Tag Archive: guest post


Guest Post : L. A. MacFadden

As promised, if a little late, here’s the guest post I mentioned back on Tuesday! Here’s L. A. MacFadden talking a little about what gets her interested in writing stories. Enjoy!

Myth Agent cover

Way back in the 1970’s I read Time and Again, by Jack Finney. I have a copy of it, but I haven’t ever read it again—it has stayed with me since that first time—as have a few other great books, such as  John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath—which changed the way I looked at the world when I read it in eighth grade. When I set out to write Myth Agent, I didn’t want to replicate any part of someone else’s book, but I did want to write something that would stay with some readers, like those books have with me.

I love to read old newspapers. The news stories of days gone by add to the history I have tucked away in my mind, but the advertisements in old papers from, say, 1850, always fire me up. Some flesh and blood person so long ago actually dipped their quill pen in an inkwell and wrote an ad for, let’s say, a room for rent. Then someone carried the advertisement to the newspaper office on foot, on horseback or some horse-drawn conveyance. And when the paper was printed and distributed, someone read it and made their way to the address in question to inquire about the room. Who was the person who wrote the ad? Why did they suddenly have a room to let? And who was the person answering the ad? What were their stories? It doesn’t take a lot to get my imagination working overtime.

I’ve spent plenty of time in antique shops and have hauled plenty of old merchandise home with me. I suppose it stands to reason, then, that part of Myth Agent is set in an antique shop owned by a woman named Odessa—the shop is called Odessa’s Quest. When I needed certain antiques in a few passages in the book I was able to refer to some of my own collection for details. It can’t get much handier than that! Another part of the book focuses on dreams; maybe because sometimes I wake up from sound sleep remembering very vivid story dreams. I guess Myth Agent combines two ideas—the writing advice I’ve read and been told so many times to ‘write what you know’—with my own advice to myself—’write what you don’t know but your brain just conjures up!’

People close to me are used to having me write things like the happy short stories I wrote for my children when they were young, or light-hearted romances ending in happily ever after. But the real reason I started writing the soft science fiction Myth Agent, is that I just wanted to shake things up! Now I’m working on the next book in the series, because I have to find out what happens next!

LA MacFadden author pic

About L.A. MacFadden

I was raised in small towns in Oregon, Washington, and Montana, and I am still a small town person at heart. I married my high school sweetheart in 1975, and after he got out of the Marines, we settled in western Oregon. We have two grown children, and two wonderful granddaughters. Being part of this family is very important to us.

Our home is out in the country, near the Columbia River Gorge. The wind here is frightful in the winters—sometimes it roars at eighty-plus mph for days. The fury of the wind causes boughs to grow only on one side of the evergreens! But the calm days here in this beautiful area make up for it. We live in a small house situated between forest and pasture, with a lovely view of Mt. Hood in the distance. When it’s quiet—no high winds—I’m in the perfect writing place. I’m not one of those people who can write in a crowded coffee shop—although I do frequent coffee house drive-throughs!

Myth Agent on Amazon and Goodreads!

Advertisements

Guest Post Grant Price

Hi all, this is the first post in a while I’ve gotten to host that focuses in on the getting published side of things. I found it interesting and hope you all do too. Enjoy!

The new end is the new beginning

“Too bleak. Pass.” When I started querying agents for By the Feet of Men, my dystopian cli-fi novel, this was the response I received from three different people within the first week. Okay, I thought, it just wasn’t for them. No need to worry. But it wasn’t until the fourth agent emailed me with feedback after requesting the full manuscript that I realised: I was going to have to rewrite the ending. Because it was indeed too bleak. As the agent said, it gave the reader nothing to cling on to, offered them little reward after spending 300+ pages with the characters they had become invested in, and effectively stated that the world I’d created was entirely devoid of hope. I perhaps should have realised that this is not the kind of message—especially in this day and age—anybody wants to walk away with.

The problem was that I was done with the dystopian world I’d created. I was exhausted after having spent two years sketching and erasing and colouring and shading. I didn’t want to go back in there, especially after my definitive (and naïve) gesture of christening the file “Draft 6_final”. Yes, I could have ignored the advice and continued to query. I could’ve taken heart from the stories of writers like Heller, Plath or Vonnegut who ploughed on in the face of rejection and refused to bow to the pressure of rewrites. But once a professional who looks at hundreds of manuscripts a month has taken the time to point out exactly where the flaws are in your story, you’d have to be pretty confident or (more likely) foolish to keep going down that same road. Artistic vision is great and all, but it’s better when other people get to experience your vision, too.

In the end, I thanked the agent, hid myself away and, even though I never wanted to look at it again, reopened the manuscript. Perhaps most surprisingly for me, it didn’t actually take long for a natural conclusion to appear. By the time I was finished, I had ended up adding three new chapters. They were good. They worked. They held up under the weight of the rest of the novel. The next time I submitted it, I received the following feedback: “strong ending with potential for a sequel”. That feedback happened to come from my future publisher. I signed the contract a week later. My new ending signalled the beginning of my career as an actual novelist.

With this in mind, here are my four tips for rewriting the ending of your work-in-progress even though you’ve sworn you’re absolutely, positively done.

 

  1. Listen to the advice you were given.

I touched on this above already, but it bears repeating: never be so unrelenting in your quest for artistic purity that you don’t listen to the advice of those around you. There is a difference between believing in a message that you absolutely want to tell the world and a story with a flabby midsection that requires a nip and tuck. Try not to take it personally, either. If somebody has made the effort to give you feedback, they probably did it because they found something in there that they believe is worth salvaging. Save your indignance for when you sell the thing and then start getting advance reviews from people who take just one sentence to trash your novel. And your dreams. And your belief in the goodness of humanity.

