The Writers Co-op and Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine each began as an idea posted in a talented Internet group. As Curtis Bausse noted in the first Co-op blog, “Here We Are,” five of us ‘met’ on Book Country, a Penguin Books website where writers posted their work for peer review and critiques. That was April of 2016 and here we have posted blogs by writers every week since. Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine began with a suggestion posted in the Sci-Fi Roundtable group on Facebook in 2019, and last week it took third place in an old, respected, literary poll as the best fiction magazine. Internet groups are the best thing to happen for networking since speech.
Not to McLuhanize this, but the learned gentleman long ago pointed out that electronic media not only speeds up communication but it also breaks populations down into smaller groups. Finding writers by their genre is easy in a world where Facebook has a group dedicated to collectors of garage door openers.
As a writer, what groups have you found to be helpful in your writing life?
I am delighted to be invited by GD Deckard to post here at Writer Co-Op – thank you! I am a fantasy and sci-fi writer who enjoys a good book and a slice of cake. For my first post here, I’d love to share the details of my upcoming book, The Silk Thief.
A humorous urban fantasy novel, The Silk Thief is the second book in my Roshaven Series. Here’s the blurb:
Fourteen, heir to the Empire of Roshaven, must find a new name before Theo, Lord of neighbouring Fidelia, brings his schemes to fruition.
Not only has he stolen Roshaven’s trade, but he plans to make Fourteen his own and take her empire in the bargain.
Her protector, Ned Spinks, is plagued with supernatural nightmares whilst his assistant, Jenni the sprite, has lost her magick.
Can they figure out how to thwart Theo’s dastardly plan before it’s too late for his city and her empire?
The Silk Thief is the second quirky magical mystery adventure set in the Roshaven series of humorous fantasy novels. If you like the wit and humour of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, then you’ll love The Silk Thief.
More about the Roshaven books.
The Rose Thief, The Roshaven Series book 1
Someone is stealing the Emperor’s roses and if they take the magical red rose then love will be lost, to everyone, forever.
It’s up to Ned Spinks, Chief Thief Catcher, and his band of motely catchers to apprehend the thief and save the day.
But the thief isn’t exactly who they seem to be. Neither is the Emperor.
Ned and his team will have to go on a quest; defeating vampire mermaids, illusionists, estranged family members and an evil sorcerer in order to win the day. What could possibly go wrong?
The Interspecies Poker Tournament, Prequel Novella to The Rose Thief
Ned Spinks, Chief Thief-Catcher, has a new case. A murderous moustache-wearing cult is killing off members of Roshaven’s fae community. At least that’s what he’s been led to believe by his not-so-trusty sidekick, Jenni the sprite. She has information she’s not sharing but plans to get her boss into the Interspecies Poker Tournament so he can catch the bad guy and save the day. If only Ned knew how to play!
“A wonderful tribute to the Late Great Sir Terry.”
“If you are a fan of the discworld you will love this book.”
“A hilariously thrilling fantasy mystery.”
About the Author
Claire Buss is a multi-genre author and poet based in the UK. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of admin roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and Pinterest addict Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. She continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.
It’s a new year. I’m in a mood to organize my life. I’m cleaning the kitchen as I rarely do. A few poor spiders have had an unpleasant time of it today. They’ve wobbled off in a panic. They can return to a clean home when they’re ready.
We don’t kill spiders in this house. My husband is very pro-spider. They kill other bugs, other good things. Can’t think of what they are right now, but I’ve had that drummed into my head.
I’ll cleaning up my desktop, trying to weed out duplicate files and move my many projects to two 64-GB sticks that will hold all or most of my data. I have all but the latest Maisie stuff saved on eight or nine lesser-capacity thumb drives, but I want my files ganged, easier to locate.
I’ve having problems moving them. I keep getting an error message: Error 10006. The transfer stops dead in its tracks. I don’t know what 10006 is. I’ve googled it and I still don’t understand. But I find that if I do a few files at a time, I mostly manage.
My major time periods that I write about are the late sixteenth century and nineteen-twenties/thirties Broadway and Hollywood. I have gobs of files dealing with both eras. I’m forever grabbing interesting bits of information. Only yesterday I found this:
“When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles, and microphones. We weren’t acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony.” – William Powell on working with Myrna Loy.
