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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 ericdontigney.com.

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 www.roxanaarama.com. 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 carolscheina.wordpress.com.

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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: www.mayapplepress.com 


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“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 https://raymondwriteswrongs.wordpress.com/



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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: https://carpelibris.wordpress.com/



_________________

 

 

 


“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, https://sylviaheike.com, or follow her on Twitter @sylviaheike

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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: https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/07/27/you-know-who-was-into-karl-marx-no-not-aoc-abraham-lincoln/  

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,
~brb

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?





Friday, July 23, 2021

Of Karen and Cancer

Pete Wood asked:

“You told me once that it was Karen’s idea to do an anthology of  my short stories. I imagine she has had a great impact on Stupefying Stories and your writing. You should do a blog on how she affected your writing over the years.”

I don’t know that I can do that. I first met Karen when we were both fourteen. When someone has been a part of your life for more than fifty years, it’s really hard to cook that down to a 500-word blog post. Yes, I’m the “B” of K&B Booksellers. (“The silent partner,” as she has seen fit to remind me from time to time.) Yes, she has been a driving force behind the scenes here at Rampant Loon Press.

Yes, as many of you know, she has been battling metastatic breast cancer for eleven years now. When she was first diagnosed, she was given was two years to live; five years at the outside. She’s stretched that out to more than ten, fighting every inch of the way. 

Yes, this has had a profound and frequently disruptive impact on Stupefying Stories.

But to try to compress all that down to one blog post? How? 

One may as well try to fit the ocean into a one-quart jar. We’ve had half a century together. We’ve had good years and bad; great joys and heart-breaking sorrows; times when we were deliriously in love and times when we couldn’t stand the sight of each other. We’ve had miscarriages and children, and watched those children grow up to become adults and parents themselves. We’ve faced challenges and been shaped by them…

Today, we face one more challenge. As many of you know, a week ago she was admitted to the hospital through the ER. While the hospital staff was able to address and ameliorate the problem that put her in the hospital in the first place, in the process, they discovered something else. This morning she goes under the knife again, as we try to learn what that something else means. 

“How long is the procedure going to last?” 

“We aren’t sure. We’ll know more once we get in there and get a look at it.” 

“What exactly are you going to do?” 

“We aren’t sure. We’ll know more once we get in there and get a look at it.”

“Do you know what it is?”

“We aren’t sure. We’ll know more once we get in there and get a look at it.”

This is not the kind of language one wants to hear from one’s doctors.

So to answer Pete’s question: yes, she has had a profound impact on my writing and Stupefying Stories, but right now I’m a little preoccupied. We’ll know more in a few hours.

Wish us luck.

—Bruce Bethke

Talking Shop: Producing Good Writing • By Eric Dontigney

Photo by fauxels from Pexels
Good writing is one of those topics that comes up a lot in relation to books and especially among writers, yet remains one of the more ineffable goals of the craft. I always think of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous declaration about pornography that “I know it when I see it” as the general standard for good writing for most people. Of course, it’s not nearly as simple as that. Brilliant writing truly is ineffable. There is a quality about it that transcends the trappings of whatever genre a piece of writing happens to find itself in.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol falls into that category. Depending on which edition you have on hand, it only runs about 100 pages. Yet, its ongoing impact is almost incalculable. It has been performed in theaters almost continuously for the better part of the last 60 years. It has been adapted for live-action films around 20 times and animated features around 8 times. It’s been adapted for live-action television 22 times and animated television 9 or 10 times. It’s had four opera adaptations and two ballet adaptations. Who knows how many radio adaptations there have been over the decades.

Just a few of the luminaries of stage and screen who took on roles in these many and sundry performances include Sir Laurence Olivier, George C. Scott, Orson Welles, Basil Rathbone, Jonathan Winters, James Earl Jones, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Alec Guinness, Mark Gatiss, and Albert Finney. While you might not recognize all of those names, you probably recognize many of them as film, stage, or TV heavyweights of the past or present. It’s a list that includes people who have won Oscars, BAFTA awards, Grammy awards, Tony awards, Emmy awards, and Olivier awards. There is at least one certifiable genius in the person of Orson Welles. All of this for a 100-page, Victorian ghost story about a grumpy old misanthrope who goes on an involuntary redemptive journey. Yes, there is genius in those pages.

