Wonderland Press

Curious Fiction for Iconoclasts

Alice’s Adventures in Underland: Release Day!


Volume 1 of Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts is now officially released.  Right now, it’s $0.99 U.S., with comparably low prices across the globe, so if you’re going to impulse buy it, now’s the time.  Scroll down for links, blurb, FAQ, and first chapter.


Kindle ebook copies and print copies via Amazon here.

Print copy from Barnes and Noble here.

Ebook copy from Kobo here.

Ebook copy from iBooks here.

Or you can message me, and I will absolutely send you a free review ebook copy if you promise to review the book.

IF you know of someone who’s an Alice fan, or who likes both zombies and, say, historical British TV series like Downton Abbey or historical romances, please send them my way.

IF you would like to leave a review, any of the links above will work nicely.  Goodreads is also a nice place to leave reviews, here.

* * * * *


Before Lewis Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, he was humble Charles Dodgson, mathematician at Christ Church college…and a zombie. 

Kept sane by a serum, chained to an iron ball, considered one of the finest amateur photographers in Britain, and friend to the three charmingly edible daughters of his superior and owner, Dean Liddell, Mr. Dodgson has quite the story to tell. 

And at least one of the girls, Alice, is entirely willing to listen. 

Even if it means that her strange zombie friend should have to be killed. 

* * * * *


Q: Is it for children?
A: It is for older teens, but not for children.

Q: Are there crumpets?
A: No, there are no crumpets.

Q: What are crumpets?
A: Suspiciously like English Muffins.

Q: Did you cover the entire Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and change all the mad people to zombies?
A: I did. Except for the Lobster Quadrille, which messed up the pacing.

Q: How close are the parts about Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll’s pen name) to real life?
A: Except for zombies, pretty close, actually.  Queen Victoria really did stay at their house at one point.  Sleepover!

Q: What about all those naked child pictures that Charles Dodgson took?
A:  I’m in the “Wow that was weird, but probably not pedophilia” camp.  You can find a brief article with some of the pictures here.

Q: Where should I go looking for more information on Alice?
A:  I recommend starting with Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alicewhich is both Alice books with a bunch of notes, including the original poems for “You Are Old, Father William,” and more, so you can see just what Carroll was making fun of.  After that, I recommend the Morton N. Cohen book, Lewis Carroll, A Biography.

Q: Didn’t you know the whole zombie thing is over?  And the whole “add monsters to out-of-copyright masterpieces” thing is, too?
A:  ….Yes?  Sorry.  I love what I love, even if it takes a while for me to get there.

Q: Is there a sequel?
A:  Yes.  Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Knight of Shattered Dreams is written and has a cover.  I just have to finalize everything, which, admittedly, will take some time.

Q: I don’t like gore.  Should I read this?
A:  While the story isn’t unremittingly gory and most of the incidents involve the denizens of the fictional Underland, there are a couple of places that go all out.  Contact me if you need to know what places to skim and/or what level of violence is involved, so you can make an informed decision.

* * * * *

First chapter:

“Alice! Hold still this instant!”

Mother pinched the top of Alice’s ear with sharp fingernails. The small side parlor hadn’t been dusted properly. Alice and her sister Ina had tried to do the dusting themselves, without much success. That is, Ina had done her dusting in half a moment, then refused to help with the rest even though she didn’t have as much to do, in addition to which Alice had been told to stay off the chairs, which meant that she had only dusted what she could reach from the floor and of course Mother always looked at things from such an incredible height that she only saw what had been missed, and now Ina was staring daggers at her because Mother was annoyed, despite Alice having done her best. Edith, the baby, looked ready to break into tears.

“Ow!” Alice cried. “Stop pinching me.”

“And shush.” Mother picked up the brush and began to apply it vigorously, too vigorously. “We’ll just have to hope that the dust on your pinafore won’t show in the photograph when Mr. Dodgson comes to take your picture. What were you thinking, doing maids’ work?”

“Ow-wow-wow!” The harder her mother brushed her hair, the louder she shouted, until Ina and Edith had their hands over their ears.

“She won’t let you go until all the knots are out of your hair, Alice,” Ina said. “It’s your punishment for not brushing it yourself.” She sat in one of the pretty chairs with the flowers on the cushions with her legs crossed at the ankles and a book in her lap.

Alice rather thought that Ina needed a handful of mud put down her pockets, because she seemed so very older-sisterish and tidy, which must have
been uncomfortable.

“What about Edith? She always has knots in her hair.”

“She’s only a baby,” Ina said, then turned the page in the heavy book. Alice wasn’t allowed to read books by herself any longer, after an accident with a pressed frog two years ago, when she was quite younger than she was now. At any rate, none of them wanted to tell Father if anything should happen to one of the books, which meant that keeping Alice (and Edith) away from them was rather safer.

“Don’t worry about Edith’s hair, Alice,” her mother yanked the brush again. “Worry about your own.”

“Why can’t Miss Prickett brush my hair?” Alice asked, speaking before she thought, as usual. “She brushes better than you do.”

Ina’s eye flicked towards Alice while she turned another page. Edith banged a wooden spoon on the leg of the chair, trying to crush the dust-motes that
sparkled in the air. In a second, Mother had taken the spoon from her, dumped Alice over her lap, and beat her several times with the spoon.

“Don’t…talk…to me…about…Miss Prickett!” her mother exclaimed.

Alice bit her lip. Crying out now would only make things worse, because then she would be sent to explain herself to Father.

“Oh!” her mother cried. “Even your underthings are brown with dust. Alice! What kind of manners is Miss Prickett teaching you?” And then her mother hit her again.

Ina glanced at Alice again, and Alice understood that now was the time to submit to Mother without another word or whimper: Miss Prickett was something precious, and not to be dragged into Mother’s attention more than necessary, especially not today.

“It’s all my fault, Mother. I’m rather wild, you know.”

Mother released her, brushing her skirts down for her. “If you can’t behave, then I shall tell Miss Prickett that it is time that she was replaced with someone sterner.”

“Yes, Mother. I shall be quite good.”

Mother nodded. “Indeed you shall, one way or another.”

If Alice’s contriteness wasn’t entirely genuine, it wasn’t entirely false, either. The children were all fond of Miss Prickett, even though Alice’s fondness tended to show itself as pranks and teasing.

Mother was not one to cross.

Eventually, Mother left them in the hot parlor with strict instructions not to move a muscle. Alice couldn’t help pointing out that they would soon suffocate if they weren’t allowed to breathe, but her mother had ignored her and swept out of the room, her skirts brushing against the carpets and the furniture with a heavy swish that scattered Edith’s toys and the chess game that Ina had been trying to teach Alice when they had first been deposited in the room earlier that morning.

Alice paced around the parlor, looking into corners and behind chairs.

“What are you doing?” Ina asked.


“Looking at what?”

“Everything.” Alice was never allowed into the small parlor, which was rarely used. Alice peered at the silhouettes and the paintings on the walls. Dozens of stern faces looked down at her, intermixed with castles and churches.

Ina said primly, “Mother said we are all related to the people in this room, and we should always remember that our actions reflect upon them. Their greatness reflects on us, so we should do our duty and reflect it back to them—oh, Edith. Don’t put that in your mouth.”

Alice sighed, stomped over to Edith, and took the pawn away from her. Edith burst into tears.

“Now see what you made me do,” she told Ina.

“I did no such thing.”

“You did too.”

“Give her a sweet,” Ina said.

Alice sat in one of the fancy chairs and crossed her arms over her chest. “I don’t mind the sound of her crying.” She looked at the ceiling, trying to see if there were any spiders she could capture and drop onto the back of Ina’s fancy chair.

