Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Freebies

The SpecFic Collective boys are at it again, bringing you a selection of free eBooks just in time for Christmas to stock that shiny new Kindle (or your old one or your cloud reader, we're not picky.) Choose from the following, or better yet, download all of them. They're free for a limited time.
Soul Thief

James is home alone, having once again turned down an invitation from his family to share in an evening out. He's about to come face to face with a thief of a distinctly unnatural kind. Soul Thief is free December 25 through 29.

The Genehunter #2: The Zombies of Death

A Sci Fi cyberpunk novella set on an Earth slowly going to hell. The Zombies of Death is the second of five science fiction stories following the adventures of Simms, genetic detective and all-round nice guy. Free December 25 through 29.

1 Dozen  Short Tales of the Strange and Spectacular

1 Dozen collects 12 flash-sized tales in the slipstream, horror, and science fiction genres. Eleven thousand words of weird, creepy goodness. Free from December 25 through 28.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012


After a long dry spell--haven't had an acceptance since April--I finally received some good news from a publisher in my email box. MuseItUp Publishing has accepted my long (11,000+ words) short story "Highway 24." I wrote this story a couple years ago and put it aside as it was too long to submit anywhere. I took it out in November and spent a couple weeks rewriting it to make MuseItUp's fall deadline. Just made it, if you use Pacific Time. "Highway 24" is a ghost story about an accident on a lonely highway that brings a young travelling salesman face-to-face with a dark secret from his father’s past. The tentative release date is June.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Word of the Week: Tawdry

What do you picture when you hear the word tawdry? You probably think of something cheap or gaudy: maybe some loud shirt that people wore to discos in the '70s; maybe a woman's bright yellow silk necktie with purple and green stripes; or an Anglo-Saxon abbess with a throat tumor. If you knew about the last one, pat yourself on the back.

In modern English, tawdry is an adjective for gaudy items which are cheap in appearance or quality. This usage has been around since the late seventeenth century. In the early seventeenth century, tawdry was used as a noun for a woman's silk necktie. The noun is a shortened form of tawdry lace, a term from the mid-sixteenth century, which is an altered form of Saint Audrey's lace.

Saint Audrey (circa 636-679)—also known as Æthelthryth, Etheldreda, or Awdrey—was an East Anglian princess who became a Northumbrian queen and later founded a double monastery in 673 at Ely in present-day Cambridgeshire. She served as the Abbess of Ely until her death. Her personal life was colorful and complicated. She convinced her first husband, Tondberct of the South Gyrwe, to honor her vow of perpetual virginity. Her second husband, Ecgfrith of Northumbria, initially agreed to honor her vow but later changed his mind. Audrey refused his advances and fled from York to Ely. Legend says that a miraculous, rising tide aided her escape. Audrey died of a tumor on her neck. Tradition says that she considered the tumor divine retribution for her youthful fondness for necklaces. Saint Audrey's Fair was held in Ely on her feast day, June 23, throughout the Middle Ages. Neckties and ribbons of shoddy quality were sold at the fair.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Interview and Free Stuff

Stop by the Rambles of the Literary Equine blog to read an interview with me. I talk about fairy tales, what scares writers, and where my ideas come from.

And here's the free stuff. Two titles from the SpecFic Authors Collective are still free. My story "The Crooked House of Coins" is free through today.

In a small Midwestern town at the end of a lane stands a crooked house, where deaths and secrets entwine. Two cousins, heirs to the family legacy, search for a treasure secreted in the old dwelling's walls, driven by gold lust and tantalizing clues. The Crooked House is a grudging giver, and some secrets are best left alone.

Milo Fowler's collection Alienated is free through Thursday.

Alienated collects five dark SF short stories:

"Insight" - A sculptor is able to see beyond our reality, but can she control her insatiable desires?

"In His Eyes" - On a farm in the distant future, an unwelcome visitor appears in the middle of a thunderstorm.

