How not to write a mystery

by Sela Carsen

I love slow British mysteries.

Absolutely adore them. I have woven many a scarf and stitched many a pattern to the charming yet dangerous village life of Midsummer Murders and Father Brown. The very slightly grittier settings of Endeavour and Grantchester live in my DVR, saved to watch at my leisure like perfect after-dinner treats. Even my audiobook accounts are filled with Christie and Conan-Doyle, Sayers and Marsh and Allingham.

I couldn’t write a mystery to save my life.

I don’t think I’m meant to.

This bothers me not at all. I love writing romance. Fun, light, action-filled romance with swoony heroes and smartass heroines. But there’s never a mystery involved. Those are not the turns and twists I write into my stories.

So why don’t I, or won’t I, write mysteries? And really, should I care?

Because writing a mystery would take all the fun out of it for me.

Any genre that you write becomes an object of study. We read other authors in our niche to see how they do their job and what the job entails. Genre is sort of a self-policing enterprise. We define our terms based on rules that we create as a group within the niche. The “whodunit” types of stories I enjoy have their own pacing, language, and arcs.

I can deconstruct a romance faster than you can say billionaire rancher bear shifter hero, but that amount of study means that I’ve taken some of the, well, the mystery out of the process. I can see all the ins and outs of how the whole thing is put together. I’ve drawn back the curtain and alas, the writer is only human.

But with mystery, I can still sit back and enjoy the magic. I don’t really want to see how the trick is done, I just want to watch and smile and clap. I want to be a spectator at the show, not the one behind the scenes.

There is, I think, such a thing as knowing too much, and it can take the joy out of the small things. I’ll always love writing romance as the work I do, but in my off time, I’d rather keep my small happinesses.

So let’s start another season of Inspector Barnaby’s trials while I put the kettle on.

SELA CARSEN is an award-winning author of paranormal and sci-fi romance — with or without sex and dead bodies. Your pick. She maintains a permanent nerd-on for fairytales and mythology, and openly hoards reference books about obscure folklore. Born a wanderer, she and her family have finally settled in the Midwest. Until they move again, at least. Find out more at selacarsen.com!

The end of an era

by Sara M. Harvey

While not my best known work, most widely distributed work, or fan-favorite work (all three distinctions held by A Year and a Day, I believe), The Blood of Angels trilogy remains my best-selling work (well, the first book, The Convent of the Pure, is my very best selling, even making a couple of Amazon bestseller categories back in its heyday).

And it was all more than a decade ago, so well past its time to be put out to pasture and go out of print.

This is the second piece of my early works to go out of print, but one that stings the most, I think. I have the option of bringing the novellas back at any time; in the world of self-publishing nothing is truly ever out of print. After making the announcement that they’d be sunsetting at the end of August. there was a bump in sales and the inevitable questions.

Will you self-publish this afterwards?

And I can’t say right now that I will.

I could potentially request the rights to the covers and interior illustrations, brought to gorgeous life by the tremendously talented Melissa Gay, and I might even get them. And while steampunk isn’t the cultural phenomenon it was a decade ago, it still has its fans. Maybe even enough to buy enough copies to offset the cost of setting everything up for the Kindle. I do keep hearing that nephilim are so played out,  though, and all I can say is that they weren’t in 2008 when I pitched this series!

Time is another thing, and it is something I am in dreadfully short supply of right now.

And the last hurdle is, how much do I want these relics to hang around, cluttering up my professional closet?

I was, and still am, super proud of the work I did on these books. But if I were to write them now, they’d be better. They’d be the work of someone who has written four more novels (I am totally counting the one I wrote twice, it ended up changed enough to be something entirely new). 

I would want to dig in and rework stuff, bringing the problems up to code, so to speak, even if I didn’t recognize them as such initially. Especially if I didn’t recognize them as such initially.

And then, what? I’m not the same person now who wrote these books. The world is not the same place it was when I wrote them. Why would these books still matter?

Why should these books still matter?

Unlike endless Hollywood reboots that clog out media, I don’t feel like rehashing the past, at this time (covering my arse). I feel like these books had their moment in the sun and it is time to move on to newer things, different things, and ultimately better things. (It’s totally ok if these books are your favorites, though!)

No one is going to round up all the old copies and destroy them or wipe every ebook from every device (unless the sunspots get them with everything else). The books will still exist. You will still be able to buy them for months, if not years, to come. LitUnd has good stock of physical copies and so do I.

And certainly with my rights fully reverted, I can do whatever pleases me with them. And right now, this may change, but right now it pleases me to have a good cry at the end of an era, and then set my sights on what kind of future I can make for myself.