Ina closed the book with a thump and picked up Edith. “Don’t cry, little mouse.” She pulled a tin of pastilles out of her pocket and gave one to Edith. “Only one, now, or you’ll spoil your luncheon.”

Edith, well-trained, popped open her mouth, accepted the sweet, and sucked contentedly.

Alice jumped out of her chair and stood next to Ina as she put Edith back on the floor in the middle of her overturned toys. Alice opened her mouth like a small bird.

“Oh, Alice,” Ina said.

Alice sniffed and whimpered like a baby about to burst into tears and rubbed one fat finger under her eye, just like Edith would insist on doing. Ina laughed and gave her a pastille. “You are such a naughty little kitten.”

Alice purred and rubbed her head against Ina’s arm, then set the chess pieces to right again, this time on the sideboard. “Will you play with me?”

“I’m reading,” Ina said.

“You’re always reading. It’s dull.”

“It is not.”

“It’s dull for me.”

Ina sighed and closed the book, this time quietly, with her finger in between the pages to mark her place. “All right. I’ll tell you a story then. But only a short one, and then you have to play with Edith and keep her amused and not let her fuss.”

“All right,” Alice said. She sat on the floor next to Edith, puffing up twinkling clouds of dust, which would have made Mother unhappy, although Alice still thought it rather clever of herself, using her petticoats to dust the rugs. She picked up the scattered toys and set them within Edith’s reach in rows, as though they were her audience at a play or her soldiers in a war. Edith wiped out a row of them with one cruel gesture.

Ina announced, “The photographer, Mr. Dodgson, is a zombie.”

Alice squealed with delight. “Oh! Is he?”

Ina snorted. “Yes. And that’s the end of the story. Remember, you promised.”

Alice gaped at her. “That’s not a proper story.”

“It is, too.”

“No it isn’t!” Alice shouted.

Edith’s face screwed up in a way that reminded Alice of a blister ready to burst.

“All right, hush. Mother said that he was infected years and years ago, but nobody knew, because it was dormant and he was so careful about concealing
his treatments.”

“What’s dormant?”

The corner of Ina’s mouth twitched. “Hidden under a rug. Door-mat.”

Alice leaned forward and slapped Ina on the leg. “That’s not true. Stop making up words.”

Ina pulled her stockinged leg out of Alice’s reach. “It’s a real word.”

“It is not.”

They sulked, with Ina reading and Alice setting up the toys for Edith, until the door opened and Mother swept back into the room, knocking all the toys over again. “Girls! Mr. Dodgson is here.”

Alice groaned and started to set the toys aright.

“Up, please. Off the floor,” Mother said.

Ina put her book on the little table beside her, and Alice jumped up and stood next to her. Ina poked her in the side and pointed, and Alice bent over and picked up Edith, who opened her mouth and started crying.

“Give…her…a sweet,” Ina hissed.

“I don’t have any,” Alice whispered back. “You have all the sweets, you selfish cow. You give her one.”

The gentleman who had followed Mother into the room coughed softly into his glove, and the two girls looked up at him, leaving Edith to cry as she would. Really, there was no stopping her for long, and the two of them had simply learned to ignore the noise unless adults were around.

Mr. Dodgson was very tall, taller even than Father, and quite thin. He had brown hair that was nearly as long as Alice’s (hers had been cut quite short after an incident with a hedge) and stopped near his chin.

“Are you a zombie?” she asked.

“Oh, Alice,” Ina moaned.

Mother reached towards Alice to get at her ear again, but Alice stepped behind Ina and switched Edith to her other side. Edith was as fat as anything, probably from all the sweets that Ina had given her, and made a good shield against being pinched or poked.

The man coughed into his glove again, this time a little more loudly. After a few seconds, he said, “I’m…afraid so.”

“You’re afraid of being a zombie?” Alice asked. Edith was wiggling to get down, so she let her slither down to the floor and pick up a toy, which she chewed between bouts of sobbing. As Mr. Dodgson was standing quite close to them, Alice noticed that his left leg was manacled to a heavy iron ball, which he apparently dragged behind him. “Have you been press-ganged?” She had heard all kinds of stories about people doing things they oughtn’t, then waking up the next morning to find themselves turned into zombies and press-ganged onto a ship with a heavy cannonball chained to their legs, so if they tried to escape they would sink over the side of the ship and be forced to walk along the bottom of the ocean for ever and ever, because zombies didn’t die, not unless they were spiked in the back of their heads with a horrific crunch! Alice had always wanted to see a zombie spiked, but she supposed that Mother wouldn’t allow her to try it out on Mr. Dodgson, or not until after their pictures had been taken, at any rate.

“Ah, ah, ah, yes. I mean, ah, um, no.”

She wasn’t sure whether he was laughing at her or not. “Which is it?” She took a deep breath to see if he smelled bad. At any rate, something smelled bad, but it might have been Edith.

He giggled into his hand.

“Don’t do that,” Alice said. “I don’t like it when people laugh at me instead of answering the question.”

He coughed, then lowered his hand.

“Oh, I’m a zombie,” he said. “A perfectly tame zombie. B-but I haven’t been press, ah, press-ganged. I’m a terrible sailor.”

“You were press-ganged into taking pictures of us,” Alice declared. “I’m sorry that your whole life has been ruined for nothing, because I won’t have my picture taken. It’s dull.”

The man laughed deep down in his throat, making a half-gargling sound as Mother got Alice by the ear again, Alice having quite literally lowered her defenses.


Mr. Dodgson said something about going outside because of the light, and Ina leaned over and whispered, “You’re in for it now.”

Alice kicked at Ina, but as Mother was dragging Alice by one arm into the hall, she missed.

“Come with me, girls,” Mother said. “Let’s do finish this quickly, so Mr. Dodgson can get back to his…other tasks.”

Alice, stumbling along after her mother and twisting around to see behind her, said, “I thought you weren’t supposed to call zombies Mister any more. In all the stories, they’re called the former Mister or arghhhh a zombie run!”

“That was before the serum that allows us to retain our presence of mind was invented, my dear Miss Alice,” Mr. Dodgson said, clearing his throat. “Now, if one remains calm and refrains from eating anyone, one may retain the title of ‘Mister.’ However, if a zombie attempts to bite one, it’s quite proper to begin one’s address with a blood-curdling scream.”

Ina, with Edith on her hip, carefully closed the door behind them and stayed away from Mr. Dodgson’s iron ball, which he dragged behind him, making him walk with a lurch.

“Like this?” Alice let out an earsplitting shriek that made him cover his ears and open his mouth in mock-horror.

“Indeed,” Mr. Dodgson said, as Mother nipped her ear sharply again.

Taking photographs wasn’t quite as bad as Ina had made it out to be. Alice had suspected that Ina had been lying about one or two things, and, as it turned out, Alice wasn’t frozen as a statue forever and ever, so there. Mr. Dodgson made it seem like a game as he and Miss Prickett set up a carpet and a chair in the garden while Mother watched.

“Why can’t we take pictures inside, if we’re going to make it look as though we were inside anyhow?” Alice asked. Mr. Dodgson had asked her to sit on a chair so he could try to focus the camera. She kicked her legs back and forth.

“Alice,” her mother hissed. “Sit still.”

“That’s a good question,” Mr. Dodgson said. “The answer is that cameras are not nearly as good at seeing things as your eye is. Your eye takes a picture with just a blink, like this.” He blinked owlishly at them.

“I can blink faster than that,” Alice said, blinking dozens of times, her eyelids fluttering.

