Six members of the Literary Underworld were guests at Archon this past weekend! Present were authors Elizabeth Donald, Sela Carsen, Jim Gillentine, Michales Joy, Cole Gibsen and T.W. Fendley. Naturally we all forgot to get a group picture. Or, you know, be in the picture.
But the booth was hopping, the panels were a blast, the hallway costumes were terrific and the party was… well. Even by the standards of the Literary Underworld Traveling Bar, the party was more popular than any we’ve had. If you’re wondering why the LitUnd Ground Crew is a little yawny this week, here’s why.
On Friday night, we opened the doors at 9 p.m. and immediately a line formed out the room door, down the hall and around the corner. Your Fearless Overlord was pouring drinks behind the bar for three and a half hours without enough of a pause to take a sip of water. Before the second night, we needed another emergency run to the liquor store for another $150 worth of booze – but surely we wouldn’t have as many crowds on day two?
Ha. Again the line formed, and the poor bartender developed tennis elbow from pouring so many drinks. First break came at 1:15 a.m. After we finally kicked everyone out and cleaned up the bar, we put four (4) liquor-store boxes in the hallway for trash pickup.
For perspective: each of those boxes held 9-12 bottles of booze. Y’all drink like fish.
But everything was a huge success, including our new booth design and promotions. We are very glad that the Archon family had such a wonderful time, and we have already re-upped for next year. By then maybe my arm will stop aching.
Next: Imaginarium in Louisville, Ky. this weekend! This writer’s workshop, convention and film festival is a mainstay of our year. Unlike most cons, the dealer’s room is open to the public – you do not need a badge to come shop with us! If you’re there, come by and say hello!
There is the standing joke about not checking the search history of a writer. Questions, often of a criminal nature, find their way into long, damning lists (How to dispose of a body? or domestic terrorist organizations or importing poisonous animals might pop up in histories of friends), as writers research things that, given our more sedentary and timid natures, we probably don’t know first-hand.
research is usually for the obvious purposes.
Writers anchor themselves in plausible fictional worlds, creating a kind
of dream they invite the reader to share, and any time the dream veers
unnecessarily and unintentionally from plausible stuff, you’ll have a reader
out there who knows the terrain: when your errors emerge, there’s a reader out
there who’ll catch them, whose whole absorption in the book is punctured by
your ignorance of what you may have thought was a small matter, but becomes
enormous to the reader who knows you’ve made the mistake, then begins to
speculate that if you’ve made a mistake he knows about, what is keeping you
When I found
out how to tap a telegraph wire, I resolved I’d be damned if I didn’t use all
that reading and consultation and leg work in the piece of fiction I’d
researched it for. Then discovered, of
course, that parts of my newfound knowledge deflected from the power and dream
of the story—that if I talked about this fascinating subject for as long as I
wanted to go on with it, my readers would forget what was going on in the book.
reliable, in short, is the world you’ve created?
So, for the
most part, research guides you through uncertain country, maps out the
signposts so you can steer the reader’s belief in the story around swamps and
sinkholes and perilous bluffs. That’s
why I spent days researching how to tap a telegraph wire—because I both dreaded
and respected that informed reader who’d have the information, who was trusting
me to unfold the story and whose trust I needed to have for my fiction to work.
why I steer away from technical passages on firearms in my books. I grew up around guns, but they held little
interest for me, and when they come into play in my stories, it’s always with
reluctance that I bring them up, because somewhere out there are a dozen
readers whose version of the way that a specific gun works is both authoritative
and enough different from the other authorities to cause disputes. For which I
am blamed, and my story is discredited.
you can’t be a thorough-going font of specific knowledge, but you can do your best. And when you do your best, it often patches
the worst holes in narrative detail, thereby making the dream of your fiction
more vivid and plausible.
practical benefits of research are only part of the reason I’m doing it
constantly. Good research not only
patches my ideas, but it gives me new ones.
The older I get, the more I glimpse the vast interconnectedness of all
the things I learn—how a discovery, say, of a particular medical phenomenon
might take my thoughts back to an historical moment that might have only a
metaphorical connection to medicine, or to an architectural structure or to a
move in a chess game. What this kind of
research does, if you enter it openly, is bend or disorder what you expected. It’s research in the romantic/academic
vein—research as discovery and poetry and play.
are always dangers special to this kind of research. It’s like the lotus-eaters of the Odyssey,
where you bite into the plant and want to stay on the island forever. For why write when there’s all these good
things to discover?
recall that writing is discovery as well.
