Workshop News ~ Exploring Speculative Fiction

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be presenting a workshop at the end of May in Truro, NS. This is my “Exploring Speculative Fiction” workshop that I did in Antigonish last spring, to *ahem* glowing reviews. Here’s the description:

In this workshop, we’ll explore the map of the many different paths through the landscape of speculative fiction. We’ll talk about what makes a story speculative, tropes and expectations, and what it takes to make a good speculative story work. We’ll discuss the importance in SpecFic of three strong and interconnected story pillars (idea, character, and plot) and the best ways to approach building the world of your story. Finally, we’ll explore paths to finding speculative fiction ideas in the mundane world, and some helpful tools in the pursuit of professional publication in these genres.

This workshop is for anyone interested in writing speculative fiction, whether you’ve already begun your journey, or would simply like to learn more about the genre’s terrain.

The workshop is scheduled for May 26th, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Colchester-East Hants Public Library, 754 Prince St, Truro, NS. The cost of the workshop is $150, but if you’re a WFNS member, you can sign up for just $90. We had a ton of fun at the last session, so think about joining us!

P.S. If you leave this workshop without at least one new story idea, you’re just not trying. ;)

An Interview with Blaze Ward – Short Flights Bundle Author

Today, we have Short Flights Bundle author Blaze Ward stopping by to answer my interview questions. Blaze makes his home in Washington, and writes science fiction, superhero tales, fantasy, and alternate history. He keeps a website at www.blazeward.com, and you can find him on Facebook, Goodreads, and other places around the Internet. So let’s dive in…

SDR: To start, tell us a little about the story you have in the Short Flights bundle.

BW: “The Librarian” is the first of the Alexandria Station universe stories I wrote. She’s turned into my narrator for over 10,000 years of human history.

SDR: Imagine you’ve been kidnapped or trapped by a natural disaster. Which of your own characters (from any work) would you want to rescue you? Why?

BW: Vo zu Arlo (Jessica Keller books). Man’s a total badass who will stop at nothing.

SDR: Describe your current writing workspace.

BW: The peninsula dividing my kitchen from the living room. Just the right height to stand and work.

SDR: What’s your current writing project? How do you feel about it right this minute?

BW: Seventh Jessica Keller novel: Lord of Winter. Just started Act 3 and can see the end. Really hyped. Also just wrote a short story in the Fairchild universe.

SDR: Do you remember what sparked the idea for your story in the Short Flights bundle? What was it?

BW: I needed to know more about the AI in Javier’s ship, for The Science Officer. Already knew she survived the galactic apocalypse, so put her in a place to be discovered by my favorite salvager: Doyle Iwakuma.

SDR: Do you remember what sparked the idea for any of your stories? Tell us about one.

BW: The Science Officer was something I wanted to write for years, before I discovered that I could just publish stuff myself and make money. Having a character who was a scientist, a botanist, rather than a Jim Kirk/James Bond action figure. I grow things, and wanted to put that into space.

SDR: Why do you write short fiction? Love, necessity, marketability, or something else?

BW: The ability to take the worlds of my novels and spin off little side things about various characters. Or to create new worlds where I can play.

SDR: Do you belong to any writer’s groups or communities? Do you think these types of social interactions are important for writers?

BW: Got a monthly lunch group in Seattle where we talk business more than craft. Won’t do a critique group. They always fail in rancor, or fall apart in indifference.

SDR: Which one of your characters is the most like you? The least?

BW: Vo zu Arlo, probably. He gets his relentlessness from me. His intensity. Javier’s snarkiness and chaos-surfing. Hard to nail one. Most of my characters are actually amalgamations of people I know, where I take bits and merge them.

SDR: Have you written any series characters? What’s their appeal for you?

BW: Bit stories. Jessica is 6 novels now, and will be nine. The Science Officer (Season One) is eight novellas. Season Two will be nine. Everything tends to be serial with me.

SDR: I understand that feeling…like even when the story’s over, the characters aren’t. Do you remember the first story you wrote? Tell us about it.

BW: Absolutely not. Drek, and the statute of limitations has not expired. :)

SDR: Oh, all right. I’ll give you a pass on that one. :) Have you had to deal with bad reviews? How do you manage them?

BW: I never read a review that’s less than 5 stars. Better that way.

SDR: Are there certain themes that keep coming up in your work? If so, is it intentional, or something that just happens?

BW: “Sticking it to the man.” That’s probably intentional, but no.

SDR: Are you a planner/outliner/architect or a pantser/gardener/discovery writer?

BW: Yes. And. Both. Neither. Have done extensive outlines. Have sat down and discovered the next sentence as I typed.