“Your eyes work better than mine, then,” Mr. Dodgson agreed solemnly. “But even my eyes work faster than this camera. In addition to being quite slow, it sees rather poorly in the dark, and even the bright daylight of the parlor is too dim for the poor thing.”

“It’s quite stupid, then.” Alice glanced at her mother, but Mother had become bored with them and had wandered off, checking on the work the gardeners had done; some new roses had been put in, but they hadn’t been the ones she’d wanted, and she was working herself up to being quite cross at someone other than Alice, which was rarely a bad thing.

Mr. Dodgson leaned forward towards her, and she found herself taking a step backward. He mightn’t look like a zombie, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t eat her. He whispered, “Yes, but don’t tell the camera it is stupid. If you get it to crying, I won’t be able to take a clear picture for a month. It cries even more than your sister Edith.” Then he leaned back.

“How did you become a zombie?” she asked. “Have you eaten anyone?”

“Oh, no,” he reassured her. “I have never eaten anyone, although I did have the misfortune to see someone eaten.”

“When was that?” Alice asked, leaning forward.

“At Rugby School,” he said.

Alice nodded. She had once overheard her father saying that Rugby was nothing but a pack of beasts, although it was better than it had been, so very long ago. “How old are you?” she asked.


She nodded again, because that was very old, and tallied with Father’s report of Rugby.

“And how did you become a zombie?” she pressed.

“Hm,” Mr. Dodgson said. “I should be quite happy to tell you, on one condition. The camera is all ready. If you should sit in the chair like so, I will tell you. While I am talking, that is the time it takes for the camera to blink. As you recall, it does take a terribly long time, almost a full minute, for the camera to blink and take your picture.

“However, during the story, you must be terribly, terribly careful not to cry, for it is a very sad story, and if you should cry, well, that would ruin the picture and we should have to start all over again, and you might even get the camera to crying, and then who knows where we should end up.”

“Should I hold my breath?” Alice breathed until her chest felt like it would pop and held her breath with her cheeks puffed out.

Mr. Dodgson coughed into his hand again, and she scowled at him. “No, no need to hold your breath. Just breathe very shallowly, as though you were pretending to be dead.”

“Hmph,” Alice snorted, but she liked the idea very much: to pretend to be dead while listening to a zombie tell a story about how he was turned into one. “Do you breathe?”

“I do,” Mr. Dodgson confirmed, making some last few adjustments in the darkness of the cloth covering the back of the camera. “But not as often
as I used to.”

“Then press-ganged zombies would drown if they were thrown off a ship,” Alice exclaimed.

“Oh, no. They simply would be unable to speak very well until they had come up to the surface again. Now, let us begin the picture and the story. Remember, it is vitally important that you make not a single change of facial expression until the story has finished.” And then he removed the cap.

Here is the story that Mr. Dodgson told, as Alice sat in front of the camera and listened. (Despite her mother’s complaints to the contrary, Alice did listen most of the time. However, she was of the opinion that listening didn’t oblige her in any way to do what she was told.)

* * * * *

One day, as I was attending school in Rugby, I happened upon a dark hole in the middle of a field. The hole hadn’t been there the day before, and, as you will see, it wasn’t there even an hour after I left it.

I was laying on my stomach over the hole and reaching down with a stick to see if I could reach the bottom, when suddenly I saw a white rabbit running towards me. My experience had previously been of rabbits doing the opposite: that is, running away as fast as possible.

“Curiouser and curiouser,” I cried.

The rabbit, apparently not even noticing I was there, ran bang-on into me and bounced backward, unable to take another step for fright. I looked up to see what could have possibly scared it so. Charging towards us was a maddened zombie, quite ready to eat any body it should happen upon, and it seemed only too glad to see both Mr. Rabbit and myself.

I jumped to my feet with only the stick as a weapon. I swung the stick at the zombie as though it were a sword: one, two, one, two! However, the stick soon snapped in half, and I was left defenseless. I stood my ground and dared the zombie to do its worst.

Just then, the rabbit gave a roar (if you have never heard a roaring rabbit, it is quite memorable) and attacked the zombie! You see, the poor thing had been
bitten earlier and was starting to turn into a zombie, no serum having been administered.

I took a step back and stumbled, almost falling down the hole. The rabbit and the zombie wrestled for a few moments, the rabbit too small and light to do much damage, but the zombie unable to dislodge the rabbit from his throat.

Fortunately, the zombie took a step too close to the hole, and down they both went. I went back to the school, and one of the other boys noticed that I was bleeding. I went to the headmaster and told him the story of what had happened, but by then the hole was gone, and I taken to the doctor and given the serum before I should change into entirely the wrong sort of zombie, and do say you believe me, or else I should be terribly sad.

* * * * *

He had put the cap back on at some point during the story, but Alice hadn’t noticed. As soon as he stopped talking, she took a deep breath—towards
the end of the story, she’d been holding it.

“That was longer than a minute,” she said.

He gave her a little bow. “I entirely agree, my dear, but I did so want to finish the story. However, now I must go and develop the picture.” He disappeared
into the little tent.

Alice looked around her. The black tent on the garden grass was sitting right where they usually set up their croquet game. Mother was nowhere to be seen; Miss Prickett was working on a basket of torn things that were usually Alice’s fault, or so Miss Prickett claimed; and Ina was reading a book while Edith began to crawl off under the bushes.

“No, Edith,” Alice said. “There might be rabbits under there. Come away.” She scooped up the little girl, then carried her over to Miss Prickett. “You might take better care of her,” she said, and went looking for a stick.

If there were zombies about (and not the nice kind, like Mr. Dodgson), she would be the first to attack. One couldn’t allow one’s friends to be bitten.

It simply wasn’t done.

* * * * *

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Alice’s Adventures in Underland News: Giveaways!

Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts will be officially released soon, August 15th.  You will be able to find it at most online ebook retailers (Amazon failed to make it enticing enough to keep it exclusive for any amount of time on Kindle).

You can preorder it on Kindle or order a print copy from Amazon here.

You can order a print copy from Barnes and Noble here.  (The Nook version doesn’t offer preorders; when it does publish on August 15, you’ll be able to find it here as well.)

You can preorder an ebook copy from Kobo here.

You can preorder an ebook from iBooks here.

You can enter the Goodreads giveaway for a free print copy of the book here (now until August 15th).

You can get a free review ebook copy from LibraryThing here (search for “alice”).

Or you can message me, and I will absolutely send you a free review ebook copy so you can read the book and post a review on August 15th, which would positively rock.

