Write Tips: Writing The Short Query Novel Pitch

Query letters and synopses are the bane of so many authors’ existence, aren’t they? I dread them and find them quite frustrating. They never seem to elicit the kind of enthusiastic response equal to that I get from my writing itself. It’s always disappointing when readers are loving a manuscript but you can’t agents or publishers to take a look. Yes, I know it’s all about numbers (i.e. percenatages) and finding the right match, but still, it’s so much easier when you can let the writing sell itself, but that’s not how the industry works.

Now, there’s good reason for that. By sheer quantity alone, agents and editors just can’t read all the millions of words that people try and put on their desks. A weeding out of wheat from chafe is necessary and there’s not a perfect way to do that. So query letters and synopses remain key elements of getting professionally published. I don’t see this changing for the foreseeable future either.

That leaves writers with one option: we must learn how to write queries and synopses. So I decided to do a series of Write Tips on related topics as I prepare for my latest round. This first one is going to deal with one of the most important but challenging: writing the short query synopsis for your book. You have to hook them in 100 words and get them to want more. It’s really tough to sum up a 130k novel in 100 words. 90k novels, too. But one of the first paragraphs and key paragraphs of any good query, research says, is the synopsis of the book. So, here’s the one I am working on for Duneman, book 1 of my epic fantasy trilogy The Dawning Age.

The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. With the child’s fate tied to the peace of the Lands, Kaleb’s life is on the line, and he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself. Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy.

But before we talk about that, here’s where I started and some Facebook comments that helped me get where I am. (And I am still not done.)

In a world transitioning from a war torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason, a man awakens in the desert, left for dead. As he begins piecing back together his identity and his past, he sets out to rescue the kidnapped wife and child who hold the answers he needs. But soon he discovers things are not what they seem—discovering skills he hadn’t imagined he had and evidence that the wife and child are not who he thought. Others are hunting them with nefarious goals and the race is on to see who will get there first. With his life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to uncover the truths about himself and his past and protect his future.

Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Here are comments from my Facebook page a couple of months back when I posted this.

    • Tim Ward I’m not really one to judge query letters, but it looks like a story I’d want to read.
    • Charles P. Zaglanis I would suggest using their names. Even as an introduction, I want to get a feel for the people in the story. Also, maybe excise the bit that sounds like Total Recall, the movie didn’t do well.
    • Chelvanaya Gabriel Ooooh – I really like the sound of this! 🙂 Might I suggest: “In a world transitioning from a war-torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason, a man awakens in the desert, left for dead and his wife and child kidnapped/missing/lost/gone/taken. Setting out to rescue them, he soon discovers things are not what they seem – his family may not be who he thought, others are on the hunt for them and he possesses skills previously unknown to him. With his life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, the race is on for him to rescue his wife and child, protect their future and uncover truths about himself.”
    • Cindy Koepp Neato! That sounds like one I’d want to read.
    • Jay Werkheiser Here are a few tweaks I might recommend, but bear in mind that I’m no expert on writing query letters! I’d drop “back” from piecing back his identity. You use forms of the word “discover” twice in the same sentence; I would change one of them. Also in that sentence, I would drop “he had” after skills he hadn’t imagined. In the next sentence, I would drop “with nefarious goals” and “to see who gets there first;” I think both are already implied by the context. Like I said, take my suggestions with a large grain of salt; use what you like and ignore the rest! In any case, it sounds like a cool novel!
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt Jay, Chelvanya, helpful thanks. Thanks Tim and Cindy and even Joe. Charles, honestly, which part sounds like Total Recall? I am missing it…
      Also the problem with names is his identity changes over the course of the story. So it’s hard to know which name to use.
    • Chelvanaya Gabriel I like the idea of using his name but I can see why it would be tricky. If you want to use a name, maybe you could use whatever name he starts out with? I feel like using a name works best when the name is unique (even if it is going to change). OR maybe to get that same connection to the story via a name, why not give us the name of the world?
    • Guy Anthony De Marco Any time I see “In a world”, the voice switches to the guy who does voice-overs for movie trailers and I get distracted 🙂
    • Ann Leckie Ditto on using names, at least your MC. I have the same problem with my MC, and I chose one for the query. Which was very successful. I’m in agreement with the “In a world where…” being maybe not the best approach. I also think that “transitioning from a war torn age of faith and magic to a peaceful age of science and reason” is a bit awkward–I had to take a couple runs at it to separate it out. And I’d suggest that it’s information that doesn’t need to be in the first sentence. It should be there, just not right up front like that, IMO.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt ROUND 2: Kaleb Ryder awakens in the desert, left for dead, his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and rediscover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from skills he hadn’t imagined to questions about his relation to the kidnapped woman and child. The Terran Lands have transitioned from a war-torn age of faith and magic to one of science and reason where the former are now banned. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and rediscover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from skills he hadn’t imagined to questions about his relation to the kidnapped woman and child. <–there’s a contradiction here. You tell us his wife and child are missing, then he has questions about his relationship to the kidnapped woman and child…but you’ve already told us what that is. I’d recommend introducing the kidnapped woman and child as unknowns (and telling us why he cares about rescuing them), then raising the question of how they might be related to him. I think we need to know more specifically what the conflict is and how it relates to the peace of their world and Kaleb’s personal quest to find out who he is.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The challenge is he starts out believing one thing and so do we as readers, but it gets twisted and changes over the course of the story. How to convey that in a way that won’t have someone who accepted a query feeling deceived is difficult.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt ROUND 2b: Kaleb Ryder awakens in the desert, left for dead, his wife and child missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. The Terran Lands have transitioned from a war-torn age of faith and magic to one of science and reason where the former are now banned. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I’d say “apparent relationship with the kidnapped woman and child”, and make the things he discovers about his world and himself a little more apparent. Also, if he doesn’t remember who he is, how does he know his wife and child are missing? Is there evidence that’s been planted to make him think that? If he doesn’t remember and doesn’t feel anyhting for them because of that lack of memory, why does that draw him through the story? (these are just questions I’ve got, which an agent might also have. I’m still trying to figure out why his quest has anything to do with the conflict between magic and science, war and peace. Can you tie that more solidly together? At the moment, I can’t figure out why he cares about the woman and child or the transition of the government from magic to science, because what you’ve given is still a bit too vague.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I’d also just say that all your secrets don’t have to be saved until later. Sometimes you have to spoil the plot a bit in order to show off the main conflict.
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. Now, with Kaleb’s life on the line and the peace of their world in danger, he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
    • Lauren ‘Scribe’ Harris I like that a lot better! I think it explains more. What’s still missing is what this has to do with the peace of their world. What role will Kaleb play?
    • Bryan Thomas Schmidt The Terran Lands, ravaged by wars brought on by men of faith and men of magic. As science and reason replace the now outlawed beliefs, a struggle for control of the new technologies and discoveries threatens the peace again. In the midst of this, a man of faith, Kaleb Ryder, awakens in the desert, left for dead, only to be told his wife and child are missing along with his identity and his past. Determined to save his family and recover who he is in the process, Kaleb soon finds that things are not what they seem—from himself to his world and his relationship with the kidnapped woman and child. With the child’s fate tied to the peace of the Lands, Kaleb’s life is on the line, and he must rescue the woman and child to protect their future and uncover the truth about himself.
      Duneman, Book 1 Of The Dawning Age, an epic fantasy trilogy.
Okay, that gives you a sense of where I started and how it evolved. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear in comments. Next we’ll discuss the rest of the query before we move on to the big synopsis.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Science Fiction And Fantasy Books Overflow Sale To Fund Beyond The Sun

Friends, I need your help!

Cause: To Help Fund My Beyond The Sun Anthology Kickstarter

Items are books and DVDs from my personal collection. Most are in fairly good condition. New were bought full price and are marked, others are used. Either way, I am selling them at discounted prices. May be places you can find them for less but not and help the cause. Once all are sold, I will give the money to friend or family to back the project since I believe I cannot do so myself. This would be in addition to any pledges they already made.

I have been unemployed Full Time since May 2010. My freelance blogging, editing and writing is bringing in 60% of what I need to live so I just don’t have money to back myself. The project will pay me a small editing fee as well which will be enough to pay most of 1 month’s rent and quite helpful. So this is my way of trying to contribute what I can to this project’s funding. I am sure I will contribute more down the line as I am able.

If you can’t support the Kickstarter for various reasons or already have and want a great deal on books, here’s a way. I have not bought books except  few exceptions at Cons since Spring. I can’t afford it. But I also have too many to store and, in many cases, duplicates, so what better cause could I downsize for that this?

Better than helping me, you’re also helping up and coming writers and artists committed to this project to have the opportunity and exposure of appearing in an anthology with award winning stars like Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Nancy Kress and our fourth headliner who will be revealed soon, but I promise she’s an exciting addition! So you help a lot more than just me by participating here.

How It Works:  Books Sell As Marked. You email bryan at bryan thomas schmidt dot net (no spaces) and tell me which ones you want, I email back cost of shipping and $1 for packaging. I have boxes and envelopes. I will mail them. Then, you Paypal the money, I mail the books. The money goes to fund this passion project.

For more information, here’s the Kickstarter page and the Beyond The Sun info page on this blog is here.

 

DVD
A Fish Called Wanda original DVD release $2
Books
Abnett, Warhammer 40k: First & Only (Guant’s Ghosts), pb $2
Abnett, Warhammer 40K: Ghostmaker (Guant’s Ghosts 2), pb $1
Anderson, Star Wars: Darksaber, pb $2
Asimov, Foundation and Empire, pb $1
Asimov, Fantastic Voyage, pb $1
Asimov, Foundation, pb $1
Asimov, I Robot, pb $1
Asimov, Second Foundation, pb $1
Asimov, The Robots of Dawn, pb $1Brooks, Sword Of Shannara, brand new pb $3
Brunner, Stand On Zanzibar, pb $1
Brust, Phoenix Guards, brand new tpb $5
Bujold, Diplomatic Immunity, hb $6
Carriger, Heartless, pb $1
Cooper, Reading The Wind, brand new pb $4
Dickson, Necromancer, pb $1
Douglas, A Plague Of Change, pb $1
Dvorkin, Star Trek: The Trellisane Confrontation, pb $1
Foster, Bloodhype, pb $1
Foster, Star Wars: The Approaching Storm, brand new pb $4
Goodkind, Stone of Tears, pb $1
Haldeman, Earthbound, hb $6
Herbert, Dune Messiah, pb $2  
Jordan, Crown of Swords, pb $1
Jordan, Eye Of The World, pb $1
Jordan, Fires Of Heaven, pb $1
King, The Stand (Expanded), hb $6
Lake, Escapement, pb $2
Lake, Mainspring, pb $2
Lawhead, Merlin, pb $2
Rusch, Duplicate Effort (Retrieval Artist), pb $2
Rusch, Star Wars: A New Rebellion hb (no dust jacket) $3
Sherman & Cragg, Starfist Book III, pb $1
Sherman & Cragg, Starfist Book IV, pb $1
Sherman & Cragg, Starfist Book V, pb $1
Sherman & Cragg, Starfist Book VII, brand new pb $4
Sherman & Cragg, Starfist: Firestorm, pb $2
Sherman & Cragg, Starfist: Wings Of Hell, pb $1
Snodgrass, Edge Of Reason, brand new pb $4
Stirling, Peshawar Lancers, brand new pb $4
Tyers, Star Wars: Truce At Bakura, brand new pb $4
Weeks, Black Prism, pb $1
Wolverton, Star Wars: Courtship Of Princess Leia, pb $1
Zahn, Star Wars: Allegiance, pb $2  
Zahn, Star Wars: Outbound Flight, brand new pb $4
Zahn, Star Wars: Survivor’s Quest, brand new pb $4
Zelazny, Lord Of Light, pb $1

Short Bio:

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on the Kickstarter space colonists Anthology Beyond The Sun as well as World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers and another project with Rich Horton, all forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Broadening The Toolbox Through Cross Cultural Encounters: On Resnick, Africa & Opportunity

I’ve often called Mike Resnick a friend and mentor. And recently as he was honored at ChiCon as Guest Of Honor, I’ve gone back and revisited some of the works of his which have most inspired me. I was not a longstanding Resnick fan. In fact, I barely knew who he was when I read a review in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction comparing various speculative fiction stories which made use of other cultures. Discovering Mike’s passion for Africa and success with stories inspired by it, I looked him up and emailed him about my passion for Africa. The next thing I knew he’d sent me files of all of the stories and I began to read. Then we opened a dialogue that launched me into my Resnick discovery. What I admire so much about Mike’s use of African characters and culture is that unlike so many Westerners he seems to find value in their dedication to traditions and their passion for their traditional ways, while still recognizing some of the weaknesses and failings which have resulted. He’s done a remarkable job of writing characters who feel authentic without making them look silly or backward but leaving it up to us to decide who deserves admiration and who doesn’t. In his trilogy of Chronicles Of A Distant WorldParadise, Inferno and Purgatory–he used African history and political events as the inspiration for planetary colonization, getting inside the minds of alien races as well as human colonists and, in the process, wound up predicting some events which happened in real African history in the cultures he used for inspiration. I think, like me, Resnick has seen the value of observing a culture without making snap judgements based on our own presuppositions and he has sought to present those cultures in a respectful light despite any obvious failings.

[My brief reviews of several such Resnick books can be found as follows: Kirinyaga, Inferno, Purgatory, Ivory.]

Resnick is not the only author to dabble in African storytelling, of course, Nigerian-American Nnedi Okorafor has used her culture in her writings extensively and Alan Dean Fosters’s Into The Out Of makes great use of African cultures as well. Writers like Paolo Bacigalupi and Jason Sanford have used their own crosscultural experiences with Asian nations in their writing, and Lucius Shepard is well known for his stories of Latin American culture. I myself just had a short story published that employed US-Mexico border culture. And I think these kinds of explorations are rich fodder and rife with the opportunity to break away from traditional storylines and tropes. One of the great advantages for writers of world travels is the opportunity to get inside the heads of those who see the world very differently from how we see it ourselves, study their traditions, customs, ideas, etc. and find inspiration for writing more complex and interesting and nuanced tales. You don’t have to agree with a point of view to get inside the heads of those who hold it. You do have to respect their right to have their own beliefs though, I think. And perhaps that’s where the challenge lies today, particularly here in the United States where ideological political differences more often divide and destroy respect rather than encourage it. It’s hard to accept those with whom we strongly degree, it seems. And media and pundits work hard to keep it that way.

But for me, an upper middle class doctor’s kid, spending time in African cities and tribal villages and Brazilian cities and slums, etc. has made me see the world as a much bigger place than I ever could have imagined before those experiences. It’s widened my box and my lens and allowed me to ask questions I wasn’t accustomed to asking and even consider options which might not have occurred to me before 2000 when I started my world travels. I find some of the customs and attitudes I encounter in these places to be frustrating and misinformed, yes, but I also find some of them inspiring and worthwhile. There are many things of value we could learn from each other if we just took the time. For example, the unity of African community is something that would benefit us greatly in the West. I blog about it here and how much I think we could learn from their sense of oneness and unity. Their focus on conversation and hanging out represents another lost opportunity. Africans love to spend their evenings not in front of the TV, but gathering with neighbors and friends to discuss news, weather, life, work, the universe and everything in between. Even when they do watch television or movies, they invite people to join them. I rarely saw them sitting around alone doing such activity.  Life is a communal experience. Africans seem to find joy in the little things and lack of things which we take for granted as well. It was a stunning reminder to me that those who have often lose appreciation for their condition and that those who are accutely aware of their lack often have a freedom we lack.

This is why what Apex and Lavie Tidhar have done with their Book of World SF anthologies is so important. There are other ways to see the world through the specfic lens, and by taking the time to see them, we can learn a lot about ourselves which we’d never expected and might not see any other way. We can also discover possibilities for viewing the world which never occurred to us. People operating with different experiences, assumptions and histories tend to view the same situations through different eyes. And there are few things better for teaching us how to write diverse and real characters with truly different points of view than seeing the world through the eyes of real people with such varied points of view. Admittedly, what we see isn’t always going to be pleasant. But then the nihilistic trends of the media and much fiction have left behind the happy ending fairy tales of our youth anyway. Those open to the possibilities of positives will find them, while those focused primarily on negatives will not. It’s not even that one should want to or have to write characters of different cultures as much as getting inside the heads of people who push us outside our stereotypes and go-to ideas so that we can write something different than we might have before. Resnick, Okorafor, Foster, and others have done this quite well, which is why, looking back at their work now, I am reminded how much difference it can make for writers to take the time to experience such things for themselves.

When I spent time volunteering in prisons, I came away telling people that everyone should go and experience that for themselves because “the inmates are a lot more like us than you’d imagine.” For me, it was a scary and yet sobering reminder that human beings no matter their backgrounds, etc. have more in common than different. The same held true of my experiences in other cultures. I tell everyone to visit a developing world country at least once. See for yourselves what you’ve only imagined from the pages of National Geographic or TV specials about starvation, etc. Go there and experience it and be forever changed. If you’re not changed, you’re doing something wrong. I don’t see how you couldn’t be. Don’t fear this kind of change. It’s the good kind–the kind that makes you smarter, wiser, more aware and more appreciative. It’s the kind that makes you a better person and inspires you to write better stories and live better lives. That kind of change can’t be a bad thing, can it?

I’m grateful that writers I admire have taken the time to make use of those lessons and changes from their own lives. I only hope that I and others can do a better job of it in the future, for there are great stories that deserve to be told, waiting to be told, waiting to be discovered. And there’s a far richer tapestry than we often remember with which we can tell those stories. In a genre where it’s often said “there are no new ideas, only new ways of telling them,” it’s hard to pass up any chance to broaden one’s storytelling horizons and toolbox, isn’t it? I know it has been for Mike Resnick, Alan Dean Foster, Nnedi Okorafor and for me.

For what it’s worth…


Accra, Ghana, West Africa, Summer 2000 with Eyram Gbewonyo

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Genre Favorites Blogfest: Guilty Pleasures

Well today my friend Alex Cavanaugh is hosting:

Genre Favorites Blogfest, September 17, 2012

One blogfest, four favorites!
List your favorite genre of:
Movie
Music
Books
And a guilty pleasure genre from any of the three categories!
This will be short and sweet compared to my usual blogposts, since not a lot is required. And so, I shall list my four.
Movie: Science Fiction without a doubt

 

Star Wars: A New Hope made stories come to life and made it my dream to tell stories. And I’ve been hooked ever since. I love me some good escapism, frankly, and I love to imagine new and different worlds, places, and people. It’s why I love travel so much.
Music: Tough call, I’d say 80s pop/rock

 

I am an 80s kid, and Time/Life’s Sound Of The 80s is like a scrapbook of memories. I just love the stuff. And I think I was lucky to grow up in such a rich musical era.

 

Books: Science Fiction & Fantasy again with thrillers a close second

 

My reading tastes are diverse but SFF are certainly my first love. Luckily, there’s a lot of diversity within them and by hosting SFFWRTCHT and interviewing authors, I wind up reading many I might not have discovered on my own. Lately, even YA and Paranormal Romance have entered the mix. Guess I should do more horror but I’ve had a couple of those too.

 

Guilty Pleasure: Tough call because I have to admit it publicly…so here goes… Journey. I can’t get enough of it. I could air guitar to it until the sun goes down and rises again. Okay, not that embarrassing or uncommon, but alas, it’s true. I even love the Glee versions to sing along with.

 

So, there you have my Genre Guilty Pleasures. What are yours?

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. A freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction and also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Things Pros Wish New Authors Knew About Publishing And Don’t

This started out to be a top 10 list. You know the saying: “Advice is like buttholes, everybody’s got one.” And when it comes to writing, advice is like sand on a beach: everywhere. But sifting the sand to separate the pure from the soiled can be tricky. Authors seeking publication approach pros all the time seeking help, opportunity, pitching their novels and stories. And often the difference between positive and negative response lies in the professionalism of the author who’s asking. The more informed you are about the business, the better position you’re in to approach people and sell yourself. But all too many still get it wrong.

Then I asked professional authors, editors and publishers I know what advice they wish new authors knew about publishing but don’t and got such diverse and great responses, I didn’t need to write a post, so here they are broken down by category and source. I hope you find them helpful. Although the people I asked are from the Science Fiction and Fantasy end of publishing because those are my circles, most of this advice applies to writers regardless of genre.

According to Publishers:

Jason Sizemore, Publisher of Apex says:

1) Asking me to sign a pledge or promise or contract stating I won’t steal their idea. You might be surprised to know this happens once in awhile.

2) Responding to edits in an unprofessional manner. I’m one of the easiest editors in the business to get along with, so I get doubly annoyed when an author gets snotty about suggested edits. Just tell me what you disagree with and let’s have a professional conversation about them. There is a good chance I will side with the author.

3) Being impatient. Publishing is the proto-typical “hurry up and wait” profession. If that is an aspect of the business you can’t deal with, then you’re probably in the wrong business.


Brian Hades, Publisher of Edge Books, says:

1)      Publishers are human.

2)      Publishers are dedicated.

3)      Publishers have deadlines.

4)      Publisherrs have a vision of the future.

5)      Publishers want to be your partner.

6)      Publisher’s are not on-demand printers.

7)      Publishers have submission guidelines for a reason.

8)      Publishers do not have spare time.

9)      Publishers want your success as much as they want their own.

10)   Publishers have a business plan, and think you have one too.

 

Grace Bridges, Editor and Publisher of Splashdown Books says:

Relationships are the single most important factor in getting published, once you have a good story. Be professional, be polite, don’t be a jerk, but don’t suck up either. Be real, and connect.

 

According to Editors:

Cat Rambo, freelance editor and author and the former editor of Fantasy Magazine, she’s dealt with a lot of authors selling stories. Here’s what she wishes more of them knew:

Rejections are never personal.

Editors do not say “send me something more” unless they mean it.
Read the guidelines. And then read the magazine so you have a feel for what they like.
Proofread. Read it aloud or get a good proofreader to do it for you.
Your first three paragraphs determine whether or not an editor will keep going.

 

Ellen Datlow, an award-winning editor of magazines an anthologies like Omni and Years Best Fantasy & Horror says:

In the internet age: never email an editor a manuscript before querying them first to make sure it’s all right to do so–neither as an attached file or in the body of an email.

 

Phil Athans is an author and editor who has worked with Forgotten Realms, Dungeons & Dragons and more. His book The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction: 6 Steps to Writing and Publishing Your Bestseller!  is filled with great tips for genre writers. He offered one tip:

Do it for anything but the money.

