Thursday 30 April 2015
Tuesday 28 April 2015
Today I welcome M. Darusha Wehm onto my blog. Darusha's a writer and an editor of the award nominated crime and mystery magazine Plan B. She's also a great cook. Darusha's novel, Children of Arkadia has just been published.
Children of Arkadia follows three generations of humans and AIs participating in an audacious experiment — to create a just and free society in an orbital space colony. The book is, in many ways, utopian science fiction. The Arkadians are literally trying to build a better world. Of course, it’s not that simple, and this story revolves around how people can (or can’t) resolve the inherent conflict between competing views of what doing the right thing actually entails. And, of course, how they are going to feed themselves.
Arkadia is a mix of high-tech and rural living. Farming is the chief concern of most of the people — human and AI — and even those not directly participating in growing food are, to some extent or another, foodies. Among the human population, at least, everyone needs to eat.
Initially there was no dairy available on Arkadia, so Vyacheslav Haeroa’s grandparents made this dish often. Slava doesn’t know if it’s really Moroccan, but that’s what they called it, so it’s what he calls it, too. This soup is his old flame Siobhan Patel’s favourite, so he makes it as often as he can in his soup café. Whatever it takes to get her to see him.
Earth-based cooks can substitute canned tomatoes and chick peas.
4 tomatoes (diced)
3/4 cup dried chick peas (soaked overnight)
1 onion (chopped)
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 tbsp flour
2 cups vegetable stock
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp oil
- Soak dried chick peas in cold water overnight. They will double in size, so use a large bowl and enough water.
- Saute onion and garlic.
- Add spices, stir until onion is translucent.
- Add flour, and cook a minute.
- Add vegetable stock, bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat as broth begins to thicken.
- Add tomatoes and drained chickpeas, taste and adjust seasoning as desired.
- Simmer 60-90 minutes (or about 15 minutes if using canned or pre-cooked chick peas).
- Add a dash of lemon juice prior to serving.
Thursday 23 April 2015
Today I welcome my writing friend Josh Vogt onto my blog. Josh is a Renaissance man, writing all kinds of speculative fiction at all kinds of length. And he has not one, but two novels out in May. Now that's what I call flashy.
For Love of the Flash
Let’s be clear. I’m not talking about the superhero or related TV show (though I have enjoyed watching it from time-to-time).
I’m talking about flash fiction. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, flash fiction is defined as any story that’s 1,000 words or less. Sometimes this is also referred to as “micro-fiction,” or even subdivided further with “drabbles,” being exactly 100 word-long stories.
I got into flash fiction via a blog contest that ran for a few years, where writers got an image/photograph as inspiration and had to write a story in no more than 250 words. Readers then voted on their favorites, and winners got various prizes. Unfortunately that contest no longer runs, but it gave me an undying love of flash fiction, which I continue to indulge today.
For me, flash fiction is a great creative challenge. How well can you tell a cohesive, engaging story with such a limited word count? Is it even possible? Well, yes, to answer the last question first. As for the first question...
Recognize that the reader’s brain is a powerful thing. If you give readers enough of a story structure, they can fill in many of the gaps that might be left between the words you provide. So even though you may have to leave out most-if-not-all of the backstory in a flash fiction piece, readers can still pick up on the essential details through the dialogue and action of the characters within the scene. They can do a lot of the imaginative “heavy lifting” for you, freeing you from having to pad out the prose with extra description or exposition.
Flash fiction teaches you how to pare down to the essentials. It teaches you how to write punchier dialogue. It teaches subtext. It teaches you how to get into a scene as late as possible and get out as early as possible. And it can teach you how to quickly reach the core of tension and conflict in a story. You simply don’t have the space to waste!
Overall, I highly recommend every writer try their hand at flash fiction at some point or another. Try writing at least ten flash fiction pieces, whether inspired by a prompt or straight from your mind. Even if you don’t continue in that format afterwards, I think you’ll come away having learned a few new writing techniques and have a greater appreciation for how you can make a big impact with as few words as possible.
Do you write or have you written flash fiction? What’ve you learned from the endeavor?
Josh Vogt has been published in dozens of genre markets with work ranging from flash fiction to short stories to doorstopper novels that cover fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel, Forge of Ashes, adds to the RPG Pathfinder Tales tie-in line. WordFire Press is also launching his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). You can find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt. He’s a member of SFWA as well as the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.
Sunday 19 April 2015
Today, I've invited writer, poet and editor, Allen Ashley, onto my blog, to talk about a story that's dear to my heart: the short story.