SDR: Do you think there were early influences as a reader that have guided the stories you create as a writer? What were they?

BW: Doc Smith. Isaac Asimov to a lesser degree. Robert Howard. David Drake. CS Friedman.

SDR: Do you think the place where you live (or somewhere you have lived) influences what you write? In what way?

BW: Lived in a LOT of places. August 1990 – October 2001, moved 17 times. Time zones, three. Zip codes, almost all of them.

SDR: What’s the most challenging thing about being a writer in 2018? What’s the best thing?

BW: I am in control of my own career. Someone else is in charge of me making enough money to survive.

SDR: Do you prefer music, silence, or some other noise in the background when you write? If music, what kind?

BW: I zone out noise around me when I work.

SDR: Many writers also put their creativity to use in ways other than writing. Do you consider yourself a “creative person?” What other creative outlets do you have?

BW: Role-playing games. Poetry. Sewing. Gardening. Zen. Archery.

SDR: Tell us about your other works, projects, publications, and what’s on the horizon next. This is the shameless self-promotion portion of the interview. :)

BW: Book six of the Jessica Keller novels, The Red Admiral, comes out May 10. Going to do a special on the first three books in April as a lead in.

SDR: What question do you wish you’d be asked in an interview, but it never seems to come up? Ask it, and tell us your answer.

BW: “Money or fame?” – Money. You can pursue Traditional Publishing and see your name in the bookstore, but most of the people I know doing that still have to have day jobs. And there are few people making a living in TradPub anymore. I retired from a good job as a database architect in February to become a full-time writer, and most people have never heard of me. Making good money, though. :)

SDR: Well, thanks for answering all my questions, Blaze! It’s great to have you in the bundle!

The Short Flights bundle from BundleRabbit is available now across many online platforms. Along with Blaze’s story, you’ll find nine more single stories and five full collections in the bundle, enough short fiction to keep you reading for a while! At just $4.99, it’s a real steal, so don’t miss it.

Come back next week for more interviews!

Talking About Bundles

I’ve been pretty active with bundles lately, and a good writing friend asked if I could talk about them a little here. So I’m happy to dish the low-down on bundles as I’ve experienced them.

To start with, book bundles are primarily a marketing tool to draw in readers with a good value deal on multiple books, and from the participating authors’ perspective, introduce one’s works to a new audience. Bundles generally originate with publishers, author collectives, or through bundling sites or platforms. They may also be known as “box sets,” which are essentially the same thing.

One of my first introductions to being included in a box set or bundle was one my publisher, Tyche Books, put together a few years back. It was a space opera box set called Rogues, and (from my perspective anyway) sold well. It included the first book in my Nearspace series, One’s Aspect to the Sun, so would serve as an introduction to this series for new readers, some of whom might go on to buy others in the series. Just the other day I happened upon a review of Rogues I hadn’t seen before, and the reviewer said,  “There were a few great stories (I really liked One’s Aspect to the Sun, for example)” so that kind of made my day! This reader might not have seen my book if it hadn’t been in the set, but they enjoyed it and who knows? They might buy Dark Beneath the Moon and Beyond the Sentinel Stars.

While I’m thinking of it, One’s Aspect to the Sun is currently in a new box set from Tyche, called Shadows and Light; it’s a “first in a series” set, again meant to introduce new readers to a series. And it looks beautiful!

A large part of the thinking behind bundles or box sets is cross-pollination–someone might initially buy this set because of one of the other authors included, but then read my book because it’s there, and become introduced to me as a writer in that way. And hopefully go looking for other things I’ve written.

I’ve also worked with a bundling platform called BundleRabbit. BundleRabbit is the brainchild of Chuck Heintzelman, and provides authors with a place to list works they’re willing to have included in bundles. Authors participating in a bundle share in the revenues generated from that bundle. I curated one of the first BundleRabbit bundles, and have just done a second one, the Short Flights of the Imagination bundle. I love short fiction and I’ve wanted to do a bundle featuring short stories for a while now, and it has finally come together. So the curator decides on a vision for a bundle and searches through available titles to find pieces to include. Authors are invited and may accept or decline. Then when the bundle is finalized, hopefully all the authors will participate in sharing and promoting the bundle out to their social networks; this is where more cross-pollination comes into play as readers learn about other authors from one they already know. BundleRabbit does all the heavy lifting of setting up and distributing the files and downloads, participates in promotion, and collects revenue and pays out royalties.

