the book and just say, “Hell, no!”, the indie/small/micro press has possibly hurt the already dwindling numbers of readers.

I’m not going to write about those who choose to self-publish without spending the time or money to hire a proofreader, copy editor, etc. Instead, I want to discuss the pros and cons of the indie/small/micro press houses. Before you stop reading or decide to tie me up with typewriter ribbon and paint my eyes shut with whiteout, let me say that I am talking about a particular portion of these small publishers that are a bane to the industry—both the authors and the readers. I’m going to divide this into three categories.

Category 1- The professionals

I have had some great relationships with some micro and small press houses. I can depend on honest critiques and professional editing from Yard Dog Press (YDP), ProSe Press, 4 Star Stories and Charon Coin Press (CCP), for instance. I know I will receive royalty statements on a timely basis from YDP, CCP and Seventh Star Press. All of them will get me the promised author’s copy of the book I appear in. I’m certain there are other small publishers that fit within this category but these are a handful of the publishers that have published at least one, if not more, of my short stories. As long as they treat me honestly and with respect I will certainly be willing to write for them again. I also realize that they are on tight budgets and that none of them have quit their day jobs so they can sit in the pool at their million dollar mansions. They treat the publishing business as a business, even if their main office is out of their home and they treat the authors properly. This level of quality will generally carry over to the readers who are willing to take a chance on a book from a small press.

Category 2- MOR (Middle of the road publishers that have good intentions, but poor follow through..and you know what they say about good intentions.)

Some publishers I enjoyed working with and might consider doing something once again for them, but it depends on my mood and if they have made any changes. These are publishers who do no marketing, provide no royalty or sales information, and the story selections and editing of their anthologies makes me question if my writing sucks.


No one wants their work included with stories so badly written it seems as if they are attempting to crawl out of a basement after being mauled by some insidious creature crouching nearby in the darkness. Now, sometimes it is a case of taste or stylistic differences. Maybe the other authors think my story reeks. Regardless, it’s not a book that I will promote heavily at a convention, if at all.

The lack of promotion is one thing that incessantly drives me nuts. When I am in an anthology with one to two-dozen authors, the royalties are squat. I don’t mean this to be a slap in the face to the publishers. It’s just simple math—if a $10 book, which cost $6 to produce, has finally made its money back for the publisher, the profit is then split between one to two-dozen people, the publisher and possibly the artist. Let’s just say 25 people are splitting $4. That comes to 16 cents each. If 100 of those books sell (after making back its production costs) then each author will receive $16, but unless it’s just a really hot book, that amount may be $1.60 for one quarter and 80 cents the next.

Now, if you are the sole author or maybe a co-author of a full novel, yeah, your cut is much higher if you are working with a good publisher and have signed a fair contract. Although, promotion is still very much on the authors in many cases. Some houses do make efforts to attend conventions and expand their readership base, but others do very little of that. People just don’t seemingly read as much, and those that do don’t risk spending $10-$20 on a small press as often as they spend it on a big name author with a big house.

A reputable publisher should deliver on whatever terms were agreed on in the contract, whether that’s a flat fee for a single short story or royalties, or a combination thereof. The MOR publishers vary on the consistency with which they achieve this. You should receive a statement every six months, or at least annually, showing purchased books, especially when you bought copies to sell.

When an author buys copies of the book they are in they are generally paying 30-40% below the retail cost. Even so, that’s a small margin that doesn’t begin to cover buying space at a convention, travel, food, accommodations, website fees (plus time to design and maintain), taxes and swipe fees for cards. Thanks to retailers such as Amazon that make certain they have the lowest price and cut the retail price back down to near cost, it is near impossible to compete and make a profit. Even worse, odds are the book was printed through their Create Space program, so they made money by publishing it themselves then underselling the publisher and me. Not trying to pick on Amazon, but they are the big white whale of self-publishing and retail at the moment.