That it is poetry and play and insight, and that such pleasure are why
you got into it in the first place.
other principal danger is the temptation to use it all.
couldn’t even tell you what I learned about the telegraph. But no knowledge you gather dies unheeded or
untransformed: it lies fallow for years, or floats out to connect with
something far-fetched and more useful and wonderful. Knowledge is the parent of playfulness, which
is the parent of knowledge.
So cut perpetual slack to search histories. And above all, don’t erase them: we’re going to revisit them in a month or two.
Trajan’s Arch by Michael Williams
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.
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. In Trajan’s Arch, his eleventh novel, stories fold into stories and a boy grows up with ghostly mentors, and the recently published Vine mingles Greek tragedy and urban legend, as a local dramatic production in a small city goes humorously, then horrifically, awry.
Trajan’s Arch and Vine are two of the books in Williams’s highly anticipated City Quartet, to be joined in 2018 by Dominic’s Ghosts and Tattered Men.
Williams was born in Louisville, Ky. and spent much of his childhood in the south central part of the state, the red-dirt gothic home of Appalachian foothills and stories of Confederate guerrillas. Through good luck and a roundabout journey he made his way through through New England, New York, Wisconsin, Britain and Ireland, and has ended up less than thirty miles from where he began. He has a Ph.D. in humanities and teaches at the University of Louisville, where he focuses on the modern fantastic in fiction and film. He is married and has two grown sons.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the writing
process. Each writer develops their own
process, over the course of time, that works best for them as an individual. The sooner the writer understands this, the
better it will go for their writing.
My approach has been honed since the mid-1990s, when I dedicated myself to writing fiction with an intent of being published. Looking back, I have made some small refinements to my process, but by and large I found what worked for me during the first few years and did not deviate from it.
One of the best early decisions I made was to have a
dedicated space set aside for writing only.
I made the conscious decision to have one computer committed to being my
writing computer, and to have it located in a different room from the one that
I conducted business on.
Over time, this had the effect of snapping my brain into
writing mode when I sat down at this particular computer. I attribute this as a big reason why I have
not had problems during my career with writer’s block.
I started playing music while writing to block out sounds in
the house or out on the street, creating a sort of bubble that further
reinforced my writing mindset when in a session. Music also can help with the mood of a scene,
providing another benefit for my process.
As the internet grew to greater prominence (long before the
rise of social media), I also recognized the potential distractions of the
online world and saw to it that the computer that I wrote on was offline. When social media emerged into the pervasive
force that it is today, that decision turned out to be a great one, as it is
very easy to be distracted by notifications, the urge to check messages, or
Despite writing in large word count formats like epic
fantasy, I have never put my focus on word count goals for my writing
sessions. The most important thing to me
then and now is writing regularly, whether I write a couple hundred words or
several thousand in a given session. Writing
on a consistent basis keeps my mind in the right kind of zone for the creative
process, even when I go about my daily activities in between sessions.
I also do not allow myself to become bogged in a particular
scene. If I find myself becoming a
little stuck in a particular scene, I will move ahead with another, and come
back to the earlier one later. This
“walking away” from the problematic scene for a short time has worked out well
in giving me a fresh perspective, as when I return to it I usually have figured
out what I want to do with it and what it needs to accomplish for the greater
From the beginning, as a writer of multiple series, I deemed
it important to know the destination of my stories and have a basic framework
for getting there. At the same time, I
understood how new ideas, plot lines, and characters can crop up over the
course of writing a manuscript.
I embraced balancing the need for having a road map in the
form of an outline while leaving room to breathe for the creation of new
characters and story ideas. I have never
sensed that I have boxed myself in too tightly with my initial outline, and I
have always had a very clear vision of the general course I envision for a
The part of the process that had to come with time and
experience was knowing when I was ready to hand off a manuscript to an
editor. Virtually all writers are
capable of making changes and rewriting endlessly, if they allowed themselves
When doing passes through a manuscript, a writer will always
come across a word, phrase, or even scene that they will feel a need to
change. A very important part of the
writing process is having the sense to know when a manuscript has reached the right
state to declare it finished and ready for the editing process.
