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Sunday, August 1, 2021

Talking Shop: Eric's Writing Challenge Update 6

I had a migraine for most of yesterday, so the always highly-anticipated update on my writing challenge comes a day late this week. 

First up, the writing challenge. Thus far, I've written approximately 36,900 words for the writing challenge. That puts me approximately 42% of the way toward the 87,500 word goal for the rest of the year. I wrote approximately 9000 words last week. Broken down across 7 days, that works out to just shy of 1300 words per day. 

On to Rinn's Run: 

Total words: 45,200

Chapters completed: 25

Percentage complete (theoretical): 45%

What can I say? Consistency pays off. There is also an element of discipline involved. There were a few days when it was late and working on the novel felt like a chore. I did it anyway. On one of those days, I think I only wrote about 700 words. The other days, I obviously wrote more. 

I generally find that just making myself start when I'm tired or irritable is the biggest challenge. Those are the moments when you have to dig deep, as the fitness people like to say. You decide that getting the words on the page matters, put yourself in front of the computer, and write. Pro tip: the same principles apply to getting exercise. I've also found that, once I start, it's usually not too bad unless I'm utterly exhausted (see above: 700 words). 

Therein lies the benefit of having an easily achievable minimum number of words. Knowing I'm only on the hook for writing 500 words makes it an easier sell. It's low-hanging fruit, so to speak. For me, that often means just getting through one scene. Being able to say things like that to yourself helps break down that resistance you likely feel toward doing anything when you're tired or out of sorts. So, I say unto thee, oh writers of the world, go forth and write the words!


Eric Dontigney is the author of the highly regarded novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, as well as the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. Raised in Western New York, he currently resides near Dayton, OH. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally online at

Friday, July 30, 2021

“At Wits’ End” • by Roxana Arama

“It’s so hot and my A/C is broken,” I told the Tarot card reader. “Last winter, during that cold snap, my furnace froze. My car died before my job interview! My garden wedding is next week and with my bad luck? I can’t sleep, I’m terrified.”

She consulted her cards. “You’re doomed.”

“No! Is there something—”

“Cancel the wedding.”

“What? No…”

I left her place, tears blurring my vision.

The bus was arriving when my phone pinged. The message from my fiancé read, “It’s so damn hot, we must cancel the wedding.”

My jaw dropped. Good news—at last.

¤     ¤     ¤

Roxana Arama is a Romanian-American writer and a member of Codex Writers’ Group. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, her work has been acknowledged in several literary contests and magazines, and she maintains the website Rewriting History: How writers turn history into story, and story into history at She lives in Seattle with her family. Follow her on Twitter at @RoxanaArama.

“The Secret to a Happy Marriage” • by Carol Scheina


In their seven years of marriage, Gino had never kissed his wife.

He watched other dragons kissing, forked tongues darting about, wrapped in curls of blue flame and white smoke.

His soft human lips could never endure such heat, but with a freeze spell, maybe he’d be able to withstand just one peck before the ice melted. Almadine deserved that, and more. He told her his plan.

Almadine smiled with sharp teeth, yellow eyes on Gino. “Kissing is overrated. Besides, we’ve managed other things.” Her head snaked toward the bedroom in suggestion.

Gino thought his wife had never looked hotter.

¤     ¤     ¤


Carol Scheina
is a deaf speculative fiction author whose short stories have appeared in Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, The Arcanist, and other publications. You can find more of her work at


Thursday, July 29, 2021

“Me Time” • by Lorraine Schein


It’s cold as hell down here—which is where I live now, so I should know.

My husband Hades likes the cold, but I’ve never gotten used to it. It can never be too hot for me.

“Hades dear, I need a vacation to a warmer climate.”

“Okay ‘Sephie sweetie, I’ll ask Hermes to book you a trip to Circe’s island.”

 I got a wing-mail from Hermes later.

“Circe’s Resort is booked-up for Olympian Couples Counseling Week. How about Mykonos?”

“That’s fine.” I happily pack my bikini.

Soon I’m on the beach, waiting for sunrise. Apollo is so hot!

