A new dark-gothic collection from acclaimed horror writer John McFarland is out just in time for the holidays! McFarland is a long-time member of the Literary Underworld, with work ranging from dark fantasy like The Black Garden to offbeat children’s books like Annette: A Big Hairy Mom.
Now his new collection has been praised by Publisher’s Weekly! “McFarland tempers his frights with the mercy of familial love and sympathy for outsiders and victims. Horror readers will be riveted.”
Q: What was your first paid published work?
A: Actually my first paid published work were drawings, not writing so much. In the 1970’s surrealistic drawings by an artist called B. Kliban were all the rage. He published several books, which were the precursors of Gary Larsen’s Far Side, including several about cats. I did a parody of Kliban’s cat books called Kill A Cat and sent it to The National Lampoon. P. J. O’Rourke, the editor at that time, loved it and paid me the princely sum of $750. Scheduling mishaps at the magazine kept pushing the publication date back until the subject was no longer timely, and it never appeared. They never asked for their money back, though.
Q: Who are your favorite writers?
A: Like most boys who turn out like me, my favorite writers as a kid were Poe, Mary Shelley, H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, but also the likes of Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Hitchens. In college I discovered James Joyce (of Dubliners), William Faulkner and especially Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor’s work was a revelation to me, small town country boy that I was. She seemed to know every one of my relatives and she has had a lifelong effect on my work. I visited her childhood home in Savannah, Ga. and Andalusia Farm in Milledgeville, where she did her mature work. I am fortunate enough to own a signed first edition of The Violent Bear It Away, and a series of watercolor concept are studies for covers for her books.
Q: What are you doing next?
A: Two novels are in the works. My current publisher, Dark Owl, has shown interest in re-issuing my 2010 book The Black Garden, and then its sequel, tentatively titled Azmiel’s Daughter. I am also working on a ghost story novel, called Phrygia House. Also, DOP has shown interest in publishing my Young Reader series Bigfoot stories, Annette: A Big, Hairy Mom.
Q: Was there anyone who inspired you as a beginning writer?
A: I actually touch on this in my acknowledgements section in The Dark Walk Forward. As a teen, I corresponded with both Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. I asked the usual young admirer dumb-ass questions, but they were both, especially Bradbury, very kind and generous with their responses.
A: Do you outline or fly by the seat of your pants?
A: Both, but mostly seat of my pants. I always have a general idea of where I want a narrative to go, but as the cliche goes, the story seems to take on a life of its own as you go along. I was amazed at this process when writing The Black Garden. Connections, plot points, twists and turns just popped into my head as I wrote. No one was more surprised at how it turned out than I.
JOHN MCFARLAND’S first novel, The Black Garden, was published in 2010. His work has appeared in The Twilight Zone Magazine, Eldritch Tales, National Lampoon, River Styx, Tornado Alley and the anthology A Treasury of American Horror Stories, which also included stories by Stephen King, Richard Matheson and H.P. Lovecraft. He is a lifelong Bigfoot enthusiast, and Annette: A Big Hairy Mom was his first novel for young readers and is in print in three languages. He has written extensively on historical and arts-related subjects and has been a guest lecturer in fiction at Washington University in St. Louis.
The small town of Ste. Odile in America has experienced the Great War in ways that no one should ever have to endure.
Doctors must tend to births and deaths that make their most difficult cases seem benign.
An 1880s schoolteacher is faced with the worst blizzard of her time and must save the children under her charge.
A young man searches for his father the abandoned orphanage the older man owns… and both know they will despair at what they find.
A primitive woman experiences colonization and the stereotypes of men, yet finds her own method of retribution.
John S. McFarland has slogged through his characters’ woes and woven them into sweetly emotional yet acutely distressful tales. We as readers are forced to understand the pain, the despair, and sometimes the hope of his creations.
We realize we are lucky to live in the era we do. We also realize anything can change to tear us apart. Is it fate? Destiny? Or do we bring about these changes on our own? McFarland will let us know.
