A Story is Born – Dennis Danvers

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Aside from having the same last name as Captain Marvel, one of my favorite superheroes (no relation) Dennis Danvers is also a truly magnificent author. I’m lucky enough to have him in my writing critique group where he regularly fills me with feelings of inadequacy. Today, he’s hear to talk about his new novel The Perfect Stranger and how the harrowing event that seeded it.
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Jeez Louise, where did this story begin?  Ninth grade, my first job, page in a Houston branch library.  Long before then I’d figured out I loved stories more than anything, and now it was my job to sort and shelve them.  All kinds of stories for all kinds of readers.  That’s where I learned what genre meant.  I also learned the title/author combo for countless books I’ve never read—which made me an awesome trivia player for a while.  Years later I worked some years in an excellent used bookstore in Dallas and actually got to talk to all the different readers that went with the different genres and came to appreciate their varied joys and pleasures and insights.

I have four degrees in English (B.A., M.A., M.F.A., and Ph.D.) and the notion in those halls was too often that only English majors read, or allowing for other readers, only English majors read texts correctly.  That just ain’t so.  Genres have always liked to party with other genres, and that keeps the whole game going in the most delightful way.

So that’s the background story, but the seed was born a few decades later when I had a heart attack in my shower.  I didn’t know what it was at first, and it didn’t particularly hurt, but (and I understand this is not unusual) I was having bizarre thoughts, a story idea—about an author who died suddenly leaving a hard drive of work behind and what might become of it—when I realized that I  was potentially that dying author, and I had a more urgent crisis to deal with than whatever nonsense dwelt on my hard drive. I’ll spare you the details, but “inky abyss” became a recurring motif in my fiction thereafter (See especially the “Adult Children of Alien Beings” stories on Tor.com).

That was a dozen years ago, but the germ of the story remained behind of orphaned work and who might find it, and what they might do with it.  The result is The Perfect Stranger, a romp through the genres.  I usually have fun writing my books, but this was deliciously fun.  The dead author is Gene Sanders Wilkerson, whose five lost works are rescued by lifelong fan, now doctoral student, Genevieve Slidell, who is delighted to discover they are wildly different from his famous work, in five different genres.

She is even more delighted (as was I) when Wilkerson’s ghost shows up, not only to approve her plan to claim the work as her own, but to tag along as she reaps the resulting accolades.  Like Genevieve, I always longed to be an author but never felt good enough.  Like Genevieve, I could never feel quite at home in the loftier realms of academe.

Oh yeah.  I used to have a cabin in the Blue Ridge where this story opens when Genevieve finds five novels in the attic.  I’m fond of epigraphs, and Wilkerson gladly provided me one for my novel:

The novelist is the perfect stranger, the fellow who sits down beside you on some journey or other, and draws you into his world of words where he does the most marvelous things to you.  You might fly.  He might enslave you.  He’ll almost certainly fuck you, convert you, something intense.  Laws don’t matter, even those of the so-called universe, for one brief ride, a 1000 pages at most.  And then, here’s the best part, you part from the stranger with the world outside the journey unchanged.  All the changes are within, where the perfect stranger lives.

—Gene Sanders Wilkerson, Thoughts on the Novel

You can find Dennis on his own blog here

First Time Spoon Deficit or Plague Make Wording Hard

I never seem to update this blog as often as I’d like. Usually I just don’t have anything of import to share with the world. There’s an awful lot out there vying for our attention, and I feel like if I’m going to take up some of your precious time, I should have something to say.

That’s in a normal year anyway, and I think we can all agree this year has been anything but normal. This year has been (still is) a dumpster fire. A dumpster fire of flaming dumpsters. And those dumpsters are filled with bags of dog turds. And the turds explode. Explosions of murder hornets. With lasers that give you hemorrhoids and make pizza and chocolate taste like brussels sprouts.

In short, this year has sucked on a level usually reserved for Greek tragedies. As such, is it any surprise that so many us are dealing with low-key fatigue and/or depression? For me, it’s like a constant grinding. It’s subtle, and while sometimes it hits me like a brick to the face, most of the time it’s background noise. Regardless, it’s always there and I feel raw—as good a word as any—and tired. Additionally, everything takes more effort now, mental and physical.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m having a hell of time getting any writing done.

"Scream" by anguila40 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
That book isn’t going to write itself

I don’t tend to get writer’s block so much as logjam, but of course I’ve had times where I struggled to get words on the page. Usually I could push through, put butt in chair and after a bit I’d find my groove and get my wording on. But now, it takes a concerted effort to get myself in the chair at all. And then, more often than not, I have to brute force every word. The energy that would produce 5000 words before, now gets me 1000. I’ve dealt with varying levels of depression since my teens, but this is different. It’s not depression. It sort of is, but not quite. Then it dawned on me what was going on: for the first time, I’m running out of spoons on a (near) daily basis.