The ebook will be $0.99 for a month or two, and then the prices will go up :)


Fantastic Writers of Color

I asked for recommendations for writers of color of adventurous SF/F/H who feature the coolest, best, most awesome heroes and heroines of color, and received the following responses (as well as did some research on my own):

  • Sabaa Tahir
  • N.K. Jemisin
  • Daniel Jose Older
  • Ken Liu
  • Nalo Hopkinson
  • Alaya Dawn Johnson
  • Steven Barnes
  • Justine Larbalestier (Oops!)
  • Nisi Shawl
  • Sofia Samatar
  • Nnedi Okorafor
  • Craig Lawrence Gidney
  • Cixin Liu
  • Samuel R. Delaney
  • Alexandra Duncan (Another oops!)
  • Jacqueline Koyanagi
  • Maurice Broaddus
  • S.L. Huang
  • Mary Anne Mohanraj
  • Charles Yu
  • Erick Setiawan
  • David F. Walker
  • Tananarive Due
  • Thoraiya Dyer
  • Sunny Moraine
  • Octavia Butler
  • Benjamin Parzybok
  • Victor LaValle
  • Sabrina Vourvoulias
  • Linda D. Addison
  • L.A. Banks
  • Jemiah Jefferson
  • Helen Oyeyemi
  • Chesya Burke
  • Dia Reeves
  • L. Marie Wood
  • Pearl Cleage (Just Wanna Testify)
  • Evie Rhodes
  • Sumiko Saulson
  • Darlene Black
  • Andre Duza
  • Walter Mosley (mostly crime, but some SF)
  • Charles Saunders
  • Wrath James White
  • Tobais Buckell
  • Daina Chaviano
  • Karen Lord
  • S.P. Somtow
  • Minister Faust
  • Andrea Hairston
  • Adolfo Bioy Casares
  • Jorge Luis Borges
  • Silvina Ocampo
  • Kathleen Alcala
  • Junot Diaz
  • Ernest Hogan
  • Stephen Graham Jones
  • Owl Goingback
  • Daniel Heath Justice
  • William Sanders
  • Cynthia Leitich Smith
  • Craig Strete
  • Ted Chiang
  • Malinda Lo
  • Marie Lu
  • Vandana Singh
  • Ashok Banker
  • Hiromi Goto
  • Liz Williams
  • Ellen Oh
  • Sangu Mandanna
  • Kat Zhang
  • Sherri L. Smith
  • Grace Lin
  • Zoraida Cordova
  • Miyuke Miyabe
  • Jewell Parker Rhodes
  • Natsuo Kirino
  • Kiese Laymon
  • Chang-rae Lee
  • Saladin Ahmed
  • Cindy Pon
  • Amish Tripathi
  • David Anthony Durham
  • Louise Erdrich
  • Leslie Marmon Silko
  • Jewelle Gomez
  • Ana Castillo
  • Larissa Lai
  • L.R. Giles
  • Terence Taylor
  • Brandon Massey
  • Michael Boatman
  • Kiini Ibura Salaam
  • John Cooley
  • Ta-Nehesi Coates
  • Aliette de Bodard
  • Greg van Eekhout
  • Heidi Durrow
  • Danzy Senna
  • Fonda Lee
  • Thomas King
  • Kai Ashante Wilson
  • Ayize Jama-Everett
  • Anita Desai Hidier
  • Lisa See
  • Amal El-Mohtar
  • Koushun Takami
  • Yoon Ha Lee
  • Aaron Paquette
  • Angie Sandro
  • Karin Lowachee
  • Greg Dragon
  • C. Edward Baldwin
  • Dennis Calloway
  • Zen Cho
  • Stephanie Saulter
  • Milton Davis
  • Carole McDonell
  • Usman T. Malik
  • M.C.A. Hogarth
  • Samit Basu
  • Nalini Singh
  • Balogun Ojetade
  • Valjeanne Jeffers
  • Charles W. Chesnutt
  • Pauline Hopkins
  • W.E.B. DuBois
  • Zora Neale Hurston
  • George S. Schuyler
  • Henry Dumas
  • Virginia Hamilton
  • Alan Jones
  • Wendy Raven McNair
  • Alicia McCalla
  • Ronald T. Jones
  • Irette Patterson
  • Gerald L. Coleman

Now, whether these are the writers I’m looking for or not (I haven’t checked whether they’re to my taste or are CRAZY NUTS ADVENTURE! writers, which is what I’m really in the mood for, especially high fantasy), it’s a pretty good list and should keep me busy for a while. Please note that comments about a) how the poster is not white but some shade of pale, ha-ha, b) how the poster never notices anyone’s race when they’re picking out books anyway, and c) NOBODY NEEDS TO NOTICE “PEOPLE OF COLOR” THEY HAVE ALL THE ADVANTAGES!!! will be met with eyerolls, and, if I’m feeling energetic, sarcastic comments.  I am tired of making nice to people who have difficulty with the idea that I, a voracious reader, might be reading books that are not about various shades of pink people from North America and Europe, whether that means offended or just plain feeling awkward because they don’t have a similar reading list themselves.  Nobody pitched a fit or bothered to tell me that they don’t consider genre before picking stories when I started my ongoing horror reading project, which I guarantee you is far more offensive and of questionable taste. Me reading these books will not hurt you, and you not reading these books will not hurt me or make me shoot flames at you.  I promise. Everyone else – let me know if you know of more authors.  Anything published is good, indie or trad. I can’t guarantee I’ll read it, but I’ll check it out.  Thanks!

Scrum vs. Writing

I just finished Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, by Jeff Sutherland.  Fun stuff, if you’re into process, which I am.  (If you’re not, you may want to skip this.)  It seems like a no-brainer:  meta-skills, like learning how to learn, make everything else easier, faster, and even more enjoyable.   Of course, I haven’t achieved light-speed yet, so obviously I need to read more of these books…

It struck me as I was reading this that many of the ideas behind Scrum and a lot of other business-process books come from how Toyota developed their business after WWII, with a focus on long-term goals, repeatable results with fewer defects, and constant improvement–a willingness to fail faster and improve therefrom.

As I was trying to translate the basic ideas into “how to write better and faster,” I kept coming back to something familiar:  Heinlein’s rules.  As an engineer, he was always interested, I think, in working out how to streamline and refine processes in order to do more work with less effort:  in several of his books his characters mention how “lazy” they are, and how it drove them to work smarter, not harder.  I suspect that even if he wasn’t directly aware of the work being done at Toyota in the Fifties, he was enough part of the zeitgeist that it probably wasn’t more than a couple of degrees of separation between him and what was being done in Japanese factories.

Heinlein’s rules:

  1. Write.  (Keep the focus on production, not planning.)
  2. Finish what you write.  (Don’t leave inventory on the floor.)
  3. Refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.  (Do it right the first time/only make changes the customer wants.)
  4. Put your story on the market.  (Ship the product.)
  5. Keep it in the market until it sells.  (Have faith in the product.)

Sounds like something Seth Godin would say.

But back to Scrum specifically.  The appendix of the book has a brief list of steps on how to accomplish scrum:

  1. Pick a product owner (someone who focuses on what the customer wants).
  2. Pick a team (who will do the work).
  3. Pick a scrum master (who will focus on eliminating waste/anything that slows the team down).
  4. Create/prioritize a product backlog (a high-level set of goals that will accomplish what the customer wants).
  5. Refine/estimate the product backlog (using the pareto principal, strip down the backlog to approximately 20% of the most valuable features; estimate work to be done. I actually did this on a hypothetical historical romance novel and discovered some interesting things about what I really wanted in such a novel versus a huge list of general expectations).
  6. Plan a “sprint” of no more than a month’s length, at the end of which is a deliverable or demo-able product.
  7. Make work visible (whiteboard!).
  8. Daily standup/scrum meeting (a.  What did you do yesterday to help the team finish the sprint? b.  what will you do today to help the team finish the sprint? c.  Is there any obstacle blocking you or the team from achieving the sprint goal?)
  9. Sprint review/demo (sprint results shown to the customer and everyone with a stake, or in fact anyone who wants to show up).
  10. Sprint retrospective (lessons learned).
  11. Start next cycle.

The funny thing is that one of the best things I’ve learned lately as far as meta-writer-process goes is to do Julia Cameron’s morning pages on a fairly regular basis, in which I do pretty much the steps as listed, as well as letting the subconscious babble about new ideas, research, lessons learned, etc.  Looks a lot like a daily scrum meeting.

Here’s my best guess for how to translate the list above into writer process.  It involves condensing some things (as a writer, you wear all the hats).