"Reverie" - Speech is the first sign of rebellion in a hive of highly evolved telepaths.

"Mo's" - The only racism that exists in this alternate history is between Humans and Greys.

"Doppelgänger Mine" - A man is stalked by his horrifying double. In the end, only one of them can survive.

Grab 'em while you can.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Escape the Post-Turkey Blues

Suffering from the post-turkey blues? I have a cure for you. Check out these three great reads for your Kindle. Let that meal digest and the relatives squabble while you float away to someplace else on the magic carpet of story.

Like a Good NeighborFirst up is Milo James Fowler's "Like a Good Neighbor." It's about eating, well, not the festive, wholesome kind.

"They kept Bobby in the basement because he ate people." That's the first line from Fowler's horror tale. Cannibalism plays a pivotal role in "Like a Good Neighbor," but this isn't splatterpunk or some sort of gore fest. Fowler feeds us quiet horror. Who could imagine what sort of monster lives in the neighbor's basement on the quiet cul-de-sac of Tanglewood Road? Yes, there is a bit of blood, but it's not the blood that's gruesome and gross, it's . . . . Well, you should just read it for yourself and find out. Fowler succeeds here with a story about a young man, twenty years after the fact, struggling to come to terms with memories he vainly wishes he could forget. Need a creepy read for a cold fall night? Pay a visit to the "good neighbors" on Tanglewood Road. You'll be glad you did.

The Wrong Tom JacksNext, check out Simon Kewin's cyberpunk novella The Wrong Tom Jacks, the first installment in Kewin's Genehunter series.

Set in a not-to-distant future version of Earth in which information is the most prized commodity, the stories follow the exploits of Simms, a pessimistic but likable criminal, if you narrowly define a criminal as someone who breaks the law. Simms is a professional genehunter, a trade that can be practiced both above and below the law. The best paying contracts are less than legal. Simms finds the DNA of deceased persons, both famous and not so famous, whomever the client wants him to find. What the client does with the DNA, Simms does not seem to much care. Illegal cloning is rampant as the super-rich create private "zoos" populated by the talented and famous from the past.

Simms's brain is augmented with plug-ins that allow him to access public and private networks and a host of other interesting functions. Kewin manages to make all the high-tech gadgetry seem natural. Perhaps it's not that much of a mental leap to go from carrying a personal electronic device at all times to having one that your brain controls and interfaces with directly. It's a testament to Kewin's skills that the reader quickly feels at home in a world that is so like and unlike our own.

My only criticism of the story is that I want to know more about Simms's world. How does node-jumping--a type of travel--work? What is the nature of the plug-ins? Why is society shot to hell? Simms finds the London of his day particularly dismal, but yet he continues to live there.

One of the constants of human existence is greed and in Kewin's world, greed is alive and thriving. There appears to be little that the super-rich cannot get or do if they have enough money and everyone from low-level clinicians to high-level law enforcement officers have their price. For Simms, the joy is in the search and retrieval of the data. He's not happy unless he's stimulated, on a job. He's mostly indifferent to the moral implications of his work and in that sense he's an anti-hero, but his love interest is devoting her life to alleviating the problems that Simms's work facilitates. And despite her hostility to continuing their relationship, Simms's thoughts keep coming back to her. Simms is a complicated man. I suggest you get a copy of Genehunter and get to know him. It'll be well worth your time.

Ulemet and the Jaguar GodNow get ready to step back in time, way back to before the Mayans in Lyndon Perry's novella Ulemet and the Jaguar God.

Set in Mesoamerica during the time that the Olmec people flourished, Ulemet and the Jaguar God tells the story of Ulemet's struggle to find belonging and community. Ulement is seriously malformed at birth. Her mother dies after the long and difficult labor, giving in to despair after seeing her baby. Her father flees to the jungle. The midwife keeps the child despite the medicine man's instruction to "dispose" of it and nurses Ulemet but ultimately abandons her. Ulemet lives on the edge of the village, scavaging and begging. Her ugliness marks her as an outcast.