Category 3- Avoid

In this category go those publishers who put no effort into promoting their authors or books. They don’t go to conventions, notify book sellers, blogs, or anything. They stick a link on a social media site and expect money to just appear. They don’t pay in a timely manner, if ever. No statements ever show up and if you get the promised copy of the book, your eyes bleed from the horrendous editing.

These are the small press companies that are driving reading into the ground.

It is very easy for a company to make a fancy website with lots of hype to lure writers in, filled with promises they don’t uphold. The newer the press, the harder they are to vet, and while I might miss a great opportunity with a new publisher that is going to hit big, after being burned so many times, I advise steering clear of new publishers until they have established a good reputation.

Things to look for include a poorly put together website. Granted, everyone makes mistakes and after hours of coding it is easy to overlook a typo. Anything more than a single typo tells me that if they don’t care enough to proof their own site (or have the ability) then they aren’t going to put out a good book, assuming they ever actually get the book out at all.

If the submission details on a site are extremely vague, unprofessional, or disorganized in the details, I tend to bypass the publisher. If they can’t put together a simple list of requirements for submissions, is follows that they might be disorganized and unprofessional about everything else.

Publishing is a creative business, but it is a business and should be conducted as such.

Authors, do yourself a favor and strive to work with reputable publishers. If you aren’t aiming for a big house, there are still some great indie/small/micro press publishers. Check sites such as Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware. Ask fellow authors about their experience with XYZ Publisher. Check reputable industry outlets and awards for recognition of an editor or publisher. The winner of The Joe Cool First Annual Great Publishing Awards, you know what I mean, is a no.

Readers, do yourself a favor and search for the same thing. If it’s a publisher you aren’t familiar with, at least flip through a book or two, if possible, and look for mistakes or to see if the writing really grabs you. Check the grammar, pacing and sentence structure. Don’t just read the hype on the back cover or the five stars on a review site. If a book averages a high number of stars and has had several reviews/ratings, then it is probably worth a shot. If it has an average of four stars and one person gave it a five and one gave it a three, then it’s a maybe or a no. I can go and give all the books I am in a five star rating and if it’s a new book I can be the first one to rate it and make it look like it averages five stars. Then I can brag on it (if I had no self worth or conscience). Be intelligent in your selections. If you find something promising, give that small publisher or indie author a chance. Who knows, you may end up with a signed first print of the first book of the next Terry Pratchett that you can proudly display on your shelf, and that beats having a shelf full of garbage that you hope you can trade at the used book store to replace your copy of a book you love.

If you’ve liked anything presented here today, show Ethan some love and wander over to one or both of his sites or visit him on Facebook!


Writer’s Ramble: Frank Tuttle

Today’s Writer’s Ramble features an interview with Frank Tuttle. If you like what you read, don’t forget to check out his site and of course, BUY a book 🙂

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Frank Tuttle is a professional athlete. Wait. No. Frank Tuttle is a moderately round fantasy author who started writing during the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and made his first professional sale in 1996, to the now-defunct Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine. Frank’s stories have also appeared in Weird Tales and, though he isn’t sure these count, various police blotters throughout the American South. Lately Frank has moved from short stories to novels. His Markhat Files series is nine titles long, and he is two books into a YA trilogy which will feature four books (math was never Frank’s best subject). The YA series currently includes ‘All the Paths of Shadow’ and ‘All the Turns of Light.’
When Frank isn’t writing, he tends to his pack of rescue dogs or hunts ghosts. He notes that ‘hunts’ is far too strong a word; he generally just sits in the dark and invites spirits to speak into his array of microphones or pose for his camera.
Frank writes to Pink Floyd, chews pencils, and likes  good beer, black and white movies, and another good beer.


1) What challenges do you face writing a series vs stand alone stories?