Everyone’s heard all the rags-to-riches stories behind franchise authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King, but those stories are actually extremely rare. Most published authors continue to hold down a “day job” in order to afford luxury items like food, electricity, and health care. Publication is not a guarantee of riches, especially in the current Depression, which has hit the publishing business particularly hard. If you’re depending on selling your book in the next couple weeks to make your next mortgage payment you’re in serious trouble. It could take a year or more for your book to be accepted by a publisher, and another couple years after that before it actually hits the bookstore shelves. And by then, any trend you might be trying to surf has long-since passed, so don’t try to write a Hunger Games knock-off. By the time you’re done writing it, the Hunger Games thing will be over. Write because you love to tell stories and have a story of your own you’re dying to tell. That’s how you might become “the next J.K. Rowling.” In fact, that’s precisely how J.K. Rowling did it. Be patient, be prepared to work hard, and do not quit your day job!

 

According to Authors:

Grandmaster James Gunn is the author of numerous short stories and novels, including The Listeners and The Immortals. He’s also a Professor at University of Kansas where he leads the Center For The Study Of Science FictionAd Astra magazine, and the John W. Campbell Conference and Awards, amongst other things. He says:

I like Fred Pohl’s advice: Everything in a contract is negotiable except the name of the publisher, and even that can be negotiated if the book is wanted enough.

 

CJ Cherryh is a John W. Campbell, Nebula and Hugo winning author of books like Downbelow Station and Cyteen:

a) nowadays publishing houses want e-rights. They will hold their breath until they get them. If it is a big house able to do them well, this is ok.

b) never sell anybody rights that their company is not large enough or diverse enough to use. Sequester those rights from the contract. IE, you can have ‘first’ ‘North American’ ‘serial rights’ (for a story) or you can have’role-playing’ ‘gaming rights’ or you can have ‘board’ ‘gaming rights’ or you may have the ‘audio reproduction’ rights but not the ‘audio drama’ rights and not ‘audiovisual’ rights or ‘stage production rights’ or ‘motion picture’ rights. It should also say ‘all rights not assigned in this contract belong to the author’.

c) always include something like the following: ‘publication of the Work as an e-book shall not be considered publication as defined in’ [the paragraph where it specifies the kind of print publication and says what the Work is and defines the term ‘in print’.] if it is only for e-publication, be sure to include this: “When in any calendar year the proceeds from e-book sales do not exceed 300.00, all rights shall revert to the author.’ At least it’ll make them cough up enough to buy you a shopping trip.

d) be real damned careful about your shalls and wills when you are writing a contract term. Use of the wrong one can void the clause. Get a lawyer friend to glance over it.

e) terms in book contracts don’t mean the same that they do in any other kind of contract. I have had lawyers who have book contracts come to me, who am not a lawyer, to look over for stingers and problems. ‘Royalty’ is in an application unique to the publishing world, and does not mean royalties in any sense understood by the IRS. Remember this.

f) be real damned sure that in case you or your publisher should be hit by a bus, there is a provision for successors in the contract. A book is property. It can be passed to your heirs. A publishing house is a corporation: it can die, or be sold, and if it is sold, its contracts can be part of the sale. That’s why there’s an ‘heirs and successors’ clause in contracts. This prevents you having to hunt down the dogs to get performance and means they have to deal with your heirs.

g) there should be a performance clause, ie, they have x number of months to get this Work on the stands or published.

h) copyright should always be in the author’s name. Insist.

 

Bestselling urban fantasy author Kat Richardson (Greywalker) offered this advice:

For me the things that are most irritating are the electronic book clauses and the many forms they can take; in one of my contracts it’s under Electronic Rights and in another from the same publisher, it’s under Display Rights.

Also, be very careful of the agency clauses in the contracts as they define the writer’s relationship with the agency, even though that’s actually none of the publisher’s business, but they can effect the writer to the same or greater degree as the actual agency contract or agreement.

 

Faith Hunter is a bestselling author of the Jane Yellowrock and Rogue Mage novels, amongst others, and member of the blog team Magical Words and said:

Finish and polish the book *before* you try to find an agent or editor.

 

Dave Gross writes for computer games by day and fantasy novels by night. His next Pathfinder Tales novel, Queen of Thorns, arrives in mid-October. He offers this advice:

The only universally useful writing advice is: Write. Write often, and write in different ways. Don’t be afraid of imitation. Copy the writers you admire, then rewrite those pieces in a different style. Do that a lot, and then set it aside. Come back to it later and write it in your own voice. Write different genres of story. Write poems. Write plays. Try writing at different times. Write in the morning. Take a nap and when you get up start writing. Write after everyone else has gone to bed.  Write in different places and with different tools. Write on the bus or in the park. Write in the middle of a food court. If you use a computer, write in a notebook. Try using a pencil instead of a pen. Write the minute after you get out of a movie while your head is still filled with strange images. Write down your dreams. Imagine the dream someone is having in the house down the street, and write that. Write plenty, and rewrite even more. Maybe you won’t see the difference in a matter of weeks or months, but eventually you will see it. When you do, write about it.

 

International bestselling author Daniel Abraham has over a dozen books in print and has been short-listed for Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. He offers this advice:

Career implosions are normal. Almost everyone who’s been in the business for more than a few years has had their career founder under them at least once. The people who got discouraged are the ones that aren’t around anymore. The folks who stayed are the ones that shrugged off the failures and started trying to break in again. And again. And again

 

Maurice Broaddus, urban fantasy author (The Knights Of Breton Court) and anthology editor (Dark Faith, Dark Faith 2) suggests:

Guard as many of your rights as possible (the publisher doesn’t need all of them).

 Make sure there are reversion clauses (they don’t need ten+ years of your digital/future formats rights).

Bestselling author Jean Johnson who rights paranormal romance and military science fiction (An Officer’s Duty, A Soldier’s Duty, The Sword, The Cat, The Mage) says:

Spelling, punctuation, grammar, and formatting actually do still count.

Slush pile readers, agents, and editors will discard stories filled with errors, inconsistancies, and a blatant lack of care for the craft of the written word.  Even if your name is Stephen King, they will be looking at the manuscript for how good it is as a story, and how well crafted it is as a piece of writing.  It may seem unfair, but if they see a lot of technical errors in the way words are spelled, how sentences are structured and punctuated, so on and so forth, they’re not going to want to give you a publishing contract because they will not believe you are professional enough to handle the demands of a contract.

In fact, most literary agencies and publishing houses have a standard “X number of errors in Y number of pages = toss it in the rejection pile” policy.  Whether it’s a written, official policy or not, they have too many other manuscripts to wade through to waste time on something that makes their eyes cross and their brains hurt..  Yes, you may have written a story, and you can be proud of that.  Yes, you may believe that it’s a good story, good enough to be published, and there’s nothing wrong with believing in yourself and your work.  However, that does not entitle you to carelessness, arrogance, or anything else which would suggest an unprofessional attitude.  This includes an unprofessional presentation of your written works.

There are points where you can stand up for the formatting you want, or the spelling of a specific word, particularly in genre fiction, but understand that most editors and publishers will want your novel to look its best in the eyes of your future readers.  Cooperate beforehand by getting your manuscript beta-edited by someone with good literary skills.  Cooperate during the review and editing process by carefully considering the changes suggested.  Strive diligently to look for and eliminate errors during the copy-editing and draft-editing stages.

Cultivate and cherish a reputation for producing clean manuscripts as well as the good stories we know you have inside of you.  Editors, agents, and especially your future readers will love you for it.

————————————-
I doubt I could do much better than that. Others of you out there feel free to add advice in comments. For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

WorldCon Recap, Part 2–A Family Reunion & Coming Of Age

In yesterday’s recap, part 1, I talked about the things I did during WorldCon. Today’s post may interest no one but myself, yet since I found WorldCon to be profoundly moving on several levels as an experience, I still want to talk about that aspect as well. In many ways, for me, ChiCon 7 fell somewhere between a coming of age and a family reunion. It was a business trip, too, yes, but felt instead more like a gathering of family and old friends, reunited to celebrate their commonalities and enjoy their common passions, and, in my view, that’s exactly what a good con should be.

Part of this was the result of having peers who are up and coming alongside me or just a step ahead nominated for Hugos. It’s hard to measure who’s at what level, I suppose, and these are people with whom I have struck up close friendships. But watching guys like John DeNardo and Brad R. Torgersen and Patrick Hester be nominated for awards was personally moving. Regardless of that fact that one won and two lost, it was like an endorsement that our generation is welcome to the party, and I shared a sense of pride with them and achievement in that, though I had little to with Brad and Patrick’s work (I do regularly contribute to SFSignal).

Another part was having writers whose names I recognized but whom I’d never interacted with telling me they recognized my name and knew of my chat, etc. It was affirming to know that I’m more established than I realized and the respect given made me feel like I’d transitioned to one of the gang rather than a fandboy/wannabe/outside looking over the windowsill. Oh sure, standing next to Robert J. Sawyer and Robert Silverberg and such was a bit fanboy-inducing and probably always will be. Both have suggested I call them by their first names now and my internal voice keeps saying: “I don’t know if I can.” But they were both incredibly friendly and kind and it’s an honor to count them peers and friends.

It was also really exciting to be treated as an equal on panels with the likes of Charles Stross, Jay Lake, and Nancy Kress. For newcomers Lissa Price and myself, it could have been intimidating to share a panel with them, but I was assigned to moderate and all three treated me as if I were an equal. Nancy and Jay even went out of their way to compliment my efforts, which was quite kind. Full disclosure, Jay and I had lunch before the panel and have struck up a friendship over several years despite this being our first face-to-face encounter. And I have bought a story tentatively from Nancy for an anthology. But the next panel with Kay Kenyon and Carol Berg went much the same. And it was a feeling extended throughout encounters with numerous luminaries in the field.

There’s a voice inside most authors, I think, that constantly suggest we’re not good enough, not worthy. That calling ourselves an author alongside those greats we admire is far too presumptuous, perhaps, or that we have to earn our way a bit more first. For me, while I consider humility both healthy, advisable and a sign of maturity, it still is nice to feel accepted as a peer by such people. And it’s an honor I hope to live up to so they never come to regret it, if that makes any sense. It felt like I came of age from fan/wannabe to full on member of the club, as a result, and that was emotionally rewarding after some very hard months and years on a personal and professional level.

I was also honored and quite pleased when artist and ASFA president Mitchell Bentley won one of eight Judge’s Choice Awards at the World Con Art Show from judges including Irene Gallo for his cover of “Rivalry On A Sky Course,” my Davi Rhii prequel story. I commissioned it on a very thin budget and gave him a percentage of books sold in  exchange. He’d done beautiful covers for the books, and I wanted to maintain the look of the series. Plus, I enjoy collaborating with Mitch a lot. I am so pleased for him at the recognition for his fine work and, on top of that, for the fact that the Judges recognized its quality and the Con Chair bought the piece, rewarding him in yet another way. Congrats to Mitch! And gratitude!

Were there disappointments at WorldCon? Being ignored by a couple of people I once called friends for some unknown offense was a bit offputting, yes. So was missing connections with some people I really wanted to meet and never seem to encounter at Cons. The Hugo after parties shutting out of friends from the celebration annoyed me. And there were some lines and priceyness issues from time to time. I also wish my book sales had been a bit better. Three books out of 60 was a smaller ratio than I would have liked.

But those complaints are overshadowed by the magic I experienced with all the wonderful people I met. Truly it was like Schmidt Family Reunions we hold every three years that I’ve attended in that past. Meeting online friends like Jamie Todd Rubin, Howard Andrew Jones, James Enge, Madison Woods, Tim Ward, Brad Torgersen, Annie Bellett, Jay Lake, Cat Rambo, Barb Galler-Smith, Matt Forbeck and more for the first time and reuniting with old friends I hadn’t seen in a while like Saladin Ahmed, Mike Resnick, John O’Neill, Chris Kastenschmidt, and more. Add to that meeting so many past #sffwrtcht guests, including luminaries like Silverberg and Sawyer, and it was a really good experience for networking and family building. Howard Andrew Jones and I commiserated tonight on FB about how much we’d bonded with people online, making face-to-face encounters rather natural and not awkward. It’s amazing what social media has created for networking and relationship building.

And then I arrived home riding the waves of these emotions and highs and found these waiting for me:

Yeah, I know, “you got mail”– big deal, right? BUT the Locus contains a mention and my name’s on the cover of Talisman. Because Locus mentions my new book, The Returning, and my 3rd short story ever, written in 2009-10 then revised and sold in 2011, finally made it to print in Tales Of The Talisman, becoming my first print magazine appearance as a fiction author. It also is my first illustrated short story, not counting the cover for “Rivalry On A Sky Course’s” ebook, of course. “LaMigra’s” alien monster comes to life. Based on my time in El Paso, it’s the story of a culture clash that happens when two Mexican illegals get taken by aliens they mistake for Border Patrol.  As each side reacts differently than expected, it’s a fun examination of setting and culture on the border. But I’m biased as the writer, of course.

It’s a good feeling to achieve yet two more successes on the heels of a great Con. How was your World Con?


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. Beyond The Sun and Spec Sports anthologies are also in the works. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

 

 

 

ChiCon 7 Recap, Part 1–What Happened During The Con

It’s hard to wrap my mind around all that happened for the past four days in Chicago. For me, this turned out to be the best Con experience ever on all levels. I’m so happy I decided to go in spite of my financial struggles and very grateful to the support and encouragement shown me from so many corners.

The highlight of any Con is usually relationship and networking but I think it was doubly true of Chicon 7 because I had the chance to meet so many people I’ve gotten to know strictly online the past few years, all for the first time. Jamie Todd Rubin, Jean Johnson, Jason Sizemore, Maurice Broaddus, Janet Harriett, Jay Lake, Brad Beaulieu, Cat Rambo, Madison Woods, Stina Leicht, David Boop, James Enge, Howard Andrew Jones, Chuck Gannon, Brad Torgersen, Robert J. Sawyer, Robert Silverberg, Myke Cole, John Helfers, Lissa Price, Nancy Kress, Tim Akers, Adam Christopher, Charles Stross, Jason Waltz, Courtney Schafer, Barb Galler-Smith, Cat Valente, Nancy Fulda, Randy Henderson, Michael Flynn, Nnedi Okorafor, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, John Picacio, Annie Bellet, Alastair Mayer, Matt Forbeck, Tim Ward, Brad Wheeler and Jack McDevitt were all new face to face encounters. (I likely forgot some too). Plus I renewed and built acquaintance with many I’d met before. With some I talked business, with others just chit chat on all kinds of topics. With some, I panelled. With others, I moderated. With others, I drank and ate. And with almost all, I laughed.

My first ever WorldCon panel was a reading that took place 90 minutes after I arrived on severely delayed Amtrak train and after a scary taxi ride which involved sidewalk and wrong way driving and which the driver explained with the comment “I am new.” The reading, however, went very well. I had listened to Nancy Fulda and another reading prior to that. And I read two passages I have read before. Authors and editors made up the audience and complimented my reading for days after, which made me feel good. I really don’t like readings and they make me nervous. It was good to know that I might actually be better than some at it.

Volunteering at the SFWA table brought new encounters with David Brin, who impressed me with his kind consideration, Edward Lerner, Alan Dean Foster and many others. The SFWA Suite with its relaxed atmosphere and free provisions was a godsend and privilege. The Green Room and Con Suite also came in very handy in this regard. 15 meals over 5 days, I paid for 7 and four of those were during train trips. Pretty amazing blessing. My roommates, Don Mead and David Steffen, also turned out to be easy to get along with and fun. Don and I had met before but David was new. They took me to the Codex breakfast Saturday which was a nice opportunity as well, since I have been interested in Codex for a while.  My signing Friday with Nnedi, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Mike Flynn, Seanan McGuire and others was quiet but did sell three books and an ebook and have one person who already owned the book come to get it signed. Book Universe sold at least one more copy and Larry Smith also had copies which I got Jean Johnson, Mike Resnick and Patrick Hester to sign.

Friday lunch was with Maurice Broaddus, then later I did the signing and attended Saladin Ahmed’s packed reading before Friday night dinner with the Black Gate folks, including editor John O’Neill, Howard Andrew Jones, James Enge, and also Rich Horton and Jason Waltz of Rogue Blades. Great people, great conversation, and a lot of fun. Then had Bar Con time with Cat Rambo, Brenda Cooper, Tom King, Matt Forbeck, John Helfers, Madison Woods and several others and also attended the Night Shade Party and met some former and future sffwrtcht guests, caught up with Jeremy Lassen, etc.

Saturday was lunch with Jay Lake, a friend I’d never met face to face, then my first group panel ever for WorldCon–Moral Ambiguity in Science Fiction–was also my first time moderating at WorldCon and was a fabulous experience. With names like Nancy Kress, Charles Stross and Jay Lake on the panel, I was prepared to just keep to myself and ask questions but all deferred to me to lead them and our interactions were a lot of fun. The standing-room-only audience seemed to enjoy it and we got many compliments after. Recorded it for a possible future podcast. Then I went to moderate Vivid Character Building which had Kay Kenyon, Carol Berg, Teresa Frohock, and Randy Henderson and I waxing about how we create characters. Fun but challenging to cover in such a format with broad strokes. Also recorded.

That pretty much wore me out for Saturday so I went back for a brief nap then hung in the bar with Jamie Todd Rubin, Kay Kenyon, Louise Marley, Jay Werkheiser, Lisa Montoya, Patrick Swenson, Tod McCoy, Jennifer Brozek and some others, a great time. Somehow in the midst of it my Space Sports anthology idea became more than just an idea and I now have a fourth antho in the works. Then on to Pink and Blue Party to celebrate and the TOR party as well. Sunday, my free day, I slept in then hung with Jean Johnson and her mum, Madison Woods, Patrick Hester, John DeNardo, Robert Silverberg, David Kyle, David Boop, Brenda Cooper, Nancy Kress, Cat Rambo, Patrick Swenson, Jennifer Brozek, Glen Cook and others. I also attended the only panel I got to in which I didn’t participate and which was a GOH panel and wound up hanging out after with Mike Resnick who had failed to recognize me like so many others due to my mustache despite speaking with me several times, one of which I’d given him gifts. It was a funny moment of recognition and we had some good laughs after. He introduced me to Jack McDevitt at long last and a few others as we walked the dealer’s room together and chatted.

Sunday night was the Hugos and it was an emotional night despite my seat in the back row boonies and a packed crowd. Having peers who are friends and coming up alongside nominated and win was touching and exciting. It added to the feeling I got from other encounters there that I had come of age and graduated from fan/wannabe into a pro member of the group. When writers whose names you know also know your name, even those you have not spoken with, its humbling and encouraging. All the more so when you become friends. Was happy with several friends’ wins including Ursula Vernon, John DeNardo, Ken Liu, Jim Hines, Charlie Jane Anders, and Cat Valente, amongst others. It was a typical award ceremony but fun to be in the room for the first time.

The after parties were a disappointment. They made it private for a while first and had rude security and for those of us with travel and early panels, it became a bust. I did finally run into a few winners and congratulate them, including E. Lily Yu, Betsy Wollheim, Liza Trombi and the Locus gals, John DeNardo and JP Frantz. Then hung with DeNardo, his wife, daughter and Patrick Hester for a bit after before bed.

Monday’s early Faith In SFF panel, which, ironically, I proposed, turned out a disappointment. Someone else moderated despite knowing I’d proposed the panel and allowed it to turn negative in ways that I don’t think were helpful. It also became more of a survey than fruitful discussion in many ways. Michael Flynn was a surprise addition and I felt he contributed some of the most helpful comments if there were any. Altogether, if I had it to do over, I would not have proposed doing that panel with others and just led it on my own with a few invited participants or at least would have skipped out on this version. Oh well. Between Sunday night’s party fiasco and that panel then low book sales and a rush to leave, Monday was mostly a bust but did get to sit down and chat a while with Jack McDevitt, who’s fantastic.

Also, Mitch Bentley’s cover from my Davi Rhii prequel ebook Rivalry On A Sky Course won Judge’s Choice Award in the ChiCon 7 Art Show so that was pretty thrilling for all involved.

That’s pretty much what went on from my perspective. Another post will go up tomorrow on some thoughts and feelings about the World Con experience.  You can find that post now here: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2012/09/06/worldcon-recap-part-2-a-family-reunion-coming-of-age/


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Write Tip: 10 Tips For Getting Past Writer’s Block

I did a Write Tip before on Fighting Off Writer’s Block in which a lot of published authors offered their advice. But the other day a friend told me she’s been stuck forever on her book, and I realized there are some tricks I can suggest as well, so here are my 10 Tips For Getting Past Writer’s Block.

1) Identify What Went Wrong. If you’re stuck, it’s usually because something went astray at some point. You’ve either tried to push the story where it doesn’t want to go or taken a wrong turn that your subconscious can see but your conscious can’t and thus are having trouble moving on. It may not be in the previous scene you wrote or even the previous chapter. It may be a little further back, but it’s in there somewhere and so the best way to get past it is to identify it.

2) Know Your Plot Points. Whether you write it intentionally or not, Western storytelling tends to be structured around three acts and key plot points. Your first act is your set up and then a major turning point happens that requires action from your characters and propels you into Act Two, the longer middle of your book. A second major turning point happens propelling you toward your conclusion and Act Three. In screenplays, the first turning point is around page 30, and the second page 90. But novels are a little different in page count. Between each major plot point (about every 15 pages in a script) are minor turning points. Also, each storyline will have this same structure, so turning points for subplots may occur in different places as well). The trick is to find these turning points and make sure they are paced correctly and that each propels your story on toward the next, keeping the momentum. If anything pulls it off track by slowing it down, taking it on a detour, etc., that may be why you’re blocked and you can fix it. Often times, writers have not formally studied this but do it on instinct, having learned it from their reading, etc. I don’t even think about it anymore but just write it. I studied it to death in college though. Yet if you don’t realize you’re doing it, you need to be aware and finding these plot points can help you get unstuck when you experience a block.

3) Rewrite From Page 1 To Where You Are. This may violate your “that’s not how I work” sense of craft, I realize, but truly, going back to reread and then polish from the first page through where you are stuck is a great way to not only identify plot points but find inconsistencies and issues you don’t even realize are there. It also gets the whole plotline and all of the arcs fresh in your mind, making it easier to figure out where the story wants/needs to go next. It really works. And often, along the way, whether conscious of it or not, you’ll fix that issue which caused the block. In the process, you’ll also rediscover your enthusiasm and momentum for writing the story.

4) Outline Your Plot and Character Arcs. I get it. You’re a pantser. But your story takes on stucture as you write it regardless. Taking a moment to go through and write out the outline as it now exists on what you’ve written so far doesn’t mean you have to outline the entire book, just what you’ve got on paper. In the process, you’ll find those pesky plot points or realize where they’re missing and probably figure out what works and what doesn’t to remove that block. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy outline. Just identify which scenes go with which plotline and character arc and write a one or two sentence description of events that move it forward.

5) Give Yourself Permission To Write Crap and Write Anyway. Even Robert Silverberg has told me he writes junk from time to time. It’s okay. Everybody does it. No one has to see it but you, but if you don’t give yourself permission to write, exercising your muscle, releasing your creativity, you might stay stuck. Write anyway. You might actually write past the junk and start producing good stuff again.