Her face marred with a twisted upper lip and a cleft head, Ulemet was ugly in a way that attracted second looks, but seldom pity. With barely a feminine feature, she was often mocked by the other children as a should-be boy.

A few villagers show some sympathy and give her enough food to survive but most leave her to fend for herself and hope she'll go away. Her one joy is playing ulama, an ancient Mesoamerican game played with a hard rubber ball. She has talent, but the boys rarely let her play. She leaves the village one day for the jungle and ultimately joins a band of merchants heading for the capital, but the merchants are not whom they appear to be. Ulemet's second attempt at community fails, and the stakes get higher when the slavers reach the capital. Ulemet will need all her skills at ulama and much more if she hopes to survive.

Perry is at the top of his game in Ulemet and the Jaguar God. The story has the feel of an ancient tale passed down through generations and only lately written down. The prose is effortless and the pacing is spot on. Ulemet's suffering speaks to anyone who has endured rejection and the closing eucatastrophe gives hope to all.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Crooked House of Coins

The Crooked House of CoinsMy short story "The Crooked House of Coins" is now available as a Kindle single. It's a haunted house story that I published in an anthology over a year ago. I've since done some extensive rewriting. It's longer and better (I hope, fingers crossed) than the original.

In a small Midwestern town at the end of a lane stands a crooked house, where deaths and secrets entwine. Two cousins, heirs to the family legacy, search for a treasure secreted in the old dwelling's walls, driven by gold lust and tantalizing clues. The Crooked House is a grudging giver, and some secrets are best left alone.

"The Crooked House of Coins" will be part of the SpecFic Authors Collective launch on November 25th. The SFA Collective team includes Milo James Fowler, Simon Kewin, Lyndon Perry, and me. Check out the index page to see my reviews of some of their stories. You're going to like what we have to offer. We'll be bringing you FOUR eBook giveaways. Follow us on Twitter and our brand-spankin' new blog to find out when you can lay your hands on a collection of dark SF tales, a cyberpunk novelette, a spooky short story, and a Mesoamerican fantasy.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Interview at the Writer's Lair

Avenir EclectiaMary Ruth Pursselley kindly posted an interview with me on her blog The Writer's Lair. The questions focus on my contributions to the Avenir Eclectia collection. She has interviewed some other contributors as well, including Travis Perry (the guy who organized all those flash stories into something approaching a coherent whole), Fred Warren, and Pauline Creeden.

If you're interested in a free copy of Avenir Eclectia, Volume 1, there's still time to enter the giveaway that H.A. Titus is hosting here.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Vikings on Baffin Island

Leiv Eiriksson discovering America
by Christian Krohg (1893).
One of the most fascinating questions in Viking history is the extent of their exploration of North America and contact with Native Americans. "Vikings and Native Americans," an article in the November 2012 issue of National Geographic, presents archaeological evidence that Vikings had extensive contact with the Dorset peoples of present-day north eastern Canada and may have created at least semi-permanent trading posts on Baffin Island and in northern Labrador. Evidence includes wooden tally sticks like those used by the Vikings (the area is largely devoid of trees), whale bone worked with a drill, and rope made from spun yarn. At a place called Tanfield Valley on the southern end of Baffin Island, archaeologists are excavating what appears to be the foundation for a stone and sod long house, something very different and much larger than the dwellings build by the native peoples. The valley boasts a protected cove which would have served as a natural harbor for Viking traders. What were the Viking's trading for? Most likely they were looking for furs, walrus tusk ivory, and most interesting of all, narwhal tusks that enterprising merchants marketed as unicorn horns. Check out the article if you need a Viking fix.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Are Short Stories a Waste of Time?

