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The Write Stuff Interviews Advice for Writers

Clean First Draft Writing: Interview with Author Dean Wesley Smith

Clean First Draft Writing by Dean Wesley Smith Cover Image

Clean first draft writing is not a myth!

Because I’m stubborn, I always have to circle around an idea and test it out a few times before I trust it.

So when Dean Wesley Smith, someone I consider an excellent writing mentor, told me to staaaaaaahp with all the editing and just let my subconscious take over on the writing, I took my sweet time trying it out.

I didn’t really want to. It’s intimidating.

Eventually, I got to the point where I tried it, mostly because I had too many ghostwriting projects to get done in too little time.

This method 100% works. Do I use it 100% of the time? No. I get insecure. But I use it as much as I can stomach it, 80% of the time. And I’ve been very prolific because of it, even counting [cough] that one book I rewrote like seven times and never finished.

That one book where I didn’t use the damn method.

So if you’re spinning your wheels on rewrites, give this a try. There are several techniques involved to help make it easier and more efficient. It’s not comfortable at first, but it’s a good path for repeat success as a writer.

Clean First Draft Writing is part of the Write Stuff Storybundle, ten works on the craft & business of writing fiction available for a limited time.

UPDATE! The Write Stuff Storybundle is over, but you can still find Dean’s class at the updated link below:

I got to ask Dean a few questions for the StoryBundle!


1. What type of writer is your book aimed toward? 

The class is aimed at helping all fiction writers with getting past some myths and saving a lot of time in their writing by writing clean to start with instead of the myth of first, sloppy drafts. So any fiction writer will benefit.

 2. What problem does your book solve for those writers?

The problem the class helps solve is to allow fiction writers to write from their creative voice, keep the creative voice in control, and not write sloppy and cause their creative voice to quit and cause the writer more work later. Plus writing clean the first time through is a lot more fun because you get to more stories instead of wasting time churning over old ones.

3. Who do you consider your writing mentors? 

I was lucky with my writing mentors. I learned from (and was friends with) Algis Budrys, Jack Williamson, Harlan Ellison, Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm. All wrote clean drafts of their stories.


Clean writing is also a lot more fun because you eventually learn to just go with the flow and be entertained as you write!

Dean’s bio:

Considered one of the most prolific writers working in modern fiction, New York Times and USA Today bestselling writer Dean Wesley Smith published far over two hundred novels in forty years, and hundreds and hundreds of short stories and non-fiction books. He has over twenty-three million copies of his books in print.

You can find Dean at:

His website: https://www.deanwesleysmith.com/

His Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dean.w.smith.3

The Write Stuff Interviews Advice for Writers

Free Your Inner Nonfiction Writer: Interview with Author Johanna Rothman

Free Your Inner Nonfiction Writer by Johanna Rothman Cover Image

You’re an expert who wants to become a nonfiction writer, sharing your knowledge with a wider audience in a structured, easy-to-digest format.

But creating non-fiction books isn’t easy. (Even when you’re skilled at other types of writing!)

Johanna Rothman is a long-time management consultant and author friend of mine who excels at taking complex business concepts and turning them into clear writing. In this book, she tackles the issues that non-fiction writers commonly face when putting down words.

Yes, that includes having a horrifying case of imposter syndrome.

Free Your Inner Non-Fiction Writer is part of the Write Stuff Storybundle, ten works on the craft & business of writing fiction available for a limited time.

UPDATE! The Write Stuff Storybundle is over, and Free Your Inner Nonfiction Writer isn’t released for the public yet, but you can still find Johanna’s newsletter signup link at the updated link below (where she will announce the book when it goes live):

I got to ask her a few questions for the StoryBundle! In fact, this book arrives at an extremely timely moment for me personally, because I’m struggling to stay confident enough to work on my nonfiction books!


1. What type of writer is your book aimed toward? 

Nonfiction writers who want to write faster and better. Even experienced nonfiction writers don’t always realize they think and learn as they write. Or, they start to edit too early, shortcutting their thinking and learning time. Instead, nonfiction writers who want to write faster and easier will benefit from this book.

 2. What problem does your book solve for those writers?

Too often, nonfiction writers ask themselves this question: Someone has already written this. Why should I write my version? You should write your version, and that’s because you have a different take on the topic. In particular, you have different stories to tell. Not just story as example, but story as in how you can structure your piece. Or story as in your experiences of what occurred and what you learned. All of those stories help your ideal reader connect to the topic and learn what that reader might do—or avoid.

3. Who do you consider your writing mentors? 

My first writing teacher and a huge mentor was Gerald M. (Jerry) Weinberg. His book, The Fieldstone Method, freed me from the blank-page problem. Also, Dean Wesley Smith, who might not realize how well his advice applies to nonfiction writers, too. In addition, I’ve been teaching my nonfiction writing workshop since 2018. I have learned a *ton* from the writers I teach.

4. What else would you like readers to know about?

Reassess the writing rules your teachers gave you back in school. For example, many of us learned this rule: “You must always outline first.” That’s the same as saying: “You must always know all the requirements to start a project.” You don’t have to be a software person to know that’s crazy-making. We learn as we proceed. Another thing I want readers to know: the faster you write, the more you sound like you, and that’s why readers will read your work.


(See what I mean? Good stuff!)

Johanna’s bio:

People know me as the “Pragmatic Manager.” I help leaders and teams see simple and reasonable alternatives that might work in their context—often with a bit of humor. Equipped with that knowledge, they can decide how to adapt their work. 

My philosophy is that people want to do a good job. They don’t always know what they are supposed to do, nor how to do it.

I write an email newsletter, the Pragmatic Manager,  two blogs on jrothman.com, and a personal blog on createadaptablelife.com with its own newsletter. Please take a look and sign up for the newsletters. I’ve written articles for all kinds of places. I’ve keynoted on five continents. I’m not sure I want to go to Antarctica.

You can find Johanna at:

Her website: https://www.jrothman.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/johannarothman

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/johanna.rothman

So You Think You've Been Traumatized Brain Image

So You Think You’ve Been Traumatized: A Reading List

Everyone runs into some sort of trauma in their lives, sooner or later. Our society can be incredibly callous about trauma:

“I feel hurt.” 

“Well, don’t.”

If you suspect that your inability to stop feeling hurt goes back to something beyond the purely rational, then you may want to look into the subject of trauma, or deeply distressing or disturbing experience. This experience can be a single event, repeated events, or a complex web of events. Trauma can come from physical, mental, or emotional/relationship/social sources, or combinations of all of the above.

I’m no expert, but what it sounds like to me (and feels like) is that trauma is a sort of image or experience that gets burned into your nervous system, like those ghostly images that used to get burned into computer screens. (Remember when we had to have moving screen savers? I’m dating myself here.)

Trauma, whatever its source, leaves its results in the physical materials of your brain and warps the ability of your nervous system to perceive the world accurately.

If you feel haunted by emotions that are beyond your control, look into the possibility of trauma.

Often, your brain can be sorted out without drugs, and, if you’re in a Very Bad Spot, without talking about your trauma.

Start With This Book

The Body Keeps the Score – Bessel van der Kolk

This is a book that talks about the physical nature of trauma, how it warps our thinking and emotions, and what to do about it. It talks about ways of dealing with trauma that do not involve talking about it, why talking about it can be unhelpful, and why these other ways (which do not involve drugs) work.

Books that Teach Recovery/Defense Tools

Please note here that this is not a complete list. These are books that I’ve read or that have been recommended to me. Please let me know if you have additional suggestions.

The Gift of Fear – Gavin de Becker

A book about how to use your fears for something useful, like escaping danger, instead of damping them down in socially unacceptable or dangerous ways. If you’re going to learn what isn’t a threat, you also need to know what is a threat!

Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissist – Dr. Craig Malkin

If you find yourself silencing yourself in order to avoid the spotlight, you may be an echoist, the sort of person that a narcissist likes to use for a supply of admiration and validation…while you do all the hard work. This book covers how to recover from a fear of becoming like the people in your life who are “users.”

Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers – Karyl McBride

This was an intensely personal book for me; I picked up the idea of creating an “ideal mother” from here, if you’ve ever heard me mention that. Even if you’re male or nonbinary, this might be a good book for you, because it describes how a narcissist or other dark personality can warp a family dynamic. I do look forward to finding a book that’s more gender-neutral, though.

Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You – Susan Forward

A book about how to identify and resist manipulation in your life. My important lesson here was that you don’t have to be a perfect person in order to deserve to be treated fairly. This was a good book for figuring out what “fair” means.

Splitting: Protecting Yourself While Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder – Randi Kreger

While people with PTSD and/or mental health issues should have our sympathy, it is also necessary to keep ourselves safe around them, and sometimes that means walking away from a marriage or similar long-term relationship. Here’s where to start.

Where to Draw the Line: How to Set Healthy Boundaries Every Day – Anne Katherine

If you’re struggling with what a boundary is, how to set one, how to know when you’ve gone too far, and how to handle the fallout after setting a boundary, this is a great book.

Books that Teach Life, Art, and Spiritual Skills

Early trauma can disrupt learning valuable life skills, as well as cut you off from the people who should have been teaching you those skills. These can be practical life skills (like dealing with money), skills for finding meaning in life, and skills in helping others.

I Will Teach You to Be Rich – Ramit Sethi

Trauma messes with your ability to handle some basic life functions; one of mine was the ability to handle money. This book walks you through the bare minimum of how to handle your finances, in a way that doesn’t require you to count pennies on days when you can’t stand to do so. There’s a great podcast that goes along with this, too, that talks about money in relationships; however, caution, listening to people argue about money with each other can be deeply distressing, even if Ramit is incredibly tactful and helpful in easing people out of their conflicts.

The Artist’s Way – Julia Cameron

One of the things that Bessel van der Kolk discusses in The Body Keeps the Score is how the arts help soothe trauma. If you want to work on some sort of art and need a path ahead, here’s a place to start. I have done the book twice. (There is some talk about a divine power in the book; if you’re atheist or agnostic, it can be easy to get triggered over the references. I ended up replacing all uses of the word “God” or “divine power” with “bees.” Did the trick.)

The 4-Hour Workweek – Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss is a man who has long suffered from depression and who is obsessed with getting the most results out of the least amount of effort in every aspect of life (I believe he calls it “the minimum effective dose”). He has a number of books out; they are all about how to completely rethink a situation or start from scratch. His podcast is excellent, too, although I don’t always agree with what he says.

Tarot Reversals – Mary K Greer

Tarot cards are a good teaching tool about the subconscious in Western (i.e., primarily European-heritage) culture. This is an excellent book that takes into account occult traditions and Jungian psychology. (Other cultural traditions have other ways of doing this! Look for fortune-telling traditions from your culture; reading someone’s attitude toward life can give you a pretty uncanny guess about their fate.)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Things Up – Marie Kondo

Sometimes you literally need to learn how to let things go. If you’re struggling with your stuff, this is a gentle book on how to sort out what you love from what you feel obligated to keep or are too stressed out to even try to let go of. Remember: if you love it, keep it. This book doesn’t say you need to get rid of anything you love. But it will help you see the socks with all the holes in them before they’re on your feet.

How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler – Ryan North

I don’t know about you, but…my trauma brain collects an unreasonable amount of information on what to do if something goes wrong. Constantly. If I’m not prepared, then I won’t be able to run in and help someone else the way I wanted to be helped but wasn’t, right? So I’ve been looking for “the one book I would want in case society collapses” for a long time. This is it. Plus it’s funny. I got it in hardcover and have never looked for another book like that again.

Books about Processing Trauma through Fiction and Nonfiction:

These are books about specific cases of people, both fictional and nonfictional, processing trauma and talking about what it feels like to have to do that.

(Note: reading books about people who helped survivors of trauma is not the same as reading books from the perspectives of the survivors of trauma themselves. Be cautious about reading books about “nice helpers” who save people from trauma instead of survivors who take agency about saving themselves.)

Educated – Tara Westover

A memoir about abuse driven by homeschooling and religious fundamentalism.

Kindred – Olivia Butler

A novel about a Black woman who goes back in time to confront the truth about her ancestors’ enslavement.

Night – Elie Wiesel

A survivor of the Holocaust describes what he had to do to survive.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book about Horrible Things – Jenny Lawson

Comedic memoir about living with mental illness.

Maus – Art Spiegelman (Maus I and Maus II)

A pair of graphic novels about a Jewish family trying to survive the Holocaust. The characters are changed into animals, not in a childish way, but in the same way as George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

There are lot of other books, many of which I haven’t read. I plan to update this post with them…at some point! If you have suggestions, please comment and let me know. 

Business of Short Stories Shannon Lawrence 2D Cover

Shannon Lawrence Interview: The Business of Short Stories


Welcome to an interview with fellow author Shannon Lawrence!  Previous interviews with Shannon for her short story collection Blue Sludge Blues and other interviews with Richard BambergRob ChanskyP.R. AdamsMegan RutterJason Dias, and MJ Bell are also available.


The Business of Short Stories

Whether you’re looking to add short stories to your repertoire as a solo pursuit or in addition to novel writing, The Business of Short Stories covers every aspect from writing to marketing. Learn the dynamics of short story writing, where to focus your editing efforts, how and where to submit, how to handle acceptances and rejections, what to do with reprints, and how to market yourself and your stories online and in person. The information in The Business of Short Stories has been distilled from over a decade of short story publishing experience so you don’t have to learn the hard way. You’ll find information on submission formatting, cover letters, querying a collection, sending proposals to writing events, how to create a website, SEO, social media, and so much more. This is an invaluable resource for short story writers.

There’s never been a better time to get into short stories!

[Or see below the interview for a sample!]


I have known author Shannon Lawrence from the Colorado writing community for quite some time, and have loved her short horror fiction ever since I heard her read the title story from her collection Blue Sludge Blues. She is a powerhouse of writing and hustling her short fiction (among other talents), and I’m pleased to share this interview with her about her new book on writing, selling, marketing, and promoting short fiction, The Business of Short Stories.

Writing and publishing short fiction isn’t just a labor of love, but an awesome training ground for a career in fiction. The skillsets you learn as a short fiction writer–and which Shannon covers in her book–are the basis for successful fiction writing in general.

Learning how to sell your fiction is a key skill. Unfortunately, writers don’t get to just write their stories, even in the traditional publishing world.

Mastering the techniques Shannon describes will help you move forward with your whole writing career. It’s solid stuff (if not always romantic).

See below for the description and sample of The Business of Short Stories. It goes live on February 1, 2020.


1. You have written a LOT of short stories. How many have you written, total? What’s the guesstimate? And which one is your current favorite that you’ve written?…and which is your favorite that someone else wrote? 

Oh, wow! That’s a tricky question. I imagine the number I’ve written is somewhere around 100. Probably more. There have been stories that were never meant to see the light of day and stories that just never have. I currently have over twenty out on submission.

My current favorite may never see publication, because it’s a light fantasy piece. It’s more emotion than anything else. It’s called Inked Soul. Of course, it may be that I’m submitting it to the wrong type of markets, so I’ll be switching it up soon. It has a lot personal to it, and it feels oddly beautiful to me.

I have so many favorites by others! But I’ll name one that most people will recognize in some way. The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allan Poe has been a favorite for so long, since I was a kid. The buildup is perfection. You’re watching a man lose it in real time, full of paranoia and smugness. He starts out confident in himself and what he’s done, but it eats at him the longer he sits there. So well done.

2. In your new book, you tell writers not just how to write a short story, but how to get started in a short story career. You covered a LOT. I kept trying to come up with things you hadn’t covered, and it would be literally the next chapter. So tell us which writers will be best served by your book, and what problem it solves for them. Basically, who should read this and why?

First of all, that’s awesome to hear. One of the things I did with my beta readers was to ask them to write down their questions before they read it, so that if there was something I hadn’t covered they could tell me. It’s too hard to remember what you wanted to know afterward unless it’s glaring.

