[GUEST POST] S.G. Browne on The Writing Life

S.G. Browne is the author of the novels Big Egos, Lucky Bastard, Fated, Breathers, and the forthcoming Super Duper, as well as the novella I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus and the ebook collection Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel. He’s a Guinness aficionado, ice cream snob, and a sucker for It’s a Wonderful Life. He lives in San Francisco.

The Writing Life: We Are Not Alone

by S.G. Browne

“The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing: isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”

The above quote was taken from Robert De Niro’s presentation for the screenwriting category at the 2014 Academy Awards. I don’t know who wrote the words that De Niro spoke but whoever it was nailed writers to the post.
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NOTE: This installment of Special Needs In Strange Worlds features a guest post from the incredible Elizabeth Bear! – Sarah Chorn

Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction. She lives in Massachusetts with a Giant Ridiculous Dog. Her partner, acclaimed fantasy author Scott Lynch, lives in Wisconsin. You can learn more about her books by visiting her website. On April 8, 2014 Elizabeth Bear released the third and final book in the Eternal Sky trilogy, Steles of the Sky.

On Writing Disabilities

by Elizabeth Bear

It’s kind of funny to realize as I write this that I originally wasn’t going to submit a piece to Sarah’s blog series, because I didn’t feel like I had much to say about writing disabled people in science fiction. But after the second colleague suggested that I would be a good fit for the series, I had to stop and consider why they would think so.

And I realized that it’s probably because I write a lot of disabled protagonists. From Jenny Casey and Genevieve Castaign in Hammered and the sequel books–an amputee with neurological damage and a girl with cystic fibrosis–to the aneurotypical Michelangelo in Carnival from Matthew Szczgielniak with his maimed hand and congenital adrenal hyperplasia sufferer Lily Wakeman in Whiskey and Water to Tristen and Perceval Conn in the Jacob’s Ladder books, one of whom has albinism and the other of whom has lost the power of flight–now that I actually stop and think about it, it seems like most of my protagonists are “imperfect” in some way.

I have written characters with forms of epilepsy and characters with bipolar disorder. I have written anxiety sufferers and paraplegics and I have helped invent entirely new, science fictional syndromes. I have written more than my share of characters with post-traumatic stress disorder. That last, frankly, is because I don’t know how to write people who don’t have PTSD.

I’ve been trying to learn, though. You all are so unpredictable.
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Katherine Addison‘s short fiction has been selected by The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror and The Year’s Best Science Fiction. Her new novel, The Goblin Emperor, was just published by Tor. She lives near Madison, Wisconsin.

Tolkien, Orcs, Elves and Goblins

by Katherine Addison

I write a lot of different things, but one of my first and deepest loves is the genre that sometimes gets called “epic fantasy” or “secondary-world fantasy”: stories that take place entirely in imaginary worlds. Unsurprisingly, I came to Tolkien early, I loved–and love–him deeply, and he is undeniably one of a handful of very profound influences on my writing. (Tolkien, Wolfe, and Kushner are the three fantasy writers I most want to be able to write like, which probably explains a great many things about my books.) I love the world he invented, and I strive in my own writing to give the same sense of depth that he does, the same intense sense of history. And if I could write travel narrative as well as he does…well…that would be shiny.
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Sabrina Benulis lives in northeastern Pennsylvania with her husband and a spoiled cockatiel. When she isn’t writing like a madwoman, you can find Sabrina enjoying old school video games, Japanese anime, and of course a good book. Archon, her debut novel, is the first installment in The Books of Raziel series. Her new book, the sequel, is called Covenant.

A Book Series is A Journey

by Sabrina Benulis

There really is an art to writing novels in a fantasy series, and by now I firmly believe that no matter how many books you read, this is a skill that someone can only firmly acquire through experience. Many times when I’m asked how many novels I’ve been contracted for in The Books of Raziel series and I say ‘three,’ people first congratulate my good fortune, and then they look at me flabbergasted. The next question inevitably is, “So how exactly can you write three books that are all connected?” or better still, “How in the world do you keep track of everything?”

The short answer is: it’s complicated.
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Miles Cameron is the author of The Traitor Son Cycle, which merges epic fantasy with intricate plotting and scathing action. The first book was The Red Knight. The second book, published this week by Orbit Books is The Fell Sword.

Writing Fantasy-Battles, War, and Violence

By Miles Cameron

In the Traitor Son series, there are a great many battles. But battles, IMHO, are like murders in a good mystery novel. Each of them needs to take place in a context and the results have to have consequences. You can’t just have a battle to see how the magic sword works. Or the hero, for that matter.