No, you are not likely to ever reach those dizzying heights of magnificence. Good writing, though, that is something that you can aspire to and reach. Unlike genius, which seems to come out of some fluke of genetic lottery winning, good writing comes out of practice and study. No, I’m not just saying that. I consider myself a decent to good writer, so let me offer what insight I can into how to one goes from a bad or mediocre writer (which is where we all start) to a good writer. To write well, you need to understand the craft.

Here’s a short list of the books I’ve read on the craft of writing that I consider worth the time.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

The Elements of Style by Strunk and White

On Writing by Stephen King

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont

I’ve also read dozens of books on writing well for specific contexts, such as blogging, screenwriting, comic book writing, and copywriting/marketing. I’ve read hundreds, if not thousands, of articles and blog posts on the craft of writing in general and for specific genres or non-fiction areas. I still make a regular study of the craft. Up next on my reading list are Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting and Alice LaPlante’s The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing. At present, I’m also working my way slowly through Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass, The Art of Storytelling.

You shouldn’t just read about writing, though. You should read all kinds of things, all of the time. Let me say this now. If all you read is the genre you want to write, you will probably never rise above the okay-to-decent level of quality. Genres have tropes and tropes are really useful for placing your stories into a context that readers will recognize and accept. If those tropes are all you know, though, you can only be derivative. You aren’t armed with the information you need to do something special. Read novels from other genres than the ones you write. Personally, I like mystery novels. I also read books that fall more into the area of literature, such as The Shipping News, Jitterbug Perfume, Anne Hogan’s Mean Spirit, or any of Herman Hesse’s compact and occasionally haunting novels.

Reading more traditional novels is important for learning about character development because it plays a more prominent role. It’s closer to the surface and not obscured by fantastical or science fictional elements, so you can get a better look at it. Reading fiction also gives you a subconscious education in areas like plotting, pacing, and even style, although you will hopefully depart to your own place with style if you stick with writing long enough.

You should read non-fiction as well. Why non-fiction? Because a lot of non-fiction is written by some really stellar writers. Hit up some articles in a magazine like The Atlantic or The New Yorker. Some of those are as compelling as or more compelling than any thriller novel you’ve read. That’s all in the writing. Top-flight journalism will teach you things about concision in writing that entire semesters of college composition courses never will. Plus, you take in all those lessons at a nearly subconscious level. You won’t recognize where you learned these things as you’re writing. They’ll just sneak in while you’re thinking about plot.

Non-fiction also gives you a bigger imaginative palette to pull from while you write. Let’s say you write a scene in a graveyard. If you don’t know anything about headstones, your graveyard scene becomes generic. If you happen to know that sandstone and slate were popular headstone materials a century or so ago, you can talk about how erosion has triggered delamination (where layers of the rock separate) and obscured the writing on the headstones. That, in turn, can open up introspection about the impermanence of all things, or let the main character wonder about who the people were, or simply highlight the age or poor maintenance of the graveyard, depending on your narrative needs. All of that from knowing a little about headstones and how different kinds of stones weather or cope with acid rain.

Of course, that’s all theory. Theory can tell you about writing or about how you can write well, but only practice will let you learn how to apply all those theoretical lessons. Hang with me here. Why do you think professional athletes practice nearly every day? It’s not because they love practicing. It’s because it’s the only way they can improve. So, how do I practice? I write, all the time, nearly every single day. I write non-fiction professionally and fiction as a very, very serious hobby. It’s been about five years since I last did it, but the last time I added up my estimated output of writing it came in at over 2 million words. That was just the stuff that had survived on my desktop computer. I suspect by now the actual number is closer to 4 or 5 million words.