 

  1. Find enough enthusiasm to get it done.

Yep, this one is easier said than done. Enthusiasm doesn’t come in a can (unlike energy, which does). If you’re looking at that icon on your desktop and dreading clicking on it, it’s worth taking the time to think about why you wanted to write the thing in the first place. What compelled you to spend months hammering at your keyboard? What was it that got you believing that it was a story people should read? Writing a novel is like any long-term relationship: sometimes you have to remember how things were at the start to fall in love with the object of your affection all over again. You’ll then be able to see how far you’ve come – and to understand that it would be a damn shame if you threw it all away now.

 

  1. Go somewhere completely different to write it.

This is linked to point number two in that if you need to kickstart the engine that gets your fingers dancing over the keyboard once more, a good idea is to leave your usual haunt and try tackling that rewrite somewhere entirely different. For me, it just so happened that I went to Thailand a week after I received the feedback from the agent. I ended up sitting in a glass studio in the middle of nowhere with no Internet and no distractions, and wrote those three new chapters in just over a week. All inertia was banished thanks to a simple change of scenery. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a different country altogether; it could just be a park or a coffee shop where the barista tells you to wait a few minutes before drinking your beverage so you can “really taste it”.

 

  1. Compromise, but not too much.

The last item on the list may be the most important. Yes, you should accept and listen to feedback, but ultimately your book is your baby and you (hopefully) know what’s best for it. In other words, these rewrites become a balancing act. On the one hand, you may have to compromise on your artistic vision a little bit; after all, there’s a reason your novel hasn’t been picked up yet, and a fresh pair of eyes is much more likely to spot a thread in the tapestry that’s the wrong shade of blue than you are using your colour-blind tunnel vision. On the other hand, not all feedback is equally valuable, and if the response calls for you to rip up half of your manuscript and forget the reason you were writing it in the first place, then it may be worth taking a step back and looking at what you can change for the better while retaining the soul of the piece. If, for example, somebody doesn’t think a character works and they outline exactly why they believe this and their reasoning rings true, then this is a good basis for a rewrite. If, on the other hand, somebody simply doesn’t like a character because of the way they speak or act, this isn’t necessarily an invitation for you to lobotomise that character or do away with them entirely. Ultimately, you’re the boss.

By the Feet of Men cover

Amazon Link

Hey all, check it out, guest post! So, tropes are an interesting thing, sort of common details that pop up in a lot of stories with regularity. They aren’t bad on their own but, just like anything else, using them badly can ruin a work of fiction. Courtesy of Reedsy’s Desiree Villena, here’s five she’d happily be rid of.

5 Terrible Tropes That Need to Die in 2019

Since the dawn of storytelling, we have read… and read… and read the same tropes: popular characters, plot devices, and even whole storylines that are used repeatedly in literature. Whether it’s the accidental meet-cute or the “chosen one,” we all have those tropes that make us good-humoredly roll our eyes a bit whenever we see them.

But sometimes tropes aren’t just silly and fun, but distractingly unrealistic. Worse yet, they can be unrealistic and problematic — especially in genres like science fiction and fantasy, which are traditionally dominated by white men. Luckily, this trend seems to be changing… but that doesn’t mean these often-harmful tropes aren’t still pervasive.

Which is why I’m here to shed light on five terrible tropes that need to die in 2019. You’ve likely seen all of these at some point, but I’ll provide examples from both books and media so you can identify them in other works. I’ll also link to the original TV Tropes pages, so you can read up on them further if you like — and to give credit where credit is due for their amazing trope titles. Now, are you ready to learn the (t)ropes?

1. Instant Expert

Ever read or seen a battle scene where someone drops a gun, and the protagonist — despite never having used a gun before — picks it up and uses it perfectly to defend themselves? That’s the essence of Instant Expert: someone who has no prior experience with a particular tool/skill is somehow able to utilize it instantly and easily, usually to dramatic effect.

To be fair, this trope is more impractical than outright harmful. But it can definitely sidetrack the reader, even if it’s flimsily “explained,” such as in Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. In the second book, Stone of Tears, Richard Cypher expertly wields the eponymous sword on his first try — supposedly because it encompasses all the skills of its previous owners. Cue eyeroll.

This trope also tends to be a hallmark of, shall we say, less sophisticated literature. The notorious Twilight saga employs Instant Expert in Breaking Dawn, the installment in which Bella Swan finally becomes a vampire… and immediately masters all the skills that the other centuries-old vamps have been perfecting for, well, centuries. And while it’s not like any of us expected a great deal of consistency after four books of supernatural madness, couldn’t Stephenie Meyer have thrown in a time jump or something?

Needless to say, Instant Expert is mostly employed for convenience’s sake and I understand the inclination to use it, especially in fast-paced narratives. However, I also feel that one of the most satisfying things for a reader is seeing how the protagonist actually learns to master something unfamiliar. So a word of advice to writers: don’t disregard the context for expertise, because context makes heroic moments that much more fulfilling to the audience.

2. Black Dude Dies First

Ah, Black Dude Dies First: the signature move of countless horror, drama, and even science fiction works. As you can probably surmise, this trope is another not-so-realistic one. It also presents a real challenge in terms of diverse representation. After all, if the only person of color gets killed right at the beginning of the story, the boat has pretty much sailed on diversity for its remainder.

Black Dude Dies First tends to be more of an onscreen phenomenon, but it’s critical for authors to avoid as well — especially since it won’t look great if they ever adapt your book into a show or movie. And even the most experienced writers can sometimes fall victim to this one, such as Nora Roberts in her paranormal romance novel Morrigan’s Cross. This book follows a gang of immortal sorcerers, warriors, and other such entities, and is pretty epic in scale… but its tired depiction of a black guy being the first to kick the bucket detracts from the story, and makes the reader wary of other overused tropes and odd character/plot choices.

Another particularly egregious example of Black Dude Dies First occurs in the second Alien movie, Aliens. Though the series gets points for a heroine as badass as Ellen Ripley, the first character to die at the hands (tentacles?) of aliens in this particular movie is Private Frost, a black man — and another black man, Sergeant Apone, quickly follows. Yes, we all know that someone has to die in order to keep the stakes high…. but would’ve been nice if it weren’t these guys in particular. In any case, it’s high time for the trope itself to die, in literary, cinematic, and every other form.