During the course of the past ten years, I have tightened up
this window and I recognize the point where a manuscript is ready much clearer
than I did before. Rewriting and
additional passes through the manuscript take less time than they did before
and my editors have remarked that I have been delivering extremely clean copy
on my last few titles (which allows them to spend extra time analyzing content,
as opposed to correcting things they come across). It is a sense that I had to develop through
seasoning, growth, and experience.
Going forward, I am open to adjusting things in my writing
process to make sure that I have the process that best suits me. I share my process as I enjoy seeing the
writing processes of others, and I never know when I might come across a good
suggestion that could work for me as well.
Writing is quite the journey and it is a path of constant growth,
but it is very individual in nature.
Just remember, there is no right writing process for everyone.
You have to find what works the best for you.
About the author: Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based out of Lexington, Ky. His works include the Rayden Valkyrie novels (wword and worcery), the Rising Dawn Saga (cross-genre), the Fires in Eden Series (epic fantasy), the Hellscapes short story collections (horror), the Chronicles of Ave short story collections (fantasy), the Harvey and Solomon Tales (steampunk), and the forthcoming Faraway Saga (YA dystopian/cross-genre).
Stephen’s visual work includes the feature film Shadows Light, shorts films such as The Sirens and Swordbearer, and the forthcoming Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart TV pilot. Stephen is a proud Kentucky Colonel who also enjoys the realms of music, martial arts, good bourbons, and spending time with family.
Find out more about Stephen Zimmer’s new book, Prowling the Darkness!
Dark rumors and whisperings of unholy sorcery bring Rayden Valkyrie to the remote city of Sereth-Naga. There she finds a populace cowering in fear of the city’s ruthless, mysterious rulers, who remain behind the high walls of their citadel.
An even greater mystery surrounds the city. Something is prowling the darkness.
Something that has kept the enigmatic rulers for
centuries from escaping Sereth-Naga to spread their wickedness to other lands.
Prowling the Darkness is a stand-alone novella that is part of the Rayden Valkyrie Tales.
The vampires of yesteryear became werewolves, and those
became werebears, and those became billionaire alpha werebears, and those
became interracial billionaire bear shifter menage pregnancy romances.*
One of the niches that isn’t quite so, er, specific is Seasoned Romance. Basically, it’s romance between people who are no longer nubile 20- or 30-somethings. It’s romance with characters who’ve had a life. They’ve been married and divorced or widowed. Or not, because they never found the right person before they got bifocals. They may still have teens at home, or they may be grandparents, or somewhere in between, or neither, or both.
But it’s still a relatively new genre, even with the advent
of self-publishing, because for years, agents and publishers told us these
stories wouldn’t sell. No one wants to read about people their parents’ age
gettin’ it on, they said. And the occasional toe-dip into the older demographic
just proved their point.
What’s that? You mean the audience they trained to respond
only to perky virgins and buff billionaires didn’t flock to buy something
they’d never seen before?
But since authors decided by the hundreds to self-publish,
readers now have access to the stories we’ve always wanted to tell without
anyone trying to yuck their yum.
Now, readers can type “seasoned romance” into the search
bar on Amazon… and there are things there! They can even narrow it down to
their favorite sub-genre — historical, paranormal, sci-fi**, military,
small-town. Whatever they like to read, someone is writing it with characters
who have a uniquely experienced viewpoint.
It’s become established enough that RWA — Romance Writers
of America — just established a separate chapter during their national
conference this summer called “Aged to Perfection.” The Seasoned Romance
Facebook group that started three years ago now has nearly 3,000 members
and grows daily. There are readers who are tired of characters who’ve never had
to deal with menopause and poochy mom-tummies and random chin hairs. They’re
looking for characters like them, who are facing retirement and wondering
what’s the next step. Who just got their youngest child launched into the
world, but now they’re caring for their elderly parents.
Love doesn’t stop after forty, so why should love stories?
** If you’re interested in seasoned sci-fi romance, check
out Silver Wolf Rising, a
stand-alone story that’s part of my Wolves of Fenrir series. Or read Ace’s Odds, my latest release that
includes a seasoned romance on a futuristic space station.
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.
A mythological creature helps a young boy come to terms with his mother’s death in an unexpected way.
