I am pleased to announce my return to the world of my beloved Yautja movie universe. My seventeenth anthology as editor, and 4th for Titan will be my latest collaboration with Jonathan Maberry:
ALIENS VS PREDATOR: ULTIMATE PREY, Edited by Jonathan Maberry & Bryan Thomas Schmidt is a collection of all original stories that bring these two powerful franchises into collision. These stories will be more than bug hunts or monsters fighting one another. We’re amassing a slate of diverse writers who will elevate the themes to feature tales of racism, intolerance, culture clashes, and the horrors of war. Stories will run the gamut from intense psychological drama to nail-biting paranoid horror to humor to poignant tales of people and cultures caught in the grip of war.
Authors: David Barnett – Roshni “Rush” Bhatia – Maurice Broaddus – Curtis Chen – Delilah Dawson – Jess Landry – Jonathan Maberry & Louis Ozawa Changchien – Susanne Lambdin – Seanan McGuire – E.C. Myers – Yvonne Navarro – Chris Ryall – Bryan Thomas Schmidt – Steven Sears – Scott Sigler
15 new stories set in the movie universe, coming in December 2021 from Titan Books. It’s the one anthology fans have most been requesting and Jonathan and I have wanted to do it for 3 years, ever since he did Aliens: Bug Hunt and I did Predator: If It Bleeds, both for Titan, which were great successes.
These are studio approved tie-ins. We’ll reveal more details when the time comes but this exciting project has been fast tracked for quick release and we look forward to bringing it to fans.
Comic Con asked me to moderate a publishing panel for the online version of the Con this year. So I got on Zoom with 5 bestselling authors to talk about THE FOUR QUADRANTS OF PUBLISHING: The Big Fix/Six, Traditional Small Press, Print on Demand/Ebook Press, and Self-Publishing and the Pros and Cons of each. The ensuing discussion should be useful as you consider the career you want to pursue. Enjoy free below!
When people hear the word pacing, they typically think of “slow” or “fast,” or perhaps “action,” but in novels pacing needs both to be successful. Dictionary.com defines pace as:
a rate of movement, especially in stepping, walking, etc.;
a rate of activity, progress, growth, performance, etc.; tempo.
In regards to your novel, the pacing is a combination of steady, fast, and slow passages creating a rhythm that flows for readers, engaging and holding their interest, while still pausing to let them catch their breath and regroup from time to time.
Experienced novelists tend to get a natural sense of pacing as they write. Newer writers, however, will have to learn this. Imagine yourself on a treadmill, speed slowly increasing. Your pulse begins pounding, your breathing increases, the rhythm of the humming tread and your footfalls accelerating to combine into a steady beat. Then imagine keeping that speed for ten hours straight. Do you think you’d last? Probably not. The same is true of readers reading a novel.
While it is true that readers like stories where “something happens,” and action is a big part of that, readers also need stories that stop for reflective moments, too, allowing them to catch their breath, take a sip of water, grab a snack, and regroup. In constructing your plot, you should learn to plan for such a rhythm. Two or three high points of tense, fast pace, should be followed by a slower, thoughtful point before the next two or three fast, tense points begin. There are various ways to accomplish this which we will look at next.
Since action is the driving force of drama, let’s start with action. But don’t worry, we’ll get to how to slow it down too, right after. Just like I said we should.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a fan of action. Movies like the Lethal Weapon and Die Hard series always entertained me. I like action in my reading, too. Space opera is my favorite science fiction genre and sword & sorcery tops my fantasy favorites, but I also spend a great deal of my time reading thrillers and police procedurals. Is it any wonder that I find myself often writing action in my stories?
One of the best action writers I know is Jonathan Maberry, the New York Times bestselling author of the Joe Ledger thrillers and several other series. Let’s look at an action scene from one of his novels, Assassin’s Code:
I struggled to get to my feet.
A minute ago I had thought that the whole world was
sliding into the mouth of hell, but now a different
kind of hell had come to this place of shadows. There were screams and Upierczi running everywhere. Flares
popped in the air, painting everything in bright white
I took a step toward Grigor and my foot kicked something. I looked down and saw the code scrambler.
