humor, Uncategorized, writing technique


 – from the editors of Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine

Humor is as spontaneous as slipping on a banana peel. At the core of every joke, somebody is hurt who didn’t see it coming.

Humor is cathartic. 9/11 happened right after the staff of the online satire newspaper, The Onion, moved to New York. They worried, “Can we be funny?” Their writers satirized the hijackers as being tortured in Christian Hell by demons. The God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule issue was a smash hit. Fan mail showed that readers found release in ridiculing the terrorists.

Humor has sharply defined limits, as a French comedian discovered when he was charged with “defending terrorists” for his comment about a video. The video showed ISIS beheading a Frenchman. The comedian quipped, “It’s in the French tradition.” Now, I thought that funny because I’m not French. But know your readers. Don’t pull a Gilbert Gottfried. A couple weeks after 9/11, he performed at the roast of Hugh Hefner telling a New York audience, “I have to leave early tonight, I have a flight to California. I can’t get a direct flight — they said I have to stop at the Empire State Building first.” Gilbert immediately knew he’d blundered, “I don’t think anyone’s lost an audience bigger than I did at that point. They were booing and hissing.” Being offensive is not funny. Keep in mind that humor must be perceived as funny.

The dictionary first defines humor as a quality that makes something laughable or amusing. Duh! A more useful definition follows: “The ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is amusing, comical, incongruous, or absurd.” Not much better, but at least it shows that funny requires agreement. The author perceives something funny and the reader finds it amusing. Show your work to others before deciding it’s funny.

Two things on “how.” Humor has to connect with your audience. George Carlin knew this. “There was about a two-year period at the end of the ’60s, when I realized I was in the wrong place and entertaining the wrong people with the wrong material and that I was not being true to myself.” It can’t be forced. Steven Wright knows this. “I don’t go off and sit down and try to write material, because then it’s contrived and forced. I just live my life, and I see things in a word or a situation or a concept, and it will create a joke for me.”

So, our advice to authors is to simply relax. Write funny speculative fiction that offers your readers some cathartic release in this fucked-up world. And remember, you can’t know something is funny until you laugh at it. Humor is as spontaneous to the writer as it is to the reader.

Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine
Issue 2 is at the publishers!
Now accepting stories for Issue 3


Jobs I Have Done Instead of Writing

The following was written by American author Rick Harsch (who has lived in self-exile in Slovenia for nearly two decades): ‘Every subfamous writer knows it’s unseemly to bitch about having to work for a living, yet is all too aware that if he or she was a paid writer writing would be considered work, and so we subfamers are all in the horrible position of having spasms of acute awareness that in this unjust world in which we both continue to write and on top of that work for a living we are doing double duty while many a self-satisfied untalented schmuck is working about seven hours a week, living off a single novel that hit paydirt, muddling through an academic sinecure that requires an everchanging array of poses suggesting the suppressed pain that is art creation in times of distant tragedies and that worst of all human conditions, the human condition.

How do I handle this problem? Self-delusion is an absolute requirement. I must never fully realize the fact that my time has passed, that even if I were to become a wealthy writer overnight I am still too old to embark on the travels I’ve longed to undertake, and my cardiologist has forbidden me from even taking tennis lessons. And, well, shit, why not get this out in the open—though poor, I actually do live on the Mediterranean.

The other thing I do for this condition is work. I don’t mean writing, of course. Sure, I write, but we’ve already established that for me that isn’t work. So what I do and have done for the last forty years is whatever I have been able to make money. Strangely, the most outlandish work I did was before I had a family, kids and a wife, which is the point at which work becomes the most necessary. But that’s all to the good. I get published now and then, and I never ever want to see another book with my face on it and underneath “Rick Harsch drove a taxi…” Oh, how fucking exotic! Nothing wrong with it that a photograph wearing a sweater sitting with my Irish setter before a fireplace wouldn’t cleanse. I suppose what I want is “Rick Harsch drove a taxi and one time a guy named Earl shit his pants while in the back seat and Rick couldn’t get Earl out of the cab because Earl was built like a medicine ball with a lead core and it was the end of a lousy shift and he nearly had a stroke from the frustration and if that cab is still around somewhere it still smells like the Bowels of Earl.” Yeah, that would be okay.

All this arose in me, this writers at work business, from reading an interview on The Collidescope with Patricia Eakins, with her answering that potent question regarding what she did after her first book was published and reading about how she worked on some textbook that likely had little to do with anything she was interested in and likely because like all of us subfamers needed money and the universe did not care how she obtained it, or whether she obtained it at all. The utopian in me lives and was riled. I recalled the thousand injuries of Fortunato, my greatest enemy.

