Tag Archives: Writer’s Ramble

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.

Support authors! Buy. Read. Review. Tell a friend.

 

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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.

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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 PhillipDrayerDuncan.com or check out his Facebook page. If you like what you’ve read, and want a creepy read, check out his books on Amazon!

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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:

Bio

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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.

Why?

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!

http://www.livenloud.net

http://www.NahteWords.com

 

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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Bio:
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.

Writer’s Ramble: Sela Carsen

Today  we have with us paranormal romance author, Sela Carsen! She’s here to educate us on romance. No, you can’t have her number. No, you can’t have mine either. We are not the romance you are looking for. Move along.

Sela Carsen was born into a traveling family, then married a military man to continue her gypsy lifestyle. With her husband of 20 years, their two teens, her mother, the dog, and the cat, she’s finally (temporarily) settled in the Midwest. Between bouts of packing and unpacking, she writes paranormal romances, with or without dead bodies. Your pick.

Sela

***

HC and I met for the first time recently at MidSouthCon, which was a fun and eye-opening experience for me, as it was also my first full con experience. People are cool. Weird and cool.

Upon our return to our regularly scheduled lives, she asked if I’d come and write a blog post for her on Romance. Big R, genre romance.

I’m guessing y’all aren’t romance readers.

[HC here! I read romance, among other things, and I’ve found if you stick a romance plot in a book with explosions guys read it and think it’s AWESOME.]

Which is actually kind of neat for me. I spend a lot of my days surrounded (online) by romance writers and readers, and it’s wonderfully comforting to have that touch-point in common. We speak the same language, as it were. One of the most enlightening experiences I ever had was going to a Pop Culture Association conference, and sitting down to dinner with people who looked at genre romance from the perspective of serious literary criticism. My inner nerd nearly exploded in joy.

But it’s good to get out of my comfort zone, too.

Crafting a Romance – Fiction vs. Reality

Today, we’ll start with the basics. The rules, as it were, of romance. There are two.

Yes, just two. According to Romance Writers of America, the only elements necessary for writing genre romance are:

  1. A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
  2. An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love.

That’s it. No, there are no rules about sex scenes. I know plenty of great – and popular – romance writers who don’t write sex on the page at all. I also know writers who write things that’ll fry the circuits on your Kindle.

Also, no, there’s no machine at the Harlequin headquarters that cranks out plots and characters for a mix-and-match game. I’ll tell you something about the folks who have made HQ the top individual publisher of romance in the world – “110 titles a month in 34 languages in 110 international markets on six continents.”: these people know their audience.

They know who their readers are, and they understand what their readers are after.

The readers are after the fantasy.

Kelly Faircloth at Jezebel wrote a fantastic piece about a year ago that goes into the history of HQ, but my favorite part of the article is this:

“There’s a persistent tendency to assume that romance fans read only on a single level. Either we’re housewives fluttering against the confinement of the patriarchy like moths at a kitchen window, or we’re deluded foot soldiers in the backlash to the feminist movement, or we’re dowds somehow simultaneously repressed and sex-crazed. What so many critics miss is that it’s perfectly possible to roll your eyes at yet another hero with [a] jet, an island and an over inflated sense of his own authority; arch your brow at the fucked-up gender politics of a particular scene; cheer when the heroine reads the hero the riot act; and swoon at the emotional climax.”

Why do you think this one genre accounts for $1.08 billion in annual sales?

We’re writing the fantasy.

That’s what it really comes down to. Whether there are wizards slinging spells, aliens shooting ray guns, cowboys throwing lassos, or billionaires taking over yet another family-run business (but taking the owner’s daughter instead, a la Beauty and the Beast), it’s all a fantasy.

In real life, we’re just ordinary folks. We’re self-actualized, we’re busy, we’ve got a lot going on in our lives. We do the job thing, we do the family thing. We come home at night, make dinner, do the dishes, put the kids to bed, and binge watch NCIS and/or Supernatural.