Mostly a plotter:

  1. Story/marketing development (synopsis/pitch development, finding an audience, working through the core elements of what makes a story satisfying to that audience versus what common knowledge says has to go in that story).
  2. Draft planning (outlining, if applicable).
  3. Morning pages.
  4. Writing draft.
  5. Read through/delivery to betas/delivery to general readers (submission/indie).
  6. Brutally honest assessment of whether you accomplished requirements from step 1, lessons learned, what could have gone better/what went well.
  7. Start next cycle.

Mostly a pantser:

  1. Draft planning (how long the draft will take, how big of a project you think this is, daily wordcount/scene goals–not outlining).
  2. Morning pages.
  3. Writing draft.
  4. Structure analysis (finding out if you have all the scenes, in right order, etc.).
  5. Story/marketing development (synopsis/pitch development, finding an audience, working through the core elements of what makes a story satisfying to that audience versus what common knowledge says has to go in that story).
  6. Read through/delivery to betas/delivery to general readers (submission/indie).
  7. Brutally honest assessment of whether you accomplished requirements from step 1, lessons learned, what could have gone better/what went well.
  8. Start next cycle.

I tend to think in terms of being a plotter, even though I’m not really one anymore, so here’s how I think it might work for me:

  1. Story/marketing development (synopsis/pitch development, finding an audience, working through the core elements of what makes a story satisfying to that audience versus what common knowledge says has to go in that story).
  2. Morning pages.
  3. Writing.
  4. Read through/betas/delivery to readers
  5. Brutally honest assessment time (including structure analysis).
  6. Start next cycle.

The big change for me (at the moment) would be the first step, which I’ve been developing for a while in a half-assed fashion, but in such a way that doesn’t prevent me from running down a lot of blind alleys:  I tend to write a lot of stories that are unreasonable from a reader’s point of view.  (“Who is my intended reader and why would they enjoy this?” “Dunno.”)  I do write a log line and often a brief synopsis to get a feel for the voice and conflict, sometimes the structure of what I want to play with, but I don’t always carry that through to what does this do for my readers?  A lot of the time I don’t even ask what does this do for me?  Will I have fun writing this?  What is the awesomeness factor?

Which is both sad and has, yes, been a huge factor in not getting non-client writing done/published this year.

Another change would be hidden in the morning pages:  I haven’t been asking myself what’s in the way of accomplishing things on a regular basis, let alone what would make me happier/more satisfied with what I’m doing.  I’ve been listening to myself bitch about things in general and trying to work out best practices (like getting enough sleep, exercise, etc.), but I haven’t been thinking in terms of continuous improvement.  Learning in general, yes, but not what’s getting in the way on X project, how I can make it more enjoyable to work on today.

We’ll see how it goes.


How to add character emotion without being annoyingly blatant.

A question came up on how to display emotions of characters without blatantly stating them.  My take on it goes like this:

We can’t really talk about how to write character emotions without taking a second to lay down a base assumption about fiction:  The most efficient way is generally not the best way.

The most efficient way to tell a story is via log line:  Detective discovers who murdered his partner.  Woman flees suffocating life in search of adventure, only to find another suffocation.  Guy comes back to hometown to write book, ends up killing girlfriend and her vampire master.

The Maltese Falcon.  The Haunting of Hill House.  ‘Salem’s Lot.

These log lines might be pretty efficient, but they suck as fiction.

Granted, I’m not the world’s best writer, not even close.  But from as far as I’ve progressed, I can see three basic stages of how to write character emotion:

1.  He felt happy.

2.  He held the woman’s hand and skipped.

3.  The setting sun hit the lake like fireworks.  She’d said she wanted to go west with him.  Him!  Not to Colorado, or California, or across the Pacific.  Just west, like it was a country that stretched from this life to the next.  West, forever west, blindingly west, into the sunset, and beyond.

(Let’s say this is the last sentence in a story:  no conflict necessary, the setting has already been described, we already know the characters and the plot.)

Type one is the blatantly obvious statement.  It is short, efficient, and accurate.  The problem is that it’s boring to read.  Why is it boring, though?  What makes that statement, in and of itself, boring?  What makes it poor fiction?

  • It’s too efficient: it rushes through what most of us, in real life, would like to savor (happiness).
  • It doesn’t spark emotion in us as readers.  This doesn’t always mean feeling the same thing the character is feeling–we might be hating this character right now, because, oh, he’s forcing this woman to marry him.
  • It doesn’t give us a vicarious glimpse into the character’s mind or feelings.

Type two is “show, don’t tell.”  It is less short, less efficient, and much less accurate.  We can’t say for sure whether the character is happy or not–he’s holding a woman’s hand and skipping.  Probably he’s happy.  Not definitely.  But probably.  But it is also better fiction.  Some writers (Hemingway) can stop at this point and just write what is objectively going on, and leave enough between the lines that an entire story can be inferred from a few sparse lines.  Most writers, however, don’t do this.

What are the limitations of “show, don’t tell”:

  • It requires some serious detective work on the part of the reader to put together the emotions of the characters and assumes that the writer is a master at laying down clues.
  • It doesn’t spark emotion.  If the readers feel emotions during a story primarily based on “show, don’t tell,” then the emotions are mostly coming from the reader:  the reader is a talented empath or has very similar assumptions to the author.  Others may find the work dry or belittling.
  • It doesn’t give us a glimpse into the character’s mind or feelings.  Again, a good empath or someone who’s gone through a similar experience might pick up on this stuff; others will insert emotions willy-nilly.

Type three is tight POV writing, giving all statements in the story directly from the brain of the character.  It is (in my unmasterful hands) much longer, less efficient–but it contains a lot of non-blatant emotion.

  • It still requires some detective work, but the work isn’t in pure, observable facts, but also the opinions and observations of the character, which provide more information.
  • It sparks emotion, even if it’s contempt for this guy taking things for granted.
  • It gives us a strong glimpse of the character’s thoughts and feelings.

The difference here is that instead of telling you the character’s feelings or showing you the character’s actions as though they were a doll (both 3rd-person distant or omniscient POV things), I’ve brought the POV in very tight, so that I, the author, am not in the picture.  There is nobody “telling” you this story, only the character being happy and sharing his opinion.

Get into the character’s head and see, hear, feel, taste, touch, etc., what the character does, colored by the emotions and opinions of the character.  This is easier said than done.  Start by 1) inserting the five main senses into your writing, from the character’s POV, and 2) typing in bits of various other writers’ work that seem to be highly emotional without actually naming the emotion.  There are a million ways to do this.

Does that mean that steps 1 and 2 have no place in writing?  Of course not.  It’s just a matter of knowing when to use them.

If you want to keep a reader from experiencing the same emotion as a character, by all means, tell them “He was happy.”  If you want to tell the reader that the character’s lying to themselves–”He was happy” is a decent clue.

A trick in mysteries is often to write most of the book in that third type of writing, highly personal and emotional, and hide the clues to what the character is really feeling in type 2 clues (try The Murder of Roger Ackroyd for a good example of this, or even The Maltese Falcon).

Professional writers use all three types all the time–it’s just that they use them on purpose, to get the reader to experience a particular emotion in a particular way.

Some examples:

The Maltese Falcon.

She was a lanky sunburned girl whose tan dress of thin woolen stuff clung to her with an effect of dampness.  Her eyes were brown and playful in a slim boyish face.  She finished shutting the door behind her, leaned against it, and said:  “There’s a girl wants to see you.  Her name’s Wonderly.”

She was tall and pliantly slender, without angularity anywhere.  Her body was erect and high-breasted, her legs long, her hands and feet narrow.  She wore two shades of blue that had been selected because of her eyes.  The hair curling from under her blue hat was darkly red, her full lips more brightly red.  White teeth glistened in the crescent her timid smile made.