The book is intended specifically for beginning writers, but it should appeal to intermediate writers, as well. For beginners, my intention is for them to not have to learn everything the hard way like you and I did. The focus is more on what comes after the writing, even though I do cover the dynamics of short story writing. I feel like the writing is such a personal thing that less of it can be taught compared to the rest of what writers need to know. Like how to find places to submit the stories and how to go about it. How to write a cover letter. What to do if you never hear back, or you hear back and it’s a rejection, an acceptance, or a rewrite request. What to expect after that. How to tie yourself into accounts that already exist to get the word out about books (BookBub, Amazon’s Author Central, Goodreads) so you can get anthologies and magazines connected with your name. Tips on social media and public appearances. Business tips, such as setting up a website and a separate email. I tried to cover as much as possible that would help set writers up for success so they wouldn’t have to scramble to make up ground or to change things that had been done incorrectly early on (you know, like I’ve had to do with some things, or had to just deal with on other things).

For intermediate writers, I was surprised about some of the things that weren’t common knowledge, so there are resources there for them, too. For them, it might work more as a checklist, to figure out what steps they might have missed and where to look. The marketing section is meant to serve as first steps for beginning writers, but also some deeper steps for folks who haven’t taken that big dive into marketing or need to make their next moves because they’ve learned the beginning steps. Even novelists can find helpful information in the marketing section, because I intended the information there to grow with writers/authors as they move forward in their careers. It helped that I have a background in booking speakers, so I could give feedback on that from both the perspective of an author making appearances and the staff facilitating those appearances.

3. What does your writing process tend to look like for short stories? And would you say you spend the most time writing, editing, marketing, or promoting your stories?

I tend to be a sprint writer and a panster, so I’ll go a period of time without writing until desire and time meet up just right. But when I do sit down to write, I can get a massive number of words down in one sitting. Short stories usually only take one to three sittings, but those sittings are several hours each. If they wallow there too long, I feel like it impacts the final product. (To be clear, this is just for my writing. Everyone writes differently.) A lot of my writing is done in front of a movie or with music playing. Though I’m noticing that silence is appealing to me more and more now, so that may be changing. It used to be that I couldn’t deal with a quiet room, even when working. Editing still needs to be done in silence, though, so even music can’t be playing.

I’d like to think I spend more time writing than anything else, but that balance sways sometimes. Luckily, I write pretty clean in terms of grammar, punctuation, etc., so my editing mostly comes down to content, wording, pacing, and that sort of thing. I read a lot of short stories, and I’ve now written enough of them that the rhythm of a short story comes more naturally, which means less editing on those aspects is required. At the very least, it means not having to spend a ton of time cutting down or building up to word count, so I can focus on the story itself.

Then again, right now most of my time is going into marketing, but some of that is updating and making long-term changes that will remain for a while. It also comes down to the difference between marketing short stories and marketing a book. Both involve having a consistent presence online, which I’d say takes more time than what we read as actual promotion, which is the visible push. But learning to preschedule and spend a limited time on marketing/promotion has helped with that, and I’m more comfortable with the time balance (when not launching a book).

4. Where do you feel most short story writers struggle the most? And what’s your top short advice to address that struggle?

I think marketing is the biggest issue, but when we skip that, the hardest thing is the actual submission process. I know SO many writers, but very few of them are actively submitting the short stories they write. I don’t believe that’s because they can’t figure out where to possibly submit, but because they lack confidence in themselves and their writing, so they simply don’t do it. And when they do, a single rejection may be the thing that derails them.

So my short advice is to submit. Period. Get yourself out there. What we tend to fear is rejection, because we’re human. It hurts. But the worst thing that’s going to happen is that an email will come in that says, in short, “No, thank you.” There’s no shame in getting a rejection. Turn that story right back around and resubmit it. Don’t let rejection beat you down. The more it happens, the easier it gets. Someone wants to read your writing. Many someones. So submit. Then submit again.

Random side note, but notice how the two hardest aspects typically come down to the two that require us to believe in ourselves? Marketing and submitting both mean believing in yourself enough to believe someone else will be interested, too. I’m here to tell you that they WILL.

5. What would you say is the best way for a writer to know that their work is ready to submit to a short story market? And does that mean their story is also ready to indie publish?

I believe in letting a story sit for a bit before coming back to it, so that it’s viewed with somewhat fresh eyes. If a writer lets that sit for whatever period they’re comfortable with and they come back to it and it reads well, is clean, has good flow, is nicely paced, and they would be happy to read it if it were someone else’s story, it’s ready. It helps to read it out loud or have a machine read it aloud, too. It also helps to get someone else’s eyes on it, such as in the case of a critique group or beta readers. But ultimately it comes down to reading it and thinking it reads well.

That second question is harder to answer. I know that I go over something more if I’m going to publish it without it having been through someone else. I can definitely say that if a writer doesn’t typically send a story out for feedback in one way or another, they should absolutely do so before they indie publish. The more feedback you get, the more you learn what to look for in your own writing. The industry looks a lot harder at indie published writers than they do traditionally published. Typos that are forgiven in a Stephen King novel will not be forgiven in an indie writer’s book, and it will be held up as a reason indie publishing isn’t valid. If you aren’t confident that you can edit yourself, hire an editor. They’re incredibly valuable. In fact, I recommend that nine times out of ten.

6. Is there any note you’d like to leave our readers on?

In addition to The Business of Short Stories I have three solo horror collections available on Amazon and from Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and other platforms: Blue Sludge Blues & Other Abominations, Bruised Souls & Other Torments, and Happy Ghoulidays. Plus, a true crime podcast with a sense of humor: Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem, which can be found on all podcast platforms, such as iHeartRadio, Spotify, Pandora, and others.

[Editor’s note: I love Shannon and M.B. Partlow’s podcast! Even if I am behind. I recommend it!]


Business of Short Stories Shannon Lawrence 3D Cover

Excerpt from Chapter 1: Defining the Short Story

Character, setting, and plot are just as vital in short stories as they are in novels. They are possibly even more important, because they must be used to immerse the reader in the story immediately. This doesn’t necessarily mean starting in the middle of physical action, which people often default to when they try to address creating an immediate hook. It means that the writer must find a creative way to introduce the reader to the main character quickly and give the reader a reason to keep reading. It might seem like a reader would give a short story an equivalent amount of time to get engaged as they would require from a novel, but this isn’t true. When someone sits down to read a short story, they expect to finish that story in one sitting, possibly with the idea of reading several short stories in a row. Which means they’ll put the story down faster if they don’t read something right away that makes them want to proceed.

The reader needs to be intrigued as soon as they start reading. This can be done by creating such an interesting character that they want to know more about them and what they’re about to face. This requires skipping the useless appearance descriptions and diving into the meat of the character, their skeletal structure. What makes them tick? Are they facing a moral dilemma, a crush, or a dangerous situation? Perhaps the story starts with the character caught up in trying to make a difficult decision. Maybe they’re fleeing something. It could also be that they’re funny and charming, and the reader wants to get to know them.

I’m speaking in the singular here, because that’s the best way to start out your short story writing. If you plan on having more than one important character (hopefully no more than two in this case or three if you’re stretching), you’ll have to introduce the other characters in rapid succession. If they pop up in the middle of the story, there had better be a good reason for doing so, and they must be introduced so the reader has an instant feel for them. A good way to introduce any character is through dialogue and actions. Presenting their current view through thoughts, observations, and reactions, whether thought or spoken, can be effective, as well. What this is doing is showing the reader who they’re dealing with and what that character is facing, rather than telling the reader. It’s an organic way to set the characterization right from the start, and hopefully draw the reader into their world.

The scene must also be set quickly. This can be done through the senses of the character and brief description. Don’t spend even a single paragraph on scene description. The introduction of the character, the setting, and even the conflict, at least in part, can be addressed right away through what is occurring in the now.

Using the senses to pull the reader in can help get to the meat more quickly, as well. It’s setting the scene in a few words. Brevity doesn’t mean dropping all description. If that description is helping to introduce a character, setting, or situation, it should be included, but kept brief and wrapped in with the rest of the text.