For those of you unfamiliar with the spoon reference, it’s an analogy used in the disabled community. The premise is that every person has a daily allotment of spoons based on mental and/or physical limitations, or lack thereof. Every task, mental or physical, costs you spoons. Everything from getting out of bed or getting dressed, to hauling boxes of books up and down stairs, or doing calculus. When you’re out of spoons, you’re done for the day; your body or brain just can’t do anything more. This means that someone could only have a few spoons for the day. So, if they want to clean the house and do the things a person needs to do every day (eat, drink, move from one place to another) there are some things they won’t be able to do. Maybe that day they don’t take a shower, or they eat cereal instead of cooking. That’s every day for some people. A constant mental balancing of the spoon allotment. For those of us without a disability, we pretty much have more spoons than we’ll ever need in a day. Sure, some extraordinary circumstances might mean we do run out, but typically we don’t. As such, we don’t think about it. We don’t have to.

I think a lot of people that never had to think about it before, are finding themselves out of spoons on a regular basis. Maybe things cost more spoons, or maybe we just have fewer of them, I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter, it’s the same in the end. I know for me, some days are better than others, but by and large, it’s hard. Everything is harder.

I didn’t write this to garner sympathy, or to shame you into “sucking it up” because others have it so much worse. I did it to tell you that you’re not alone. That you’re not crazy and there’s nothing wrong with you. You’re not weak, or a failure, or being overly dramatic, or just making excuses. What you’re feeling is real. More than that, it’s a completely reasonable reaction to *gestures wildly around at the world* this.

Life is hard right now. Really hard. If you’re lucky, you and those you love are safe at home and you’re “only” dealing with isolation. If you’re not so lucky, well, you’re not. Maybe you’re not able to work from home. Maybe you’re sick, or someone you love is. Maybe you’ve lost someone, or multiple someones. Maybe you lost your job and you’re not sure if you’ll have a place to live next month, or anything to eat tonight, or what you’ll do if you get sick.

So, go easy on yourself. Don’t berate yourself if you’re not writing (or whatever your art is) as much as you think you should. Don’t feel guilty because all you managed to get done is getting from one side of the day to the other. You made it. Right now, that’s enough. That’s a win. And I want you to know that I, at least, am proud of you for that.

Another reason I wrote this is because of a blog post Chuck Wendig wrote last month that really resonated with me. You can read it here, and you really should. You should also have tissues handy.

Speculative Chic

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The really great people at Speculative Chic asked me to stop by and talk about some of my favorite things in Sci-fi/Fantasy. I decided to use the space to talk about some really excellent books by women of color. If you’re looking for something new to read, check it out (and the rest of the site too!). Even if you aren’t, you should check out the site.

You can see the post here.

A Story is Born I.L. Cruz

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In this edition of A Story is Born, I.L. Cruz is here to talk about her Enchanted Isle series. I found I.L. through her blog, Fairy Tale Feminista. If you like faerie tales, you’ll really enjoy her site. I highly recommend it, even if she does spell it fairy instead of faerie.


Starting from the Beginning: The Birth of The Enchanted Isles series

I remember the story that started it all.

My daughter was perfecting the art of being two and refused to stay down for her nap. My solution was to read to her from a book of fairy tales she’d gotten for her birthday. One of the stories was Rumpelstiltskin. I read the story and she fell asleep, but my mind kept turning the story over and over in my mind.

It’s a story about a woman who had a lying father, who claimed she could spin straw into gold. It’s a story of a woman who is bullied by her king to make good on her father’s lies on pain of death. And it’s the story of a woman who threw herself into the power of yet another man who made the most outrageous demand of all—her firstborn. Yet the story never gives her a name.

In an era where everything sends everyone into fits of ire, I’d say this took me to four or five—annoyed and pensive. Childhood is full of stories that cast men and boys as heroes for being bold and clever, but girls and women are heroes only when they’re meek and beautiful. The more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. It began the germ of an idea.

I started looking for instances where women were at the heart of an adventure and more often than not romance was center stage. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like a good romance for men or women in any combination—it makes a story more well-rounded. But the more I read, the more I realized that a romantic entanglement spurred women and girls in adventure stories as though being female meant adventure for the sake of it was unthinkable. Being a proactive kind of person, I decided the only way to fix this oversight, was to add a story of my own.

My aims were initially simple. Write a story about a woman who engaged in an adventurous life and make her Latina, another deficit I’d noticed. I knew she was would have a love interest, but it would have little to do with her motivations. Because my reading of fairy tales gave rise to this idea, I began my search in the pages in my daughter’s books. This was at a time when fairy tale reimaginings were becoming popular. I settled on Mother Goose, but writing is rarely that simple.

The book, which would become a series, evolved through time. At first it was a mystery and then mystery/fantasy. At one point it became a YA novel because I went to a conference and the “expert” said it should be geared to young adults. It was at the same conference that someone else gave my work a title. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to tame my idea into a YA mold.

Then I remembered what originally brought me to writing. I wanted to see myself reflected in genre fiction. And I couldn’t do so within a context that was pushed on me. So, I did the hardest thing a writer has to do. I started from the beginning. I still liked my characters, but I knew the situations I was subjecting them to were artificial (as much as that is true for a world outside our own where magic is real). I opened myself up to other possibilities.

My characters had been with me long enough to talk back—a scary prospect to any sane person, but a common occurrence for a writer. From my “conversations” with my characters the Enchanted Isles books were born. It’s been and continues to be a rewarding and at times, heartbreaking experience, but I’m so happy it’s my career.


You can find I.L. at the aforementioned Fairy Tale Feminista, her website here, and on Twitter here.

You can find her books at the links below.


A Smuggler’s Path
Digital or Paperback


A Noble’s Path
Digital or Paperback

A Big Announcement!

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One of the downsides to being a writer is that you often get good news but can’t share it right away. A few weeks ago this happened to me (again) and now I’m finally able to share it.

*drumroll*

Two-Gun Witch has been picked up!!!


(SQUEE)

For those of you who follow my blog posts, you know this has been a long and often daunting road. I feel this book is my best work to date, which it should be in terms of my writing skill, but I also believe this is the best story I’ve written with some of the best characters. For those who haven’t followed my posts, or don’t remember, the short version is that the book got sent around to the big publishers, and a few smaller imprints. Generally (high 90 percentile) the editors really liked the book and wanted it, but the marketing people put the kibosh on it because they weren’t sure how to sell it, or felt it was too much of a gamble (fantasy westerns don’t usually sell well). I knew this would be an issue even though I think it’s more of a historical fantasy; only part of the story is set in the old west. As such, It didn’t take long for me to realize that a small press would be the best place for TGW. They can often take risks the bigger houses won’t.

The book will be published by Falstaff Books. I think Falstaff is a great home for TGW, and not just because they call themselves the Misfit Toys of Fiction, but that helped. I’ve known John Hartness for a couple of years now, and I’ve rarely met someone who works harder for authors and books. Additionally, there will be an audiobook which is something I’ve been wanting for a very long time. I’m super excited (in case you couldn’t tell) and I can’t wait to see what the book becomes.

Obviously there isn’t cover art yet, or a release date beyond sometime next year, but as soon as they become available, I’ll be announcing them here. While I am eager to get the book out, I’m also excited to have the time to build up some hype, get some reviews, and hopefully spread the word. This is of course where you (my wonderful, brilliant, incredibly attractive, spectacular readers) can really help. Have I mentioned lately how much I love you all, you sexy beasts?


(I’m just going to assume this is you)


(or this #BestCompanionFightMe)

In the coming months I’ll be releasing details about the book (see above about hype) and also revealing details about a special offer for pre-orders from The Fountain Bookstore (my local indie, who ships worldwide).

In the meantime, here’s a little something for you wonderful (and did I mention super hot?) people to tantalize. This is a sample flap copy I wrote up last year. If you don’t know the term, the flap copy is the paragraph or two you find on the back cover of paperbacks or inside the flap (hence the term) of the dust jacket for hardcovers. It’s unlikely that this will be the final copy, but I think it offers a good idea of what the story is about.

Talen is a Stalker, a bounty hunter hired by the Marshal Service to hunt down humans stained by dark magic. She’s also a two-gun witch, one of the few elven women who can wield two magical revolvers, spell irons, at once. For three years she’s lived for the next bounty, and a whisper of vengeance for the destruction of her people. That changes when she takes the warrant on Margaret Jameson, a new kind of stained, one immune to the usual tools of collection. Upon finding her quarry, Talen realizes Margaret isn’t stained at all, but someone worked very hard to make her appear so. The search for an answer carries the two unlikely partners from the wilds of the Great Plains to the expansive cities of post-Civil War America. There, they learn the truth is much darker than they imagined, and it could mean the death of millions, or even reshape the world itself.

More to come. Watch this space.

Cancel Culture – A Creator’s Point of View

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First off, Happy New Year! I hope 2020 brings much happiness and joy.

To kick off the new year, I wanted to write about something I’ve been seeing more and more talk about: cancel culture.

Now this is going to be on the long side, so:

TLDR: Don’t be an asshole. If you do become an asshole, don’t whine about people calling you an asshole, or try to make them out to be the ‘real’ asshole.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the term Cancel Culture, I envy you. While I don’t usually rely on Wikipedia as a source, in this case, the
definition is sufficient. But, like any sort of social reaction, there is nuance that is hard to easily quantify.

Call-out culture (also known as outrage culture) is a form of public shaming that aims to hold individuals and groups accountable for their actions by calling attention to behavior that is perceived to be problematic, usually on social
media. A variant of the term, cancel culture, describes a form of boycott in which someone (usually a celebrity) who has shared a questionable or unpopular opinion, or has had behavior in their past that is perceived to be either offensive or problematic called
out on social media is “canceled”; they are completely boycotted by many of their followers or supporters, often leading to massive declines in celebrities’ (almost always social media personalities) careers and fanbase.

Some examples of “cancel culture” include, but aren’t limited to: Louis C.K., Shane Gillis, Harvey Weinstein, R. Kelly, more recently J.K. Rowling, and many, many more.


