About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Welcome, Writers Co-op

Social Media Distancing

– by Sara M. Zerig

As you’ve heard, the world is on lockdown for something called COVID-19. As a result, some of us have more time on our hands to contemplate the unprecedented (in our lifetimes, anyway) social distancing orders. Others, like first responders and the medical and grocer communities, have less time for this. But never fear, everyone has time for social media.

Early in the melee, a friend of mine posted a brief but thoughtful article to her Facebook page about how this could be our worst hour or our finest, and how we conduct ourselves will be the determining factor. The piece went on to list suggestions on how to do this. I “liked” the article because I thought it was a beautiful sentiment.

Later that day, I scrolled through a battlefield of comments on my friend’s post. Why don’t we do all these things during flu season? … Please educate yourself on the differences between Corona and the flu … Fact check, please! [link] … Yes, fact check! [link] [link] [link] You get the idea. Suffice it to say, the point of the article my friend had posted was lost.

I get it. We all have our opinions, and we have the right to express them. Some of us have unpopular opinions and at times become overly passionate about them. Do NOT get me started on bicyclists who fail to follow the rules of the road among cars. It isn’t pretty. Social media allows for an easy and engaging way to spark spirited debates, and the internet provides debaters a wealth of sources to support each side. I usually find it entertaining. Lately, though, not so much.

It seems every time I log on, someone is telling me how I should think or feel about all things Corona, and shame is the theme. Shame on you, if you are gullible enough to believe social distancing is the appropriate response; shame on you, if you are so arrogant that you don’t. Shame on you, if you are so ungrateful that you are are daunted by having to homeschool your children – you get to be with them, while essential employees don’t. Shame on you, if you aren’t on a ventilator and have the gall to fear for the economy. And for that matter, shame on you if you don’t fear for the economy, you elitist snob. We’re not all independently wealthy, you know.

I don’t know why I find this so different from political posts. Those are also aimed at dividing people through ridicule of different perspectives. Maybe it’s because political debates have been the norm as long as I can remember, while social distancing is uncomfortably new. Or maybe my friend’s early post landed too well with me. Turning on each other at a time like this feels like an embarrassment to the human race. In the immortal words of Taylor Swift: I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.

Good news! I can practice social-media-distancing and spend that energy on more creative activities. And I’m gonna do it. Just as soon as I post this blog. Shakespeare is said to have likely written King Lear from quarantine (don’t challenge me – I will find three questionable sources for every one you send me saying he didn’t). No, I am not suggesting that my romance-in-fantasy-settings books equate to Shakespeare, but I can provide an escape for people who enjoy that genre. This seems like a more positive way to spend my time than scrolling through COVID posts.

This is not a blog telling you to quit social media and create. It’s just a thought. An idea. An update on what’s going on over here, from one quarantined writer to others who have my virtual support and online respect. As my twelve-year-old daughter says too frequently: You do you, boo. Imma do me.

Friendly wave from at least six feet away,

Sara

Sara M. Zerig is author of the contemporary fantasy-romance AoX Series. “Unearthed” now available in eBook format on Amazon for Kindle (and Kindle app), Apple iBooks, and Barnes & Noble for Nook (and Nook app).
View more posts: https://saramzerig.wordpress.com/

Photo by Thought Catalog, http://www.upslash.com

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blogging, book promotion, Publisher's Advice, publishing, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

How to Publish a Quality Anthology… and Survive!

– by DW Brownlaw and PC Darkcliff

The cast of characters: P.C Darkcliff and DW Brownlaw, Indy writers and critique partners since 2018 – plus forty six other Indy Writer friends.

DWB: In April 2019, PC suggested the idea of publishing a collection of stories written by us and some of our writing community friends as a good way for us to ‘get our names out there’. We finally got DRAGON BONE SOUP published in mid-December. These reminiscences of what happened in between shows what we got right, what we got wrong, and what we learned from publishing arguably the best quality anthology of fantasy and light sci-fi stories.

PCD: In summary, the process involved the following steps:

> Setting up a group on Facebook.
> Coming up with rules and deadlines.
> Accepting stories and dealing with authors.
> Choosing the best stories and announcing the winners.
> Editing the stories.
> Doing author interviews to post on social media and at the back of the book.
> Formatting and publishing the anthology.

DWB: We found we had complementary strengths apart from being good editors. I was prepared to deal with administration, finance and design, while PC had the recognised name, contacts and experience with book formatting and publishing.

PCD: We started a Facebook group and invited a few friends. The idea was a small, selective group of about sixteen writers, with each contributing one story. But as the group was initially open, our friends invited their friends, who invited their friends… and overnight, the group had fifty members, all asking questions for which, at that time, we had no answers.

DWB: Rather than turn people away, we decided to invite submissions from the fifty and run a selection process. It took us weeks (mainly due to other commitments) to agree how to do that and get started. We spent the whole of July reading & discussing 30 submitted stories and whittling them down to the required 16. (To show you how fair this process was, I rejected my own story!)

PCD: Although we braced ourselves for a backlash from those who hadn’t made the cut, there have been no hard feelings or grudges. Thank you all for being so professional!

DWB: PC and I talked about what to do with the revenues from sales and neither of us felt comfortable about making money off our friends’ efforts. We agreed paying our authors would be a powerful incentive to attract the very best writing, but deciding how we would pay them wasn’t so easy. The ‘obvious’ solution was to pay them a share of the royalties, but we abandoned this when we realised we would have to administer the share-out for many years to come.

DWB: We opted for an up-front token payment… which reminds me of my biggest–and most expensive–mistake. I was advising a member of our Facebook group when I accidentally quoted the payment offered by top magazines, double the token amount that we’d previously promised. While it delighted our members, it certainly means I will never get my money back. Luckily, I never saw this as a money-making exercise.

PCD: Since each story had a title, byline, editor’s intro, and an author bio, formatting the anthology was a nightmare. What made it even more difficult was that each contributor sent their stories in different fonts and with different spacing and margins. Some of them even used tabs, which I had to remove manually. It made me understand why many professional editors impose very strict formatting rules on their contributors.

DWB: Surprisingly, one of the longest tasks concerned the cover art. We first tried asking for art submissions, but we slipped up in not specifying that we were looking for original work. Consequently, we got about 6 submissions (all from the same person) that we found existed elsewhere on the web, some being used for multiple books. Eventually, we opted to design our own cover and pay an artist to realise it. Andjela Vujić, PCD’s usual artist, liked our concept and I sent her a mock-up made from stock images slapped together in an art package. What we got back from her was breathtaking. Of course we wanted changes, but she was very obliging.

DWB: With all these delays, we finally published DRAGON BONE SOUP in mid December 2019, which was too late for catching the peak of the Christmas market. Despite this, we sold more copies than we anticipated and gained some five star reviews. We think the book will continue to sell modestly for years to come.

PCD: During the eight or so months of working on the anthology, I often wanted to kick myself for getting it started. But now when we’re done, all regrets have disappeared and I feel proud and happy.

DWB: They say you learn more by trying and making mistakes, and consequently we learned so much!

> To produce a quality anthology takes professionalism and planning. We just dove in and muddled through.
> Making & correcting mistakes is an effective way to learn anything, but the project took far longer as a consequence.
> Numbers count. Don’t expect to make money from any anthology, collection, magazine or journal until (a) you have a recognised name as a publisher, and (b) you have several on sale. Luckily, making money was never our intention, or that could have caused problems between us.
> Get involved deeply with the design of the cover; don’t leave it entirely to the artist. The cover is both the branding of your book and the first point of attracting your readers, so its design is critical. Most artists are happy to discuss your vision for the cover and give you exactly what you want. If you come across one who gives you the ‘hard sell’ (we had one), just walk away.

About Dragon Bone Soup:
Sixteen fantasy and light science fiction stories. The best indie writing talents from three continents invite you to peer into the dystopian future and enter their worlds of dragons, witches, spirits, elves, trolls, and magicians.The contributors are: Carmen Baca, Brandy Bonifas, David Bowmore, Steve Carr, P.C. Darkcliff, R.A. Goli, Shawn Klimek, Mark Kodama, Giuseppina Marino Leyland, Zhen Liu, Lynne Phillips, Sam M. Phillips, Daniel Craig Roche, Copper Rose, L.T. Waterson, and G. Allen Wilbanks.

Order your copy online here.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dragon-Bone-Soup-showcase-international/dp/1673703976

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Uncategorized

The Corona Diaries

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– by Mimi Speike

Yeah, we’ve stocked up, but we’re running through our carton fast. Next time my husband ventures forth, he’d better buy two cartons. Or three.

I’ve been home here, working on my story and my art since November 1, when I was laid off. Now I have a new daunting project.

Someone on medium.com showed me how to display my site as it will sort out on a phone, and, damn! It’s a real mess. What a jumble! Things I need displayed are absent. Things I could do without show up. I have to totally rethink it, create a second mobile-friendly site. I guess it had better be my entry point, from which to direct eyes to the full site that I really don’t want to redesign. I am told that sixty to seventy percent of web traffic takes place on a phone-device.

I have created a story-telling site. I have intro material, and seven chapters of Sly, and it’s set up rather like an illustrated book, with art-heavy sidebars (on the background, an additional challenge for a mobile-device), and miscellaneous pull-quote-style comments. I love the way it looks, but it won’t do for a phone. (In my ignorance, I thought the background art would drop away for the phone-display. I was very wrong. I have no smart phone, and I never got around to finding someone who does.

I just created a new phone-dedicated site, and it looks like I have no choice but to use the new edit-tool, that I have avoided on my original site. I have found it super-annoying, but that may be because I haven’t learned how to use it.

The choices I see for building your presentation on the new site–they don’t give you the option of reverting to the old method–will probably better service a mobile site. Who knows about this? Who has a site tailored to phone-display?

I sit here morning to night pounding away at one of my projects. I’ve started four new illustrations. I’m going to give my Robin-Hood-Sly paper doll a Maid-Marian-Sha-Sha, and I have collected material for a Pirate-Sly and his Port-o-Call dock-side wench. Most of the stuff is 72 dpi, pulled off Pinterest, and will need a lot of fixing-up.

I have no problem keeping to home. I haven’t left the house more than three times since November. My husband does the food shopping and I’m happy to let him do it. My company did me a favor laying me off. I got my money out of the 401K only weeks before the dive in the market. My husband is – cautiously – looking for buying opportunities, but it sits in cash at present.

Talk to me! What is everyone else up to? How are you holding up?

 

 

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About Writers, book sales, editing, inspiration, Literary critique, publishing, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

My First Story

 – by Adam Stump

When I chose to start writing fiction professionally (if that’s what you could call what I do–professional), I didn’t do so because I thought that I’d make money (I’ve made about $12), and I didn’t do it because I thought I was a good writer (I have yet to win my Pulitzer). I did it because I had stories to tell. If anything, I’m a storyteller, not a writer. I only write when the storytelling muse abducts me (usually at 2AM), and I feel like I have a story worth sharing. These stories usually percolate in my subconscious for months or even years before I write them down. When I finally do write them down, they come out mostly complete and usually pretty good.

As such, after my decision to write a story to be published (by someone else), I chose a story that had been rolling around without any clear definition in my brain for quite some time. I used a lot of elements from my childhood in upstate New York as well as a story I had heard while I lived in Pittsburgh. I remember furiously clacking away on my keyboard as the story poured onto the screen of my laptop.

The recipe for that story was: One part nostalgia, one part adventure, and one part terror. I produced a story that I thought was one of the best that I had ever read. It truly was one of the best I had ever read, because it was exactly what I wanted to read.

That first story taught me a lot about writing. I was so proud of it that I sent it to several friends because I thought that they would enjoy it. They, in turn, tore the story to shreds (in my mind, anyway). As I picked up the proverbial pieces of my story (and morale) from the floor, I was in shock. I didn’t know how anyone else wouldn’t find the story to be the best that they had ever read.

Then, I re-read my story and saw that the critiques (that’s really what they were, not attacks) that my friends made were accurate, valid, and necessary. I performed my first ever critical revision on my first ever story. I shaved a couple thousand words of nostalgic description, I increased some characters, rewrote a few scenes, deleted some scenes, and (most shocking of all), I changed the name of the story.

The story was originally titled “The Storm Drain.” Can you imagine reading a story with a title like that? I can’t. My best friend and inspiration for writing, N.D. Coley, told me to change the title. I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, I wanted to punch a hole through the wall. But he was 100% right. I changed the name of the story to “Keep Off the Grass.” It’s a line in the story, and he told me that the story had named itself. In retrospect, I agree.

After learning that I’m not the best writer in the world and that I need critical feedback and revision and even title changes, I produced a decent version of the story and began shopping around for a publication to publish this electronic packet of blood, sweat, and tears. I got rejection after rejection after rejection. I knew that I could self-publish, but I thought that this story was good enough to be accepted by someone else for publication–others would view the story as something worth sharing with their readers.

Every rejection letter that came back was virtually the same: “This story is just an homage to Stephen King’s Stand By Me,” a book I’ve never read and a movie that I’ve never seen. I didn’t even know the premise of the book/movie. I’ve since googled it and can see that the comparisons are valid. However, it doesn’t negate the fact that “Keep Off the Grass” is a good story. I’d also say that, for all the valid criticism, there are only so many plots out there when it comes to general fiction. I happened to stumble upon a plot that Stephen King stumbled upon, as well. The plot doesn’t belong to him or to me, but to the consciousness–the ethos–of storytelling.

Fast forward a few years and countless rejection letters to today. I opened up my email and the first thing that I saw was an acceptance letter from an editor who wants to share my story in his magazine. He didn’t say anything about Stephen King or Stand By Me. He said that it was a good story and he wanted to feature it in the upcoming issue of his magazine.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotions that would follow from reading that email. I literally wanted to scream and shout. I wanted to pound on pots and pans and run outside screaming that I had been published. I felt even more elated than I did when I actually received my first acceptance letter way back when. Why? Because this is my first story, and it’s part of my story. It’s still nostalgic for me, even if it’s been heavily edited and gone through a couple critical revisions since the first time I sat down to my laptop to capture it in writing.

The purpose of this post, though, isn’t just to give you some history of my writing, but to encourage you the reader. Have you written a story? Has it been rejected, but you still think it’s a good story? Keep at it. If you truly believe it’s a good story, keep sending it out. Don’t give up! I thought this story would be my first published story. It’s not. It’s a few years old now. If I wrote it today, it would probably be a different story. However, it is what it is. And it’s a success story. It certainly didn’t start that way. If you’re discouraged with your writing, don’t be. If it’s really good stuff, others will recognize it. As authors, we might have little control over the body of the story–maybe it’s the muse or maybe it’s the editorial team dictating the story–but we still control how the story begins and, ultimately, how the story ends!

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About Writers, inspiration, Research, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Muse

Above: Gilgamesh Tablet #11

We writers appreciate a good muse.

While researching to write a story set in ancient Mesopotamia, I came across a museum reproduction of a Sumerian tablet containing the oldest story that we have found to date. The epic of Gilgamesh, of course; and of course I bought it. It helps me to write when I can connect something tangible to the story.

This particular piece contains the first written account of the Deluge. It’s the tale of a man asked by his god to build an Ark so he, his family, and the various animals could survive a Great Flood that other gods were causing to destroy mankind. The -literally- funny part of this version is why the gods wanted to kill us all off: Human were too noisy and annoying. (Yup, this definitely rings true to me.)

Over the years I’ve collected other items to help ground my thoughts into a story. See:
https://writercoop.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/writing-charms/

What about you? Is your muse tangible? Or maybe it’s music? Or is it something else entirely?

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About Writers, book reviews, inspiration, Poetry, Stories, Uncategorized, world-building, Writers Co-op, writing technique

Probing Dhalgren

“Be glad you’re not just a character scrawled in the margins of somebody else’s lost notebook: you’d be deadly dull.”

The first time I read Samuel R. Delaney’s masterpiece, I didn’t know a couple of things. In 1975, I was neither privy to writing techniques nor did I know that Dhalgren would become recognized as one of the most profound science fiction novels of all time. I was simply riveted by the setting and the characters. When my Lady gave me an unusual edition this Christmas, I re-read that story I remembered so well from 44 years ago. (It never occurred to me at the time that I would see the year 2020 either, but, that’s another blog.)

If you write sci-fi, then you must attempt to read, or re-read, Dhalgren. If the first scene grabs you, you will be reluctant to put it down 800 pages later. Disclaimer: Like Joyce’s Ulysses, you can’t understand Dhalgren until you’ve read it and once you’ve read it, you can’t explain it. But here are three clues.

Dhalgren presents reality on the edge of perception, before we process it. “Even if the quotidian surface sits on it a bit askew.”

+++Finally Dragon Lady called down: “You still okay…?”
+++“Yeah.” Kidd took a breath. “I’ll tie the rope around him. You can haul him up.” He slipped the rope from under his arms, pulled it over his head, but left it around one shoulder; he stepped forward on the oozy filth, stooped, and tugged a leg from where it had wedged between two blackened bumper plates.
+++“… is he alive?” Thirteen called.
+++Kidd took another breath. “Naw.” He pulled at the arm, got a grip around the chest, which was all soft against him. His own shirt front soaked immediately. Blood dribbled along his forearm. Standing, he dragged the body back a step. A foot caught, pulled free; the leg fell back against his thigh — his thigh wet, warm, to the knee. Dragging it, limp, reaching for the rope, he thought: Is this what turns on blood and blade freaks? He thought of Tak, he thought of George, hunted in himself for any idle sexuality: he found it, disconcertingly, a small warmth above the loins that, as he bared his teeth and the rope slid through his sticky hand, went out. “Let me have another couple of feet!” Well, he had found it before in auto wrecks, in blue plush, in roots, in wet wood with the bark just stripped.

In that moment before we process reality, censorship is not possible.

Often, the real world occurs on the edge of a dream.

Ahead, he could see the taller buildings. Smoke had gnawed away the upper stories. Stealthily, he descended into the injured city.
It does not offer me any protection, this mist; rather a refracting grid through which to view the violent machine, explore the technocracy of the eye itself, spelunk the semi-circular canal. I am traveling my own optic nerve.

Note the slip from third person into first person.

The story is show-no-tell to the point where the reader knows no more than is seen through the eyes of the main character, who struggles to understand what he is experiencing.

The smoke was so thick he wondered if the glass were opaque and he only misremembered it as clear–
Well–” Madam Brown pushed open the cracked door– “what do you think of the Richards after your first day on the job?”
“I don’t think anything.” Kidd stretched in the over-thick night. “I’m just an observer.”

In the end, each reader is left with their own thoughts about Dhalgren. “I would never presume to say what they meant,” Ernest Newboy, the poet, says when asked what poems mean. To me, Dhalgren is epic poetry in prose.

And that’s all I got; three clues and an ongoing fascination. What did you take away from this novel?

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

A Year In Review

 – by Adam Stump

Looking back over 2019, it was a pretty successful year for me, as a writer. I had eight pieces of fiction published and edited several works, including an anthology that spent a month as the #1 bestselling anthology on Kindle (I wasn’t the sole editor, or even head editor on that project, though). 

However, when 2019 was chugging along, it certainly didn’t seem very productive. Eight published pieces doesn’t even equal one per month, which means that there were far more rejection letters than acceptance letters. To add insult to injury, my family of six spent 18 weeks and 3 days (but who’s counting?) homeless because our previous house was filled with toxic mold and chemicals. In the first two months of 2019, my family lost our health and nearly all of our possessions due to contamination. We literally lived out of a garbage bag suitcase that contained two outfits each.

But we got through it. We received a lot of support and encouragement from a handful of very good, very true friends. We were able to stay in two rooms of a home that belonged to people who started 2019 as acquaintances but ended 2019 as family. We were able to put a down payment on a safe house that was free of mold and other toxins. I was able to remodel said house (some projects still aren’t completed–just ask my wife), and we were able to move in and start replacing some lost possessions (we still don’t have dressers and lamps or bookcases in most rooms, but that’s ok).

Through all of this, I carried my laptop with me and faithfully clicked away at the keyboard, sometimes at 2AM while my family slept. I definitely produced more than a dozen stories during 2019. Some of those are some of my best (in my opinion), but all have a different feel to them than the stories I wrote in 2018 or even the ones I’ve written so far in 2020. They’re raw, gritty, dark, and often pessimistic. They’re not a reflection of who I was in 2019. In fact, I would say that, through everything, I was pretty optimistic and hopeful in 2019. I had to be for my family. However, those stories allowed an outlet for the terror, anger, and frustration that I felt so that my family didn’t have to experience it.

Looking back at that time, I can honestly say that it was not just productive, but therapeutic. I would never want to relive 2019, but I’m glad that I lived it once and that I made it through. In hindsight, it was just as bad as it seemed while living through it, but it produced a phenomenal amount of personal growth.

Perhaps you’re going through a difficult time or a dry spell. Maybe you’ve experienced staggering loss. I would encourage you: don’t give up. Don’t stop writing. Don’t stop living, even if you feel like you’re dying. If you bottle everything up, you probably won’t make it–I know that I wouldn’t have made it. Let it out. Hammer away at the keyboard. It’s cathartic. Not only that, your writing will produce a psychological journal of your life’s journey that, on the other side, will produce a cohesive whole.

In retrospect, 2019 was like living through the testing of purgatory, but the benefit of going through purgatory is that it purifies you for heaven. I’m a stronger person and, I believe, a stronger writer because of 2019. I hope that my readers will feel the same way and be encouraged to keep writing their stories. On the other side, I think that they’ll be glad that they did.

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