McFarland’s writing is lush and sensual, filled with textures, sounds, smells, and primal terrors that have lurked beyond the firelight since prehistory. –Kenneth Anderson, editor of Charon II
“John McFarland has a talent for drawing horror from raw human emotion. The Dark Walk Forward is heartbreaking and sad as well as frightening, with characters that linger in the mind long after the pages have turned.” — Elizabeth Donald, author of Moonlight Sonata, Setting Suns, and Nocturne Infernum.
“McFarland tempers his frights with the mercy of familial love and sympathy for outsiders and victims. Horror readers will be riveted.” ~ Publishers Weekly
Literary Underworld co-founder Elizabeth Donald has a new novella out from Crone Girls Press, the next adventure in her Blackfire horror series!
Elizabeth discussed this new release in a recent interview with Crone Girls Press managing editor Rachel Brune.
Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your writing?
I’ve been writing since I could pick up a crayon, but my first published fiction appeared in 2001 or thereabouts. I wrote short stories that usually ended up in the last issue of each magazine, so I was the Typhoid Mary of the small press for a while. My first novel was published in 2004, and I’ve been writing fiction ever since – usually horror, science fiction, a spot of romance and a touch of fantasy, but often where several of these coincide. By day, I was a newspaper reporter for 20-odd years and continue to commit journalism on a freelance basis; by night I write about ghouls and monsters, and I try not to mix them up with Congress.
Q: This is a prequel to your Blackfire series. Can you give readers an introduction to that series and tell us a little bit about it?
Blackfire started with a novella intended for a collection like this one: traditional monsters written in nontraditional ways. I was assigned zombies, which was a relief since I’d spent the last several years writing about vampires and I wanted the switch. Zombies are traditionally a gross-out horror: fear of disease and putrefaction coupled with the survivalist subgenre. So I went another way entirely, and strove to find a way to make zombies scary without eyeballs and entrails. That was The Cold Ones, but the anthology was canceled before publication. A year later I found a publisher willing to take it on even at that very short length, and the print run sold out in 48 hours. Since then I’ve written a full-length novel, Blackfire, and a handful of short stories published in genre magazines and traditional literary magazines, as well as in my own short story collection, Moonlight Sonata.
Yanaguana is part of that story – a prequel by its setting, but it doesn’t require knowledge of all the other stories to enjoy it. It’s a good introduction to Sara Harvey, Paul Vaughn and the rest of the Blackfire crew, and it’s my hope to keep writing tales of their adventures for a long time to come. Unfortunately, the original publisher went out of business, so those two early books are out of print for now.
Q: This story was partly inspired by a trip to San Antonio. Can you talk a little about that, and how the story came out of it?
San Antonio is a nifty city! I travel a lot for my work as a journalist and as an author, averaging about 30 nights a year in hotel rooms when there isn’t a global life-threatening pandemic. Last year I was in San Antonio on business for journalism, and I fell in love with it. The history (ghost-related and otherwise), the food, the fascinating layout of a city on two levels. And did I mention the food? Yum.
But mostly it was that fascinating layout, of the Riverwalk and the thread of the San Antonio River meandering through downtown, and the city itself bustling about a level above it. I wandered along the river and realized what a wonderful setting it would be for monsters and demons and ghosts, because that’s the way my mind operates. Ask poor Memphis how many times I’ve infested it with monsters!
Before my trip, I had arranged to be allowed a photo shoot on the grounds of the Alamo (though not inside the chapel, they don’t allow God himself the rights to shoot inside there). I visited three times for photography and research, developing a travelogue for my nonfiction work.
But as I was planning the story of Yanaguana, I knew something had to happen at the Alamo. The city itself is practically a character in the novella, and the Alamo is the center and heart of the city and its history. Yes, it’s a huge tourist draw and I have no doubt economics is a big part of its importance, but it has special meaning for the people of Texas and San Antonio in particular. I knew I wanted it to be a big part of my story, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity to do my research properly. I hope I’ve treated the city and its history with the respect they deserve.
Q: What were some of the challenges of revisiting a series after some time away, especially writing something that happens before the other books? How did you meet that challenge?