I bent and picked it up.
“Cowboy—on your six!”
It was Khalid’s voice, and I turned to see one of the vampires four feet away.
I had no time to run. I didn’t want to run. As he
slammed into me I buried the pistol under his chin and
blew off the top of his head. We hit the ground and I lay there, Upierczi blood all over me. In my face, my eyes, my mouth.
I rolled over and threw up.
Grigor was still screaming. Then I heard a sharp yelp of pain and looked up to see the Upierczi fling Ghost aside. Ghost hit the side of a packing crate and col- lapsed, spitting blood onto the floor. I saw a couple of teeth, too.
That made me mad. Maybe I needed that to shake off the
damage and the pain.
I came out of my daze and finally the situation gelled
in my mind. The Upierczi were rushing outward from me,
some were seeking cover, most were rushing at Echo
Bunny and Top were at the foot of the metal stairs.
Bunny had a combat shotgun with a drum magazine and he
was firing, firing, firing. Everything that came at
him died. The heavy buckshot soaked with garlic oil
poisoned every Upier that wasn’t instantly killed by
his blasts. The ones who took a few pellets staggered away, gagging and twitching with the onset of allergic
Top was watching his back, firing a big Navy Colt automatic, the hollow points doing terrible work in the tightly packed crowd.
On the other side of the chamber, Khalid and Lydia
were behind a packing crate, using it as a shooting
blind to create a cross fire.
“Frag out!” Lydia yelled and lobbed grenades into the heart of the vampires.
The fragmentation grenades weren’t filled with garlic,
but the blasts tore the monsters to pieces.
I saw three Upierczi running along the wall toward
them, well out of Lydia’s line of sight. I raised my
pistol but before I could fire the monsters went down,
one, two, three, their heads burst apart by sniper
rounds. John Smith, firing from somewhere I couldn’t
My knife was on the floor too, and I grabbed it as
well. I shoved knife and scrambler into my pocket and tapped my earbud. “Echo, Echo, this is Cowboy. I have the football and I need a doorway out of here.”
“I have your back,” came the reply, but it wasn’t in
my earbud. I whirled, and there she was. Dressed all
in black, splashed with blood, a wickedly curved blade
in each hand.
“Violin,” I began, but she shook her head.
She lunged past me as several Upierczi rushed my blind
side. Until that moment I didn’t understand what
“gifts” the dhampyri had gotten from the cauldron of
Violin was not as physically powerful, but my God, she
She met the rushing vampires, and even though I am
trained to observe and understand combat at any level,
I could not follow what happened. Her arms moved so
fast, her body spun and danced as she threaded her way
through the pack, the silver blades whipped with such frenzy that the monsters seemed to disintegrate around
her. It was so fast that their blood hung in the air
like mist. It was hypnotic and beautiful in the most
awful way that perfect violence can be beautiful; and it was horrible because there was nothing natural
about what I was seeing.
Violin was a thing born from rape, torn from a tortur-ed mother by a monster of a father, raised in a cu—
ture of rage and humiliation. If it was possible for
the concept of vengeance to be embodied in one form,
then that’s what I was seeing.
The Upierczi did not understand the nature of their
death. I could see that on their faces. They saw a
woman— something that to them represented a thing to
be taken and used and discarded— and they attacked her
with the arrogance of habitual users. They expected
her to fall. They expected her to be weak.
They did not expect the precise and unstoppable fury
of this daughter of Lilith.
She killed and killed and killed.
And yet, with all of that, I knew it wasn’t going to
be enough. There were at least a hundred of the Upier-czi in the chamber. More of them were seeded through
the staff of the refinery. There were a handful of us.
We were going to lose this fight.
In my earbud I heard John Smith say, “Mother of God.”
And then I heard him scream.
I wrenched myself away from Violin and raised my gun, searching the catwalks for Smith. I saw him.
I saw what was left of him fall.