I've been reviewing the feedback I received from reviewers of Tales of Woe and Wonder. The stories most people mentioned as liking or memorable are the longer stories. The most common complaint is that some of the stories need to be longer or even stretched into a novel. I'm glad the reviewers want more, but there's a problem here, a contradiction in the "short story industry." If you try to sell stories to magazines or anthologies, you quickly run up against word count limits and anyone who has tried to sell stories will probably confirm the adage that it's easier to sell a shorter story than a longer story. There are practical reasons for this desire for shorter stories on the part of publishers. They have a limited budget (if they pay by the word) and limited space. You don't want to publish an anthology or magazine with only one or two stories. But readers seem to want longer stories with more plot and character development.

What do you do? Write shorter stories that sell but with which most readers are dissatisfied or write longer stories that readers like but you can't sell. I think the answer is to write novels to sell to publishers, novellas to market on Kindle, and long stories in the 5-10K range that you can market as Kindle shorts. I think you can succeed with shorter stories if they are part of a series with recurring characters.

Am I going to quit writing short stories? No. I like short stories, but I'm going to focus on longer stories and linked stories. There are publishers emerging that focus on selling long short stories to the Kindle market. And in honor of NaNoWriMo, I'm going to spend 75% of my writing time this month on a novel. I have three in various states so it's time to pick one and finish it (as soon as I complete this short story that I'm editing).

I would love to hear what fellow writers and readers have to say on this topic.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Flash Contest at Reader's Realm

My story "In the Kappa's Garden" is up at Reader's Realm as part of their October Flash Fiction Contest. You can read it here. (Don't forget to comment, please.) A kappa is a creature from Japanese folklore that inhabits ponds and rivers. It's a trickster figure with a malevolent streak whose antics range from harmless pranks to drowning children. The legends of the mythical kappa likely find their real-world antecedent in the Japanese Giant Salamander.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Word of the Week: Angle

"Izaak Walton and his scholar" (1900)
by Louis John Rhead.
Unless you managed to escape geometry and trig in school, when you hear the word angle, you probably have nightmares about pointy protractors and lines intersecting at strange, well, angles. But angle is not as cut-and-dry boring as you might imagine. It's actually rather fishy. Yes, the noun angle does concern itself with all that geometry stuff but when used as a verb, angle means to fish with a line and hook. So how do we go from geometry to fishing? Read on.

The verb angle derives from the Old English verb angelen and the noun angel, which refers to an angle or hook, and was related to the word anga, meaning hook, from the Proto-Indo-European base *ang-/*ank-, which means to bend. Similar words include angul from Old English, öngull from Old Norse, and angul from Old High German. In case you're wondering, Old English angel has absolutely no relation to messengers from the divine. The modern English angel is a fusion of the Old English engel and the Old French angele. Both words derived from the Latin angelus and Greek angelos. So the fishy part of angle is all a matter of the hook, that piece of metal that has been bent to form an angle, although modern fishhooks are more of a smooth curve with a barb. I suppose you could argue that the barb forms an angle.

Angling has long been a passion of many. One of the most famous books on the subject is Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler, first published in 1653. Walton (1593-1683) added to the book throughout his life and published several later editions during the next quarter century. In prose and verse, Walton and a few contributors extol the art and spirit of angling. Others find little to celebrate in angling and consider it a waste of time. John Palsgrave (c. 1485 – 1554), a priest in Henry VIII's court and tutor in the royal household, wrote: "It is but a sory lyfe and an yuell to stand anglynge all day to catche a fewe fisshes."

Monday, October 22, 2012

CSFF Blog Tour: The Spirit Well Day One

The Spirit WellThis month's selection for the CSFF tour is Stephen R. Lawhead's The Spirit Well, the third installment in the Bright Empires series. According to Lawhead's essay “On the Road Again” at the back of the book, he is planning five books for the Bright Empires series. I like the essays Lawhead places at the end of each novel. In this one, he talks about traveling old roads and pilgrimage.

Placing my feet exactly where countless others have placed theirs, often over many millennia, I can easily imagine emerging at the other end of the passage a different person, in a different time (pp. 373-74).