I’ve ghostwritten thousands, possibly even as many as 10,000, blog posts and articles. I’ve written marketing copy, content for landing pages, and news briefs. I’ve written about medical science, DIY projects, software, cloud computing, alternative energy (ask me what I know about solar panels sometime if you really need a nap), business finance, personal finance, food, employee recruiting, and fashion. Writing all of that and writing it to deadlines is one of the big reasons why I don’t put much stock in writer’s block. If you walk into every day assuming that you will write (fiction or non-fiction), you’re going to find out that you’re right most days. If paying your rent and buying food depends on your writing, you’ll tell all that Romantic Era crap about inspiration to take a hike because you literally cannot afford for some ephemeral muse to go off and have a good pout while you don’t write.

I’ve also written dozens of short stories (most of them bad), four published novels, and a novel masquerading as a short story collection that come in at about half a million words. I’ve probably written about the same amount in either forthcoming (as yet unfinished) or never to see the light of day prior novel manuscripts. So, when I tell you that you need practice, I’m not just parroting something I read somewhere once. It’s what I’ve done and it works. As much as I love my first novel, Falls, it’s nowhere near as good as The Midnight Ground. Yeah, it reads like an Eric book, and it’s a passable urban fantasy, but it’s also chock full of weaknesses that I’d never allow in a book I wrote now. What’s the difference? About 300,000 words of practice writing fiction in-between the two books, along with a million or two million words of non-fiction, and reading a couple of hundred novels, and studying the craft of writing.

You can see the same kind of progression in other writers who have a steady output. Go read Jim Butcher’s first Harry Dresden book sometime, then skip ahead to book 8, then skip again to book 14 or 15. Sure, all the elements that make a book a Jim Butcher book are present in that first Dresden novel, but you can see the quantum leap in quality when you skip ahead. If you want a truly fair example of progress, read his first Dresden Files book and his first Cinder Spires book. There’s a 15-year gap between Storm Front (Dresden #1) and The Aeronaut’s Windlass (Cinder Spires #1) and it shows.

So, what’s the secret to good writing? There is no secret. It’s just work and a lot of it. You study the craft and glean what you can about the essentials of plotting, character building, and world-building. If you really want to punish yourself, you can delve into theme and symbolism, but I find those things tend to work themselves out without a lot of conscious input from the writer. You must also read whenever you get a chance. Read novels. Read piles of novels. Read piles of novels outside your genre or genres. Read piles of non-fiction, be it books, articles, think pieces or high-quality journalism. You’ll learn information that you can use in your books later and pick up some more lessons on structuring lean writing. Write all the time. Write on your lunch breaks. Write after work. Write all kinds of things. Write short stories. Write novellas. Write vignettes. Write flash fiction. Write bad novels that you don’t want to show anyone. Then write better ones that more effectively apply the lessons you’ve learned and the craft you’ve studied. Write a few million words aiming for a constant improvement and application of everything your conscious and subconscious have accumulated. Odds are pretty good that, if you aren’t producing good writing by then, you’ll be well on your way.

 _______________________________________________

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 ericdontigney.com.

 

 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Speaking of selling books...

 

A while back, through a process too complicated to explain now, I wound up with several hundred copies of REBEL MOON, still in the boxes in which they were shipped from Simon & Schuster. I had been using them as promotional items at con appearances, but first my wife’s health issues and then COVID-19 pretty much put the kibosh on doing those sorts of in-person meet & greets. So I put the remaining boxes on a high shelf in the back of the K&B Booksellers warehouse and forgot about them…

Until recently, when for reasons unknown, our Amazon listing for copies of this book, in new condition and signed by yours truly, suddenly became very active. In the last few weeks we’ve sold a surprising number of copies.