Raise your hand if you want to read about that.

I didn’t think so.

So instead, we fantasize. We lose ourselves in worlds where there never seem to be dirty dishes in the sink. Instead, we want to read about a Russian mob enforcer who kidnaps the heroine – leaving behind her dishes – because she accidentally witnessed a hit, but instead of killing her, he falls in love with her.

That’s not so different from the hacker who follows the White Rabbit to a club, and gets asked if he wants a red pill or a blue pill.

The biggest difference is that romance – whether it’s contemporary, paranormal, SFF, or any of a thousand sub-genres and niches – is focused on the development of the relationship between the main characters. There can be world building to rival George R.R. Martin, there can be plot twists to out-do Gone Girl, there can be characters who start out as old men but turn green and go to war, but the focus isn’t primarily on the plot or the world. The story is the relationship.

And, of course, all that plotting and world building and sticky relationship stuff leads to the Happy Ever After. These days, romance readers are better about the Happy For Now ending,  something you frequently see in series, but what you don’t do…what you never, ever do at the risk of pissing off thousands of readers who will then burn you in effigy on a flaming pile of your books – is you don’t cheat your reader out of a happy ending.

Just. Don’t.

Romance readers don’t think it’s clever. When we pick up a romance novel, we have certain expectations. We don’t think killing off your MC is a neat twist. We think we just invested our time, our money, and our emotions on characters we came to embrace and love…and then you screwed us over.

But if you can give us that fantasy, and end it with a contented sigh, everyone is happy. Readers, as well as writers, because readers will pay us real money to make them happy again.

Now, by fantasy, some writers think that women all have the same fantasy. That it’s all the same domineering alpha male towering over a submissive female without a thought in her Fifty Shades of Gray Matter.

I’m not going to say it doesn’t happen. And I’m not going to say that alpha males aren’t a huge seller. They are. They totally are.

But a lot of the alpha males of romance fantasies aren’t the same as they were back in the 70s and 80s. Yes, they’re take charge leaders who have very, very pretty chesticles, but when they screw up (when, not if), they’re smart enough to admit it and change, rather than lose the woman who would walk away, rather than put up with his crap. And if they’re broken-hearted heroes, they know – or they learn – to lean on their heroines for emotional support.

The heroines, especially, have changed. Where Kathleen Woodiwiss and Barbara Cartland made romance writing history with their sweet, naïve, ingénue heroines, those gals are much harder to find these days. Heroines, like real women, come in every shape and size, every degree of character from nurturing mama to hard-ass billionaire. And just like real women, the extremes aren’t mutually exclusive.

Crafting a romance comes with the truth that people are people. It can be tough to figure out where fiction and reality separate. There are romances out there – sweet, happy romances – that are about the bill paying and the dish washing and the diaper changing. The fantasy is having a partner to share those experiences in a way that can seem like a dream sometimes. Just as much as there are stories where the hero is such an asshole that you want to scream “Run!” at the heroine. And there are readers for all of them.

Romance lets you roll with the fantasy, no matter what kind of characters you like.

Want a charming rogue of a space pirate falling in love with a nerdy archaeologist, looking for remnants of old Earth? Got it.

Want a drug-addicted bi doctor in love with his charismatic boyfriend, and a former prostitute, and her rock-star girlfriend, all working to bring down a shining city with a rotten core in a dystopian future? Yup, that’s out there, too.

Alien Viking wolf shifters protecting the Earth from other alien invaders, and falling in love with humans? Totally. I should know. I write them. 😉

There are billionaires and bear shifters, cowboys and virgins, boys next door and tough female cops out there for every taste.

As long as the relationship is front and center, and we all get our happy sighs at the end, it’s all good. And that’s the reality of romance.

If you liked what Sela had to say, hop over to her website, her Facebook Page or check out her books!