Isn’t that marvelous? Maisie works with William Powell on several films. They had a special relationship (according to her). I can see Powell saying that about my mouse, who adored him, by the way.
In terms of research, sometimes I have a specific goal in mind. Other times I just grab, sure I’ll find a use for it sooner or later. I have a file on the history of shoulder pads. I’d like to get at it. I added it into something else and failed to resave and rename it.
Wallace Beery, I have a file on him. He and Maisie were also good friends. Beery was Gloria Swanson’s first husband. How did that ugly mug win goddess Swanson? She was just starting out. He was already a huge star. Swanson may have seen it as a smart career move, who knows?
The problem with gathering new information is that I have ‘Maisie in Hollywood’ built as a 48-page book. I have art laid in, and areas set aside for art-to-come. The type is tightly structured with wrap-arounds and section breaks at strategic spots. I’d like to add recently discovered material, but I don’t dare. To mess with it may be big trouble.
I can’t see reducing the art. I have a lot of type and I want to break it up with a major image on every double-page spread. I am trying to trick the reader into thinking there isn’t so terribly much text. I don’t know if I can slip that by, so I want to make it as much fun to look at as I can. The story is my usual arch nonsense, not remotely for children, although it’s about a mouse, her tale told in prose . . . and in paper dolls.
I’m down at the moment. Not because of the above, because of a bad back and bad knees. And there’s the political climate, and the Covid. But mostly because of the back and knees. I’m over the hill, I’m afraid. I used to look forward to a new gardening season. Now I dread it. In the garden last summer is how I hurt my back.
Who’s optimistic for the new year? Tell me about it.
It’s a business fact that if you have a product that is known to sell, you can find salespeople willing to sell it on commission. A new book by an unknown author has no such track record. Book marketers are not willing to work on commission when they have no reason to believe that their efforts will result in enough sales to be worth their time. That is why they want to be paid up front. Regardless of results.
Traditional publishers know this. They sell books first and then pay the author royalties based on book sales. Any advances given by the publisher are paid back by the author from royalties earned by the author. Publishers keep their eye on their R.O.I. -return on investment.
The Internet sparkles with schemes -er, sorry- ways for an author to sell their books. None of them, to my knowledge, work on commission. None of them work at all. Am I wrong? Has any author paid for book marketing and received a return on their investment? I’d love to know, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
Various Northern Europeans, Germanic peoples, Neopagans, LaVeyan Satanists, and American Shoppers have long celebrated the last week of the year in honor of the Wild Hunt, the god Odin or his modern variant, and, the pagan Anglo-Saxon Mōdraniht.
The latter included sacrifices, a fitting practice for 2020. We’ve sacrificed family gatherings, nights out at our favorite restaurant -which itself may have been sacrificed- attending churches and synagogues, the cinema and major sports events, and shopping malls. And travel. Many have sacrificed their job or their business; some, their homes. Not to mention the darker sacrifices of 1,700,000 lives this year. If the new vaccines do not control the new virus variant now in the United Kingdom, then we will have sacrificed our sense of scientific control over the natural world. And that puts us right where our ancestors were this time of the year.
Our ancestors celebrated life in a world they only hoped was rational. This year, regardless of our individual beliefs, we will do the same. My lady will spend a couple of days cooking a Christmas feast that we two will sit down together and enjoy. That is celebration enough, in 2020.
The first thing I see when beginning to write is my computer screen. It’s “The Lone Wanderer,” exploring a world that makes no sense. That’s writing, isn’t it, an endeavor to make sense out of the world? As anthropologist Edmund Carpenter said, “That’s what people do: make sense.”
The fine line between creativity and fantasy is my writers world. Adding fiction to life compels us to see things differently and that too, is what people do. To escape, to reexamine, to better understand our world, are the reasons why writers have readers.
The iconic “Lone Wanderer” is a constant throughout history, a part of all times and cultures because the struggle to better understand our world is always with us. I like the obvious symbology, that a writer is a loner. And also the deeper hope that writing serves a human need.
What is on your desktop? Does it help you to write?
A lot to not be thankful for, unless I count the two root canals that my dentist cancelled because I told him of my lady’s sore throat, which turned out to be strep not Covid but still got us 14 days of fretful quarantine. And then, the two root canals.
Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful. Family members and friends who caught the Covid have recovered. And I’m delighted Americans won’t always have to choose their president from among the crooked, the angry or the senile because someday the country will be ran by people who were home schooled by unemployed, day-drinking parents and we could enjoy the same wide-ranging variety of temperament in our rulers as did Rome. I am also grateful that we are about to become vaccinated with an experimental genetically engineered vaccine that has been rushed to market. But mostly, I am thankful for video games in these desperate times.
So, I spend my time writing, working with the staff of Sci-Fi Lampoon magazine, editing anthologies, BETA reading my daughter’s fantasy romance novels, and playing Fallout ’76. Thankfully, life has not changed much.
Oh, and taking every opportunity to plug my latest story, Seduction by Trial, and an anthology I helped edit:
What about you? How are you spending this Holiday Season??
I am restoring paper dolls to where they started, a product to be cut out and played with. Paper dolls these days are produced (mainly) for a community of adult collectors. The pricey vintage items, if you can afford them, are certainly not to be cut into. Collectors of newer material, taking their cue from that, leave the items intact. ‘Uncut’ is the gold standard for paper playthings.
I had a small collection of — uncut!— rarities, lovingly assembled over a good many years. I sold it forty years ago, when my life fell apart and I needed money. That heartbreak, that’s when I decided, OK, I’ll create my own paper dolls. That’s how this mania of mine started.
Maisie will be an illustrated book of either thirty-two or forty pages. I want images on every page to break up the type. No outfit can be on the backside of another. This is a jigsaw puzzle. Every piece has to fit perfectly.
The pages are oversized, 8.5 x 13 inches high. I have a book of posters from Dover Publications that size. I have no idea how much it will cost to print. When I get half of it built, I’m going to investigate. So far, I have through page eleven laid out in Photoshop as rough pages, to judge how many inches the type is going to require, and to size the art accordingly.
The image above could be the cover art, but I already have a cover I like a lot. For the time being, I’m calling this my Title Page.
I finally feel I’ve got command of a style. It only took me forty years! Lack of a comfortable style is what made me quit an illustration major and go to costume design in art school at Syracuse University.
I never thought my drawing style was a suitable illustration style. I admire the art in ‘Faeries’ by Brian Froud and Alan Lee, but that look is not what I saw for my own work.
Yesterday, searching for a particular image for the Denishawn Dancers, my Maisie-as-Bumblebee art popped up in the finds. (She had danced for Denishawn at the start of her career, I put it in the tags.)
I have many historical figures in my story, and I’ve put many a name into my tags. I have Hedda Hopper, Thelma Furness, The Prince of Wales, Josephine Baker, W.C Fields, Fanny Brice, Louise Brooks, many, many more.
It could be that my art is all over the internet. This is exciting!
Actually, the catalogues I get from the garden centers are similar to what I want. My book would be two inches taller, four to eight pages fewer, slightly heavier paper, and a heavy-stock cover, pages stapled together.
A garden catalogue can’t cost an arm and a leg to print. Maybe I can afford to do it.
This is something that I would put on Amazon, but also sell at art fairs once (sigh) the Covid has passed. I’ll continue building the print file, but I’ll sit on it until it’s safe to do.
Most lovers of fiction, in the course of a lifetime of reading, have acquired a personal library of their favorite authors’ works. In addition to this idiosyncratic collection, we oftentimes have an ever-growing stack of “to be read” volumes weighing down our favorite end table, desktop, or spare chair. A life-long reader is also most painfully, poignantly aware that there are thousands—strike that; tens of thousands—of other great works of fiction that he or she will never find the time to read.
Given these facts of limited time and an ever-increasing number of newer books clamoring for our attention, isn’t it curious that many of us reread beloved works of fiction? I refer here to those rare books that spoke to us in an especially personal and compelling way; that taught us something about ourselves and the world-at-large that enriched and deepened our “planet time” in a fashion lesser works failed to do.