Addressing the conflict early on is another way to set up the story quickly and intrigue the reader right away. Making the conflict apparent also helps to set the tone and plot of the rest of the story, showing the reader what kind of ride they’re in for. To repeat myself once again, this doesn’t mean there has to be immediate physical action. What I mean by physical action is someone running or fighting or doing something physical that’s meant to get the reader’s heart pumping and flat out stick them in the middle of a fight or scary incident. Trying to do this often leads to an empty or useless scene that conveys little about the ultimate conflict or the character. There are all kinds of ways to get the reader’s heart pumping, whether through fear, excitement, or lust. It depends upon what kind of story they’ve signed on to read, but it should involve some kind of suspense.

Want to find out more? You’ll have to read the book!


Shannon Lawrence Author Photo Business of Short Stories

Shannon Lawrence has made a career of short stories, with over a decade of experience and more than fifty short stories published in magazines and anthologies. In addition, she’s released three horror short story collections with a mix of new and previously published stories. Her true crime podcast Mysteries, Monsters, & Mayhem is going into its third season. 

Website: www.thewarriormuse.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thewarriormuse
Twitter: https://twitter.com/thewarriormuse
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thewarriormuse/
BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/shannon-lawrence
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/shannondkl
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Shannon-Lawrence/e/B00TDKPOAO
Podcast Website: www.mysteriesmonstersmayhem.com

The Angel of Crows cover

Review: The Angel of Crows by Katherine Addison

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Sherlock is an angel, not fallen, definitely not fallen, in a London where a wide variety of supernatural elements exist.

The Angel of Crows is a collection of intertwined episodes, which is similar to a collection of short stories, yet structured more like a series of the TV show Sherlock with a main plot-of-the-week but with some overarching story threads that build to the end of the book, or season, as it were. This is Sherlock (the TV show) fanfic, admitedly so.

Writing alternate versions of Sherlock Holmes has a fairly long tradition; I tend to like them. I don’t read a lot of fanfic per se, though, mostly because I feel getting into fanfic might be a little dangerous for me. When I was younger, I constantly reread books. These days I have a lot of new things I want to read and don’t want to get set on an infinite spin cycle of Sherlock Holmes or other favorite fiction.

At any rate, I was curious as to how this book would play out. I’ve read another book by this author under her Sarah Monette name and liked it.

There seem to be plusses and minuses to this particular approach to these ideas. (Whether this is consistent across all fanfic, well, probably not.)

Plusses:
– Familiar characters.
– The drama is focused on the plots, not the two main characters (Crow and Doyle–the “Sherlock” and “Watson” characters, that is–get along well and even treat each other with consistent kindness).
– Plot twists that wouldn’t have been acceptable on TV were fine here.

Minuses:
– The plots got tired, mainly rehashes of Sherlock Holmes plots, and got shorter and less interesting as the book went on.
– There were logical inconsistencies between the Angels being so limited and the Fallen being so powerful; how does any sort of stable society exist?
– It feels like this is really a Neverwhere-meets-Sherlock fanfic and there is a second set of rules about the world that’s not handled openly.
– The worldbuilding wasn’t organic with everything else; something like Anno Dracula by Kim Newman or A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullen has an overall vision for the world that comes to life.
– Some of the plots didn’t pay off, as in, the plot was wrapped up almost as an aside and in the middle of what should have been a smaller, less important plot! One of the big plot twists was completely obvious, if you knew Sherlock Holmes at all. And in a world that has been designed to give readers what they want, there were definitely plot threads where the satisfying choices didn’t happen.

How I experienced this was:
– I gulped down the book like a long cool drink of water.
– But afterwards I didn’t feel really refreshed, and if there had been more of it, I would still have been gulping for more.

This book was good and fun! Don’t get me wrong. But overall it tells me that fanfic as such may not be for me. Books like this one, where the author has put fanfic out into the wider world, should be fine overall, but may not be something I seek out. What made this book work for me was the author’s writing and ability to handle the characters. Reading an author who isn’t as standout as she is would probably leave me disappointed.

So I think I will leave the first-wave reading to fanfic fans, yet not avoid fanfic-that-is-now-a-packaged-book, but not seek it out, either. Other intrepid souls can bring back the cream of the fanfic crop, as it were.

I want stories that feel like the whole thing fits together seamlessly. Sometimes new work that’s built on existing work can do that; often it can’t. The Angel of Crows didn’t quite make the jump to taking on a life of its own as a retelling (which is what I’m looking for) but was quite readable if you’re a fan of Sherlock.

Recommended if you’re a Sherlock fanfic reader or a historical urban fantasy reader in general. A perfectly readable page turner, even though it doesn’t make the leap to quite becoming its own thing.


Read more of my reviews.

Check out MY revisioning/fanfic of Alice in Wonderland (with zombies) and see if I have put my money where my mouth is. Free as of this writing.

Gothic Doorway to Graveyard

What makes a story gothic?

FrankensteinDraculaThe Phantom of the Opera. If you like stories full of atmosphere, horror, and bittersweet emotions, then you may enjoy a good Gothic story. That story may go back a few centuries or it may be completely modern. The characters will be dramatic, the language will be flowery, and the atmosphere will hang in the air, often quite literally as fog. Or snow. Madness abounds.

But what makes a story gothic? What drives people (like me!) to write gothic stories?

As far as I can tell, what makes a story gothic is something that’s often known as “making the setting a character.”

(I don’t like calling setting a character, though, because the setting itself rarely takes actions as a character would.)

In order for a gothic to feel properly atmospheric, horrific, and bittersweet, then the setting has to seem to come alive as the negative behaviors and emotions of one or more of the human characters are projected on the setting. (Projection here means unconsciously taking unwanted emotions or traits you don’t like about yourself and putting them onto someone or something else, such as saying that your car is “cranky” if it “acts up” at the same time you just happen to be having a stressful day.)

In other words, in a gothic story, some element of the setting has to personify the moods or personality of one or more of the characters.

All of which means that it was a dark and rainy night…when the gothic was born!

Frankenstein’s experiments happen in a coldly rational laboratory at a university in Switzerland; the frame story is told in the Arctic. The female monster is created on the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland. Dracula has his castle and Transylvania, but becomes his most suave and urbane in London. Jane Eyre features a house with a madwoman in the attic. The Stange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde takes us back to the laboratory, and contrasts the upper and lower classes—and neighborhoods—around London. Rebecca’s heroine dreams of Manderlay (although I dream more of that evil sailboat), and Cathy haunts Wuthering Heights, even before her death.

The Haunting of Hill House is one of the best examples of a place that takes on a well-nigh human mood:

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 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 main character of the book, Eleanor, is a woman who is not allowed to have dreams of her own, living as the caretaker for her mother. She isn’t sane; she is isolated and holds her darkness within, appearing to be a perfectly ordinary, boring, very private woman. Whether or not the house is haunted is up for debate—but it is certain that it is Elenor’s sentiments that affect how the house was written.

If what makes a gothic a gothic is the setting, then it is the New York City apartment, elegant but sinister, that defines the events of Rosemary’s Baby; the decaying plantations and twisted, wrought-iron balconies of New Orleans that create Interview with the Vampire; even the tall pines and mist that created Twilight.

What makes a writer create a gothic, I think, is the desire to reveal some element of the truth of a situation to the reader, by making it external and obvious as part of the setting.

The virgins in white nightgowns flee from the castle because their so-called happy home is a place of entrapment and misery; Montressor can bury his enemy behind a wall in his endless wine cellar because of his wealth and privilege; Melmoth the Wanderer finds the other characters of the story all over the world, but mainly in monasteries and churches, as opposed to the paradisical island of his victim and lover, Isidora, written by a Protestant clergyman denouncing the evils of the Roman Catholic church.

Although, given that writers’ minds tend to wander, perhaps it is the reverse, with the author starting with a setting and trying to explain the creepy feeling they get there, and building characters that justify that feeling, as when Southern Gothic writers write about the South. (Or other regional gothic writers write about their homes!)

At any rate, whether the source of the atmosphere comes from the characters projecting onto the setting or the setting projecting characters to create the right atmosphere, the truth behind the setting will come out.