That's precisely what happens to the characters in this series.

The Spirit Well is very much a “middle book.” There aren't many resolutions to problems posed in the previous books. Rather, Lawhead presents some new characters and fills in the details behind some of the characters's stories. We learn about Mina's initial experiments with ley travel and how she met her teacher, Brother Lazarus, a monk at a monastery in Spain. Lawhead tells us the story of Arthur Flinders-Petrie's death in Egypt, how the skin map came to be, and why it was separated and scattered. We don't see much of Archelaeus Burleigh in this book.

The Street Called Straight, Damascus,
c. 1890-1900.
Among the new characters are Cassandra Clarke, Rosemary Peelstick, and Brendan Hanno. Cassandra is a paleontologist working a dig in Arizona. She stumbles into ley travel with the “help” of a Native American who immediately returns her to the present and cautions her that the Ghost Road is not for her. Cassandra experiments with the Ghost Road on her own and eventually lands in Damascus, Syria. There she comes across the Zetetic Society and two of its members: Rosemary and Brendan, who try to convince her to join their effort to trace Arthur Flinders-Petrie's discoveries. Brendan tells her that they don't know exactly what Flinders-Petrie discovered but that they think it has something to do with the manipulation of time, perhaps a way to select the desired course of the future. Brendan and Rosemary mention Cosimo and Sir Henry as Zetetic Society members. They also paint the society's mission in broad terms as a struggle between good and evil, a struggle to save the omniverse from a future of ever-expanding evil and suffering. I don't recall Cosimo or Sir Henry mentioning the Zetetic Society in the previous books, which leads me to wonder if this organization is a late edition to Lawhead's plans.

The Spirit Well contains much theorizing about ley travel and the nature of the multidimensional omniverse. In a discussion that I still haven't wrapped my head around, Mina tells Kit that she does not have any memory of rescuing him in Egypt because it hasn't happened for her yet. I won't attempt to explain that one. Mina and Kit also conclude that each person has a single consciousness and that consciousness cannot be split among different worlds. In other words, there is no chance of meeting oneself. The soul is indivisible.

Finally, has anyone else noticed that the overwhelming majority of major characters who die do so in Egypt? Cosimo dies there. Sir Henry dies there. Arthur dies there. If you're a character in The Bright Empires series, don't go to Egypt.

The Spirit Well is a wonderful addition to an engrossing series. I'm already looking forward to book four The Shadow Lamp. If you haven't read the first two books, you must read them before dipping your toes in The Spirit Well or else you'll be as disoriented as Kit and Mina on their first ley jumps.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Spirit Well from the publisher.

To learn more about Stephen R. Lawhead, visit his website at or his Facebook page at

To read what other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below.
Jim Armstrong
Julie Bihn
Red Bissell
Jennifer Bogart
Thomas Clayton Booher
Thomas Fletcher Booher
Beckie Burnham
Brenda Castro
Karri Compton
Theresa Dunlap
Emmalyn Edwards
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Jeremy Harder
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Janeen Ippolito
Becca Johnson
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Anna Mittower
Joan Nienhuis
Lyn Perry
Nathan Reimer
Chawna Schroeder
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Friday, October 19, 2012

Avenir Eclectia: Spotlight on Jeff Carter

Avenir EclectiaAnother interview today from an Avenir Eclectia contributor. Jeff Carter has only one story in Volume One, but as you'll read below, "Evolution" is the tip of the iceberg of Carter's contributions. "Evolution" follows the reactions of Dr. Kwame Singh, a student of theology, when he visits an underground cathedral belonging to the miners on Sheba. Jeff has kindly agreed to answer some questions about his work for the Avenir Eclectia project.

Chapman: I enjoyed Dr. Singh's musings on theology in "Evolution." He seems to suggest at the end that spirituality is hardwired into human existence. Is that where you're going with this story?