Justin looked out across the water watching the sun rays dance across the tops of the waves. To him the ocean appeared both mysterious and frightening. The mystery came from the intrigue of not knowing what lies beneath. There were thousands of miles of uncharted lands beneath the oceans of the world and unimaginable depths of endless dark waters containing countless life forms. Yet the Ocean frightened Justin, for he knew it could be unforgiving and unkind…
A California native born in Hollywood, California, J.L. MULVIHILL wanted to be a rock star. After several years of modeling, acting, and singing, she decided to marry, have a family, and moved to a quieter life in Mississippi where she has lived for the past twenty years. Finding she has a gift for story telling she began to write young adult books, including the Steel Roots series and The Lost Daughter of Easa. She is very active in the writing community, a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Gulf Coast Writers Association, Imagicopter, the Mississippi Writers Guild and Clinton Ink-slingers Writing Group. She continues to write fantasy, steampunk, poetry and essays inspired by her life in the South.
There is this weird kind of myth that getting an agent is some kind of finish line. But I had read that once you clear that agent-getting hurtle all you do is trade in your old anxieties for new ones.
And it’s pretty true.
Authors spend months struggling with their manuscripts, finishing, polishing, perfecting, all the while worried if it I going to get finished? Is it going to be good? Seems like it takes forever to get from “Once upon a time” to “The End”.
And then, querying. Ugh. A fraught process that can take months or even years. I queried by latest book for two years (although there was a baby in the middle of it) and queried over 100 agents. Querying takes a LOT out of you. You have to write a summary of your WHOLE BOOK (YIKES!) and also a super compelling, charming-but-not-too-cute query letter. And once you have all of that, you send the query. And. You. Wait.
Depending on the agent and their workload and policies, you might have sent sample pages, the synopsis, or just the query letter, or some combination of all three. It can take a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months to hear a yes or no. And that waiting is HARD.
BUT! Let me tell you, that is NOTHING compared to the next step.
You get an agent and that’s so great and you and they made some revisions on your book and talked through the list of editors and publishers best suited to your book and the agent made some calls and sent some emails and sent your book to the people who said YES, LEMME READ THAT!
And. You. Wait.
Like your agent, these editors have a workload and house policies that will dictate their timing of turnaround on manuscripts.
The editors might give you feedback on why they said no, just like some agents might let you know why they passed on representation, but they don’t always. Sometimes that feedback is useful and sometimes, not so much….
I’m in the not-so-much useful spot right now. A handful of editors have said no to me (and my agent) but their feedback was the usual “This didn’t work for me.” Which is a legit, if frustrating, response. And honestly, if you are a halfway decent writer, that is going to be the thing you hear the most. And it SUCKS because you don’t know what didn’t grab their attention. But it’s mostly because it’s a well-written piece that is not connecting with them, not for any real reasons you can actually do anything about. In fact, one agent or editor might love a thing that another one really disliked. Just like readers! (Compare some one- and five-star reviews some time! It’s enlightening! [so long as it’s not someone complaining that your book is not a 36-pack of Jimmy Dean sausages])
So, while waiting, you are SUPPOSED to be working on another book, and not your theoretical next book in the proposed series…because your editor might not want to take your series in that direction, or might have some substantive changes to your first novel and then you have to rewrite TWO books instead of one. But damn, it’s hard to change lanes in your head to another storyline and characters, especially while waiting to hear back from this first one OCCUPIES YOUR ENTIRE BEING.
So, here’s where I am. My agent isn’t due to nudge our remaining editors for another week. Usual policy is to give editors three months to make their decisions. THREE. MONTHS.
Not a long time in the long run, but when each day you are obsessively checking your email, just like in your agent querying days, it can feel like forever!
But once an editor says yes, there’s going to be a whole SERIES of structural edits, plus copy edits, plus page proofs, and and and and and…. So a book sold today to a Big Six (Five? Four?) Publisher won’t be on the shelf for a YEAR OR MORE.
I knew there would be a lot of waiting, but you really cannot understand the anxiety and tedium until you have been there. And waiting. With new and exciting anxieties.
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 three spoiled rotten dogs and one awesome daughter; 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!
SS: I’ve been telling stories since I was about 3. I listened to what they called Talking Tapes in the early 70s due to my eye troubles. My mother got me the Bible and Tarzan which probably explains my storytelling stance a lot. I started writing and telling tales as I grew older because I felt a need to tell stories not told by my fave authors or stuff history left out. I guess I was compelled.
Q: What was your first paid published work?
SS: Wow, in a poetry rag when I was 19. It was a five-dollar check, in Poetry Motel, I think. I recall cracking up and showing that to my dad.
Q: What inspired the idea for your current project?