Flash Fiction: The Future of Birth Control


It’s the future and technology is being used to force women to have babies they don’t want. But technology works both ways in this flash fiction piece about the future of birth control.


It’s a perfectly normal day when I decide that it’s time to go to the coffee shop down the street and end it. The skies are blue, blue with a slight tinge of purple, blue so clear that it feel like living inside a marble. The cloud overhead is white and as soft as a puff of cotton stuffing. I walk through the iron front gate, which is pulled back during business hours, into the courtyard. I walk past the juice shop to the right—bee pollen, vegan cheese, poblano avocado dressing—to get to the coffee shop. The courtyard is paved with bricks in a basketweave pattern. The umbrellas are open, the mismatched patio tables and chairs set out, but there aren’t many people here yet. It’s four o’clock on a Friday and some goth is humming over the stereo, a mournful tune backed by a drum machine. The rainbow flags are out—we still celebrate Pride month here. Palm leaves rustle and birds chirp and squeak.

Cozi, the owner, is the one at the counter today, only she’s not at the counter. As soon as she saw me come past the gates, she picked up a broom and started sweeping dirt out of the big garage-style doors at the front of the coffee shop and out onto bricks.

“Hey, Danielle. Be right with you.”

She doesn’t ask me anything, and I don’t tell. We both know why I’m there. I won’t be able to order coffee today; it’s bad for the baby.

The baby. It’s not that; it’s barely an embryo.

Cozi sweeps the last of the dirt outside—knowing it’ll blow back in—then puts down the broom. Still ignoring me, she heaves the lid off a trash container, then hefts the biodegradable bag out. It’s almost closing time. The bag makes a sucking sound and she has to shake it to work it loose. The container drops to the floor and she grunts, swinging the bag over the edge of the container. It would be easier if she were taller.

I stand next to the counter, waiting, and look over the pastries that are left: chocolate croissant, leek croissant, gluten-free blueberry muffin. Over the counter is a brittle paper sign that should have long since been recycled.

NO PUBLIC RESTROOMS. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

It’s still relevant. I reach over the counter, steal the key to the bathroom off the hook, and edge past the tables blocking off the back room. I let myself into the bathroom, then sit down to pee. The room smells slightly of bleach. I wipe, then wash my hands using the automatic sink and soap dispenser. The toilet flushes itself.

I pause to take a paper towel, then, squatting a little, correctly position my upper left arm under the old manual soap dispenser. I count to ten.

There’s no sign of whether it works or doesn’t. No noise, no blinking light, no warmth under my skin where the cartridge was implanted.

I come out of the bathroom and reach across the counter to put the key back on its hook. Cozi is nowhere to be seen, but the garage doors are down now, tinted glass darkening the perfect blue skies outside.

Bottles rattle, glass on glass. Cozi comes out from the kitchen, glass syrup bottles interleaved between her fingers. She puts them on the battered wood counter.

“Sorry about the wait! What dd you need today? Maté? Chai?”

“Chai, please.”

Cozi brews her own chai, adds a few things to it from the juice bar next door. They’ve tested all the drinks at both places but have found nothing. They don’t realize that we carry our protection under the skin now. I wonder how long this trick will work. It’s so hard staying one step ahead, these days.

The steamer screams as it heats the nut mylk to near boiling and the air fills with the scent of spices and honey. I pay for the drink with a swipe of my right wrist over the sensor. The sensor beeps and flashes so you know you’ve paid. Earlier last week I received a text message saying that my birth control had been turned off last month; my lottery number had come up and I was already pregnant. The lottery age changed just last week. Birth rates are down again. I’m forty-five.

The sensor registers my stats: blood pressure, hormones, calorie, caffeine, and drug intake, exercises performs, heart rate, the works. The cartridge won’t release its drugs for a couple of weeks to a month, at random. Then I’ll start to bleed.

It doesn’t make me happy, what I’m doing. But I’ve made up my mind and I have no regrets.

The rhetoric goes, “What if the baby you aborted could have cured cancer?”

But what I know for certain is, she won’t be born a slave.

Story notes:

There are basically two types of people who have abortions:

  • People who consented to get pregnant.
  • People who did not consent to get pregnant.

You can sue someone who knowingly gives you an STD, which means you can consent to having sex without consenting to an STD. So why can’t you sue someone who knowingly gets you pregnant?


millennial tarot deck

The Millennial Tarot

Please note: this is not currently a serious project! I am actually working on a tarot deck to go along with a novel series, tentatively named The Clockwork Gothic. It turns out that trying to put together an actual tarot deck seriously changes how you see the tarot. I was journaling one day and came up with a smartass idea for a tarot deck—the Millennial Tarot Deck—and managed to get through the major arcana before I got stuck.

I should also note that I am not a Millennial but a younger Gen-Xer. I’m not here to mock, though. I could have done a Gen-Xer deck, but my initial thoughts on it were kind of depressing. When Paul Ryan showed up as the Devil in my deck…I just couldn’t do it.

So please enjoy this as a smartass mini-project I did to help solidify my thoughts on tarot 🙂

The Millennial Tarot

Tarot is meant to map and organize the great tales of our culture in a way that enlightens us to our common humanity without erasing our individuality, helping us move past ideas that hold us back from a sense of balance and peace.

Tarot points out that we keep doing the same damn things over and over again. It’s the mysterious voice that seems to call from nowhere, saying, “DON’T GO DOWN INTO THE BASEMENT.” Although the tarot is used as a fortune-telling tool, it is always trying to tell us that it isn’t fate that controls our destiny, but our own willful blindness, both as individuals and as a society.

When the cards are upright, read them as generally obvious and straightforward answers: the forces described by the card apply, and you usually not only recognize its existence, and you probably saw it coming—at least in retrospect, you should have.

When the cards are reversed, it’s an invitation to look deeper. Rather than simply reversing the meaning of the card, ask yourself what insecurities may apply to the matter at hand, whether yours or someone else’s. For example, a Fool reversed might mean someone is blaming money troubles on someone else, or telling everyone “it’s all part of the plan” when it isn’t. Or they may become judgy, seeing “fools” everywhere rather than accept their part of the problem.

All you have to do to live a good life, they say, is stop spending money on Starbucks and avocado toast.

At first it may be hard to see how a reversed card might be beneficial. But “good” and “bad” cards are all in how you take them. Nothing stays the same forever in tarot. There are only temporary upturns and downturns, giving us the opportunity to treat ourselves and others with more care, to honor our own choices, to draw healthy boundaries, and to resist the unfairness of the world with a core of inner strength.

Side note, I did find a Buzzfeed article on making the tarot more Millennial-friendly, and it’s cute but not thorough.

The Major Arcana

Note, the text in italics is what’s on the card; the text in regular Roman font is the text that would be in the little book that goes with the deck!

0. The Entrepreneur (The Fool)

A laptop bag on one hip, a latte in the other, the Entrepreneur is surrounded by a halo of icons: lightbulbs, gears, clocks, email, bar graph, wrench. They reach out for a dollar sign, not watching as they step toward the edge of a steeply descending staircase.

Wisdom comes from making mistakes. Just make sure they don’t destroy you after you make them.

1. The Hipster (The Magus)

He stands behind the table, beard flowing, copper home distiller setup on the table before him. He wears a fedora and suspenders. One hand holds an upraised cell phone. His Everyday Carry is on the table: keys, wallet, pocket knife, flask. At his feet and growing up into an archway overhead, are a fecundity of hops vines.

Without the Hipster, there would be no craft beer. But be wary of building a tolerance for bitterness.

2. The Naturopath (The High Priestess)

A dark-haired, young white woman sits cross-legged on a yoga mat on a wooden platform. Two posts stand on either side of the platform. Between them stretch Tibetan prayer flags fluttering in the wind, half-concealing the symbols written on them. A white veil stretches behind her, around her, above her. She, too, holds a phone: is she offering it to you, or taking a selfie? Is she reading the screen as she imparts her wisdom, or recording her message to be passed on?

The doctors said the pain was all in your head. The Naturopath offers different truths—sometimes the wisdom to listen to your body and seek help, sometimes the idiocy of a healing crystal sex toy.