Why indulge in rereading? Why reread a book—any book—when multitudes of unread books insistently call out with seductive siren song? I submit to you that the essential reason can be summed up in one word: comfort. It is remembrance of the experience we had with certain books that lures us back to turn those familiar pages once again. (And please understand—by use of the word “comfort” I mean in the sense of “alleviating or diminishing a person’s level of psychic and/or physical distress” and of “an expectation of aesthetic satisfaction and intellectual, emotional and spiritual stimulation via renewed engagement with a work of art”. Definitions mine.)
One book I reread every decade is Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. An extended meditation on the joys of being a boy only just now discovering what it means to be alive (while simultaneously realizing the inevitability and ubiquity of death), the novel is by turns saccharine sweet and . . . something darker . . . though never bitter. When I first read the novel as a teenaged boy of 14 callow years I confess to being bored out of my mind. (How can one feel nostalgia for a time one is only now experiencing?) What kind of narrative was this, I wondered. No flinty-eyed men killing bad guys with “barking” .45 automatic pistols and/or “chattering” submachine guns. No explicit sex. No “glimmering arc” sword-play whilst contending against orcs/Vikings/wizards/other. (yawn) Words words words.
When I reread the book in my 20s I found myself noting and appreciating Bradbury’s prose-poetry style (your mileage may vary) and thought, “Yes; the book is quite evocative of a certain time and place. Well done.” My response was primarily an intellectual one. When I reread the book in my 30s my heart was pierced and my vision blurred at certain poignant passages. Rereading the book in my 40s I found myself all but overcome with emotion. Upon rereading the book in my 50s I found myself still an admirer of the book—delighting as ever in Bradbury’s consummate word-smithery—but the raw emotional reaction to plot and theme wasn’t there. The most I could summon was a wistful smile at certain incidents and passages of description. I still deeply appreciated the book, to be sure, but was all-too-aware of the authorial techniques Bradbury was using to wring response from the reader: my own hard-won knowledge of the craft served as a distancing mechanism that muted textual poignancy and experienced emotion. I was sorely disappointed and more than a little unsettled—in the reader, not the writer.
What had changed since my first reading of the novel? The book remained the same—the exact same words were printed on those pages, after all—but the reader over the course of those five decades was five different people: a teenaged boy, a 20-something-marine, a 30-year-old married man, a 40-year-old married man, then a divorced man in his mid-50s. Each person brought his own life-lived experience and wisdom (or appalling lack thereof) to the text. Each reader was in dialogue with the author—but not every reader was Bradbury’s “ideal reader” during the course of those five decades. What will my experience be when I reread the novel again in my 60s, I wonder? Assuming I live that long. . . .
Another writer I reread regularly for pleasure is James Thurber. Witty, understated and urbane, the best of his writing conjures wistful daydream and wry, world-weary melancholia. What also comes through in his narrative voice is the sense of a genteel, bespectacled man alternately startled and irritated by the shrill boors around him. Mr. Thurber is a devastating and shrewd observer of human nature. I envy anyone just discovering his writing for the first time.
What books have not held up upon rereading? Well . . . Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan: The Executioner series, for one. Don’t laugh! For those of you rolling your eyes please understand: Don Pendleton was the best-of-the-best of the late 60s and 70s “men’s action-adventure” writers. (Pendleton all but single-handedly created that genre.) His hard-boiled writing was a cross between the toughness of Dashiell Hammett and the ferocity of Robert E. Howard: each of the 36 books in the original 37-book series (excepting #16: Sicilian Slaughter, written by Jim Peterson, a hack brought in to grind out the next book in the series during Don’s dispute with Pinnacle Books) was so packed with gunfire and explosions that the pages fairly reeked of cordite and the iron-rich tang of blood. As for the teeth-gritted machismo of the exchanges between Bolan and the gangster scum he was exterminating, well . . . that dialogue was broken-bottle-to-the-eye poetry of the streets. (Note: Marvel’s Punisher anti-hero was a total rip-off of Pendleton’s character. Consider: Bolan was a combat-hardened Vietnam veteran who returned home after his family was killed by the mob to launch a vendetta against “la cosa nostra”. Frank Castle was a combat-hardened Vietnam veteran who . . .) I recently reread the first three books in the Executioner series and found them entertaining as ever, though marred by right-wing philosophizing and neo-fascist authorial asides. I also found the characterization paper-thin and descriptive narrative passages lean to the point of non-existent. There is also a whiff of sexism and misogyny presented as chivalric knight-errant-championing in the patronizing attitude of Bolan/Pendleton toward his female characters. All of this went over my head reading as an enthralled teenage boy, of course; I worshipped Mack Bolan as the exemplar of what an alpha male should be: tough as gun metal, stoic as a brick, ready to fuck or fight at the twitch of a hip or the sneer of a lip. (When I went through Marine Corps boot camp as a 17-year-old and found myself ready to drop from exhaustion during extended platoon formation runs I summoned the energy to stagger forward by envisioning Conan the Barbarian running at my left side, Bolan the Executioner on my right. I won’t repeat here what these hard-bitten warriors said to me. But mark this: they got me through it. Some turn to deities, angels and saints for life-sustaining strength and consolation; others to muscle-ripped melancholy barbarians and flint-eyed executioners, heh!)