And I have to admit that my writing of violence in a Fantasy setting is enormously complicated by having actually seen a war or two.
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A filmmaker now exploring novel-writing and illustration, Darryl Knickrehm has 8 short films under his belt. In 2013, in addition to co-founding Waylines Magazine, Darryl was a finalist in The Illustrators of the Future. Twice. This year he is releasing the dystopian series, The Citizens of Oblivion. The first book, In Dreams, came out in January, with the next installment, Sympathy for the Devil, came out March 3. For more information on other projects, check out dariru.com, his blog, or on twitter as @DarrylKnickrehm.

The Story Behind The Citizens of Oblivion
(or, How To Make an Entire Series from a Simple Writing Exercise)

by Darryl Knickrehm

Just where do stories come from? Do they dwell on some ethereal plane, floating through the flotsam until someone taps the midi-chlorian barrier and a fully formed epic is let loose? Maybe for some. For most of us, however, the answer is a little more down to earth. Sometimes we pull from personal experiences. Sometimes we’re inspired by real world events. But a lot of the time, stories are developed. Through plotting. Through planning. And sometimes through little writing exercises. And if you’re lucky, like me, those little writing exercises might turn into an epic odyssey, one that leads to epiphany upon epiphany and an entire six-book series.

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E.L. Tettensor is the author of the Nicolas Lenoir series of fantasy mysteries. She lives with her husband in Burundi, Africa, where she spends her time working, writing, and defending her home and garden against the insidious, creeping onslaught of the jungle – which is possibly why she equates the colour green with evil. You can learn more at her website, www.eltettensor.com.

How To Spice Up a Mystery Story with Speculative Fiction

by E.L. Tettensor

“I couldn’t put it down.”

The five little words every author wants to hear. For mystery writers, especially, this is the Holy Grail of review language. The validation of every plot twist, every cleverly placed clue, every chapter left teetering on the edge of a cliff like a school bus in a Superman movie.

So, what makes it work? What turns a reasonably paced read into a ravenous, up-till-two-in-the-morning page burner?
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Pamela Palmer is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of more than a dozen novels including both the Vamp City and Feral Warriors series. When Pamela’s initial career goal of captaining starships failed to pan out, she turned to engineering, satisfying her desire for adventure with books and daydreams until finally succumbing to the need to create worlds of her own. Pamela lives and writes in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Bringing a Long-Running Series to a Close

by Pamela Palmer

The first rule of any story is knowing where it starts and where it ends. Of course, authors are nothing if not rule-breakers and we often dive in with only a general idea of where the whole thing is going to end.

When I started my Feral Warriors shape-shifter series, I’d anticipated writing nine books. After all, the story was about the last nine shape-shifters left in the world, each of whom shifts into a different animal. And, being paranormal romances, each character would get his own book. Ideally. The trouble was, I love plot every bit as much as I enjoy romance, and I ended up telling one big urban fantasy tale. Each story focused on a different pair of main characters, a different couple, but ultimately, it was all one tale as the shape-shifters battled near impossible odds to keep the Daemons from escaping their magical prison after five thousand years.
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More than two decades ago, when I was banging my head against a keyboard in desperation trying to write fiction, I somehow became convinced that I should abandon prose and begin writing screenplays.  I read several books, some of them concentrating on formatting (useful because I had, at that point, never considered that writing a screenplay required different textual semiotics from prose), but learned the most from those focusing on structure, such as Robert McKee’s Story and Syd Field’s Screenplay, among others.  Although they never quite get me to the point of actually writing more than a few pages of half-baked ideas (though I did collaborate with one friend on a spy story made obsolete by the abrupt conclusion of the Cold War), they taught me enough about what made stories work to allow me to begin finishing prose fiction at a regular pace.

Had Dan O’Bannon’s and Matt Lohr’s Dan Obannon’s Guide to Screenplay Structure: Inside Tips from the Writer of Alien, Total Recall and Return of the Living Dead been published at that time, it easily would have been one of the books I absorbed.  It certainly would have been something I studied carefully.  McKee’s Story offered a wealth of dos and don’ts, Syd Field’s Screenplay broke down three-act structure in a way that made sense, but this particular manual came from the same mind that produced one of the greatest science-fiction horror movies of all time, one of the best-known zombie movies (made before zombies shambled into the cultural zeitgeist), and one of science fiction’s best known indie movies.  He also worked on one of the greatest movies never made, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune, so what he said would have carried a great deal of weight for this budding science fiction writer.  In fact, his work views drama in a manner that seems self-evident but that other writers seldom explore.  It’s a work I’d recommend not only to screenwriters, but also to those who want to write fiction.