3. The Secretary (The Empress)

A Hispanic woman sits at a desk, phone jammed to her right ear, computer monitor and keyboard to the left. Behind her hand two flags: one of them shows the lands of the Earth, and the other shows a field of stars. She’s wearing a businesslike ivory blouse but is showing tattoo sleeves under them: spiderwebs, skulls, and other images of darkness and death. She has a lot of ear piercings.

She might not be the most traditional…but business is good. Let’s keep it that way.

4. The CEO (The Emperor)

He is white, bald, and has funny ears, and sits upon a messy jumble of books, in a cavernous warehouse that stretches backward to infinity. Distantly, robots move boxes. Beside him, what looks like a golden backpack: his parachute.

True power means not having to care whether you use it wisely or not.

5. The Tech Guru (The Hierophant)

He is Black, has a dimple in his chin like it was driven into him with a golf tee, and wears black plastic-framed glasses, plaid shirt, and overlarge striped tie. He is holding a fire extinguisher. The fire extinguisher is on fire. Behind him are a number of action figurines on shelves.

In the beginning, there was code. But soon there were help request tickets. Some of which may repeatedly and deliberately get lost. He controls your settings, he controls your passwords. Anger him at your own risk.

6. The Fanatics (The Lovers)

The crowd stands behind a row of crowd control stanchions. They look nothing alike, except that they are all—all!—wearing the same t-shirt, a man’s face on them. Above and behind them rises an enormous man with tousled brown hair, tinted glasses, and kohl-rimmed eyes, wearing a goatee and a blazer over the same t-shirt. It is the same man, and the bottom of his chest is indistinguishable, and inseparable, from his fans.

The love of something or someone can bring us together—or it can blind us and ultimately tear us apart.

7. The Feed (The Chariot)

There is always an old man with a goatee in a gray suit. There is always a platform in a room that stretches out of sight both above and below, filled with monitors. There is always a walkway leading to the man, and he is always waiting for you.

The feed is a never-ending stream of information. It can carry you forward; it can crush you; it can hide any lie underneath the flicker of its images.

8. Self-Care (Strength)

In the apartment is a lounge chair, on the lounge chair are fat pillows. Next to the lounge chair is an end table, and on the end table is a steaming teapot, and a large friendly mug showing a crack. Behind the end table is a fiddle-leaf fig tree. On the wall beside the fig tree is a painting, and the painting is of a woman wearing a green facial mask and drinking tea in the same room, with the same cup, only the crack is sealed with gold. On the table in front of the lounge chair is a plate, and that plate holds avocado toast. Beside the plate of avocado toast is a remote control. On the floor is a rug, and the rug is soft and fluffy. In the painting, the woman has already eaten the toast. The remote has been replaced with a set of keys.

Treating yourself as a precious object can make you strong. Treating yourself as a disposable one will only make you weak.

9. The Basement Dweller (The Hermit)

We cannot see his face, only a silhouette in front of a monitor screen, the rays dimly illuminating shelves, a desk, a washing machine, baskets of laundry. A mug sitting beside the monitor reads, if one peers at it, “World’s Greatest Dad.”

He moved out of his mom’s basement a long time ago, but he still sits alone in the dark, reborn with a different identity, one that feels more like himself.

10. The Hustle (The Wheel)

A fidget spinner with three lobes and an eye in the center, the eye of the Illuminati. On the lobes are the icon of a clock, a dollar sign, and a heart. All three icons are slightly cracked. A car, a bicycle, and a walking figure traverse the outside edge of the spinner. Behind the spinner are stairs.

When we’re on the way up, we say it’s talent. When we’re on the way down, we say it’s bad luck. But whose hand holds the spinner? And when will it come time to rise?

11. Cancel Culture (Justice)

A figure straight out of a Magritte painting has not an apple for a face, but a bullseye. It is a dartboard. In the foreground, a strong arm grasps the handle of a beer mug, with the other hand preparing to throw the dart.

They praised it when the majority was moral. But now they mock it as cancel culture. Generally the darts won’t kill you. But they are always a test.

12. The Scapegoat (The Hanged Man)

A door opens onto a dark room, casting light across a dark-haired woman in a blue dress bent backward over a desk, hair hanging loose, a silk scarf tying her hands together as they dangle toward the floor. She is caught in the light between pleasure and humiliation. The man on the other side of the desk is not revealed by the light.

Some truths are more easily revealed than others. Often the truth is that someone needs to be thrown under the bus…and it won’t be whoever is in power. But all is not lost. Often, it is only “normality” that is overturned.

13. Black Friday (Death)

The faces are grotesque, pressed on the other side of a locked glass door, zombielike. In reverse, letters on the glass read the magical incantation ELAS, ELAS, FFO FLAH ELAS, OGOB. The crowd has been summoned. A woman in a polo shirt with full-sleeve tattoos showing spiderwebs and skulls approaches the door from the inside, preparing to open it.

Working shit jobs changes you. It may seem like you have been changed for the worse—but think of the people who have never worked a shit job. It shows.

14. Store Bought Is Fine (Temperance)

A friendly, apple-cheeked woman with a dark bob cut, wearing a blue denim shirt and an orange scarf smiles at you with nothing but kindness. In one hand, she holds a slice of red velvet cake; in the other, a prescription bottle.

A chosen life is the best life. But be wary of constantly making choices using nothing but Google and your drug dealer’s advice.

15. The Alternative (The Devil)

The enormous figure of a clean-cut white man, his hair longer on top and shaved on the sides, wearing a black trench coat over a dark, three-piece suit. He stands over a mass of figures giving a Heil Hitler salute. Churches burn in the distance.

The best way to brainwash someone is to make them believe they’re the exception to the rule. To release yourself is to admit an ugly truth: in most ways, you’re just like everyone else.

16. The Leak (The Tower)

Lightning strikes an oil platform rises above a stormy ocean, dark oil spreading over the surface. Swimmers struggle in the water in the foreground, desperate for help. The platform is on fire. Honestly, the oil had already leaked, the fires started, and swimmers fallen before the lightning even struck.

Sometimes the best of all possible outcomes is when that which is “too big to fail” actually does.

17. Britney (The Star)

A gorgeous woman in a silver dress stands backstage, towel around her neck, holding out a coffee mug to be refilled from off the side of the card. A peep at the stage shows flashing lights. The coffee mug is marked with a hand flipping you off. The woman is bald. A techie watches the stage via a monitor, showing the crowd being addressed by a man in a gray suit.

Behind the spectacle and illusion, there is a pure light that must be nurtured and protected.

18. Beyoncé (The Moon)

The Black woman floats underwater, her hair a swirling halo around her head. Around her is an abandoned apartment, a lounge chair and a painting floating in the current. Below her are tendrils of shadow; above her is the full moon. In the distance, stairs lead upward to the surface, where a line of Black women are emerging, with strength and power.

When we are pulled down into the depths, past all sanity, we can never return unchanged. Some might call that madness or delusion—but we did what we had to do, in order to return at all.

19. Lady Gaga (The Sun)

A woman in a revealinng gold “women’s fantasy armor” bikini with molded shoulder plates and thigh-high boots sits astride a white horse, her white hair flying behind her, turning to a rainbow as it leaves the card. A pile of hospital robes lies beneath the horse’s rear hooves. The front hooves plunge upward, as the horse rises from the edge of a cliff.

Our bodies and minds might burn from the inside out, but our souls stay bright.

20. Activism (Judgment)

A crowd wearing white masks holds up hand-lettered cardboard posters. One shows an upraised fist with rays coming from it. Another reads, “Justice now.” Still another, “There is no Planet B.” In the background, one woman yawns.

Don’t let things to go back to normal. Don’t go back to sleep.

21. Universal Basic Income (The World)

A team of robots builds a staircase, which a crowd ascends. At the base of the staircase is a collection of abandoned spinners. At the top the crowd have begun to help build the staircase: they are wearing space suits. Beyond them, the stars.

There is no “winning” at life, only building a path ahead for others to take.