Writer’s Ramble: Jason Fedora

It’s that time again where I bring you another edition of Writer’s Ramble. Today I am interviewing Jason Fedora. Please feel free to check out his bio and his book, available on Amazon AND at MidSouth Con 34 THIS WEEKEND. Regional folks, I’ll be there too with a special promotion, so stop on by and get your geek on!

Head shotTruthofBetrayal

 

  • How did you discover your passion for writing?

It was two things actually. The first happened one day while in grade school. It was Monday after Easter Sunday. The teacher asked the class to write a story of how we spent Easter. At the time I was getting inspired to write. I was also huge into Transformers. While the other kids wrote about hunting Easter eggs and such, my story revolved around Spike, the human in the Transformer’s TV show, showing the Autobots the customs of hiding and finding Easter eggs. While the Autobots were hunting for the eggs, the Deceptacons attacked. Lasers, rockets, and fists were either shot or thrown between the two warring parties. In the end, the Deceptacons were defeated and the Easter egg hunt resumed. My teacher gave me a C and my mother fussed at me, but to me at the time it was one of my proudest moments. It showed me I could tell stories.

The second was while I was a teenager and my best friend showed me how to play Dungeons and Dragons. My mother had the game but would never play it with me. My friend came along with the books and taught me to play. Eventually several others joined us and we had all night marathon sessions of D&D. It’s funny or maybe sad, depending on your point of view. While the other teenagers were riding around and going to parties, we were sitting around a table killing Orcust and Githiyanki. Once I got the rules down I tried my hand at Dungeon Mastering, which turned out to be my downfall as a player. After a few sessions my friends thought I was good, which meant i hardly ever got to play a character after that.

  • Do you approach story telling from a character building perspective and then world building or vice versa?

My ideas always start with a character and a problem that must be solved. I don’t think I have ever created a world and then built the character–seems kind of backwards to me. When I get an idea for a story, the character is doing something cool while solving the problems. I then start expanding on the character, which in turn creates the world. Before long the character is a living breathing entity and the world is a physical place.

  • Which part of the story tends to bog you down? The blank white page, the murky middle or wrapping everything up at the end?

Oh my God the middle. Writing the middle is like driving on a deserted road needing to use the bathroom but there is no store. You just know if you stop to go in the woods someone will suddenly appear, looking to see what’s going on. The middle seems like it goes on and on. The blank page has never intimidated me. As I have not had the problem of filling it up. The wrap up is to me the best part. It’s the climatic part of the story where everything you have been working towards come together, not to mention the end is now in sight. It’s a great feeling to type out the last word and then lean back in your chair knowing you have accomplished something special.

  • Tell us about your book and what inspired the story?

My book is about a man who betrayed everything he lived for, loved and fought for. His friend, who is more like a brother, must hunt him down to find out why. It’s about the true meaning behind people’s actions and the events that caused them. The story itself was one I wrote while in high school, using elements and events I came up with while I Dungeon Mastered. The story evolved over the years as I tinkered with it. When the dam broke so to speak, I said to myself “I’m going to be a writer.” I pulled the story out and worked it until it became fleshed out. It was Tommy Hancock, my editor, who drew out the full potential in me. With his help the story became rock solid, the characters became living people with feelings, wants and desires, and the world became a place you could touch, experience and walk in.

Bio

Jason Fedora’s writing career started when an elementary teacher had her students write an Easter story. While everyone else wrote of fluffy bunnies and family, Jason wrote about an Easter egg hunt that became the battle ground between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Jason has come a long way from that five page short story. He has recently had the Truth of Betrayal, a high fantasy, published by Dark Oak Press. Jason has one up and coming short story to be released by ProSe Press and is currently doing edits for Unknown: War Drums, a paranormal fantasy with his father, as well as Pillars of the World, the sequel to Truth of Betrayal.