3. Stuffed Into the Fridge

Also referred to as “fridging,” getting Stuffed Into the Fridge is another unfortunate fate that typically befalls female and/or minority characters. Of course, they don’t have to literally be stuffed into a fridge (the trope takes its name from an infamous scene in the Green Lantern comics), but they do have to be killed and then presented in a threatening way to another character. This character is almost always a male hero, and often the family, close friend, or significant other of the dead character, so they’re incited to take revenge on the killer.

In theory, this trope is merely gross, but given that it overwhelmingly affects female characters, it also seems pretty sexist — and even when it’s not happening to a woman, it’s almost always a minority character of some sort. Predictably, it’s used mostly by male authors, such as Scott Lynch in The Lies of Locke Lamora and Glen Duncan in The Last Werewolf. In the former, a man’s daughter is killed and delivered to him in a barrel of horse urine; in the latter, the main character’s gay companion is decapitated and his head left in the trunk of the MC’s car. (Perhaps the decapitation aspect and the equine aspect are both subtle references to The Godfather?) But cultural references aside, I think we can all agree this trope is prejudicial, gratuitous, and should be eliminated for the sake of readers and viewers everywhere.

 

  1. Beauty Is Never Tarnished

And in a similar vein to Stuffed Into the Fridge, we have Beauty Is Never Tarnished, another ridiculous (though less macabre) trope involving female characters. The premise of Beauty Is Never Tarnished is what it sounds like: no matter how much action or duress a female character experiences, she will still emerge looking aesthetically pleasing.

Like Black Dude Dies First, Beauty Is Never Tarnished is another trope that’s more common in movies than books, but can still come into play with on-page female characters. Phèdre, the protagonist of Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey, is one such object of this trope. Regardless of fairly severe physical injuries, Phèdre’s scars are rarely mentioned, and her lovers (Kushiel’s Dart is an erotic fantasy novel) don’t ever seem to comment on them. Perhaps this is merely a function of the “erotic” angle — people’s lovers never really care about their imperfections, after all — but it’s definitely unrealistic for Phèdre’s scars to not even come up in conversation.

Another, perhaps better-known example: as much as I love the Star Wars movies, they almost unfailingly keep Princess Leia’s beauty weirdly untarnished. She has super-elaborate hairstyles that never seem to come undone, and her clothes and makeup are always, as the kids say, on fleek. I look worse after walking down the street on a windy day than Leia does after being dumped in a literal trash compactor. So while those cinnamon buns are undoubtedly iconic, writers and on-set stylists alike should take more reality into account when formulating their female characters’ “looks.”

 

  1. Black and White Morality

Finally, let’s talk about Black and White Morality — a trope that anyone who’s ever read classic fantasy will no doubt recognize. Again, this one is pretty much what it sounds like: the idea that morality can be broken down into two distinct camps of good and evil, directly opposing each other and usually involving a Good Guy and Bad Guy who must fight to the death (spoiler: the Good Guy almost always wins).

I’m not saying that every single novel needs to be grimdark, but works that operate under strict Black and White Morality tend not be very believable… especially when they don’t give any particular reason for the bad guys to be bad. This is particularly prevalent in children’s books, like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — a fantastic story, don’t get me wrong, but one that’s predicated on the White Witch wanting to kill Aslan and rule Narnia simply because she’s a wicked person. (She gets a bit more backstory in The Magician’s Nephew, but it still doesn’t explain her motivations in much depth.) Yes, C.S. Lewis was probably just trying to make his themes more palatable for the younger set… but we should also remember that children understand more nuances than grown-ups tend to think.

Of course, some of these tropes are more pernicious than others. At best, they distract and diminish the reader’s engagement with the story; at worst, they perpetuate stereotypes and poor praxis for storytelling. Luckily, just being aware of them should make you much less likely to use them in your own writing.

Comment below with your least favorite tropes and why you dislike them!

 

Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She tries her best to avoid using terrible tropes.

You can check Reedsy out here!

Guest Post: Damien Larkin

I meant to have this up yesterday but then time escaped me badly. Badly. I’ve actually been really excited for this one too, so it’s going to be fun to see what you all think. If you like what you read here, Big Red is available this coming May and you can pre-order it from the author’s website. Big thanks to Mr. Larkin and Dancing Lemur Press. Enjoy!

When I first started writing Big Red, I had the plot clearly worked out. I knew the exact story I wanted to tell. Like most plans, it didn’t work out the way I originally intended. New ideas formed, characters changed, even some of the pivotal scenes adapted to serve a newer story. The original idea involved the soldiers in Big Red being closer to super-human Rambo types. After thinking about it and drawing on my own experiences, I rewrote it from the perspective of an average person, with an ordinary, average life pulled into an extraordinary situation.

When I was seventeen, I joined the Irish Reserve Defence Forces which ranks as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Even today, I look back fondly at the camaraderie, life lessons and practical skills I learned. The one thing I remember more than anything though; the monotony.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Redoing foot and weapon drills on a daily basis was part of the role. Still, moving from a sudden burst of excitement (during simulated attacks on “enemy” positions in the Dublin/Wicklow mountains) to something mundane like map reading could wear out even the most enthusiastic of us.

As I rewrote Big Red, I found myself thinking more and more about those days. I wanted to capture what it was like being on the bottom rung, the lowest of the low. Set against the backdrop of a vicious war between the Mars Occupation Force, the human colonists and an aggressive indigenous alien species, the protagonist and the rest of the 2nd Battalion are mere observers at the start. Relegated to guard duty, they watch from the sidelines as the “real” soldiers do the fighting. Many are even grateful for the opportunity to sit the conflict out.

But as events unfold closer to home, average, normal everyday people have to make a choice. Will they rise to the occasion or run away from it?