Grigor, bloody, torn, perhaps dying, stood on the cat-walk fifty yards away. His mouth was bright with fresh
John Smith struck the hard stone floor in a broken sprawl. His throat was completely torn away.
I heard that scream of denial fill the air. From
Bunny’s throat, from Lydia’s and Khalid’s. From my own.
Before I knew what I was doing I was running with my
gun held in both hands, firing, firing. Bullets pinge and whanged off the steel pipes of the catwalk, but
Grigor ducked away and fled out through an open
I raced toward the stairway, but Khalid was closer and
he bolted up the metal steps in hot pursuit. Seven
Upierczi saw what was happening and they leapt like
apes onto the pipes and climbed upward. I emptied my
magazine at them. One fell away.
By the time I reached the foot of the stairs I had th
magazines swapped out and I ran upward. I was still
hurt, still bleeding. Maybe inside, too. My chest was a furnace and it felt like it was consuming me, but I didn’t care.
As I reached the top deck, the last of the Upierczi
turned and blocked my way. I put three rounds through his face and kicked his body out of my way.
Behind me there was another massive explosion, and I
lingered at the doorway, knowing that the blast
signature didn’t match our fragmentation grenades. I
Smoke and fire billowed out of one of the tunnels and Upierczi bodies were flung backward. Then a wave of new figures flooded in. Thirty of them. Women.
Arklight. The Mothers of the Fallen come for justice
of a kind.
The battle below became a bloodbath.
I turned away and ran after Khalid, the Upierczi, and Grigor.
Note the short sentences and paragraphs, as well as short spurts of dialogue. The description, action, and dialogue are all short and spaced so that readers’ eyes will flow down the page at a quick pace as they take it in. Also, note the lack of exposition or great detail. This is not the time for it. As a trained martial artist and experienced bodyguard, Maberry has an innate sense of how action really works and makes his fight scenes as realistic as possible. For those of us lacking such background, writing action scenes can be a challenge. In movies, you have visual and other clues to use to inspire the tension and pacing in the audience, but when writing prose, this can be more difficult. So here are a few key tips I’ve learned:
1) Write in short snippets as much as possible. Action scenes are not the time for long internal dialogues by characters. Think about a time you were involved in a high adrenaline situation. You didn’t have time to take long pauses for deep thinking. You had to react and do so quickly and so must your characters. The same is true of long speeches. People tend to be interrupted in speaking by the need to act or react. So dialogue and even action should be described in short spurts. If you have more than four sentences to it, think twice about whether it should be split up.
2) Use action to break up dialogue and dialogue to break up action. Intersperse the two components in short segments to add a sense of pacing and tension. Writing long sections of dialogue and long sections of action will tend to read slow and thus stall the pacing. This is especially true of dialogue as noted above. Alternating them adds a sense of realism and keeps things moving.
3) Get to the point. Long descriptions of weapons and scenery don’t belong here. If things need to be set up, do it before the sequence occurs so you don’t have to interrupt the action to do it. You want to focus on sensory details–what the characters see, feel, touch, etc. Are they sweating? Are they hurting? Not on what the building behind them looks like or even the street itself. You don’t want to spend pages like Tom Clancy describing their weapon here. We need to know what it is and how it works and their skill level so we cannot be surprised by their actions, but set that up elsewhere. During the action, we should already know.
4) Don’t make it too easy. Yes, the hero will likely win. But make it a challenge. Be sure and make the opponents threatening enough that the hero is in real jeopardy, otherwise the dramatic impact will be greatly lessened. No matter how skilled your hero is, he or she must have to face obstacles. In action sequences the odds should seem stacked against him. Let them bleed from a wound. Let them misfire or miss with the sword. Let them sweat and even have to run, barely escaping. Sometimes it’s even good to let them lose one time only to have them win later on. Force them to stretch themselves in some way to succeed. Make them human or the reader’s will struggle to care.
5) Keep it believable. This goes hand in hand with number 4. Real people are imperfect. They make mistakes. They fail. Make sure your action sequences are well researched and realistic. Besides humanizing the hero, don’t have vehicles or weapons performing beyond their capabilities. You may assume readers won’t know the difference but some will. And writing without limits rings hollow. Make sure you respect the limits and use them to up the tension. A man stuck with a sword fighting men with guns will face tense moments. A man against incredible odds is a man we root for.