 

Writer’s Ramble: Stephen Zimmer on Sword & Sorcery

It’s time for another edition of Writer’s Ramble! Today we welcome Stephen Zimmer, an award-winning author and filmmaker based in Lexington Kentucky. His work includes the cross-genre Rising Dawn Saga, the epic fantasy Fires in Eden series, the sword and sorcery Dark Sun Sawn Trilogy, featuring Rayden Valkyrie, and the Hellscapes and Chronicles of Ave short story collections

Stephen Zimmer

Me: Sword & sorcery, how do you go about writing a story with familiar tropes and make the story unique?

 

SZ: A genre always has some defining attributes, or characteristics, that are woven into the fabric of a given story. The unique aspects are driven by the kinds of characters, settings, and plot elements that a writer brings to the table. At this point, there really isn’t anything entirely new under the sun, so to speak, but a writer’s challenge is to put their own voice into the work and find ways to put some twists on things familiar to a genre.

 

My focus with Heart of a Lion was showing a part of Rayden Valkyrie’s journey, and in the process introducing her to readers and showing them who she is and what drives her. Her individual story is at the core of what gives this tale in the sword and sorcery genre a unique flavor. Ultimately, her story reflects timeless concepts that I feel anyone can relate to, and this personal connection really has the ability to bring the story home for a reader.

 

Me: In your world is magic a common deal or an arcane power of great importance? Is it harder to write one sort over the other, do you think?

 

SZ: In Heart of a Lion, the world depicted has magic that is not entirely uncommon, but not quite as prevalent as it is in my epic fantasy Fires in Eden series. There are supernatural elements, sorcerers and witches, and other things involving magical components, but these things are not attained easily or commonly by those populating the world that Rayden dwells in.

 

I don’t think it is harder to write a world awash with magic than it is to have one with a more arcane power aspect. The challenge is making that magic believable, and staying consistent to whatever rules govern it. The art of having magic remain more subtle or arcane, or staying rule-consistent in a setting with prevalent magic, each have special considerations and challenges of their own.

 

Me: Are there certain expectations you feel you have to abide by? For example, would readers balk if Dark Elves ran a monastery, or Orcs were vegetarians?

 

SZ: I don’t think you have to abide by any rules. And that’s something I love about one of my favorite characters as a reader, namely Drizzt Do’Urden, the Dark Elf from R.A. Salvatore’s great books. Here you have everything being turned on its head with the use of a dark elf who has a noble heart and good conscience.

 

Without getting too deep into it or revealing any major spoilers, my readers are seeing interesting things being done with my Trogen warriors in the Fires in Eden series, as when they are first encountered they appear more primal, more barbarian, fearsome of appearance (and animalistic even) but as the story evolves you begin to learn more about them and much more takes shape. I think this is where a writer can have great fun, taking various kinds of imagery and turning things on their heads. The reader should never find it too easy to guess if something that appears monstrous might not ultimately be good in nature, or something attractive, and even beautiful, might be evil at heart.

 

Me: Do you identify with any of the characters more than others?

 

SZ: Most definitely. There are two in particular; Julian in the Fires in Eden series, and Rayden Valkyrie, from Heart of a Lion. With Julian, the background and the kind of inner journey he is on in the series has a lot of relevancy to some of the big challenges of my own life. With Rayden, it is more about the kind of honor code and moral focus that guide her actions. She also has a background with things that I can relate to, but the code that she embraces contains the kinds of things that I embrace and use to fight forward in my own world.

 

Me: Which character did you find hardest to write and why?

 

SZ: A character like the Unifier in the Fires in Eden series is a challenge, because you have to convey a being of great power without the character becoming two-dimensional or losing potency in fleshing his characteristics out. He has to be very real while also maintaining a presence that conveys tremendous power and even some mystery. It’s a very fine line to walk. Not making him too “human” but not making him too much of an archetype/caricature either. It’s something I have to give a lot of thought to in the scenes that feature him in those novels.

 

 

 

You can connect with Stephen on his website or at any of the social media platforms listed below:

 

Facebook

Instagram: @stephenzimmer7

Twitter:@sgzimmer