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New Call for Stories: The Chromatic Court

Anthology curated by Peter Rawlik

“I pray God will curse the writer, as the writer has cursed the world with its beautiful stupendous creation, terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its truth…” ~Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow

Robert E. Chambers’ The King in Yellow features a being, the King in Yellow himself, who is embodied in the play of the same name, and in the color yellow.

We want to follow in the footsteps of Chambers, invoking links between specific colors, the mythos deity they might represent, and what influence they might have on the various arts.

For example, what terrifying things are hinted at by the titles the Black Goat, the Green Man, the White Worm, and the Red Queen, and to what arts are they linked?

Give us tales that invoke the chromatic avatars of the Great Old Ones and the impact they have on the arts, but as we all know the arts are open to interpretation, and could easily include architecture, literature, cuisine, pantomime, and haiku. Art is in the eye of the beholder, and color is only an abstract concept, but fear and terror are very real, and so are the Great Old Ones.

What We Want

Fresh takes on the Cthulhu Mythos, Chambers’ mythology (the Yellow Mythos), and Cosmic Horror. This isn’t the place for Lovecraftian clichés. The more it feels like a “lost” Lovecraft story, or relies on the clichés of the genre, the less interested we are. Creativity is the watchword.

While we are open to straight horror, we much prefer submissions closer to Chambers’ style and tone. Which is to say, we’d greatly prefer dark fantasy with a cosmic horror undercurrent. If you’re unfamiliar with Chambers: The Twilight Zone and Manly Wade Wellman’s fiction are excellent examples of that sort of tone and sensibility.

We want complex tales of cosmic horror, the arts and artists all properly hued. To avoid overlap of colors, monsters, titles, and arts story pitches must be made to the curator first (at thechromaticcourt@18thwall.com). We already have a King, and we already have a Prince; help us a fill the rest of the court.

In addition to unique and clever takes on the Chromatic Court concept, we’d prefer strong, developed characters.

Inspiration

We recommend reading Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow, the monumental work of dark fantasy that started everything. It’s the foundation of so many of the above ideas and mythology. Lovecraft linked the King in Yellow—both the entity and the play—to his own revised elder god Hastur.

T.E.D. Kline’s Black Man with a Horn linked Nyarlathotep to jazz and horned instruments, making Kline’s story an early forbear of this concept.

My own story The Sepia Prints, featured in my novel Reanimatrix, establishes Cthulhu as the Sepia Prince, and intrinsically links the being to opera.

Sundry Details

Payment: 5% of the gross profit will be paid for each accepted story. These payments will be issued to you at quarterly intervals. Stories under 1,500 words will only receive 4% of the gross profit.

Rights: First World Digital and Print.

Deadline: June 15th

Word Count: 4,000-16,000

How to Submit your Story:

  • Send your pitches to the editor at thechromaticcourt@18thwall.com.
  • All stories should be sent, as an attachment, to thechromaticcourt@18thwall.com.
  • The file must be formatted in .doc or .docx.
  • The interior of the document must be in double spaced Times New Roman (12 point font).
  • Indents must be placed through your system’s Paragraph function; do not set indents by pressing tab or space. If you already have tabbed or spaced indents, please remove them first. Please use full em dashes (—).
  • At the top of your document, please include William Shunn’s submission header.
  • Tell us a bit about yourself in the body of your email. Don’t stress this, it won’t make or break your submission.
  • Place the collection you’re submitting to, your name, and your story title in the subject line of your email. For example, “Speakeasies and Spiritualists / Rose Mackenberg / So You Want to Attend a Séance?”

Curator Bio

Peter Rawlik is the author of the novels Reanimators, The Weird Company, and Reanimatrix, and the co-editor for the anthology Legacy of the Reanimator.  His fiction has appeared in Tales of the Shadowmen, The Lovecraft eZine, Talebones, Morpheus Tales, Crypt of Cthulhu, and Innsmouth Magazine. The concept for The Chromatic Court evolved out of his story The Sepia Prints, which became a key chapter in Reanimatrix.

Taking Tea with Cromwell: Using Historical Figures in Your Fiction

Jon Black

One of the great opportunities offered by writing historical fiction and historical fantasy is option of using historical figures in your work. This device can be highly enjoyable for writer and reader alike. Examples abound, from that first great time-slip novel of historical fiction, L. Sprague de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall to the ongoing alt-history novels of Harry Turtledove. In my opinion, the master of this art is Caleb Carr, whose novels The Alienist and Angel of Darkness make deft use of historical figures in bringing 19th century New York vividly, and often terrifyingly, to life.

Ada Lovelace, computer programmer, daughter of poetry, possessor of a great jaw.

Unfortunately, like any other tool in a writer’s kit, historical figures can be misused as well.

This fortnight’s blog posts shares some of my ideas and experiences regarding using historical figures in fiction. It’s a device I use in both of my upcoming novels for 18thWall. Part of Bel Nemeton occurs in a slightly fantastical 6th century while Gabriel’s Trumpet is a supernaturally-tinged mystery set in a variety of locations within 1920s America.

Historical figures serve three man roles in fiction.

Color: encountering an eccentric Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a combative Ike Clanton, or an enigmatically bewitching Mata Hara are just three examples of how historical figures can be a great way to add color to a narrative. Readers may indulge scenes (provided it’s reasonable in length) even when germane to the main action.