¤     ¤     ¤

Lorraine Schein
is a New York writer. Her work has appeared in VICE Terraform, Strange Horizons, Enchanted Conversation, Mermaids Monthly, and in the anthology Tragedy Queens: Stories Inspired by Lana del Rey & Sylvia Plath. The Futurist’s Mistress, her poetry book, is available from Mayapple Press: 


“Too Hot to Handle” • by Ray Daley


I’ve been inside the reactor fourteen times. Now I’m in the cleanroom, wondering if I can bear one final trip to repair the injector system.

If I don’t, everyone is dead. And if I do, that’s me done, forever. Two minutes. That’s all the time I’ve got. Then my eyes are gone. If I make it out alive, I’m gonna need more than ice cream to get me over this.

There’s no coin toss. I’ve got to do it. Or we all die.

Time to go back inside. Think cool thoughts, pray for snow? If only.

It’s too darn hot. 

¤     ¤     ¤


Ray Daley
was born in Coventry and still lives there. He served six years in the RAF as a clerk and spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He is a published poet and has been writing stories since he was ten. His current dream is to eventually finish the Hitchhiker’s Guide fanfic novel he’s been writing since 1986. Tweet him @RayDaleyWriter or check out his web site at


Wednesday, July 28, 2021

“What’s a Monster to Do?” • by Melissa Mead


When I was young and my fangs were sharp, I devoured half a dozen humans a day, and munched their pets for dessert. Those miserable bipeds trembled at the merest glimpse of my shadow.

Then I made the mistake of catching dinner on their Taco Night. That infernal belch, and its aftermath, brought every wretched biped in a five-block radius running. 

Now they all wear ristras of chilies around their necks, munch on habaneros, and give their babies jalapeños to suck on. They even douse their dogs with something called Spot’s Hot & Spicy Sauce.

It’s a disaster! Alas, Monsters of a Certain Age just can’t handle hot peppers.

¤     ¤     ¤

Melissa Mead
lives in upstate New York with the imaginary people in her head. Her web site is here:





“The Summer of Phoenix Spotting” • by Sylvia Heike


The summer heat had become unbearable long before the first phoenix arrived. Always soaring above my house, I feared the moment it might land on the roof.

Next came the birdwatchers, sweating as they carried their telescopes and propped tripods in the scorched field. How they endured the heat, I’ll never know, and indeed many dragged themselves into the shadow of my house, collapsing with a crazed happiness on their faces. 

The birders kept coming. Until, fed up with their advances, the phoenix vanished from the sky. Leaving.

Wish I had somewhere to go. Today, ten more birds showed up.

¤     ¤     ¤

Sylvia Heike is a speculative fiction writer from Finland. She likes hiking, nature photography, books, bunnies, and birds. Her stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Online and elsewhere. To find out more, visit her website,, or follow her on Twitter @sylviaheike



Monday, July 26, 2021

Karl and Abe's Excellent Adventure


One of the problems with being an old science fiction writer is that the world is just overflowing with ideas for great SF stories that I will never have the time to write. Rather than let these ideas accumulate in notebooks my heirs will someday throw in the trash, I’ve decided to start tossing ideas out there for public consumption, in hopes that someone might be able to use one or two of them.

For example, today’s free story idea is this: did you know that Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx were contemporaries, and that Lincoln was familiar with Marx’s ideas and expressed some sympathy and admiration for them?

First, a bit of background reading:  

There’s a rabbit hole we could go down at this point. Apparently this article in the Washington Post provoked a lot of controversy, which seems to boil down to people screaming “Oh no he wasn’t!” and “Oh yes he was!” past each other. I don’t care about that now. What I’m interested in is the classic science fiction writer’s game of What if…?

What if Abraham Lincoln was strongly influenced by Karl Marx and all those other German Socialists, my great-great-grandfather included, who came to America after failing to overthrow the Kaiser in 1848? What if he had survived the war, and after 1865 had set about transforming the reunited United States into the sort of socialist workers’ paradise of which generations of non-working-class European intellectuals had dreamed? Where’s the science fiction story in this idea?