SARA M. HARVEY lives and writes fantasy and horror in (and sometimes about) Nashville, Tenn. She is also a costume historian, theatrical costume designer, and art history teacher. She has two spoiled rotten dogs and two awesome children; her husband falls somewhere in between. She tweets @saraphina_marie, wastes too much time on facebook.com/saramharvey, and needs to update her website at saramharvey.com. Check out her Patreon!


The Blood of Angels series

CONVENT OF THE PURE

Secrets and illusions abound in a decaying convent wrapped in dark magic and scented with blood. Portia came to the convent with the ghost of Imogen, the lover she failed to protect in life. Now, the spell casting caste wants to make sure that neither she nor her spirit ever leave. Portia’s ignorance of her own power may be even more deadly than those who conspire against her as she fights to fulfill her sworn duty to protect humankind in a battle against dark illusions and painful realities.

LABYRINTH OF THE DEAD

Imogen is all that matters.

After rescuing her lover from the forces that trapped her in The Convent of the Pure, Portia Gyony has lost Imogen once again to the darkness that surrounds them. The only way to reunite is to walk through the shadow-worlds of the dead and bring Imogen back to the body that awaits her—a journey no nephilim was meant to take.

Still seeking out the boundaries of her own power, Portia descends into a realm where all trade is in souls and the machinations of the world itself are coming undone. Her quest for Imogen becomes a battle of angels and demons, where clockwork warriors and shattered souls battle to keep the shadows of the dead from bleeding into the land of the living. The cost of saving one world from the other may be the sacrifice of Portia’s lover once again.

TOWER OF THE FORGOTTEN

The final installment of Sara Harvey’s steampunk trilogy finds Portia Gyony trapped in a circus cage. Her ghostly lover, Imogen, has been resurrected to corporeal form, but a happy reunion must wait. Dark forces still lurk in the land of the dead, and they are bent on stealing the energies of the living to power a machine that will break the barriers between the realms of the living and the shadowlands beyond.

This time, Portia may not have the full support of the Primacy behind her as she battles to save humankind from powers beyond the understanding of mortal man. Deceit and disaster abound, bringing Portia and Imogen closer to each other and to doom than ever before. Old allies and old enemies converge in this final chapter of the nephilim’s power struggle over the world.

“Sara M. Harvey writes suspenseful, romantic and exciting steampunk that is not to be missed. An absolute delight!” — Lavie Tidhar, World Fantasy Award nominee and author of The Bookman and Camera Obscura

The Labyrinth of the Dead is a sensual, apocryphal nightmare — an exquisite adventure that manages to be both epic and personal, sweet and vicious.” — Cherie Priest, Hugo Award-nominated author of Boneshaker, Fathom, and Four and Twenty Blackbirds

The Blood of Angels trilogy is available as a full set for a limited time only! Click here to buy all three books for $25!

A phoenix from the closet

by Nick Rowan

A few years ago, I came out trans. I began to make the Change socially, online and professionally. The problem is, I have a substantial body of work under my deadname. So now what?

The first step was to decide what needed to be re-issued. All my publishers had gone belly up, and I had a bunch of novels and shorts, a few self-published collections and a shiny new name with no negative associations.

So I took stock. There is stuff that will never see the light of day again. It was fine for its time, but I am no longer where I was. I am less experimental, less willing to take risks. The stories I want to tell are different.

Some books made the cut. I decided to continue the Roaring 20s, the Dark Future and the Paranormal Memphis series. Since my collaborator was dead, I opted to leave the Cyberpunk universe where it was.

I’ve poked around the edges, done a couple short stories under Nick Rowan. But I haven’t had a major publication.

I am proud to announce the first Phoenix, rising from the ashes of the Closet, the first novel to be re-issued, rewritten and under my real name (or some of it, Nicholas Wyatt Rowan-Sparrow is a little unwieldy) is Curse of the Pharaoh’s Manicurists.

In which Charlie Doyle, the ink barely dry on his degree, takes service as a secretary to World War I flying ace and noted adventurer, Edward Kilsby, Lord Withycombe. He finds himself contending with seasickness, abduction, jilted fiancees and lovers, malaria and mummies, not to mention a side trip to the Egyptian Afterlife (most discomforting for a good Presbyterian boy).

The characters have been made more interesting, the plotting thicker. The sex… has evaporated. The book went from 25 percent sex (by word count) to one scene, done mostly as a religious ritual. Charlie is still hot for Edward. Edward is still a bit of a satyr. But they are interested in other things besides the contents of their trousers.