Today I was sitting with one of my ex-bosses talking scattershot and a memory somehow came back regarding probably the oddest day I had in recent years that had to do with making money, or rather attempting to. A friend of a friend had this sister, see, and she does film casting, and they were hiring extras in Gorizia, Italy, about 90 minutes from here and one thing led to another, and nothing led to money, but I spent a bizarre day with an extravagant dame in her 60s who had seen the world and half the men in it, still sized us all up and let us know the fit, told amazing stories about back in the days her ex, a sea captain, had her on board and all the engineers were in love with her, and Omar Sharif, or some other famous guy, tried to bang her that night in Piraeus.

So what the hell, here’s a topic: Jobs I Have Done Instead of Writing.’

Rick Harsch has told me, George Salis, that I’m too young to have any good stories to share (I’m paraphrasing). Having taught stints in Bulgaria, China, and Poland, I’d have to disagree. Additionally, I’ve had to teach Chinese children online in which I am a clown-for-hire as early as 5 in the morning, forcing me on more than one occasion to live on China Standard Time (CST), which means I rarely saw the sun, such a pale clown needs no white makeup. Luckily, I’ve been able to reduce the amount of online teaching I do by ghostwriting, which suits my introverted personality much more, to say the least. As for work-related stories abroad, the craziest come from China in which I was forced to wrangle multiple classes with about 50 students in a class, some of which hide special needs kids who are not getting the special needs they need. I’ll save such stories for another day, perhaps.

I look forward to hearing about the strange and torturous things you other writers have had to endure with equal parts sadism and sympathy.

Rick Harsch hit the literary scene in 1997 with his cult classic The Driftless Zone, which was followed by Billy Verite and Sleep of the Aborigines (all by Steerforth Press) soon after to form The Driftless Trilogy. Harsch migrated to the Slovene coastal city of Izola in 2001, just as the Driftless books were published in French translation by a French publisher that went out of business a few years later. Rick is also the author of Arjun and the Good Snake (2011, Amalietti & Amalietti), Wandering Stone: the Streets of Old Izola (2017, Mandrac Press), Voices After Evelyn (2018, Maintenance Ends Press), Skulls of Istria (2018, River Boat Books), The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas (2019, River Boat Books) and Walk Like a Duck: A Season of Little League Baseball in Italy (2019, River Boat Books). Rick currently lives in Izola still with his wife and two children.

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books, 2019). His fiction is featured in The DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineThe Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on FacebookGoodreads, and at

Stay tuned: coming Monday, 13 Jan 20, RABBIT HOLE 3 Call for Submissions!

About Writers, book reviews, humor, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Of Burning Hotness & Tightly Curled Monkey Paws: Bad Sex Writing

You’re a writer—committing words to paper or electronic storage media—in the hopes that others might later read, and vicariously enjoy, the fruits of your labor. So when an award comes your way embodying recognition from your peers for demonstrable excellence in execution of the craft—popped champagne corks, streamers, and confetti all around, right?

Not so fast.

What if the recognition that comes your way is for writing some of the most descriptively awful, tortured-metaphor, laugh-out-loud-funny sex scenes ever committed to print—    then how would you feel?

Such is the position two 2019 novelists find themselves in: Didier Decoin and John Harvey. Britain’s “most dreaded literary prize”—the Bad Sex Award—was, err . . . awarded . . . to these two gentlemen for the creation of grammatical hydra-headed monsters of such overwrought metaphor, mangled syntax, and ”    wait . . . what?!” disorienting narrative description that awed judges truly could not decide upon a winner between the Gallic or the Anglo-Saxon contestants. They co-share the prize.

Readers in search of saucer-eyed, hand-to-mouth diversion may peruse this link for further details:  

I considered re-posting some of the passages quoted in the Guardian article here so that drive-by readers may get a feel for the exquisite excrescence of the award-winning bad writing thus recognized by Britain’s Bad Sex Award, but . . . no.     :::shudder:::    Just . . . no. . . .

Once you’re done reading the article, however, let’s regather here and discuss. Have you ever written a sex scene in your fiction? How did it turn out? What is your opinion of sex scenes in fiction, generally? Are they necessary? (Let’s exclude, for purposes of this discussion, “one-handed books”—explicit erotic fiction primarily targeted at cisgender men: “I never believed this could happen to me: I hawked my wad of chewing tobacco onto the macadam, took a swig of whiskey from my flask, slung my reflector vest away, and stripping down to my tightly bunched gray underwear waded into the writhing, moaning mass of naked women softly trilling my name:  Ebenezer, Ebenezer . . .”)

David Foster Wallace once notoriously dismissed John Updike as “just a penis with a thesaurus”. Are there writers you think take things an explicit passage too far? Perhaps offend by tone, subject matter, and/or authorial voice? Obsessive “sex focus”?