6) Skip To The Scene And Come Back Later. Paul S. Kemp doesn’t write linearly anyway, which amazes me. K.D. McEntire starts with the ending then goes back. There’s lots of ways to do it. I tend to write in chronological order or what I think it will be. But sometimes, a particular scene just isn’t coming along, and one way around that is to skip it for scene you can picture more clearly and write that first. In the process, sometimes things will come out that steer you in the right direction for the scene where you’re stuck and allow you to write it. It’s jogging the muscles a bit, perhaps, but it can definitely work.

7) Work On Something Else To Clear Your Head. Taking a walk, doing dishes, playing with the kids, watching TV, reading—all kinds of activities can be used for this. OR you can switch to another writing project and fiddle with that until your head clears. Often the worst thing you can do is to sit there and stress out, trying to force it. Release the tension, take a break, switch gears and see if the block resolves itself. Often by going off to something else, I find my mind working 0n the story anyway and, in the process, discover how to write the scene which had me stuck. Earlier today I did that and plotted out the scene, came back, and wrote 2000 words in a straight shot. Give it a try.

8 ) Don’t Be Dismissive. It happens to most writers from time to time. I’ve had writers tell me they don’t believe in writer’s block and I laugh. It’s a silly thing to say. Writer’s get blocked. We all deal with it differently, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s like someone who’s rarely been sick saying they don’t believe in disease. No, you’ve just been really lucky. Don’t insult everyone else. So don’t be dismissive. Admit you’re blocked. Admit it happens. It doesn’t mean your story is crap or that everything you wrote is worthless. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer or won’t succeed. It has happened to many writers who are NY Times Bestsellers. They got over it and so will you.  But know this: the way to get through it is not to deny it and do nothing. Like anything else, it takes work. And you may have to try several things to find the right path through.

9) Deal With Life. Sometimes your creative blocks come from external sources rather than within your manuscript. When I wrote The Worker Prince, I wrote 2-6k words a day for four months straight. It was great. Then life fell apart and got stressful with work layoffs, my wife’s health issues, marital issues, money issues, etc. From January 2010 to July 2012, I struggled and felt lucky to get 1000 words a day. 12-1500 was a great day. Then July 30th, as I started The Exodus, my third Davi Rhii novel, I started having 2500 word days again regularly. I’ve had a few 1k days in there but I also had 3k. I’ve written 57000 words since then. The life issues which affected me were a big part of the problem. The unemployment issue is still a problem but the marital and health issues went away. I found my focus again and it’s made a huge difference. Sometimes living life takes priority and you have to surrender to that.

10) Journal It Out. I am not a journal writer myself. Instead, I blog a lot. But I know many writers who’ve told me that writing it out is a great way to work through these types of issues. Just sitting down and writing about their day, their thoughts, their struggles—anything that comes to mind—can be a huge release for writers. For one, it gets them writing which helps keep the writing muscles and creative muscles in shape but also allows them to clear their minds of pent up junk that might be inadvertently blocking them. For another, it provides a way to emotionally release stress and feelings that they’ve been carrying around, which might also be part of a mental block. You don’t have to start a formal journal to journal through troubles like this. You can throw it all away when you’re done but just get it out there.

So there you have it, 10 Tips For Getting Past Writer’s Block. Not all of them work for everyone because every writer and every block is different. But like any tools, having an arsenal at your disposal gives you options to find a way through that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Please let me know how they work for you. And, by all means, if you have other tips, share them in comments so we can all benefit. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince(2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on World Encounters and Space & Shadows: SpecNoir with coeditor John Helfers, both forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

9 Great Urban Fantasy Series You Don’t Want To Miss

In 2009 when I started writing The Worker Prince, my debut science fiction novel, I had no idea what urban fantasy was. Of course, as I got into the industry and reading I heard bits and pieces. True Blood showed up and I met and became friends with Kat Richardson and John A. Pitts whose novels fell in that category. One of the advantages of hosting Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat is that I get sent tons of books to read and deliberately book and ask for a variety of genres. So I finally managed to read John and Kat’s books and I loved them. I have never been that into paranormal. Poltergeist was amusing but silliness. I do believe in spirits but I’m don’t think about ghosts a lot, and vampires and zombies to me are about the most tired things out there. It takes a lot to get me interested in them. I loved Anne Rice’s series and that did it for me on vamps. Zombies have just never interested me. Let dead people stay in the ground. Just a body. Meh. On the other hand, urban fantasy is huge with tons of bestselling authors, including Charlaine Harris, Jim Butcher, Kat Richardson…need I go on? So of course SFFWRTCHT needs to cover it and I need to be aware.

Now, I simply love it! One of my favorite genres and someday I will write some. I have ideas in development now, in fact. I read 52 books a year just for chat plus extras for blogging on SFSignal, etc. and blurbs, which I get asked for now. Usually 70 books at least is around the number, so it may take me a while to get through a lot of stuff (no Hamilton or Butcher yet). But these 9 are the Urban fantasy I’ve read so far. And I loved all of them for different reasons. They’re quite distinctive from each other.

1) Greywalker by Kat Richardson – Harper Blaine is a P.I. who died after an attack for two minutes then came back with the ability to see spirits. Yep, she’s a Greywalker now, and this series has gotten deserved high praise. [See Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Paul Goat Allen raving about them here. ]These are bestsellers for a reason and the seventh book, Seawitch, just arrived this month. Mysteries with Harper investigating and dealing with all kinds of spooky creatures from vampires to ghosts, etc., they are well paced with a great noir feel and make good use of their Pacific Northwest settings. From the cover description, although I like Kat as a person a lot, I was not at all sure I’d enjoy her books. Never have I been so wrong. I’ve read two so far and own all but the latest. Cannot wait to find time to read them!

2) Sarah Beauhall by  John A. Pitts – Another where I love the writer as a person but the description didn’t enthrall me. And again, I was soooo wrong. (Are you noticing a pattern?) Pitts has taken the old tropes and made them new with this one. Also set in the Pacific Northwest, Sarah Beauhall is a blacksmith apprentice and movie props maven whose prop sword turns out to be a magical dragon killing sword. The magical dragon killing sword. And she finds this out, of course, by encountering someone looking for the sword to kill dragons. But these are not the green, scaly dragons of legend and lore just yet. They are men and women who work on Wall Street and various places. And when their schemes begin to threaten Sarah and her world, she puts her sword to good use. Great fight sequences, a fun play with an SCA-like reenactment group, nice humor, and a touch of romance with Sarah struggling to open up to her girlfriend.  Packing enough testosterone-laced action to satisfy male readers and enough romantic emotional moments to please female readers, this series is for everyone and books 2 and 3 are out too. Fantastic!

3) Jane Yellowrock by Faith Hunter – A member of the illustrious Magical Words blog team with David B. Coe, amongst others, Hunter has been inspired by Anne Rice but made vampire tales set in New Orlean’s her own. If you read my introduction, you already know I would not have picked me up if her publicist hadn’t scheduled her for SFFWRTCHT. I’m so glad she did. The last of her kind, a part Cherokee vampire hunter and skinwalker capable of shapeshifting into any creature she wants, Jane’s been hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katie’s Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who’s killing other vamps. In the process, she gets more than she bargained for when her employer is murdered and Jane winds up working for Leo, the head vampire of the entire region. In subsequent books, she works with Leo to investigate incidents involving other vampires, even heading off to North Carolina at one point as a mediator. Jane is not the dainty heroine but an ass kicking, motorcycle riding, take no prisoners badass, but yet Hunter manages to write the books with no gratuitous sex, violence or language, keeping it PG despite the violence. And I doubt you’d have noticed if I hadn’t said that. Great writing, inventive worldbuilding and pure fun. Highly recommended.

4) Hallie Michaels by Deborah Coates – Brand new, the first book having just arrived a few months back, this series surprised me too. A new author sent to me by Alexis Nixon, publicist at TOR, Coates’ stories have appeared in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Fantasy and Science Fiction and Best American Fantasy, amongst other places. Hallie Michaels is a soldier fighting a war in Afghanistan when she’s called home for her sister’s funeral. The police and townsfolk say “suicide,” but Hallie can’t believe it and her investigation into it uncovers a startling plot that endangers the entire town. Something magical or supernatural is going on and a trail of bodies are associated with it. She soon discovers someone she used to know is responsible and winds up fighting for her life. I don’t know where book 2 will take us when it comes out, but Coates used the rural South Dakota setting masterfully in Wide Open and I can’t wait to read more!

5) Sookie Stackhouse by Charlaine Harris – I came to this series late, after already watching the TV show, because I was invited to interview Harris. (Confession: yes, I watch True Blood despite my lack of interest in vampires. It hooked me early on and I can’t look away, okay? Is that so wrong? Plus, I have a crush on Anna Paquin…)  The books are better than the series and filled with great humor, southern charm and fun. I really enjoyed these. Told solely from Sookie’s quirky point of view, these are fast, can’t put them down reads. I can’t wait to read more.

 

6) Control Point by Myke Cole – Not your typical urban fantasy, Cole, a veteran of the Gulf War, has envisioned a contemporary world with various types of magic. The military even has a special unit assigned to hunt down rogue users. A few with the approved classes of magic actually work for the military, but then Oscar Britton finds out he’s a portomancer–ah oh, verbotten–and he’s forced to run, leaving everything behind. Caught and interned for training by the military he’s sworn to serve, he discovers the gift is the least of his worries. An evil magical force is on the rise and this Army officer must save the world or else.  Packed with action and intrigue and great characters, Cole takes you inside military life in an intimate way and still makes you believe its a world where magic could happen. Gritty and powerful, this book opened my eyes to possibilities for creativity I hadn’t imagined and it’ll open yours too.

7) Grigori Legacy by Linda Poitevin – Ah, angels, the tired 80s trope are back. I booked Linda for chat and expected to be bored. Instead, I found myself reading two detective thrillers that just happened to have angels in them. Heaven and hell are at war and humans are caught in between, including homicide detective Alexandra Jarvis whose investigation of a serial killer points to a surprising and unusual suspect. Yes there’s angels and a romance between an angel and a human. Yes, there’s God and the Devil and some Catholic theological worldbuilding used here, but Poitevin used it to enhance worldbuilding not to sell an ideology or religion. Gritty, intense, fast-paced and engaging. Another set of books you won’t want to put down until you reach the end.

8 ) Low Town by Daniel Polansky – Another departure and one that’s hard to classify but I’m putting it here. Unlike the others, it’s not set in our contemporary world but a fictional medieval -type world and the protagonist is a disgraced intelligence agent and forgotten war hero turned independent drug dealer. Yes, that’s right. Known as the Warden, he leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs as he constantly hustles for customers and protecting his turf from competition. Then he discovers a murdered child and feels compelled to discover who’s responsible. The mission finds him caught up in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House intelligence bureau that once employed him. What he finds is far more sinister and dark than he’d ever imagined. Noir and action packed, Polansky has invented a genre almost. He mixes epic/adventure fantasy and urban fantasy with detective noir seamlessly and it’s a compelling debut. Book 2 arrives this Fall.

9) Magic Ex Libris by Jim C. Hines – Hines switches from Goblins and fairy tale princesses to an urban fantasy about Libriomancers, basically people who can pull magic from books and use it in the contemporary world. Hines is a smartass in real life and it extends to his writing, but that’s okay, because the book is laugh out loud funny as a result and endears you tot he characters. This is a voice you’ll be willing to spend time with for a while, and it won’t be long because Libriomancer is a fast, compelling read.   Isaac Vainio, a member of the secret order of Libriomancers founded by Johannes Gutenberg himself (yes, that Gutenberg), Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world and barely manages to escape. Then he discovers his mentor has been killed and Gutenberg himself kidnapped and a hot, motorcyle-riding dryad shows up asking him to help track down her former lover, leading to their discovery of a dark power that’s manipulating both vampires and humans and causing major havoc.  Hines cleverly incorporates the mythos of every vampire world you’ve encountered, creating a world of vampire types and layers, and throws in books by famous authors real and imagined as well. Fun, fast-paced, with plenty of action and good coming of age and romantic arcs, this book was a delightful way to while away hours. I can’t wait for the second one, coming from Daw next year.

So there you have 9 Urban Fantasy series that I think you’ll really like. Great weekend, summer or Fall reads to keep you entertained and remind you why you love books. I’m looking for more to read now. So what are some of your favorite Urban Fantasies? I’d love to hear about them in comments. Oh, and click here to buy any of these books, too. For what it’s worth…  To the writers, I love you guys!

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Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. A freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction and also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Building A Larger World Using Bit Characters

All too often in worldbuilding, it’s easy to believe that the bigger you get, the more realistic your world will be, but, at the same time, the bigger the world, the more complicated it becomes for the writer. So I am always looking for ways to simplify that process by making the most of elements I create for multi-purposes. And one of those involves utilizing bit characters to add depth to my world.

Think about your day-to-day life. You have family. You have a circle of friends. You have coworkers and associates. You have workers at places you regularly patronize like the grocery store. This is your world, in a sense, at least the immediate part of it with which you regularly interact. And it’s like that for pretty much everyone I’ve met all over the world from the U.S. to Africa, Brazil, Mexico and beyond. So when writing a book and creating a world, it’s helpful to consider the immediate, day-to-day world of your characters and to think about who inhabits it.

I have very few throwaway characters. There are always some, most unnamed or referred to simply by their occupation “guard,” “paperboy,” “knight,” etc. They are created for various reasons: to add atmosphere, for a brief scene where the protagonist or antagonists seeks something for their larger quest, or for other reasons. They appear, say a few lines, then disappear, forgotten. And sometimes, particularly in epic fantasies where the stories frequently involve travel and long distance journeys, it makes sense. But other times, when characters are moving around within a particular world again and again, these characters can be utilized to add greater depth and reality to your world by becoming part of the day-to-day circles of characters, to add a sense of community and realness.

If you look at any group, there are people who show up again and again in particular locations. Those are the people who can add texture and richness to your story if you use them well. Usually they refer to the protagonist and each other by nicknames or first names. They are close contacts, see. People who are used to each other and know each other well, even if they don’t get along. They interact so often that it’s just naturally developed and, as such, they tend to have a level of intimacy in how they refer to each other. These types of characters can add great meaning to your story and be created for that purpose, but you can also find them in characters you’ve written as throwaways.

For example, when I am looking for a character for a new situation, I always think through whom I have already created that can be pulled in. In The Worker Prince, I created a Major to take Davi Rhii on a tour of his first planetary military assignment. Later, I decided to utilize this character to work with Davi’s rival Bordox in tracking him down. By the end of the book, the character also led forces against the attacking army Davi led. Because this character inhabited the same circles as my protagonist (Davi) and antagonist (Bordox), having him recur added a sense of the circles they inhabit and how they interconnect, which just makes the world seem more real.

In writing the sequel, The Returning, I found myself in need of characters to accomplish various things. A throwaway member of the Borali Council, Lord Qai, then was given a major role. And Major Zylo wound up coming back as an interrogator and conspirator to great advantage for readers. One advantage of using such characters over and over is that you don’t have to build them from scratch in their history and their personality. That adds emotional depth to their interactions with your main characters because of things we’ve already read elsewhere in the stories, and, again, emphasizes the circles our leads inhabit in this world, making the world feel much more like the world we ourselves inhabit.

Screenwriters and movie directors have learned this trick. For many years, while I was in film school I’d count the cast list at the end of films and find that invariably, 33 characters was a common number. Looking at the number of one shot characters, it usually numbered 10 or less out of the 33. The rest tended to appear in multiple scenes, even if they only spoke a line or two each time. Why? because filmmakers know that people interact with a common circle every day and by including that circle, their story becomes more real and pops off the screen, even when viewers don’t notice all the details. Subconsciously, they grasp it and that behind-the-scenes experience, informs their opinions of the story and their involvement with it and ability to accept it as “realistic.”

So every time I create a character, I think about the characters I’ve already created who are still available to return. Can one of them be used instead of a new character? How can I add depth to that one-off character in both scenes by combining the two? Automatically, if the character occurs in different situations, it’s not only creating a sense of every day circle, as mentioned, but building a deeper character despite the small part they play, because you are showing another aspect of who they are in a way that makes them not just the flower shop girl, but also a neighbor, or a fellow parent, etc. There are all sorts of possibilities.

How much thought do you put into these types of characters? Do you just create them when you need them and forget about them? Or do you find ways to utilize them well and make a more memorable, powerful story? Remember the throwaway art gallery employee Serge in Beverly Hills Cop? Bronson Pinchot turned a bit part into a series regular, and the filmmakers found other scenes to utilize him in, not just at the gallery, but elsewhere. He was so popular that he returned in the film’s sequels. This is the same kind of thing that you can do in your novel and readers will enjoy it just as much. Especially if a character is well drawn and memorable. They may start as the stereotypical smart mouthed butcher and evolve into so much more.  If your protagonist walks past the same market again and again, why not have that passerby character be the storekeeper he interacted with before? It saves you the need to introduce and describe a new character and also accomplishes so much more.

Consider your current project. Are there characters you could utilize in this way to make the world bigger and the story more interesting and real? How do you handle these bit-part characters? How has it enriched your worldbuilding and storytelling? I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in comments.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

The Worker Prince, My First Novel, Comes to NetGalley For A Limited Time

It rarely happens. While NetGalley is a goto place now for reviewers and others to get advanced looks at forthcoming books, it’s also expensive and thus, dominated primarily by bigger publishers and authors who have the cash to spend on it. Color me surprised when, in July, I was given a special one time opportunity to get my debut novel, The Worker Prince, listed there. While the listing is for around a month only, it’s a great chance to have a book named Honorable Mention by Barnes & Noble Book Club’s reviewer Paul Goat Allen on his Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 out to more reviewers and, thus, more readers.

Within five minutes of the listing going live, we had five requests already. The listing can be found at http://netgalley.com/PopupHandler.php?module=catalog&func=galleyTitleDetails&projectid=19576 and is available in various ebook formats from .mobi and .epub to pdf and palm. Members of NetGalley simply need to search for it by name, click the More Info or Read Now links and then request their copy. It’s that simple. And as soon as my publicist sees it, she’ll approve it and you’ll be allowed to download it and read it.  Of course, we’re hoping you love it, but regardless, please review it. Not just at NetGalley but at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and Library Thing.  Why? Not just because I’m asking or out of guilt for  a free copy, but because without reviews, authors and books like me and mine won’t survive. The number of reviews increases the number of people who find the book in searches, and also let’s them know a lot of people are reading it, giving them some idea of outside perspective on what it’s about and whether it’s worth their time, and that word of mouth, above all, is what sells books.

So, if you enjoy reading and free books, won’t you please consider taking advantage of this unique opportunity? The Worker Prince has been frequently compared to Star Wars: A New Hope. People say it captures the feel of the original Star Wars. It’s been compared to pulp and classic old fashioned space operas like Heinlein’s Starship Troopers or the Jason January tales. And it’s garnered praise from authors like Brenda Cooper, Maurice Broaddus, Mike Resnick, David Lee Summers and more.

Here’s the teaser:

What if everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world turned out to be wrong?

For Davi Rhii, Prince of the Boralian people, that nightmare has become a reality. Freshly graduated from the prestigious Borali Military Academy, now he’s discovered a secret that calls into question everything he knew about himself. His quest to rediscover himself brings him into conflict with his friends and family, calling into question his cultural values and assumptions, and putting in jeopardy all he’s worked for his whole life. One thing’s for sure: he’s going to have to make decisions that will change his life forever…

It’s a space western fantasy, epic space opera with great action, space battles, family drama, political scheming, and a bit of romance. Based in part on the Moses story, but also original and takes off from that story into different directions. It’s family friendly and has been enjoyed by 8 year olds and readers in their 70s. It’s 326 pages, trade paperback at $14.95. Released October 4, 2011 from Diminished Media.

I think this is an exciting opportunity for us both. I hope you’ll agree. And if you like it, book 2 is out, too.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

WriteTip: Diligence Pays Off-Success Equals Talent Plus Work

Okay, this isn’t the usual steps process for sure, but I still think it’s appropriate for a write tip. A few months back I posted about the power of diligence quoting from a Steve Martin interview with Charlie Rose where the comedian/actor talked about how importance diligence has been to his success. Pretty much everyone in the entertainment/media business I’ve met who’s had a career of more than a decade has mentioned the importance of diligence to me, and, in an age where e-publishing has become the rage and feeds our cultural fixation with instant gratification, I think a reminder about diligence is important. In fact, the key lesson is in bold later in this post, but first a little about how diligence has paid off for me.

I started writing fiction prose in summer 2008 with a love story about a divorced couple who fall in love again. My first novel started as a novella then grew. I finished it at around 65k words but it sucked. Or at least, it was’t ready for prime time. So, I went back to school, reading, studying craft, learning, practicing, and about a year later, I started writing my first science fiction book–a Moses-inspired space opera I’d dreamed up as a teen. The Worker Prince, as it’s called, was my debut novel, released in October 2011 and made Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011, quite an honor for a micropress book. Sales are steady but slow and I’ve earned back my advance or am close at around 650 copies. Book 2, The Returning, came out last month and now I’m writing Book 3.

But those novels are far from the only thing I”ve had going on. In 2008, when I started writing fiction, I knew no one writing books besides an old friend, a historian named Leon C. Metz. Now Leon is no slouch. He’s published over 20 books on history, his most famous being a biography of John Wesley Hardin, famous gunfighter. But I didn’t know anyone in science fiction, had never been to a convention, had not taken writing workshops and no one knew who I was.

Now, to be fair, I had been writing nonfiction, screenplays and plays for twenty years, since high school. I’d had some limited success with a script in development at Disney that never got made and a couple of co-written produced plays. I’d sold some nonfiction articles to magazines and such. And I’d had devotionals published. But still, I was unknown in most regards, particularly in the area of fiction books and especially in science fiction and fantasy.

But as I met writers, Ken Scholes being one of the first and I met him on Facebook after reading his wonderful Lamentation,  they always talked about how important it was to write every day. If you get stuck, write anyway. If you’re frustrated, try something else i.e. switch projects for a bit or give yourself permission to write crap just to get words down and exercise the writing muscles. As my friend and fellow novelists John A. Pitts says: “Concert pianists at the height of fame have to practice every day, why shouldn’t writers?” And that’s the truth of it.

So I wrote. I worked on a few novel ideas. I wrote a lot of short stories. And I rewrote The Worker Prince, also starting two fantasy novels, including Duneman, which is in beta reading right now and will hopefully land me an agent and traditional publisher later this year. The main thing was that I wrote, continued studying craft, read a lot, and started going to Cons to meet writers and others. Now, I have a huge network of contacts and friends, and looking at my Goodreads and Amazon author pages, there are 7 titles listed. By the end of the year, there will be 8 and maybe 9. Of those, only 2 are self-published: The North Star Serial, Part 1, which collects a series of flash fiction episodes I wrote for Digital Dragon Magazine and Rivalry On A Sky Course, which is an ebook only release of a prequel story to The Worker Prince which first sold to Residential Aliens before I released it as an ebook. Everything else has been paid for by a publisher and put out, including the anthology I edited and others in which I have stories appearing. (Wandering Weeds comes out any time now.)