So enjoy a scene from the rewrite, and keep your eyes on my website for the announcement that Dreaming Big productions has released it.


From Curse of the Pharaoh’s Manicurists:

The reed torches on the wall flared to life. Khnum-ho-tep sat up and looked around with living eyes. There were odd memories of being someone called Charlie or Charles. Beside him, Ni-ankh-khnum—looking much different—shook his head and crawled over to him.

“Are you well, my love?”

“Better than the day they laid me beside you.” Khnum-ho-tep embraced his lover and touched noses in a kiss, just as he had made the tomb artists paint them in the inner chamber.

“I have missed touching you.” Ni-ankh-khnum held him for a long moment, and touched his nose again. “You look so different, love.”

Khnum-ho-tep traced the small mustache above his beloved’s mouth. “As do you. You never had this before.” He stroked the thick, wavy hair. “Yours was always shaved and it was black and curled tightly.” He paused and touched the odd bits of clear stone that sat before his eyes. When he took them off, the world and even his beloved Ni-ankh-khnum went blurry, as if seen through water or a heat shimmer. “And these.” He put them back on and could see clearly again.

“The bodies are only borrowed,” Ni-ankh-khnum reminded him. “I don’t know why or for how long.”

“How do we end this interminable exile? I will have forgotten all of my family’s Book, and not be able to find my path in the afterlife.”

“We must appease the gods, somehow. Khnum and Anubis and perhaps Osiris so he may compel Anubis to let us pass, if he is not inclined.” Ni-ankh-khnum stroked his lover’s new body, shoving away the top layer of clothing, so badly woven from poor cotton, and scowled at a second layer of cloth. “I wish to hold you properly and all I find is another barrier. This clothing is ridiculous.”

Khnum-ho-tep drew a little away. “Time is not our friend. These men will want their bodies back. How do we appease the gods?”

“We need Khnum to hear us again., He turned his face from us at our rash words after death.” Ni-ankh-khnum paced through the tomb chamber.

Khnum-hot-tep remembered he had always been better at the religious rituals than his lover. “We were angry. Time may have soothed his pain, as it has soothed our wrath. Khnum, lord of the water, the uniter.. What better offering could we make to him than water and a union of ourselves?”

Ni-ankh-khnum chuckled. “He is dead for four thousand years and suddenly he is the husband.”

Khnum-ho-tep gestured to the painting of him offering Ni-ankh-khnum a lotus., Many wives were painted the same way in the tombs they shared with their husbands. “Water, prayers, and then sacred loving, that Khnum may hear us and lift the curse.”

“Can he do so when Anubis laid it upon us?”

“He can at least gain us hearing with Anubis. Perhaps, after four thousand years, even the Lord of the Embalming Chamber can forgive.”

“We can hope.” Ni-ankh-khnum held up a waterskin. “Some things have not changed.” He took a drink. “Sweet, if a bit warm.”

Khnum-ho-tep found a pot and a bowl. He knelt before a painting of the potter god, the ram’s -headed man, seated at his wheel, making pots and small children of the clay, with stacks of both beside him. Ni-ankh-khnum brought him the waterskin and filled the pot.

Khnum-ho-tep poured water from the pot into the bowl and chanted the Morning Hymn to Khnum, which seemed quite appropriate. It might not be morning, but he and Ni-ankh-khnum were just awakening. Given the millennia they had slept, it was possible that Khnum needed to be awakened too.

NICK ROWAN is a bus driver who lives quietly in the mid-south. He writes and crafts to support his yarn habit, You can follow him on Facebook (NickRowan) or Patreon (NickRowan) or Twitter (@NickRowan16) or Tumblr (nicholasrowan) or blogger (NicholasRowanSp) or Etsy (thecarpenterswyfe). Nick has been writing professionally since 2004 as Angelia Sparrow. Check out his website here.

Bringing the stories together

Today’s guest voice is Michael Williams of Seventh Star Press, one of our partners here at Literary Underworld. Over the past 25 years, Michael Williams has written a number of strange novels, from the early “Weasel’s Luck” and “Galen Beknighted” in the best-selling DRAGONLANCE series to the more recent lyrical and experimental “Arcady,” singled out for praise by Locus and Asimov’s magazines.