If you liked this post, please support me by signing up for my monthly newsletter. I’m going to be starting a “Clockwork Tarot” series soon (after the next book is done), and have already designed the deck for it! Also, please let me know what your favorite decks are. I’m always looking for new ones!

A Shrewdness of Swindlers

A Shrewdness of Swinders: Preorders Live

A Shrewdness of Swindlers

A Shrewdness of Swindlers

Ten Tales of the Fantastic and Falsehood in the Fabulous Roaring Twenties

Dames, detectives, and deception…magic meets the decadence of the Roaring Twenties in ten tales of glitter and jazz.

The year is 1929. It’s two months after the financial collapse on Wall Street, and the world is bating its breath, unsure of what will happen next. Is it the end of an era?

At the Honeybee’s Sting, a speakeasy in the basement of a laundry, a group of unusual figures meets to discuss the past—and perhaps some possible futures: the Detective turned writer, the Dame who’s older than she looks, the Vampire who’s been riding the financial markets for generations, the Spy from across the ocean, the Actress who’s only just learned the truth about Hollywood, and more.

But one of their number is missing, a man connected to the mob, a man who holds the prize for a mysterious storytelling contest—a prize that can give you your heart’s desire.

Ten stories, woven together in the style of The Canterbury Tales, follow the contest along a long, dark night where nothing is what it seems and the best way to tell the truth is to lie.

Pour yourself a cocktail and join us at the liar’s table for the divine, the slapstick, the tragic, the transcendent 1920s today!

Table of Contents:

The Liar’s Table

When Pigs Fly

Myrna and the Thirteen-Year Witch

All the Retros at the New Cotton Club

The Mysterious Artifact

Memento Temporis

The Page-Turners

The Last Word Cocktail

The Man Who Would Sell Fear

The Liar’s Table, Part 2

Sample: A Liar’s Table

The Honeybee’s Sting was a speakeasy back in Prohibition days, in a big brick Lincoln Park building in Chicago. The main floor was a Chinese laundry. Upstairs was Madame Ixnay’s, a house of what you might call ill repute, with eight working girls.

It was a classy joint, as far as those things went.

The bribes it took to keep that place open flowed like the Chicago River into Lake Michigan—polluted and thick.

The Boss was a big man, broad in the shoulders, with a big bushy mustache and dark hair. He had impeccable taste in suits and a knack for getting supplies of decent liquor, sometimes even with the right labels on the outside. He was connected to at least two crime families but somehow managed to stay independent. Everyone knew the Boss was bringing in the liquor via the laundry carts, but as long as the bottles weren’t sticking out from under the piles of towels and bedsheets, the cops pretended not to notice.

The Honeybee’s Sting was down in the basement. The outside of the building was plain brick, nothing fancy. You’d get there by car. The driver would pull up to a door in the alleyway, a huge double steel door stenciled with the words KNOCK FOR SERVICE.

You’d get out of the car, dressed to the nines, and knock on the door with whatever the secret code was that week, and either the door would open or it wouldn’t.

That door was never wrong. There was a lock on it but we never used it. It was just that the door would open…or it wouldn’t.

Like magic.

You’d go inside through a plain brick landing stacked with empty laundry carts, then down some cement stairs to the basement, where there was another heavy door, oak this time. You’d knock the code on the door again, and someone would have to swing it open to let you in.

Light and sound would come spilling out, and the smell of alcohol and perfume and men in heavy coats sweating like pigs, the sound of Black men playing jazz or an octoroon crooning, voices chattering, the sound of glass smashing, of women laughing.

You stepped inside that door and the temperature went up at least twenty degrees. The door slammed behind you, and you were in.

Back then, speakeasies couldn’t afford to be all that fancy, unless they were run directly by the mob. You had to be ready for the cops to seize whatever they could get their hands on. The patrons weren’t too gentle on things, either.

So the Honeybee’s Sting wasn’t all that much to look at in 1929. After Prohibition ended, we fancied it up, but that was later.

In 1929, the walls were open brickwork and the floors were bare cement. A high oak table served as the bar and there were high, round tables around the edges of the room. One corner was cleared for the musicians, and the center of the room was cleared out for dancing. Silk palm trees stood in pots in the corner, half-hiding the spittoons. Bare bulbs hung from overhead on cords.

Behind the bar was a door that led to a reinforced smuggler’s closet that was hidden behind a second door at the back of a shallow safe—not a place you wanted to get locked up in at night, but it did mean that the cops couldn’t get at the liquor stores during a raid.

Opposite the safe was a door to the back room, which used to be the coal cellar. The coal furnace had been replaced a few years ago with a gas furnace that worked more efficiently, and didn’t require stoking.

At least, that’s what everyone said had happened. But I never saw where that gas furnace wasin that basement, or anywhere else for that matter. We had radiators for heat and no end to the amount of hot water for the ladies to wash clothes in, but I never saw a hot-water tank, either. Dom told me not to worry about it.

If the Boss was big, Dom, the bartender, was bigger.

Dom was his own favorite bouncer. If it was busy, the Boss might send one or two guys over to help him, but mostly what they did was answer the door and pour drinks for the girls. I never saw a one of those other guys have to lift a finger against a customer. Dom took it as a point of pride to handle things personally. Word got around. Dom would let loose on some scumbag about once every six months. There was one time Dom cut a guy’s pinky finger off, right in the bar. I put it in a jar of milk to help keep it fresh while he saw if a doctor could sew it back on again.

Dom had an on-again, off-again middle-European accent. He used to talk to the bar itself, and that’s when the accent would come out. “Tair tair,” he’d tell the bar while wiping it. “Is only scratch, noboty means bat. Only scratch.” Then he’d turn around and, in a pure Chicago nasal accent that went straight through your eardrums, would yell, “Hey mister, you gonna get yer fat ass offa that tabletop, or yam I gonna have ta come over and remove it?”

The tables were small, the Black jazz musicians were all right when you could hear them, the girls serving drinks were pretty and had sharpened fingernails, and I washed dishes, mopped floors, swept out spiderwebs, and served as general dogsbody.

They called me Kid.  I started working there in 1927 and stayed after Prohibition ended, all the way to 1949 when it closed. Some new folks re-opened the bar in 1993. It wasn’t the same. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, I couldn’t tell you. Just different.

The Honeybee’s Sting had a number of incidents worth telling stories about, but one in particular sticks in my mind.

The date was December 29th. Two nights later, it would be one of the busiest days of the year, with everyone out looking to celebrate the change from one decade to another. But the twenty-ninth was a cold Sunday night, cold enough to freeze your spit before it hit the ground, a night so cold it couldn’t snow. It was windy as hell, though, and what snow there was on the ground whipped around like knives.

In short, it was a slow night, even for the girls upstairs. Nobody wanted to go anywhere. Even the jazz trio, always desperate for tips, hadn’t showed up.

And yet that night, the back room had been reserved for special guests.

The back room was darker and damper than the main room and had a low ceiling, just high enough that I didn’t hit my head. Two walls were nothing but rough brick, and the far wall had an old coal chute that had been rebuilt as a back exit against police raids.

When I had come in for the night, Dom had told me, “The Boss wants you to serve the special guests tonight, so the girls can go home.”

I said I was game, and the girls left gratefully. I even got a kiss on the cheek from one of them. Problem was, I was so shy I could barely stutter out my own name, let alone make witty banter. I hoped I wouldn’t have to say much. Maybe the whole thing would be cancelled due to weather.

I finished up my chores early, then sat at a table, reading an old back issue of Black Mask that I had in my back pocket. I reread one of the Continental Op stories, and waited.

Cover of A Shrewdness of Swindlers

New Release: Wild Magic Storybundle, Featuring A Shrewdess of Swindlers

Cover of A Shrewdness of Swindlers

There’s the real world…

…and then there are our worlds, secret, wild, and free.

We can’t remember when we first noticed magic.

Oh, sure. When we were kids, we played pretend and imagined we were powerful sorcerers, clever tricksters, and subtle witches. But then we got older, and we told everyone that we’d grown up and were too old for that stuff now. How much we wanted to be like the adults!