Therefore, here’s an idea. Between postage and packaging it costs us roughly $3.50 to mail a copy of this book. (US Customers only. Sorry, overseas postage is prohibitive.) We can’t exactly sell these things, as I don’t want to bother with collecting sales tax for every state in the country, so how about for a donation of, say, $5.00 USD to the Support Stupefying Stories fund, (care of Rampant Loon Media LLC), you’ll receive a copy of this book, signed by yours truly, as a token of our appreciation. At the $10.00 level we’ll include a signed copy of my unpublished monograph, Vox Day and Me, which explains… things, and at the $20.00 level—

Nah, forget it. Just click the button to send us $5.00, be sure to include your mailing address in the donation message, and we’ll send you a signed book. Okay?




The Hostage in Hiding: an update



The Kindle Vella platform launch remains the strangest thing we’ve seen out of Amazon in a long time. While it’s very cool that THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING is a “Top Faved” (that’s what that crown means) and Top 40 book, finding the blessed thing remains a challenge.

Things we’re learned so far:

• the easiest way to find it is to go directly to this link in a web browser:

https://www.amazon.com/The-Hostage-in-Hiding/dp/B095C1LGD8/

Chrome, Firefox, Safari, it doesn’t seem to make a difference. Everything we’ve tried so far works.

• EXCEPT, for some utterly unfathomable reason, even though the platform is called “Kindle Vella,” you cannot get to it using a Kindle!

• Supposedly you can get directly to the book using the Kindle for iOS app, which is supported only on iPhones and iPads. However, thus far we have not been able to find the Vella plug-in on any of the Apple devices we have handy. It may require updating the Kindle for iOS app on your device. If someone else is having more luck with this, please let us know.   

• There is no Android app for Kindle Vella, and apparently none planned. This seems to us to be a serious strategic miscalculation. However, the book is accessible by using Chrome on an Android device and going to this link: https://www.amazon.com/The-Hostage-in-Hiding/dp/B095C1LGD8/. If there is a difference in functionality between Vella on Chrome and Vella on iOS, we haven’t seen it. Yet.

• For being such a highly touted new platform, Amazon sure doesn’t seem to be increasing its visibility. A search on Amazom.com for “Kindle Vella” returned a lot of listings for paranormal romance novels written by Vella Day. A search for vella plus Henry Vogel returned—I am not making this up—the sales page for “Medela Lanolin Nipple Cream.”

Well, that was not what we expected…

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

IT’S ALIVE! BWA-HA-HAAAAAAA…


Rampant Loon Press is delighted to announced that after a difficult labor and some last-minute complications, the print edition of SCOUT’S FIRST MISSION came into the world at 2:56 a.m. this morning. The print edition listing is already linked to its sibling Kindle edition and the rest of its family, author and baby are fine and resting comfortably, and the 5-star reviews and good review quotes are already starting to come in.

» “[…] a fun, two-fisted, action-packed romp on a distant planet, with a wild assortment of characters and alien creatures.” 

» “This is yet another light, fun read very reminiscent of golden age science fiction and fantasy.”

» “With this book, you’ll get that classic sci-fi feel. A dangerous unexplored planet for the heroes of the story […] to explore and make new discoveries on. The fact that they discover humans on an undiscovered planet comes as a shock, but in a universe set with a diaspora of lost colony ships from humanity’s first reaching into space, it is understandable. What else they find on this mysterious planet is unexpected…” 

» “While there are mentions of events in previous books, this is it’s own self-contained story arc, so reading this one out of order won’t take the reader out of the story.”

» “The Scout Academy has spanned generations, still seeking to teach the virtues of Honor, Oath, and Duty. This bodes well—a society needs such things.”

» “My 14-year-old son enjoys this entire series. Definitely fun-filled adventure books for boys!”

» “Overall, it was an entertaining, quick read. I will definitely be back for more.”

SCOUT’S FIRST MISSION: the latest book in Henry Vogel’s best-selling Terran Scout Corps series, now available in paperback, on Kindle, or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. Read it today!

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Meanwhile, back in the office...

SCOUT’S FIRST MISSION is out on Kindle and racking up sales and KENP page reads. Not outstanding numbers thus far, but it’s still early. 