Exposition: Authors have a universe of options when it comes to exposition. But a carefully chosen historical figure can give exposition authenticity and an extra kick. If protagonists need mathematical expertise to crack the 19th century’s greatest code, who better to provide it that Ada Lovelace? How much more potent is a weird tales anecdote when delivered via Kipling sharing the one story from his time in the East he dared not put in any tale? What fish-out-of-water protagonist could want a better guide to Montmartre’s gilded decadence than Toulouse-Latrec?

Short-hand: Word economy is important. A sighting of Picasso or Rasputin, hearing Louis Armstrong blow trumpet in a nightclub or Mussolini give a bombastic speech, a brief exchange with Mark Twain or Cotton Mather; all of those immediately anchor a story in a very specific time and place for readers. Such a brief encounter at the beginning of a work or any time there is a change in venue can be quick way to set the stage and save words better used for driving the action forward.

Of course these categories are not mutually exclusive.  A figure might fulfill two or even all three capacities in a work.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, on a very normal and presumably opium-free day

Like any other aspect of writing, the use of historical figures can be overdone. Avoid giving readers the impression you’re simply name dropping or bragging “Hey, look, I did my research!” (Of course, you want to show you did your research—but be smooth about it.)

You also don’t want to risk your creations getting lost among a parade of historical counterparts or diminish the impact of individual historical figures by drowning them out among their peers (Much as I enjoy the work, I think there are moments were Carr knocks at this threshold in Angel of Darkness).

Strength vs. Dexterity

When deciding which historical figure(s) to utilize in a work, consider there is a general tradeoff between a figures level of fame/power and the freedom you have in using them. The more minor and less well-documented your figure, the more wiggle room you have, the less research is essential, and the lower the risk that readers in the know will walk away from your work unsatisfied. If you’re using the 9th century Persian physician and astrologer al-Khaseb, you’ve got a pretty free hand. If you want Ann Bronté , Edgar Cayce, or the Venerable Bede, your latitude is more limited. And that doesn’t even touch the challenges of Elvis, Einstein, or Shakespeare.

Also, let’s not name names here, but certain historical figures are overdone.

Flowers Don’t Bloom in the Shade

Another issue to consider with a true historical heavy hitter is the relationship between that figure and your characters.

Using such heavyweights necessitates a high level of writing, especially if the figure plays an active role and isn’t merely color. If such a figure is sympathetic to the protagonist, why can’t/won’t he or she simply lift obstacles out of the protagonist’s way? Conversely, if the historical figure opposes to the protagonist, why aren’t the obstacles insurmountable? These questions need to not only answered but answered believably.

Unless your characters (especially the protagonist) are true peers of such a figure, history’s major players are best held at a distance. Indeed, their presence can be entirely off camera. “Justinian, emperor of the world’s most powerful empire,” a looming presence throughout Lest Darkness Fall, is he ultimate challenge that must be met to prevent Rome from sinking into the dark ages. Yet not only is interaction between Justinian and the protagonist Padway very limited, it all occurs via written missives between the two.

That may not be an option for every writer. If, for example, your plot revolves around the foiling an assassination of Ben Franklin by a cabal of mages, he will likely put in at least an appearance or two.

Admittedly, I flout my own advice by inclusion of Langston Hughes in Gabriel’s Trumpet. But Hughes is just such a compelling figure I couldn’t resist his inclusion. I hope to mitigate the risk, I feature him relatively early in his career. Which brings us to…

Before and After

Theodore Roosevelt, police commissioner

A possible “best of both worlds” solution is to portray a major historical figure either before or after their prime. Carr’s novels use this effectively with Teddy Roosevelt. In combination with the force of Roosevelt’s personality, his power as president of the United States could easily overwhelm a narrative and the other characters in it. Instead, in The Alienist, we see Roosevelt during his time New York City’s police commissioner. By the time Angel of Darkness rolls around, he has advanced only one rung to Secretary of the Navy.

At the other end of the spectrum, historical figures in the twilight of their accomplishments, perhaps retired or otherwise not in the limelight have great potential. In addition to providing knowledge or exposition, such individuals can serve in the role of mentor, patron, or even quest-giver for protagonists.

Through The Eyes of History

Everything that has been said thus far about using historical figures in fiction goes double if you’re making a historical figure your protagonist. (Quite frankly, it is a task I don’t feel up to at this point in my career.) Using a major historical figure here is not only a true test of skill but also a substantial commitment necessitating significant research execute believably (especially to readers with more than a cursory knowledge of the figure). Turtledove uses Robert E. Lee as the protagonist throughout much of his novel, Guns of the South. A very tall order indeed!

Snipe Hunting Through History

Historical figures included in your work need not be ones you’ve heard of previously. Once you identify general parameters of the role, an online search can turn up a cast of colorful if obscure figures. Of course, if you hadn’t heard of them previously its likely most of your readers haven’t either. On the other hand, that very obscurity can be an appealing Easter Egg for serious history fans.

Bel Nemeton required the services of an 18th-19th century figure familiar with Indian Coinage. Experimenting with this approach, I found the prodigious James Prinsep, director of the East India Company’s mints and student of Indian numismatism (and who may soon put in an appearance elsewhere).

Repeating the process with “Gabriel’s Trumpet,” I need a photographer active in 1920s New Orleans, My research turned up E.J. Bellocq, an eccentric misanthrope who served as “unofficial official” (and often NSFW) photographer for the Red Light district of Storyville.

I admit, I’m hooked. I’ve found this approach not only enjoyable but personally rewarding.