First paragraph:  Spade’s secretary.  Second paragraph:  the client.

These are mostly type 2 details, observable facts, but they’re provided within the framework of a type 3 character who happens to be a detective and very much about the observable facts.   Type 3 details (opinions) for secretary (some of them):  lanky, sunburned, clung, playful, slim, boyish.  Type 3 details (opinions) for client:  pliantly, slender, erect, high-breasted, narrow, darkly, brightly, glistened, timid.

In spade’s opinion, the secretary is a good girl, and he loves her, but doesn’t particularly want to sleep with her.  On the other hand, the client is a femme fatale, both “weak” (pliant, slender, narrow, timid) and sexy-looking (erect, high-breasted), as well as threateningly dangerous (darkly, glistened).

We know from these two paragraphs how he feels about these two women without him having to say; we’re also provided physical descriptions of the two characters (handy) as well as some foreshadowing about the ending.

The Haunting of Hill House.

Eleanor Vance was thirty-two years old when she came to Hill House.  The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister.  She disliked her brother-in-law and her five-year-old niece, and she had no friends.  This was owing largely to the eleven years she had spent caring for her invalid mother, which had left her with some proficiency as a nurse and an inability to face strong sunlight without blinking.  She could not remember ever being truly happy in her adult life; her years with her mother had been built up devotedly around small guilts and small reproaches, constant weariness, and unending despair.  Without ever wanting to become reserved and shy, she had spent so long alone, with no one to love, that it was difficult for her to talk, even casually, to another person without self-consciousness and an awkward inability to find words.  Her name had turned up on Dr. Montague’s list because one day, when she was twelve years old and her sister was eighteen, and their father had been dead for not quite a month, showers of stones had fallen on their house, without any warning or any indication of purpose or reason, dropping from the ceilings, rolling loudly down the walls, breaking windows and pattering maddeningly on the roof.  The stones continued intermittently for three days, during which time Eleanor and her sister were less unnerved by the stones than by the neighbors and sightseers who gathered daily outside the front door, and by their mother’s blind, hysterical insistence that all of this was due to malicious, backbiting people on the block who had had it in for her ever since she came.  After three days Eleanor and her sister were removed to the house of a friend, and the stones stopped falling, nor did they ever return, although Eleanor and her sister and her mother went back to living in the house, and the feud with the entire neighborhood was never ended.  The story had been forgotten by everyone except the people Dr. Montague consulted; it had certainly been forgotten by Eleanor and her sister, each of whom had supposed at the time that the other was responsible.

This is the paragraph introducing the main character, a few pages in from the opening, which introduces 1) the house, 2) Dr. Montague and his plan to invite possible psychics to the house, and then 3) Eleanor.

In this paragraph, we see lots of type 1 stuff; it comes right out and tells us who Eleanor hates and loves.  This serves a couple of purposes.  1) We don’t actually have to suffer through Eleanor’s life before she came to the house.  It’s miserable, and it’s backstory, moving on.  2) It conceals the fact that Eleanor hates someone else even more than she hates the people named here.  Writers: we’re tricky.

There are lots of type 2 details, too: the whole story about the mysterious stone-dropping…and the fact that she has no memory of it…and the fact that she blamed her sister for it.  And lots of other things.

It looks like a paragraph full of nothing but type 1 and 2 details, until you read the entire book and realize that Eleanor is not to be trusted:  all of the things in this paragraph are true, but none of them tell the whole story.  In Eleanor’s opinion, things are simple and straightforward.  Later in the story, Eleanor opens up and there’s a ton of type 3 writing–but as you can see, lots of reasons to use type 1 and type 2.


‘Salem’s Lot.

Interesting bit of trivia, the main story (after the frame story) of ‘Salem’s Lot starts with a quote from The Haunting of Hill House.

By the time he had passed Portland going north on the turnpike, Ben Mears had begun to feel a not unpleasurable tingle of excitement in his belly.  It was September 5, 1975, and summer was enjoying her final grand fling.  The trees were bursting with green, the sky was a high, soft blue, and just over the Falmouth town line he saw two boys walking a road parallel to the expressway with fishing rods on their shoulders like carbines.

He switched to the travel lane, slowed to the minimum turnpike speed, and began to look for anything that would jog his memory.  There was nothing at first, and he tried to caution himself against almost sure disappointment.  You were nine then.  That’s twenty-five years of water under the bridge.  Places change.  Like people.

In those days the four-lane 295 hadn’t existed.  If you wanted to go to Portland from the Lot, you went out Route 12 to Falmouth and then got on Number 1.  Time had marched on.

Stop that shit.

But it was hard to stop.  It was hard to stop when–

A big BSA cycle with jacked handlebars suddenly roared past him in the passing lane, a kid in a T-shirt driving, a girl in a red cloth jacket and huge mirror-lensed sunglasses riding pillion behind him.  They cut in a little too quickly and he overreacted, jamming on his brakes and laying both hands on the horn.  The BSA sped up, belching blue smoke from its exhaust, and the girl jabbed her middle finger back at him.

He resumed speed, wishing for a cigarette.  His hands were trembling slightly.  The BSA was almost out of sight now, moving fast.  The kids.  The goddamned kids.  Memories tried to crowd in on him, memories of a more recent vintage.  He pushed them away.  He hadn’t been on a motorcycle in two years.  He planned never to ride on one again.

Here we see the character’s emotions do a 180.  The writer tells us that the character feels “a not unpleasurable tingle of excitement,” but he doesn’t say, “He felt excited.”  The character is one who analyzes himself regularly throughout the book–an intellectual trying to stay in touch with his emotions.  The writer doesn’t analyze the character’s emotions, that is–the character does, through his own senses and opinions.

There isn’t a line of this story that isn’t 100% type-3 writing first and foremost…but there are a few type-2 clues in there, too:  Places change.  Like people.  Time had marched on.  Then: But it was hard to stop.  It was hard to stop when–

The character, in a good mood, tells himself some lies: places change, people change, time moves on.  But really it hasn’t; he’s still suffering from the accidental death of his wife in a motorcycle accident, and he’s coming back to ‘Salem’s Lot in order to conquer a life-long nightmare he picked up from Marsten House, and no, people haven’t really changed, as we see shortly after this section, when we start flipping through the heads of a number of townspeople.

There are a ton of other things going on in these sections, of course–but I hope you’re seeing that the general trick is to make sure that you, the writer, are solidly seeing the world through the character’s eyes; it’s the matrix through which you can tell the story without being blatant, even if, sometimes, you use techniques that appear blatant on the face of things.






Musings on The Haunting of Hill House

Having just reread The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (and having typed some parts of it in), I’m struck  by…I don’t know if I can sum this up well, but here goes:

Classic ghost stories are often about things that the characters (and perhaps the audience) absolutely, positively MUST NOT KNOW; if you confront them directly (as Hamlet and many of Poe’s narrators do), you will go mad. Well, unless it’s A Christmas Carol; Scrooge confronts his ghosts and actually takes advice from them, confronts what he must not know–and changes. Otherwise characters in a ghost story are pretty much screwed or get out by the skin of their teeth, as ignorant as they were before they went in.

Some examples:

  • The Turn of the Screw–children must not know about sex.
  • The Shining–rich people suck.
  • The Empty House (Blackwood)–servants are human and might not like us.
  • The Judge’s House (Stoker)–”justice” isn’t logical, but political.
  • Caterpillars (Benson)–cancer strikes by chance, not on “sinners” or for some other spiritually preventable reason.