I drew inspiration for Big Red from Robert A. Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” and Joe Haldeman’s “The Forever War. Both are excellent reads with some fascinating points, philosophies and outlooks. I enjoyed them both greatly, but rather than espousing an ideal or political message, I wanted to focus on how the lines between good and evil can very easily be blurred in wartime.

These average, ordinary people become products of their environment. They soak up the prejudices of their fellow soldiers against the colonists, in some cases viewing them as on par with the enemy. In their simulated training environments, they begin to not only learn how to kill their enemy effectively, they learn how to loathe and despise them too.

Without making any judgements, I let the protagonist and his friends tell this story. It was a unique opportunity to explore if doing good can cancel out an evil act and vice versa. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to share this story with (hopefully) plenty more to follow soon.

Big Red cover

Damien Larkin is a full-time stay-at-home father of two loud (but happy) young children. When not tinkering with apps as a side project, you can find him reading everything and anything to do with psychology, history and science fiction. He enjoys turning terrifying nightmares into novels and currently resides in Dublin, Ireland.

https://www.damienlarkinbooks.com/

And I’m back with another guest post for you all. This one’s an excerpt, but I’m going to leave the framing up to the author. It’s actually a really interesting thing that I’m going to have to check out the next time I’m book shopping. Enjoy!

arasmith certainty principle cover

Excerpt from The Arasmith Certainty Principle

Thank you, Lauren, for the invitation to share a bit of my new science fiction adventure, The Arasmith Certainty Principle with your readers.  Like many of the adventure stories that I most like to read, The Arasmith Certainty Principle is about ordinary people coming face to face with extraordinary events.  As the book begins, three young scientists early in their careers are trying to piece together an explanation for a series of unexpected observations.  However, they soon find themselves caught up in the extraordinary implications of their observations and have to choose whether to put their lives and loves at risk to save the world from the disrupted reality that their discovery unleashes.

It’s always hard for an author to get a ‘feel’ for his or her own writing, so, in an effort to measure my own story, I recently played the Marshall McLuhan Page 69 game.  Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian intellectual who supposedly said that if you want to find out what a book is like before you read it, turn to page 69 and read that page.  I was somewhat surprised to find that page 69 (from the print version of The Arasmith Certainty Principle) faithfully captures some of the story’s juxtaposition of ordinary and extraordinary.  Check out the excerpt below and see if you agree!

Page 69 (Print Version)

Susan enjoyed her monthly bowling outing with Cynthia and Mike more than she had for a long time.  Perhaps her frequent and pleasant outings with Jonathan the past couple of weeks had mellowed her.  The kids were absent today, and so she couldn’t hide from Mike by talking to them.  As a consequence, she and Mike even enjoyed a short chat, without much disagreement.

Tonight, Susan found the familiar sights and sounds of the bowling alley particularly enjoyable.  She liked the clattering noise of falling pins and the shouts of patrons elated or disappointed with their bowling.  And she enjoyed the companionship without expectation.

A perfect evening.

Susan watched as Cynthia rose to pick her ball from the return rack, a light-weight purple one.  Cynthia glanced over her shoulder to the horseshoe benches that wrapped around the end of their lane where Susan and Mike sat.  Cynthia’s eyes went first to Susan, a faint smile warming her lips, no doubt pleased that she and Mike were getting along so well.  Susan returned the smile.  When Cynthia’s eyes went to Mike they warmed a bit more, and her smile changed, almost as if to say to Mike, “See, I told you she’d do ok in the end.”

Cynthia stepped to her spot in the lane and began her throw, but another motion caught Susan’s attention, two lanes over, half-way down toward the pins.  At first it was just a hint of moving color, shimmering in the empty lane, a few feet above the polished hardwood.  It flickered like an image from an old, failing film projector, blinking in and out as though not quite sure whether to exist or not.  As she watched, the image began to resolve into something like the shape of a person.

Susan might have wondered if she were seeing things, an hallucination, except she noticed that everyone else was watching too, eyes riveted on the shimmering being now hovering in mid-air.

russ colson author pic

Russ Colson is a scientist, teacher, author, gardener, and grandfather living in northwest Minnesota, far enough from city lights to see the Milky Way and the Aurora Borealis. During the dark northern winters, he teaches planetary science, meteorology, and geology at Minnesota State University Moorhead. In summers, he writes, gardens, and collaborates with undergraduate students on research projects in experimental planetary geochemistry. In 2010, he was selected by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation as US Professor of the Year.

Before coming to Minnesota, he worked at the Johnson Space Center in Texas and at Washington University in St. Louis where, among other things, he studied how a lunar colony might mine oxygen from the local rock. He has published a variety of technical papers, science-fiction stories, and essays on earth science education. His non-fiction science book Learning to Read the Earth and Sky, published by NSTA Press, offers a story-filled exploration of the nature of scientific investigation and how that investigation can be brought into the classroom. His sequel to The Arasmith Certainty Principle, A Light in the Sky, will be coming out in . He is currently working on a new trilogy (The Kilns of Jupiter, A People Joined Asunder, and Ancient and Future Gods) about a self-taught planetary scientist who finds herself caught up in an inter-planetary mystery and war after her best friend tries to blow her up with a car bomb.

You can find his author website here as well as Double Dragon Publishing’s listing for The Arasmith Certainty Principle here.

Guest Post: Robert Gryn

Here’s to returning to the internet and a nifty guest post from Robert Gryn. Not much in the way of wording just now. So, enjoy!
In a city that crosses all realities, everything is possible, and everything is complicated. A murder of two lovers seems simple, but when the man is from Above and the woman from Below it’s anything but.
Detective Lang hunts for the killer. The chase takes him from the decrepit neighborhoods of Below to the highest towers of Above. And somewhere in between, he finds himself in a game between ambition and betrayal, whose stakes are not life or death, but only his soul.
two-skies-before-night cover

The Love and Hate Framework for the People in My Head

When I first began studying fiction writing, I remember reading that you have to both love and hate the characters you create. I didn’t understand this at first. Why would you write about characters you hate? How do you show fictional characters that only exist in your head love and hate in the first place? And how can you do both? This aphorism seemed a little too simple to the younger me. But over the years I’ve come back to it time and again, using it as a framework for thinking about the treatment of characters in fiction. Inventing people with real feelings is not an easy thing, after all, and being mindful of how we can fully engage with the characters we write can make them seem more present and more true to life.