Of course, to list your work on a site like BundleRabbit, you must have the rights to do so; I wouldn’t list my traditionally published titles there because my publishers look after that marketing and have the right to set prices and oversee distribution. However, for my independent titles, I’m free to do as I wish. And of course I mention my other trad-pub works in the ebook files I use for bundles, so it’s roundabout promotion for those, as well.

I’ve been invited to several bundles, some of which are current right now: Immortals, Weird Fantastic Detective Stories, Gumshoes Redux, and Short Flights, which is on pre-sale now and will release in full on March 15th. It’s good to have a variety of titles available if you’re going to get into bundling, and of course, as with all independent titles, they should be of high quality, with professional covers and blurbs, so that curators can include your work with confidence.

More questions about bundles? Ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. Now if you’re looking for some new material for your ereader, be sure to click some of these links… ;)

Online Course: Rights and Contracts in the Digital Age

I’ve decided to offer a workshop I’ve presented in the past, this time as an online course that you’ll be able to take right here on my site. I believe very strongly that writers should be fully informed about how rights and copyright work, and be able to read a publishing contract and have a idea what it all means. Particularly when there are red flags the writer should see. Our work is important to us, and ownership and control of our work should be equally important. The best way to protect your investment in your work is to be informed.

Enter this course. I’ve offered it twice before; the full version as a full-day in-person workshop, and an abridged version as an evening seminar for the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia. Now I’m turning it into an online presentation, that I’ll administer through a private forum here on my website. Feedback on both previous sessions was very positive, so I feel good about the content.

Why am I qualified to teach this course? Well, I did practice law in the crazy days of my youth, and I’ve made sure to stay informed on contract matters as they affect me both as an author and a publisher. To be clear, I am NOT offering legal advice in this course–I’m sharing information I think you need.

The course will break down into nine or ten lessons. I’ll put up a lesson on Mondays and Thursdays, and each lesson will have a dedicated discussion thread for participants to interact, ask questions and talk about the lesson. There will be some downloadable materials, including sample contracts.

I know, by now you’re wondering how much is this going to cost?

Because I think all writers need this information, I’m keeping the registration cost low, at just $30 (CAD). If you need to break this down into a couple of payments, we can do that.

I’m also going to cap the number of registrants at a number I think will allow for good discussion in the forum. I haven’t quite decided what that number will be, yet. But I want to make sure that everyone has a voice.

How to Register

1. You can register using one of the PayPal buttons below. Just be sure to add your name and email address in the “Notes to Seller” section when you see it, or send me a message through this site’s contact form and include your PayPal transaction ID to let me know you’ve registered. If you need to break the payment up into two segments but want to reserve your space, use the $15 button. Just be sure to send the balance before the course actually starts (make sure you remind me who you are when you send the second payment!). Once you’ve clicked an Add button, your shopping cart purchase will appear in the right sidebar and you can proceed from there.

2. If you don’t like/use PayPal, you can send me an e-transfer. Message me through the site’s contact form and I’ll provide you with the details.

$30 CAD

$15 CAD

(Pay in two installments)

Once you’re registered, I’ll add you to the student’s user group and send you all the information you need to log in to the course area.

Questions about the course? Anything I’ve forgotten? Send me a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

I hope you’ll consider joining me for this course!

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a…Brand?

So. I’m taking a publishing and marketing course this month, and a recent lesson was about building a brand. I haven’t given branding a whole lot of attention in the past, preferring to think of myself as my “brand” and that it’s fairly evident what that means if you read my work or follow me here or on social media. However, some advice in the course was to consider how “branding” can help convey information about one’s work in a quick and concise way, which can be useful to potential readers. Discussion included logos and slogans or tag lines as part of a brand, among other things.

I was a little surprised to discover that many participants in the course already had logos and tag lines in place.

Hmm. That seemed to put me behind the curve. But I felt a little stumped. I write science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, steampunk…I could go on, but you get the idea. I write a broad range of stories under the speculative fiction umbrella. Encapsulating that seemed a daunting task. Thinking thematically didn’t help me out much, either; I don’t know if there are particular themes that run through all or most of my work. So this was me most of the weekend:

via GIPHY

But…I think I did it. I’m going to take a day or two to let it cool and do some tweaking, and then I’ll share it here.

Friday Desk Report – January 26, 2018

Whew! It’s not hard to tell it’s the beginning of the year. I got some writing done, worked on promotional stuff, made a new short story available on a bundling site, set up a new bundle I’d like to curate, and poked around on Patreon for a while.

I’ve been thinking about Patreon for some time now…is it something that could work for me as a writer? I’m leaning toward giving it a try, but no firm decisions yet. I’ll keep you posted here on any developments. I do have some fun things I could do on the platform, I think.