CLARIFICATION VIA MINI-RANT:

What I’m going to go into from here on is about people who say or do offensive things, NOT people who are themselves offensive. Like, for example, people who use their positions of power to get others to do things against their will, and actively work to destroy those who don’t go along with your twisted little fantasies. Those people are predators who need to compensate their victims AND spend a long while behind bars.


As way too many of those on the receiving end of this digital public shaming often shout about censorship and first amendment rights, I’m going to briefly (I hope) digress to hammer that argument into the ground. Apologies to my non-American readers for this. The text of the first amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the
Government for a redress of grievances.

The first five words are the key. Congress shall make no law. The first amendment’s purpose and protections extend only as far as the government. It offers no protections from private entities, or businesses, such as social media companies for example. If you work for me and I discover that you like to spend your off time posting about how awesome lynching was, I’m going to fire your ass. Possibly out of a cannon. Into the sun. Some could argue about the fairness of firing someone based on what they do when I’m not paying them, though in my example it would take some serious mental gymnastics. What there can be no argument about, however, is that my firing of the above-mentioned douche-canoe violates their first amendment rights. Congress passed no law preventing them from saying something despicable, I just decided that I don’t want that view point associated with my business. Neither does the first ammendment guarantee you a platform, i.e. social media. When you sign up for any social media account, there is a (often lengthy) terms of service agreement you must agree to. And yet, some insist those companies are somehow obligated to permit any and all speech. To which I can only assume they would have no issue to me sitting in their living room 24/7, shouting obscenities through a bullhorn, and refusing to leave. Free speech, right?

Another unwritten aspect a lot of the first speech enthusiasts seem to believe is that the first amendment also protects them from criticism or consequence. There is so much irony in this idea that I’m amazed they don’t drop dead from heavy metal poisoning. The truth of course is that it ensures the exact opposite. Detractors have the same free speech rights. It should be noted the Supreme Court has ruled that all rights—including free speech—are not absolute. Yelling fire in a crowded theater is the most common example, but it also includes incitement to violence. This is why death threats are illegal, and why you rarely hear direct calls to do violence to others. It’s often coded. Or its weasel worded so the person can say they never actually told anyone to do that, they just said that if it happened it wouldn’t be such a bad thing. This is why no social media is prevented from banning racists or bigots, but those same racists and bigots are allowed to organize protests and marches, so long as they don’t incite violence or put the public at risk.

Some like to include the “war on Christmas” in the cancel culture discussion, but that’s a false equivalency. Someone saying something other than “merry Christmas” does not intrude on your freedom of religion. However, insisting they do, does intrude on their freedom of speech. Also, it’s just a quick path to being an asshole.

Okay, so not so brief a digression. Sorry.

But, Bishop, I hear you ask, what does this have to do with being a creator? Well, I’m glad you asked.

I heard a clip from a podcast in which a group of comedians lamented how hard it was for them these days. They can’t perform at the venues they used to because they get booed/heckled, or just aren’t booked. The reason of course is because their material isn’t “politically correct.” I have several problems with this notion, as a person and an artist.

As a person, I’m sick of the PC boogeyman. No one seems able to agree on what exactly it means aside from: if you say something I don’t like (happy holidays) I can call you out for being rude or insensitive. But if you tell me I said something rude or impolite, it’s being PC. Generally, I try to start from a place of respect or politeness. If someone tells me something I said offended them, or the like, I generally apologize and make a mental note. It costs me little, and it helps me avoid being the asshole. Are there some people who go to extremes? Yes. As humans, that tends to be our default: “If one is good, then a thousand is awesome.” As I’ve noted in other posts, I’ll respect just about any viewpoint, up until it deems someone as less than, particularly if it’s something they have no control over (skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.). Even if it something they do have control over, so long as it doesn’t dehumanize, and all parties involved are consenting adults, I say, you do you.

At this point we come to the crux of the post, apologies for taking the long way around, but I couldn’t find any other way here. As an artist, I’m bothered whenever I hear another artist blame the audience for their failure.

“The audience is too uptight/PC to get my humor.”

“My book is too highbrow for most readers to appreciate.”

“People are too indoctrinated into mainstream music to get my style.”

“My work is just too edgy for most sheeple.”

Two words: Bull. Shit.

If you’re a creative, once you put your art out into the world, you no longer get a say. It belongs to the world and they will do with it what they will. If they dislike it (which isn’t the same as not liking it), it isn’t because of some failure on their part. It’s because of a failure on yours.

Wait! Don’t freak out!

This doesn’t mean you’re a failure as an artist, just that you failed to connect in that instance. That’s what art is about, creating a connection. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t, but you created it. For example, if you’re a comedian and people aren’t laughing at your material, the problem is the material, not the audience.

It’s not unlike when someone puts their foot in the mouth—or their head up their ass—and the defense is that they were taken out of context. In fairness, that can be a legitimate criticism. Using a single sentence from a ten-minute speech could leave out important information and change the tone of that sentence. But typically, “taken out of context” is code for “yes, I said that and meant it, but I refuse to accept the consequences.”