I really like this reader review: “My 14 year old son enjoys this entire series. Definitely fun-filled adventure books for boys!” So for those of you who keep complaining that “No one writes/publishes books for boys anymore” … Henry does, and we do!

We’re still having some issues with the cover art for the print edition. After a couple of rounds with KDP Support and their less-than-helpful automated replies, we finally got someone there to actually look at the cover. Lo and behold, their complaint is not (as the automated messages kept saying) that the text on the spine is too close to the top and bottom edges of the book, but that the entire spine is so thick that the spine art might wrap onto the front or back covers.

Shrug. Back to Photoshop. We’ll get this sorted out.

In the meantime, we have a pile of new Pete Wood Challenge stories in the queue, and they will begin rolling out tomorrow. Watch for them!

—brb

Monday, July 19, 2021

BOOK RELEASE: SCOUT'S FIRST MISSION

NOW LIVE ON KINDLE!

SCOUT’S FIRST MISSION

Book 6 in Henry Vogel’s best-selling Sword & Planet series!

I know I said we’d be releasing this one on July 20th, but the Kindle edition went live earlier than planned while we’re still fixing some fiddly problems with the cover of the print edition. In the meantime, you can read SCOUT’S FIRST MISSION on Kindle now, and get it free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber!

It already has a 5-star review! (Emphasis added.)

“Having read a couple other stories by this author before, I had a good feeling about whether I would enjoy it or not. Knowing the author basically writes modern versions of golden age pulp sci-fi, of the kind writers like E.R. Burroughs used to write, I had a feeling the story would be a fun, two-fisted, action packed romp on a distant planet, with a wild assortment of characters and alien creatures. It definitely lived up to my expectations, since all those elements I mentioned are front and center.

“While there are mentions of events in previous books, this is it’s own self-contained story arc, so reading this one out of order won’t take the reader out of the story. I’d still recommend starting with book one, Scout’s Honor, but hey, some people are just contrarians. With this book, you’ll get that classic sci-fi feel. A dangerous unexplored planet for the heroes of the story, Chris and Jade, newly minted Scouts First Class, and recently married to boot, to explore and make new discoveries on. The fact that they discover humans on an undiscovered planet comes as a shock, but in a universe set with a diaspora of lost colony ships from humanity’s first reaching into space, it is understandable. What else they find on this mysterious planet is unexpected…”

READ THE REST! 

BETTER YET, READ THE BOOK!


Sunday, July 18, 2021

The State of the Loon • 18 July 2021

Just a quick note here for those who have been wondering why I have been so quiet these past few days. My wife, Karen, has had another medical misadventure. Things were pretty alarming for a span of about 72 hours but she seems to have turned the corner and is on her way back to something approximating normal. However, this has meant that my attention has been focused elsewhere for much of this past week.

RLP operations should be back to normal tomorrow morning. 

—Bruce Bethke


Friday, July 16, 2021

Talking Shop: Eric's Writing Challenge Update 4

 

Another mostly quick update on the work of writing.

First up, the writing challenge. To date, I've written about 20,600 words, which is a little under 24% of the way toward the final goal of 87,500. This last week, I wrote about 4400 words. So, I averaged about 628 words a day across seven days. 

On to Rinn's Run.

Total words: 28,900 words

Chapters Completed: 18

Percentage complete (theoretical): 29%

This last week, I got shot one of my covid vaccination. My arm was a little sore and I felt okay for the beginning of the first day. I was just tired at first, but started feeling lousy at the end on the day. The next day wasn't much better, so I ended up sleeping a lot both days.  I didn't write any fiction on either day. So my actual average on days that I actually wrote fiction was a little closer to 900 words a day. 

There is no big takeaway other than building momentum and working steadily pay off. I'm well on my way to meeting the writing challenge for the year. In fact, I'm pretty sure I'm ahead of schedule by a few thousand words for that. Plus, I've knocked out close to a third of a novel. It's hard to argue with results.