I don’t claim to be the world’s authority on the short story but, having been a published author for over thirty years and an active editor for the last twelve, I certainly have plenty of experience; which I hope translates into expertise. I am also the current judge for the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition. Ultimately, a lot of editorial decision-making comes down to personal taste but I’ll offer a few pointers as to what floats my boat and what torpedoes it.
Have something happen in your story. Seriously. I know that might sound trite but I have read a lot of tales where nothing much actually occurs during the 2000-5000 words. I’m not asking for crash bang wallop video game style action but, during the course of your narrative, your lead character/s should undergo at least one experience – physical and/or psychological – that changes or grows them in some way by the end of the story. If nothing happens it’s just a character sketch or a still life.
Keep your focus clear. If you’ve got to the end of page 2 and I’ve still got no idea what’s going on, I’m going to bounce the piece. I don’t have an issue with bravura writing or necessary description but if I don’t have a clue what’s happening then I can’t engage.
In general, stick to the one storyline. Multiple narratives are quite common in and often work well within novels; for a 2500-5000 worder it’s best to stay with just the one path. Two if you must; but if you change perspective after 300/500 words or so you risk breaking the reader’s empathy. A two-track story will need some sort of convergence in its denouement. Of course, rules are made to be learned and then broken and I have to own up to having co-written with Andrew Hook a short story that had three separate narrative lines. We must have got away with it because “Mermaids in a Snowstorm” was published by Gary Fry’s “Fusing Horizons”.
Avoid info dumps or what I call “Second Page Syndrome”. This is where an author starts a story with a reasonably engaging action scene on the first page then spends the next 500 words or more explaining how the protagonist came to be in that situation or why the world they live in operates the way it does. To my mind, in the first instance, this is cheating. Basically, you are teasing the reader the way certain TV dramas often do by having some action before the titles or the ad break then changing down the gears into slow build-up back to where we started. A straightforward chronology is often a better choice. In the second instance, with a whole heap of world building lumped into pages 2 and 3, my issue is that it’s illogical. We don’t spend our lives explaining all the things we take for granted – if I boil a kettle or catch a tube, I don’t need a thesis on the discovery and application of electricity. Put yourself in your character’s head – if there are aspects of their world that are commonplace and assumed, let that be true for your reader as well.
Don’t have too many characters. My average is probably four. Honestly. Sure, I’m not necessarily including minor bit part players – the waitress in the café, the ticket inspector on the train, etc; people who don’t need to be named other than by their function. Let me give you some names that create enough drama without a cast of thousands: Othello, Desdemona and Iago. Or Hansel, Gretel, the witch, the stepmother (who may also be the witch), and the feckless father. Maybe it’s my concentration issue but I find that if there are too many named speakers I get confused about who is who.
Use dialogue wisely. Don’t record every “um”, “ah”, “like” and “you know” of every conversation. Taut, well-paced dialogue can move a story along quicker than description of character or even action. Your players are defined by what they do and, crucially, say.
As a general rule, don’t go overboard on idiom, dialect and accent. Sure, Anthony Burgess’ droogs had their own street slang in “A Clockwork Orange” and that is crucial to the success of the novel; but mostly in a short story it’s best to play safe and stick to Standard English. Lynne Barrett-Lee writes succinctly about this in a recent issue of online writing journal “Words With Jam” – “Things I hate: Phonetic dialogue to denote regional accents.” The internal voice that narrates the tale doesn’t like struggling with awkwardly rendered versions of conversation. Save the Geordie twang or the
Devon burr for when you’re scripting
the TV adaptation.
Cut the last line off your ending. Or more. Tell the reader enough but don’t over-explain, it spoils the magic.
Accept that your ideas, your what ifs, might not be as original as you thought. I once had a very gentle put down from the lovely, late Ken Bulmer when I approached him with a whole list of what I thought were cracking plot ideas for his “New Writings in SF” series. He told me they were all quite familiar and rather generic.
Even the classics might not be as brand spanking new as we believe. A misfit child at a school for witchcraft and magic? Harry who? Sounds to me like Jill Murphy’s “The Worst Witch”. Orwell’s “1984”? Heavily influenced by Zamyatin’s “We”. So I suppose that old adage is true: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it.
Kurt Vonnegut had a great piece of advice, which was: “Start the story as close to the end as you dare.” This ensures urgency and drama and helps you to avoid spending pages scene setting and waffling. It’s certainly a maxim I have tried to apply.