Stand alones are easy — you introduce a setting, add characters, and stir in two heaping cups of trouble before you let it bake and hope you wind up with a tasty, tasty word-cake. Then you clean up the pots and pans, and start all over with different ingredients. Or, if you cook as well as I do, the Hazmat Team from the sheriff’s office suggests you just eat out from now on as they fix the yellow QUARANTINE tape in an X across the locked kitchen door.

But with a series, you’ve got recurring characters. Running story arcs. Inside jokes. Now, in a calm and orderly world, readers would start with Book 1 and proceed in a methodical fashion to Book 2 and then 3, and so on.

One might notice, though, that we live on Earth. So you must assume many first-time readers of the series are going to dive into Book 7, and you’ve got at best a couple of pages to convince them the read is worth the time. Somehow, you’ve got to get readers quickly up to speed, show them who is who and what is what and why this character loathes the other character and why dogs in this world hold political office and you’ve got to do it without tipping your hand.

Info dumps are the death of reader engagement. Instead, you’ve got to tell little stories about the stories you’ve already told and you’d better make these little stories both amusing and brief. It’s a bit like stage magic — the hand, or in this case the sentence, had bloody well better be quicker than the eye, because there are a thousand other books clamoring for the reader’s attention.

Too, you’ve got to keep the cast of characters fresh and entertaining. Which means they need to lead lives of their own, even when they’re not in the spotlight. I noticed before I even started writing myself that the books which stuck with me were filled with people who, even if they were not the protagonist or the antagonist, deserved books of their own. They lived hard and if they died they died well. Keeping that level of detail and focus can be tough, especially when you find yourself really getting interested in one of the supporting cast.

All that is followed by the need to occasionally retire or even kill off a supporting cast member. You’ve got to be VERY careful with that. Now, if it serves the story, fine. But be prepared for some backlash — readers get attached to the people they’ve spent a lot of time with. If you’re going to hit fans with a death, there’d better be a significant payoff involved. Or you’ll simply lose readers, and that’s not what any writer wants. Except maybe Mr. George R. R. Martin, who mastered the art of the gleeful fictional bloodbath and keeps fans coming back for more.

Finally, there’s continuity. It’s so easy to state that Evis the gangster vampire always wears a black fedora in Book 2, and then have him strolling around town in a light grey derby in Book 9. Thankfully my editors have better memories than I do, most of the time!

2) How have you dealt w/said challenges?

I’ve dealt with the situations discussed above like so many writers before me — with a wildly ineffective campaign of alcohol, blue-streak cursing, and extensive rewrites. I could improve my emotional stability and overall quality of life with the simple purchase of a buck-and-a-half notebook and a cheap pen, and I could start keeping what grown-ups call ‘notes,’ but I look on my desk and I see booze and a cuss jar and a manuscript in its 14th iteration of rewrites, and I don’t see a notebook or a pen. Sigh. It’s true what one of my teachers said — “Live and don’t learn, is that it, Mr. Tuttle?”

I can credit good editors to helping me avoid any public missteps. And they can credit me with what I suspect is a considerable number of migraines and incidents of private rage.

3) Do you find it any different to write your female protagonist vs male?

Yes. I do. Here’s why.

I’m male. I’m 53. The protag of my ‘Paths of Shadow’ series is Meralda, who is 18 when the books start. That’s a gender gap and an age gap, and while I can vaguely remember being 18 (my memories are a confusing mish-mash of blue police car lights, loud music, and gas station burritos) I have no recollection of ever being female, although I did try to walk in heels once.

Which led to a lot of soul searching. Research. And finally, late one night, a realization.

Write her as a blinkin’ PERSON. Don’t try to ‘make’ her a woman. Women are people. People come in a vast and bewildering spectrum of hopes and fears and likes and dislikes. Yes, being a woman presents a unique series of challenges and difficulties. These challenges and difficulties are called ‘men.’ I checked again, and since I appear to be one of those, I stepped back and looked hard at how I myself have interacted with women. Then I had a few drinks. Made some hasty late-night apologies. It became clear to me that Meralda might be the smartest, most capable being in the room, but if someone with a beard said two and two equals five, she’d have to drag out a chalkboard and present a half-hour lecture just to prove her point that no, it equals four. And even then there’d be a lot of ‘Well, but’ type muttering and someone would probably suggest that she ‘be a dear’ and go make coffee.