Talking Shop: Death in Speculative Fiction • by Eric Dontigney

Death is a complex subject in speculative fiction, in large part because speculative fiction covers so much ground. There are simply so many ways to circumvent death in speculative fiction, be it magic, divine intervention, or super-science. Even Frank Herbert played around with the conventions of death by resurrecting Duncan Idaho over and over again as a ghola and allowing these clones to recover their memories through magi-science-mumbo-jumbo. Hey, just roll with it, people, because Duncan Idaho is awesome.

Unfortunately, all these opportunities to circumvent death -- and the rampant overuse of resurrection in the comics medium, in particular -- has taken a lot of cognitive jolt out of killing characters in your science fiction and fantasy novels. People blow off the deaths because, somewhere in the back of their minds, they don’t really think these characters are gone. That puts a certain onus on the writer. It’s on you to establish, very early on, that death has permanence in your speculative fiction universe.

There are several ways you can do this. You can have characters reminisce about dead family members, dead friends, or dead lovers. You can have a death in someone’s past be a driving force for their actions now. You can kill a character early on and have it be the psychological trauma that death is for people who don’t take resurrection for granted. Or, you can just make it apparent that some of your characters live in legitimate terror of death.

Just take care that you filter these things through the characters’ personalities and livelihoods. If your character is the walking, talking embodiment of a weapon of mass destruction in terms of personal combat, they’re going to have a very different relationship with death than that uptight waiter in the snooty restaurant or the maternal woman who chides your main character for not smiling enough. Yet, these disparate perspectives also offer you an opportunity to reinforce the idea that death is final in your universe.

It also means that any plans to introduce resurrection into your story must be very carefully planned out. After all, if you treat it casually, so will your readers. That’s one of the big reasons why, thus far, I’ve never resurrected a character that I can recall. I might, might, do it in one of my upcoming novels, but here are the basic rules I’ve set for myself when dealing with resurrection.

  1. It should be exceedingly rare.
  2. It should be exceedingly difficult.
  3. It should make sense within the context of the story.
  4. It should come at a massive (emotional or spiritual) cost.
  5. It should fundamentally alter the personality of the person who is resurrected.

I picked these as my baselines because they force me to treat death as permanent in my fiction. It also forces me to think through exactly how deep a relationship two characters must have for one to be willing to pay that huge cost. I added that last rule because I don’t think returning from beyond the veil should have zero consequences. If I read a book that included a resurrection that didn’t alter the resurrected character, I’d just assume the writer was being lazy. That doesn’t necessarily mean a change for the better. A change for the worse might actually be more interesting, but they absolutely should change in some meaningful way.

I also added that last one as a kind of subtle punishment for the character who instigates the resurrection. Sure, they’re getting a version of the person back, but they aren’t really getting back the person they lost. I think of it as the price of messing with the natural order. It also opens up some interesting ground for rearranging relationships. After all, the person your character brings back might not appreciate being dragged back from the great beyond.

If there is a big takeaway here, though, it’s that you must make your readers believe that death matters in your books. You must make them believe that, if a beloved character dies, they aren’t going to be all better by the end of the book. It’s the only way you can reclaim the cognitive jolt of death in your speculative fiction books and stories.

 _______________________________________________

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 ericdontigney.com.

 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING - more news

 

The first ten episodes of THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING are now live on Kindle Vella. It’s already a “Top Faved” book, which I assume means something important. Better yet, to entice you to try Vella, Amazon is giving away 200 free tokens which you can use to buy this and other books on the Kindle Vella site.

To claim your free tokens, click the little key icon in the upper right corner of the page.

Also, just a reminder that while THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING is a new standalone book that begins a new series, it is also the follow-on to the best-selling THE FUGITIVE HEIR trilogy (a.k.a., The Matt & Michelle Trilogy), and as with all of our books, THE FUGITIVE HEIR trilogy is FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Enjoy!