Let’s begin with examining the most obvious question: why would you write about characters you hate? I’ve come to think of this in two ways. First, and this may seem obvious, but every hero needs a villain. We are all just as fascinated by psychopaths as we are by saints and so, as writers, we must learn to write them well. There’s something intriguing about people who act against one moral code or another. Maybe we wish we could have the freedom these characters seem to have or maybe we’re just drawn to something we can’t imagine ourselves doing. Whatever the reason, we love to read about characters we hate.

Second, as writers, we have to learn to “hate” the characters we love. It’s not that we have to hate the protagonists of our stories but sometimes we have to act as if we do. It’s an easy impulse to spare our cherished protagonists “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” But without the suffering, like that of the poor prince who spoke the words above, our stories would hardly be interesting.

I like to think that the drive to see characters suffer has more to do with our capacity for empathy than from some sadistic impulse. Then again, perhaps seeing characters suffer fits into our subconscious understanding of a reality that lies somewhere past the borders of optimism. There’s a certain comfort in seeing fiction fall in line with the unfair ways we expect life to treat us. A third possibility is our innate understanding of delayed gratification. We are willing to experience the “slings and arrows” because somewhere in the back our minds we expect some sort of relief or resolution.

But stories can’t be all about the trials we put our characters through. At some point, we have to show them some love. I’ve come to think of this in two ways as well. First, and perhaps the easier of the two, we should bask in the love we show the characters for whom we genuinely care. One of my favorite things to write is a scene in which a beloved character wins out. This could be a small personal victory, something as simple as a shared smile or one-upping a bully, and is especially meaningful if the character had little chance to succeed.

There’s something affirming about the underdog beating the odds that makes me hopeful for the human spirit. As I stated above, we naturally expect the world to be unfair and look for fiction to match that reality. But we also want the characters we care about to succeed regardless of those poor odds, and when they happen to fail, we feel their fall all the more keenly. Our capacity for empathy is so deep it seems to shape the narrative structures of all our stories.

And empathy is key for us as writers. This brings me to my second point about love. In order to portray the characters we write as people and not just narrative devices, we need to show them a level of empathy we might not be comfortable with if they were real people, especially if we present them as immoral or as performing “evil” acts. This is not to say that we shouldn’t write pure villains for whom we feel nothing and disavow their choices whether explicitly or implicitly. But rather, it’s that we experience more as readers when we see things from many perspectives. It’s one thing to see the faceless monster chase the protagonist. But it can be much more interesting to see the story from the monster’s point of view. Why do they act this way? What brought them to this place where they feel they must play such an awful part? And perhaps, in the process of giving insight into the villains in our stories, we learn to enhance our own general empathy for real people.

So do I finally understand what it means to both love and hate the characters I write? To sum up, my framework for love and hate as it relates to the people I write is as follows:

To love the people I write means to be present in the moment with them, especially if I genuinely love them as characters. It also means to see what they see in the way they see it, especially if I hate them as characters. This expressed empathy is crucial not only to make stories more well-rounded but to give us broader perspectives on our world in general.

Likewise, to hate the people I write means to use their sometimes immoral natures and acts to evoke curiosity and emotion from readers, especially if I hate them as characters. It also means that however much I may love certain characters, I must expose them to the pitfalls of our imperfect and often unfair existence. I must step back far enough to show them how cruel and uncaring life is.

This is by no means a complete formula for the treatment of characters in fiction. Whether these ideas sharpen my writing and make it more interesting is up to readers to decide. What I get from this framework is a path that helps me transition from inventing characters to realizing them as people, at least as people who only live in my head.

robert-gryn author pic

Robert Gryn was born in Poland during the latter years of the communist regime. His parents recognized that the socialist experiment was doomed to fail and set out for the more hopeful shores of America. Robert spent his youth moving from one school to another, winding up in one of the worst high schools in New Jersey. After graduating, Robert spent years working odd jobs in warehouses and construction sites. Like his parents before him, Robert soon realized that the personal experiment of his own life was doomed to fail.
Determined to find a better path, Robert decided to attend Columbia University where he studied everything from Psychology to Japanese, as well as Creative Writing. Unfortunately, even graduating with highest honors didn’t put him on a path that spoke to him. He drifted again, and accidentally wound up becoming a successful technology consultant, primarily because he knew how to turn on a computer.
It was a beach vacation to St. Martin that changed his life once again. Bored with the bright sunlight and the pristine beaches he sat down to begin writing the books that had always been in the back of his mind. He soon found that he was not so much a writer but a chronicler, as if the words had drifted into his mind from all those future centuries. What could he do but tell the stories of all those people who may never exist?
Robert has written a number of novels of impossible futures and unbelievable dreams. And as long as he knows how to turn on a computer, or how to commune with the thinking machines of tomorrow, he will continue to do so.
To learn more about Robert and his books, visit www.robertgrynbooks.com
You can also find Two Skies Before Night here.

Occupational Hazard Excerpt

And we are back with an excerpt from Occupational Hazard. This one is from chapter 18, so it’s a taste from a little further into the book than we usually get. It’s pretty cool to jump right in though. Enjoy!

OccupationalHazard-Cover

CHAPTER 18

“Here’s JBJ.”

 

Mick is already there when I arrive at the Giambini residence.

“Al, thanks for joinin’ us. I know you know Mrs. Giambini here. And this here’s JBJ.”

Slouching on a dining room chair is this skinny fellow with a blank, sullen stare and bored and distracted look. This is the person that earlier in the day Mick spent considerable time describing to me. I think to myself, “This is going to be mighty interesting.”