Dan O’Bannon died in 2009, before he and Matt Lohr could finish their collaboration.  I got the chance to talk to Matt about the book, and about what makes his approach to writing different from others.
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[GUEST POST] DK Mok on Endings, and What Comes After

DK Mok lives in Sydney, Australia, and writes fantasy, science fiction and urban fantasy novels and short stories. DK graduated from UNSW with a degree in Psychology, pursuing her interest in both social justice and scientist humour. Her urban fantasy novel The Other Tree is available now (Spence City). DK’s short stories include ‘Morning Star’ in One Small Step (Fablecroft), ‘Autumn Moon’ in Holiday Magick (Spencer Hill Press), and ‘Keeping It Together’ in Midnight Movie: Creature Feature (May December Publications). Find more online at www.dkmok.com, on Twitter @dk_mok or on Facebook.

Endings, and What Comes After
by DK Mok

I tend to remember endings.

I still recall with intense clarity where I was when I finished reading John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things. Sitting at a wobbly plastic table, afternoon light slanting in through the windows, the world around me seeming to stretch and shrink and hang in that moment of silence and light.

I love a good ending, although what constitutes a “good” ending can vary immensely. Sometimes, what an author considers an apt finale can leave readers taking to social media in an unholy rage. This can occur when an ending is rushed, poorly written, or unconvincing. But sometimes, this occurs because the ending is not what the reader wanted or expected.
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Ottawa-based storyteller and author Marie Bilodeau‘s work has been described as “fresh and exciting” by Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo award-winning author of Wake. She attended Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, and served two terms as President of the school’s Science Fiction and Fantasy Club, an honor that she will never live down. (Not that she cares to.) Her novel Destiny’s Blood was nominated for the 2011 Aurora Awards and won the Bronze Medal for Science-Fiction in the Foreword Book Awards. The final novel in that trilogy, Destiny’s War comes out January 31st, 2014.
To learn more, visit her official website at MarieBilodeau.com.

The Name of the Trickster

by Marie Bilodeau

We all grow up on narratives, and few in the SF community aren’t lovers of stories and narratives in general, whether they consume them through literature, movies, long-running TV and/or video games. The character arcs swing us around, climaxes make us tingle and we love us a good trickster.
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[GUEST POST] Paul Kearney on The Road to Writing

Paul Kearney is the critically-acclaimed author of The Monarchies of God and the Sea Beggars series. He has been long-listed for the British Fantasy Award. His latest novels are A Different Kingdom (available now) and The Ten Thousand (available next month), both from Solaris books.

The Road to Writing is Paved with Blood, Sweat and Tears

by Paul Kearney

I remember one night, sitting down with Robert Silverberg and Rob Holdstock, and getting really, really drunk with them, and thinking: this can’t be right.

That drunken night was over twenty years ago now, but I treasure the memory. I am not a great conventioneer, but in the few I went to I was always somewhat startled by the sheer approachability of the big guns of the genre.
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After teaching literature, philosophy, history, and religion for more than a decide, Brian Staveley began writing epic fantasy. His first book, The Emperor’s Blades (forthcoming from Tor on January 14, 2014), is the start of his series, Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. Tor.com has been good enough to release the first seven chapters as a teaser. Brian lives on a steep dirt road in the mountains of southern Vermont, where he divides his time between fathering, writing, husbanding, splitting wood, skiing, and adventuring, not necessarily in that order. He can be found on twitter at @brianstaveley, facebook as brianstaveley, and Google+ as Brian Staveley.

Bootlegging and Manure-Spreading: The Starting of Sequels
by Brian Staveley

When it comes to exposition, the question facing a writer at the start of a book is: “How much of this shit do I really need?” There’s no right answer, of course. Too much can destroy the plot’s momentum, while too little can leave the reader feeling as though she’s watching a bunch of stick figures carom around inside a poorly glued up diorama. Every author makes her peace with the balance, and by the end of the novel, when that balance has generally shifted toward all-out action, the challenges of exposition are largely forgotten. Then, if you’re writing a series, you start volume two, and the question becomes, “Do I really need to do all that shit again?”
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Jaye Wells is a USA Today-bestselling author of urban fantasy and speculative crime fiction. Raised by booksellers, she loved reading books from a very young age. That gateway drug eventually led to a full-blown writing addiction. When she’s not chasing the word dragon, she loves to travel, drink good bourbon, and do things that scare her so she can put them in her books. For more about Jaye’s books, please visit www.jayewells.com.

Bathtub Alchemy: Updating Established Magic Systems

by Jaye Wells

When I set out to write my new Prospero’s War series, I had a character-a cop named Kate Prospero — and I knew she busted people who used magic. What I didn’t know was what kind of magic.

The first thing I decided was that I didn’t want my characters to be able to just raise their finger or a wand and zap people. I wanted the magic to be more physical so it could be sold like narcotics in our world. That’s where the idea to make the magic center on potions came about.
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Nina D’Aleo wrote her first book at age seven (a fantasy adventure about a girl named Tina and her flying horse). Due to most of the book being written with a feather dipped in water, no one else has ever read ‘Tina and White Beauty’. Many more dream worlds and illegible books followed. Nina blames early exposure to Middle-earth and Narnia for her general inability to stick to reality. She also blames her parents. And her brother. Nina has completed degrees in creative writing and psychology. She currently lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband, George, their two sons, Josef and Daniel, and two cats, Mr Foofy and Gypsy. She spends most of her days playing with toys, saying things like share, play gentle, and let’s eat our veggies and hearing things like no, no way and NEVER! She is the author of The Demon War Chronicles, comprised of The Last City and The Forgotten City.

Worldbuilding in Sci-Fi & Fantasy

by Nina D’Aleo

An idea has sprouted – a character has breathed their first breath – a place has jumped from monochrome to colour in your mind. A story is born!

Now what?

The answer will always differ between writers, but for me – it’s time to build a world!
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VIDEO: Saladin Ahmed on Writing Muslim American Fantasy

Saladin Ahmed recently gave a talk at Grand Rapids Community College titled “Writing Muslim American Fantasy: A Reading and Talk”. Here’s the video from that event. Good stuff.

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THE CRAFT: Cat Rambo on Plot

The Craft is a column that explores the writing process, each month focusing on a different aspect of the craft. This month I asked Cat Rambo, the author of Near + Far, Eyes Like Sky And Coal And Moonlight, and Creating an Online Presence (Careerbuilding for Writers), about plot. Here’s what she had to say…

James Aquilone: What is a plot?

Cat Rambo: To me, it’s the way the story is structured. Not just the events that make up the story, but their arrangement as well: the pace and way in which information is parceled out to the reader.
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C.T. Adams shares the joint pen name of Cat Adams with Cathy Clamp. Together they co-authored the much-lauded Blood Singer series, comprised of Blood Song, Siren Song, Demon Song, The Isis Collar, and The Eldritch Conspiracy. Their latest novel is To Dance with the Devil.

Writing is Hard Work And I Love It

by C.T. Adams


The Hulk
and Joss Whedon
Thor and Jim Butcher

Star Trek
Avengers, Star Wars
and the Doctor

Time Travel and
All that it brings

These are a few of my favorite things.

When my job’s dull.
When my life stinks.
When I’m feeling sad.
I simply remember my favorite things.
And then I don’t feel . . . so bad.

Yes folks. I am an admitted geek. Read the rest of this entry

An Audio Interview with Michael A. Stackpole

Today, Timothy C. Ward interviews Michael A. Stackpole about his new online course, Introduction to Writing: Science Fiction and Fantasy, which is still open to enrollment. The course costs $65 to enroll, then also you’ll purchase 21 Days to a Novel ($20) and his book Rogue Squadron (Star Wars X-Wing Series, Book 1) (~$6).

Michael and Tim also discuss how one learns to outline, examining studies in neuroplasticity and how outlines come from a strong understanding of characters. Michael discusses higher education options for aspiring authors of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Check out the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing.

If you’d like to find Michael on Second Life for his office hours, search for Noble Charron, his avatar, send an IM and he’ll give you the link. You can also go to The Quillians writer’s headquarters, a great place for encouragement for NaNoWriMo. They concluded with what he’s working on: a Pathfinder book, the next book in his Crown Colonies series, and then Talion: Nemesis.

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William Petrocelli is the co-owner, with his wife Elaine, of the famed independent San Francisco Bay Area Book Passage bookstores. As a former Deputy Attorney General for the State of California and a poverty lawyer in Oakland, Petrocelli has long been an advocate for women’s rights. The Circle of Thirteen is his first novel. Visit WilliamPetrocelli.com for more information about the novel and Bill’s book tour, as well as essays, excerpts, reviews and a list of select independent bookstores to buy the book.

Fact-Checking the Future: The Challenges of Writing a Thriller Set in the Future

by William Petrocelli, author of The Circle of Thirteen (Turner Publishing, on-sale October 22, 2013)

Writing teachers say write with a strong sense of place. Little details can bring a story to life, and the historical setting can often place those details in the reader’s mind so that they don’t have to be spelled out. If the hero is “confronted by a man with a gun,” the context can fill in the picture. If the story is set in Tombstone 1881, Chicago 1927, or Berlin 1944, in your mind’s eye you’ll see a Western Sheriff, a Chicago mobster, or an agent of the Gestapo.

But what do San Francisco in 2056 or New York in 2082 look like? Writers of future-fiction don’t have to do much historical research, but they do something just as difficult: they have to create a historical context on the blank slate of a reader’s mind. The challenge is to merge your vision of the future with the visions of thousands of readers without jarring them to the point of distraction.
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