Tuesday, July 13, 2021

“Poe Turns the Screw” • by Jason Wittman

 

The esteemed Mr. Bethke informs me that someone requested an expansion of my response to his “Why do you write?” post, in which I described how watching the (very bad) 2020 movie The Turning inspired me to write a story called “Poe Turns the Screw.” Specifically, he requested, “a blog post that is part review of The Turning, and then goes into the Edgar Allan Poe take on The Turn of the Screw and then goes into [your] writing process.”

To be clear, it wasn’t the reasons the movie was bad that inspired me to write the story, merely the fact that it was bad, so I don’t think a review of The Turning is strictly necessary.  But a request is a request.

I’ve been obsessed with Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw (about a young governess who defends two children named Miles and Flora from a pair of ghosts who might or might not actually be there) ever since seeing a comic book version of it in my middle school library. (Aspergians like myself tend to have such obsessions.)  I have DVDs of all but one film adaptation of the story, including The Innocents (1961), starring the late, great Deborah Kerr, widely considered to be the best. So when I heard The Turning was coming out in early 2020, I naturally wanted to see it.

It’s...bad. But the tragedy is that it could have been decent if not for the ending. (Spoilers ahead, obviously.) In the climax, after Peter Quint pushes the housekeeper Mrs. Grose over the railing (yes, this movie has railing kills), Kate (the governess) grabs the two kids, puts them in her car (this movie updates the story to 1994) and drives away. And as the car hurtles down the road... the camera zooms back... and it turns out we’re seeing a painting Kate got in the mail from her mentally ill mother. Mrs. Grose turns out to be still alive, and the kids turn out to be fine. But Kate... well, the camera zooms into her eye, through which we see her in the mental asylum where she last saw her mother. There’s her mother, drawing pictures on the floor. Kate looks at her...and screams. The End.

What makes this ending especially bad is that it contradicts what went before it. For instance, at 22:47 into the movie (yes, I bought the DVD because I wanted to see the alternate ending, which is the ending they should have gone with), a creepy mannequin moves on its own when nobody is in the room. At 34:39, Peter Quint is visible in the background. Kate is in the room, but she doesn’t see Quint, doesn’t realize he’s there. And at 1:12:37, Kate is standing at the bathroom sink. She bends down to wash her face...and the ghost of Miss Jessel (the previous governess) appears in the mirror. But she’s gone by the time Kate looks back up. Again, Kate has no idea she’s there.

So all this would indicate that the ghosts exist independent of Kate’s perception of them, right?  Well, not according to the ending.

The badness of that ending bounced around in my head long after I left the theater. As a writer, I find it boggling that such bad writing gets green-lit to be made into a major motion picture. (Although, since the alternate ending was much better, I have to think Executive Meddling was heavily involved.) And that thought kept bouncing around like a neutron in a nuclear reactor... and then my eyes rested on a novel on my bookshelf, Florence & Giles, by John Harding. It has a review blurb on the cover: “Imagine The Turn of the Screw reworked by Edgar Allan Poe” -- The Times.

For the record, I disagree with the blurb. Florence & Giles is a brilliant novel, I highly recommend it, and it’s definitely influenced by The Turn of the Screw, but I don’t see Poe in it at all. (And I know my Poe. I can recite “The Raven” from memory. Another Aspergian obsession.) But when I saw that blurb, it combined in my head with the badness of The Turning... and like THAT, an entire story materialized, all but fully formed in my head, in which various elements of Poe stories were grafted onto the basic plot of The Turn of the Screw

The beginning premise is from Henry James: a young governess is hired to look after two children at a remote country estate. But instead of Miles and Flora, the children are named Roderick and Madeleine Usher, and they are being kept at the Usher estate to protect them from the Red Death, a plague that is sweeping the countryside.

(Also for the record: I started this story long before COVID-19 reared its ugly head. The pandemic did not influence my story in any way.)