What’s my point? Well, I’ve dedicated a lot of time to writing. I’ve treated it like a job, even though it doesn’t pay the bills yet. And I’ll tell you that my total income for writing expenses last year was close to $2000 when you add print cartridges, Cons, travel, paper, supplies, postage, etc. But this year, my expenses are going to be less, but my income should be close to $3000. It remains to be seen and that estimate encompasses four book advances (two pending) and some sales income (still coming in), as well as a few sales, but it’s definitely progress in the right direction. And last year I only attended 3 Cons and 1 Workshop. This year I have attended 4 Cons with 2 more planned, done 4 signings so far and have 4 more planned–all of which involved at least some travel (shortest 10 minute drive, longest airplane, including a couple 6+ hour drives). What’s my point?

I am acting like a full time writer even though I am not one. I am also spending several hours a week on blogging, social media marketing, networking, promotion and reading and running #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat, Wednesday at 9 pm EDT on Twitter). I typically spend 2-3 hours a day writing, 2-3 editing (mostly for other people) and 2-3 on blogging and social media, plus any other work I need to do. (I am seeking full time employment and do freelance gigs from time to time.) Once I get a full time job, my goal will still be to do the 6-9 hours a day devoted to my writing career.

Why? Because I am getting somewhere, not just with the earning income progress but with the amount of material published. My third Davi Rhii book will come out sometime next year and I hope to sell a couple more novels, including Duneman. My first kid’s chapter book is going to come out this Winter (late 2012 or early 2013). I just got asked to do more joke books after my first released today which means nice advances, and I have a celebrity bio contracted, two half novels done, and several short stories, including 10 more North Stars to finish the cycle left to write.

Diligence.

Diligence matters.

dil·i·gence

   [dil-i-juhns]  Show IPA

noun

1.

constant and earnest effort to accomplish what isundertaken; persistent exertion of body or mind.
So if your passion is writing, storytelling, etc., be diligent. Make the effort to do what you love and follow your passion. Treat it like work, without discipline it won’t happen. But know that if you have the talent and you apply the work to it, things will happen. After all, talent is like 2×4 boards, it takes some tools, nails, effort, etc. to build something with it. But it can be done and will be done if you’re diligent. You may not get rich. You may not become that famous. But you will become very satisfied and you will have a body of work that shows you’re more than just a person who dreams of being a writer. You’ll be a real, published writer, and whether that ever pays my bills fully or not, to me that’s saying something.
For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

The Returning Blog Tour Wrap-Up & GiveAway Blasts

Wow! That sure went by fast. Two month blog tour. And I’m exhausted! I always knew physical book tours wear authors out but this blog tour has really got me beat. Yet, despite some snaggs in the book’s print release, and other issues, it’s really been a good tour and I’m so thankful to all of the bloggers and readers who’ve supported it. Especially the bloggers who stepped in last minute to help me complete the second leg of the tour when I fell behind with booking. 

And to say thanks, I’m going to do something special to celebrate this tour. I’m going to give stuff away

And by stuff, I don’t just mean my books,  although those will definitely be included, but a few select books by other authors as well.

All prizes are brand new, final release versions. And all you have to do to win is answer the following quiz, based on the blog tour stops, by August 31st. You should send entries to bryan at bryanthomasschmidt.net. (If you tried the contact link, it’s not working steadily so please use this email instead.) List answers numbered by question and tell me which prize package you want, 1st-3rd choice. I’ll award prizes based on number of correct answers and order received. 

QUIZ:

1) The character Qajuan makes an appearance in one of the excerpts. What planet is Qajuan from and on which blog did the post appear? (Hint: It’s from a blogger with three names in June.)

2) What is the name of the 3rd book in the Saga of Davi Rhii and please cite the post where you found it. (Hint: It’s an interview)

3) What is a Gixi and what do people in the Davi Rhii universe do with it? (Hint: It’s something edible.)

4) Which ground vehicle from the Davi Rhii universe is similar to a  motorcyle and on which post is the answer found?

5) What is the name of Xalivar’s sister (cite post)?

6) Who is Davi Rhii’s fiancee (cite post)?

7) What are boxes?

8 ) The Worker Prince received what honor from Barnes & Noble? (Hint: It’s in my bio.)

9) Davi’s best friends are human and alien. Name them and which planet is the alien from? (Note: Both have character profiles.)

10) What is the link to my first book trailer?

PRIZES:

Prize Package 1- The Saga of Davi Rhii: The Worker Prince & The Returning (Books 1 & 2) trade paperback, signed & personalized by author
Prize Package 2 – The Saga of Davi Rhii ebooks – Book 1 & 2 (The Worker Prince, The Returning) Signed copies can be requested using kindlegraph for both Nook & Kindle
Prize Package 3— Mark Chadbourn’s Kingdom Of The Serpent Trilogy trade paperback from PYR Brand New

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prize Package 4- 4 hardbacks: Ian McDonald “Planesrunner”, Goyer & Cassutt “Heaven’s War”, Hugo nominated Haldeman “Earthbound” and Bujold “Diplomatic Immunity” (last two have shelf wear but all brand new)
Prize Package 5 – “The Phoenix Guard” by Steven Brust, “Hunter and Fox” Phillippa Ballantine, “The Return Man” by VM Zito (Zombie Apocalypse) – paperbacks, brand new

 

GRRRRRRRRR Go ahead, make my day!!

 

One of each prize will be given away. All are currently being guarded by the fierce poodle, Amelie, seen below at her post.

 

And here are the blog tour links you’ll need to track down the answersThanks for following along and supporting me and these great bloggers. And remember, I am still offering sale deals on Davi Rhii books at my website store through September 1st, including e-book and paperback bundles at discount at 33% off print or e-book copies of The Returning.

The Returning Blog Tour

Tuesday, May 29 Blog Tour Schedule & E-Book Release
Wednesday, May 30 Functional Nerds Guest Post: Tools For Worldbuilding
Thursday, May 31 Anthony Cardno  Guest Post: How To Run a Blog Tour For A Sequel Without Spoiling Book 1
Friday, June 1 Gary W. Olson  Character Profile & Excerpt: Xalivar Rhii
Monday, June 4 SFSignal Guest Post: 15 Science Fiction and Fantasy Thrillers Worth Your Time
Tuesday, June 5  Andrew Reeves/Jaded Muse Video Blog: Boxes (What’s yours?)
Wednesday, June 6 Reader’s Realm Excerpt from Chapter 2/ Brad R. Torgersen Catching Up With Interview
Thursday, June 7  Linda Rodriguez Guest Post: 5 Tips On Social Media For Today’s Author
Friday, June 8 Linda Poitevin Guest Post: Approaching Book 2
Monday, June 11 Elizabeth S. Craig: Mystery Writing Is Murder, Special Write Tip Guest Post: Surprise v. Suspense / Review at Functional Nerds
Tuesday, June 12 Matthew Sanborn Smith/The One Thousand: Character Profile & Excerpt: Farien Noa
Wednesday, June 13 Leah Petersen 5 Minute Interview
Thursday, June 14 Mae Empson Character Profile Interview & Excerpt: Tela Tabansi
Friday, June 15 Joshua P. Simon Interview
Monday, June 18 Bibliophile Stalker Guest Post: Culture In World-building
Tuesday, June 19 Mary Pax Dialogue: Why I Love Space Opera / Book Day Post
Wednesday, June 20 Moses Siregar Guest Post: What Makes A Story Epic
Thursday, June 21 Jaleta Clegg Guest Post: Food in Borali System
Friday, June 22 To Be Read Interview & EBook Giveaway
Sunday, June 24 THE PLATFORM Internet Radio with John Rakestraw “Finding Your Imagination
Monday, June 25 Grasping For The Wind Turning The Tables: SFFWRTCHT Interviews Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Tuesday, June 26 Ray Gun Revival Short Interview & Character Profile & Excerpt: Yao Brahma
Wednesday, June 27 AISFP Blog Essay: The Importance of The Responsible Use Of History In Fiction: Steampunk/Jamie Todd Rubin Dialogue: Space Battles In The Golden Age & Beyond
Friday, June 29 K.D. Weiland Guest Post: The Most Important Rule Of Writing: Be True To Yourself
Saturday, June  30 Patty Jansen Guest Post: Can There Be Space Opera Without Science?
Tuesday July 3 Book Day 2: Print Release!!!
Friday July 6 Heidi Ruby Miller Heidi’s Pick Six Interview 
Saturday July 7 FMW Podcast Interview
Monday July 9 Jeremy C. Shipp The Value Of Writers In Community
Tuesday July 10 The New Author Dialogue: Making A Booktrailer On A Budget Part 1 http://the-new-author.blogspot.com/2012/07/conservation-with-bryan-thomas-schmidt.html
Wednesday July 11 Jeff Rutherford Opening The Door To Imagination: My Discovery of SFF
Thursday July 12 The New Author Dialogue: Making A Booktrailer On A Budget Part 2
Friday July 13 Claire Ashgrove World-Building : Vehicles Of The Davi Rhii Universe with Short Excerpt/Also: I rejoin Adventures In SciFi Publishing Podcast for an interview live from ConQuest 43 in Kansas City with my pal Brent Bowen.
Monday July 16 Keenan Brand Author Profile & Excerpt
Tuesday July 17 Madison Woods Guest Post: My Core Assumptions & My Writing
Wednesday July 18 Rachel Hunter Guest Post: On The Careful Use Of Ordinary Moments To Build Character In Science Fiction
Thursday July 19 Grace Bridges Character Profile: Davi Rhii with Excerpt
Friday July 20 Anne-Mhairi Simpson Guest Post: How My World Travels Have Informed My Worldview & My Writing
Monday July 23 Livia  Blackburne’s A Brain Scientist On Writing Guest Post: How To Market Your Book (& Yourself) At Cons
Tuesday July 24 L.S. King Character Profile: Miri Rhii with Excerpt
Wednesday July 25 Dana Bell Guest Post: The Saga Of Davi Rhii-Keeping The Next Book Fresh
Thursday July 26 Louis B. Shalako Interview
Friday July 27 Frank Creed Guest Post: One Advantage Of Series- It Gets Easier With Each Book
Monday July 31 Wrap Up & Giveaway Blast at www.bryanthomasschmidt.net/blog  (Duh, that’s this post)

 

Review: Thieftaker by D.B.Jackson: Compelling, Authentic, Couldn’t Put It Down

Imagine, if you will, the dark streets of Boston. Trouble is afoot, a revolution against the wealthy and the authorities. Equality and justice are demanded by protesting crowds, some of which get out of hand at times, leading to smoky, dark nights. Add to that ghosts and dark magic at hand, a secret sorcerer working his will in the midst of the chaos. Sounds like a pretty good urban fantasy, right?

Now imagine all this is occurring during the Stamp Act uprising in the 18th Century. Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty, the original Tea Party, the Colonists stirring against the British Crown.

D.B. Jackson’s debut alternate history novel is the tale of a thieftaker, one who hunts down stolen property for a fee and returns it to its rightful owners. What separates him from his competition, however, is Ethan’s gift for conjuring. He was born with the gift, inherited from his mother, and now Ethan Kaille is called upon to investigate the theft of a brooch off the neck of a murdered daughter of one of Boston’s wealthy merchants. Murders are not the sorts of crimes men like Ethan typically get involved with, but the girl’s cause of death is undetermined and some believe conjuring was involved, and so Ethan promises to find the stolen brooch and return it, revealing what he also discovers about the murderer in the process.

But once he gets involved, finding himself haunted by ghosts and voices of not just the dead daughter but others who’ve died in similar fashion, attacked by his main rival, Sephira Pryce, a thieftaker who rules the city in ways less honorable than Ethan and many of her trade, and hunted by the authorities. Drawn into an unfolding mystery by his compulsion to understand and his desire to set things right, Ethan uncovers a dark conspiracy that brings him into encounters with the British leadership, upper crust merchants, and even Samuel Adams himself.

Jackson is the nom de plume of a well respected fantasy writer with numerous fantasies under his belt. And his skill at prose, worldbuilding, and character development shine through on every page. Add to this his degree in history and passion for that, and you have a book that drips with authenticity, despite the fantastical elements wove into the historical narrative. Colonial Boston really comes alive here, and the story draws you in quickly, compelling you to read onward with every page.

Alternate history is as tricky as working in a contemporary setting because so much documentation and knowledge exists that one has to study hard and tread carefully in order to use history both responsibly, meaningfully and fairly in weaving a fictional tale around and within it, while still crafting elements which would appeal to the genre fans for whom the book will be primarily targeted. But my opinion is that any fan of history, particularly Revolutionary War America, would love Thieftaker. And I think it’s a not to be missed start of a new not to be missed series.

Jackson is scheduled to follow next year with Thieve’s Quarry and everything from the beautiful cover art to the prose, dialogue and settings works together to bring this charming, authentic, well paced tale to life. It’s unique and yet familiar. And it’s one of my favorite reads of 2012 so far. Highly recommended!


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Writetips: 10 Most Creatively Inspiring Places In The World I’ve Visited So Far

I love to travel and I love to learn. So, to me, one of the greatest things about trips is getting to discover  things:  new places, new languages, new cultures, new people, new points of view. It energizes me. That’s one reason I’ve dedicated so much of my life to travel. From 2000 through 2010, I visited Africa, South America, Central America and Europe, some more than once the same year, donating time as a teacher and mentor in exchange for learning and discovering. I learned as much as any of my students did, and it’s forever changed my life and writing.

This may seem an odd subject for writetips, but hang on. When I was first starting out, I got accused of cliche and predictable writing and one agent said “live more so  you’ll have stuff to write about.” So, I quit Hollywood and went off to be  a singer and travelled the world. I got a Masters degree, founded a leadership development training non-profit, and spent the next decade travelling three times a year to learn  cultures and help them learn the arts, etc. in places where such training is either unaffordable or available only to the elite.  I and my world are so much broader because of that, and I have so much more to write about.

So here’s my Top 10 Most Inspiring Places I’ve Visited (so far–I’m not done by far):

Life in mud huts and people often seemed more content and happy than I’ve been a day of my life.

1) Ghana, West Africa — From the urban sprawl of Accra, its capital, to the slave castles of its Atlantic Coast, to the humble traditional village of Mesamegor where I spent a blissful New Year’s Day 2004 learning  about traditional dance and village life, my four trips to Ghana have been some of the most enriching of my life. I miss it daily and long to go back. For those of us fortunate enough to be born in the First World, a visit to the Third or Developing World is life changing, if you allow it to be. From the ways they view the world differently, to the joys they find amidst such poverty and want, you realize not only how lucky you are but how much you have and how little you appreciate it. It’s reminds you that there are things far more important than possessions, status, money, etc., and it teaches you how to slow down and live by relying on each other and making the most of every moment in ways that forever transform the way you see the world.

2) Dacchau and Bavaria, Germany — A line of bullet holes along a wall, an ashy oven with a distinct smell, barracks with bunks resembling those on slave ships of  Roots from TV at a famed WWII concentration camp built for killing, and  all of this because of a race/religion and one man’s call to hate.  I went there at 16 and images are indelibly burned into my brain. I don’t have scanned pictures but I can call them up whenever  I  want to in my mind. You can’t deny it when you’ve seen the evidence for yourself.  I also floated over the Alps on  glider, a plane shot up into the air by bungee with no engine. It was so quiet, peaceful and amazing. I felt like a bird.

3) The Favellas (slums) of Rio De Janeiro, Brazil — In both Rio and Belo Horizonte, the third largest city to the north, I visited famed hillside slums, places where the murder count

Slums stretch across hillsides throughout Brazil’s cities. Believe it or not, they started as squatters with no infrastructure, stealing electric by cutting into lines, etc.

each month exceeds that of the whole U.S. in a year at times. These were the people who would rob tourists, ran the drug trade, and  acted as maids, servants, bus  drivers, etc. Their lives were hard and lacking, yet when you were  invited in as a guest, no one treated  you better. I never once felt any sense of danger or worry. And it was humbling to be so appreciated by people who have such hardships that I can’t even begin to understand. You can  read about poverty and violent lives, but only by seeing it for yourselves can you begin to try and understand.

4) Venice Beach, California — In many ways, the quintessential California beach, at least as far as Los Angeles goes. From surfers  to street performers (some of whom make 50k tax free or more  year) to  beach volleyball, rollerblading, and lots of hot, fleshy bodies, not to mention sunsets and even whales  and ships, Venice Beach has it all and it’s an experience to be remembered. I went several times during my time  in L.A. I’ll never forget the 300 lb woman in the thong (I wish I could) but I’ll also never forget the night I went there after a day spent skiing in  the nearby mountains and sat in shorts to watch the sunset over the mountains to the north. Whenever I think of California life, it comes back to me so clearly.

5) The Florida Keys — I wish I could afford to live there, because the Florida Keys remain one of my all time favorite vacation spots. From standing in Hemingway’s home to lighthouses, jetskiing, petting sharks and whales, collecting sea shells, waterskiing, and glass bottom boats, I just love what Southern Florida and especially the Keys have to offer. I move from relaxed to excited in waves and go home exhausted but yet the next day I’m ready to do it all again.

My parents on the streets of Ouro Preto, winding hills with amazing architecture–note one of the many churches up at the top

6) The Gold Cities of  Minas Gerais, Brazil — Brazil is huge and rich  and walking through these cities  with their hundreds of churches, often slave built, with elaborate interiors, exteriors, and gold embossed finishes, amazing Portuguese style Colonial buildings and streets, etc., felt like stepping back in time and into history. I’ve visited them three times  and still find myself in awe and discovery every time. From the old mine you can ride down into on an old fashioned car system, to panning for gold, to horseback rides, to mountain  scenery, to amazing cuisine, to the museums (including an amazing mineral museum with specimens from all over the world), Minas’ gold cities truly are wonders of the world.

7) Amish Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania — They may thrive on simplicity of life, but there’s something truly inspiring about people so devoted to their beliefs  that they’re willing to ignore the obvious benefits of so many technologies and possessions in  order to cling to a way of life. Some look at them as odd annoyances, but, to me, they’re fascinating and an example of the kind of  integrity and  discipline many of us can and should learn from. In a world of backstabbing, mind games, and soundbyte thinking, these people preserve a lifestyle they’ve cherished for hundreds of years undisturbed by our distractions, stresses, etc. Their Ohio and Pennsylvania neighbors have told me of their kindness and of admiration for  them. And from my few encounters, I can say, the admiration and respect is well deserved.

8 ) The Birmingham, Alabama Civil Rights Museum — Sit on a bus and hear the white driver berate you and send you to the back; witness the church where two young girls died at the hands of bombers in the name of hate; this amazing, fantastic museum chronicles the history of Civil Rights in the U.S. powerfully and provocatively and my visit  there has remained one of the most powerful museum experiences of a lifetime  full of them. Between the hands on recreated experiences there and my own times standing in  slave dungeons on Africa’s Gold Coast, amongst others, my understandings and views of tolerance, commonality, and the dignity and value of humans and human lives are forever informed and reformed by such amazing experiences.

9) The New Mexico Museum of Space History and International Space Hall Of Fame, Alamogordo, New Mexico — This museum in this small New Mexico city was something I’d driven by several times and thought meh. But just before relocating, I  went there with my parents. Want to try and land a space shuttle? Try the simulator here. It’s incredibly hard (my dad and I each crashed, although I almost made it). Space suits, launch sounds, equipment, meals, and photos of key figures in space  exploration history plus real ships on display, including a simulated Gemini capsule so you can see if you’d fit. Truly amazing! And they’ve got an Imax theatre and planetarium as well. Well worth  a trip. The emergency shuttle landing zone which  was used once or twice is also here along with the amazing White Sands missle range and original ground zero from the first nuclear bomb test, and white sand dunes where  you  can sled in boiling summer heat. From SF writers like Asimov to scientists, the hall of fame alone inspired my imagination and encouraged my dreaming.

10) The Colorado  Rockies — Majestic, mighty, beautiful:  there’s nothing and no place quite like them. I loved the Alps, especially the Matterhorn, but from a young age, the Rockies captured my heart, reinforced my belief in a higher power, and reminded me that when God paints, it out shines anything man can do or imagine. The breeze off the mountains tingles my skin like the breath of heaven blowing down.  It’s a spiritual experience for me and my own love of and passion for the Rocky Mountains is part of what bonded me with John Denver and his music so much and still does.

Well, in no particular order,  those of 10 places which have inspired me greatly in  my life and creative work. As we all know, inspiration and experience are key to good writing. So what’s the writetip for this week? It’s to live a little, explore, discover, and learn whenever and wherever you can. Your readers will thank you  for it. Your editors, too. But no  one will be enriched by it more than yourself. Where have you gone or always wanted to that inspires you and why? I’d love to compare notes in comments. And Friday, I’ll be guest posting on my blog tour about how my world travels have informed my world view and influenced my writing. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011  Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

My Convergence Panel Schedule

Well, at least for me, one of the biggest Conventions of my year has arrived: Convergence, which is being held in Bloomington, Minnesota, Independence Day weekend, Thursday through Sunday July 5-8.  This Con has been around for many years and now occupies multiple hotels. There are tons of invited guests, including Scott Lynch, Elizabeth Bear, Bonnie Burton, Lyda Morehouse, Tamora Pierce, Paul Cornell, Lynne M. Thomas, Ruth Berman, Steven Brust, and little old me. And yes, there are a few current Hugo nominees included there. The full schedule can be found here. But here’s my schedule. I’ll also be at the Infinite Diversity Dealer Table selling my book along with collectibles and other items. I had great hopes that this would also be the first Con at which my latest novel, The Returning,  will be available, so I’m excited to launch it personally out into the world after its trying journey. But books are printing and ship Monday so it’s looking doubtful to my frustration. Don’t even have a copy to show anyone yet. Fingers crossed that I get a pleasant surprise before I leave.

Friday, July 6th, 2012

10:00-10:55 Dealer’s Room

11:00-12:00 Autograph Table-Signing

Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Dana Baird, Michael Merriam will be available to sign their work.