But then the enchantments of adulthood grew thin. We may not like to talk about it, but we know it’s true: all the things we truly needed to learn in our lives, we learned as children, as dreamers. We learned what it was like to be stand up for what we believed in…and what it was like to be punished for it. We learned how to fall in love…and how to be rejected by our first crush. We got up to mischief…and hurt someone we shouldn’t have.

And we knew what it was like to be filled with wonder at the world.

But adulthood doesn’t last forever. As the enchantments of adulthood finally grew as thin as a haze in the sky, we began to see magic again.

Here and there.

In the small things—and sometimes in the big things when we needed it most. We vowed to protect it, to nurture it, and to visit it as often as we can.

The Wild Magic bundle holds ten volumes of the magic. Ten books about what we find after we have passed through the illusion that we can live without wonder in the world, and come out the other side.

Pack your bags, put on your good walking shoes, and make sure you bring plenty of water. We’re going out into the wilderness, and who knows when we’ll be back?

A Shrewdness Of Swindlers

Ten Tales of Fantasy and Falsehood in the Fabulous Roaring Twenties

Dames, detectives, and deception…magic meets the decadence of the Roaring Twenties in ten tales of glitter and jazz.

The year is 1929. It’s two months after the financial collapse on Wall Street, and the world is bating its breath, unsure of what will happen next. Is it the end of an era?

At the Honeybee’s Sting, a speakeasy in the basement of a laundry, a group of unusual figures meets to discuss the past—and perhaps some possible futures: the Detective turned writer, the Dame who’s older than she looks, the Vampire who’s been riding the financial markets for generations, the Spy from across the ocean, the Actress who’s only just learned the truth about Hollywood, and more.

But one of their number is missing, a man connected to the mob, a man who holds the prize for a mysterious storytelling contest—a prize that can give you your heart’s desire.

Ten stories, woven together in the style of The Canterbury Tales, follow the contest along a long, dark night where nothing is what it seems and the best way to tell the truth is to lie.

Pour yourself a cocktail and join us at the liar’s table for the divine, the slapstick, the tragic, the transcendent 1920s today!

Table of Contents:
  • The Liar’s Table
  • When Pigs Fly
  • Myrna and the Thirteen-Year Witch
  • All the Retros at the New Cotton Club
  • The Mysterious Artifact
  • Memento Temporis
  • The Page-Turners
  • The Last Word Cocktail
  • The Man Who Would Sell Fear
  • The Liar’s Table, Part 2

Sample!

The Honeybee’s Sting was a speakeasy back in Prohibition days, in a big brick Lincoln Park building in Chicago. The main floor was a Chinese laundry. Upstairs was Madame Ixnay’s, a house of what you might call ill repute, with eight working girls.

It was a classy joint, as far as those things went.

The bribes it took to keep that place open flowed like the Chicago River into Lake Michigan—polluted and thick.

The Boss was a big man, broad in the shoulders, with a big bushy mustache and dark hair. He had impeccable taste in suits and a knack for getting supplies of decent liquor, sometimes even with the right labels on the outside. He was connected to at least two crime families but somehow managed to stay independent. Everyone knew the Boss was bringing in the liquor via the laundry carts, but as long as the bottles weren’t sticking out from under the piles of towels and bedsheets, the cops pretended not to notice.

The Honeybee’s Sting was down in the basement. The outside of the building was plain brick, nothing fancy. You’d get there by car. The driver would pull up to a door in the alleyway, a huge double steel door stenciled with the words KNOCK FOR SERVICE.

You’d get out of the car, dressed to the nines, and knock on the door with whatever the secret code was that week, and either the door would open or it wouldn’t.

That door was never wrong. There was a lock on it but we never used it. It was just that the door would open…or it wouldn’t.

Like magic.

You’d go inside through a plain brick landing stacked with empty laundry carts, then down some cement stairs to the basement, where there was another heavy door, oak this time. You’d knock the code on the door again, and someone would have to swing it open to let you in.

Light and sound would come spilling out, and the smell of alcohol and perfume and men in heavy coats sweating like pigs, the sound of Black men playing jazz or an octoroon crooning, voices chattering, the sound of glass smashing, of women laughing.

You stepped inside that door and the temperature went up at least twenty degrees. The door slammed behind you, and you were in.

Back then, speakeasies couldn’t afford to be all that fancy, unless they were run directly by the mob. You had to be ready for the cops to seize whatever they could get their hands on. The patrons weren’t too gentle on things, either.

So the Honeybee’s Sting wasn’t all that much to look at in 1929. After Prohibition ended, we fancied it up, but that was later.

In 1929, the walls were open brickwork and the floors were bare cement. A high oak table served as the bar and there were high, round tables around the edges of the room. One corner was cleared for the musicians, and the center of the room was cleared out for dancing. Silk palm trees stood in pots in the corner, half-hiding the spittoons. Bare bulbs hung from overhead on cords.

Behind the bar was a door that led to a reinforced smuggler’s closet that was hidden behind a second door at the back of a shallow safe—not a place you wanted to get locked up in at night, but it did mean that the cops couldn’t get at the liquor stores during a raid.

Opposite the safe was a door to the back room, which used to be the coal cellar. The coal furnace had been replaced a few years ago with a gas furnace that worked more efficiently, and didn’t require stoking.

At least, that’s what everyone said had happened. But I never saw where that gas furnace was in that basement, or anywhere else for that matter. We had radiators for heat and no end to the amount of hot water for the ladies to wash clothes in, but I never saw a hot-water tank, either. Dom told me not to worry about it.

If the Boss was big, Dom, the bartender, was bigger.

Dom was his own favorite bouncer. If it was busy, the Boss might send one or two guys over to help him, but mostly what they did was answer the door and pour drinks for the girls. I never saw a one of those other guys have to lift a finger against a customer. Dom took it as a point of pride to handle things personally. Word got around. Dom would let loose on some scumbag about once every six months. There was one time Dom cut a guy’s pinky finger off, right in the bar. I put it in a jar of milk to help keep it fresh while he saw if a doctor could sew it back on again.

Dom had an on-again, off-again middle-European accent. He used to talk to the bar itself, and that’s when the accent would come out. “Tair tair,” he’d tell the bar while wiping it. “Is only scratch, noboty means bat. Only scratch.” Then he’d turn around and, in a pure Chicago nasal accent that went straight through your eardrums, would yell, “Hey mister, you gonna get yer fat ass offa that tabletop, or yam I gonna have ta come over and remove it?”

The tables were small, the Black jazz musicians were all right when you could hear them, the girls serving drinks were pretty and had sharpened fingernails, and I washed dishes, mopped floors, swept out spiderwebs, and served as general dogsbody.

They called me Kid. I started working there in 1927 and stayed after Prohibition ended, all the way to 1949 when it closed. Some new folks re-opened the bar in 1993. It wasn’t the same. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, I couldn’t tell you. Just different.

The Honeybee’s Sting had a number of incidents worth telling stories about, but one in particular sticks in my mind.

The date was December 29th. Two nights later, it would be one of the busiest days of the year, with everyone out looking to celebrate the change from one decade to another. But the twenty-ninth was a cold Sunday night, cold enough to freeze your spit before it hit the ground, a night so cold it couldn’t snow. It was windy as hell, though, and what snow there was on the ground whipped around like knives.

In short, it was a slow night, even for the girls upstairs. Nobody wanted to go anywhere. Even the jazz trio, always desperate for tips, hadn’t showed up.

And yet that night, the back room had been reserved for special guests.

The back room was darker and damper than the main room and had a low ceiling, just high enough that I didn’t hit my head. Two walls were nothing but rough brick, and the far wall had an old coal chute that had been rebuilt as a back exit against police raids.

When I had come in for the night, Dom had told me, “The Boss wants you to serve the special guests tonight, so the girls can go home.”

I said I was game, and the girls left gratefully. I even got a kiss on the cheek from one of them. Problem was, I was so shy I could barely stutter out my own name, let alone make witty banter. I hoped I wouldn’t have to say much. Maybe the whole thing would be cancelled due to weather.

I finished up my chores early, then sat at a table, reading an old back issue of Black Mask that I had in my back pocket. I reread one of the Continental Op stories, and waited…

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