Mata Hari

If Walls Could Talk: Ode to Annoying Editors

M.H. Norris

Without our editors

I don’t know what writers would do

As much as we won’t admit

They help us, that is true.

But sometimes they spot things

We’d wish they’d just miss

But instead they find holes

That are worse than Swiss

 

So here we writers sit

At our computers without a clue

Staring at red edits

That make us feel rather blue

 

One thing our writers know for sure

Is that our editors make us look good

They constantly remind us

To write as we should

 

But sometimes that involves

Things coming to light

Those wholes of Swiss

Needing a rewrite

 

And as they hand those back

Promising they aren’t a slight

Instead they tell us

They help to make us look bright

 

So here’s my ode to editors

James, keep your ego in check

They may all drive us crazy

But at least our stories aren’t a wreck

 

Okay, I promise I’m done with the dodgy poetry. James issued a challenge and I couldn’t help but accept it and write my little ode to editors.

*takes a bow*

I’ve often said in this column that there are few things that help a writer’s career better than having a good editor.

But they, if they’re doing their jobs correctly, drive you up the wall. Like this week where James noticed a hole (a technicality really) that requires me to spend a bit of time rewriting something.

And the worst part?

He’s right.

It needs to be fixed and as much as I’d love to tell him he’s absolutely wrong, I find myself doing some research to make the necessary change.

This column was made with the idea of me talking about what I’m doing week to week. And this week I’m glaring in the general direction of my editor.

Because he was right.

And my story will be stronger because he was right.

That doesn’t mean I’m any less annoyed.

If Walls Could Talk: A Reporter’s Most Pernicious Questions (And How they Help your Novel)

M.H. Norris

I was thinking the other day. Thinking about writing mysteries, and what it takes to put together one. I think I mentioned that I currently have two bulletin boards full of index cards with various notes for the first full-length Rosella novel.

James and I were at a local college campus, recently, brainstorming for that book when I grabbed a dry erase marker and wrote upon the beloved walls.

(Seriously, I’m fully planning to someday paint a room with that paint when I get my own place, because I find it to be so helpful.)

And on one of the walls I wrote out the questions that are well known to journalists around the globe: who, what, where, when, why, and how.

And at first both James and I stared at the what, and he laughed and said my inner journalist came out. Adding that to the list, when it might not belong as much, was just me trying to use my degree.

But then, I came up with a what and after a round of “told you so” we kept on going.

Back when I was a sophomore in college and considering changing my major, I asked Karen Kingsbury (during one of her Facebook chats) about what she would say to an aspiring author. She gave me some advice and pointed me to an article on her site.

She mentioned that writers should major in journalism. Even if you aren’t publishing books, you’re always writing.

So, I changed my major to journalism.

This past week I realized that the change also helps me as a mystery writer. It all comes back to the big questions on the magic wall: who, what, where, when, why, and how.

Who

In a mystery, this is actually a two-fold question. On my bulletin board I have this split into two categories. Under the Who card on my board I mainly focus on the victims.

Who was killed?

How many?

Victimology?

Then there’s also the unsub.

Who did this?

What’s their profile?

What

It’s a case for Rosella, of course. Which means mythology and urban lore are at work in the what.

But it’s also something else~but that would be giving you spoilers. 🙂

It’s a murder, it’s a crime…You get the idea.

Where

Once again, spoilers. 🙂

But, seriously, you have a general idea of where but you have to flesh out more of the specifics. Unlike with Badge City, I’m actually using a real location so I don’t have to map it all out in my head. But you still have to take that into account. Maps, travel times, the local perspective.

When

With Badge City: Notches, I had several pages in a memo pad dedicated to when. I had one page mapping out the timeline, and then I actually drew out lines and marked out 24 hours days and what happened when.

It helps to keep your timing straight. Otherwise, you might get confused and something might happen that shouldn’t actually happen yet.

Also, the when helps your protagonist solve the crime.

When was time of death?

When was the person last seen?

Why

Another way to say my favorite word: Motive.

Why did they do it?

Why those people?

Why then and there?

The thing about mysteries is that you start out with a lot of pieces and the most common question is why.

There’s also, why is this a case for Rosella?

This is the question that is the most important to answer. Why is this case right for your protagonist

How

How did they do it?

Keep in mind, when you’re making an alibi or lack thereof, you need to be able to figure out how they did it. In some cases, it’s how they did it and managed to live their lives at the same time.

What’s the murder weapon?

What’s the cause of death?

These all feed into the how. Sometimes this answer can come from the why.

Last Thoughts

Questions that I had to keep in mind all the time as a journalism major now also play a major role in writing mysteries.

But like writing a news story, I have to find all the answers to the big questions in order to write a good mystery.

And that is truly the trick.

Literary Archaeology: Second Souls – Using Other Languages in Historical Fiction and Historical Fantasy

Jon Black

Welcome to a new series on our blog from the ever-spectacular Jon Black! He’ll stop by every other week to talk to us about historical fiction and fantasy, tactics for writing that, research, and everything you could imagine fitting under the banner “Literary Archaeology.” We hope you love it as much as we do!

To Have Another Language is to Possess a Second Soul – Charlemagne

The phenomenon of language unites (and defines) us as humans. As writers, what we do would not be possible with this most human of abilities. At the same time, languages subdivide us. While that creates problems for mutual understanding and harmony, it is a positive boon for writing…

Sprinkling the occasional word or phrase from another language into a work can serve a number of purposes. It can anchor a story in a specific time and place. A note of the exotic can be lent to a location, action, or item. And, while it’s important not to bleed over into stereotyping, a language can be used to provide some shorthand in conveying information about a character.