The Haunting of Hill House seems to fit that pattern, but in a strange way.

–don’t read further if you don’t want spoilers–

First, the house itself isn’t haunted, but merely insane.  Second, Eleanor, or at least the part of her that was split off in childhood, is a poltergeist (at least, that’s how I take it).  So either there are two hauntings, or one, or none, depending on how you count it.

Eleanor is trapped in her awful, ugly life; she must not know that, or she’ll go mad (and does).  The house (and its attendants, even the town around it) comes across as both an unavoidably physical house (what descriptions, eh?) and as a metaphor for the claustrophobic society that Eleanor’s trapped in.

The first paragraph:

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

The last paragraph:

Mrs. Sanderson was enormously relieved to hear that Dr. Montague and his party had left Hill House; she would have turned them out, she told the family lawyer, if Dr. Montague had shown any sign of wanting to stay. Theodora’s friend, mollified and contrite, was delighted to see Theodora back so soon; Luke took himself off to Paris, where his aunt fervently hoped he would stay for a while. Dr. Montague finally retired from active scholarly pursuits after the cool, almost contemptuous reception of his preliminary article analyzing the psychic phenomena of Hill House. Hill House itself, not sane, stood against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, its walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

First paragraph starts with a dream; last paragraph starts with rules, order, too-solid reality.  The others, who have not really been touched by any kind of understanding of the house, escape blithely unscathed.  (Although Theodora, the psychic, might have understood how the trapped Eleanor was passively-aggressively lashing out at everyone around her via the poltergeist.)

So much for Eleanor.

I have to wonder how often the haunted house itself is the terrifying presence that must not be known or understood.  I can’t think of anything else at the moment–it’s always a ghost, the presence of someone or something that died, and not the house itself.  But I suppose if you want to criticize something as broad as “society,” then maybe something as impersonal as a house is necessary.

Writerly Ramble: Goals vs. Metrics

So a couple of years ago I started tracking my word counts:  how many new words produced daily.  I did pretty well, producing over half a million words two years running.  Over a million words!  Woo!

However…at the same time I started tracking word counts, I experienced a massive reduction in putting out new indie work, and in writing non-ghostwritten novels.

I’m sure there are multiple factors going into this.  At the same time that I started tracking word counts, I started having more luck getting ghostwriting jobs, and in fact picked up a ghostwriting job that has since turned into a kind of patronage.  It still blows my mind.  Not to say that I’m self-supporting as a freelancer yet; sadly, it’s taken me a long time to establish in my own mind that my time is pretty freaking valuable, and I’ve slaved over  a lot of projects that paid peanuts.

Regrets?  Only that I didn’t start charging anything approximating a living wage sooner.  I’ve loved most of the projects that I’ve been on, whether they’ve paid well or not.

However, learning how to charge even remotely appropriately for my time (I’m not there yet, really) and I’m not making enough as a freelancer to be able to invest a lot of time in indie publishing:  short-term bills make it hard to set aside time to invest in myself in a lot of ways, from indie publishing to learning new skills to simply taking time to exercise and remember to eat on a daily basis.

And that metric.  Producing wordcount.  Always more wordcount.

It didn’t hurt my short story writing capability.  I’d sit down, pound out a story in a morning, and go back to editing or what have you in the afternoon.  Write, clean up, and send:  total time, around one hour per thousand words.  Some good ones, some bad ones, mostly incremental gains.  Even if I’d sold every single one of them at professional rates, I wouldn’t have made a living wage at writing them; they were just stress relief.

But novels take more thought.  Not to write, but to edit.  Because I change the rules of a fictional world as I go, getting new ideas and going, “Yeah, I’ll go back and fix that detail later.”

And the more I focused on getting wordcount out, the less I was willing to write or edit novels.  Because it cut into my wordcount.  I basically wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo and abandoned it, promising myself that I’d edit it–but not doing so.  Because wordcount.

Is my goal just to write?

I’m not saying it’s a bad goal.  I have an extra million words under my belt; I wrote a lot of short stories, some of which were published.  Personally, I can’t tell if I’m a better writer or not–but then again, every time I try to establish that I am a better writer, I end up stepping on my feet and writing something completely asinine.  So it’s better that I work toward being a better writer but not really worry about whether I’ve achieved it.

Not a bad goal.  The problem is that those million words didn’t turn into books that I can share with people publicly; most of those words are a) ghostwriting or b) languishing novels.

So I’ve abandoned wordcount.

It started at the beginning of the year, when I was struggling to keep my head above water due to a bunch of freelancing, combined with a period where I had to rewrite a pair of stories so often that I probably wrote over 15K for each  5K short story.  They were above my pay grade, I think–but I like both of them.

Finally this month, I admitted that I was done tracking wordcount.  It’s sad, but it has been holding me back.

The day after I did that, I had a 7K day, and I’ve written, I don’t know, probably something like 40K over the last two weeks between ghosting and personal writing, as well as almost completely rewriting the last episode of Alice so it had the right ending.

It’s been a relief, to be honest.

But now what?

I’ve counted rejections.  I’ve blogged three times a week.  I’ve put up a short story up on Kindle a week.  I’ve counted words.  Those were all helpful metrics…until they got in the way of my goals.

I have maybe ten novels on my hard drive to edit and put out.  A bajillion stories to be edited and posted individually or in collections.

I’ve been working on what kind of metric would help me put more work out into the world, and I haven’t come up with a whole lot of squat, other than setting up a Patreon page, although I have been meaning to do that, and I’ll write about my thoughts on that in a bit.

I do know the metric needs to:

  • Help me get more work past the first-draft stage, through editing, and out into the hands of readers–indie, small press, big traditional.
  • And yet be adaptable enough that I’m not killing the goose of inspiration with weekly (and non-promoted!) releases.

I feel like, in an ideal world, a reasonable goal would be to put out one short story or serial section per month.  But when I think like that – it triggers anxiety.  Not because I can’t get a serial section out per month.  But because I think, “That’s not good enough.  Two a week.  Four.  Four a week.”

And beating myself up over unreasonable goals that I secretly set for myself no matter what my stated goals are is not conducive to actual creativity.  Plus?  When I was doing that, I never did any promotion, just a quick announcement on Facebook and my blog. Also not the secret to a successful writing career.

And I know I am not the kind of person who can just do things, one after the other, on a daily basis, without some kind of measurement going on.  Stuff that isn’t measured slides in my world.

Goal:  Become a successful fiction writer, with success being defined as “able to support myself with my fiction writing.”

Metric: In progress.




Promo Friday: Alice’s Adventures in Underland and Kobo Promo Momo

This Friday, for our fabulous Friday promotion, I have stuff of my own to talk up.




The last episode of Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Still Hearts is up.  ERK.  I may have given myself an ulcer over it, although it does now have the ending that really ought to be there instead of the ending I originally chickened out over.

This is a zombie book, after all.

You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and some other places.

Next up, I will be putting together the collected edition (and print book) so I can have them out this year, which is the 150th anniversary of the book’s being published; I will very shortly be looking for beta readers on the collected edition, if you’re at all interested.


Kobo Promo:

My short story collection, A Murder of Crows: Seventeen Tales of Monsters & the Macabre, is discounted at Kobo for 30% off from March 27-30th with the code GET30.  You may, however, pick it up pretty much anywhere you like.

You can also get 30% off many other ebooks from Kobo using the same code.  The page listing the applicable books is here.


Thank you!

Writerly Ramble: Spine

I just finished William S. Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade, and, strangely, what I took out of it was a better understanding of the idea of spine.