The big news this week is that my copies of Beyond the Sentinel Stars arrived! I think it wasn’t really real until I held a copy in my hands. Which also meant I was able to take this picture…full trilogy!

This has also been my second week of doing a yoga practice every day and–wow! I am really feeling the effects (in a very good way). Of course I’m still at my treadmill desk, too, but the yoga is bringing something entirely new and welcome to my physical state. I discovered this wonderful channel on YouTube–Yoga with Adriene–and if you’re thinking you might like to try it, I can’t recommend her strongly enough. No pressure, no stress, no demands to do things perfectly or quickly. Adriene’s laid-back and restful style of instruction is exactly what I needed. Check out her beginners’ videos if you’re curious. Every day I can’t wait to get to the mat for my practice.

Just for fun, this year I’m tracking what I research for various stories. Things I looked up on the Internetz this week for writing: old general store images, row houses, and words in the Mi’kmaq language.

 

2017 in Review: Publications!

So, this post will be a little more upbeat than yesterday’s treadmill desk lament. I published things in 2017! And strangely, I realize, they mostly come in twos.

Two short stories in anthologies: I had stories in Where Evil Dwells: The Nova Scotia Anthology of Horror (“The Girl in the Stones”), and the 2017 Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide (“Station Run”). Two very different anthologies and very different stories! “The Girl in the Stones” is set in Cape Breton, when a couple moves into a house that comes with a strange pile of stones in the yard, menacing dreams, and a frightening history. “Station Run” finds a young girl on a space station discovering that her programming skills have unearthed a secret that will rock the world of the station and those who live there.

Two self-published novelettes, “Waiting to Fly” (set in the Nearspace universe), and “The Goddess Problem” (an Olympia Investigations story). “Waiting to Fly” is set in the early days of Nearspace colonization, when getting to a space station was only the first step, and getting off it again might not be easy-especially if you’re a young woman on your own. “The Goddess Problem” finds our favourite supernaturally-attuned detective, Acacia Sheridan, employed by a Greek goddess on a missing-persons case.

Two books: a new collection of short stories, The Cache and Other Stories, and the third book in the Nearspace series, Beyond the Sentinel Stars. The story collection includes stories published since my last collection in 2011, as well as a couple of bonus stories you won’t find anywhere else. And Beyond the Sentinel Stars finds Luta and her brother Lanar embroiled in a desperate attempt to prevent another Chron war from ravaging Nearspace.

On the editorial side, 2017 saw the publication by Third Person Press of Rise of the Mudmen by James FW Thompson. I’m very pleased to have been involved in the publication of this first novel. The story follows a group of young survivors through a zombie apocalypse in an alternate 1980’s timeline in Cape Breton.

Submission Planning Sheet

It takes a while to get a story ready for submission–there’s a lot of rewriting, revising, editing, polishing, and agonizing to arrive at that point where you give yourself the green light — your project is ready to send out into the world. The act of submitting is not an easy one for every writer, often fraught with self-doubt, trepidation, and  anxiety. Trying to decide where to send your story can seem like a huge, time-intensive chore, which has to be revisited after every rejection (usually when we least feel like doing it!).

What you, the writer, need — is a plan. A submission plan for your story that will help you easily decide on the best markets to target and which ones to try first, and also let you turn rejections around quickly into new submissions. No more going back to pore over the market lists every time a story comes back; no more agonizing over where to send you work; no more letting a story lie fallow on your hard drive for weeks or months while you regather the will, nerve, or gumption to figure out where to send it next.

Enter the Submission Planning Sheet. I’ve kept one of these for years (inspired by an old article by my friend writer Terry Hickman) using this method, but I’ve recently updated it to an Excel spreadsheet from my old pen-and-paper method. I thought I’d share it here for any writers struggling with keeping their stories in submission. You can use it for as many stories as you’d like by simply adding a new page/sheet for each story. It comes with instructions and some sample data, and I hope you’ll find it useful.

You can download the spreadsheet file directly from my site right here:

The spreadsheet is free, but if you find it useful and feel so inclined, you can show your appreciation with a small donation – buy me a cup of coffee? You’ll keep me fuelled for creating more useful things like this. :)

 

NaNoRetro: 2003

My NaNoWriMo Retrospective continues with a look back at 2003. I came, I wrote, I bought the t-shirt. And I wrote “THE END.”

nanoretro2003This was my second year of NaNoWriMo, and the year I wrote the first draft of One’s Aspect to the Sun. I learned a lot about novel-writing that year, including the fact that sometimes characters you intend to kill off in the second chapter just keep hanging around until you realize they’re not ready to die after all. I also found out how fulfilling it is to reach some semblance of an ending and type those two wonderful words.

I wasn’t certain if this was the year I became a Municipal Liaison, but I’ve just gone and checked my email (yes, I’m an email hoarder, I confess), and this was the year I started. So I’m glad to have that figured out, because I’m never sure when filling out the ML form each year. It didn’t occur to me before this to just go and check those old emails, for which I really have no excuse. As I recall, we were a pretty small group that year, and far-flung across the Island, as we still are, although there are definitely more of us participating now. I remember mailing out pins and possibly stickers to a few participants.

Anyway, this is a big year in the retrospective, because the draft I wrote this year became my first published novel (from Tyche Books) in…wait for it…2013. In November, even! Yes, ten whole years after I wrote that first draft. Now, I wasn’t working on it constantly during those ten years (I wrote a lot of other stuff in there, too), but I did write several drafts. I submitted it to the Atlantic Writing Competition (now Nova Writes) and took second place (which one of the organizers assured me meant that the novel was “publishable”), and rewrote it using the feedback I received from the judges. After a couple more rewrites and submissions, it found its home at Tyche. The beautiful cover art is by the talented Ashley Walters. The book was named “Speculative Fiction Book of the Year” by the Book Publishers of Alberta.

Here’s the blurb, which remained pretty much the same from the time I first wrote it in 2003 until the book came out:

When Luta Paixon, captain of the merchant trader Tane Ikai, looked in the mirror, she saw a woman in her thirties–even though she was actually eighty-two. Luta’s only explanation might lie with the mother who had disappeared over sixty years ago. But even if her mother were still alive, it would be no small task to track her down in the vast, wormhole-ridden expanse of Nearspace. With the ruthless PrimeCorp bent on obtaining Luta’s DNA at any cost, her ninety-year-old husband asking for one last favor, and her estranged daughter locking horns with her at every turn, Luta’s search for answers will take her to the farthest reaches of space–and deep inside her own heart.

Looking back at my spreadsheet from this year, I see that I finished November with a word count of 50,715. On the second day, my note says, “A little worried that I don’t know where I’m going,” but by the end of the first week I seem to have settled into a groove and flown straight on till morning. I actually finished on the 27th, averaging 1878 words per day.

Which year will we visit next? Stay tuned!

Connections

bridgesThe other day I wrote here about not being really keen on marketing and promotion, and for the most part, that’s true. However, I was thinking afterward about a side benefit that sometimes goes along with promotion, and that’s connecting. Connecting with readers, connecting with other authors, connecting with others in the industry. And that part, I do like.

Over the past number of weeks, I’ve been very fortunate to forge some new connections, particularly with other authors, through these promotional efforts. In the Rogues bundle from Tyche Books, I’ve been in the company of Rebecca Senese, Michael Wallace, Daniel Arenson, Jamie Grey, and Edward W. Robinson. In the Middlings Bundle, I’m sharing space with Anthea Sharp, Michael Warren Lucas, Michael A. Stackpole, Dean Wesley Smith, Blaze Ward, Mindy Klasky, Leah Cutter, Kristene Kathryn Rusch, and Daniel Keys Moran. And tomorrow evening I have a Facebook chat for Dreaming Robot with Dianna Sanchez and Susan Jane Bigelow. Some of these authors I already knew from various places like the SF Canada listserv, Twitter, or Second Life, but others are new connections, and for all of them, I’m grateful. One never knows where new connections will lead or what might grow out of them.

I don’t mean that I look on all these connections only from the point of view of how I might profit from them–not at all. I might be able to help someone else. Maybe they might benefit from something I share. I might learn something I didn’t know before, something that could be large or small and is valuable either way. I might just expand my network of friendly, fun, interesting, and helpful people–someone new to trade jokes and banter with on social media or get book recommendations from. And I might only bask in the reflected glory of having my name linked, even in a minor way, with writers who are far more luminescent than I.

Okay, yes, that last one sounds maybe just a little self-serving. I can live with that. ;)

When I look back at the trail of connections and interactions, especially in my writing life, that led eventually to something unexpected and wonderful, I feel quite amazed. We do so many things without any idea of where they may lead us. This is one reason I always encourage newer writers to become “immersed” in the writing world, whatever that immersion looks like to them. Writing groups (face to face or virtual), workshops, courses, critique groups, convention panels, speaking opportunities, professional organizations, library or school events, or whatever else may come up, say yes whenever you can. The connections you make can be one of the best parts of the writing life.

And I’ve found more great things to read in the course of the recent process. A not inconsiderable benefit all by itself.

Photo Credit: nicksumm at morguefile.com