We know that the less JBJ knows about our situation the better, so Mick and I simply tell JBJ that in order to help someone from the neighborhood we need him to get us certain information about Gilbert.

We ask JBJ what his daily duties are.

JBJ says, “I ain’t tellin’ youse fuckin’ shit until youse tell me what the fuck’s in it for me.”

Mrs. Giambini gets up from her chair, dashes across the room to JBJ and gives him the traditional Italian mother’s smack to the back of his head, causing his head to almost hit the table in front of him.

“Heh, ma, what the fu—!”

Mrs. Giambini screams, “Scustamad e merd!” Loosely translated, “You selfish shit!” but the way Italian mothers typically shout it makes one feel deeply ashamed and miniscule.

“Junior! When this man (pointing to Mick) says jump, you jump. When he says crawl, you crawl. And when he says nothing, you go to him and ask, ‘What can I do for you to repay you for all the things you done for me and my family?’ And besides the help he gave your father, your uncle, your aunt, don’t forget who got you that lawyer when you got caught selling drugs in high school. He also stopped that facimm who let you buy liquor when you were only 15.

“And we don’t even know all the people he talked to for you, for them to give you another chance even after all the bad stuff you done.

“‘What’s in it for me?’ you ask. Oo gotz! You got the nerve to ask. Mick over here never asked that disgraziada question when we needed help. He did not have to lift a finger, but he did and he did and he did and he did. NOW, he asks for a little help and you act like he’s asking you to sacrifice your life. Va fa gool!”

JBJ says, “Okay, okay, Ma, sorry, but I’m worried about this job. What if I get fired ‘cause of what these guys want me to do?”

Mick jumps in, “JBJ, you got the job ‘cause of Carlo. Carlo is term limited out at the end of next year. So, ain’t no way you gonna be there long anyways. And I ain’t never gonna ask you for help if I ain’t gonna have your back if helpin’ me hurts you. Gabbish?”

JBJ seems to get what Mick’s saying and nods to show his assent.

“Now you’re gonna tell us whatcha normally do at the office and we’ll tell you how you can help. And during the time that we need your help, which’ll be for a month or so and maybe longer, you ain’t doin’ nuttin’ that’ll get you fired and you ain’t gonna quit either. Gabbish?”

Again, JBJ nods his head.

We learn that JBJ was basically a gofer for Gilbert. He would run both business and personal errands for him. His duties include reminding Gilbert of appointments on his calendar and keeping Gilbert’s cell phone charged. His desk is located right outside Gilbert’s office and the door to Gilbert’s office is generally kept open, except for certain calls, when Gilbert would order JBJ to close the door. That demand is always given when Gilbert got calls from the mayor or Stillman, whom JBJ said is a “fuckin’ snob.”

The initial assignment we give JBJ is to make a note of any contacts or calls with the 312 area code on Gilbert’s cell phone log. For the time being, we assume and hope that Gilbert would not use his work phone for his dirty tricks involving Mary.

We ask JBJ what would happen if someone noticed his looking closely at Gilbert’s phone while it iss being charged. He says, “They ain’t gonna say shit, ‘cause Gilbert has me programmin’ his phone to add different apps and shit. And if he’s got his door closed or is outa the office, I play all sorts of games and do other crap with his phone and everyone sees me do it and ain’t gonna think nuttin’ of it.”

JBJ did tell us the night we met that Gilbert was in Philadelphia the day of the call to the reporter, but that his train would have been in New Jersey at the time that call was made from downtown Philly. This meant that if Gilbert was truly on that train, Gilbert could not have made the call to the reporter, but we already assumed that Gilbert would have had one of his cronies make the call.

Mick would tell me later, “Jimmy Cavello’s brother-in-law, Max, works for Amtrak. I’ll get the ticket info from JBJ and have Max check to see if it was scanned by the conductor, so we know whether Gilbert was on that train. I once saved Max from gettin’ his throat slit. He was in a bar he had no business bein’ in. Lucky for him, I was walkin’ by or it wudda been bye-bye for Maxie. The guy who was gonna cut Max is still singin’ ’em high notes.”

JBJ also told us that Gilbert was in Philadelphia supposedly to attend some conference. However, as JBJ overheard Gilbert tell some colleague over the phone, Gilbert had no intention to attend any of the conference. Instead, JBJ reported that Gilbert said, “In the immoral words of Mick Jagger, I am going there to ‘make some girl.’” Apparently, Gilbert’s ulterior motive in being in Philly was to seduce some woman who was attending the conference. …

We instructed JBJ to see what he can learn about that lady. He told us that night that he was sure that Gilbert had gotten “lucky” with her, because on the Monday morning after the conference Gilbert came in, uncharacteristically, grinning from ear to ear.

JBJ said, “He’s mad always. He ain’t nuttin’ but a mean prick.”

Then added, “I know her name’s Margaret.”

I said, “Wait! That’s his wife’s name.”

JBJ responded, “No! His wife’s Margie and from the way he talks on the phone with this Margaret, ain’t no fuckin’ way in hell could she be his wife, ‘cause he’s always real nasty to his wife.”

As we left this initial meeting with JBJ, I asked Mick what he had done for the Giambini family other than what Mrs. Giambini said about how he had helped JBJ.

Mick says, “JBJ’s dad’s name is John Giambini Senior, but for some reason everybody calls him Frank. Anyways, I helped the old man when he got sick. Had my guys get him to and from his doctors’ appointments. When this one doctor wasn’t payin’ proper attention to him, I had a conversation with the doctor and adjusted his attitude toward Frank. And when I found out a male nurse mistreated Frank, Pedro had one of his guys make sure the nurse never made that mistake again.

“Then there’s the uncle, one of ‘em degenerate gamblers. Died without two pennies to his name. I made sure he had a proper wake and burial. His poor widow was left destitute. Rather than have her go to the poor house, I put her in one of my apartments and she’s never been happier.