Carter: In that first story, Dr. Singh starts with a dry and academic understanding of spirituality from the viewpoint of pure theology. His first step away from theory is the realization of the peace that can come from such a belief system. He’s still on stable ground, but he’s also on the outside looking in. In later stories, he literally dives into the deep end, the ocean of Eclectia, seeking a personal revelation.

There in the darkness, far from everything he knows, Dr. Singh has a direct but terrifying experience. He is overwhelmed by his vision and ends up on the far end of the spectrum of spirituality, driven by a destructive, cult-like belief that will propel him into further stories.

Chapman: Do you find writing stories as part of a shared world more challenging or easier than having complete control of the work?

Carter: Complete control offers unlimited choice, and with that comes the maddening challenge of selecting the best possible time and place to start the story.

I think that it is easier to begin with a rough framework already in place. There were certain elements of the world that inspired me and fired up my imagination. Once the borders on the map grow more defined, however, you have to take care not to collide with other story arcs. It is satisfying to explore and define new corners of the shared world, but you also have to be careful that you do not close any doors that other writers may want to kick open.

Chapman: Only one of your many stories on the Avenir site appears in Volume 1. What are your plans for the other stories?

Carter: The story of Dr. Singh is an introduction to a larger horror story about insane, nihilistic entities lurking in the ocean and their diabolical plans for the fragile human colonies. My story intersects with those of a few other authors, such as Ed Erdelac and Greg Mitchell among others. I hope to release the complete story as a novel next year through Splashdown Books.

To read more about Jeff Carter and his writing, stop by his blog at
To check out the Avenir Eclectia project, visit

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Avenir Eclectia: Spotlight on Greg Mitchell

Avenir EclectiaAvenir Eclectia is a multi-author, shared-world, micro-fiction project hosted by Splashdown books. Volume One of the stories came out earlier this month. Greg Mitchell has ten stories in this collection, all part of a story arc involving two bug hunters—Dressler and Trebs—and their trip to the ocean depths. Some unexpected twists send the plot in surprising directions, and for the H. P. Lovecraft fans, there's an evil monster with squishy tentacles. Greg has kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his stories.

Chapman: Part of what makes the Dressler story arc so great are the surprising turns when the story shoots off in a new direction. Did you plan all of them or did they develop organically from the writing?

Mitchell: I usually do my fair share of flying by the seat of my pants, but with Dressler, I really did map the course of that story from the beginning. With Avenir being set up the way it is, with small installments, it was a very concentrated effort to make sure that each installment furthered the plot and revealed just enough of the mystery to keep you coming back. Had it been a novel, I probably would have had the last scene and just rode it out until then, but with the short vignette approach, I knew each part had to count. I suppose I approached it more as scenes of a short story—I knew I didn't have a whole lot of time or space, so I wanted to make the most of it. I wrote, I think, the last five or so installments in a single sitting, in order to keep the flow moving.

Chapman: Do you find writing stories as part of a shared world more challenging or easier than having complete control of the work?

Mitchell: I love writing in a shared universe. I have an incredible love and respect for the Star Wars Expanded Universe—where all the books, comics, movies, cartoons, card games, etc. fit into a (mostly) cohesive whole. That excites me to no end to know that all these writers and artists for 30 years have been building upon this single mosaic of creativity. I was immensely honored to get to contribute to that mosaic when I wrote a short piece about a clunky ole ship named the Dusty Duck, for the Star Wars website. There were continuity restrictions with that, but that was part of the fun. Creating something that was uniquely me, but also fit together with the creative efforts of so many. It is a little harder with Avenir when you have so much going on. You read a little bit, to see where people are at in their stories, and then you go off and write yours. And, when you come back, you find that some of the other stories have taken off in directions you hadn't anticipated and that might put a little crimp in your hose, but you just adjust and work with what you have. It forces me to be a lot more inventive and I think that, as Avenir grows, and the contributors work together more closely, it'll only get better.