These are things I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about recently. Much of the action in the series “Bel Nemeton,” which I am honored to be authoring for 18thWall, takes place in Sixth century Arthurian Britain. Its rich cultural tapestry of Celt, Saxon, and even lingering Roman influence was matched by an equally rich linguistic pallet. That is something I wanted to bring to life in the series.

But I am not a polyglot. Nor are most writers. How can we handle languages we don’t speak? As writers, we often treat subjects in which we lack deep expertise. Language does not need to be any different. Fortunately, resources are available, even if the language is extinct.

Before beginning such a journey in your writing, it is useful to decide what your level of commitment to accuracy is. There is no one right answer here. Accuracy is a virtue, but it is not the only virtue. Remember, you are not a linguist, you’re a writer. As authors, we have finite time and must make hard choices about how best to spend it. It doesn’t make sense to spend 20 hours ensuring that your presentation of two words of Gaulish is perfect when those same hours could be spent in more broadly applicable research, actual writing, or editing.

Depending on the language in question, the challenges and available resources for using it in fiction fall into three categories.

Scenario 1: Living Languages

Those seeking to drop Dutch, Swahili, Navajo, etc. into their manuscripts have a plethora of options at their disposal, at least compared to other scenarios. These options break into three general categories:

  • Reaching out to native speakers, translators, or academics. Some, understandably, will want to charge you for their services. Others, as long as your request is not terribly onerous, may be willing to assist a writer pro bono (do not forget to thank them in your work).
  • Online or hardcopy dictionaries, lexicons, and primers.
  • Online translators such as Google Translate and BabelFish. While decent and getting better all the time, remember these programs are not perfect. Be certain you’re okay with that before relying on them as your sole source.

When using the last two DIY options, be aware these often present words in the simplest form possible. If you are using a phrase or entire sentence in your work, the language likely has rules about case, tense, or part of speech which can modify those words, sometimes dramatically. Dictionaries and lexicons will have, at best, limited information of how to handle this. Primaries often contain the necessary information but that can be quite time consuming. Online translators attempt to make the necessary adjustments but, as noted, are imperfect.

Scenario 2: Well-Documented Extinct Language

Using an extinct language is a challenging proposition but often squite doable. Some extinct languages are relatively well documented or even effectively translated (Ancient Egyptian and Aramaic are commonly encountered examples). In such cases, online and hardcopy resources similar to those for living languages maybe available. A handful of these languages even have alleged online translators (though I cannot vouch for their accuracy). The surest bet is to work with a qualified academic (as above) but that doesn’t meet every author’s requirements.

Scenario 3: Poorly-Documented Extinct Language (Or “My Problem With Pictish”)

But what do you do if you want to use an extinct language which is poorly recorded and understood? While exceedingly challenging, it can also be intellectually engaging and very satisfying exercise. This is the situation I found myself in recently. Fortunately, even in this case there are options, which I will examine using my own challenge as an example.

The second novel in my series, tentatively titled Caledfwlch, features the Picts prominently. As part of bringing that ancient people and their land to life, I wanted to be able to use some “Pictish” in the story.

The Pictish language (or perhaps dialect, see below) was spoken in what is now northern and eastern Scotland between the Fourth and Tenth centuries, after which it was eclipsed by the language which evolved into modern Scotts Gaelic. Very few records of Pictish have survived, mostly as brief mentions in Irish or Welsh sources.

First, a caveat. As with my delving into Pictish, our objective as writers is not a fully accurate recreation of an extinct language (a task that often beyond the world’s best linguists). Our goal is humbler, being able to drop an occasional “Pictish” word or phrase into our works for effect.

I began by looking at a language tree to confirm how Pictish relates to other languages, living and dead. Understanding the extinct language’s relationship to other tongues, especially any descendant or related languages provides a foundation for “recreating” that language in your work. If you are uncertain what language family your tongue is in, that information can be quickly found online.

In my case, I learned that, outlier claims to the contrary, overwhelming academic consensus is that Pictish was an Insular Celtic language and a member of the Brittonic/Brythonic (P-Celtic) sub-family. Opinion is pretty evenly divided whether Pictish was a sister language to Common Brittonic or just a dialect of it. Either answer means that the living languages most closely related to Pictish are the ones descended from Common Brittonic: Breton, Cornish, and Welsh.

Of those three languages, Welsh is the one with the closet geographic proximity to Pictish. Decisively so, if one recalls the now extinct Cumbic dialect of Welsh. Cumbric was spoken well into now what is southern Scotland and probably directly adjacent to the lands of the Picts. So, I made the assumption that Welsh was likely the closing living relative of Pictish.

Therefore, I used Welsh as my baseline for “Pictish.” Whenever possible, I used Old Welsh or Middle Welsh sources … and was delighted to find a few online. When those could not give me what I needed, I turned to the plethora of Modern Welsh resources as well as good old Google Translate.

After identifying a Welsh translation for the word or phrase I wanted, I then made another decision. Sometimes I used it directly as “Pictish.” Other times I arbitrarily changed a sound or two. Obviously, this is not a scientifically sound way to actually recreate a language. But, as long as I’m upfront about the liberties I took, I hope it creates a plausible, if fictitious, facsimile that helps bring that fascinating people to life in my novel.