It was harder than I thought it would be! Not so much revisiting these characters, because they’re still very much alive for me. In fact, a short story featuring Parish Roberts was published earlier this year in River Bluff Review, so I never go too long without playing with the Blackfire crew. But the prequel aspect was a struggle, because I am a Star Trek-level nerd about continuity. I was continually checking the previous works to make sure the events of Yanaguana fit into the timeline of the Blackfire story and don’t contradict events prior to or after its occurrence. I remember searching for quite some time to figure out in which leg Sara was stabbed way back in the first book! I never want my creative impulse to create questions in the mind of the reader that throw them out of the story or compromise the realism of the characters’ stories – as much realism as one can have when you’re talking ghosts and monsters.
Q: Can you explain why every time I read one of your stories, there is always a scene or sentence that makes your editor cry (in a good way)?
A horror writer isn’t necessarily an emotional sadist, but it helps! If I make a reader cry, or afraid, or laugh, or any strong emotional response, I win. The enemy of good fiction is boredom. If I hear someone lost interest in my story partway through, or even fell asleep at midnight reading it, I want to know where I lost them so I can fix it next time. The most beautifully written descriptive passage isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on if the reader is skimming past it, muttering, “So when is something going to happen?” And if I hear they cared enough about my characters to cry for them, or that their snark made the readers laugh, I know I’ve created something that reaches them and will stick with them after they finish the book. And that’s really the point of the job, isn’t it?
Q: I recognize a lot of what I think of as “subtle accuracy” in your writing, especially around local law enforcement, mortuary affairs, etc. You’ve spent many years working as a reporter–does this inform your writing? For those writers without this experience, what would you recommend they do to achieve familiarity with these characters and situations?
As of this writing I’ve been in journalism for 23 years, and while I don’t tend to run out to crime scenes or courtrooms as a freelancer now, I did it for a very long time and have the scars to prove it. It goes back to that wish not to throw the reader out of the story. If you ask real cops and prosecutors what they think of forensic procedural TV shows like CSI, you will get a lot of laughter and some four-letter words. For the sake of dramaticism, they’ve got lab rats that kick down doors and interrogate suspects, and don’t get them started on the “not-a-cop who helps the cops” a la Castle or even Mr. Holmes. It’s important to me to get as much realism into my dark fantasies as possible, because it lends credence to the more fantastic elements. I have cop friends who read my interrogations and police procedures; I have military friends who review military aspects; I have gun experts to tell me the difference between a clip and a magazine because those are the tiny details that throw a reader out of the story. (Don’t get me started on my own reaction to the Evil Soul-Sucking Lying Journalist trope.)
It’s also important to have first readers check you when you’re writing about populations beyond yourself, whether we’re talking about race or ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation and gender identity. I edited a piece once for a straight male client who was writing a love story between two men, and with his permission requested a sensitivity read from a fellow writer who was gay. Because both the client and I were working from outside our life experience, it helps to have the perspective of someone whose experience aligns more closely to your characters. The goal is to accurately and realistically portray people we made up from our imaginations, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of stereotypes and clichés that are offensive, inaccurate, or simply boring and overdone.
The easy answer is to do your research and never fall into the laziness of, “Nobody will notice.” (Someone always notices. Always.) There are groups like Writing the Other that offer seminars and strive regularly to help writers seek and destroy stereotypes and microaggressions that can creep into our writing, and professional sensitivity readers can also help you along those lines.
The more complex answer is that a writer is an observer of human nature, and you should seek out life experiences and acquaintances with a wide variety of ideas and expertise and backgrounds. The writer alone in her garret might not have much in the way of distractions from her art, but eventually it will become solely self-reflective art. Stephen King wrote that the most brilliantly rendered fictional character is “but a bag of bones” next to the dullest living human being, and so we can do worse than to become students of human nature and reflect that in our characters.
Q: What’s next in your fiction travels?