12:00-1:00 Dealer’s Room

1:00-2:00 Lunch

2:00pm – 3:00pm @ Bloomington Panel: Social Networking For Luddites
Why would anyone have a Facebook account AND a Twitter account? What is Google Plus anyway and why should you care? How to use social networking as way to *actually* stay connected online. Panelists: Joan Marie Verba, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Sharon Stiteler, Sigrid Ellis, Ted Meissner

3:300-6:00 Dealer’s Room

7:00pm – 8:00pm @ Atrium 7

Panel: Keeping The Next Book Fresh
How do you keep your writing fresh when it is time to sit down and write the next book or story? Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Kelly McCullough, Holly Day, Shannon Ryan, Tamora Pierce

10:00pm – 11:00pm @ Atrium 7 Panel: So You’ve Sold a Novel: Now What Happens?
Congratulations — you sold your novel. Now comes the hard part: rewrites, editorial comments, cover art, marketing, promotions, and making sense of the royalty statement. Come ask established novelists questions about what happens after the sale. Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Michael Merriam, Doug Hulick, Kelly McCullough, Dana Baird

Saturday, July 7, 2012

10:00 a.m. -12 noon Dealer Room

2:00pm – 3:00pm @ Atrium 7 Panel: The Importance Of Strong Heroines
Damsels in distress used to be the mainstay trope of SFF but now stronger heroines are not only in demand but even common. Why is it important to avoid stereotypes in writing women characters? Are there any limitations? What are the pitfalls? Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Catherine Lundoff, Tamora Pierce, Dana Baird, Kathy Sullivan

3:30-3:55 Dealer’s Room

3:30pm – 4:30pm @ Cabana 201 Reading: Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Bryan Thomas Schmidt, author of The Worker Prince reads from his own work, including his new novel The Returning.

4:30-6:00 Dealer’s Room

6:00-7:00 Dinner

8:30pm – 9:30pm @ Atrium 3 Panel: The Importance of Faith In Fiction
Lust, greed, anger, revenge are all common motivators seen in fiction, but in the real world, faith is often just as strong or stronger. Why is the power of belief so powerful? How do you incorporate it in worldbuilding? Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Caroline Symcox, Emma Bull, Veronica Cummer, Steven Jones

10:00pm – 11:00pm @ Atrium 8 Panel: The Evolution of Heroes
Heroes have evolved from larger than life good guys who are perfect to dark, imperfect anti-heroes and somewhere in between. What brought about the changes? What kind of heroes do you like? Where do you see heroes evolving in the future? Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Michael Scott Shappe, Kelly McCullough, Mark Stegbauer, Daren Johnson

Sunday, July 8, 2012

9:30am – 10:30am @ Atrium 8 Panel: The Christian Roots Of Modern Fantasy
Carroll and MacDonald were clergymen. Chesterton and Lewis were Christian apologeticists. Tolkien was a fervent Catholic and Rowling and Meyer have both discussed the role of faith in their work. What about fantasy has attracted the Christian imagination? Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Phillip Andrew Bennett Low, Kristina Halseth, Steven Jones, Caroline Symcox

10:30-10:55 Dealer’s Room

11:00am – 12:00pm @ Bloomington Panel: Marketing 101-From Your Room Party To Your Own Business
Selling yourself isn’t easy. How do you get potential customers to want our product? It is easy but it isn’t always simple. Panelists: Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Romeo Azar, Anjila Olsen

12:00-1:00 Dealer’s Room

I have to hit the road mid-day, but I’ll stick around until early afternoon for sales, signing, etc.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA and is currently working on his first epic fantasy trilogy, the middle grade chapter book series Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter, and the third Davi Rhii book.

Guest Post: Writetip-Writing Suspense In Science Fiction and Fantasy by Linda Rodriguez

Today’s guest is one of my favorite people, a local friend who’s talented and writes both mystery and speculative fiction as well as poetry. Her debut mystery novel Every Last Secret was published this Spring by Thomas Dunne and tells the story of a college police chief and Cherokee Indian investigating a murder on a college campus. Linda agreed to join us today to talk about writing suspense in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Recently I did a guest post for www.sfsignal.com identifying 15 Science Fiction and Fantasy Thrillers That Are Worth SFF Fans’ Time and mentioned that my second novel,The Returning, book 2 in my space opera epic The Saga Of Davi Rhii, is written like a Ludlum thriller in pacing and surprise plotting,  so her topic seems particularly appropriate.

Writing Suspense in Fantasy and Science Fiction

 by Linda Rodriguez

Suspense is not only the province of thriller writers, and some of our techniques can be useful to science fiction and fantasy writers. Every novel needs suspense elements to keep the reader turning the page. At its simplest, suspense consists of making the reader want to know what happens next. At its best, suspense is making the reader worry that his beloved protagonist will never reach his overpowering need or goal and what on earth is going to happen next! You will find this kind of suspense in all kinds of good novels. Will Atticus Finch be able to save innocent Tom Robinson’s life in To Kill a Mockingbird? Will Scarlett O’Hara save Tara in Gone with the Wind? Will Paul Atreides be able to become the Kwisatz Haderach to defeat the evil Harkonnens and the Emperor in Dune? There are a number of ways to provide suspense in a story. I say “provide” rather than “insert” because the suspense needs to be integral to the story and not just something added on.

One of the most important ways to increase suspense is to make it clear to the reader at the beginning of the story just what is at stake. It must be something that threatens to devastate the protagonist’s self-image, life or world, and he must be willing to make any sacrifice and go to any lengths to keep this from happening. However, another fine way to keep the reader wanting to know what happens next is to open your story or book deep in the action and explain it later. Although these strategies seem contradictory, they can be combined to add powerful elements of tension and apprehension to the reader’s experience of the book. If you start in the middle of some strong action scene, and then in the next scene or chapter, establish the background of your characters and the situation, you can delineate the high stakes that are involved for your protagonist here. These combined strategies can be used in almost any kind of story.

An alternative to this kind of two-part opening can be a first scene or chapter that establishes the protagonist within her everyday world but buries hints of impending change or danger within these ordinary moments. This is foreshadowing, and it has been misused often, but when the hints are subtle enough (while still being apparent to the attentive reader), foreshadowing can build excellent suspense. Movies have it easier here because they can use the background music to warn the audience that something wicked this way comes. Writers must try to create that same kind of atmosphere with sharp dissonant details and atmosphere.

One of the key ways to ensure that your book has the kind of suspense that keeps the reader saying, “Just one more page,” is to offer the reader the viewpoints of both the protagonist and the antagonist. This way the reader can see the problems the antagonist is planning for the protagonist long before the protagonist is aware of them. The reader can see what the protagonist cannot—that he’s on a collision course with disaster. This is a very powerful tool for suspense in all genres of novels, but is unavailable to those of you with a first-person protagonist-only viewpoint.

In the case of the first-person protagonist viewpoint, you can avail yourself of some of that reader foresight of disaster by stealing a trick of the traditional mystery writer. In the traditional mystery, as opposed to the suspense novel or thriller, the reader is in the dark and trying to figure out what happened and who the villain is at the same time as the protagonist does. Write in details that plant questions in the reader’s mind about the various characters, about what really happened in the past, and about what might happen in the future. Mystery writers call these “clues” and “red herrings.” Clues are actual evidence of what has happened or might happen, while red herrings are false harbingers, leading the protagonist and the reader in the wrong direction. Either of these can increase the reader’s need to know what’s going to happen. All characters have some secrets, even from themselves. Something that reveals one of these secrets, perhaps one that someone has lied about, will build suspense. When using clues and red herrings to increase suspense, keep the ratio of clues to red herrings high in the favor of real clues to keep from annoying the reader.

Another way to use clues is to plant some detail that brings uneasiness but is made to seem innocuous at the time. Later, this detail will turn out to be an important harbinger of some violence or problem. This stems from Chekhov’s gun on the wall which must go off before the play is over, or Brian Garfield’s famous dictum—“Plant it early. Pay it off later.”

A great technique to ratchet up tension in a book or story is to use a deadline. Time becomes the enemy and is working for the villain in this technique. The bomb is ticking and our heroine must find it and disarm it while that clock on it is inexorably ticking down to explosion and other obstacles are thrown in her way inevitably slowing her down. It needn’t be an actual clock or bomb, and it needn’t be minutes counting down to disaster. It could be years if we’ve been given a large enough view and long enough timeline at the beginning of the book, perhaps with a genetic time bomb ticking away.

Suspense is always present when the reader knows the protagonist is fighting seemingly overwhelming odds. The reader wants to see him stretched to the breaking point as he tries to prevent the feared disaster (remembering that this is a disaster in the protagonist’s eyes, not necessarily a “blow-up-the-world” disaster). Your character must learn new skills, access new abilities, overcome old flaws in ways he never thought he could in order to save the day. This kind of determination will keep the reader turning pages to find out what happens to him next.

We’ve seen how important the protagonist’s character is to reader suspense. He or she has to be earning the reader’s backing. But the antagonist’s character is just as important for true suspense. The antagonist must be worthy of the hero and capable of providing clever and devilish problems for the hero that will really stretch the protagonist. Unless you’re doing first-person narration by the protagonist, allow the reader to know the antagonist’s motivation and make it strong, so the reader will believe that he’s dedicated to what he’s doing to undermine or destroy the protagonist. If your story is a first-person protagonist narrative, once again you can attempt to let the reader know the villain’s motivation through dialogue overheard or another character telling the protagonist or some other bit of news that will tell the reader why the antagonist is determined and just how very determined he is.

An important but often overlooked way to ratchet up tension and suspense is to allow daily life to throw extra obstacles in the protagonist’s way. She’s trying to get to the old house where her child’s been left by the bad guy before the flood waters drown the kid, but it’s rush hour and there’s a huge accident and traffic jam, or she runs out of gas on the deserted creepy road to the house, or the flood waters have brought out alligators or poisonous snakes, or the street she needs to take has been blocked off for road repairs, or her ratty old car that she can’t afford to replace refuses to start, or… None of these are things the antagonist did, but they impede her nonetheless. This technique also has the positive effect of increasing reader identification with the hero. The reader knows what it is to be in a hurry to get somewhere important and encounter a traffic jam or blocked-off road. It also helps with the writer’s most important goal—verisimilitude. We all want to make our story-world become so real to the reader that he will never wake from the story-dream.

Suspense is a technique every writer can use. It’s a matter of creating a steam engine with no whistle, so that the steam builds in pressure, and at any time there could be an explosion. As a writer, in a thousand ways, great and small, your job is to keep turning up the heat under that engine.

In my own mystery-suspense novel, Every Last Secret, I can show some of these techniques right in the jacket copy. I’ll bold them. Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion fled a big-city police force and painful family entanglements for the peace of a small Missouri college town and a job as chief of campus police. Now, the on-campus murder of the student newspaper editor who traded in secrets puts Skeet on the trail of a killer who will do anything to keep a dangerous secret from being exposed. While Skeet struggles to catch a murderer and prevent more deaths, a vulnerable boy and ailing father tangle family responsibilities around her once again. Time is running out and college administrators demand she sweep all college involvement under the rug, but Skeet won’t stop until she’s unraveled every last secret. Secrets, high stakes, motivated and strong antagonist, overwhelming obstacles, everyday difficulties, a deadline, and dedicated protagonist.

You might take your book’s synopsis/summary and try bolding or underlining all the various techniques of suspense you find in yours. If you only find one or two, perhaps you’ll want to rethink your story so it will include more elements of suspense to keep your readers turning the page.

Thanks, Bryan for having me here today. I’ll be happy to answer any questions anyone might have. Suspense is one of those fundamentals with lots and lots of different applications.


Linda Rodriguez’s novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, was a Barnes & Noble Mystery Must-Read, and was a selection of Las Comadres National Book Club. Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times bestselling author, said, “Every Last Secret is a triple crown winner; superb writing, hell for leather plotting and terrific characters.” Criminal Element said, “Every Last Secret by Linda Rodriguez is a dark, twisty, turny tale of love, lies, loss, and murder on a quiet college campus.” Publishers Weekly said, “Fans of tough female detectives like V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone will be pleased.” As a poet, she has won the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence, the Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, and the Midwest Voices and Visions Award. She blogs about books and writers at www.LindaRodriguezWrites.blogspot.com, reads and writes everything, including science fiction and fantasy, and she spends too much time on Twitter as @rodriguez_linda. Every Last Secret can be obtained at http://www.amazon.com/Every-Last-Secret-A-Mystery/dp/1250005450.

Write Tips: Editorial Pet Peeves – All Of A Sudden/Suddenly

Although I am an editor myself,  my publisher rightly and smartly assigns me editors for my books.  The Founding Fathers built checks and balances into our government for a reason and, for similar reasons, they are invaluable in the editorial process. Bet you had no idea editing is so patriotic? Recently the editor who edits my Davi Rhii novels, Randy Streu, and I were discussing some editorial pet peeves. And I decided to do a series of these dialogues here which some of you may find helpful. This is the first. Others will follow as they come up. In this case, we’re discussing the annoyance of two overused cheats. One a phrase, the other a single word, used interchangeably for similar affect: “Suddenly” and “all of a sudden” in fiction. Let’s explain by example:

BTS: All of a sudden, Randy’s here.

Randy: Don’t start.

BTS: Sorry, I couldn’t resist. Welcome to the blog.

Randy: Thanks.

BTS: So, we were talking about editorial pet peeves and one of them is the use of “all of a sudden” and “suddenly” for dramatic impact, when they usually and ironically have the exact opposite effect.

Randy: Exactly. If you want drama, make it so.

BTS: All of a sudden, I feel like Commander Riker.

Randy: See? That usage feels natural, in dialogue, at least, because people say that: “All of a sudden, there you were. Suddenly, she appeared.”

BTS: Okay, so when doesn’t it work?

Randy: Pretty much anywhere else, but especially in narration.

An explosion knocked us from our feet mid-conversation as a 747 hit the houses behind us and set Randy’s hair on fire. We hadn’t even known the plane was there. I was unscathed, not a hair out of place, which annoyed him. “Nice hairspray,” he commented. “Thanks. Got it at the dollar store,” I replied.

Randy: Okay, that’s silly and ridiculous, but it works.

BTS: Because it’s unexpected.

Randy: Exactly.

BTS: And thus, it really comes on suddenly in effect and captures the intended dramatic impact rather than being slowed down by the words “all of a sudden” or “suddenly.” Because by the time you get to “sudden” or “ly,” whatever you’re describing is expected. You’ve foreshadowed it with a bullhorn, in effect.

So how should you do it? If you want to surprise your readers in a way that feels sudden, then don’t announce it, just make it happen.

Here’s an example from my second published novel, The Returning, which comes out June 19th. It’s the scene depicted on the book’s cover, in fact:

     “All right, what’s the plan?” Farien turned and joined Yao, looking at Davi as they rang the bell at the tower where Lord Niger kept a ground floor apartment. Amidst an elite grouping of residential high rises near the city center, the twin suns glinted off its shiny exterior, lending it a glow. “Home to the rich and mighty,” it seemed to say. Today one of their number would fall.

      “He’s not gonna like this,” Yao said.

      “He should have considered that before he betrayed our people,” Davi said as the door slid open to reveal a dark-skinned woman with her hair up. Her eyebrows rose in a question mark as she stared at them with concern.

      “We’re here to see Lord Niger,” Yao said.

      “My Niger’s in his study and can’t be disturbed right now,” the woman replied, Davi searched his mind for her name—Abena, if he remembered right.

      “I’m afraid he’ll have to be,” Davi said, extending his datapad.

      Abena’s expression changed to confusion. “What’s this? A warrant?”

      “It’s from the Palace, ma’am,” Yao said. “I’m afraid we really need to speak with your husband right away.”

      She scowled, shaking her head and stepping back inside, ripping the datapad from Davi’s hand as she did. The door slid shut.

      “Great! That was perfect!” Farien rolled his eyes.

      “You would’ve done better?” Davi shot him a look.

      Farien guffawed. “I always do better, Rhii. I think you’ve forgotten some of your diplomatic skills since you got demoted from Princehood.”

            Yao chuckled as Davi made a face. Then the wall beside them exploded in a shower of crumpled steel, broken glass and smoky dust. All three ducked and reached for their blasters, spinning around as their eyes panned for the cause of the blast. 

Okay let’s break this down. Davi, Farien and Yao arrive at a wealthy neighborhood to bring a member of the ruling Council in for questioning and are confronted by his unfriendly wife, who slams the door. In context, probably not so surprising. But the wall exploding is. Why? Because, although there’s inherent drama in what came before, the drama there comes from the tension between the people, not from the threat of violence or physical danger. With one fell swoop, or really, one sentence: “Then the wall beside them exploded in a shower of crumpled steel, broken glass and smoky dust” they go from laughing together and mildly frustrated to fighting for their lives.

Notice how I don’t use “suddenly” or “all of a sudden.” It still works. In fact, it’s better. I don’t need them. Because the suddenness of the jolting change in tone to the scene conveys it for me with much more power. And that’s what we’re talking about here. If you craft your story well, you don’t need to show your cards and your craft with such cheating words and phrases. Instead, the drama inherent in the story itself and how the elements or ordered by the writer, does the work for you. It’s why you’ll find readers, critics and editors often complaining whenever these overused cheats appear.

And don’t get us started on “in an instant,” “instantly,” “in a flash,” “without warning,” “unexpectedly,” “all at once,” “moments later” or “out of nowhere…” You can dress a sheep in clothes and it’s still a sheep.

What are other such pet peeves you’ve noticed in fiction or that you try and avoid? I’d love to hear yours in comments.

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

Randy Streu is a radio announcer, producer, father and husband who lives in Upper New York State. He’s also the co-founder and owner of Diminished Media Group, as well as its primary developmental editor. In addition, he’s a writer and edits Digital Dragon Magazine with Tim Ambrose, his cofounder/c0-owner of DMG. It’s rumored his picture inspired Bryan’s internal image of his antagonist in the Davi Rhii saga, Xalivar. But you know how rumors are.

Guest Post: Historical Research & Science Fiction by Robert L. Collins

One of the benefits of Cons, without a doubt, is networking. You visit with old friends, discover new ones, and have a lot of fun along the way. One of those new friends from two cons this year, ConStellation Nebraska and ConQuesT, is fellow author Robert Collins. Robert’s published books include Stories Of Feminine Strength, Lisa’s Way, and True Friends. His short stories have appeared in venues like Aiofe’s Kiss from Sams Dot, Golden Visions, Pulp Empire and Tales Of The Talisman. But in addition to his speculative fiction, Robert also writes nonfiction. His works include the books: Ghost Railroads Of Kansas, Pieces of Kansas History, and Jim Lane: Scoundrel, Statesman, Kansan. So since research can be an area with which we writers struggle–how much to do, how to do it, etc.–I asked Robert if he had any thoughts he could share about research. Here’s what he sent me:

Historical Research & Science Fiction

by Robert Collins

Many Science Fiction authors know the value of researching history for their genre work. Usually they do so because they’re writing a time travel story and need to learn more about the era their characters are visiting. Occasionally, they do the research because they have the idea of,  say, “the battle of Trafalgar in space” and want to make certain the plot follows the real event. However, most Science Fiction authors don’t think much about researching local history to get story ideas.

I write Kansas history as well as SF/F. I’ve done a great deal of research into the history of my home state. I’ve used that material to jump-start several of my fictional works.

One example is my biography of the “Bleeding Kansas” leader Senator Jim Lane. I found a newspaper story that claimed that Lane, in the run- up to the reelection for his Senate seat in 1865, had promised a federal post to 17 men. He made these promises to secure their support for him in the Kansas legislature come election time. Sure enough, the men came to Washington demanding Lane keep his promise to them. Lane gathered the men together one night. This is what he said, quoting from my book:

“What I did last winter, I did with the purest motives,” he asserted boldly.  “I thought the state of Kansas needed me in the senate, and it was with that idea that I made those promises which I cannot now fulfill.  If I have deceived you gentlemen, I believe that heaven will forgive me.  But you, gentlemen, who should have voted for me from the purest and highest impulses–you were actuated only by sordid motives.  You voted for me for a price and I do not think you are worthy in the sight of heaven of any recognition or consideration.” Lane lowered the boom.  “I renounce all of you, and in the interest of the state of Kansas I will select an entirely new man for the position that you all covet, and have him appointed marshal.”  With that Lane dismissed the men for the night.

Great, huh? But how to turn that into a story?

I chose to set my fictional version in the universe of my Frigate Victory stories. I’d already established that colony worlds are governed in a similar way to how United States territories were governed during the frontier period. All that I had to do was adjust the anecdote so that it fit into the established background. My research not only led to a story that sold, but helped me fill in details about that universe. Finding such useful material will take some effort, but you’ll can control how much. Start by checking state histories. Look for events or personalities that appear interesting yet aren’t well-known. From there you can either take what you have and build, or dig deeper. If you’re willing to look, and send out inter-library loan (ILL) requests, you should be able to locate biographies on important state figures and histories of state events, periods, and trends.

Statewide sources aren’t the only places where story and character ideas might be hiding. Most towns and counties have histories published. A local library will have their town or county history. Books on other communities can be obtained through ILL. Some states, like Kansas, have a State Library that handles ILL requests. If so that State Library will probably have a searchable website as well.

If you want to go as far as possible, consider historical newspapers. The Library of Congress has a handful of newspapers from each state digitized at their website. A few states like Colorado are doing the same with newspapers in their states. However, for most local papers you’ll have to look at microfilm. Libraries and historical museums are the first places to look for local newspapers on microfilm; state historical societies typically have all that state’s existing newspapers on microfilm.

Keep in mind that this is research for fiction ideas, not nonfiction books. Don’t get bogged down with accuracy or verification. Also remember that, when it comes to local history, there may only be one source.

One last point: there’s always a need for more books on local historical subjects. POD now makes it possible to publish a book without requiring a large print run. If an event, person, or trend interests you, writing a book could allow you to make use of your research, earn back what you spend, and maybe get you a few more readers.

Thanks, Robert, for those helpful tips. For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: Stepping Outside The Box –Thoughts on Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality In Worldbuilding

We all live in a box. You may not be aware of yours, but you should trust me, when I tell you: it exists. It’s hard to see it when you’re inside of it, too. It’s only by stepping outside of it where, in essence, the control and comfort it automatically provides are gone that one becomes aware of its existence. It’s vital to be aware of this when creating characters and building worlds, because it can be such a valuable tool in that process. So much of our own cultural identity, understandings of race, class, gender and sexuality result from that box. It’s the lens through which we view ourselves, our world, and everyone around us. We’re all biased, even though we often hate to admit it. It’s not fun to think about, but it’s very much the truth.

A person who grows up poor and black in a ghetto and only meets white people as authority figures (cops, teachers, government officials, etc.) who treat them as lower class and tell them how to act, who control their income or access to various opportunities and goods and services, will inevitably regard white people differently than a black person who grew up in a middle class neighborhood where people of all mixed races lived, intermarried, etc. To the poor, ghetto kid, white people may be either hate or envied or both. For the middle class kid, they more likely are neighbors, playmates, friends, at least until one comes along who treats them badly for racial reasons or they step outside their box and encounter attitudes about separation of race. Because those attitudes may not be as apparent in the middle class box. I am generalizing, so let’s not debate specifics. I am aware the real world gets far more chaotic in such divisions but these are just examples, after all.