So, my solution to using a poorly documented extinct language was to identify the closest living language (or nearest well documented extinct language) and use it as inspiration for the language I was trying to recreate.

Find Jon Black at JonBlackWrites.com

If Walls Could Talk: Letters from Myself

M.H. Norris

I came home from work on Monday to find an odd piece of mail. It was from my Alma Mater but two things made it stand out:

  1. It listed me as Mary Helen Norris. Normally, my Alma Mater refers to me as Mary.
  2. The address was handwritten.

My mom had sat it down because she noticed it as well. Both of us were curious. So, I opened it and took a look at the letter inside and couldn’t help but laugh.

Sometime while in college I wrote a letter to myself that was supposed to be mailed to me at the end of the semester. I guess it got lost somewhere along the way, because it was postmarked a few days ago.

The thing is, I had to have written that at least two–if not three to four–years ago. James and I have bickered about what it says, and where it is in my personal timeline.

But gosh, so much love to long ago. To the M.H. Norris who hadn’t quite become the mystery maven and sci-fi sorceress you’ve come to known and love.

And yes, I know y’all are dying to know what the letter said. But I’m not going to share it. Partially because it’s between the days long past and the ones that hadn’t come yet, and partly because it made me realize something.

Though honestly, it’s something I’ve known, I just got a reminder in the form of a letter from my younger self.

Things can change drastically in a seemingly short amount of time. The Mary Helen who wrote that letter didn’t have a book out (nor second, with both receiving awards), she wasn’t on a podcast, and she had maybe (depending on when it was written and I honestly don’t remember writing it) just been introduced to Doctor Who.

James loves to tease me about how my writing was when we first met, and how I’ve grown so much as a writer since then. Even book-to-book I feel like I do a bit of growth as I learn more about me and my writing process.

I’m tempted to write another letter to myself and leave it somewhere to open in a few years. I wonder where I’ll be then?

In the letter, I talk about a couple of projects that I have either left or sat to the side. In the letter I see that I’ve grown a bit as a person and a writer since I wrote that message.

There’s my advice for you today.

I met someone once who writes but I honestly wonder if they’ll ever make it anywhere with their craft. I know, that sound so harsh but it’s the truth.

Why do I think that?

Because they aren’t willing to learn and grow in the craft of writing. They think, because they’ve done it for a number of years, that they are a good writer, and that people will enjoy their stuff, and that I didn’t understand whenever I suggested changes or offered critiques.

And the sad thing is, they had talent and potential there.

So here’s my advice to you today, dear readers of this column. As writers, we will never stop learning. We will always be learning and growing in our craft.

You have to/ You can’t settle for anything less than your best and it can (and should) grow and change.

Every so often I find a couple of notebooks I know are hiding in my room. They contain short stories that I wrote ages ago. When I do come across them, and read them, I can’t help but shake my head and laugh at the antics of my younger self.

You wouldn’t recognize the writing style of a young M.H. Norris. Honestly, you might not even recognize my writing style from 2010.

Trust me when I say that that’s a good thing.

Before I sign off this week, let me say this one more time in case you’ve just been skimming: Do not hit a point in your writing where you think you cannot improve.

Because growing as a writer is half the fun.

If Walls Could Talk: Writing Series Characters

M.H. Norris

Curating the All the Petty Myths anthology has been a unique experience. Along with getting some fun stories that I can’t wait to share with you all, and yes I promise we’ll be sharing them soon, I got to set together a project that’s been in the works for a number of years.

I’ve also gotten to do something that, as I writer, I haven’t really tried yet.

When I started developing Midnight, I honestly didn’t think Rosella’s story would develop the way it did. I thought it would be one of those projects I did because it was an idea I’d had for years, and then I would move on to the next project.

But somewhere in the process, James and I realized that Dr. Rosella Tassoni had the potential to carry her own series. As you all know, about six months or so ago, I announced that the anthology will feature the first story in her series.

I was talking with someone. They asked me how my writing was going. I mentioned that we are putting the finishing touches on my next story, then they asked me an interesting question I’m not sure I’ve been asked before.

“Do you get involved in the story?”

As a writer, I feel to an extent you almost have to. There have been times I’m writing, and the scene takes a turn from what I was thinking, and goes its own direction because that’s what the character wants to do.

I also mentioned, that since Rosella is a series character, I have to get inside her head more than other characters. Because the more and more we get into the story, the more I need to know to carry her longer into the series. There is nothing worse for a series of fiction than a character who is flat and doesn’t grow.

In fact, as I finish Midnight, I’m beginning to draft her first full-length novel and that’s something I’m having to address. For both you, as readers, and me, as a writer, her story in the upcoming anthology was a chance for us to get to know her and who she is.

Now though, I have to take the information and the events of that story and go, “What now?”

That leads to something else I absolutely hate but see all too often in stories. A character goes through this story, and then proceeds to act as if nothing has happened and nothing has changed.

No.

Just as we as people are shaped by circumstances and events in our lives, so are our characters.

Let me give you two examples.

We’ll start with TNT’s recently-renewed The Librarians. As most of you may know, the show just finished its third season and it was announced yesterday that they are getting a fourth season. But before the show, there were three TV movies feature Flynn Carson played by Noah Wyle.

For the first season, Flynn is in less than half the episodes; in the second, he’s in a few more; this past season he’s in seven out of ten.

There’s an episode near the end of this last season where Flynn has someone point out to him just how much he’s grown and changed since that first movie. He’s done a fair bit of growing over the last few seasons thanks to his new friends and co-workers.