Williams’ highly anticipated City Quartet was completed by the publication of Tattered Men in October 2019. The four volumes may be read in any order–four stories that intertwine, centered in the same city, where minor characters in one novel become central in another:

  • “Vine: An Urban Legend” is the story of an amateur stage production In Louisville’s Central Park, gone darkly and divinely wrong.
  • “Dominic’s Ghosts” takes up the story of a son in search of his father in the midst of a murky conspiracy involving a suspicious scholar, a Himalayan legend, and subliminal clues from a silent film festival.
  • “Tattered Men” is the account of a disheveled biographer, writing the life story of a homeless man who may have been more than he ever seemed.
  • And “Trajan’s Arch” is a coming-of-age story replete with ghosts, a testimony to hauntings both natural and supernatural.

Bringing the stories together

It’s no great wisdom to say that setting is character.  Most writers know this implicitly, especially if you’re writing fiction that resides in alternate, changed, or parallel worlds.  Tolkien’s Middle Earth is as much an actor in the epic story as Frodo or Gandalf: it shapes events, uncovers mysteries, guides possibilities.  The same for Martin’s Westeros, Le Guin’s Earthsea, Ray Bradbury’s Mars.

But also Garcia Marquez’s Macondo, Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria, William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County.  Place is a factor not only in speculative fiction, but in many of the other stories that shape our reading.

I’ve been asked to comment on how my City Quartet is put together, how it addresses the primary task of writing interrelated novels that stand alone—an odd tactic in a publishing industry that is fond of the series.  Because the City Quartet is by no means a series: instead it is an arrangement of books, a world of four worlds that the reader can enter from any of its four volumes, can read in any order.  I like to think that in some ways it is like a musical quartet, in which four parts commingle and interweave, forming a work that is larger than the sum of its components.

And it starts with setting.

The City Quartet takes place in a modern Midwestern city that is and is not my native Louisville.  Composed of the streets and neighborhoods, the suburbs and the sites that would be recognizable to any native or visitor, the fictional city is nonetheless a bending of the actual one, layered in time and in alternative versions, but ultimately anchored in the very real city I remember, work in, and visit.  And as every city has its lore, from history to urban legend, so does mine, and it intersects with that of the actual Louisville, draws from the stories I heard in childhood and read about in newspapers and local chronicles; nevertheless, a lot of my city is invented, made up by and around the characters I put in the books.

Each of the books is a self-contained novel.  Each has a narrative arc that I hope is successful.  Whether you read Trajan’s Arch or Tattered Men, Dominic’s Ghosts or Vine: An Urban Legend, you get a beginning, middle, and end to a story; you have characters who change and grow because of what happens to them; I hope you turn the pages eager to find out what those changes are.

You get that if you read only one of the novels.

If you read a second, and a third or fourth, you get the design and pattern and weaving of the books.  Primary characters in one book appear in secondary roles in another, perhaps about the business of one of the stories you are not reading at the time, glimpsed in an excerpt or a cameo.  Or perhaps they’re on an adventure only implied in a third book, or you see the same scene from a different point of view: an encounter you saw in Trajan’s Arch you will see again in Dominic’s Ghosts, but from a different point of view, so that it feels differently and means a different thing, and the meaning of that encounter complicates and deepens.

But if you see the encounter only once, only in one book, it should still make sense.  You should understand it in terms of one version without needing to refer to another novel to find out what the hell is going on.  The novels relate to each other more than they depend on each other: their connection is more textural and musical than linear and causal.

So you can enjoy each by itself; taken together, however, you get more of the jokes, see more connections, and slowly come to the conclusion, I hope, that our stories, like ourselves, are part of each other.

Follow the rest of Williams’ blog tour through Tomorrow Comes Media!

Dominic’s Ghosts

Dominic’s Ghosts is a mythic novel set in the contemporary Midwest. Returning to the hometown of his missing father on a search for his own origins, Dominic Rackett is swept up in a murky conspiracy involving a suspicious scholar, a Himalayan legend, and subliminal clues from a silent film festival. As those around him fall prey to rising fear and shrill fanaticism, he follows the branching trails of cinema monsters and figures from a very real past, as phantoms invade the streets of his once-familiar city and one of them, glimpsed in distorted shadows of alleys and urban parks, begins to look uncannily familiar.

Vine: An Urban Legend

Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces.

Michael Williams’ VINE: AN URBAN LEGEND weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.

Trajan’s Arch

Gabriel Rackett stands at the threshold of middle age. He lives north of Chicago and teaches at a small community college. He has written one novel and has no prospects of writing another, his powers stagnated by drink and loss. Into his possession comes a manuscript, written by a childhood friend and neighbor, which ignites his memory and takes him back to his mysterious mentor and the ghosts that haunted his own coming of age. Now, at the ebb of his resources, Gabriel returns to his old haunts through a series of fantastic stories spilling dangerously off the page–tales that will preoccupy and pursue him back to their dark and secret sources.