That was a sobering realization. So I decided that by damn Meralda WOULD be the smartest person in the room, and I’d make bloody sure the men around her knew it. And I did something else — I wrote about better men. Men who didn’t always patronize, or mansplain, or ignore. I’d like to think that younger female readers found a hero in my bookish, exasperated Mage Meralda, and that my younger male readers might see men in the book behaving like good men.

Now, my Markhat Files series starts out with Markhat, the titular protagonist, as a single tough-guy private eye in a world where magic works. The tradition in film-noir gumshoe books is, of course, to introduce a parade of female romantic interests, all of whom are discarded at the end of the current book. Well, Darla, who (spoiler) later marries Markhat, was having none of that. Now, Darla and Markhat work as a team, and I love the Nick and Nora Charles vibe that now fills the books.

Writing Darla is a lot of fun. Her biting wit is easily one of the best aspects of the series. Woe betide anyone who suggests she go put on a pot of coffee; they’ll find their head stuffed in the percolator, and the cup lodged in an orifice not conducive to the introduction of a hot beverage. And she’d do all that with the most serene of smiles.

I will suggest to my fellow male authors that they simply shut up and listen. Listen to women talk. Females are not strange alien beings operating on some far-off and inscrutable mental plane. And by the way, not every female needs to be some ass-kicking non-stop killing machine, either, any more than all males need to be portrayed as such. There are so many different expressions of strength. They are all around you, every day. Just listen.

4) In your opinion, what types of conflict create the most compelling stories?

I try to couple an external conflict with an internal one. Here’s an example — in “All the Turns of Light,” Meralda suddenly and inexplicably finds herself able to bend and reshape reality on a whim. But her investigation into the phenomena convinces her that she might well, and quite by accident, unravel the fabric of her universe by exercising, or failing to suppress, this newfound ability.

At the same time, she has an entire airship full of people looking to her for safety in the face of a magical attack. Which leaves her tempted to use her powers, even risking all of creation, or instead to face an enemy with nothing but her wits and a few trinkets. Does she trust her mind, or embrace a powerful but dangerous ability? Does she risk everything for the safety of a few? And will she lose herself by becoming, in effect, a deity?

Meanwhile, the airship is getting pounded. Someone has to DO something.

Big decisions for anyone so young. I struggle with decisions and life’s little mysteries at drive-thrus sometimes — fries, or onion rings? And why am I not in a car?

Markhat’s cases often put him in situations that challenge his beliefs, or raise the specter of his wartime PTSD. He struggles with a deep cynicism, a persistent haunting fear that nothing he can do will ever change the fate of the people he loves. His world is dangerous and corrupt. Justice and safety are something only the very wealthy can afford. Which is why, for instance, he’ll go off in search of a blind kid’s stolen dog — because someone NEEDS to, but no one else will. And if the search awakens his demons, and it invariably does, that’s the price he’s determined to pay.

Conflict is the beating heart of any story. It can’t falter. It can’t beat too fast. It certainly can’t beat too slowly.

If it stops, the book is dead.

5) What genre do you like, but find intimidating to write (if any)?

I love reading science fiction. But I’ve never been able to write it; magic always creeps in. I don’t know why. I suppose I see magic as something our world lacks, and sorely needs. No whiz-bang hyper drive gadget can make up for that cosmic omission. Maybe one day I’ll get past that, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

I’d also like to write a humorous romantic fantasy. I have such a book outlined, and the first chapter is complete. Maybe one day soon I’ll tackle it. People are never more irrational, or more entertaining, than when they’re trying to untangle matters of the heart.