We meet a young Flynn Carson in The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, the first movie, who seems perfectly content to continue to be a professional student for the rest of his life (anyone else who watched the movies ever wonder just what his student loan debt looked like, what with the number of degrees he had?). The Flynn we meet has no knowledge of the real world that isn’t found in a class.

So when he gets a mysterious invitation to a job interview at the Metropolitan Library, he takes it. He becomes The Librarian and learns that there is so much more to the world than what is found in his classes.

Flynn is easily one of my favorite fictional characters, joining the ranks of the Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith, and Chuck.

Now, Flynn’s hyper-intelligence has been smoothed out a little and, thanks to the new Librarians (long story), he finally has a team to work with and people who can match his wit (and keep him in his place because he need that).

The Librarians did something interesting here with Flynn’s character. They spent three TV movies establishing him as a unique hero who was often the thin line between evil spilling out into the world and the balance being maintained.

Then, in the course of the pilot, Flynn is presented with a handful of other people who can do it alongside him. He went from being one Librarian to one of many. You see a bit of a crises there. Using hints he’s dropped, especially in his limited appearances in the first season, we know he’s been The Librarian for a little over a decade and a lot has happened in that time.

If there’s one way to develop a character, it’s to turn their world upside down. That’s why the starting point the show chose worked so well for them.

That was something I faced with Rosella. In fact, her circumstances and her starting point changed several times over the course of the initial drafts of Midnight. I had to keep asking myself why am I starting here.

Why am I starting here and where am I going? How is she going to take it and how is it going to shape and grow her character?

Shawn Spencer, from Psych, is another character whose growth helped carry the show. It’s funny to watch the first season and then the last and see how much he changed. Yes, Shawn is the same person, and that’s not questioned, but he does grow up over the course of 8 seasons.

We meet a Shawn Spencer who has not owned up to responsibility. He’s had 27 jobs in the space of about 10 years and has moved all over world in that time. He gets into the whole psychic thing because he’s backed into a corner and it’s the easiest way out.

I think the Shawn Spencer who we said goodbye to in the finale laughs a little when he thinks back to those days. While he is still childish and immature, this is a Shawn who has stayed in one place for the better part of a decade, found something he actually enjoys, and has done a little growing up.

Shawn is one of my favorite examples of a character growing up because he proves the point that while a person can remain intrinsically the same, they can change quite a bit too. While Season 8 Shawn probably cringes and then laughs a bit at the antics of his Season 1 self, Season 1 Shawn would probably not believe you if you told him what he’d be like in just a few short years.

We went from a man who saw responsibility as a dirty word to one who took it on willingly.

But another thing to note about Shawn’s character is his relationship with his father. We piece together what happened throughout the course of the show. Sometime in Shawn’s senior year of high school his own father arrested him for stealing a car to impress a girl.

That caused Shawn and his father to become estranged and they would remain that way for the better part of the decade between that point and the beginning of the show. Even once the show began it would take a while for the two to cease hostilities and even longer to have something that resembles a functional relationship.

But repairing that relationship helps both characters grow and develop.

Transforming Rosella from a one-off character to a series character made me question who we would see again, and who is only going to appear in this one story; her relationships with the people around her needed solidified, or changed. That’s something I can play with as time goes on and I already have some plans regarding it.

Another fun one to take a look at is Sarah Jane Smith, especially because you she develops radically over time. Her first serial, The Time Warrior, lets us meet a 22-year-old Sarah Jane Smith whose spunk, persistence to get to the heart of a matter (because, after all, she is a journalist), and her insane amount of pure dumb luck make her a character you quickly fall in love with.

35 years later, at the beginning of The Sarah Jane Adventures, we find a vastly different but essentially the same, Sarah Jane. This older woman is someone who was forever changed by her time with the Doctor. We know from her appearance in “School Reunion” that the years weren’t always great to her—and that for quite a while she didn’t know how to handle life on her own.

But even between “School Reunion” and The Sarah Jane Adventures we see a change. It’s as if her brief time with David Tennant’s Doctor allowed her to find the girl the world fell in love with in The Time Warrior again and to go out and do what she does best once more.

For those of you who read The Whole Art of Detection you found your first look at Rosella. I found it amusing to spend some time writing a Rosella who’s a bit older than the one in Midnight. She wandered into that story a bit by accident but it was something that fit rather well and I couldn’t resist.

But there is also a reason I kept her appearances to a minimum—and, besides what was relevant to the plot, you don’t find out a whole lot about her. Some of it is because I haven’t certain decisions yet. Some of it is to surprise you.

Sarah Jane Smith is a character we see for most of her life, her story left hanging when her actress, Elisabeth Sladen, passed away, with the simple words “and the story goes on…forever.”

The BBC does a good job at growing her character through her time with The Doctor, her reappearance in the twenty-fifth Anniversary special, her Big Finish spin-off, and then on to New Who. Sarah Jane is an excellent character to study when looking at developing a character through stages of their life.

Follow me for a second.

Most book and television series only show a character over the course of a few years, but with Sarah Jane we are able to see her grow and develop over the course of decades. From the young journalist who assumes her aunt’s identity to get a story, to the older woman who is still using the title of journalists to hunt down alien activity on Earth and continue to protect it.

Sarah Jane came in the feminist movements of the 1970s, when the BBC decided they need a new third Doctor female companion who didn’t fawn over the Doctor and go “yes Doctor” or “of course Doctor,” returning to the style of companion featured in the first and second Doctors’ eras. In fact, Sarah Jane would spend most of her first serial distrusting him. Sarah Jane was, and is, a fiercely independent person.

