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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Newsletter Launch and Creepy Free Stuff

This month I'll be launching a monthly newsletter. I plan to send it out at the end of each month with announcements, a blog digest, and other useful information. There's a signup form in the upper left sidebar. And here's the exciting part, anyone who signs up in the month of October registers to win a free, signed copy of Tales of Woe and Wonder.

For some creepy freebies, click over to Milo Fowler's blog In Medias Res. Milo says:

That's right: I'm giving stuff away all month!

Next week, you can enter to win a hardbound copy of Stephen King's The Wind Through the Keyhole. This week, you don't have to enter anything but a coupon code: NY35S. Today's CREEPY FREEBIE is my short story "Identity Thief," and the code is good through Halloween.

Should be a creeptastic good time for one and all!

"Identity Thief" was a story of the week back in February (see my review here) so you know it's worth a read. What are you waiting for? Click the evil pumpkin.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Going Free Results

There's one thing that every agent and editor will tell you. Short story collections don't sell very well, at all. So I wasn't expecting much when I published Tales of Woe and Wonder. I wanted to experiment with self-publishing and marketing and have something that was all mine out on Amazon. Last weekend I tried a three-day free promotion. Over fourteen hundred customers downloaded it. Immediately following the promotion, my sales and borrows briefly tripled, boosting the collection into the top 100 fantasy anthologies for a few hours. A successful experiment I think. Hopefully the customers will find something in the collection to like. Next up, I'm publishing a paperback version through CreateSpace to experiment with some giveaways. If you have some previously published stories languishing on your hard-drive or in some internet archives, take a leap and publish them.

Avenir EclectiaIn other news, volume one of Avenir Eclectia is now available on Amazon in paperback and kindle. I have four flash stories in this collection. The editors Grace Bridges and Travis Perry did marvelous work arranging the various micro-fiction pieces into a cohesive collection.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wild Happenings in the Weird West

El Diablo de Paseo Grande"El Diablo de Paseo Grande" is the third installment in Milo Fowler's Coyote Cal Weird Western series. The Coyote Cal stories share a playful, humorous undertone with Fowler's Captain Quasar stories. However, the Coyote Cal stories are decidedly darker and more gruesome. "El Diablo de Paseo Grande" finds Coyote Cal on the trail of a blood-sucking monster that's mutilating everyone's livestock. Every Western hero needs a sidekick, and Cal has two: Donna Jamison—a witch from New Orleans and "resident expert on all things weird and wicked in the Wild West"—and Big Yap—Cal's loyal, sawed-off shotgun-wielding friend "who was old enough to be his father, maybe even his grandfather." The action begins with Cal, Donna, Yap, and Manuel—their local guide from a nearby town—inside the threshold of an abandoned barn.

They'd been following a trail for the past two days, and it led straight to these lopsided doors, chained shut and padlocked as if to keep something unsavory contained inside. But that couldn't be. Whatever had sucked the life out of the animals they'd passed along the way would have had no trouble snapping through this chain, just as it had snapped the neck of every cow, horse, sheep and goat they'd counted so far.

Hanging from the rafters of the barn are at least a dozen decapitated cows with something squirming inside their distended abdomens. Manuel babbles, repeating the phrase "Hijos del Diablo," the devil's children. Donna levitates to the rafters and slices open one of the cows with her buck knife. A creature somewhere "between a frog and a baby goat" lands on the barn floor. Yap obliterates it with both barrels. After some consultation, Cal decides to burn the barn to the ground along with the creatures spawn and bring the monster to them. They move ahead with the plan, but all is not well with Cal's team. Manuel warns them to leave the barn before he runs outside to vomit and Yap is feeling a bit crowded with Cal having two sidekicks. Yap explains:

"The way I'm seeing things, there can't be two sidekicks in a story. Right now, it's feeling a mite crowded around here."

With the barn a pile of glowing embers, the monster hunters hunker down to await the monster under the light of the moon, but not everyone is on Cal's side and someone other than Cal might have to be the hero this time around.

What I like most about "El Diablo de Paseo Grande" is the way Fowler plays with the Western genre. The story has the feel of a Western TV serial, but it's more sophisticated. The characters are self-conscious of being in a story and of their respective roles.

Donna shrugged. "You're the hero."
"We're just your lowly sidekicks," Yap added with a disdainful glance in the witch's direction. "

Roles and image are important to the characters, particularly Yap, who tells Cal that "'It ain't right for a hero such as yourself to be in cahoots with somebody like [Donna].'" The characters are also conscious of the Western setting and the changing landscape. As Cal explains to Manuel, "'I learned that the days of this country being the Wild West were long past. This is the Weird West now.'"

If you're nostalgic for the old TV-series Westerns like The Lone Ranger or The Cisco Kid, but like your fiction with a weird twist, take a ride on the range with Coyote Cal.

To learn more about Milo Fowler and his writing, gallop over to his blog at