Well, obviously then, John Wilkes Booth was a time traveler, sent back from some dystopian future timeline to prevent that future from ever happening…

There’s your idea. Pete Wood, I expect something silly from you. Marcas McClellan, if you can’t get a novella out of this, you’re not trying. Roxana Arama, provided you don’t get bogged down in the historical research, I think you could get an award-winning novel out of this one. The rest of you: the idea is out there. Now run with it!

Have fun,

Exploring Strange New Worlds with a Hearing Loss • by Carol Scheina

I have my hearing loss to blame for my love of science fiction and fantasy.

I became deaf at age 5—the medical term is bilateral profound hearing loss resulting from a hereditary gene. After I was diagnosed, my parents fitted me with rather large behind-the-ear hearing aids that amplified what little hearing I still had. This was a challenging time, as my brain had to learn how to translate these strange new sounds into something recognizable. Television, with its closed captioning, became my greatest ally. I could hear the muffled sound on the television, and the captioning would tell me what I was hearing.

Back in those olden days of my childhood, closed captioning was fed into the TV through a decoder box, which was finicky and wouldn’t always work. Plus, not every show was captioned. But there was one show that consistently displayed words on the screen: Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The captions zoomed by fast, so I had to learn to scan words quickly. I also didn’t always understand the language—big words were thrown about like rendezvous, anomaly, and futile—but I kind of picked up the gist of things. What’s more, I could read every glorious sound. At first, the show’s appeal was the novelty of being able to follow along with the dialogue, but little by little, I grew to love the characters, especially chief engineer Geordi La Forge, who wore an electronic visor to see just like I wore electronic aids to hear. (Confession: I totally girl-crushed on LeVar Burton and even fashioned my own visor using a banana hair clip and yarn, looping it around my hearing aids.)

Star Trek wasn’t always on, so I turned to books for additional entertainment. On my parent’s shelf were ancient copies of Alice in Wonderland and The Tin Woodman of Oz that I read over and over. In the library at school, I found endless other stories to take me to strange new worlds and to boldly go where I’d never gone before. Thus began my love with sci-fi and fantasy.

I didn’t try my hand at writing speculative stories until many, many years later, after my son was born and I started wondering what books he would read. Which reminded me that the childhood books I read, while wonderful, also didn’t quite capture my world. I never read about a character needing to change a dead hearing aid battery right when the teacher started giving test instructions. Or a character pulling out of a hug to proclaim her love (because whispering romantically into an ear doesn’t work if you’ve got a hearing loss; facial contact is needed).

I wanted to write a book that young me would’ve loved to have read.

My first attempt was a young adult novel with a deaf protagonist who could read minds, but only when she took her hearing aids out. With this story, I explored the idea of someone being the most powerful when the world considered her the most disabled. The main character was very much young me, right down to the frizzy hair, and to be honest, it wasn’t a well-written book. (Hey, it was my first!) But the story started my journey of letting my imagination run rampant on the page and finding ways to drop in more characters with a hearing loss.

I want to throw in a caveat here that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to hearing loss. Hearing loss can span a wide range, from mild to profound, affecting one or both ears, appearing at birth or any other point in life. There’s the Deaf culture (always capital D), with its beautiful visual language and history and traditions. There are those who lipread and communicate orally, as my parents raised me, though I learned ASL later in life. (For an excellent overview of writing deaf and hard of hearing characters, I highly recommend reading Melanie’s Ashford’s article, How to Write Deaf or Hard of Hearing Characters on the subject.) My dream was to capture as many different shades of hearing loss as I could.

How did hearing loss shape my writing besides wanting to throw more deaf and hard of hearing characters into the speculative world? One way is through my word choice. An early rejection I received noted my prose was rather weak. Not one to take such a defeat, I rolled up my sleeves and began to work on that.

My writing tends to veer toward words in my comfort zone of hearing. For example, take an adjective like “huge.” The softer sounds are harder for me to pick up, and the mouth shapes are more subtle, making it more challenging to lipread. I prefer “big,” with its strong sounds and easy-to-lipread mouth shape. Now, I know other synonyms, but I’d use “big” over and over again. There were so many words I found myself using repetitively, and I needed to train myself to be wild and daring and use “ginormous” instead! It’s something I’m still working on even today.

While vocabulary may have been something I had to think about, visual description could come easier. After all, I spend every day staring at the tiniest details regarding mouth shapes, facial expressions, and any other visual cues to fill in my auditory gaps. Additionally, knowing the context of what’s going on around me helps with conversation, so I try to take in as much detail as I can about the environment. How much harder could it be to take those details and drop them into my stories? (Okay, it wasn’t that easy. I still had to work at it to make sure my descriptions were effective!)

Over the years, it’s been exciting to see more stories featuring deaf and hard of hearing characters, including the Newbery Honor children’s book El Deafo by Cece Bell, which I highly recommend. After my son read it, I confessed that, just like in the book, I had an assistive device that let me hear the teacher in the bathroom—a deaf superpower!

Still, I want to see more stories out there. For deaf and hard of hearing characters to take to the stars, to travel to magical new lands, and to be the hero that a little girl watching Star Trek dreamed about. That’s what sent me on my writing journey in the first place.


Carol Scheina
is a deaf speculative fiction author whose work has appeared in an array of publications since her first professional-rate story was published in early 2020. That story, Once More With Feeling (Daily Science Fiction), featured a violinist coping with sudden hearing loss. 

Since then, she’s had other short stories and microfiction sales, including: Like Grandma Made (Bards and Sages), The Food Critic (Theme of Absence), The Pieces that Bind (On the Premises), The Midwife (Luna Station Quarterly), The Fruits of Sisterhood (Daily Science Fiction), Death Poems of the Folded Ones (Escape Pod Flash Fiction Contest), I Can Be a Hero Too (Daily Science Fiction), We Wait for a Better Future (The Arcanist), The Sweetest Things (All Worlds Wayfarer), Would You Like Fries With That? (Stupefying Stories), The Family Business (Stupefying Stories), Long-Distance Relationship (Stupefying Stories), and Just Like Before (Stupefying Stories). 

Carol also works as a writer/editor in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. In her career, she has won a Blue Pencil Award from the National Association of Government Communicators and a Silver Inkwell Award from the International Association of Business Communicators and was recognized as an Outstanding Department of Defense Disabled Employee of the Year in 2005. Carol has an amazing husband who is always willing to give her stories a second read and two fantastic kids with the best imaginations ever. She also lives with a tuxedo cat who likes to walk over the computer and mess everything up, but he’s cute so he can get away with it. She grew up in a magical spot in Virginia with a creek and a woods and plenty of scope for the imagination.

¤     ¤     ¤

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Talking Shop: Eric's Writing Challenge Update 5

I just realized that I forgot to do my weekly update yesterday. 

So, here is where things stand with the writing challenge. To date, I've written approximately 27,900 words. That puts me around 32% of the way toward the ultimate goal of 87,500. I've written approximately 7300 words since the last update. Broken down across 8 days, that works out to just over 900 words a day. 

Now for Rinn's Run:

Total words: 36,200 words

Chapters completed: 21

Percentage Complete (theoretical): 36%

While I worked in days off as part of the model for this writing challenge, I really do find it works best if I write every day. A novel, especially one that you're writing organically that way I'm writing this one, develops a kind of momentum and life of its own. Any time I take a day off, I lose some of that momentum. Sometimes, I get it right back when I start writing again. Sometimes, it takes a day or two of writing to reclaim that momentum. I don't like losing momentum, so I've pretty much taken to writing daily. Like most writing advice, your mileage may vary. 

Writing every day is what's working for me. It may not work for you. You may discover that writing 700 words a day, five days a week, is what works for you. For my money, though, I wouldn't recommend taking off more than two days in a row or even two days in a week. The more time you spend away from your novel in progress, the more likely it is that you'll start losing the connective threads of the narrative.

THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING: yet another update


Henry Vogel’s new serial, THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING, continues to climb in the Kindle Vella reader rankings! Check it out! 

Or if you prefer to read entire books, check out the parent trilogy—literally, the parent trilogy—THE FUGITIVE HEIR series, on Kindle, in trade paperback, on Audible, and free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. 

Better yet, why not do both?