“Al, hear me out, ‘cause this here too is a lesson for you, though I gotta say you already know this, proof bein’ how you helpin’ Mary and little Roger. Who knows, maybe this runs in our family? Anyways, if somebody needs help and I can help, I help ‘em. If I need help and someone can help me, like JBJ now, I expect that they will help me. It ain’t in any way even Stevens, ‘cause that ain’t how I like to be, but this is the way things is: We help each other anyways we can. Nobody keeps count who’s done more for who. You never know whatcha’ll need, when you’ll need it, so it ain’t the kinda thing you cudda keep track of anyways.”

As we both go our separate ways, we both agree that this twerp JBJ just may turn out to be an ace up our sleeve.

Guest Post: Alex S. Avitabile

I told you all I had I nifty guest post for you today. Especially given that it’s NaNoWriMo month, I find that there’s some really good advice in part one here. As a bonus, there’s also an excerpt from Occupational Hazard coming up tomorrow for you all. Enjoy!

Part I:  The Story about writing Occupational Hazard

The story that would over time become Occupational Hazard was originally conceived in the mid-90’s.   I would jot the ideas down and plot out different scenes and write dialogue, many of which would eventually prove worthless and would never make it into the book.

In 1999 or so, I would sit down for a timed half-hour a day for a number of days and wound up with 55 double-spaced pages, which pretty much set up the story and would serve as the content for what would eventually become Occupational Hazard’s first nine chapters.

However, my law practice and other responsibilities precluded me from my doing any significant follow-up to those pages until after I retired and signed up for a novel writing course.

I drew upon the story I had started for the content for assignments for that writing course, and both the instructor and I liked what I wrote, and that was enough to prompt me to pick up from where I had left off, fix it up and then work on figuring out and writing the middle and the end of the story.

Over the years, I suffered from writer’s block, primarily fueled by (1) wanting to write the whole thing in one fell swoop, which would leave me frozen, immobilized from the impossibility of doing that, and (2) insecurity from the fear of failing.

To overcome these debilitating forces, I had to take a leap of faith into the unknown, trusting that I would be able to tap the source of inspiration, whatever that is.  I also had to trust that by moving a step at a time, everything would eventually come together.

And ideas did come to me and I did manage to proceed systematically toward the finish line, to my great surprise and relief.  I can only guess that once I retired from the practice of law, my mind was relieved from the many matters that consumed it while practicing law and it was now free to intently focus on figuring out the succeeding steps of the story

I firmly believe that if I can write a book, anyone else can.  I urge those who want to write, just do it!  Finish you story! Then let the chips fall where they may.

Part II:  Some particulars about Occupational Hazard itself

There is no question that imagination was a huge factor in writing Occupational Hazard.  But the book also benefitted from my personal experiences, values that are important to me and wordsmithing that I like to engage in.

There were quite a few incidents from my life that were incorporated into the story.  Most were the initial inspirations that my imagination then ran with.  However, the story about Jackie Pintero in Chapter 17 was an accurate account of an encounter I had with a classmate, whose name was changed to spare that person embarrassment.  Also, Mick’s way of dealing with insects, set forth in Chapter 14, is my proven method of successful extermination.

And many of my characters were inspired by people I know, but only as a starting point, for my imagination would take over and complete the profile.  For example, while someone I know was the model for Gordon Gilbert, the model was no way as nasty or devious as Gilbert.

Writing the story also permitted me, among other things, to stress values that are important to me, like the importance for men to respect woman (Chapter 11), or the importance for us to help one another (throughout the book, but in particular Mick’s speech at the end of Chapter 18), or the value of diversity and of not sticking to “our kind” (throughout the book, but especially in Mick’s speech about “our kind” in the last chapter).

I like to wordsmith and in several spots in Occupational Hazard I work in particular phrases of note.  Some are risque in nature, so I will leave those to the reader to find.  But an obvious example is in Chapter 20, as the phrase in question is also the title to that chapter.

The excerpt from Chapter 18 includes two sentences that I think are good examples of how to speak volumes with only a few words and thereby engage the reader’s imagination to fill in the blanks.  Here are those sentences in which Mick states certain ways that he had assisted JBJ’s father:

When this one doctor wasn’t payin’ proper attention to him, I had a conversation with the doctor and adjusted his attitude toward Frank. And when I found out a male nurse mistreated Frank, Pedro had one of his guys make sure the nurse never made that mistake again.

After reading these sentences a reader will wonder how that doctor’s attitude got adjusted and what mistakes were committed by the nurse and what happened to ensure they are not repeated.

Go to Occupational Hazard’s website, www.AlandMickForte.com, for more information about the book, me and other issues related to the story.

Thank you,

Alex S. Avitabile

OccupationalHazard-Cover

Alex S. Avitabile Bio:
Like his characters Al and Mick Forte, Alex S. Avitabile grew up back in the day (i.e., the ’50’s and ’60’s) on the then “mean streets” of South Brooklyn–present day Carroll Gardens. For the past some thirty years he has lived within walking distance of his original “hood,” which is now less mean and more gentrified, about which Alex is not so sure that’s a good thing.

Alex retired after practicing law for thirty-four years, and Occupational Hazard is his first published work of fiction. Alex is presently working on the second installment of the Al and Mick Forte series, which he hopes to publish in 2019.

Guest Post: Nita Round

Hey all, I’m excited to bring you a guest post from Nita Round author of the Touch of Truth series. Enjoy!

As an author, it is always lovely to be able to share how our stories come together. So many thanks for inviting to say a few words. As a reader, I’m always fascinated by the processes that bring a story to life too. This brings us to “Raven, Fire and Ice,” which is the first in the Touch of Truth series.

The world is a post-apocalyptic future. It’s this world, but not quite. Think steampunk, a Victorian-fuelled fantasy where airships travel the world and horse-drawn carriages clatter across cobblestone streets. The clang of industry fills the air with the smoke and smell of progress. In this world, the veil between the ordinary and the extraordinary is thin enough to be transparent, and the paranormal is, well, not so unusual any more. Our main characters are three very strong-willed characters, and they function together in a way that makes them more than the sum of their parts.

It amuses me when I say this is a series, because I’d never anticipated writing anything more than a standalone novel. Here we are though, book two, “Raven, Sand & Sun,” should be released December this year (2018) and I am about two-thirds of the way through book three, “Captain, Ice and Floe.” I smile because I never envisaged a series when I started writing, in fact, I didn’t think that it would be this genre at all.

Let’s start from the beginning. I’d just published my third novel with Regal Crest and I wanted a few weeks off. No writing, maybe a bit of reading, nothing more. On an online forum about writing, the exercise of the week involved writing the perfect, ie most eye-catching, opening first line. They decided this exercise would have a maximum of 10 words. I’d commented on other first lines as I thought of my own. This is what I wrote:

 

Blood. Blood everywhere.

 

Nothing else. Just that. We had quite a discussion about those three words, but as far as I was concerned there was no story. It was just an opening line. I forgot about it for a few days. In fact, I didn’t think any more of it until it was time for my writing group get-together. At the writer group, we usually take something to read out. I had nothing in mind, but I looked at those three words and wondered if I could turn them into something. A thriller maybe, and so at the last minute I wrote:

 

Blood. Blood everywhere. Fresh blood.

Once white walls, smeared from floor to ceiling with shades of wine and scarlet.

Blood, and bandages.

Red on white.

Eight little shower heads, standing in a row.

The blood fell in tiny noisy drops.

 

 

A very bloody start. I had a title too, “A touch of madness.”

This is when a writer’s best friend steps in, her character. Enter Lucinda Ravensburgh, and she said. “No. I am not doing a modern thriller.”

“Who asked you?” I mumbled.

“Well go on, see how far you get without me.”

Nowhere as it turned out, and after a couple of days I gave in. “All right, what do you want?”

“Ahh,” she said, “I want a tower. Not one of those small squat things. I want a big one. The biggest in the city.”

“And what city would that be?” I asked. I made notes of course because I’m the secretary and PA of the characters.

“Mid-Angle, of course, don’t you know anything?”

Apparently not, but I let her have her way because in the end the story came together and our Lucinda, Miss Ravensburgh herself, did not let me down.

“And by the way,” Lucinda said, “we’ll not start the story with that line about blood everywhere, that’s just too much. You can start by telling everyone a little bit about me and the tower. Not too much though, I’d like to save some surprises for later.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

Hey all, I’ve got something awesome for you today thanks to Patrick Canning. This is the first chapter of his novel Cryptofauna. I’ve got most of the chapter under a cut for space, but this one is a lot of fun, so enjoy!

Cryptofauna cover

1

St. Militrude’s

Jim grabbed a can of root beer for his suicide. He wasn’t particularly big on sassafras or licorice, but drink choices were limited. The tap water at St. Militrude’s Home for the Insane and Elderly was notorious for its eggy flavor. Mellow Yellow was tasty, but the potassium citrate was known to have undesirable drug interactions. Coke was the obvious front runner, except one of the residents had recently thrown every last can of it off the roof in protest of an earlier bed time.

 The conciliatory can of root beer jostled with the rest of the supplies on Jim’s janitorial cart as he pushed it down St. Mili’s labyrinth of hallways, mercifully quiet during the small hours. A jacket was the next item on the grisly scavenger hunt, because nobody wanted to die cold.

Perhaps surprising to some, a bleak occupation in a bleak setting wasn’t the catalyst behind Jim’s decision to end his life. He wasn’t bitter or depressed; he wasn’t heartbroken or mad at the government. Jim had simply made the classic mistake of thinking about it all too much. He’d always been of the suspicion that if one gave it too much thought, it being the why of it all, those thoughts would inevitably lead to suicide, or at least an absence of reasons not to do it. He’d gone in search of meaning and come up short, and this was pro-level stuff he was contemplating. The defeated janitor would’ve done well to stick to simpler, less fatal issues like why the bee makes honey or why yellow traffic lights were curiously but definitely getting shorter.

Jim trudged into the depths of the coatroom, battling a standoffish daddy long legs for nearly a minute before emerging with his white winter parka. He laid the poofy-bag-ofmarshmallows jacket atop the root beer, and pushed his cart to the last stop: the pharmacy.

Because of his plentiful experience with cleaning up other people’s messes and an affinity for his boss, Nurse Gail, Jim had elected to go by pill overdose. It was clean, quiet, and showed respect for the party that was to discover the body.

With an extensive roster of patients in desperate need of daily medication, St. Mili’s pharmacy was a Mecca of dozens of drugs that, when taken in excess, resulted in reliable death. Jim unlocked the mother of all medicine cabinets, perused its dizzying supply of amber bottles, and plucked the relatively obscure and verbally intimidating dikatharide olanzapine. Conventionally used to combat the dreaded tag team of paranoia and psychosis, the drug didn’t cause nausea (again, he really wanted this to be an easy clean up) and with its high levels of liver-busting haloperidol, a successful overdose was all but guaranteed.

Jim parked the supply cart in front of his bedroom door, sandwiched between the king-of ambient-noise boiler room and a storage closet that no one used because a) the door was jammed, and b) it smelled like a wet dog chewing black licorice.

Inside his bedroom at last, Jim locked the door and set the lamp on dim, considering. He sat cross-legged in the center bouquet of his flower-patterned rug, donned his marshmallow jacket, and opened his forced compromise can of root beer. The angry sound of freed carbonation joined a faint rendition of “O Canada” from a dementia-plagued geriatric on the floor above.

Making what he assumed would be his last choice, Jim decided to put liquid in before pills as opposed to the other way around (a traditionally benign but of course hotly-debated topic among the unpredictably opinionated residents of St. Mili’s). He sipped some root beer, and lifted the pills to their manufacturer-unapproved destiny. It was at this moment, in a statistically improbable stroke of luck, that the knob of Jim’s locked door quivered.
Continue reading