Tattered Men

When a body washes ashore downstream from the city, the discovery saddens the small neighborhood south of Broadway. A homeless man, T. Tommy Briscoe, whose life had intertwined with a bookstore, a bar, and the city’s outdoor theater had touched many lives at an angle. One was that of Mickey Walsh, a fly-by-night academic and historian, who becomes fascinated with the circumstances surrounding the drowning.

From the beginning there seems to be foul play regarding Briscoe’s death, and, goaded on by his own curiosity and the urging of two old friends, Walsh begins to examine the case when the police give it up. His journey will take him into the long biography of a man who might have turned out otherwise and glorious, but instead fell into and through the underside of history, finding harsh magic and an even harsher world. Despite the story of Tommy’s sad and shortened life, Walsh begins to discover curious patterns, ancient and mythic, in its events—patterns that lead him to secrets surrounding the life and death of Tommy Briscoe and reveal his own mysteries in the searching.

Denny Upkins on “The Perfect Storm”

Congratulations to Underlord Denny Upkins, who has recently joined PEN America! PEN stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect free expression, both in the U.S. and worldwide. “We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world,” reads their mission statement. Denny is their newest professional member, and we’re looking forward to what that cooperation may bring!

Denny also has a new piece up on 30up.tv, analyzing “Marvel’s most important superhero.” “The Perfect Storm” went live last month, and begins thus:

“Nine years old. That was the age of this Catholic Altar Boy when he saw God… or one of her manifestations, to be more precise.”

Read “The Perfect Storm” here.

Of course, if you’re interested in more of Mr. Upkins’ work, you can snag his novel West of Sunset from Literary Underworld!

 For Brecken Everett, there’s never a dull moment. When he’s not dealing with a demanding course load and honing his magic as top student at Lightmage University, he’s working as a private investigator and using his skills to protect the innocent from the darkest forest.

In two action-packed adventures, Breck demonstrates that outnumbered and outgunned is when he’s at his best. In Keepers, Brecken is enlisted to aid Jacob and Joshua Phoenix; twins, the last Pyrians, the last of an ancient race. The Brothers Phoenix are on a quest to uncover clues to their past. When they find a lost relic, a pair of demons claim it. With Brecken’s aid, the twins are determined to not only stop the threat, but have some fun in the process.

West of Sunset takes place a year after Keepers. All Brecken wants to do is get out of Atlanta. Heading to Los Angeles with his best friend, he plans a vacation of surf, sun, partying and relaxation… until the boys stumble upon a museum heist connected to a biker gang of vampires with plans to raise a most dark power. Matters get even more complicated with the involvement of a mysterious and powerful witch. Witches, museum heists, arising malevolent forces, vampire biker gangs, even Brecken’s vacations are just another day at the office.

New: Coppice and Brake!

A new anthology from Crone Girls Press, including a new story from Literary Underworld director Elizabeth Donald:

I’m really happy to be working with Crone Girls Press for the second time, as they published my story “In Memoriam” in Stories We Tell After Midnight back in October as a reprint. This release, Coppice and Brake, is a little less horror and more dark fantasy, and includes a brand-new short story from me titled “Shiny People.”

“Shiny People” was actually inspired by a panel at Archon 2019, in which we all shared “real-life” ghost stories. I told the stories of Isabel, the woman who was murdered in my house more than 100 years ago, and how we can always blame her when something breaks. Like the living room lamp, the boy’s mattress, the spatula and measuring cup, just in time for the apocalypse. Thanks, Isabel.

But there was a man in the audience who told a story I found so creepy, so fascinating, that I asked him afterward if he would mind if I wrote it as a short story. He said that was fine, as long as I named the little girl after his daughter. I was happy to do so.

I hope you enjoy “Shiny People” and the other stories in Coppice and Brake. It’s $10 from Literary Underworld for a limited time only, and if you prefer the pixel-version, you can get it for $1.99 right now on Amazon.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay home if you can, and wash those hands. Let’s live to make bad jokes about this another day.

— Elizabeth Donald

Coming soon: a new anthology featuring Elizabeth Donald

Gently he pushed her onto the bed and tucked the blankets around her. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t like to go, but we grownups have to do that sometime.”

“Okay Daddy.” She rubbed her eyes, which was the universal signal for sleepy child, thank God. “The shiny people will keep me company.”

“Shiny people?” That was a new one. “Who are the shiny people?”