Another arresting way of starting your story is what I call the trap door method. Some might call it the rug pull. This is where you set up an intriguing scenario to reel your readers in before suddenly revealing extra significant information that suddenly changes the emphasis and import of what’s gone before. This is a technique I applied in my novelette “Somme-Nambula”. In the first paragraph, the narrator John Dove talks about a magician/mesmerist he saw in his youth, someone who could catch a live bullet in his hands. Dove imagines himself as a perfect choice to be plucked out as a foil from the audience “because I was already a noted somnambulist”. In the very next paragraph, he reveals: “Not that I said anything of the sort to the recruiting officer as he placed light pencil ticks on my enlistment papers.” This sentence removes him from the past and the end of the pier stage show to an immediate future in the trenches of the First World War.
How should you end your story? Over the years, I have veered away from the Saki or Roald Dahl style unexpected twist at the end. This method works reasonably well for flash fiction but can be rather unsatisfying in a longer piece. Why? Essentially, a story that builds solely towards its twist or reversal ending doesn’t always bear a second reading – once you know the trick or punchline, there may not be enough else there to sustain interest. Consider this as well: the story has in many ways been written backwards and in the same manner as a joke, where it’s all about hitting that final line. So – go for a fulfilling end that at least ties up some of the loose ends but is still open enough to keep resonating with the reader for a while after they’ve put down the book or logged off the screen.
Be bold, take chances. The memorable stories stand out for a reason. Admittedly, some editors like their fiction cosy and almost indistinguishable from whatever has gone before. So here’s some advice: don’t have anything to do with those editors. Don’t bother submitting and don’t buy their predictable product. It’s just wallpaper; literary white bread. Find the places that genuinely want to, or better still, require a fresh approach and an individual voice. In 2012, the first time that I judged the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition, I was almost at the closing of the submission window and I had some very good stories on my shortlist. Then something popped into my Inbox which blew everybody else out of the water. This was “Rope of Words” by Megan Kerr. This piece was audacious yet light, taking in fairy tales and Greek mythology in a brilliantly clever and inventive tale posited on the device of words being magical, used as a currency, a treasure, artistic artefacts, etc. What really swung it for me was that Megan used the device of relevant segments of words / word chains to demarcate the divisions between her story sections. Like this:
~ refractory ~ monger ~ wangle ~ farrier ~ ether ~ rive ~ reagent ~ expiate ~ spume ~ cranny ~ sluice ~
Breathtaking stuff and a classic example of that holy grail for editors / judges: the “I wish I’d written that!” moment.
Lastly, for now: I also work as a lyricist and a poet. In those two disciplines, every single word or even syllable has to earn its place. Treat short stories exactly the same way. I do. Follow this neo-chiasmus: You only have a short word count, make each word count. Don’t waffle. Waffle is for maple syrup and squirty cream; not for fiction.
Of course, you are completely at liberty to disregard or disagree with any advice I’ve offered here. Like I mentioned earlier, rules are there to be broken. I’m sure that I’ve not properly stuck by my own maxims, so don’t bother pulling me on it. Deborah asked me for some thoughts on the short story so, naturally, I obliged. Now go off and write… and impress me with your story.
Thanks for reading.
Allen Ashley is currently reading submissions for “Creeping Crawlers”. The reading window closes 31 May 2015. Submission guidelines here: http://www.shadowpublishing.webeasysite.co.uk/shadow9_018.htm
Allen is also the judge for the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition. Entrance closes 30 June 2015. Details here: http://www.britishfantasysociety.org/the-bfs-short-story-competition-2015/
Saturday 11 April 2015
Hi, my name is Liz, and I am an editor. I own and operate a small company called Pop Seagull Publishing.
I am also a writer. I am an animator looking for my next film or TV project, and a gamer, a fan, a seamstress, an activist, and a lover of chubby animals everywhere. I wear many hats, as we all do.
However, if you're anything like I am, you probably would have stopped at the first descriptor. I was the same way, before I edited a full-length anthology and opened my company up to submissions.
Submitting to editors is easily the most daunting task in writing. It can feel as though you're casting your baby into a sea of criticism, or beating against a barricade guarded by unfeeling gatekeepers, especially if you're new or still developing. But editors are human, and nothing proved that to me more than editing for myself... because I know I'm human.
So, in the grand tradition of internet listicles, I thought I'd compile some of what I'd learned, to help authors in getting out there and not fearing rejection, or editors, so much.
A lot of people agonize over cover letters, feeling that they will make or break their chances. My main concerns in the cover letter were:
a) How long the story is
b) Whether it's the right genre, and
c) Whether it's the right theme for the anthology.