I am currently in year three of five years of grad school, working on two (2) masters degrees so I can be truly over-educated. I’ve begun the coursework this semester toward an MFA in creative writing, and so my focus has been on developing short stories and evolving my craft through the program. Next summer will be free, however, so I imagine a novel will be forthcoming. But I haven’t decided which novel it will be yet! I listen to requests from my readers, and the last few conventions before the pandemic had a cacophony of requests for more Blackfire. There’s a final confrontation coming, and I know how it ends…
Q: Anything to add?
I had a fantastic time playing with the Blackfire gang again, and infesting San Antonio with critters, as they call them. This has been a fun experience, and I hope the readers enjoy Yanaguana as much as I did. I remain grateful and humbled that publishers continue to gamble on me and readers continue to plunk down hard-earned cash for my work, as it’s a privilege and an honor.
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 the author of the Nocturne vampire mystery series and Blackfire dark fantasy 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 guest lecturer on journalism ethics; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. She is currently pursuing two masters degrees at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and is a teaching assistant at the college. She serves as president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists and Eville Writers, and is a member of the national SPJ Ethics Commission, AEJMC, ELLA, Freelancers Union, Editorial Freelancers Association and others. She lives with her husband and son in a haunted house in Edwardsville, Illinois. In her spare time, she has no spare time.
When you hear a train whistle, what do you think of? Do you hear the music floating on the air as it starts off soft, then builds to a crescendo and slowly fades on the breeze? Do you think of adventure and feel the wanderlust consume your thoughts, restlessness and aching to be on the move?
Maybe the sound of a train evokes the feeling of a bygone era romanticized in books and movies. Perhaps it is the intrigue of the science and mechanics of a train that comes to mind, whether it is a steam engine, a diesel locomotive, or even an electric train.
I think and feel all these scenarios at once when I hear that train whistle, feel the vibration of the rails, smell the iron and oil mixed with burnt water and wind.
I recall when I was a little girl staying with my grandparents, and would hear a train whistle at night in the distance as I drifted off to sleep. My grandparents lived in a small house on a little plot of land in northern California. My grandfather worked in the garden everyday while my grandmother saw to the house and painted pictures or wrote poetry. They had fruit trees and a grape arbor, as well as chickens and turtles who delighted in eating the tomato worms from the garden. In the corner of my mind where I store the fond memories with the warm fuzzy thoughts, a story was born: the story of a young girl growing up on a farm, and one day had to turn and face the world and its cruel nature. I didn’t know it at the time, but this story was growing inside of me until one day it made its presence known.
I was thinking one day about how the railroad system stretches for miles across America from east to west and north to south: rail routes crisscrossing and winding around mountains and rivers knitting the cities and towns of America together. The history of how the railroad system brought the nation closer intrigues me. The incredible invention of the steam engine and iron horses created by these inventions fascinates me to no end. I am also drawn to the steampunk aesthetics, and marvel in the art, creativity, and ingenuity. I wanted to build upon my story idea, so I tossed all my thoughts and memories into a bowl, mixed it up, and brought forth the Steel Roots story.
Initially Steel Roots was only supposed to be three books: The Boxcar Baby, Crossings, and Rails West. However, as the story unfolds, I find that I cannot end it at three and must at least have one more book to bring closure. AB’Gale Steel wants her story told to the fullest, so I began the long trek to The End of the Line, the fourth book. There is so much more that has been left unsaid, other characters’ stories untold, that the series could easily become more books. Yet AB’Gale Steel’s part in this story, has in essence come to a finish.
The End of the Line has so much more in it than the other books, and many additional characters have been brought forth from the background. My train fascination has grown, and my research become more in-depth. Not only is Abby involved in the world of trains and the battle for her freedom, but she is traveling to different parts of America, which of course must be explored as much as possible. Rails West took Abby to Colorado, a wild land but still under the strong hand of the System; a place where a revolution can be built in the hopes that the battle against the System can be won.
As my readers know, I strive to make a fictional story believable. All my research goes into finding real places, actual train routes, and believable engineering. Throughout my writing this book I have been posting on the Steel Roots Facebook page of fascinating historical items I have come across and incorporated them into the story. These are clues of what is to come and what fascinating inventions will be found in the fourth book, The End of the Line.
A California native born in Hollywood, 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 storytelling, 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.Twitter
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.
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.
Longtime Underlord Steven L. Shrewsbury has two titles new to the Literary Underworld! Shrews, as we call him on the circuit, is famous for raw, powerful fiction in fascinating and detailed alternate worlds. He’s also famous for his readings, which can blow down walls.
His latest in the Weird West series is Mojo Hand, which crosses from Peoria, Illinois to the voodoo dens of New Orleans.
After a gun battle in an 1884 Peoria cathouse, one-armed ex-Confederate guerrilla Joel Stuart has new problems. A small group arrives from New Orleans to inform him that his old friend and fellow Missouri Raider needs his help… and that someone is systemically killing all Confederate veterans in the area. Since all in the party perished in the gun battle but the young lady, DeVore, and the law will be on his tail, Joel offers to just return her to New Orleans.
After the train ride, Joel quickly discovers the city in the grip of a voodoo game with Pap Bon Deux and his estranged mate, Maman Elizi. While there, Maman attempts to contract Stuart to attain an article for her from Bon Deux: the soul of Marie LeVeaux, famed eternal voodoo mistress.
Joel finds himself at odds with dire magical forces. He runs headfirst into an army of the undead, a demon guard, the persona of African god Damballah, and even finds himself beneath the lid of a coffin.
The other is new to us, but has been in circulation for a few years. Shrews returns to his roots in dark fantasy, but this time with a biblical twist in Philistine.
The Philistines, a mysterious warrior people known now for mainly one man: Goliath. The giant.
Goliath. A name grander than even the man himself. You’ve heard of his infamous end at the hands of a shepherd as written in a famous book, but what of the life of the man himself? What book tells his tale?
A warrior among warriors, the son of a god, a living legend. Goliath, the warrior champion of the Philistines. On the battlefield, he runs like a horse, wields killing instruments no normal man may heft, and revels in the fear his presence evokes. Off the field, his will is immutable, his trust invaluable, and his appetites unbearable. Goliath. This man knows no challenge.
But such a reputation will not discourage all men. Scheming rulers and generals, prophetic priests and powerful cults, dauntless warriors looking to make their own legends. Monsters. Gods. For one seemingly unkillable, at the very least, these things can ruin an otherwise pleasant day.
Along with his shieldbearer Abimelech, and soldiers more in awe than they are useful, Goliath will set out on missions for kings, face foul magic users, and walk in the shadows of mysterious halls.
History tells us Goliath died at the hands of an Israelite. Goliath may have something to say about that.
Enjoy these and the rest of Steven Shrewsbury’s amazing and prolific body of work at Literary Underworld!
We are happy to announce a reprint of one of Underlord Elizabeth Donald’s favorite short stories will appear in an upcoming anthology from Crone Girls Press.
Now, we know we’re not supposed to have “favorite” short stories, because they’re all our babies. But let’s face it – some stories are just more fun than others. “In Memoriam” features the return of Cat Suarez, the photographer who sees dead people. Apart from her debut novel, Cat shows up in a couple of short stories in Donald’s Moonlight Sonata, which is still in print and available in ebook too (hint hint).
Stories We Tell After Midnight is edited by the indomitable Rachel Brune, and includes stories from Jane Hawley, Adam N. Leonard, Christy Mann and several others.
A changeling binds a young girl to a mirror and takes her place…
A salesman pursues closing a deal until it costs him everything…
An ancient Duchess graciously invites you on a tour of her orangerie…
This is the world of Crone Girls Press. Here, the shadows keep their secrets and the moon hides from deeds cast in her glow. In these pages, the Fae walk as human, the dead burn with their anger at the living, the creatures that live in the dark places of the wrong zip code creep out of the shadows and into the kitchen. Stories We Tell After Midnight is a collection of short horror fiction from established names in the genre as well as a number of debut authors.
So, how can you get your hands on this awesome collection? You can preorder the ebook from Amazon for 99c right now! After release on Oct. 21, the ebook will cost you $4.99, so preorders are definitely in your best interest.
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.
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.