Growing up in Midwest, I had only a few friends of color (i.e. non-white skin: black, yellow, etc.). I used this term for anyone non-white to keep it simple, so pardon any offense inherent in the term. My grandparents and great uncles and aunts had often grown up in generations where segregation existed. I was born in 1969, after all. The Civil Rights movement was fresh on everyone’s mind. Places still existed with old signs about separate sections in restaurants, separate sections on public transportation, etc. Black and white churches were still quite the normal, with only a few mixed congregations. We happened to attend one, actually. Racial jokes weren’t all that out of fashion in public yet. You didn’t tell them in front of anyone non-white usually, of course. Unless they were the one telling the joke, which happened. But the older generation, in particular, had a stockpile of the jokes. As a kid, you don’t really get what’s wrong with them, because jokes aren’t something you tend to think about with much depth. It’s only later in life, when you’ve unpacked the issues surrounding race, that the obvious issues with such humor become readily apparent and you start to wonder if grandpa’s racist or Uncle Joe has issues. I never saw any mistreatment of people of other races by anyone in my family. They were invited to events and gatherings whenever appropriate like anyone else. No one made them use separate facilities or eat at different tables. No one treated them like servants or separated them in other ways. But they did have these jokes, and growing up in that environment,  one’s attitudes about class, race, gender, etc. are affected, right or wrong. I never looked at anyone by race, class or gender as less than myself. Never have and never will. But what it did do is create a sense of numbness about the pain such jokes could cause. It created a sense of ignorance about how passionately some people felt about this issues and divisions and attitudes and how strong they had to fight daily against them in other places.

When I went to college, I met people who had grown up solely in urban areas. They interacted daily from birth with people of all races. Nothing stood out to them about anyone different. And it was so normal, they hardly noticed. They didn’t like the same kinds of jokes. It wasn’t just frowned upon, it was wrong and insulting and just not allowed. They didn’t understand why anyone would tell them, and to them, it’s just a sign of deep pure hatred. How could anyone see these normal people around them as anything but equal? Who cared about skin color? It was like hairstyle and clothing–a factor of diverse humanness, not an indication of worth, value, status, etc.

Then as a volunteer I went to Ghana, and I witnessed another attitude that’s also stayed with me forever since. There are African-Americans who come to Africa with a certain attitude. You may have heard it expressed on TV: “I’m going to the motherland. I’m retracing my roots. I’m going home.” It never really occurred to me that anyone in Africa, outside of South Africa (which for part of my life had major racial discrimination in Apartheid), would take issue with this. Certainly no one black. But then I saw my Ghanaian friends get irritated with a couple African-American tourists with this attitude. “You’re not African,” they mumbled. “My people bought and sold your people a long time ago.” Suffice it to say, I was pretty shocked. These were Ghanaians who had travelled widely. Some had Ph.Ds. They lived in European-style houses in nicer areas and neighborhoods. They were not tribal villagers or particularly poor by their cultural standards.

Ironically, I later saw a similar attitude amongst some poor. And it was not every Ghanaian, but it was not uncommon either. I later talked with them about this and they said: “You’re more African than those people. You’ve taken the time to study our clothing, our history, our language, our culture. You’ve eaten our food, been to our homes, learned our customs. Those people have no identification with our ways–our culture, our traditions, our history–what makes us Ghanaian. It’s offensive for them to suggest otherwise.” Now I asked Nigerian-born author Nnedi Okorafor about this and she took great offense. She feels it’s a very pedantic and insulting attitude. So not every African or African culture may reflect this. But I bring it up because in these stories, we have several different ways people look at their world and make determinations about who belongs and who doesn’t based on race, birth, gender, etc. The Ghanaian attitude frequently extended to things like foreign adoption. White or black, they didn’t want African babies adopted by foreigners because “they would not grow up African. They won’t know who they are.” It shocked me that if a child had a shot at a much better life, they’d object to that, but they were fairly adamant that “African children belong with African parents.”

In regards to sexuality, if you grew up in the church and never met anyone who had a civil marriage or dated the same-sex, your attitude upon encountering the issue of gay marriage or gay couples will be a lot different from someone who grew up with gay classmates and had people who were civilly married. Let me be clear, I am not equating gay relationships and civil marriage as exclusively related. I am pointing out that many times, if people see marriage as strictly a sacred church right between a man and a woman, it really pushes them outside their understandings to discover some get married on the courthouse steps and that some who want to marry are same-sex.  They have so long equated marriage as a sacred act that the possibility of it being non-religious is hard to fathom and may have never occurred to them.

Due to length, I won’t get into gender here, but I hope you can see how attitudes and experiences with gender roles can also be similarly impacted by environment, history and experience.

I don’t bring any of this up to debate its validity. And I would ask you to refrain from doing so in comments, because I don’t intend to engage in such dialogue. Instead, what I want to unpack is its value for us in building realistic worlds and characters. How your characters and their neighbors regard each other and others with whom they come into contact as belonging or not belonging to their group can say a great deal about the characters themselves and their culture. In cosmopolitan areas, you can create people with a variety of such attitudes, affected by their personal background and history. For example, India has the complicated class system which involves various levels, including ‘untouchables.’ And there is no sense of moving from one class to another. You can be a wealthy ‘untouchable’ and still be ‘untouchable’ just the same. Other societies allow much more fluidity based on wealth, education, jobs, etc. One can move into various levels of the socioeconomic spectrum based on where one stands in any one of more of those factors. Quality of life can be determined merely by the respectability of job class or ability to send children and yourselves to higher class schools, eat in high-class restaurants, own transportation, etc.

If you grew up knowing people of diverse race, gender, etc., you are far more likely to be accepting of that in adulthood than someone who was never exposed. Yes, there are people who are sometimes naturally accepting for various reasons. But that doesn’t make them colorblind. Those so used to diversity often don’t even notice consciously the differences anymore. Those less familiar with it will find it tends to be more often recognized and mentally noted when they encounter it. Thus, they may be more likely to make accommodations in obvious ways with obvious effort, whereas those who are colorblind just go about life as if no divisions exist and never have to make an effort to accommodate.

I hope you can see what I’m getting at here. These are all attitudes, conscious or unconscious, subtle or obvious, which can be employed to define your characters and their relationships with other characters and the world around them. Subtly interwoven into your world building, they can create rich tapestries with which readers will immediately connect and which make the world much more vivid and realistic in reading your words. They can be woven into the dynamics of world and character relationships in many ways. They can create subtleties to be exploited in building character and conflict in your storytelling which can be quite powerful and useful.

On the other hand, sometimes, they can be employed to create a world so foreign its hard to grasp. In some ways, Joe Haldeman did this by making heterosexuality forbidden in Forever War, for example. There have been alien races which had solely same-sex mating customs, etc. Mike Resnick, in his books Paradise, Purgatory and Inferno, and his Kiranyaga stories, posits futures involving aliens and even African colonists and looks at how relationships exist between them and their cultures, classes and other beings. It’s so powerful and yet subtle, and actually resulted in him oddly predicting real historical events in Africa before they happened.

In my own Davi Rhii novels, I have employed a lot of alien races and class divisions. Everything from religion to skin color to education plays a part, some more subtly than others, in societal attitudes and roles. The biggest divisions are ideological and species (i.e. aliens vs. human) but others are touched upon as well. For me, it creates a more interesting tapestry for building my world and characters and their relationships. It also affects the story itself, adding many dynamics which sometimes were unintentional or which I had to go back an exploit in later drafts for best affect.

How do you think about and employ these factors in your world building? How have you seen them handled both well and badly in books you’ve read? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on ways to explore these aspects of world and character creation. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

The Importance Of Reaching Beyond Female Stereotypes

My friend and fellow editor Kat Heckenbach asked an interesting question on Facebook today which really got me thinking about stereotypes: Are authors obligated to make characters fall into certain stereotypes because readers expect it? (For example, most people think of Goths as angry, snarly, dark, and Poe-obsessed. But when referring to a little kid, they can and do use the word cute–but if a Goth character in a book said that, would it just throw you right out?)

Stereotypes are common in literature, there’s no doubt, and in Science Fiction and Fantasy this can be particularly the case, especially with female characters. Damsels in distress are a mainstay of our genres, both inside the stories/books and on the covers. Most of us have seen Jim C. Hines’ posts about the silliness of the way women are posed versus men in such art. These images feed the stereotypes. Yes, they are an attempt by publishers to sell books using sex, which has worked forever as a means of moving product, not just books. But what message do they send culturally to women, young women and, almost more importantly, men, about the roles women have to play in our society? Are they just objects for lustful stares and wet dreams? Do these images leave open  the possibility for far more substance below the surface? How silly do male characters look when dressed and posed like female characters typically are? Take a look at this imagining or Avengers with such poses.

Think I’m kidding? Take a look at two cover examples below. One is an older example, the other more recent. Do artists and publishers actually think anyone could fight dressed this way or would? It kind of questions the character’s intelligence, doesn’t it? To make it worse, in the case of Ringo’s book, the publisher site describes the character as “soccer mom and demon fighter.” Wow. A soccer mom who walked around in that outfit would be accused of indecency, wouldn’t she? Not to mention being shunned by fellow soccer moms.

For me there’s no question that bucking stereotypes is far more interesting and adds nuances. If you start out with the typical housewife who raises kids while the hubby works but then turns out to be a zombie fighting badass, how much more interesting did she just get? I think, in particular, with women characters, fantasy struggles with this. The traditional epic fantasy has strong, sweaty fighting men protecting their helpless women, but is it really that interesting anymore? And can’t we change our views of women enough to include more possibilities? Even history would demonstrate that women have played far more diverse roles than the stereotypes a male-dominated society describes them with. There has been at least one female Pope, for example, whose gender was only discovered after she became pregnant. That was hundreds of years ago and she had to conceal her identity. But this is a different age. Why should women have to hide their true selves? I’d like to think we’re more enlightened than that, but I know not all of us are.

I grew up with strong women around me. From my Mom, who was the stay at home housewife, a woman who retired from nursing to raise her three kids, to my twin sister, cousins, aunts, and grandmothers, the women I grew up with were not stereotypical. They had common traits we might associate with women, of course. They were often more emotional than men and could talk about it more freely. Most of them were better at cooking and laundry, etc. than we men. But this was not because we were incapable of it, rather it was because that was the role they were expected to take on. They took it on gladly, too, but my Mom sat me down at fourteen with a stern warning. “You’re going to learn to cook, clean, do laundry, basic sewing, and anything else I think you need so your wife can’t send you back some day and tell me you’re not finished.” And so I did learn, and those skills have been invaluable to me. In fact, when I got married, my wife didn’t know how to sew, so I was the one who fixed buttons, dog toys, etc. in our house. I also helped with cleaning. In fact, there were some tasks I really don’t enjoy which are typically associated with menlawn work, for examplewhich my wife enjoyed and did while I helped with so-called “women’s work.”

There’s a ridiculous term if I’ve ever heard one: “women’s work.” The work typically grouped under that heading is the work necessary to daily living. If you’re a bachelor, unless you’re rich, you’re going to have to do laundry, find a way to cook and eat, etc. It doesn’t make you suddenly sprout breasts and start generating estrogen. “Women’s work” is an insulting term because its origins come from a sense of superiority by men that the “important work” is not for women. Because, of course, raising good, responsible citizens while the men are at the office working sixty hour weeks is unimportant. Keeping a nice home so the man can come home and actually relax during down time is menial. We’d all survive without those things, right? Yep, without “women’s work” we’d still be the greatest country on Earth.

Hardly. Some of the most meaningful character-building times in my life were working with my mother and grandmothers on the very tasks typically called “women’s work”learning to cook, fold clothes, sew, etc. I’m a creative after all, and cooking and sewing, in particular, very much stimulate my creative impulses. Add to that the fact that walking around naked outside of performance art has tended to be frowned upon, especially if your ribs are showing like a starving African kid, and, well, they really did me a service teaching me to care for clothes and feed myself. I’m just saying…

And look at this cover for Raven 3: The Frozen God. Seriously. A woman dressed like that fighting monsters on an ice field? Oh yeah, that’s realistic. Yeah, this warrior woman is so badass, she doesn’t even freeze. Yep. The only time women in my life ever dressed this way was to go swimming, at Halloween of costume parties, or in changing rooms at the store. In fact, other than my wife, none of the women mentioned from my life in this post ever dressed this skimpily. It’s not even appropriate for the task. Unless, as my editor suggested, the only way to kill this monster is to get it aroused. Doubtful.

You just can’t stereotype women any more than you can men these days. The fact is that we are all individuals and just when you meet a women whom you think embodies all the “typical female traits,” five minutes later she’ll surprise you with aspects you never would have imagined. It used to be “men’s work” to get an education and write, for example, and where would our genres be without Ursula LeGuin, Connie Willis, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, A.C. Crispin, Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore, and numerous others? How much would be have missed out on if the Cat Valentes, Kij Johnsons, Nnedi Okorafors, and N.K. Jemisons had never put pen to paper? Seriously. What about Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran, Beth Meacham and Liz Gorinsky, Anne Vandermeer and Sheila Williams? They buy stories from men as well as women and all are amongst the top editors in this business.

I get the whole male instinct to want to protect their women. But it’s not like those instincts don’t also exist in women. Think I’m wrong? Go to a playground and act weird around some woman’s kid. Be sure and take a picture of that black eye and get a copy of the mug shot, too, okay?

I think it’s incumbent upon all writers, male and female, to carefully consider the roles they give to characters. Yes, with minor roles, sometimes stereotypes can be expedient. And sometimes they get the job done, but push yourself to make sure that for every stereotype you employ ten characters who buck such narrow definitions. Not only will your plots and themes and work expand in scope and meaning as a necessary result, but it will resonate more profoundly with modern readers and even help erase stereotypes as functions of our culture. I can think of no greater goal and contribution Science Fiction and Fantasy writers could make, can you?

The world needs more ninjas posing as suburban housewives who save the world. It needs more mothers who don’t wait for their husbands to save the day but draw their sword or blaster and take on the kidnappers themselves, kicking ass to free their kids. Our modern world has plenty of room for men in the kitchen and sewing, too. After all, think of Top Chef and other cooking shows: Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, Curtis Stone,  Gordon Ramsey, Calvin Klein, Bob Mackie, and Guccio Guccishould these men be considered abnormal for the excellence they’ve worked hard to create? Hardly.

As much as I applaud them for having this panel, it’s 2012. Should we really still desperately need panels like this:

(PR) Kicking ass in high heels: These days women can kick ass, save the world, and still have time to fall in love.
But why are they still doing it in hot pants and high heels? Can heroines be a size 18 and still be beautiful?

Unfortunately, we do need them, and it’s because of the perpetuation of stereotypes. Think of the other issues we could be putting our time into if we just put aside these silly limitations and moved on?

One of the worst insults I got in a review was a review which said I had “shockingly outdated female roles.” This was for a story where I have female political leaders, female starfighter pilots, female warriors, female military leaders, and so on. I thought I was trying hard to break the molds, and yet here comes a reviewer to tell me I hadn’t done enough. I still think they’re wrong, but, at the same time, it pushes me to strive harder, to ask more questions, and to do everything I can to prove them wrong so I never hear such a disappointing criticism again. After all,  my Mom reads my books. I don’t want her thinking I didn’t learn a thing from all her efforts. But more than that, I don’t want my daughters and other girls who read my books to ever think I’m telling them they can’t be anything they want to be.

The world may set limits, but in the worlds of your fiction, possibilities are limitless. Don’t let yourself write within the familiar box of the world in which you live. Instead, tear down the walls and shoot for something no one’s seen but should be seeing. Push the boundaries and see where it takes you, your characters and your story. Let no one accuse us of writing the same old fantasy or space opera. Instead, let us together launch a new age and work to redefine what “same old” is. To my mind, we owe it to our wives, mothers, sisters and daughters to open the world’s doors. After all, making the world a better place is a responsibility for all of us, not just a “chosen male few.” We live in an age when the distinction between what women can do for careers and what men can do is fading to almost nothing. How can our fiction represent our times and a bright future if it doesn’t reflect that?

For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Happy International Fiction Day! Free Fiction: Amelie’s Guardian (Fantasy)

Well, since it’s International Fiction Day, and it’s also about a year since my first short story was published in an anthology, I thought I’d share something fictional with you. This is my first sold fantasy short story. It’s written like a modern fairy tale and focuses around a dragon’s friendship with a young girl. The story was inspired by an open call for submissions of stories about dragons, cats, or both. My friend Dana Bell edited the anthology and it also features Andre Norton and many other talented writers and poets. So I hope you enjoy this tale. It’s named after my dog, Amelie, yes. And Glendon is from my mom’s name, Glenda. And Ramon is my father’s name. Just a little trivia. I have fun tuckerizing. Anyway, I hope you enjoy:

Amelie’s Guardian

by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

© copyright 2011 by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. All Rights Reserved. Duplication without permission except under fair use prohibited.

Published April 2011 in “Of Fur And Fire,” an anthology from DreamZion Publications, Denver, CO.

L

ong ago in a land known as Glendon, there lived a young girl, whose name was Amélie. Her mother was a seamstress and her father was a soldier, a Captain in the Kingdom Guard, who’d been seven moons at war. They lived in a small village on the banks of the mighty River Rhi, surrounded by woods. They led  a quiet life of farming and simple trades, far from the capitol.

Her mother’s name was Mara, and her father’s name was Ramon. Mara and Amélie had huddled together as Ramon and his men rode out one fate-ful day, straight down the main street, amidst the straw roofed cottages. Their horses whinnied with excitement as the villagers felt the vibration of their pounding hooves, and choking clouds of dust rose up, carried on the Autumn breeze.

Amélie buried her face in her mother’s well-worn apron, her shoulder rising and falling to the rhythm of her sobs. Her mother kept a brave face, but Amélie knew she was worried, too. Late at night, as she lay restless, Amélie heard her mother’s own sobs through the thin walls of their cottage.

The village itself, Tallerive, had not known conflict in many years and the surrounding woods were known to be safe and quiet.  To keep her daughter occupied and avoid her sitting around worrying, Mara sent Amélie out each morning on a daily quest. One day might be to gather berries in the near-by woods, another to pick up freshly fallen apples. Amélie delivered eggs to the inn and gathered cloth from the weaver’s. All the while Mara stayed home to feed the chickens, work on her sewing, and kept the cottage clean.

On one of these quests I met Amélie. I’d been watching her for a long while and found her intriguing. Her blonde curls bounced as she walked which was a kind of rhythmic loping with a bounce in her steps. Her demeanor was one of curiosity and playfulness, yet I detected a sadness beneath it, echoed in her brown eyes. It touched me. She looked lonely, and that was something I understood well.

For years, I had occupied a mountain-top near the village, but because I nev-er bothered the village, the humans never came to trouble me. I rarely ap-proached humans because of their reaction. Adult humans would scream and hurl rocks or spears when I got too close.

But Amélie was a wee child, and ex-cept for worry about her father, she seemed quite fearless. My heart ached for her on the times I glimpsed her sobbing beneath the apple trees. Other times she talked or sang to herself as she gathered the fruit.  Her lilting voice was a delight to my ears.

I chose to meet her one day atop a hill beside the apple trees. I went early, for Amélie always came mid-morning, and I wanted time to prepare so I could present myself well. I heard her singing first as she approached. The gentle wind seemed to amplify it somehow through the woods.  I could make out every syllable long before I heard her feet rustling in the fallen leaves and brush.

In a few moments, she bounced into view. I saw her golden locks first, then her silky white skin and red cheeks. She began gathering the apples lying at the base of the trees. She seemed in better spirits than I’d seen her previously.

As she worked her way through the trees, I considered again how best to make my presence known. My kind are not known for their subtlety, of course, but at the same time, startling her didn’t seem wise. So, as she continued singing and gathering, I decided to join her song. I’d heard her repeat the refrain several times already, so I waited until she finished the verse she was on, cleared my throat as softly as I could, and joined her on the refrain.

My voice, I’ll admit, was rough from disuse. I lived alone atop a mountain, after all. Nonetheless, it wasn’t the to-tal disaster I’d feared. It took a few moments for her to realize she was no longer singing alone. As soon as she did, she stopped and whirled around, her eyes searching, until finally they found their way to the top of the hill.

Finishing the refrain’s last line alone, I curved my lips into smile, taking care not show my sharp teeth lest I frighten her. I didn’t speak, wanting to be sure I said the right thing.  I feared she would run away, but her eyes never showed the fear which was most hu-man’s normal reaction. Instead, her head tilted slightly as her eyes took me in, and she set down her basket, She stepped closer to get a better view.

“You’re a dragon, aren’t you?”

I nodded, the smile frozen on my long narrow snout.

“Are you going to eat me?”

I shook my large head. “No.”

“In my uncle’s stories, dragons either eat you or burn you,” Amélie said, her face twisting in a quizzical way as she thought. “You don’t look so scary to me.”

I laughed, relieved. I couldn’t help my-self, but the sheer volume made her step back toward the woods, looking as if she might run. “No, I won’t eat you, I promise. I came here to meet you.”

“Meet me?” She stepped forward again, clearly intrigued. “Why?”

“I’ve been watching you for some time now. You’re quite fascinating.”

She shook her head, an amused smile crossing her face. “I’m just a little girl.”

“Yes, and I’m just an old dragon, but still, I find you interesting.”

Amélie laughed, a charming high pitched sound which warmed my heart. The sound was filled with joy and a sense of freedom I longed to know, as if she had not a care in the world. Oh to know such freedom! I was rapt with fascination.

“What’s your name?” Amélie started slowly climbing the grassy hillside toward me.

“My name is hard to translate into human,” I told her, trying to come up with something she could understand. “You can call me whatever you’d like,” I finally said.

She smiled as she stopped beside me, then moved slowly around, examining me without fear. “You’re very green, you know. And very big, too.” She crinkled her nose. “You smell funny, too.”

“I smell like all dragons, I suppose.” I tried not to be offended, reminding myself she meant no harm. Besides, she smelled odd to me, too.

“Perhaps I should name you some-thing grand.” She put a finger on her mouth thinking.

I smiled, liking the sound of it. I was-n’t familiar with human names, but I hoped it was grand. “I like that.”

Amélie giggled. Her face took on a serious look. “I think I shall name you Johannes. Okay? ”

“Johannes?” I thought it over, trying it on for size. It did sound somewhat re-gal to me, very formal and proper it seemed. “Okay, Johannes it is.”

She nodded with approval and smiled again. “My name is Amélie. I’m from Tallerive. Do you know it?”

I nodded and smiled back. “Indeed. I live atop the Mount to the East.”

“Shadow Mount?”

So that’s what the humans called it! As I considered the meaning  I remem-bered it did cast shadows over their village in late morning, before the sun rose to its afternoon peak and started its descent. “Shadow Mount, yes.” I nodded.

“Is it scary? Father and Mother told me stories of large creatures and people who disappeared there long ago.” She shuddered at the memory of them.