6) Keep it tight. Anything absolutely not necessary should be cut. This includes long descriptions and dialogue as mentioned in number 1 but also the scene openings and closings. The rule I learned in film school was to get in a scene as late as possible and out as soon as possible. Nothing hurts pacing more than disobeying this rule. Be sure you start the action as fast as possible and end it the same. Don’t drag it out unnecessarily in your desire to make it more dramatic or a “cooler” sequence. Make it exactly as long as it really needs to be to serve the story and no longer.
7) Give the readers breathing space. Be careful about putting too many action sequences too close together. Movies build to a climax which may have twenty minutes of action but before that action scenes are interspersed with slower moments. Make sure you intersperse your action sequences with moments of character building and reflection, dialogue and discovery–slower sequences which allow readers to breathe a bit before the next intense action scene. In between scenes are where you make action sequences matter. Action is not just about a character we care about surviving but about stakes he or she has in that victory. What is the character’s driving need or goal? This gets set up in other scenes and provided driving undercurrent to the action which makes us care.
8 ) Pick your moments. Action stories tend to have several sequences spread throughout. Be sure you consider in choosing which sequence to include where the overall dramatic level of them. You want the biggest action sequence in the entire piece to be either at the closing of the piece. Those in between should leave room for a build up to the major action sequence to come. Ideally, each scene builds up to those that follow but this can be accomplished in ways besides upping the stakes and tension or odds. With proper character arcs, character’s emotional stakes can be developed in such a way that each later sequence matters that much more, making the readers care more as well.
9) Make it matter. Action scenes do not exist solely to entertain readers and add tension. They have a greater purpose to serve the story. Something must happen which ups the stakes or increases the challenges with each scene in your story and action scenes are no exception. Don’t write action for the sake of action. Write action because it serves the story. Every action sequence should move the story and characters forward in their journey, if not, they don’t belong in the story.
10) Incorporate humor. Humor is a great tool for not only breaking the tension but building character during action sequences. It’s no accident characters like Lethal Weapon’s Riggs and Die Hard’s McClane engage in witty banter during such moments and your characters can as well. From funny actions to funny dialogue snippets, this makes the action both more enjoyable and less tense when done at the right moments and can add a lot to reader enjoyment. Don’t be afraid to incorporate it when you can. It doesn’t have to be cheesy catch phrases either. It’s all in the wording.
Now, thinking about these tips, go back and read the Maberry passage again and see how they are applied. He uses every technique mentioned in his action scenes, and in between, he gives us breathing space. So what are some techniques for doing that?
For those wanting to connect, here are my confirmed tour dates so far for Fall 2017. Still trying to fill in open weekends in November with dates in either Arkansas, Nebraska, or Iowa. John Morris (aka Alexi), hope to see you there.
Oct. 5-8, 2017 New York Comic Con, Javits Center, New York City, NY, Guest, Book Launches: Predator: If It Bleeds (Titan) and Infinite Stars (Titan)
This weekend is my annual trek to Kansas City for our local science fiction convention, ConQuest at the Downtown K.C. Sheraton. Guest of Honor is Robert J. Sawyer and Toastmaster Jonathan Maberry, and I will be spending time when not on panels at a dealer room table selling their books. So here’s where to find me outside the dealer room which is open as follows:
Special Guest: Amelie will be accompanying me much of the time.
A discussion of humorous tropes and stories down through SF history. Who are the key writers? What should you be reading? and more. Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt Speakers: Robin Wayne Bailey, Selina Rosen
A discussion of the alien encounter trope through SF history in various media from literature to film and beyond. Moderators: Bryan Thomas Schmidt Speakers: Robin Wayne Bailey, James Gunn, Robert J. Sawyer, Ken Keller
With pleasure, we announce the final table of contents for the first anthology of stories written by others set in the New York Times bestselling Joe Ledger universe created by Jonathan Maberry. This will be released from St. Martin’s Press in 2017 (cover and details pending).