If you say something rude and/or offensive, and that wasn’t your intent, you stupendously failed in your attempt to communicate. And there’s no shame in that, we all roll a 1 sometimes (Dungeons & Dragon reference). Hell, it happens to me fairly regularly (thankfully, more often just saying something stupid rather than outright offensive) and it’s happened in every book I’ve written. Thank the merciful Gods my editors have been great in catching them and helping me do it less, but it still happens. When it does, there are three ways to proceed. Yes, there are more than three, but most are just some variation of these three.

  1. You can acknowledge that you messed up, apologize (sincerely, and no ‘I’m sorry if anyone was offended’ bullshit), and make the effort to do better next time. The last part requires listening to others about where you went wrong
  2. You can do nothing. Just ignore all the looks and comments and go about your day.
  3. You can stand firm, or even double down.

The last two—spoiler alert—are great short cuts to becoming a complete asshat in short order. If the idea of apologizing and “giving in” or “capitulating” makes you uneasy, well, tough. Your job as a creative, or anyone who communicates with others, is to get your message across and understood. It’s not easy, and you’ll fail a lot. Like a LOT. But you won’t improve (as either a creative or a person) if you never recognize your own failures, and certainly not if you blame the audience.

This is how I view my job as a creative anyway, and what I do when I fall short. Maybe something works better for you. Or maybe you don’t care and think that if people are offended, they should just get over it. If you’re the latter, and your goal was to be an asshole, congratulations on your stupendous success.

A Story is Born – Terry Newman

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For this installment of A Story is Born, Terry Newman is here to talk about his comedic fantasy noir series (yes, you read that right). It hits on all genres and Terry shows why he has been so successful in comedy writing in all sort of media.


I have always made up stories, even before I could write them (or anything else) down. I played them through in my head. These short ‘imagination films’ featuring many of my favourite TV, film and comic book characters, as well as my own made-up characters.

I guess it’s what children do.

With this sort of start I consequently did pretty well at ‘English’ at school (despite a cavalier approach to spelling). I also did well at ‘German’, but living in the UK I stuck with English for writing.

I hated metalwork, which is why I never became Tony Stark.

I was good at everything else mind (no false modesty here!), but unfortunately – even though I went to ‘The Nobel Grammar School’ – I never won a Nobel prize. Only because our school was too modern to do that sort of thing. Otherwise it would have been a pretty good boast, having a Nobel prize.

Ah, perhaps I have gone back too far then? I’ll speed up.

Eventually careers talk time came around and the school’s Careers Master pointed me towards drama college or film school, where I could indulge these passions for making things up and possibly become a dissolute waster along the way. I was getting good at that too.

‘No’, I boldly said, (sic) to my Careers Master: ‘I’m going to be an ecologist and save the world from the upcoming environmental disaster.’ Sadly, back then in the later part of the C20th far to few people believed anything as bad as climate change was just round the corner.

Ha! That’ll teach them!

So I headed to the laboratory as best as I could and fell in love with electron microscopy. And, I mean, I could always write great stories in my spare time, couldn’t I? I’d have so much spare time, wouldn’t I?

I began writing my first full story, a comedy, detective, noir fantasy: ‘A DEAD ELF’ featuring dwarf detective Nicely Strongoak, while a proper electron microscope-wielding cell biologist, as some light relief from the chore of PhD writing. This was a long time ago (very last century) when the idea of mixing noir crime, fantasy and comedy in the one book seemed really outlandish! Well, it got me funny looks at parties, but this is what interested me: in particular Raymond Chandler, Tolkien and Douglas Adams. Let’s stick ‘em together I thought.

It was seeing a sign for an ‘Elf Service Station’ on the Derby Road that got my imagination firing on all cylinders. (The wind had blown a branch over the ‘S’). I just thought: ‘I bet they would have, bloody elves.’

I had never sided with the dwarves before – I was actually always one of the tallest in my class until everybody out-grew me. Fortunately, well after I had finished playing rugby.

Dwarves would make the best detectives after all – able to mix with the ‘White and Wise’ and the downtrodden and dirty in those mean cobbled streets. It is an interesting idea I had here after all, that all these medieval-type fantasy worlds would have to develop as time went by and deal with race relations and prejudice, political corruption and crime, and all the other delights of the modern era. It just had to happen!  Tick, tick, tick, went the brain!

Then, like The Beatles, I went to Hamburg. OK – it was just for a conference, a rather rushed affair, which is why I ended up there without any money and no return ticket. Boy, did I write a lot of ‘Dead Elf’ that week after the lectures had finished – after all I couldn’t afford to go anywhere – or eat. (Fortunately breakfast was provided).