Chapman: The last stories in the series contain elements of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction, albeit without the hopeless ending. Did you draw on Lovecraft's work for inspiration?

Mitchell: Oh yeah, I love Lovecraft. Ironically enough, I came to Lovecraft by way of Mike Mignola's Hellboy universe many years ago. I love the concept of the solitary man going up against this gigantic maddening mass of tentacles. It's the ultimate David and Goliath story and I'm a sucker for overcoming impossible odds and rolling up your sleeves and punching a monster right in the eye. That speaks to me on a very spiritual level, ha ha. I also like things being over-the-top, so what's bigger than a telepathic squid that wants to eat your soul, right? As for the happy ending, I'm just a big ole softy.

Greg's stories from Avenir Eclectia Volume One:
104. “Only the Strong”
107. “Dark (FLASHBACK)”
110. “Contact”
113. “Gettin’ Crazy”
115. “Separation”
118. “Making the Run”
122. “On the Eve of the End”
124. “The Last Fight (Part I)”
131. “The Last Fight (Part II)”
135. “More Bedtime Stories”

To learn more about Greg and his writing, check out his blog at
To check out the Avenir Eclectia project, visit

Monday, October 15, 2012

Podcast at Every Day Fiction

Click over to Every Day Fiction and listen to Folly Blaine reading my story A Gift from over the Sea.” This is my first story to be podcast so I'm super psyched about it. Folly does a marvelous job with the reading. It sounded like a new story to me, hearing it in someone else's voice. Check out Folly's other podcasts while you're there.

And don't forget to vote. : )

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ulfberht Swords on Nova

If you like swords—and what fantasy fan doesn't like swords—there was a great show last night (October 10) on Nova. Secrets of the Viking Sword covers the history and unique qualities of the Ulfberht swords. These swords were only made for a couple hundred years and contain a much higher quality steel than most European swords of the Middle Ages. These swords were so valued that archaeologists have discovered knock-offs—the imitators didn't spell the name correctly and used lesser quality materials, kind of like buying a handbag with the name spelled Gucce instead of Gucci. The show also follows the work of a modern-day sword smith who reverse engineers the Ulfberht design, using period techniques to create crucible steel and hammer out the first Ulfberht made in a thousand years.

Check your local listings and set your DVR to record the rebroadcast.

Image Credit: By Ulfberht.jpg: Torana derivative work: Martin Kraft (This file was derived from: Ulfberht.jpg) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kat Heckenbach Discusses the Finer Points of YA

Today I'm excited to have a guest post from award winning YA fantasy writer Kat Heckenbach. She is the author of two novels: Finding Angel and its sequel Seeking Unseen. (You can find my review of Finding Angel here and my interview with Kat here.) Below, Kat discusses the defining characteristics of well-written YA novels.

Young Adult (YA) fiction is a hot genre. The millions of books sold, the billions of dollars made by Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games, the overnight success of Amanda Hocking and others, and the scores of adults reading YA have authors from all over scrambling to get a piece of the action. It seems that every other author out there suddenly has an idea for a YA vampire novel or a dystopian series.

The problem—besides an over-saturation of the market—is that too many of them don’t really understand the genre. Some of these authors are established in the adult market, and their attempts at YA really reflect that. Some are newbie authors who seem to only want to write YA because it’s the thing to do. Have they even read YA? Is it a passion? Or are they just jumping on the bandwagon?

Imaginary GirlsI read YA almost exclusively, and lately I’m finding common mistakes that indicate to me that certain authors writing YA are only following the crowd. Does it make them bad writers? No. But if they don’t understand the following elements of YA, they may be better off sticking to another market. (Or at least, the mama tigers of this market are going to bare our claws and let them know what we think.)