Rowen’s eyes were drifting shut even as she spoke. In her sleepiness, her voice sounded more like Debbie on the cold meds. “The shiny people in my room.”

“Okay, you have fun with that,” he said, smiling. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. “Dream pretty pictures.”

He stood up, his knees popping a little more than he liked. He walked to the door and reached for the knob. Then he caught sight of himself in the large mirror over Rowen’s dresser. “Oops,” he laughed quietly. He was still wearing the silly crown.

He stepped over in front of the dresser and removed the crown, wincing as its plastic curlicues caught in his hair and pulled a couple of strands free. I need to keep the hair I’ve got, thanks, he thought ruefully.

He laid the crown on the dresser. In the mirror, he caught movement behind him.

“Sleep, little lady,” he ordered, turning around.

Rowen was asleep. She lay perfectly still in her toddler bed, the blankets he’d tucked around her undisturbed.

Then who was moving behind him?

Coming soon from Crone Girls Press: Coppice and Brake, an anthology of dark fiction edited by Rachel Brune. This anthology includes an original short story by Literary Underworld founder Elizabeth Donald, who will also see two short stories appear in River Bluff Review this month!

“Shiny People” is a short story inspired by a tale told at a convention last year, and Elizabeth is delighted that it has found a home at Crone Girls Press. River Bluff Review will include two other original stories: “Dear Katrina” and “Sergeant Curious.”

Elizabeth Donald is a dark fiction writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award for speculative fiction and author of the Nocturne vampire mystery series and Blackfire zombie series, as well as other novels and short stories in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld author cooperative; an award-winning journalist and instructor; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. She is married to author Jim Gillentine, and their family lives in a haunted house in Illinois. In her spare time, she… has no spare time.

You can preorder a print copy of Coppice and Brake from Literary Underworld for $10! Preorders for the ebook edition are coming soon from Crone Girls Press, and we will have print copies available at conventions throughout the rest of the year.

The Best is Yet to Come from John F. Allen

John F. Allen is an American writer born in Indianapolis. He is a founding member of the Speculative Fiction Guild and a member of the Indiana Writers Center. He began writing stories as early as the second grade and has pursued various forms of writing throughout his career. John studied liberal arts at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis with a focus in creative writing and literature, received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force and is a current member of the American Legion. John’s debut novel The God Killers was published in 2013 by Seventh Star Press, and he has had several novellas, short stories and articles published since. He is also an avid reader, accomplished visual artist and jazz music aficionado.

I knew early on in my writing career that I wanted to explore stories written in a wide range of genres. This also reflects my diverse reading tastes. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into writing the same type of stories, because my readers only expected them. I’ve seen other writers who are known for one particular genre for years, who later write in another and aren’t as well received, mostly because they aren’t known for those genres. I’m not saying that is the case for all authors who cross genres later in their careers, but it happens and when it does it’s very unfortunate.

It has been my philosophy that I’d write stories and novels in various genres from the beginning of my career and publish a short story collection which contained multi-genre stories, so that my readers can get a sampling of my versatility as a writer. This is why my first short story collection, The Best is Yet to Come, contains ten multi-genre stories which range from literary fiction, science fiction, fantasy, horror and beyond. 

During my time as a writing student, my assignments were largely literary fiction stories and the mechanics of story-writing in general. This was actually of significant importance to my genre fiction writing, as it helped me to ground my writing in the commonality of the human condition, which is the most important through line for all fiction writing, in my opinion.

However, there are many specific and unique elements which each individual genre offers for both the reader and the storyteller.

For example, science fiction offers the writer and their readers to explore the scientific and technological marvels of our world, as well as those expanded possibilities from the storyteller’s imagination. As a writer, I personally find science and technology to be fascinating subjects and often read news articles, magazines and academic journals for my own interest.

So when an idea for a science fiction story presents itself, I’m able to utilize the knowledge from my reading to add validity to the fiction and ground it in our reality. This accomplishes two things. Firstly, it acknowledges the scientific and technological progress mankind has made and is continuing to make. Secondly, it offers hope that the progress made will create a brighter future for generations to come or serves as a warning for the consequences of misusing that progress and potentially darker times ahead.

Another example is the fantasy genre. This particular genre allows the reader to experience things from the perspective of a foreign world, usually steeped in magic and mysticism, with an ancient-like setting that is devoid of scientific and technological progress. This genre challenges the storyteller to utilize human history and folklore as elements in their tales, while maintaining the human condition through line. As an armchair historian, this fascinates me in that it allows me to reach into the rich tapestry of human history and pull from the real-life stories, people and settings to create.