Occasionally, when I had two very similar stories, I might glance at credentials. However, a magnificent story would be picked up whether it was written by a total unknown or Stephen King.
2: The general quality of work I received was very good.
From the way I had heard other editors talking, and the endless Do and Don't advice given about submissions, I was expecting to be fighting the quality wars throughout the reading process. However, I found that on the whole, the submissions I received were at a University writing level or better, and most had decent, fairly original concepts. The difference is always in the finer points of style and execution, so be bold! There is a lot of stiff competition out there.
3: Many times, rejections or acceptances were determined by fit, more than anything.
Seriously. A lot of times it's not you. Maybe your story isn't quite the right feel... or it could be something even more mundane, such as a lack of funds or space. There are so many practical reasons that something can be rejected that it's silly to assume that it's about quality every time, unless someone tells you so.
4: I got into this business to promote good work, not to (ha!) get rich.
That's right... the editor is on your side. Just like the audience for a stage play or a movie, I want to be entertained. I want to find people to promote, who can breathe fresh air into my books. Certainly, on some projects at some companies, the accountants are going to win out, or the publishing house will want to go low-risk and use only big name authors, but many editors get into this work for the thrill of discovery. As someone who has worked in multiple artistic disciplines, I enjoy the opportunity to push others' work forward and make a difference for those that need a platform. It's thrilling for me, and I love the people I meet in the process.
5: I genuinely want to see your work again, regardless of your skill level or my response to your previous submissions.
Please submit again. Keep trying. I wanted to see every author that made a genuine effort again. Rejection does not equal shunning, or a lack of curiosity about your other work. In fact, I had to reject several authors this time around that I dearly hope I can fit in next time. That could be you, and if you don't try again, you'll never get in.
If you're curious about the anthology that prompted all of this personal growth, then check out Love, Time, Space, Magic, Pop Seagull's latest collection of science fiction and fantasy love stories, available through Createspace, Amazon, Kobo and iBooks. Maybe you'll fall in love, too.
Friday 10 April 2015
To celebrate my story being published in the Love Space, Time, Magic anthology I've written a guest blog: How to Sell Short Stories to an Anthology.
Yes. Now I'm pretending to be an expert. Oh the hubris.
Not really! Just some bits and pieces that I have picked up along the way.
Friday 3 April 2015
CONTRARY to the title of this anthology, working with such a talented cast of writers is an opportunity that usually comes once in a lifetime. From best-selling to greenhorn, independent or traditionally-published, the authors in this anthology span all ranges in addition to spanning the globe—from England to Australia and all over the United States. I've had the privilege of getting to know each and every one of them, and they have become a part of my extended family. I've even caught a glimpse of a secret side of them that only another writer...editor...is privy to witness through their words. Through this series of posts, I plan on introducing you to my new family through a mini-interview of each. You may not get a chance to see their secret side, but you'll get a sneak-peek into their minds, their passions and inspirations, and what made them the writers they are today.
..The Mini Interview..
1. At what age did you start writing?
As soon as I could—6 or 7?2. Which book introduced you to Speculative Fiction?
John Christopher's Tripod series. I was stunned to realize people could think about exciting stuff like that. I wanted more...3. Do you have an all-time favorite book? What about it makes it your favorite?
The Crown of Stars by Kate Elliott. Not only does it depict a greatly realistic, detailed early Middle Ages, it has a kickass heroine, a wide scope, mythic creatures, love, wars, magic... I can keep rereading it, it's too complex to keep in your head so there's never any boredom.4. Which author and/or book inspired you to start writing?
Jack Vance. I just loved his ironic details and grotesque imagination. I wanted to be just like him...all my teenage work is one big Vance pastiche.5. What would you say is the most important lesson all writers should learn?
You have to find a way to show yourself through your words.6. Of the entire publishing process, which would you say is the most difficult aspect to endure?
The waiting. Months, sometimes even years, to get an answer from a publisher or a magazine.7. From where did the inspiration for your submission arise?
The Yde Girl was an actual bog corpse found in my country.8. If applicable, did you have a favorite character (to write) from your story? If so, what sets them apart from the others?
My protagonist, because she tries so hard to fit in and to be loyal, and she has to make a choice to leave her family.9. On what projects are you currently working?
A near-future, optimistic sf novel/series of shorts. I took up the challenge to write utopian instead of dystopian for a change....
Read Bo's story, Bog Trade, in your very own copy of Twice Upon A Time today!