My mind raced to find words I could tell her which wouldn’t make her fear me. Dangerous creatures dwelled there—direwolves and bats and trolls—and the few human adventurers who’d tried to climb it usually died at the hands of one or the other. Only one had made it to the top and confronted me but that had been long in the past. I’d meant to spare him but he came at me with a sword, and I’d had to defend myself. The stench of burning flesh haunted my memory causing me to cringe. I’d always tried to live in peace with the world around me. It gave me no pleasure watching him die.

“It’s been my home for many gener-ations,” I explained. “It’s not scary to me, but there are creatures about who might do harm to someone like you.”

Her lower lip curled up over its com-panion a moment, then she shook her head and spread her legs in a defiant stance. “I’m not afraid. My daddy would protect me.” She paused, her eyes turning sad and looked at her feet. “If he were here.”

My heart melted at seeing her pain. I wanted to reach out and comfort her, but one of my hands was twice her size and I feared crushing her by accident, so I sat where I was.

“He’s gone to war,” she told me, not knowing I already knew. Sadness dark-ened her face like a shadow. “But he’s coming back to visit soon. My Mother got a letter today.” At the mention of it, her smile returned and she did a little dance, sending her brown skirt fluttering around her long, skinny legs.

I laughed as I watched her. Such a delightful sight to behold. “You miss him a lot.”

She nodded, glancing back at her apples. “I have to go back soon. My Mother will worry. She’s waiting to make fresh apple pie.” Her tongue slid quickly across her lips at the mention of it .From her face I could see it was something delicious. “But I enjoyed meeting you, Johannes.”

“I enjoyed meeting you, too, Amélie.”

“Will I see you again?”

“I hope so,” I said as I watched her turn and bounce back down the hill the way she’d come. She went straight to her basket and picked it up, glanc-ing back at me with a smile before re-turning to her gathering.

We visited daily from then on. I land-ed in a glen near the berry bushes or a brook near the path to the weaver’s; somewhere close to wherever she was headed for the day. I made sure to avoid other villagers or their animals. Drawing too much attention would put an end to our visits, and Amélie appeared to enjoy them as much as I did. In fact, since we’d met, I hadn’t seen her sob in the woods once. It was as if somehow my companionship made her feel less alone. I know my time with her had that effect on me. Both of us enjoyed each other’s com-pany, the only difficulty being the times she begged me to take her for a flight.

“What’s it like to fly?”

“It’s freeing.” It was all I could think of.

“I wish I could fly.” She looked up toward the puffy white clouds with a dreamy look. “It must be wonderful.”

“It is until…” I stopped. Perhaps she was too young to know the dark truth of her people’s relations with my kind.

“Until what?” Her eyes held the sense of wonder common to all younglings. Wide and brown, they looked at me as if I were the core of wisdom. It was im-possible to resist them, as much as I tried.

“Sometimes people see me and they become afraid.” I watched her for a re-action. “They try and attack me.”

Her eyes watered and she ran toward me, wrapping her arms around my lower arm. It was so large her out-stretched arms could only stretch part way around. “Why would anyone want to hurt you? You’re so kind.”

I closed my eyes at the warmth of her body pressed against mine. She softly stroked my scales.

“Your scales are soft,” she said in won-der. “They look so hard.”

I smiled. “They’re my protection a-gainst enemies. They hold up very well when I need them, but they’re like my skin, Amélie.”

She smiled as she caressed them. “I like them.” She stepped back so our eyes met. “Take me flying with you, Johannes!”

Fearing she might fall, I politely re-fused her. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”

“I’ll be careful, I promise. Just a little flight. Not even very high. I want to know what it’s like.”

Each time I refused from then on, she had the same sad eyed expression she’d had whenever she spoke of her father. After several tries, she turned away and looked back down the hill to-ward her village. “Friends do things for each other,” she half accused.

My heart ached to fulfill her wish, but how would she hold on? I couldn’t risk it. I didn’t know what to say, and, after a few heartbeats, she simply started her bouncing lope down the hill, not looking back at me, as she usually did when we parted.

The next day, she returned to her old self, running to hug me when she saw me in the glen near the berries. She chased me as I hopped and skipped just out of reach, using my wings for short bursts of flight, making her laugh and laugh as she kept trying to out-smart me. In the end, I let her catch me, and the joy on her face gave me a happiness I had never known. My life as a dragon had been so lonely. Amélie was the first true friend I’d had since I was a youngling, and had other drag-ons as my companions. I thought of her like family, although I tried to guard my heart.

As the day approached for her father’s expected arrival, the energy radiating from Amélie grew more and more joyful. It felt as if all her cares had suddenly vanished. She spoke often of her father—how he used to tell her stories as he tucked her in at night, stories of knights and castles and princesses and battles. She knew her daddy was as brave as the men in those stories. She spoke of him as gentle and kind and wise and honorable. Hearing her describe him, I wished I could meet him, but then I remembered my previous encounters with human adults Which hadn’t turned out well.

It made me sad to only share a small part of her world. I’d grown quite fond of her and she of me. But Amélie her-self seemed to enjoy our secret friendship. It was something of her own she didn’t have to share with anyone, she said once. She called me her best friend, her guardian, making me promise I would look out for her until her father came home. I always promised when she said it, although I started worrying her father’s arrival might bring an end to our encounters.

Finally the week came for her father’s homecoming. I watched from the woods as she and her mother waited anxiously outside their cottage. Smoke rose from the chimney and I smelled the scent of fresh baked bread, a smell I always associated with the village.

Her mother kept busy sweeping and doing laundry, but Amélie sat patiently on a wooden bench, watching the road, her eyes anxious and excited. I sniffed the wind, searching for a scent of human sweat and approaching horses. For several daylight hours I kept vigil with her. But no one came.

Her mother’s face grew more and more concerned, her eyes darkening with worry as her face dropped into a frown. She went behind the house twice, wiping tears on her stained apron where Amélie couldn’t see her. And finally, as the sun arced overhead, preparing to start its descent in the west, she called Amélie to her, handed her a basket and motioned toward the woods.

I found her near the apple trees, land-ing on the hill where we’d first met. She paid me no attention, sniffling as she gathered apples, her shoulders drooping, her eyes fixed on the ground near her feet. I ached with all my heart to reach out and comfort her, but the trees kept me from drawing near, and it seemed obvious she wanted to be left alone.

As she returned to the village, the basket half-full, I made a decision and launched myself with a running start. I soared high amongst the clouds, following the road leading from the village, the route she’d told me her fa-ther would come. The wind caressed me as soared, a pleasant feeling I al-ways enjoyed. I flew what seemed like a long time, but, from the sun’s lack of movement, I could tell little had passed. I heard them before I saw them—the sharp clash of swords, the high screams of horses. I could smell their sweat and hear their shouting. I knew the sounds of battle and willed my wings to move more swiftly.

I found them at a crossroads, fighting face to face, dozens of companions dy-ing all around. Her father looked tired and older than I remembered him. I knew then their fighting had been long and terrible. He and one of his soldiers stood outnumbered by the en-emy, who had three archers on horse-back firing at them from a rise, while five others surrounded them with swords.

One of the enemies, who appeared to the leader, raised his arm and his men stopped waiting. “If you surrender now, your lives will be spared,” the leader shouted.

“If we surrender now, our lives are worthless,” Amélie’s father answered. “Honor and glory to the King!” He raised his sword and his companion did likewise.

The enemy soldiers laughed. “Your honor will be your end,” the enemy leader responded. He lowered his arm and his men moved in.

Swords clanged and men grunted. I could see Amélie’s father was ex-hausted and could barely lift his sword. His companion took a sword through the stomach and fell to his knees, his life’s blood watering the parched dirt.

They needed me! Swooping down from behind, I blasted the archers with fire from my mouth. They shrieked  as their clothes caught fire and uselessly tried to escape into the woods. I con-tinued down toward the others. Spot-ting me, the enemy soldiers yelled and swung their swords over their heads in desperation, ducking as I flew past. I turned my head and blasted two of the enemies with flames. I then swung back up to circle around.

As I came in the second time, I saw some of the enemy mounting their horses. Apparently they’d done the damage they intended and had no desire to stick around and fight a dragon as well. Amélie’s father collapsed in a heap, as if his legs could no longer hold him. I dropped down and landed nearby. He turned his head toward me, his face showing resignation to whatever fate might bring.

“I have no strength left to fight you dragon,” he said. “I’m at your mercy.”

I looked him over, trying to decide what to do. Then I took a running start, reaching down to grab him with my talons  I arched back up into the clouds, returning the way I’d come toward Tallerive where my sweet friend would be waiting. He relaxed in my grip, hanging there as if he’d fallen asleep, but I glanced down once and saw his eyes examining me.

As I flew, my mind raced, trying to decide how I could return him to Tallerive without raising alarms. If I left him in the woods, Amélie and her mother wouldn’t know to find him there. But if I took him to the village, the men might attack me on sight. In the end, I knew I had no choice, so I flew over the village once, before I  came in for landing on the main road near his family’s cottage.

Two women removing clothes from a line screamed and ran as they saw me, calling for their husbands. I set Amélie’s father gently on the dirt and prepared to take off again as Amélie and her mother appeared in their doorway. Her mother’s face filled with fear as she saw me standing over her husband, but Amélie brightened, her face lighting up with a smile as she ran toward me. Her mother and father both called for her to stop, but she didn’t listen.  She embraced her fallen father.

His arms wrapped around her. I heard men shouting as they came up the road. I had only moments before they’d arrive to engage me, so I smiled at Amélie as she hugged her father.

She looked up at me, tears streaming down her face. “Thank you, Johannes. I love you.”

I choked back my own tears as I nod-ded and ran up the road, launching myself into the air. I heard her father ask: “Who’s Johannes?” behind me as I disappeared over the trees into the woods, heading for my mountain home.

For the next week, I saw Amélie only from a distance. She did her usual chores, but I kept my distance for fear the adults might be nearby to protect her from me. It was always the same, in every town, with every race of hu-mans. Dragons were feared and hated—the enemy. No matter how she explained it, they’d never understand. I had to prepare myself for the loss of her companionship. I hoped I was wrong, but I had to be ready.

“Johannes! Where are you?”

Her voice echoed through the trees and cut through my fears like a sword through flesh. I circled down in an arc toward the glen near the berries. It sounded like her voice had come from there and my nose detected the scent of humans. I peered through the trees trying to spot those golden locks, but with the first snowfall, the canopy was layered in white, covering the gaps in the trees.

Setting aside my worry, I swung down and landed in the glen near my usual spot. As I turned toward the now bare trees, Amélie came racing toward me, a thick shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her curls bounced as bounded toward me and smiled with delight.

She swung her arms around my neck as she reached me, caressing my scales. “I missed you, Johannes!”

“I missed you, too.” And then I saw them. Her parents stepped out from behind the thick trunks to watch us cautiously.

Sensing my concern, Amélie stepped back to look me in the eye. “It’s all right. They came here to meet you. I told them all about us.” She patted my neck. “Don’t be afraid.”

As she waved at them, her parents approached with trepidation. “You save my life, dragon,” her father said as he drew near.

I nodded. “You family needs you.”

“We’re so grateful,” Amélie’s mother wiped moisture from her eyes.

“It is I who am grateful. For the friend-ship of your daughter.”

Her father smiled. “Dragons and humans are not known to be friends.”

“Johannes is a good dragon,” Amélie said. “He’s my guardian.” She smiled at us, as if dragons and humans should always have been friends

The adults and I laughed.

“We know that, dear.” Her mother tousled Amélie’s hair as she placed an arm around her shoulders.

“But he never let me fly with him.” Amélie frowned.

“It’s quite amazing,” her father teased.

“No fair!”

Her parents and I shared a laugh again. “I don’t want you to fall and my talons might crush you.”

“I have an idea about that,” her father said. “Meet us here tomorrow.”

The next day, they returned with a leather horse harness her father had modified. It fit Amélie securely and had a handle where I could clasp on with my talons and carry her safely.

Their confidence amazed me. “You would trust me with her life?”

“You proved trustworthy with mine.” Her father nodded as he finished helping Amélie into the harness. Lov-ingly, he snapped the last fitting and made sure her shawl was secure around  her. “Everything is fine,” he reassured Mara, who stood nearby, looking slightly worried.

Amélie smiled, then hurried over beside me, waving. “Come on! I’m ready!”

“As you wish, little one.”

And with that I lifted off, hovering just above the ground as her father rushed in, ducked underneath and held the harness handle up so I could grasp it. My talons closed tightly around it and I tugged gently. It moved with me.

With a nod from her father and wave from her mother, I took off, carrying Amélie into the clouds. She laughed with delight, pointing at the village as she saw it beneath us. She pointed at the mountain I called home, at the river, and the hill where we’d met. I told her stories about all of them, recollections from the hundreds of years I’d lived here. When she drew quiet, I guessed perhaps she was overwhelmed. I flew in silence, letting her ponder at what she’d heard and seen.

I returned her safely after a daylight hour to where her parents waited in the glen. Our daily visits resumed after that, and although she occasionally brought her parents, mostly she came alone.

Long ago in a land known as Glendon, there lived a girl, whose name was Amélie. Her mother was a seamstress and her father was a soldier, and her best friend was a dragon.

She came to see him every day, intro-ducing him to her husband before they married, and bringing her child-ren to play with him. As she grew, their relationship transitioned from mere companionship to a sort of mentoring.

The loneliness which had once haunt-ed the dragon was never known again. Even the villagers welcomed him with open arms, calling him “Amélie’s Guardian.” Their friendship became legendary. He became part of the family, and he protected the girl and her village for all of his days.

THE END


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Write Tip: Outlining From A Finished Draft For Pantsers (How I Do It)

Okay, if you’re a pantser like me, you may reach a point where you feel like you need to actually get a better handle on organizing your manuscript. You’ve finished a draft or two but there’s character arcs to refine, plot line arcs to refine, motifs to identify & exploit, etc. You’re not an outliner. Organization is a crutch. It might even block your process. But there comes a time when one has to refine and examining the structure is usually key to success in doing that. Since people ask me for advice on this, I’d like to show you how I go about this process. It may not work for everyone, no method does with writing, but at the very least, it might stimulate your creativity and help you create your own approach to accomplish the same thing.

First, I like to do this on paper. One, because staring at things on screen gives you an incomplete image of each page/scene. Two, because I stare at the screen all day when writing and editing and need a break. Three, because I can do it anywhere without electricity needed and thus find energy by moving around or even have the manuscript with me on errands if I wind up having to wait, etc. (Although please don’t do it while driving. This has been a public service message from bryanthomasschmidt.net.) Four, because it helps you stay focused on the goal without getting distracted tweaking your manuscript and then never getting back to this task. (Don’t lie, you know it happens.)

 

Second, there are three phases to this:

 

Phase One, make a list of your plots and subplots and assign each a number or letter. For example:

A Assassins are killing Vertullians and Davi and friends must investigate

B Davi and Tela’s relationship hits some road blocks

C Aron has joined the Council and must adjust to life as a leader working amongst his former enemies

etc.

 

Phase Two, you reread the document which you should have not touched for at least 2-3 weeks, preferably a month, so you can be objective and fresh. As you go through, you make notes.  You will label each scene with the letters of the plotline it relates to: A, B or AB if it involves more than one plotline as some scenes can. If you want to focus on the outline, you should also make notes of anything such as character names switched or POV issues or pl0t holes. But keep it short so you can stay focused. You can go back later and wrestle with these. Make notes in margins or keep a separate sheet. You might even do a separate sheet for each plot line. It’s up to you.

 

Phase Three, this is where you go back and take your notes and write a brief description of each scene on a page for each plot line or a master sheet for the whole story with plotline indicators (A, B, C). You might even want to color code it in Excel or with highlighting in Word. This will allow you to read through each plot separately and examine the arc and tension and turning points, etc. to make sure it’s where it needs to be. All you need in scene descriptions is the key dramatic points and which characters and plots are involved. Keep it concise. No need for a whole synopsis of each scene unless you feel compelled. There are no rules. Writing is a journey and a constant process of growing and refining your craft, after all, and that’s what these Write Tips are designed to help with and stimulate. None are intended as end-all rules.

 

That’s it. Three easy phases to an outline AND the bonus is you’ve probably already made notes on some of the issues you need to address. Now it’s easy to go back and move scenes around if you need to, find flaws in plotting or character arcs, or expand motifs. You can also look at pacing, balance and other things.

Now lest any of you pantsers get said pants in a bunch with the “I CAN’T WORK FROM OUTLINES” attitudes, remember that all I am helping you do is make a chart of the outline that already exists in your work. You wrote it by the seat of your pants but you still created a structure in doing so. Now’s the time to fine tune and refine it and I’m merely suggesting a way to do that simply so you can be more effective. If this doesn’t work for you, feel free to take the concepts I suggest and make your own method. In fact, I’d love if, when you do, you’d comment on this post so we can all learn from it.

So there you have it, a simple method for Outling From a Finished Draft. At least, that’s how I do it. What’s your way? We’re waiting with baited breath. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

An Alternative To A Song Of Ice And Fire

I respect George R.R. Martin as a writer. He’s immensely talented. I’ve met him. He’s a nice guy. I respect the achievement that is regarded as one of the greatest fantasy series of all time. I read the first two books. I enjoyed them for what they are. But I couldn’t finish book 3. A Storm Of Swords just lost me. I have wrestled with that for a couple of weeks now and finally sorted out why.

Why would I want to read a book that deals with heroes like reality does? GRRM takes all the archetypes and knocks them off one by one. Killing any admirable heroes and leaving us with mostly unlikable scum. Oh Jon Snow and Arya and even Tyrion still have likability, despite flaws. But you know, I get this kind of depressing reality on the news daily and the internet, I don’t need it in my fiction.  I read fiction to escape. I read it to hope for a better world. I read it to see possibilities, not realities that are depressing and sad or reminders of that.

Maybe I’m more thoughtful than some people. I’m painfully aware of my frailties, failures and inadequacies. My life’s quest has been to try and conquer them or at least counter them by living a life that makes a difference. From teaching to volunteering to mission  work, I have sought to help and encourage others and myself by seeking to make a better world, at least in the portion that I touch. And when I write, that’s why I write old fashioned heroes where the good guys are good and admirable, despite being flawed, and the bad guys are bad. You know who you want to see win and that’s okay because it’s natural. It doesn’t have to weaken the characters to have them be people who make us want to be better people ourselves; to make us hope people, including ourselves, can rise above our depravity and lead better lives, lives of significance that make a better world.

As my friend and editor Randy Streu states it: “It’s like, somebody decided that ‘nuance’ meant that, to be a real hero meant to be so flawed and depraved that actual heroism was dead. Acts for the greater good are a biproduct of self interest.” I guess some people do probably believe that. But I don’t. I think heroism is alive. I sometimes think the media wish it wasn’t. They go after anyone with character or fame like sharks at a steak cookout, tearing them to shreds, cutting them down to size, poking and probing at every potential weakness or flaw to tear them down. Reality TV thrives on this. It’s a celebration of mediocrity and failure. It’s about taking people we admire and bringing them down a  notch. That’s why it’s so wonderful when someone actually survives the reality TV feeding frenzy and comes out shining. Take Clay Aiken on the current Celebrity Apprentice or even Arsenio Hall. Arsenio lost it once, but then apologized and let it go. And he showed himself to be the class act most of his fans always hoped he was.

But Song Of Ice and Fire as well written as it is, as deep as it can be, just leaves me cold. Are people really this bad? Probably. But why are we celebrating it? Why are we putting that out there as a tale of fantasy when it’s really more a tale of sad reality? Don’t get me wrong, GRRM has a right to write what he wants. I stand up for his freedom of speech. I’m just saying that the alternative to A Song Of Ice and Fire appeals more to a lot of people and that’s not bad or wrong. I wish there were more of it.

I recently interviewed Robert Silverberg about the rerelease of the incredible Majipoor books which changed my life. The hope and excitement they inspired not only in the possibilities of what one man can do but what one writer can do have been formative in my life. Are there bad guys in that? Yes. Is the hero flawed? Yes. But there’s an underlying sense of wonder and optimism which is inspiring and moving. Lots of books used to have that. Less have it today and I wonder why. Is our nihilistic age destroying our ability to hope?  My childhood memories are filled with books which so inspired me: from Winnie The Pooh to Dr. Seuss to Huckleberry Finn and Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some of these books, like Finn and Wilder dabble close to the vest with reality. It’s not that characters don’t face real problems or flaws but that they triumph and grow into better people and the overall theme is hopeful and makes you want to do the same in your life. Is that such a bad thing? Does anyone who has kids really want them reading books with the tone of A Song Of Ice And Fire to set their expectations for the world and their lives?

Again, I am not saying A Song Of Ice and Fire is bad. I am just suggesting that another type of literature has its place and its importance and is still needed and wanted by many readers today and that, perhaps, the focus on moving away from that is misplaced. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are popular for a reason. They celebrate the triumph of flawed heroes over strong forces and great odds. And the protagonistic characters are admirable and likable.

It’s funny to me that so much of Christian literature took it to the opposite extreme. There, heroes are so whitewashed and villains so tame that readers living in the real world quickly grow bored and frustrated. The books don’t engage their reality enough, rather than the opposite of perhaps engaging too much. Instead of lacking heroes, they lack realistic people. The characters are cardboard and perfect and don’t resemble anyone we know and the world is too neat with too many rounded edges and not enough jagged ones. If that makes any sense. Whereas the Bible is filled with powerful heroes who are flawed men and woman fighting to rise above their flaws and facing incredible odds. Those character types still have power and meaning for audiences today. I think that’s why so many classics continue to be reprinted again and again, like the Majipoor series.  I’ll continue trying to write it, and I hope others will as well. I really hope the kids of tomorrow can find books to inspire them like I used to.  And I’ll continue to seek an alternative to A Song Of Ice And Fire.  Not that I refuse to read such things but that I’ll visit them sparingly. They offer me less of what I seek and need and thus don’t satisfy my cravings.  The HBO version has just made me feel stronger about it as they ditch the story and important POV characters like Arya for any scene where they can show more flesh and more gritty sex, violence, etc. They emphasize even more the darkness and they’re losing their way with the story in the process.

Yes, I still believe real heroes exist and the world can be a better place if we do our best to rise above our flaws and make a difference. I still believe story telling even on film doesn’t need to be darkly discouraging and total depravity, that there can be hope in its midst. And I hope I always will. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the new anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Journey Through The SFF Classics: A Beginning

Okay it’s time. For two years now, I have amassed a library of classic SFF books but have not managed so far to tear into reading them. To be fair, I read 52 books a year just for SFFWRTCHT. And I do get requests for other interviews now, so I read another 20-40 for those throughout the year. That’s a lot of reading for a guy who takes about 5 days to go through a 350 page novel. That amount of reading will not change. I am still committed, happily, to that and grateful for the way it has allowed me to read a broad spectrum of SFF contemporary works by a wide variety of authors.