We see this in the beginning of The Sarah Jane Adventures when she fights tooth and nail against the kids who are offering to help her.

Thinking about it, it’s kinda heartbreaking that Sarah Jane spends so much of her life alone. Sure, until 1999 she has her Aunt Lavinia but she doesn’t know about the Doctor and how it completely changed how Sarah Jane sees the world.

She had nobody and thought that the one person who would understand died soon after he dropped her off..

Sarah Jane is a character I’ll look at later on when I’m getting further and further along in a series. Because her story lasted for decades and still goes on…

So what separates a good series from a great one?

It’s the characters. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it here now as I wrap up. People come for the premise and they stay for the characters. And that’s the challenge I find myself facing now. Making sure Rosella is someone people are willing to stick with for a while.

Announcement: Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll 2016

James Bojaciuk and Ben Kasson

You did it again.

You absolutely floored us with your kindness.

Not only did you nominate us for multiple categories in the 18th Annual Preditors and Editors Readers’ Poll, you voted with us in such force that we either won or placed in the top ten in nearly every category.

That’s unbelievable.

Thank you so much for your continued support, and kindness. We do this for you.

Congratulations, and thanks, to all our authors, editors, and artists for the fine work you do. You’re outstanding, every one of you.

Whenever anything we’ve released receives an award, we can’t help but feel an overwhelming surge of pride and gratitude for the people we’ve met and gotten to work with while embarking upon this crazy road.

It’s times like these that make every bump and every pothole worth it.

We got into publishing not only because we couldn’t stay away from the world of literature if we tried, but also because we wanted everyone involved in the process to be better appreciated, from artists, to authors, to editors. This goes a long way toward giving them the appreciation they deserve.

Without further ado, let’s review our winners, in alphabetical order.

After Avalon

Our big winner, After Avalon, walked away with two awards…

Barbara Sobczyńska’s gorgeous cover–which Jon Black called “dreamlike and hauntingly symbolist”–took home the well-deserved award for Best Artwork. Barbara specializes in spectral visions that tease the imagination and capture your imagination. She did no less with this cover. She can capture mood and intangible ideas with the greatest of ease.

It’s impossible to say enough kind, or insightful, things about her art. It needs to be seen to be appreciated, and I can only hope this increases her audience tenfold.

After Avalon itself was also voted the #4 best anthology, Congratulations to Colin Fisher, Leigh Ann Cowan, Amy Wolf, Thomas Olivieri, Jon Black, Patricia S. Bowne, Claudia Quint, David Wiley, Christian Bone, Patrick S. Baker, and Elizabeth Zuckerman; special congratulations to the curator, Nicole Petit, for assembling the book, and discovering what became of Logres after Camelot fell.

Readers have responded overwhelmingly for this book full of the Arthurian world’s magic.

Nicole Petit

Nicole Petit earned a bronze medal finish for all of her editing this year, ranging from her unique anthologies After Avalon and Just So Stories to her role as 18thWall Productions’ native series editor (particularly notable, in 2016, for her work on Dead West). I’ve never met anyone with a greater innate understanding of storytelling, or knowledge of what makes a story the best it can possibly be. She earned this award a dozen times over.

I also don’t know of anyone better at discovering new talent, encouraging writers to be their best, guiding stories and prose to their brightest, or, simply, being a writer’s support and friend. The literary world is lucky to have an editor like her, and 18thWall is equally as lucky to employ her.

 

A Study in Grey

John Linwood Grant’s A Study in Gray was proud to walk away with…

John placed tenth with this entry in his The Last Edwardian series, a weird fiction series that has more than earned its first award.

I’m not sure where John has been keeping himself all these years, but from the moment he did appear, I knew three things. First, that his fiction had something of the touch of the early Neil Gaiman–obviously magical, and character-focused while old-time-narrator-driven, and deeply inspired by pre-war genre trends. Second, that he would make a name for himself and win an absurd amount of readers and awards. Third, obviously, that a writer this excellent deserves a place to write, and that I should quickly give it to him.

To John! Let this be the first award of many!

The Whole Art of Detection

M.H. seems to be trying to make winning awards for her mystery novellas as effortless as Cinderella’s make-over. She was proud to be awarded…

She earned the #4 spot in the awards for The Whole Art of Detection, with her tale of Sherlock Holmes’ legacy, rip-off fantasy novelists, incredibly astute detectives, wise women, the lies we choose to believe, and certain worms unknown to science.

M.H. has grown very much as a writer since she appeared on the scene with Badge City: Notches, and it’s been a great pleasure, as a publisher, to give her a playground where she can grow to her full potential.

Rather than say anything else, I’m excited to see her even more grow into her role as “mystery maven.”

Runner Up: The Dragon Lord’s Secretary

I wouldn’t normally mention a runner up, but all of you fought hard for The Dragon Lord’s Secretary. As I watched the rankings in the last day, I saw this one briefly break into the top ten before falling back. It bounced up and down the rankings several times before the contest ended with it at #15. In the end, I imagine it only missed the top ten by five or six votes.

Thank you for all your support for Nicole’s novel!

Preditors and Editors Winners’ Sale

Perhaps you knew this was coming. it seems to be a tradition with us and awards. But we like to take this moment to give you a chance to read any of our winners you haven’t already read, and see what all the fuss is about.