On the other hand, do you think there is something to be said for writers who dare to write against the grain of “contemptible bourgeois morality” and Puritanical prudishness? Are there writers you think handle sexual passages well? Do you regard titillation and/or sexual arousal as a legitimate aim of literary or genre literature? (After all, we applaud the writers who best evoke the senses when they write, so why should sex—an essential part of the human condition and a most poignant and transfixing experiential phenomena—remain “off-stage” in literature?)

About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Research, Uncategorized, writing technique

On Falling in the Name of Research

by George Salis 

The act of writing a novel elicits a series of revelations punctuated by epiphanies. I will share with you two major eureka moments that occurred during the writing of my debut novel Sea Above, Sun Below.

Connected to the myth of Icarus and other vertiginous tales of yore, my novel features a group of skydivers who fall, metaphorically and literally. I’m afraid of heights but I felt like I needed to skydive in the name of research for my novel. As it happens, I loved the surreal experience so much I would do it again. Strapped to my instructor, we waddled to the plane’s open door, and he stood on the edge while I dangled unfathomably high above the earth and with fear I reached out to grip the metal portal, but the instructor gently pried me from even that precarious perch, and then the insensate suck, the slip from everything into nothing, and I realized this was it, that I was truly falling, skydiving, and the wind felt as though the sky wanted to make my mouth and lungs home, palate-scouring, and the seconds were drawn out into a brief infinity, an eternal moment. From there, the world below struggled between a two-dimensional illusion and the reality of three.

Yet, for all that that’s worth, I was fairly surprised to discover, once my feet were on the ground and I was back at my writing desk, that my skydiving description was quite accurate before I had conducted my research and so I ended up adding only a single sentence afterward: “Up here, while the wind became a chorus of tragic furies, the sun detached from the sky, letting the earth revolve like an orrery.” This is one example in which I learned to trust my own instincts, my own imagination. Was skydiving worth the effort, the confronting of fear? Absolutely. Research still has many benefits and can be a delight in and of itself. I should add that while the experience of falling conformed quite uncannily with my predescription, as it were, I did add a plethora of details from my experience within the skydiving hangar, such as the almost anachronistic bowling balls littering the hangar floor which I learned are used to push out air from the parachutes while folding them back into their packs for the next fall. So, aside from personal development, research can give you all those minute details which enhance a fictional scene, but if you cannot afford to go to Japan, for example, then you should rest easy knowing that you have the power to evoke your own germane version of the country.

Also, do not underestimate academic research, which is often less expensive and no less simmering with potential details, for one’s picture of a place or person will always be incomplete and eventually all that’s left for you to do is continue writing.

Mentally juggling and tallying the oftentimes ambiguous constituents of a novel in one’s head, even with the aid of notes and miscellaneous marginalia, can cause a daunting dizziness. To lessen the vertigo, I offer this lesson: I learned that it’s much more manageable to write each chapter as a short story (with chronology being far from a priority). There are certain aspects the short story is known for, yet there is no reason such aspects should be exclusive to it: an ensorcelling first sentence; a strategic entrance into the very story of the story; a self-containment that can feel like a certain tightness, which is not to suggest that you should avoid digressions (they can be, as Ray Bradbury said in defiance of Shakespeare’s Polonius, the soul of wit); an immediacy of image or action or development; and it allows you to weave your novel as if it were a tapestry, depending on the type of novel you are writing. I’m enamored with stories within stories, stories besides stories, in the vein of The Thousand and One Nights or Cloud Atlas, so my novel contains around ten different threads which were written with the mentality, the focused lens, of the short story, connected thematically, genetically, and more. An additional benefit to this method/perspective is that while you work on your long project, you might be able to send out some pieces of it for potential publication. Before Sea Above, Sun Below recently came out as a whole through River Boat Books, I was able to publish ten pieces from it, and in a few cases I received edits on the stories which ultimately helped the final vision.

It is worth noting that you should rage against my advice as you see fit. By all means, do the opposite of what I say if it works for you. Or better yet, use your finger to write your novel in the fog on a mirror; spin around quickly ten times before you sit down for the day’s quota; whisper your sentences backward to yourself; write your dreams then dream what you wrote. Who truly knows what will help?

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books). His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is the editor of The Collidescope and is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland.


Sly’s front cover (In progress)

There’s a lot to be done yet, but this is close to the final look.


Above: Cover-in-Progress. I’ve mooshed in a background quickly. That will be remedied.

Below: Sha-Sha, as a harem-girl, to go with Sly in his Sultan costume. My next task: to get her head onto a body. The two will eventually be a pair of paper-dolls: Sultan/Harem Girl. Elizabethan Dandy/Court Beauty. A swashbuckling sea-slug and his exotic port-o-call wench.


> The ornamentation on the hat is very poor, copied out of a 72 dpi image just to get something in place. I have to find 300 dpi baubles to replace those iffy trinkets.

> The ruff needs to be brought forward, to top the bottom banner. The subtitle needs to be brought forward also.