What I usually get when I ask about spine is this slightly annoyed look that I always end up interpreting as shouldn’t you know this already? Well, yes, I’ve heard all kinds of things about spine and how it supports your story.  As it turns out, metaphors don’t actually tell you every damn functional technique you need to know about the words they describe, and that spine is a lot more important in screenwriting than it is in writing novels or even short stories, and that I mostly speak to fiction writers who may or may not have as good an understanding of spine as they think they do.


Something about it reminds me of the idea, again from movies, that dialog can be too “on the nose.”  I struggled with it initially.  Why would having characters come out and say what they actually meant be problematic–as long as it was in character voice?

But then I realized that, in fiction, my characters speak outright truth mainly as part of their internal POV voices.

An example of truth as part of POV in fiction:

The field of green wheat shivered as the early glow of the sunrise touched the dew.  The wheat knew what was coming, getting roasted under that sun.  It was what that field lived and died and would eventually be plowed under for, making more wheat to roast under that sun, generation upon generation.

Maisie shaded her eyes, waiting for the edge of the sun to crest the trees that marked the Binders’ farm.  

All kinds of things had to be harvested, if you wanted to make room for new wheat. 

And besides, Marcus Binder had had it coming.

Now, say, you had to write that as a screenplay:


A golden sunrise just about to begin over a field of green wheat, the light shimmering on the dew, an early morning hush.  In the distance, MARCUS BINDER’s farm and the trees surrounding it.  We know what’s waiting for the cops.

MAISIE stands on her porch and stares at the sunrise coming up behind MARCUS’s farm.  She has a mug of coffee: you know she’s in a thinkin’ mood.


I killed you because you tried to hurt my wheat.

[Roll credits.]

That dialog.  Too on the nose.  How about:


A golden sunrise just about to begin over a field of green wheat, the light shimmering on the dew, an early morning hush.  In the distance, MARCUS BINDER’s farm and the trees surrounding it.  We know what’s waiting for the cops.

MAISIE stands on her porch and stares at the sunrise coming up behind MARCUS’s farm.  She has a mug of coffee: you know she’s in a thinkin’ mood.


When it’s my time, Marcus Binder, I won’t make such a damn fuss about being plowed under…and making room for new wheat.

[Roll credits.]

Okay, you know.  Not brilliant.  But at least not as jarringly off as the line about “I killed you because you tried to hurt my wheat.”

I’m going to put forth a tentative idea about spine.  I haven’t tested it–just brainstorming.

As fiction writers, we often see a certain type of story from beginning writers, who, if we’re being honest with ourselves, include ourselves.  I think it’s one of the reasons we find reading our own works so unnerving:  we think we’re writing this great masterpiece, and really it’s just a rant.

THE HARANGUING STORY ABOUT SOMETHING WE FEEL PASSIONATELY ABOUT always starts out as this magnificent epic (cue the swelling music) and always ends up as something we shove in the drawer.  Or just delete.

Or, even worse, keep harping on about how nobody recognizes our greatness.

The characters are either “true to life” or else so simplistic you can see the hand at the bottom of the sock puppet as they mouth their lines.  Let me tell you the plot:  there is an injustice in the world, which, by the powers of karma, comes back to bite the ass of the perpetrator (the main character, the good guy, is almost incidental–except for the fight scene at the end, which concludes in a triumphant manner).  Victory for everyone deserving, or at least horrible death for everyone not deserving!  The main character might even feel regret for the (deserved) way that the undeserving have met their ends!  Huzzah!

The story, let us say, is entirely too on the nose.

This is not to say that the impulse is necessarily bad (although it often is).  Wanting our chosen ones to triumph over everyone else is a total reader delight.  But most of us have come to realize that when things go too smoothly in real life, what it means is that someone is setting us up to get screwed over.  It’s too good to be true.  We are unable to really get behind events that are too on the nose, too much of a wish fulfillment, because we’ve been conditioned all our lives to be wary of that crap, from pyramid schemes to miracle cures to the people at the front door who swear they aren’t trying to sell us something.

Now, if we set a few obstacles in the way of the main character, and make them a little less black and white, and add a few distractions in the form of other people who aren’t just there to make things easier for the main character, why, then we start to think that maybe we can let down our guards and enjoy what’s going on.

We know how stories are going to end.  Stories that don’t end predictably make most audiences feel robbed.  I hate Old Yeller and Bridge to Terabitha, not because they discuss death, but because they pull the rug out from under your feet, right at the end.  (Best movie about death ever:  E.T.)

So how do you make a story that says what you want to say, but doesn’t come right out and say it?

That’s a whole other topic.

But I’d like to suggest that spine is that secret, on-the-nose story that you really wanted to tell in the first place, hidden under all the stuff you do to keep the reader from sadly setting the book aside and going, “Couldn’t happen.  Not even in a made-up world.”

I just really wanted to tell you that people die and have to leave:  E.T.

I just really wanted to tell you that the good guys not only win, but are so good that they make evil people become good:  Star Wars.

I just really wanted to tell you that the little guy wins sometimes, for a little while:  Firefly.  The Lord of the Rings.  Probably a thousand other stories I could come up with off the top of my head.

I couldn’t tell you how to design or edit for a spine, as opposed to outlining a plot.  Not yet.  But it kind of blows my mind that you can say something so completely and utterly cheesy (and heartwarming) that we couldn’t buy it, if you told us outright what you were trying to say.

Promo Friday: The Horror Reading Project

I am on a horror reading project with two friends of mine and yours, MB Partlow and Shannon Lawrence, and am currently working on the Nightmare Magazine Top 100 Horror Books list.  I am reading (or re-reading) everything that I don’t have on Goodreads.  You can find the entire list of what I’ve read so far (and my reviews) here, on Goodreads.

It turns out that I’ve read far more science fiction and fantasy than I ever did horror, although admittedly the Nightmare list is extremely shy on ghost stories and work before, say, 1960.  The Turn of the Screw, the Hitchcock collections, the entirety of Edgar Allan Poe, the creeptastic critter and ghost stories from Algernon Blackwood, EF Benson, F Marion Crawford – missing, all missing.  Not a single Edward Gorey cover.

But it turns out that’s probably for the best:  I’ve already read those!

So far my impressions have been that:

  1. There was a period where Women Are Either Evil or Stupid was the dominant theme.  Aside from questions of whether books with this theme are trying to subtly undermine that perception, buhhhh.  So dull.  Plus, as a reasonably proficient mystery reader, I just keep going, “What is the ulterior motive here? Is the entirety of this story a coverup for something even worse that the supposedly-innocent or otherwise redeemed main character actually did?  The main character’s the murderer, right?  Because clues.”
  2. It is almost impossible for a horror novel to make you jump out of your seat; conversely, creeping awful dread seems to be even easier.  And that moment when you’ve been reading a story and you realize there was something the writer didn’t bother to spell out in the text unfolds in front of you, and you’re climbing up the seat.
  3. It’s really hard to make gore stand out in fiction, but man can Clive Barker pull it off.

So far, 22 books in, my favorites out of the list are:

  • The Hellbound Heart, by Clive Barker
  • Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, ed. by Ellen Datlow (I think this may be my favorite collection edited by her, and I really like her stuff)
  • The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty, which is even scarier now that I’m a parent

Some happy discoveries:

  • Richard Matheson short stories are an absolute pleasure
  • So are Ramsey Campbell short stories, generally
  • I liked the Poppy Z. Brite novels better than I thought I would–and Love in Vein less

All in all, I’m going to say that if you’re looking to get into horror, you should pick up Darkness first; it covers two decades of the best-of-the-best of horror, with not a single skim-worthy story.

So that’s my recommendation for Friday :)




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