When the idea for a fantasy story begins to percolate in my mind, I draw upon ancient histories, people and their cultures as the base for my world building. This serves as the bridge and connective tissue with which the reader can relate and accomplishes similar objectives to science fiction. Firstly, it acknowledges the historical and cultural progress mankind has made and is continuing to make. Secondly, it offers hope that the progress made will continue to move forward in positive and progressive ways, while we learn from the mistakes of the past and avoid repeating them.

Genre writing also gives the storyteller and the reader, the opportunity to explore cultural and racial diversity from the human vantage point. This is particularly important in opening new and exciting settings to the reader, as most genre fiction is it often told from a Eurocentric perspective lens.

Human diversity in genre fiction opens up new settings and points of view to the reader and allows the storyteller to express themselves in a much more personal and passionate manner. With any luck, this very same passion from the writer is translated in their work, the benefit of the reader, which affords them a new and exciting experience.

Featuring ten stories collected for the first time, The Best Is Yet to Come presents nine years of creativity spun from the mind of John F. Allen. Action and adventure are ever-present in these stories, but be prepared for some drama, horror, fantasy and science fiction as well.

This volume includes a holiday story, “An Ivory Christmas,” featuring Ivory Blaque, Allen’s bold heroine from his acclaimed urban fantasy series The God Killers.

Also included are:

“Forest of Shadows” is the debut of a fabled, ancient warrior named, Jaziri, Prince of Kimbogo Province.

You may want to think twice before venturing out into the dark woods of rural Indiana in “The Legend of Matchemonedo.”

A young set assistant of a 1950s science fiction serial gets to embark on the journey of a lifetime in “The Adventures of Star Blazer.”

A young woman in late 1970s Indianapolis learns to be careful what you wish for in “HoodRatz.”

When a woman struggles to care for her ailing father, she discovers the truth behind her troubled past in “The Sweetest Autumn.”

Long ago, a noble samurai finds forbidden love with a beautiful, ebony-skinned princess in “The African Princess.”

A mysterious, military operative is sent on a covert mission in Egypt, when he encounters an alien monster bent on revenge in “Lazarus.”

Forty years ago, a young boy discovers that family means everything in “The Chocolate Malt.”

The Best is Yet to Come also features the special bonus short story, “Witch Way is Up.”

Explore the words of John F. Allen today!

Anybody Want to Play War?

Tommy B. Smith is a writer of dark fiction, author of The Mourner’s Cradle, Poisonous, and the short story collection Pieces of Chaos, as well as works appearing in numerous magazines and anthologies throughout the years. His presence currently infests Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he resides with his wife and cats.

Did the experience of writing in a new genre help you grow as a writer and storyteller, and if so, in what way?

While my previous works have landed within the realms of horror and dark fiction, and even fantasy in the case of a few short stories, my newest novel is a coming of age story—or as I’ve also called it, a coming of rage tale, titled Anybody Want to Play WAR?  

It’s the story of Bryce Gallo, a teenage boy attacked by a dog, who suffers terrible injuries. He recovers in the hospital, but is left with a terrible scar, a stark reminder of his narrow escape, and here the story just begins. It’s the tale of an outsider, of family dysfunction and consequences, and Bryce’s struggle to adjust and ultimately face the world. 

While this one doesn’t fall into the horror genre, past readers will find whispers of the darkness they’ve come to recognize, and it’s my hope that newer readers should also find plenty to enjoy in this character-driven story. 

As an author, I appreciated the freedom afforded in writing this particular book. Remaining squeezed inside a box for too long can become uncomfortable. 

As with other occasions, once I found the proper “zone” for myself to begin this undertaking, I adapted my approach to suit the story and its direction. 

I recognize the value in reading outside one’s oft-chosen genre and exploring other creative arenas. These experiences offer fresh alternatives and learning opportunities. For the sake of growth and development as an author or otherwise, it’s useful to remain open to areas for potential development. 

This book allowed for me to exercise character development on a higher level, and also proved a deeper experience in world building. There are many layers to the setting of St. Charles, and that includes my release of 2018, The Mourner’s Cradle.  

If handled properly, character development and world building are valuable tools which enable a seamless spectrum of possibilities. These are tools which transcend genre, skills which may serve to enhance our storytelling arsenal. To commit my best, I owe it to my readers to keep a multitude of tools within reach. 

As well, I found a challenge in labeling a story which does not easily fit in the molds of standard genre fare, but authors have penned coming of age stories across many years, decades and even centuries. Why shouldn’t I establish my variation on the concept? 