> I’m going to extend the tail of the ‘Y’ in ‘Sly’ so it whips around under ‘The Rogue Decamps’ making ‘Decamps’ more readable, and so it acts as a flourish under the subtitle.

> I will fix up the right and left edges of the cat, extend hairs, add whiskers, and so on.

> I’m still playing with the colors.

> The portion of body showing at lower right, I’ll do something with that, make it an asset instead of a nothing-blob.

> I have to adjust the kerning in ‘Sly’. That bugs me. Not easy to do in Photoshop, I’ll have to do it in InDesign.

> I have to reconfigure to a standard size. This one was by eye.

Other tweaks ­will come to me, I’m sure. This thing still needs a *lot-lot-lot* of messing with.


Where am I at with the manuscript? I will go through my notes and add in the best of what I find. I want to do one more intense read/revision. I figure it’s within a month of being published.


I have another *big* problem: what do I do with my website? I have the whole novel on there, and most of book two. I should have up the first few chapters as a teaser. I’ll sell the full piece for, what, ninety-nine cents, one-ninety-nine? Maybe I can make enough to pay to print a paper doll.

I still have to create my own art for the website. A publish may be pushed back, to Christmas. Wouldn’t that be a grand Christmas present to myself!

It would be great if I had book two, with my pirate episode in it, ready to go by February a year from now, and to launch my promotion on National Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day. National Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day is the creation of the guy who brought us The Flying Spaghetti Monster, and those nutty Pastafarians.

I should give Sly a colander on his head as a tribute to the man, in my rapidly accumulating gallery of headwear (a pharaoh giggle is coming next). My hat series is a start on a poster. I call the series The Cat In The Hat, circa 1584.

A sixteenth-century colander, what would that look like? And why would Sly be wearing it? Got to think about that. This is how a short story written thirty years ago grew into a six-book series.


I see I can get a small glossy postcard produced for around twenty cents each. This cover design is almost the perfect proportion.  It will cost more than that to mail them!

About Writers, book promotion, book reviews, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

How to Prepare for Negative Comments on your Creative Work

Aristotle is quoted as saying: “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

I have been fortunate, so far, in receiving largely positive and constructive feedback on my first published novel, “Unearthed.” I of course know that no creative work can appeal to all audiences, though. Somebody, somewhere, will not care for your writing, your painting, your music, your recipe, etc. I know people who don’t even like chocolate … and I mean … it’s chocolate.

Like many authors, I felt some anxiety when publishing my novel. I had three beta readers and multiple rounds of edits; I was happy with the result. But I haven’t been living in a cave. I’m on social media, and I read the comments on public posts. I felt I should steel myself for the negativity that seems to thrive on the internet.

Here are my tips:

  1. Make a list of popular things you don’t enjoy

The beauty of this step is that nothing is off limits. Allow me to demonstrate: Fortnite, Game of Thrones (I really tried), every song by Drake, bicycle shorts, calamari. The fact that I don’t care for these things won’t (and shouldn’t) stop them from being successful. Except for whoever designed bicycle shorts. They should be stopped.

  • Read the 1 and 2 star reviews of your favorite novels

This is an eye-opener. One of my favorite authors, Karen Marie Moning, received a review titled “Seriously?!” that opened with: “I am mind-boggled that, at the time of this review, this book has over a 4-star rating.”

Another gem from a review of J.R. Ward’s work: “The characters are the most awfully cliched stereotypes I’ve seen since … actually, no, they ARE the most awfully cliched characters I’ve ever read.”

Yikes. I read other reviews that are overly critical (imho) of story line or character development, but these snippets stand out in my mind for obvious reasons. Fortunately, these authors continue to turn out successful novels and connect with audiences who enjoy their work.

  • Watch Jimmy Kimmel clips of “Mean Tweets” on YouTube

This is a hilarious segment that highlights the most scathing comments on Twitter, read by the celebrity target. It’s brutally funny and frighteningly enlightening. Celebrities respond in various ways and some surprise you.

That’s it. Three easy steps that cost you nothing but a little time. For me, this was the perspective I needed before sending “Unearthed” out into the cruel, cruel world with my eyes wide open. I sincerely hope I never receive a Kimmel-worthy review of my work, but if I do, I’ll remember that I’m in good company with every other creative talent out there—and keep writing.

Escape mundane reality with “Unearthed”—a fun, fast-paced contemporary fantasy romance.

About Writers, blogging, book reviews, Poetry, Uncategorized

Carl E. Reed’s review of Spectral Realms #11

Carl E. Reed has now published four poems in Spectral Realms (issues #10 and #11), with more poems scheduled to appear in issue #12. He has just published an exhaustive and picturesque review of Spectral Realms #11 on John O’Neil’s Black Gate website.

An earlier poem of Carl’s was published in The Iconoclast a decade ago.

Thanks, Carl, for suggesting that we post this link: