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After the Talk Ended: An Interview with Hannah Lackoff (Part Two)

M.H. Norris

After the first part of our interview, I couldn’t wait to sit down with Hannah Lackoff again. Her answers are excellent, and carefully in-depth. If her name catches in your memory, Hannah recently released her first collection After the World Ended, and a gothic Sherlock Holmes novella, The Speckled Band.

This week, we released a free ebook collecting some of Hannah’s favorite and award-winning stories from After the World Ended as a teasing enticement of what wonders you’ll find in the full book.

1) Welcome back, Hannah. Today we’d love to talk about your new collection, After the World Ended. In the book’s description, there’s a statement about how “like so many great authors before her settles in with the bones of old stories, clichéd tales, and urban legends and builds them into her exhibits.” What brings old stories, clichéd tales, and urban legends to your attention, and inspires you?

I love taking a story everybody already knows and delving deeper into it and finding out what really happened.  These stories are already in our collective consciousness and make a great background.  There’s something to be said about really understanding your source material and allowing it to create something entirely new yet still familiar.  It’s comforting and also strange, and allows a writer (as well as a reader) to pay attention to different things.  It’s great exercise for the brain.

2) What drove you to use them as source material?

I find them hard to escape, actually.  They are a great jumping off point in so many different ways: you can keep the story basically the same but focus on a different character, you can take a familiar trope and turn it on its head, you can use an ancient structure to say something about a current issue.  Reading a fairy tale or watching a horror movie and wondering “what if?” is a great source of inspiration and a potential cure for writer’s block.

Lately I’ve been really interested in taking these common genres or tropes and removing a key element:  An outer space adventure without the aliens, a ghost story where it turns out there is no ghost, a superhero without any powers.  Things that sound fantastical or magical but turn out to have a perfectly logical explanation- or do they?  I love a story that could explain everything but choses not too; a story that assumes its reader is smart enough to figure it out on their own.

after-the-world-ended_kindle

3) How did you select those 18 short stories for After the World Ended?

At the time, these stories were the bulk of what I had written.  As I looked them over, I realized that they all had a common theme: someone’s world was ending, in a small way or a big one.  Sometimes it was literal, as in the title story, but sometimes it was smaller; the death of a loved one, a divorce, strange weather or an impulsive phone call.  Each story contains a fundamental shift in a character’s world view.  Worlds are ending all the time, everywhere you look.

4) Your characters have unusual, powerful names. What inspires these? How much time do you spend picking out the right name?

Names are very important to me. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to find the right one and sometimes the character springs to life fully formed, complete with a name.  For example, Sturgeon and Petrel were always named Sturgeon and Petrel, and the rest of the story kind of developed around them.  But in “The Mirror,” I wanted the names to have literal meaning, and spent some time looking on databases of Russian names and their meanings.  I spend a lot of time on baby name websites and google translate, either looking for a name that means something or one that just feels right.

5) “After the World Ended,” the story, is such a great post-apocalyptic story. You never mention the nature of the apocalypse. Do you think that is essential to the tension and storytelling?

My focus on this story was not on what happened to end the world, but rather what happened later (hence the “after”).  I didn’t want to focus on the details of a pandemic, or a nuclear holocaust, or an alien invasion, or any of the other things that could have gone wrong.  It doesn’t matter to the plot what happened before the story opens; except for the fact that we don’t have any idea what happened, and so we have to take the characters word for it.  The reader is dropped right into the middle of the story (or maybe the end of a different story; the one about the pandemic or the nuclear holocaust or the alien invasion) and has to hit the ground running.  And in the end, it’s not about the whole world at all, but just about the world of one family.

6) When you write about loneliness and the loss of a loved one, it’s particularly heartbreaking. On the TVCU podcast, the hosts kept mentioning how much you made them cry. How do you put so much emotion into your stories? Do you have a certain writing technique? Is it all about putting yourself into that frame of mind as you write—or something else?

It just happens!  I don’t mean to make everything I write dark or sad or difficult- but that’s what seems to come out.  For an example, “The Dead Do Not Come Back At Night” was my attempt to write a ghost story, but it turned into what I was talking about earlier- a ghost story without a ghost.  Some of this certainly stems from fairy tales and myths; more often than not those are pretty grim, but a lot of it is all my own.

Rather than putting myself in the frame of mind to write something sad or dark, I put myself in the frame of mind of the character I’m creating and let them tell the story.  I find it especially easy to write these kinds of stories from the point of view of children or younger adults.  Not only are their emotions bigger and closer to the surface, but everything is new to them.  They have no frame of reference yet.  Everything is possible.

7) “The Mirror” is one of our favorite stories. In the afterword to the story, in Those Who Live Long Forgotten, you mention many more stories that use magic mirrors.  Do you think you’ll ever write a sequel, expanding on those old bones?

I am currently working on a novel that expands on Grisha and An’s story.  I found there was so much more to it than a short story could explore, and I couldn’t get them out of my mind.  There are more retold fairy tales that go along with their story, though none of them use magic mirrors in quite the same way that “The Mirror” did.

There are so many stories that use literal mirrors, and so many more that use mirrors as a metaphor, whether it be reflections, doubles, shadows, parallel worlds, etc.  There is certainly space for a sequel, or perhaps whole volumes.  I love myths and fairy tales, and I have no doubt I will continue to explore them in my work.

8) You have exceptional skill at controlling your diction so that every story feels almost like a stand-alone story in that character’s style. How do you accomplish this?

I read a lot.  I write a lot. I watch movies and tv shows and plays.  I keep myself exposed to different styles and voices, but I rarely consciously try to emulate someone else (an exception being “The Speckled Band”).  I find that each character naturally comes with its own voice, and it is just a matter of me discovering its rhythm and  figuring out the right way to put it on paper.

9) Are there any you’d like to touch on at some point—some legends or tale that just hasn’t found its home in a story yet?

Little Red Riding Hood has always been one of my favorites.  I did a lot of research for a capstone project in college, and it’s really stuck with me.  I’ve always loved Selkies, and, more generally, Irish and Scottish mythology, and anything having to do with the ocean.

book cover the speckled band

10) As always, Hannah, I have to ask. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there?

Keep writing!  Keep sending your work out!  Don’t give up, but at the same time, feel free to just give up on that difficult piece, or cut out that paragraph, or that chapter, or that character.  When I get nervous about getting rid of something I make a new file of things that I have cut.  I rarely put them back in, but I like knowing they are there.  Go back and reread everything, a lot, including those stories you just couldn’t figure out from years ago.  And take out your commas and semicolons; if you write first drafts the way I do you probably have far more than you need.

11) Do you have any other recent work you’d like to promote? Where can our readers find you online?

I had a piece of flash fiction “Slippage” published recently on 365tomorrows.com.  My fairy tale-esque piece “Beast” will be published in November in Spirit’s Tincture, and “The Fat Man” (also in “After the World Ended”) will be on Drabblecast around Christmas.  You can always find more on my website: hannahlackoff.wix.com/writing.

If you missed it, you can check out the first part of our interview, which took an in-depth look at The Speckled Band, right here. If you’re impatient to start reading After the World Ended now, you can download the free preview, or buy the full collection. You can find The Speckled Band here.

After the Talk Ended: An Interview with Hannah Lackoff (Part One)

M.H. Norris

It was my pleasure to sit down with one of 18thWall Productions’ favorite authors, the effortlessly amazing Hannah Lackoff. Hannah recently released her first collection After the World Ended and a gothic Sherlock Holmes novella, The Speckled Band.

This week, we released a free ebook collecting some of Hannah’s favorite and award-winning stories from After the World Ended as a teasing enticement of what wonders you’ll find in the full book.

1) Hello, Hannah! Could you tell us something about yourself, and your writing journey thus far?

Hello!  I’ve pretty much always been writing.  When I was a kid, before I could actually write, I would have my parents take down the words and then I would draw the pictures, staple the pages together, and have my own little book.  Later on I had an electric typewriter or would work on the family computer.  I wrote long fantasy adventure novels and never finished anything unless it was for school and I had to.  In high school and college I got really into short stories and playwriting and did manage to find some endings.  Since then I’ve kept plugging away, mostly writing short stories.  I started to publish in various literary magazines on line and in print about seven years ago, and when I few years later I realized I had written enough to make a whole book “After the World Ended” was born.

2) What is your writing process like?

I’m not one of those people who can write all day without stopping.  I can’t write if I don’t have an idea.  I’m not very disciplined–I take a lot of breaks.  I mostly write at home, on my couch, with my dog staring at me and wondering how on earth that computer screen could be more interesting than him.

When I get going on a project I tend to write a lot very quickly.  Then I have to wait until a few hours or days has passed to go back and read it and see if it’s any good.  My favorite part of writing is probably the editing; going back into the story and writing deeper and deeper, adding little (or big) bits here and there to tie everything together! rearranging paragraphs and storylines and whole chapters.  I spend a lot of time reading and rereading my own work.

3) I’d like to start talking to you about your recent Sherlock Holmes novella, The Speckled Band. In that story you tell the secret story behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.” What drew you to that story?

One of the things I liked best about this story was the scope of it–and how much was left out.  The original story covers years and years of Julia and Helen’s life in a few paragraphs–a motive and background that obviously built slowly over time–and what I was left with are these fascinating red herrings that ultimately have very little to do with the way the story ends; a childhood spent in India, a gypsy encampment, pet baboons and cheetahs, a friend who already knows Sherlock Holmes.

I’m always very interested in what goes on in the background of the main story, or along the sidelines, and I think you can see that in all of my writing.  In “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” I found Sherlock Holmes, and his involvement, to be the least interesting aspect of the story.  His presence was such a small part in Helen Stoner’s life.  I was more interested in what happened before he came on the scene; and there was clearly a lot.

Hannah Lackoff's The Speckled Band

4) You write a Sherlock Holmes mystery that had James Bojaciuk sing its praises. Congratulations on that, by the way. What steps did you take to keep the Master Detective’s world as accurate as possible? If you did research, were any books or documentaries especially useful?

I looked up a little bit of Indian history, a few maps and photos of India and England during this time period, but he most research I did for this story was on snake species.  Did you know there is actually no snake called a “Swamp Adder?”  If you google it, most of the results that come up directly relate to “The Adventure of the Speckled Band.”  There is a lot of discussion and some mild controversy about what type of snake was present in the original story, and it appears that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle combined the characteristics of several snakes and made up a few of his own.  For instance, snakes are deaf and therefore the swamp adder in the original story could not have heard the whistle Roylott used to summon it, nor is it likely it could have climbed a rope, or drunk from a saucer of milk.

This research informed much of the end of my version.  I toyed with the idea of multiple species of snakes present in the story, but in the end I picked the one that looked the most like my idea of a speckled band.  The idea that Sherlock Holmes appears not to know much about snakes, (Imagine!  Something neither he nor Dr. Watson knows!), and, in fact, really seems quite overconfident about, made it easy for Helen, with the help of her fiancé, who does know a lot about snakes, to take advantage of the situation and use Holmes’ legendary powers of observation to her advantage.  And I have to say, it was pretty fun to let someone pull a fast one on the great Sherlock Holmes.

5) One of the most striking themes in your stories is twins and doubles. This dominates The Speckled Band. If you know, what draws you to this theme?

Twins and doubles are such a great literary device, a great jumping off point.  What can’t you do with them?  I find them very hard to resist.

6) From one mystery writer to another, I have to ask. What was the hardest part of writing The Speckled Band?

I don’t consider mystery writer by any means! but I do love a good one.  I admire the genre greatly and love reading them, and watching them, and I’m pretty good at guessing the endings.   I have tried to write them on occasion, and it just doesn’t work very well for me, and I think it’s because when I write I start with a general idea but really figure out the bulk of the story as I go along.  This is a great strategy for me, but would not work so well in, say, in a murder mystery, if even the author doesn’t know who the killer is.

In the case of The Speckled Band, one of the hardest parts was not figuring out who did it, but why and how.  For example, I knew from my research on snakes that the solution as presented in the original story really isn’t possible due to a snake’s biology, so I had to figure out what really happened: how the snake(s) got there, what kind it was, why so many characters were so mistaken about it, etc etc.

I had to figure out the whys of a lot of other elements as well, and it was really interesting building my version from such a small sketch in the original story.  I made a rule for myself that I had to keep all of the timeline elements of the original story intact, which meant I spent a lot time trying to read between the lines of the story Helen tells to Holmes and Watson in the original.  There are so many pieces she lays out so quickly (why did they leave India, and then London?  How did Mrs. Fairintosh know Sherlock Holmes?  How did Julia and Helen meet their fiances?) that the puzzle became bigger and bigger the more I learned.

Hannah Lackoff's After the World Ended

7) James Bojaciuk is fond of calling your novella a “feminist gothic.” Did you plan on it coming out that way—either as a gothic or a feminist one—or did that happen to happen as you wrote?

I didn’t plan on writing a feminist story–I just wrote one with female characters.  I hadn’t read Sherlock Holmes stories since I was a kid, and so when James asked me to be a part of this project I did not have one in mind.  I had to go back and read through quite a few before I found one that jumped out at me in the way this story did.  And one thing you’ll notice when you binge on Sherlock Holmes is that the female characters, what few there are, are just kind of boring.  They are weak, or underdeveloped, or cliched, or just absent.  The Adventure of the Speckled Band actually has women as characters in their own right.  And even though these women mostly exist to get married and/or murdered, I saw a lot of potential for a story there.

I knew from the start I wanted the story to focus on Helen and Julia’s backstory, and I wanted them to be smart, particularly Helen, who sees herself as an outsider, but is also probably the smartest person in the room in any given situation.  Her journey, of which you see non in the original, is from helpless observer to criminal mastermind, in such a way that you sense she had it in her all along.

The women in my version; Honoria, Julia, Helen, and even their mother are unusual and independent for their time, trapped by class and circumstance more than any beliefs on their part.  All are smart and self serving and use whatever limited means are available to them to get what they want.  It was fun to flesh them out and show their strength and character in a way that would have been invisible to Holmes and Watson.  I didn’t see my version as a feminist piece until James mentioned it–I just saw it as a Sherlock Holmes story with female characters at the forefront.  I think there’s a danger of labeling stories about females as “feminist,” instead of just “stories,” although I suppose if my version had been published during the same time period as the original it would certainly have been considered a feminist narrative.

As for the gothic part–I think it would have been impossible to write this story the way I did and not have it turn out with a gothic feel.  The original story has so many gothic elements to begin with–a creepy old mansion falling apart, foggy nights, dangerous animals, suspicious characters–that I merely took what was already there and amped it up to an even higher degree.

8) We’ll be talking to you some more in the near future. One last question. Given how much readers have loved The Speckled Band, will this be the last time we see you tackle Sherlock Holmes?

In my interview with TVCU someone asked me the same question, and then went on to ask if I had ever considered writing a story about Irene Adler.  Up until that point I had not given it any thought–but who knows!  She’s a fascinating character, and some day I might like to take a closer look.

Be sure to come back on Thursday for part two, as we dive in-depth into Hannah’s collection, After the World Ended. If you’re impatient to start reading now, you can download the free preview, or buy the full collection.

You can find Hannah’s interview with the TVCU right here.

If Walls Could Talk: Twitter For Writers

Twitter.

twitter logo

Who knew so much could be said in 140 characters but in the last ten years or so, it truly has become an artful. In fact, here and there I’ve heard tweeting referred to as modern day haiku.

Before I talk more about using it to market, let’s have a crash course. Some of what I’m about to say may seem obvious but I would be remiss if I didn’t make a few notes.

  1. You Tweet on Twitter.

Never say Twit. You laugh, I’ve heard it. You Tweeted, you are Tweeting, you will Tweet.

Got it?

Good.

  1. #Hashtags don’t always have to trend

Yes, there’s a handy list to the left side of your screen that tells you the trending topics but peole use hashtags for a variety of other reasons.

And actually we’ll start here.

Hashtags are used to show the world what is trending on Twitter and in the last year, Facebook as well has developed trending topics. At time neither will always have something that uses a hashtag (#) at the beginning but often times they might.

#writing

#writingadvice

#writingtips

#marketingforwriting

#Twitter4Writers

Above are some examples of things I could set as hashtags when I put this on my professional twitter. Then, if someone is looking for information and they search writing advice in the search bar at the top, they’ll see my Tweet in the results below.

Another fun one that I use now and then is #writerprobz.

book cover the whole art of

It’s also a chance for you to market your book. For example, The Whole Art of Detection is a mystery that features Sherlock Holmes. So in a tweet about it I could put:

#mystery

#SherlockHolmes

And actually, since The Whole Art of Detection is part of the Holmesian lore, I could use #TheWholeArtofDetection. But that’s a little wordy.

Keep in mind, you’ve only got 140 characters.

One thing I often forget is you can get a smart link that’s only a few characters instead of a long link. I need to remember to do that more because I so often forget that that’s an option.

Including a hashtag with the genre or a popular character (like Sherlock Holmes) in your tweet about your work will help get your work in front of eyes. People have alerts set up for keywords and you would set off that. That and at any given time on any given day you don’t know who is looking for what.

Another disclaimer I want to add here is that you need to be careful to not fall for the trap a lot of people do. 140 characters can get real tight real fast and people often times sacrifice grammar for characters.

Don’t butcher things too badly; after all, you are promoting something you’ve written and if it’s barely legible to someone who isn’t a millennial then that’s not a good representation of your book.

Twitter is a fun place to connect to people. I’ve seen movements happen, causes promoted, news shared and broken, and, yes, even writers find a place where their voices can be heard.

I hope the last few weeks of talking about online promotion have been helpful. You can find me on Facebook and Twitter if you have any questions and as always, I want to open it up. If there something you want me to talk about, advice you’d like me to give? I’m always open to ideas and I’d love to hear from you.

As I round out this series, let me leave you with one more piece of advice. Talking about yourself is hard. Promoting yourself is even harder. But the perk is, it’s called social media. You don’t have to do it alone. Seriously, take down those links in the paragraph above and give me a shout if you need/want some advice. Or you just want to say hi. I’m cool with both.

If Walls Could Talk: Facebook Promotion

M.H. Norris

Last week I started talking about how there is so much more to a writer’s life than… well writing. As odd as it sounds you don’t have much time to let out a sigh of relief before you have to consider next steps.

This week, marketing. Even Millennials who grew up with the internet and social media (apparently the internet celebrated its 25th birthday this past week. 1991 was a good year) sometimes shy away from having to market a book.

Let’s face it, talking about yourself is hard. It is something I absolutely hate because on one hand I wonder what good things can I say about myself and on the other I can’t help but wonder if I’m crossing the fine line between promoting myself and being vain.

Even using social media is hard. Study after study comes out about how people spend far too much time on social media yet half of us (I’m going to include myself in this and social media was part of my degree) don’t know what to do with it.

This week, I’m going to focus on Facebook and share some things you may not have known or refresh both your memory and mine about a few other things.

While some people set up individual author profiles that their readers can friend, the most common way to promote an author on Facebook is to set up a page. Now this can also go one of two ways (or both if you feel up to it). There is your individual author page and your series page (especially if an author has multiple ones going). The same goes for podcasts, webseries, webcomics, anything and everything you need to promote on Facebook.

You set it up, categorize it. From there you need a professional author photo.

Here, I recommend that you get one of yourself. That way people can put a face to your name and it gives your page a bit of a personal touch. The cover photo is for either displaying a book cover or something fun. Do not leave it blank (these days I’m not sure you are even given that option).

Fill out your bio and stuff. Give your readers something to see when they visit your page.

From there you can update your page like you do your status. Announcements, blog posts, whatever. I try and update my weekly column but I’ll admit that half the time I forget. When I do remember to update my blog it automatically goes to both there and my Twitter. Honestly, both WordPress and Wix offer that feature, and there is no reason you shouldn’t take it.

Confession time.

I’m awful about updating my author page and will go weeks and even months without doing so. Right now, I’ve got about 40 likes on my page and I’m hoping to do some work and work on increasing that number.

But don’t follow my example. Update often. I’m trying to work on it. Though I did update last week because I had an announcement about my latest book. In case you missed it, The Whole Art of Detection is now on Amazon.

book cover the whole art of

Yes, I did have to do that shameless self-plug.

As I wrap up, let me take a second to talk about my least favorite part of Facebook pages. The infamous and dreaded algorithm. In the spirit of being open and honest with y’all I’m going to tell you straight off that Facebook set this up this way to make money.

Facebook uses an algorithm to determine how many people who have actually liked your page get to see your announcements. You post and a select, for lack of a better term, test group gets the initial post. If any of them like or share, Facebook sees this as a good post and then shares it with more or more.

So encourage your friends and family to like your post so that it becomes more visible. Or share it on your personal. Or both. Both work well.

I also like to discourage people from paying for ads. The only thing I feel like that gets you are click farm likes which basically sinks your page before you have a chance to get it going. There’s not much you can do to avoid them completely but if you can cut down on them as much as possible I would do it.

So as inviting as reaching hundreds of people with just five dollars sounds, it doesn’t actually work that way.

That’s Facebook for you. If you have any questions or want to chat, you know where to find me. See y’all next week as we talk about more marketing tips and tricks.

In the spirit of that promotion, here are some Facebook pages you should like right now:

18thWall Productions

Nicole Petit

M.H. Norris

If Walls Could Talk: Author Blogs and Other Disgusting Necessities

M.H. Norris

I tend to block out the not-so-glamourous sides of writing. I find myself being surprised because I don’t remember having to deal with some things. Add to it, when you attend a writer’s conference or read a book about the industry today, you hear so much about how it’s changed—and everyone seems to have an opinion on the best ways to approach various things.

Confession time.

I’m awful about updating my personal blog. Between a weekly column here and my articles over at Time Travel Nexus, I neglect my blog on my own site because I don’t know what to say. What is there to say?

But, deep down, I know I need to update my writer’s site and the blog that sits on it. Even though I don’t know what to do with it. But you have to have a niche and something that makes you stand out.

What makes you special?

Why should people visit your site?

What do you have to offer that no one else offers?

And here I sit looking at questions like these and shrug. I just want to write, and have fun doing it. Why do I need an image, a brand, a niche?

Sad but true fact, you have to—if you’re going to stand out against the massive amount of new authors. Some are doing it independently, others taking more “traditional” methods. But all want eyes on their book.

It’s something I’ve neglected. My website, and my social media, which is odd because I know how to do it. But I guess it’s similar to the idea that people hate talking about themselves.

Promoting yourself is hard. What’s relevant? What’s important? How often should you post? Hashtags or no hashtags? How many is too many?

And the thing is, there are no right answers to these questions. If there was a magic formula or some golden key someone would make a lot of money writing that book.

Well I guess we’ll have to take that journey together. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be working on my own website and social media and I’ll talk about it here.

If Walls Could Talk: Troublesome Climaxes and Know-It-All Editors

M.H. Norris

For a bit longer than I really want to admit, I’ve been working on my short story for All The Petty Myths. I fell in love with the character, Dr. Rosella Tassoni—but for some reason, this story has turned into the story that won’t end. Every time I think I’m done, or that I’m almost done, surprise, something else needs fixing.

James and I have really been going back and forth on the story, “Midnight,” and the real problem is the climax. At times, not only was I justifying the end to James, I was having to justify it to myself. I was selling myself short because I just want the story to be done. But that’s not fair to me as a writer nor is it fair to you as a reader.

There are reasons that the easy way out is so tempting.

As I said, we were going back and forth about the ending and after an argument where we ended up agreeing to disagree, James comes to me and says that the entire climax needs to be rewritten.

We then proceed to spend time mapping out a rough outline of the new climax and I’m sitting here wondering, what happened to me being almost done with this story?

The easy route is so easy. The story is alright with the ending it has now and then I don’t have to work on it anymore. I get to check off yet another story and move on to the next.

Yet that is the easy way out for a reason.

By taking James’ advice and rewriting the ending, I get to show you all a stronger, better story. Plus, I’ve also built up a bit of a reputation for having strong climaxes and I know I can do better than what I have right now.

Rabbit trail time. If you haven’t already, one thing you need, as a writer, is a good editor, one you can trust. And before you tell me that it’s easy to find editors, let me add a caveat. You need to find a good editor that you can trust. I’ve done it both ways and the writing process is so much easier if you trust your editor versus working with one cold turkey.

They know when to knock you aside the head (literally or metaphorically) and tell you that you can do better and that it needs to change. And as annoyed as you get at them when they tell you this, you appreciate it at the end of the day.

Even as writers, we let ourselves fall for the trap of thinking of the glamorous sides of writing. We see the aha moment of coming up with an idea for our next story, the triumph of finishing it, and the satisfaction of our friends and family coming and telling us that they enjoyed the finished project.

I’ve said it here many a time. I tend to block out the not-so-glamorous sides of writing. Ask James. We’ve apparently had the same conversation multiple times because I’ve blocked them out with the things they involve.

But it’s part of the writing process and as much as I hate to, I tend to find myself hoping James doesn’t outright say “I told you so” when his suggestions are actually a good idea.

So far he hasn’t said it.

We’ll see how long my luck holds.

Those Magnificent Writers on Their Writing Machines #1 (8/3/2016)

James Bojaciuk

Welcome to the newest feature on the 18thWall Productions site, “Those Magnificent Writers on their Writing Machines.” Each week, we’ll see what our writers are up to, tease you on upcoming 18thWall releases, and sometimes give you other exclusive previews and treats.

What have our authors been up to?

Nicole Petit

Nicole Petit’s Just So Stories has released, featuring nine all-new Just So Stories in the immortal tradition of Rudyard Kipling. Even better, it includes a rare Just So Story from Kipling’s own pen, often left out of collected editions, and a rare introduction to his tales that only appeared once previously.

Watch this space for more news about Just So Stories.

Just So Stories Ebook Cover

Nicole Petit’s interview has become the most listened to episode on the popular Television Crossover Universe Podcast. Robert E. Wronski Jr. had this to say. “As a rule, I don’t discuss the podcast stats publicly because I don’t want our guests to feel that their numbers are any reflection on them. However, this is worth mentioning. Simon R. Green’s episode, our first episode, has held the # 1 spot since the show’s beginning… until today. Episode # 11, featuring Nicole Petit, has climbed up to our number one spot. I hope this is also reflective in sales of her books. Nicole, you just surpassed a New York Times Best Seller.”

Listen to her interview here!

After Avalon, Nicole’s upcoming collection, will be appearing in a matter of days. Watch this space for news.

M.H. Norris

M.H. Norris’ installment in The Science of Deduction, The Whole Art of Detection, recently released. Be sure to check it out!

More enticingly, The Whole Art of Detection teases characters and elements from her upcoming series. This is your chance to get in on the series before everyone’s reading it.

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Lisa and Gina Gomez

Two of our newest writers, the detective duo Lisa and Gina Gomez, recently attended Nerd HQ 2016, where they had a chance to chat with the crew of the BBC’s Sherlock. You can watch the interview here. Skip to 5:38 to hear Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss threaten to sue Lisa and Gina for infringement.

You should certainly look into Lisa and Gina’s debut novella, Moriarty’s Final Problem.

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Hannah Lackoff

Hannah Lackoff’s After the World Ended is now available from Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Cafe! If you’re in Boulder CO., be sure to stop by and pick up a copy.

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Josh Reynolds

Josh made it onto Ellen Datlow’s honorable mentions for Horror of the Year: Volume 8. He narrowly missed the cut with his excellent “Seeking Whom He May Devour,” from The Lovecraft ezine #35 (you can read it here). We wish him the best of luck in making into Datlow’s collection next year; it’s an overdue honor.

Carnacki_The New Adventures

You can find one of Josh Reynold’s latest stories, “The Delphic Bee,” in Ulthar Press’ Carnacki: The Lost Cases.

Additionally, you can get two of Reynold’s previous stories–“Incident at the Plateau of Tsang” and “The Fates of Dr. Fell”–on sale from April Moon Books, in the collections Ill-Considered Expeditions and Spawn of the Ripper.

Short Sharp Shocks

John Linwood Grant

Science of Deduction writers strike again, scoring a second, third, and fourth story in Ulthar Press’ Carnacki: The Lost Cases. Mr. Grant, who should not be confused with J. Linseed Grant, also recently appeared in Martian Migraine Press’ Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis.

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You can find Mr. Grant at at greydogtales, where long dogs and readers eagerly await the next adventure of Mr. Dry.

James Bojaciuk

Making the collection something of a Science of Deduction reunion, James also has a story in Carnacki: The Lost Stories. He promises that it’s not the worst story in the collection.

J. Patrick Allen

In Dead West news, J. Patrick Allen has a sign. Admire it.

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Watch this space for upcoming Dead West news, including a special event regarding the first book, West of Pale, and announcements on the series’ future.

Robert E. Wronski Jr.

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Rob’s podcast, The Television Crossover Universe Podcast, continues to be a smash success. In the last 30 days, as of June 29th, 2016, the podcast had 4,496 listeners. Every week, the audience grows. Why not join the cool kids and listen in?

Recently, Rob and the TVCU Crew have interviewed John Linwood Grant, Guy Adams, Jim Beard, Godzilla (okay, it’s a discussion episode about Godzilla), and Micah S. Harris.

Elizabeth Hopkinson

Elizabeth, who has been featured in The Dragon Lord’s Library: Volume 2 and Those Who Live Long Forgotten II,was recently featured as r/Fantasy’s author of the day.

Be sure to check it out! It’s an excellent feature.

Editorial Staff

Staff Editor Tali is hard at work cataloguing our recent releases.

 

If Walls Could Talk: Said Tags

M.H. Norris

Often times, when reading newer authors’ writing, I find one common problem. Their dialogue is accompanied by a said tag.

What are said tags? Why are they so bad?

“Said tags are when you leave a character’s name and ‘said’ at the end of dialogue,” Mary Helen said.

As I said above, tags are when they are put after dialogue, before dialogue, or in the middle to break it up.

Don’t think you can get away with responded, whispered, acknowledged, pointed out, asked, requested, sighed (though occasionally I’m guilty of that one, to James’ chagrin) or things like that just because they aren’t “said.” They’re worse. No matter what you tell yourself, they’re worse. No matter what author uses them, they’re worse.

Delete them all now and your book will be stronger for it.

This is a common problems writers face. It can be done. In fact, every so often, you need said tags or one of their friends to help you in a scene with multiple characters.

But that doesn’t excuse you from going “he said” “she said” every other piece of dialogue. I have read articles that argue against substitute tags and say that “said” will suffice, and while they might have a point, I don’t think any of them are necessary.

After all, instead of using a said tag, you can use that space to do one of several things.

Description

What’s going on in the scene? What is your character observing? Use the five senses and take time to paint us a picture.

Also, keep in mind that both of these will help you build up that word count (something to keep in mind in a few months when NaNoWriMo comes around again).

Not only that, but these things can help you build-up your story and create the world your characters inhabit.

Like I said earlier, go back through your latest piece and circle every time you used the word “said.” Then go and see if you substituted it for something “creative.” Then go and see if you can add an insight from the POV character or some description in its place (hint: you can). Make that change.

Doing that, you’ll find your story is much stronger.

Here, let me give you an example. I got permission to use this piece.

“We have been watching you.” The man suddenly said ending the stare down.

“No kidding” Harry said with sarcasm in his voice. It hadn’t been hard for him to spot them.

“You are very observant, but I don’t think you were seeing us with your eyes. (2)” The man responded.

“How else could I see you?” Harry responded curiously.

“That is one of many things we have to teach you.”

There are several things wrong, here. Let’s focus on the said tags.  Instead of giving us a picture of the person—said is used as a crutch. Even with description, we see the said tag used here.

We see the two main problems with said tags. First, it tells us rather than shows. We’re told something is said “suddenly,” we’re told Harry is sarcastic, we’re told Harry is either curious or he spoke oddly (context is unclear). It’s already clear from the context that Harry is sarcastic, and being told he’s speaking “curiously” doesn’t add anything. A sudden burst of speech could be indicated by leaving the preceding paragraph off, unfinished, with a dash.

Second, the telling doesn’t advance character, story, or setting. We don’t learn anything about the characters. We don’t know anything more about the story. We don’t know where they are, or how the characters are placed in the world. It gives the excerpt an empty, displaced quality.

Additionally, I feel like said tags and substitute tags bog down your story, giving them weight they don’t need. The excerpt would be much quicker, and easier to read without the tags.

Let’s take a look at one of my older pieces and see the difference.

“What will help is to know where Zack and Aaron were taken.” Angie looked at the plans. “There’s two stories above ground and three below. That’s a lot of ground.”

“Which is why we had a team of 40 people make their way through it. Divide that building into half two teams of 20 four to each half of each floor. Supposed to be a quick in and out.”

Angie looked up to see Nathan Adams standing in the doorway of the room, hands in his pockets and a rifle strapped across his back.

He brought his hand to his head and grabbed the earpiece in his ear, slipping it into his pocket before walking over to the group. Turning the chair across from Angie around, he sat down and held out his hand. “So you’re the new girl that crashed the party. Nathan Adams.”

“Angie Thompson.” She shook his hand. “And you’re the one who has managed to lie to the world.”

“That’s one way to word it.”

“How do you word it to sleep at night?”

“Not telling the whole truth.”

While the dialogue helped to set the mood the lack of said tags helped the flow a bit more. The closest I came was perhaps mentioning them shaking their hands, something to break up that dialogue, but even then it helps to move along the story.

Never put anything in your story that doesn’t help it move along. That’s a lesson I’m still learning myself.

Do not use said tags after every piece of dialogue.

From now on, if you do, you will get the mental picture of me giving you the death glare.

If Walls Could Talk: Suffering Through Synopses

M.H. Norris

Most people know that, as a writer, I tend to be rather spontaneous. At the same time, I like to have a plan when I’m being spontaneous.

Sounds like I’m contradicting myself? Well, perhaps I am.

I’m working on an entry for a contest and, as part of the entry, I have to have a synopsis. This isn’t my first time dealing with synopses, in fact I’ve done several. But over time it doesn’t seem to get any easier. In fact, my inner writer seems to rebel at the idea.

Why should I have to know, before I even begin to write, every single thing that’s going to happen?

I change my mind all the time.

Potentially, you can change your story from what you submit. I always worry, since the publisher accepted that idea—but changing the story might change that.

I hate synopses. I feel like they limit me as a writer. I know, I know that there are people who swear by them, and cannot begin a project without either that or an outline (or both). But me? I love the idea of going in with an idea and no outline and being surprised at what happens. And hopefully, my readers will be surprised alongside me.

That’s not to say I have no idea what I’m doing when I start a story. Remember the contradicting thoughts? I like to have a vague idea of where I’m going, but I don’t necessarily want a map to tell me how to get there.

But for the sake of being practical and because James likes for me to include advice here, let’s talk synopses for a bit.

Synopsis are not query letters

When you first venture into the world of writing you quickly discover that we have a language of our own. Terms like query letter, synopsis, CV, credits, and bios quickly become apparent.

And often, when you’re submitting a short story for an anthology, you find they want a synopsis, a query letter, and/or a sample of your work.

In a query letter you often out a summary in but it is nowhere near as comprehensive as a synopsis.

A synopsis helps publishers see your passion

I have to give it to synopses. They are useful for seeing if someone thought an idea through. You’ll know going in that the problem is indeed solvable.

I’ve had some trouble with figuring out where to go with a story and I have to grudgingly admit that maybe with a synopsis I wouldn’t have been stuck. That doesn’t mean I like them though…

But if you are passionate and creative with your synopsis, publishers are going to notice. Don’t write something you’re not interested in for the sake of a publishing credit—it’s not worth it.

Know you can change it

Publishers, generally, are buying the idea—not the general execution. You have room to expand and play.

The synopsis is a chance for you to sell your story and as a result it should not be taken lightly. Take your time, put in the effort, and give your story its best chance.

Synopses have their place in the writing world. And speaking of, I need to get back to mine…

The Horror Crossovers Encyclopedia: Star Trek: Assignment: Eternity

Join us each week as we share a new excerpt from Robert E. Wronski Jr.’s book, The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia, now available in print and digital editions!

ASSIGNMENT: ETERNITY (NOVEL BY GREG COX)

Assignment Eternity

Release Date: 1998 (Setting is 2269 A.D.)

Series: Star Trek

Horror Crosses: Kolchak the Night Stalker

Non-Horror Crosses: The Avengers (television); The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. The Questor Tapes; Mission Impossible; James Bond; The Prisoner; The Andromeda Strain

The Story: Gary Seven and his partner Roberta Lincoln travel from the year 1969 to the 23rd century and once more encounter the crew of the Enterprise, commanded by Captain James T. Kirk.

Notes: This novel is a sequel to the Star Trek episode Assignment Earth, which introduced Gary Seven in what was meant to be a pilot for his own series. Gary and his assistant mention having knowledge of the people or events from all of the above listed crosses.

If you’re dying for more, you can find The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia on Amazon, and more of Robert E. Wronski Jr.’s work on The Television Crossover Universe. You can listen to Robert’s crossover podcast right here.