LamentVoice. In a lot of YA books, it boils down to voice. Now, you have a bit more freedom with certain genres within the YA market, such as epic fantasy, historical, and dystopian, where teenagers aren’t necessarily going to be like today’s teens (although they can be) and their situations aren’t going to reflect a lot of teen angst. But if your story is set in contemporary times in a typical high school, your main character better sound like a teen. He/she can sound like an oddball teen, or a mature teen, but not an adult or a child. (I have read several books that had something either too adult or too childlike about the voice, and each and every time I’ve found the author is established in the adult market and this is his/her “first YA novel.” Sigh.)

Authors with great voice: Nova Ren Suma and Maggie Stiefvater.

Tyger TygerIntelligence. I said your character needs to sound like a teen, not an adult or child. Plenty of teens talk like adults, with adult vocabularies and a maturity above their years. But even those still have a slightly different quality, and it generally comes from intelligence rather than life experience. And yes, teens are intelligent, so don’t write like you’re writing for a child. Don’t dumb things down because you are afraid they might not know the meaning of a word or understand a concept. (On the flip side, don’t be a vocabulary show-off.)

DivergentAuthors who know how to write smart teens: Kersten Hamilton and Veronica Roth.

“Show, don’t tell” still applies. Authors of adult fiction are slammed with that command from the day they meet their first experienced critique partner. Show me he’s angry, don’t tell me. Don’t over-narrate. Get me into the head of character and let me experience things. It applies to teen books, too.

The Lost HeiressThis kinda goes along with the “don’t dumb down” idea. Teens can figure things out. They’re intuitive and can handle abstract ideas and sort out cues that show emotion. So telling me over and over that a character “felt lonely” or “felt out of place” or that their group of friends is “respected” by classmates….no. If you can’t back that up with action by the characters then it’s not going to feel genuine.

CinderWorld-building requires showing, and these authors know how to do it: Catherine Fisher and Marissa Meyer.

Slang. Another issue is the overuse of current slang/cussing, or making up slang words to avoid cussing. To be honest, the latter is something to leave to the masters (like Scott Westerfeld in his Uglies series). There are ways for your characters to sound like genuine teens without having them throw out the f-bomb every other page. But making up goofy substitutes isn’t it. Besides, do you really believe the teen isn’t thinking the “real” word when they see substitutions like “shuck” and “flagging”?

UgliesAnd if you are going to use current slang (cussing or not) you better do it right. The old saying, “Better to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Well, let’s change that to, “Better to keep quiet and be thought uncool than to slang wrong and remove all doubt.” Teens respond to genuine and can spot a poser a mile away.

The master slangster: Scott Westerfeld.

Dialog. This is something that combines all of the above ideas. These are teens. They must talk like teens. But the type of teen they are. Not all teens are snarky and rude. Not all teens are wallflowers. You have to write their dialog realistically. Don’t put words into their mouths. Even intelligent teens aren’t going to word things exactly the way an adult would. I recently read a book where one teen speaking to another sounded like a parent speaking to a child. It wasn’t what they said, it was the way they said it. Too formal, too stiff.

Thirteen Reasons WhyThirteen Reasons Why is a story in which a teen leaves messages on tape, so it is her talking through much of the book and it is very realistic: Jay Asher.

Audience. Your high school experience may not have been the mainstream. Maybe you envision your character pretty narrow in scope when it comes to peer groups. But your audience should not be narrow. I don’t care if you were an intellectual, a Goth, a druggie, or a cheerleader. A huge portion of your readers will not be. If you limit your reach to those exact types you will not sell very many books. Obviously, your character will fit into one of those niches, but he/she needs to be accessible to readers outside of it.

NevermoreNot a cheerleader or a Goth? You can still relate to them in Nevermore by Kelli Creagh.

YA fiction is my passion. I love to read it. I love to write it. I love seeing teens excited about books, and especially excited about books they can relate to. Teens need to be respected for who they are. They are not big children. They are not little adults. They are this amazing and beautiful mid-transformation that is both and neither simultaneously.

Their genre should not be seen as a bandwagon.

To read more about Kat and her writing, visit her at or