In the end, I’ve carry forward with my motivations, and this time, it was Anybody Want to Play WAR? A liberating task, and at its best moments, a learning experience. Just as our stories are works in progress until the final edit’s completion, as purveyors of words and worlds, so are we, as long as we are willing and determined to make it so. 

— Tommy B. Smith

Follow the rest of Tommy B. Smith’s blog tour at Tomorrow Comes Media!

Brutal injuries can leave scars. As the teenaged survivor of a savage dog’s rampage, it’s a lesson Bryce Gallo will never forget.

Struggling to cope with his damaged appearance, along with a newfound fear of dogs and mounting anxieties at home and school, he flees his suburban home into the moonlit streets of St. Charles.

Along the roads of suburbia and through the shadowed heart of the city, he encounters Wheels, a maintenance worker for a series of apartment buildings; Paloma, known to some by the moniker of Lady Luck; and a woman in a dark house who is, as far as Bryce can fathom, like no one else he has met before.

His new life is not without obstacles or enemies, he learns. The future is a battlefield. Fire and smoke loom on the horizon, and his dangerous course may see the lives of his family and friends forever changed.

Kindle Version:  https://www.amazon.com/Anybody-Want-Play-Tommy-Smith-ebook/dp/B07Y45ZYG2/

Amazon Print Version:  https://www.amazon.com/Anybody-Want-Play-Tommy-Smith/dp/1948042843/

Barnes and Noble Link:  https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/anybody-want-to-play-war-tommy-b-smith/1133901518?ean=9781948042840

Gail Force: Dennis Upkins interviews Gail Simone

Underlord Dennis R. Upkins recently had the opportunity to interview comics superhero Gail Simone. As Denny says in his prologue to the interview, if well-behaved women seldom make history, Gail has made history in defiance of the male-dominated comics industry.

Gail created the Women in Refrigerators concept, which called out misogyny and the sidelining of female characters in comics as perpetual victims to motivate male heroes. She went on to write several comics lines, including the longest run on Wonder Woman for any woman writer, as well as Birds of Prey and Deadpool.

A few excerpts from Gail’s discussion with Denny:

On Women in Refrigerators:

GAIL: Like most jobs, you get tested, you make errors, choices are given to you where the road isn’t clear, but I think your gut is a fair indicator of what the right thing to do is, most of the time. And I do feel lucky that the Women In Refrigerators AT LEAST named a trope that seemed to permeate adventure fiction on all levels. It was never my intent to tell people what stories are ‘off limits,’ it was just to say, ‘doesn’t this seem a little tired to you?’

It was never even intentional activism, it was a frustration I had to voice, and the wonderful thing is, people of all genders got it, they had the same uncomfortable feeling. So that was worth the constant hate mail and rage that was sent my way. None of that meant very much to me, still doesn’t.

On pushback against diversity in comics:

GAIL: I had great editors on Deadpool when I got started, and we raised sales and fan/critical reaction hugely. But they got promoted and the new editor was just awful. He said my Deadpool, which was literally FULL of shooting and action and boners, “had too much estrogen.” That’s a direct quote, someone actually gave this genius a job.

So that kind of thing happened, I remember a bit of pushback on making a character gay very early on. However, I have to say, DC was really advanced about that at the time, in particular. I don’t remember them ever pushing back about diverse characters, even things like the first Transgender character in a Batman-universe book. They were behind us, and I am very appreciative of that.

On the future of the comic book landscape:

GAIL: I want comics shops to be healthy. Comics will mutate and absolutely SHOULD be in as many venues as possible. But the front line is comics shops, and they’re being obliterated by piracy, rent hikes, and other factors, it all has to be addressed. Other than that, I want more The Walking Dead style hits, books that bring in readers who weren’t reading, say, Spider-Man.

On advice for aspiring creators:

GAIL: I say bring your principles with you. No one wants to be preached at while reading Batman. But acknowledging a wider world is saying, “I do not accept that this world that I love, this universe that I am so deeply entrenched in, has to stay mired in amber since 1940.”

Also, if your plot is dragging, have Spider-Man web some dude.


Dennis R. Upkins is an Atlanta native and member of the Literary Underworld. He is the author of Hollowstone and West of Sunset, and regularly critiques and analyzes the representation and portrayal of minorities in comics and media. When he’s not out saving the world and/or taking it over in his spare time, Upkins’s hobbies include drawing, modeling, acting, photography, cosplay, rollerblading, martial arts and of course writing. His website can be found here.

Read the full interview here at 30up! And check out Denny Upkins’ work at Literary Underworld!