The governess, unnamed in The Turn of the Screw, is here named Miss Prospera, after Prince Prospero in Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”  The children’s late parents (who play a much larger role in my story) are named Montresor and Fortunata—and if you’ve read “The Cask of Amontillado,” you can guess how that marriage ends. The female ghost is named Miss Morella, who plays a larger nemesis to the governess in my story than the male ghost, who is named... But why spoil the story?

Normally, when I write, I manage to churn out three handwritten pages a day. (That’s right, I do my rough drafts in longhand. Cursive. You might think I do that so people born in this century won’t be able to read it, but no. Ideas just flow better for me from the tip of a pen.) But this story was a gusher, more like five or six pages a day. And when it was done, I had an 11,000+ word story. Then I typed it up on my computer, and let it sit on my hard drive for a few weeks while I went back to the novel I was writing. Then I looked at it again with fresh eyes, trimmed off some excess wordage, and started sending it off to magazine editors.

You know, when you think about it, it’s kind of weird that I’ve been asked to write what amounts to a making-of documentary about a story that has yet to see publication, penned by an author who is not exactly a household name—heck, Jim Theis is more famous than me. But I suppose this post could also be viewed as a sales pitch. Magazine editors take note!

¤     ¤     ¤

Jason D. Wittman lives and works in Minnesota. He has had fiction published in Scifi.com and Baen’s Universe, as well as in Stupefying Stories. He has also had two games published by Steve Jackson Games. 

___________________

In a world...


Where the Soviet Union won WWII, England is now a Soviet satellite, some magic actually works (sometimes), and Premier Kruschev is going eyeball-to-eyeball with President Patton—

The last surviving member of His Majesty’s Dragonslayer Corps is called out of retirement, because it seems dragons aren’t extinct after all and one has taken up residence in a prominent Politburo member’s country estate. Read the rest in THE SHE-DRAGON OF BLY, by Jason D. Wittman, just one of the terrific tales in STUPEFYING STORIES 22!

Available now in paperback, on Kindle, or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

 

Book Release: THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING, by Henry Vogel


Kindle Vella
went live this morning, which means that THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING is now live as well, at this link:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B095C1LGD8/

 The jacket copy:

In a family full of heroes, Nora Connaught is the normal one. She's never fought space pirates. Never saved anyone's life. Never done anything remotely heroic. But now she's 18 and going off to college on another planet. Nora hopes she'll finally have a chance to step out from under her family's shadow, but life never goes as expected. When events spiral out of control putting thousands of lives at risk, can Nora live up to the Connaught name and cast her own heroic shadow?

 The first three chapters are free. Please give them a read, up-vote them so that the book is easier to find, and share the link.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Updating contact info

 

Some weird things have been popping up in the various RLP mailboxes lately, so this seems like an opportune time to update our contact info.

Submissions and queries about submissions:
     »
submissions@rampantloonmedia.com
     (although we’re not open to new unsolicited submissions right now)

Feedback not related directly to a specific submission:
     » feedback@rampantloonmedia.com

Queries about novella- or longer-length submissions:
     » queries@rampantloonmedia.com
     (although we’re not looking at taking on any new long-format projects right now)

Contact me directly:
     » brb@rampantloonmedia.com
     (although I reserve the right to lock this account down if it gets spam-bombed
     into rubble again, like my last publicized “direct” email address did) 

Stupefying Stories on Facebook:
     » https://www.facebook.com/StupefyingStories/

Bruce Bethke on Facebook:
     » https://www.facebook.com/Bruce.Bethke
     (see above comment about my direct email address)

Stupefying Stories on Twitter:
     » https://twitter.com/StupefyingSF | @StupefyingSF
     (follow us on Twitter and we’ll follow you)

Along with giving up on my long-standing resistance to Twitter, I’ve also given up on my long-standing resistance to having a tip jar. If you support what we’re doing here but already have all the books and magazines you’ll ever be able to read in this life, please consider throwing a buck or two in the tip jar to show your appreciation and help to support our mission.

Thank you,
~brb