But I have this gap in knowledge that keeps coming back to haunt me, and, as time goes on, I fear it only deepens. As I go to Cons and participate in panels, as I talk with other writers about craft, not being familiar with some of the very classic works everyone so often talks about is a handicap and I must overcome it. So I am challenging myself to a Journey Through The Classics. I’m starting with a few core books and will expand as I can.  I am going to read these, most of them fortunately much shorter as older novels used to be, and then add more to the list, with the hopes that I can start catching up my knowledge of the SFF field through history. I have also acquired a number of older magazines, some pulp, some 20-year-old issues of magazines like F&SF, Analog and Amazing. I am going to work my way through those as well. But first, I need to get going on these books, so here’s my list, most of which I have not yet read, some of which I  may have at some point but don’t remember.

The Dying Earth by Jack Vance
The Skylark Of Space by EE Smith
To Open The Sky by Robert Silverberg
Do Androids Dream Of Electronic Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
The Caves Of Steel by Isaac Asimov
The Listeners by James Edwin Gunn
The Weapon Shops Of Isher by A.E. Van Vogt
Nerves by Lester del Rey
Necromancer by Gordon R. Dickson
The Triumph of Time by James Blish
Swords Against Death by Fritz Leiber
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein
Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinelin
Dune by Frank Herbert
Doc Savage: The Thousand Headed Man by Kenneth Robeson
Stands Of Zanzibar by John Brunner

It should be noted before someone suggests it, I have already read the entirety of Asimov’s Foundation. I realize Van Vogt has more noted books but so far I have not found them so I will read one of the ones I have. The Silverberg and del Rey are personal choices. I have never read del Rey and feel I should since he is an icon. Silverberg is my favorite of all SFF authors and I have not read his early work and want to do that. A friend recommended To Open The Sky as one with faith (not just religious) themes, and since I have done panels on this to great reception I feel it’s time to start reading source material for those so I can only increase their value.

I am also not committing to read these books in any particular order. Honestly, I likely will attempt the shorter ones first, because of my reading time and just to get in a flow. I plan to do reviews/commentary on these as I finish for my own value more than anyone else’s, although I will share that here. These will not be full on reviews but really more my own ponderings and interactions with the texts. They’re classics. What do I have to add that hasn’t been said before by many people? Not much as a reviewer, but as a fan and writer interacting with them, I hope there will be some nuggets of learning and discovery worth sharing.

I certainly reserve the right to update my list at my own discretion. In other words, I will allow you to suggest books but I feel no pressure about which I choose to read and when. I have left A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams off the list because I read half and didn’t care for it. I do need to read it again but I’ll have to get in the right mood. And before the smart alecs show up, I do have a sense of humor. I love comedic books. I just found this one odd, not all the funny. But I do respect its place and regard amongst fandom and I do feel I should give it another chance at some point so I’d expect it to come on the list at some point during this Journey which may last several years because it takes as long as it takes.

For a good list of some of the books I’ve read in  the past, including many considered classics, I posted my 70 Most Memorable SFF Books I’ve Read here.

I hope some of you will engage with me on this journey and perhaps even join me. Who we are today is very much informed by the past. And often whom we become and the strength, value and character of it is determined by our knowledge of the past. After all, we not only learn from our mistakes but those of our forefathers.

I very much look forward to the education of this journey and to your thoughts and my own along the way. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, the children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing and editor of the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  An affiliate SFWA member, he also hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter and is a frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and Hugo nominee SFSignal. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via www.bryanthomasschmidt.net.

 

ConStellation III Report

Well, we survived it: A Science Fiction Con with no WiFi. Most of us were less than happy about that, and the hotel had a plethora of problems, including a badly leaking roof which forced staff to evacuate the art show to a new location due to the heavy rains and tornado weather. However, the Con was so well run, we all had a great time in spite of this. Even the hotel staff urging us downstairs at one point couldn’t dampen spirits for long.

The dealer’s room was a happy place with a generous group of people supporting each other and steady visits from always helpful staff even as attendees made their way through. I sold 13 books at the Con and had 3 more online sales during the convention, which makes it my most successful Con for book sales so far. Attendance reached 250 this year, a new height for the Con, and I’d say that definitely helped. I also gave out a lot of cards with my website info on it as well. Despite my new ebook cards drawing interest, I didn’t get the first sale on them but that was due in part, I believe, to Sams Dot not having ebooks and thus not wanting to push them, and I didn’t go out of my way either. They were readily in sight for anyone who looked at the table. At ConQuest, when it’s just me at my table, I’ll try a different approach. I must admit, I do prefer selling paper copies, however.

Two of my three panels were well attended. 10 people showed up first thing Saturday morning at 11 for CHARACTER BUILDING. They were attentive, but, perhaps, tired. It took me a bit to work them up to interaction, however, they were all eager to learn. My reading that afternoon had no one present, but I waited there for 15 minutes and then got an influx of people and wound up reading to 6, which was almost double my reading at Conclave last October. And they really seemed to enjoy that as well as the Q&A time following, so I felt good about it. I also know at least two of those people bought books, so I’d call that a success as well.

On Sunday, I did two panels back to back. The first, FAITH IN SFF, drew a dozen very engaged people. I didn’t go to all of the other panels, but I’d say I had as many as the Conan panel before had drawn and these people engaged very  much with the material and me, leading to a great discussion. They even applauded at the end. I had approached this as a discussion of faith in all of its forms: not just faith in Higher Powers, but faith in magic or science or even wealth. I asked everyone to be respectful and stated that our purpose was not to argue validity of beliefs but discuss how they motivate us and how their presence is handled in world building. I read my list of SF classics with religious themes from SF Signal and then added those mentioned in the comments on that post as well as a few others I’d discovered. Attendees added even more. I’ll have an even longer list when I do this panel again at OsFest. In fact, the OsFest chair was present and complimented the panel,  encouraging me to repeat it at their Con. I honestly wasn’t sure we’d get much interest in the topic and that, if we did, it might devolve into incivility. I was so pleasantly surprised. Very enlightening for all of us, I felt. I learned as much as anyone.

My second Sunday panel, GREAT READS, drew only 3 people but they were lively and we had a great discussion on books we’ve loved. I read books from my 2011 Year’s Best Reads List and didn’t even get to my 70 Most Memorable SFF Reads which I also had brought with  me. My list of books people suggested, which I want to read includes:  Starplex by Robert J. Sawyer, Persistence Of Vision by John Varley, Flight of The Dragonfly by Robert Foster, Chung Kuo by David Wingrove, The Leandros series by Rob Thurman and Integral Trees by David Niven.

My own schedule was so busy that I didn’t get to hear Elizabeth Bear’s panels, unfortunately. Between my own panels and reading and then dealer room duties, I missed her activities. I did, however, introduce myself and I’ll see her again soon at Convergence in Bloomington, MN. She also agreed to do an interview by email for SFFWRTCHT soon, so that will be two great chances to learn about her more.

I also sold a series of interviews with short story writers to Sams Dot Publishing for their Aoife’s Kiss zine and booked Jack McDevitt, who turned around my questions so fast, I’d already turned the thing in Monday, well ahead of the May 1 deadline for the June issue. I’ll be looking into Tanith Lee and others for upcoming issues, 1 per month.  This is my first paid interview series. The small press pays a token amount, but it’s regular income of a sort and, added to other sources, is a step in the right direction.

One of the more humorous events of the Con also involves McDevitt, whom I told in my emails I would look forward to meeting at OsFest in Omaha this July. He’s list as Guest Of Honor, only, he said he wouldn’t be there. Too busy. I ran into the Con chairs of that Con at my panels and mentioned that to them, suggesting perhaps emailing Jack soon might be a good idea. To say they were a bit worried would be an understatement, but on Monday, Jack informed me he would indeed be at the Con. He said he’d forgotten to write it down and commented: “I’m beginning to understand why my wife won’t let me out alone at night.”

Altogether, a success and enjoyment. I’d certainly do it again, if asked. I certainly recommend it to other dealers and creatives as well. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, andThe Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines. His children’s book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Agenda For ConStellation NE This Weekend – Lincoln, NE

Well, my first Con of the year has finally arrived. I’m attending the third annual ConStellation Con in Lincoln, Nebraska, April 13-15 at Guest House Inn on Cornhusker Highway in North Lincoln. So if you’re in the area, come on out!

Guest of Honor is Elizabeth Bear, a Hugo nominee for the podcast she does with fellow writers called SFSqueecast. She’s also the author of a number of novels and her stories have appeared in Asimov’s, amongst other places. Her latest novel, Range Of Ghosts, just released last month from TOR.

Artist Guest of Honor is W.J. Hodgson and Jim C. Hines and Brandon Sanderson are past GOH authors.

A full programming schedule can be found here. And my agenda is below.

When not involved in panels or readings, I will be hanging in the dealer room with Sam’s Dot Publishing’s Tyree Campbell, who has graciously agreed to stock my books on his table.  The specific events I’ll be doing are 3 panels and a reading as follows:

Character Building – Saturday, 11 a.m., Deneb Room

What makes a good character? How do you name characters? What are the aspects of character one must consider when creating characters for a story? How deep do you go? An examination of character creation and more.


Author Reading- Saturday, 2 p.m., ConSuite

I’ll be reading from Space Battles and The Worker Prince and perhaps even a passage from The Returning which comes out in June.


Faith in Science Fiction and Fantasy-
Sunday at 1 p.m., Vega Room

A discussion of the importance of faith as a motivator for humankind. Not a debate about the validity or value or religions, but rather a discussion of how faith drives all of us in some way. What do you put your faith in? What drives you toward your elusive life long goals? Why is faith an indelible, essential element for world building in speculative fiction? We’ll discuss these questions and much more.


Great Reads – Sunday at 2 p.m., Vega Room
What are the best books you’ve read in the past year? How do they compare to ones you’ve read in years past? Which forthcoming books are you most excited about and why? A discussion of books we love and why we love them and our quest for more.

I will have copies of Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6, my ebook Rivalry On A Sky Course, as well as print and ebooks of The Worker Prince. I also plan to have a few copies of The North Star Serial, Part 1 and Of Fur And Fire, edited by Dana Bell, which features my first published fantasy story, “Amelie’s Guardian.”

Hope to see you there. I look forward to a fun weekend!


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, The Returning (forthcoming), the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and the kids book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. he edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick and has stories in several anthologies and magazines (some forthcoming). As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

My Panel Slate For Constellation in Lincoln, NE

Well, the Con Programming Chair from Constellation in Lincoln, NE, April 13-15 sent me my panel schedule. I’ll be launching Space Battles there as well as promoting my other stuff. More details to follow when I have them. Elizabeth Bear is the GOH. Hope to see some of you there.

Character Building – Saturday, 11 a.m.

What makes a good character? How do you name characters? What are the aspects of character one must consider when creating characters for a story? How deep do you go? An examination of character creation and more.


Author Reading- Saturday, 2 p.m.

I’ll be reading from Space Battles and The Worker Prince and perhaps even a passage from The Returning which comes out in June.


Faith in Science Fiction and Fantasy-
Sunday at 1 p.m.

A discussion of the importance of faith as a motivator for humankind. Not a debate about the validity or value or religions, but rather a discussion of how faith drives all of us in some way. What do you put your faith in? What drives you toward your elusive life long goals? Why is faith an indelible, essential element for world building in speculative fiction? We’ll discuss these questions and much more.


Great Reads – Sunday at 2 p.m.
What are the best books you’ve read in the past year? How do they compare to ones you’ve read in years past? Which forthcoming books are you most excited about and why? A discussion of books we love and why we love them and our quest for more.

 

Excited to attend this Con for the first time. 


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, The Returning (forthcoming), the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and the kids book 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Jokes For Kids from Delabarre Publishing. he edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick and has stories in several anthologies and magazines (some forthcoming). As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

19 5-star & 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $4.99 Kindle http://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Official Table Of Contents: Wandering Weeds-Tales Of Rabid Vegetation (Anthology)

Well, a long while ago I placed my first comedic noir Science Fiction story in an anthology edited by my friend Jaleta Clegg. The table of contents has finally been announced and publication is this Spring from Hall Brothers Entertainment. So here’s the official scoop:

 

 

 

 

 

Wandering Weeds: Tales of Rabid Vegetation

Edited by
Jaleta Clegg & Frances Pauli

Table Of Contents
Beyond the Fence, Rebecca L. Brown
Colors of Blood, Kevin J. Childs
They Call The Wind Mariah, Jaleta Clegg
Duncan Derring and the Call of the Lady Luck, Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Legends of the Tumbleweeds, Duane Ackerson
Cowchip Charlie and the Tumbleweed Gang, C. H. Lindsay
The Tumbas, M. Pax
Thistle, Terry Alexander
Of Weeds and Wizardry, Berin Stephens
Feral Tumbleweeds, Mo Castles
Earth’s New Masters, Adriane Ceallaigh
Misplaced, Voss Foster
Oh, Dark Tumbleweed, Brian D Mazur
Crispy Fried Pickles at the Mad Scientist Cafe, Katherine Sanger
I Survived the Sargasso Sea, Eric J. Guignard
The Great Tragedy of the Illustrious Empire, Audrey Schaefer
Garden of Legion, David J. West
Tumbleweed, Robert Borski
The Souls of the Wicked, Francis Pauli
Fair Weather, with a Chance of Tumbleweeds, Andrea Tantillo
The Tumbleweed Woman, V. Hynes Johnston
Guardening, Ann Willows
Weeds, James Hartley
Sleeping Beauty, Louise Maskill
Desert Oracles, Katie M John


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Rensick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

Eleven SFF Series I Read And Was Surprised To Love

I read a lot of books for my author interviews on SFFWRTCHT and blogs like GraspingForTheWind.com, www.SFSignal.com, and Ray Gun Revival, as well as my own blog. In fact, reading for those dominates my reading time. I rarely squeeze in books for fun or learning anymore. Most of the time, I’m excited to read the books because I love discovering new authors and for years I didn’t read speculative fiction at all, so I am way behind in my genre knowledge. But every once in a while you come across one that makes you think “I probably won’t enjoy this” for various reasons. Isn’t it wonderful to instead discover you adore them? Here’s Eleven series I had that initial reaction to which are now among my favorites:

1) The Majipoor Books by Robert Silverberg–WHAT?! You say? Well, I’d never heard of Robert Silverberg when my twin sister gave me Lord Valentine’s Castle for Christmas at age 15. It was not a book on my Christmas list, and, frankly, I was annoyed that she would dare deviate from my carefully prepared list. The cover intrigued me though with its aliens juggling and such. And boy, this book knocked my socks off. Other than The Hobbit (I had yet to read Lord Of The Rings), this book had the most amazing world building I had ever seen. It absolutely knocked me out. And I adored it. I snagged Majipoor Chronicles as soon as that came out, and the alien sex scenes certainly stimulated my young teenage boy mind (HEY! I’m only human people!) It took years for me to get the rest and read them, but I finally did and reread the first two as well. My favorite novel series of all time, hands down. Amazing characters, amazing world building, masterful storytelling in every sense. True classics. Not to be missed. His second series surrounding Presimion is maybe even better than the first, but Lord Valentine’s Castle remains my favorite. They are all getting released starting this month by ACE/ROC Books, too.

2) Black Blade Blues by John A. Pitts–An urban fantasy with dragons and a Lesbian heroine with romance. Dragons are overdone. They’ve been done a million times. And I’m straight, not gay. To each his or her own, but when I do read romance, I just prefer male on female. Also, this just sounded like a teen set, girly appeal book to me. Not because John himself is all that girly. He’s really not. In fact, he’s become a good friend. But this was one I expected to not enjoy and instead turned out to be one of my favorite series ever. Pitts writes really good characters and action. He also does some unique POV things, with all Sarah Buehall’s chapters in 1st person, and 3rd person for the supporting POV characters. He takes old tropes like dragons and the blacksmith and breathes new life into them. He also takes modern SCA reenactors and throws them into their living fantasy and mines it for humor skillfully. Just a delight in every way and should not be missed. SERIOUSLY. Straight guys too!

3) Greywalker by Kat Richardson–I read this after meeting Kat at Rainforest Writers. She was delightful. But urban fantasy had never sounded like much of anything I’d enjoy. Instead, I’m hooked. And I have Kat to blame. At first, it sounded too Sixth Sense-like for me. As one of the few people who didn’t care for that movie, this was not a draw. But man, I love this series. I’m hooked. I went out and tracked down copies of every one. I’ve since read another and interviewed her. And it inspired my own idea for an urban fantasy detective noir series I am working on. Love these books. They are even better than you’ve heard.

 

4) Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole–Military fantasy? Military anything really. Okay, I like John Ringo. And I am pro-military. But it just sounded odd, although I adore the book cover. I could not have been more wrong. I absolutely got my socks knocked off, and I still can’t find them. Cole is a master at world building and working old tropes inventively into the modern world. He also knows his military and it shows. It’s like an inside view of military life in so many ways, and I think it makes you respect all the more, the sacrifices our troops make in serving our country. Sure to make you patriotic in a good way but also challenges the idea that obeying orders strictly is an ideal rule of thumb. Cole infuses his characters with humanity, even the goblins, yes, and makes you care about them and root for them. Really fun and exciting possibilities with this one. And women, you’ll love it just as much. He writes good, strong females as well. I can’t wait to read the rest. And I am telling you, this one is for everyone!

5) The Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger–Okay, parasol in the title. Pretty much said it all. Romance. Also, vampires and werewolfs AGAIN?????!!! Not my favorite. No one can top Anne Rice in the vampires, if you ask me, although Charlaine Harris is giving her a run for the money at the moment. I read it because Carriger is a leading steampunk author, a genre I love. And I’d heard good things. I am in love with this series, too. Went out and tracked them all down. Carriger is hilarious and she uses old tropes in new ways while making absolutely fantastic use (and fun) of her Victorian setting. She even gets the Old Queen herself involved. Yes, there’s romance, but not in a sappy, smarmy way. (Well, not too much.) Her lead character is not one of those sappy females with dreamy eyed looks and emotions at all. She’s a bit rougher around the edges, and, as such, a bit of an outcast. She also has gifts which set her apart. I won’t spoil it for you. But I adored the first book and can

6) The First Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson–I picked these up because the Darrell Sweet covers were so intriguing and I wanted something fantasy to read. I had been reading a lot of science fiction but not as much fantasy. Then the main character was not so nice and he raped a young girl. I almost put it down right then. So glad I didn’t. The redemption journey of Thomas Covenant is so worth the effort and Donaldson is so masterful a writer. I am thrilled to have met him and had him sign my copy a couple of years ago. And we have an interview coming up for SFFWRTCHT with him where I focused on this series. He’s got two trilogies and a 4 book final cycle in this universe now, and they are rightly regarded as classics of the genre. Also, the later cycles have a female lead, so if you women are turned off by Covenant’s behavior, you really should still give this a chance. The world building is rich and unique and the journey is one that touches the heart. I promise.

7) The Retrieval Artist series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch–I read these because I had read her first Diving book and several great short stories, but the idea of a noir detective in science fiction didn’t sound like my thing. I have never been a huge mystery reader. I think Rusch changed all that with these books. I adore this series and her mix of genres. She also does some really fantastic world building in here as well. Her use of tropes in new ways, her alien species, etc. are so well thought out, with real cross cultural conflicts and consequences arising from their different world views. Authors don’t always think it through that far or even strive to incorporate it all, and she’s challenged me as a writer to go further as a result. Highly recommended. Kris has become a friend and one of my favorite authors.

8 ) The Ender Series by Orson Scott Card–This one I had hesitancy for silly reasons. I wasn’t reading science fiction at the time and I’d only heard bad things about this author’s strong opinions. But my cousin David and his wife insisted I’d love these. They even gave me their copies, so I felt obligated to give them a chance. After all, David and I have always been close and our mutual love of speculative fiction is one reason. David introduced me to D&D, Star Wars and so many things. He was right. Ender’s Game is called a classic with good reason. No matter what you think of Card’s religion or opinions on politics, he’s masterful at writing and those themes don’t come into it with this series (at least so far). This is really good militarySF and space opera. And not to be missed by genre fans.

9)  The Chronicles Of A Distant World series by Mike Resnick–I am now a huge Resnick fan and he’s become a friend and mentor. He even blurbed my forthcoming novel and wrote a story for an anthology I edited. But full disclosure aside, I read this when I really had no idea who this Resnick guy was. I just knew he’d won a lot of awards and was a big shot amongst writers (everyone said). He also had a passion for Africa and so do I. But could a white guy from Ohio really do the African cultures I adored justice? I think he did splendidly, frankly. This series of science fiction inspired by African history and imagining what the future might look like has been a touchstone for me. In fact, the predictions Resnick made came true in some cases. Very unique and not like most other SF you will read but that’s all the more reason you shouldn’t miss it. Masterfully done and really deep world building and cross cultural explanation. No preaching. No judging. He just lays it out there like the expert he is and lets readers to the rest.

10) The Posleen War Series by John Ringo–I am not a big military story reader. I support the military. But reading military books is rare. I love political intrigue like old school Tom Clancy and WEB Griffin, but the idea of war books didn’t appeal. But people kept raving about MilitarySF. And people said John Ringo was a great place to start. Plus I heard an interview with the author that impressed me. A Hymn Before Battle blew me away. I went out and bought the series and can’t wait to tear into the rest. Reading schedule, as mentioned above, has so far prevented me, but they are on the shelf where I can see them and one of these days, soon, I’ll pick them up and tear into them again, and I can’t wait!

11) Pathfinder Tales by various–D&D tie-ins, really? I imagined characters stopping to roll the dice during attacks, and more silliness. I just couldn’t wrap my mind about it. What I never expected to find was good sword & sorcery/fantasy novels, but these are a real find. I have read four so far and enjoyed them thoroughly. This is some great stuff. Don’t let the tie-in stigma scare you off. Editor James L. Sutter is doing some great stuff with some great authors like Howard Andrew Jones and Dave Gross. If you enjoy fantasy and magic, even if you’re not into RPGs, you’ll love this. If you are into RPGs, that’s just a bonus.

Okay, there’s eleven series I loved in spite of initial reservations. I’m sure I’ll discover more, but what about you? Please post yours in comments. I’m sure we’d all love to discover more!’ll be tearing back into this. Military culture is well handled, of course, but the alien invasion and character drama is fascinating too. He really is the Clancy/Griffin of SF writers. His tension and the intrigue level is far more than I’d anticipated. It really keeps you hooked and turning the pages. I really enjoyed these.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012 along with the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which he edited for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Rensick. As  a freelance editor, he’s edited a novel for author Ellen C. Maze (Rabbit: Legacy), a historical book for Leon C. Metz (The Shooters, John Wesley Hardin, The Border), and is now editing Decipher Inc’s WARS tie-in books for Grail Quest Books.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF Publishing, Grasping For The Wind and SF Signal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.