As to other authors: H. P. Lovecraft was a weird tales writer that utterly baffled me when I first attempted reading him at 12 years of age. I found his syntax and vocabulary utterly impenetrable. Nowadays, I delight in his measured, polysyllabic prose and the dark cosmicism of his horrific plots and ghastly imagination.
John Irving has held up—in fact, gotten better with every passing decade. The World According to Garp is one of the funniest, yet at one and the same time wince-inducing, examinations of the human condition and the disordered workings of lust upon male/female relationships that you will ever read.
Jack London is as great and relevant and riveting as he ever was. Ditto Mark Twain. Oscar Wilde. Tolkien.
Certain works of Philip K. Dick reward rereading. (I especially enjoy his short stories—vastly under-rated. Favorite novels: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Flow My Tears, thePoliceman Said.)
Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human, Anne Rice’s Interview With The Vampire, and Stephen King’s The Shining get reread and wolf-whistled at by me every couple of decades.
Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye was reread three times in succession: first for the immersion of the fictive dream and the tick-tock unfolding of plot (turn pages—faster!), the second time for writing instruction (How did she do that?), and the third time as awed worship due an acknowledged master. (Is this book really as good as I think it is? My god, it is! Absolutely brilliant.)
Pat Conroy’s deep and abiding humanity, lust for life and sharp intelligence infuse his characters with vivid three-dimensionality and realism. His books—rather curiously, I think—neither diminish nor grow in stature over the years; upon re-reading they remain as engrossing and seemingly effortless and compelling as ever. (Is this the true mark of authorial genius, then: the ability to reach readers of nearly every age and life-lived experience?)
David L. Ulin, writing in The Lost Art of Reading: Books and Resistance in a Troubled Time, tells us:
Rereading can be a tricky process, in which, for better or worse, you’re brought face-to-face with both the present and the past. It’s different than reading, more layered, more nuanced, with implications about how we’ve changed. In her 2005 bookRereadings, Anne Fadiman traces the distinction between reading and rereading: “The former had more velocity; the latter had more depth. The former shut out the world in order to focus on the story; the latter dragged in the world in order to assess the story. The former was more fun; the latter was more cynical. But what was remarkable about the latter was that it contained the former: even while, as with the upper half of a set of bifocals, I saw the book through the complicating lens of adulthood, I also saw it through the memory of the first time I’d read it.”
What books have you reread? Has your opinion/reaction to a particular book or writer changed over time? Explain.
Story fodder can be something unknown to the quantum physicist, astronomer, psychologist, or oneirologist (dream studier) – whatever you find fascinating.
This is exactly the approach taken by the authors of The Encyclopaedia of Ignorance. The book is an old collection of short essays, some of which have proven prophetic. What, the authors asked leading scientists, don’t you know in your field that you find the most intriguing? It just makes sense to start your fiction with the other man’s ignorance. Such is the space inviting imagination.
Fantasy writers might benefit from knowing that intelligence is now measured by how many conflicting bits of information one can hold in working memory. That bit of knowledge makes it easy to show-not-tell a character’s intelligence and why they relate to others the way they do.
With new discoveries coming like rain, it’s difficult for an author to know what it is that the reader does not know. Research, even a quick Google on minor points, can prevent tripping the reader out of the story with an obviously false fact. And, of course, y’gotta feel for any author who set their story in 2020 before knowing about the Covid.
Ignorance is a sci-fi goldmine, but only if the author ain’t ignorant.