JOE LEDGER: UNSTOPPABLE
Edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Jonathan Maberry
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Foreword by Tony Eldridge
Introduction by Jonathan Maberry
The Honey Pot by Steve Alten
Confusion by Nicholas Steven
Target Acquired by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon
Vacation by Scott Sigler
Banshee by James A. Moore
Red Dirt by Mira Grant
Black Water by Weston Ochse
Instinct by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and G.P. Charles
No Guns at the Bar by Aaron Rosenberg
Strange Harvest by Jon McGoran
No Business at All by Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Ganbatte by Keith R.A. DeCandido
White Flame on Sunday by James Ray Tuck
Wet Tuesday by David Farland
Prince of Peace by Jeremy Robinson
Rookie by Joe McKinney
Three Times by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks
Psych Eval by Larry Correia
Crash Course by Dana Fredsti
Atoll by Jonathan Maberry
In addition to the numerous New York Times bestsellers writing stories here, we have crossovers with Sigler’s Nocturnal, Tuck’s Deacon Chalk, McGoran’s Doyle Carrick, Robinson’s Chess Team and Fredsti’s Plague World novels. The anthology has a foreword by Ton Eldridge, the Hollywood producer developing Ledger for film and by Grillo-Marxuach (Lost, Charmed, Middleman) who wrote a previ0us Ledger pilot film.
Editor Jonathan Maberry has announced the Table of Contents order for his third anthology of new officially sanctioned, canon stories from The X-Files, for which Kate Corcino and I wrote a fun story set in El Paso. Here it is:
Seek and You Will Find by John Gilstrap
Perithecia by Andy Mangels
Give Up the Ghost by Jade Shames
Transmissions by Marsheila Rockwell and Jeffrey Mariotte
Desperately Seeking Mothman by Jim Beard
Love Lost by Yvonne Navarro
Thanks and Praise by Joe Harris
Border Time by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Kate Corcino
A Scandal in Moreauvia, or: The Adventure of the Empty Heart by Nancy Holder
Well, another Con has arrived. From Friday through Sunday, I’ll be in Springdale, Arkansas at the Holiday Inn Conference Center for GlitchCon with the lovely Claire Ashgrove, my best bud and editing partner in Finish The Story, Jonathan Maberry and David Farland and several others. Here’s a full schedule of programming. See participants at the website at http://www.glitchcon.com/
FRIDAY, August 1
3:00 – 3:50 pm Creating Comics and Graphic Novels (Jonathan M. /
David F. / Kyle / *Tommy) (Steam Room)
5:00 OPENING CEREMONIES (John Q. Hammons Hall)
6:00 – 6:50 pm Pulp Fiction (Jonathan M. / David F. / Tommy / Bryan
S. / Phillip D.)(Steam Room)
6:00 – 8:00pm Story In A Bag, lead by Dyann Love Barr & Claire A. (Anime & Cosplay)
7:30 p.m. — David F. / Jonathan M. / Claire / Bryan to dinner
SATURDAY, August 2
10:00 – 10:50 — Collaboration (Sue S. / Bill A. / Brad S. / Dyann) (Steam Room)
12:00 – 12:50 — Series Writing (Saranna D. / David F. / Jonathan
M. / Bill A. / Claire A. / Dyann LB) (Anime & Cosplay)
1:00 – 1:50 — Writing 101 (David F. / Phillip D. / Sue S. / Dyan LB
/ Claire A. / Saranna D. / Bryan S. (MOD)) (Steam Room)
2:00-2:50 – Old School Monsters (Jonathan M.)(Steam Room)
3:00 – 3:50 pm Horror – Then and Now (Jonathan M. / David F.
/ Brad S./ Saranna D.)
4:00 – 4:50 — The Fantasy Allure (Jonathan M / David F. / Bryan S.
/ Brad S. / Claire A. / Saranna (MOD))(Steam Room)
7:00 – 7:50 — World Building (Sue S. / Bill A. / Dyann LB / Bryan