That first incarnation of A DEAD ELF was a radio series. The BBC producer who read the script was very nice about it, but pointed out that the BBC had something similar in the mix and why didn’t I turn it into a novel? Unfortunately I had that PhD to finish and then papers to write and a chap called Terry Pratchett came along and basically did pretty much exactly what I wanted to do with fantasy. So, I put ‘A DEAD ELF’ away in the computer’s bottom drawer, but Nicely wouldn’t go away – in fact a second story gradually also emerged, but this time there was lot more detective and less satirical fantasy.

When, still a full time electron microscopist, I began writing topical comedy for a friend’s stage show I had a vague idea that this might be way to find an agent who could help me find a publisher for ‘A DEAD ELF’. This was now beginning to look much more like a proper novel now mostly thanks to a proper Word Processing package. However, a few months later I was surprised to find myself sneaking out of the lab lunch time to work at Broadcasting House writing for two of the BBC’s top topical comedy radio shows: ‘Week Ending’ and ‘The News Huddlines’.

You could do that then.

I ended up with some dozen commissions in total and jokes and sketches on TV’s prestigious ‘Rory Bremner’ show as well. What had begun as a way of finding a publisher was now the main preoccupation. Good job too, as to my surprise the worlds of comedy writing and book publishing have very little in common. This means that ‘A DEAD ELF’ had still to see the light of day.

Next, I tried my hand at playwriting, got my first commissions there and had three shows on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in the same year.

Oh, and some awards! Very minor awards, but more than you get doing electron microscopy. One play went on to be performed in New York and got a rather good review in the New York Times. I am still very pleased about that.

No agent still mind, as the worlds of playwriting, comedy writing and book publishing have even less in common.

One thing I was sure about, this was now all a lot more fun than science, and science funding was getting harder every day. Electron microscopy was not fashionable any more. So, I hung up my microscope – well, I would have done if they weren’t the size of baby elephants. I started writing film scripts as well and began helping other people with their work and even started teaching scriptwriting. I went properly freelance and closed the lab door for good.

And then strangely I became university lecturer again – this time in ‘writing’, not cell biology! Wow! Two university lectureships – how cool will that look on the C.V.? Not at all, is the answer.

Still, none of it had helped me find a home for ‘A DEAD ELF’! So when, working now full time as a writer and script doctor, I saw a post about Harper Voyager UK’s Digital First Initiative I emailed them ‘A DEAD ELF’ and basically forgot I had done so.

After all, I was writing my first musical now! Hell, why not?

Some time later I decided to self-publish ‘A DEAD ELF’. Two weeks after I had accomplished this, Harper Collins contacted me to say that they wanted to publish my book.

I unself-published ‘A DEAD ELF’.

My ebook was epublished by HV, with minimal publicity, as ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of Dead Elf’. (A title I hated). With no review copies sent out, the book didn’t exactly shake the foundations of the publishing world! I knew it could be popular – I had total faith in Nicely. It just needed to get in front of the right readers.

Some months later (after the paperback was published as a Print On Demand) somebody at Harper Collins in the USA saw something in my story (or maybe they liked the cover – good cover!) and it was mentioned in a large promotional ‘Bookperk’ email to Harper Collins readers.

Within two weeks ‘Detective Strongoak and the Case of Dead Elf’ was selling like hot cakes and it became a Kindle #1 Bestseller in the ‘Epic Fantasy’ genre – it was outselling both Tolkien and Martin! Eek! I got a banner from Amazon to this effect to put on my website. Over a hundred reviews ticking up too!

However, with no follow-up publicity from the UK part of the Harper Voyager business, my sales couldn’t keep going at that rate. I was now inspired to finish Nicely’s next adventure, confident that this would sell even better as we could get surely some review copies out there too, given ‘A DEAD ELF’s’ success. My editor said she was looking forward to reading the book, so I dropped everything else and speedily finished the manuscript and sent it off to her. It was called ‘The King of Elfland’s Little Sister’. A jolly clever mash-up of two great books – one fantasy and one detective; but you knew that!

I waited, and I waited. I sent off emails. I started book 3 still waiting. Eventually I heard that my editor was off sick. I carried on waiting. I contacted senior people and was told that it would be read. About a year after submission, pretty much out of the blue, I received an email from a p.a. to say that ‘because of lack of capacity’ Harper Voyager would not be able to do book 2 justice and so were not going to publish it.

And that’s after a relatively successful first book! Publishing eh?

Fortunately the experience had given me some contacts and so ‘The King of Elfland’s Little Sister’ was published by Monkey Business, an imprint of ‘Grey House in the Woods’ – bless ‘em – and I’m very pleased with it.

So that’s how my first book came about and how I stumbled through academia and didn’t win a Nobel Prize, either at school or as a scientist. I did help sort out cardiac atrial natriuretic peptide secretion though and discovered a corkscrew-headed sperm and the uniqueness of the plant endodermis membrane. I have also given quite a few people a jolly good laugh along the way – not always in my writing. More laughs still to come!

Detective Nicely Strongoak Book Three is now finished too – hurrah! It’s called ‘Dwarf Girls don’t Dance’ and completes the ‘Dwarf Noir’ trilogy. It will be published by Monkey Business later this year.

Check out Terry at his website here, his Wikipedia page (lucky bastard) here, or on Twitter here. Even Nicely has his own website here.
You can find all of Terry’s books, which are not only inexpensive ebooks but also well worth the read, on his Amazon page.

A Story is Born – T. Frohock

#SFWAPRO

Welcome to the inaugural post of what I intend to become an ongoing series. Several authors I respect and admire have an ongoing blog series where authors can come and talk about their books. John Scalzi has The Big Idea, Mary Robinette Kowal has My Favorite Bit, and Chuck Wendig has 5 Things I learned. I wanted to do something different, and since authors are so often asked “where do your ideas come from” I decided my contribution (or rather theirs) would be how the story of their book came about.

But I’ve taken up enough space talking about other people. For the very first A Story is Born I invited T. Frohock to talk about her book, Where Oblivion Lives. She did one better and talked about how her Los Nefilim series came about.


In the beginning …

King Solomon was dying. That was how the first incarnation of Los Nefilim began. It went something like this:

In the garden beyond my window, a night bird cried a sublime song while in the distance, a guard called the watch. Otherwise, the palace slept as I, Solomon, third King of all Israel, lay dying with only an angel at my side.

She was a small creature, this angel of mine who cradled my hand, her wings folded demurely at her back. When I was a young man, the tip of her head barely reached my collarbone. Now she towered over my deathbed. She seemed larger somehow; an illusion amplified by the darkness and my fear of the dark.

Except that book didn’t sell. It was too much story in such a short space of words. There were angelic and daimonic wars, and multiple incarnations, and the narrative moved between Solomon’s first person account of the events in the past and the third person account of the events on the Iberian Peninsula in 1348. It was a huge tale that probably should have spanned multiple novels, but I wrote it like one book and it failed to win an editor’s eye.

That happens sometimes. We spend a lot of time and energy on our prose, and though it might feel emotionally devastating when something doesn’t sell, often it just means a particular work isn’t ready for publication. Sometimes, the story needs time to settle … ferment, if you will.

With that thought in mind, I tucked the novel into the metaphorical trunk that is a computer’s memory, and then I moved on to other stories. None of them sold, either.

I was ready to quit writing. Not out of petulance—okay, maybe a little, but once my hurt feelings passed, I took a quick inventory and realized that if my work wasn’t being published, then it was probably something wrong with my writing. Maybe … just maybe … it might be an idea to start back at the beginning. I considered taking some classes, honing my craft a little more before trying for publication again. In other words, it was time for a break.

Meanwhile, the novella market was opening up and a friend suggested that I try writing one. At something of a loss for what to do, I decided to make the novella a gauntlet challenge: if the novella was rejected, then I would quit writing for a while.

As I turned ideas over in my head, I remembered my Solomon story, which is really the backstory for Guillermo, Diago, and Miquel. That backstory went something like this:

You see, the Psalms of the Old Testament were written by several people: David, Solomon, and someone called Asaph. I thought it odd that there was so much literature about David and Solomon and the other members of their respective courts, but this guy named Asaph gets a byline and then pretty much drops out of sight forever. I’m sure Biblical scholars know more about him, but I couldn’t find anything. So I made up a story about how Asaph and Solomon were great friends, but they had a falling out, one so severe that Solomon banished Asaph from his court and imprisoned him with a half-mad angel, but Solomon still loved Asaph too much to erase him from existence entirely, so he left his name on the Psalms they composed. The end.

Then I kept the components of the original story that worked: Solomon/Guillermo, who in his arrogance caused the fall of the Nephilim; his best-friend and betrayer, Asaph/Diago; and the commander of one of Solomon’s army divisions and Asaph’s lover, Benaiah/Miquel.

For everything else, I essentially started from scratch. I eliminated the shape changing and as I reworked the story, I discovered that it wasn’t really about Guillermo. The story of the nefilim was about Diago. So I trimmed the details down to their very essence for the first novella, and since they all had Spanish names, I kept the setting in Spain.

Rather than stick with epic fantasy, I moved the story forward to the turbulent years leading up to the Spanish Civil War. The novellas (In Midnight’s Silence, Without Light or Guide, and The Second Death) all serve as an introduction into the world of Los Nefilim, as well as forming the basis for discovering the Key—the song that will enable the nefilim to open the realms as the angels do. The novels, which begin with Where Oblivion Lives, concern Diago’s actual composition of the Key. Somewhat like an opera in three parts, the stories follow the crucial points that lead our heroes to the next act of the movement.

The newest novel, Carved from Stone and Dream, will be published February 2020 and is something akin to Band of Brothers meets John Wick. It takes place at the end of the Spanish Civil War. I spend some time talking about the Spanish retreat and how the French treated the refugees fleeing Franco’s armies.

It’s been an amazing journey with these three guys and their adventures. As I work on the third novel, A Song with Teeth, I’m bringing this portion of their story to a close and realizing that theirs is the journey of three men moving away from the toxic masculinity of their firstborn lives to learn to nurture one another in an emotionally healthy relationship.

After reviewing this very long post, I guess my message to authors is a simple one. You never know which incarnation of a story might sell, so stick with the process you’ve developed for yourself and keep trying, keep writing. More than anything, don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles.

Write on … I will watch for you.


T. Frohock has turned a love of history and dark fantasy into tales of deliciously creepy fiction. A real-life cyborg, T. has a cochlear implant, meaning she can turn you on or off with the flick of a switch. Make of that what you will. She currently lives in North Carolina, where she has long been accused of telling stories, which is a southern colloquialism for lying.

You can find her in a lot of places online, but she is most often at her website or lurking on Twitter.

Writing the Right Way

#SFWAPRO

There is no right or wrong way to write.


Okay, I suppose I should expand a little.

First, this can’t be said enough: all writing advice, regardless of who gives it, is very, very, very (you get it) much your mileage may vary. What works perfectly well for one person is completely useless to another. Everyone has to find their own way to create, and while some pieces of advice can be useful (a controversial opinion from someone who writes a lot of writing advice) it’s up to you decide which is useful to you. As seems to be happening more, this post is inspired by interactions I’ve seen on various social media platforms.

Outline – to pants or plot!

You might’ve come across the terms pantster and plotter. A panster is just someone writes by the seat of their pants, and a plotter, well, plots out the story. I’m 99% pantster. I do create an outline for everything I write, though it’s rarely more than a two pages, three at most. It’s little more than the chapter number, the point-of-view character, and what key event needs to happen in that chapter. With the exception of The Forgotten, every outline I’ve created is generally useless by chapter 4. As the story develops, the sequence changes, new ideas come into fruition, etc. I’ll usually update the outline for a while, but before long I say screw it and just focus on writing the damn story. I’ve never thought of it this way before, but for me outlines are like the towers for rocket launches. It’s necessary to get me started, but it gets left behind in a fiery explosion. Not really. Well, okay, there was that one time, but I can’t legally discuss it.

On the other end of the spectrum, I know authors who build outlines that are nearly novels on their own. For them, this is the skeleton around which the story is built. I also know some people who don’t outline at all. If you find them useful, use them, If not, don’t.

Write the book start to finish!

Guess what? You don’t have to! This can also tie into the different software people prefer. I have several friends who use Scrivener and they love it because they can write chapter 21 then chapter 7 then 8, then 1. Apparently you can also move the chapters around with ease and it’s just awesome. I wouldn’t know as I don’t like Scrivener and thus don’t use it. To me, it’s overly complicated for what I need and while I generally love learning new software, I’m happy to stick with Word and just get the writing done.

I do write from start to finish and in a completely fictional and non-scientific study I’ve done, it appears that those who can and do write chapters (or sections) out of order also rely on robust outlines. As I don’t, I don’t. For me, the story grows and develops as I write it, and the very idea of writing a later chapter before a preceding one fills me with dread. The ability to do so is clearly witchcraft, and while I approve of witchcraft in general, writing witchcraft is beyond me. But you can do that magic, get witchy with it. Just please don’t turn me into a newt. I’m not going through that again.


(college was a wild time)

You must use (enter software name here)!

Yes, I’ve actually seen this argument and, you guessed it, it is grade A bullshit. Use whatever works for you (are you noticing a recurring theme here?). G.R.R. Martin uses an old DOS machine running WordStar because it works for him, and he’s George R. R. Martin so people work around it. I use Word because I’ve used it forever, or at least since Word Perfect died, and I know how to use it. In the past, I’ve written long hand (my hands hurt just thinking about this), and used word processors, as in an actual word processing machine. They were like computers that only ran Word. I’ve also used manual typewriters, not because it was iron but because that was all that existed. Yes, I’m old, get off my lawn.

To make a long story short—too late—find what tools work for you. If the ones you’re using don’t, try something else, and keep trying until you find something that does. I’m a computer geek from the way-way back, when the old ones walked streets lined with boothy-phones and the internet was called Encyclopedia Britannica. So, I prefer to do all my work on a computer. I outline, keep notes, create story bibles, write, and edit on a computer. Some people can’t edit if they don’t print it out and mark it up, which is cool for them. One author I know uses a whiteboard and 3×5 cards to plot and layout a story. It’s a little too Beautiful Mind for me, but she rocks it and good on her.

TLDR: Writing can be hard. Chuck Wendig—very funny man and skilled writer—once said something along the lines of: writing can be rainbow unicorns that poop cupcakes, and sometimes it’s digging ditches. I imagine many of you reading this know the truth of that statement. Writing is hard, so don’t make it any harder than it needs to be. Grab a shovel, even if that college professor, famous author, weird guy on the street, the Dalai Lama, or a weird Dalai Lama on the street said you should dig with your hands first. It’s a creative process and no one knows how to do it your way, but you. If anyone tells you otherwise, tell them I said they should piss off. This will probably confuse them, but if they’re Catholic it could terrify them, so, have fun with it!


(Avoid all advice from the Llama Dalai Lama)