SS: The one with (Brian) Keene was inspired by his trip to the boyhood home of Hunter S. Thompson and some punk in the street not giving a dang or caring who that was…l eading Keene to wonder how folks will recall him. I placed this emotion and experience in the Rogan Bastard realm and…well. Things happen. However, my current work is as close to a barbarian romance as I’ll ever get. That was inspired by a great many things and a lot of heartache.
Q: What’s your daily writing ritual?
SS: I work a great deal. I rise early, shower, lots of coffee and let it roll. At times, I write in strange places.
Q: Do you do research for your books? If so, what’s your favorite resource besides Google?
SS: I actually look stuff up in real books and go to the library. The ladies there assisted me greatly in the creation of Philistine, because books on those folks are rare. I also draw on a lifetime of reading bios and others works that usually accumulate into a work.
Q: Who are your favorite writers?
SS: Robert E. Howard, Karl Edward Wagner, H.P. Lovecraft, Harlan Ellison, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Manly Wade Wellman…oh, some live folks? Joe Abecrombie.
Q: Do you listen to music when you write? What kind?
SS: Sometimes. Johnny Cash, Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Queen, Hank Williams Sr, Jr and III, old Metallica, Alice Cooper, AC/DC, Waylon Jennings, Rob Zombie, Creedance Clearwater Revival
Q: How do you balance being a writer with your day job/family/secret identity as a superhero?
SS: It can be a real female dog of a time. At times, there ain’t much left of me at the end of the day. Still, one strives on. Just gotta pick yer spots.
Q: What was the most useful advice you got as a beginning writer? And the most useless?
SS: Karl Edward Wagner encouraged me to read other genres to expand my mind. Good advice. More good advice from Harlan Ellison was to not be a phony bastard like many are… that all being PC is just lying. Bad advice? A schmuck in NYC told me never to try and get paid to write as it was a danger to the purity of “the craft.” Meh.
Q: What’s the weirdest/funniest/coolest letter or comment you ever got from a reader?
SS: I was offered oral sex from a guy in exchange for a book. Not my thing. Another thought my name was a pen name and demanded I reveal myself. Another had all of my books and just wanted to say thanks. That was cool.
Q: How do you handle a bad review?
SS: Water on a duck’s ass; but see if it is really valid or if they really as just jealous I cockblocked them at a Con somewhere. There is a pub that will not even look at me because of that, but I digress. Gotta take the rough with the smooth.
Q: Do you write happy endings? Why or why not?
SS: I’m always happy when it ends, ha ha … but the story tells itself. I suppose a few of mine have a grim or TWILIGHT ZONE ending, but there’s usually hope. I like to think folks are left entertained.
Q: You’ve finished your book! What do you do after writing “The End”?
SS: I used to have a drink and smoke a cigar, but life moves too fast for me now to have such a perfect ritual. But having a beer & cigar isn’t so rare so I have to find a new ritual. I’d say I run through the yard naked, but I live way out in the country and no one would see anyhow.
Q: If you won the lottery, would you keep on writing?
SS: Of course. I write because I HAVE to, not WANT to. It has to come out.
Q: If you could advise a beginning writer, what would you suggest?
SS: DON’T. Naw, just kidding. Read. Read everything, all genres and keep trying. It is gonna suck at first. Keep trying and find your voice. Last summer, my eldest son was talking comic books with Brian Keene at SCARES THAT CARE. John then talked of fan fiction he wrote for Marvel, DC and Star Wars. Keene was surprised at a few characters John knew and as I laughed, Brian reminded me, “That’s how we both started, doing that, but it wasn’t called fanfic then.” True. I used to write mean Battlestar Galactica and Avengers fics in junior high.
Q: What are you doing next?
SS: Writer wise? Trying to rework that fantasy novel, next draft of a suspense thriller, and overdraft of another fantasy work… and possible submit another Joel Stuart novel where he is 94 years old. Then, I might write some new stuff.
Steven L. Shrewsbury lives, works, and writes in rural Illinois. More than 360 of his short stories have appeared in print or electronic media, along with more than 100 poems. His novels run from sword & sorcery (Overkill, Thrall, Bedlam Unleashed) to historical fantasy (Godforsaken) to extreme horror (Hawg, Tormentor, Stronger Than Death) to horror-westerns (Hell Billy, Bad Magick, Last Man Screaming). He loves books, British TV, guns, movies, politics, sports and hanging out with his sons. He’s frequently outdoors, looking for brightness wherever it may hide.