Until March 1st, all of our winners are 20% off!

You can find them at the links below!

After Avalon

Just So Stories

Dead West: West of Pale

A Study in Grey

The Whole Art of Detection

The Dragon Lord’s Secretary

If Walls Could Talk: Research and Rabbit Trails

M.H. Norris

The internet can be a writer’s best friend, especially when it comes to research. But it can also quickly become a writer’s worst nightmare.

It’s no secret that often times I’ll wander off on a rabbit trail here as I make my way to whatever point I happen to have that day. Maybe occasionally I have a reason for wandering off on said rabbit trail…

Yeah, I do it a lot. Here in my weekly column, in discussions I have with people, and when I do research, too.

There was a time with Badge City: Notches where I hadn’t quite decided how it was going to end. Actually, if you go and look on what I submitted to Pro Se vs. how the book actually ended,  they’re a little different. The whodunit didn’t change, but I had a scene in my head that I was tempted to write.

But to write it, I had to do some significant research.

This was a two day researching session going on websites, blogs, and going over the chapter in one of my books I was reading.

Part of the reason I spent time on this scene was I felt like I needed to justify a decision I’d been thinking about. I felt like I could justify after that research.

But then, after spending two days on research I later decided to ditch that whole scene. I probably would have done it earlier than I did if it weren’t for that fact that I was being butt-stubborn.

So in the end, that ended up being something I left unsaid,  and something I considered addressing later.

Later won’t come.

But maybe sometime someone will ask me about it, or stumble across this post and ask me what that two day research session was about and what I left unsaid…

Yesterday, news broke on a slightly-related topic to my two-day research session and I ended up spending two hours looking up the case, the development in it that got me started on that rabbit trail just going over it in a sense.

So my research rabbit trail caused a rabbit trail of its own…

That’s my problem with research. I find something I find fascinating and then I end up spending way more time than I should working on that–instead of what I should be researching.

That’s why I said the internet can be a writer’s best friend or their worst enemy. The sheer amount of information out there can be overwhelming and trying to sort out what is useful to you and what isn’t is a full time job.

That, and the act of having to research a novel can be overwhelming. Which is why it sometimes takes me a while to slide into that stage of writing a book.

With Notches, I had pages upon pages of notes. Yet I was still going to Google while writing the story. I had articles printed out, statistics memorized, and a story in mind. But, sometimes, I still needed more.

Research lays the foundation for the rest of the story.

The trick is making sure you don’t let yourself get but so distracted when laying that foundation.

If Walls Could Talk: Taking an Idea and Making a Story

M.H. Norris

Let’s talk Research and a little contest update

It seems like every time I start a new story I find myself surprised at the struggles I go through in order to even get the project started, much less have anything that resembles a story.

Not only is there research to be done, there’s figuring out the story.

I’ve found it comes in pieces. At least, that’s how Badge City: Notches got started. Pro Se Productions gave me the series bible. From there, it came in pieces.

Deidre is a detective, yes. But what kind of crimes does she investigate? Murder, robbery, vice? The list goes on for a bit. Honestly, I chose murder because into USA Network’s Psych at the time. Because I’d watched SO MANY of those episodes, I was really familiar with the concept.

That didn’t stop me from spending a month researching various things about it. I read articles, website material, and books about the subject. One of my favorites (and one I recommend if you are writing police procedurals) is Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide For Writers by Lee Lofland. I found it by accident—but I liked it so much I ended up later getting another book of the series (Forensics: a Guide For Writers by D.P. Lyle M.D.).

But before I got to all that research, there was the little issue of having to submit a full synopsis to Pro Se. I think I’ve said it a few times here, but let me say it again, I hate having to write synopses.

Hate it. Hate it. Hate it.

I’ll barely concede there’s value to them. But I feel like they are, at times, constraining—especially in the form that I had to do for Badge City. That would be what they approved. To me, as a new writer, I felt like I couldn’t change what I submitted.

Here’s your fun fact.

That synopsis took me three days to write and it was maybe three pages.

Those who knew me were surprised when they read Notches because I like to call it an adventure into my dark and twisted side.

It involved going back and forth with James and a series of what ifs. I’d say “what if this happens?” Then he’d ask me why, or can I justify it, or how does it affect the story?

And back and forth we went.

Variations of this happened with The Lemon Herberts and “Midnight” as well. Though I’ll admit I didn’t completely know who did it when I started writing The Whole Art of Detection. I think I got several thousand words in and was like, “I really should figure out who did this, shouldn’t I?”

Confessions of a mystery writer.

The Whole Art of Detection was nominated in the 18th Annual Preditors and Editors Reader’s Poll for Best Mystery.

So, I guess I didn’t do but so bad.

You’ve got until the 14th to vote, so if you haven’t please do.

Pretty please.

You can vote here.

And vote for Nicole Petit too. She’s up for Best Fantasy/Science Fiction Novel. Her Anthology After Avalon is up for Best Anthology and Best Artwork. She’s also up for Best Editor, something well deserved.

Best Editor: Nicole Petit

Best Anthology: After Avalon

Best Artwork: After Avalon

Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novel: The Dragon Lord’s Secretary, by Nicole Petit

Voting is easy. Follow the link, click on the book you’d like to vote for, enter your email address (they won’t spam you), and hit submit. Check your email for a link to click to prove you’re a real human. Then you’re done!

Rabbit trail successfully chased…where was I?

Oh yeah!

This is where I find myself now, for Rosella’s first novel. I have a setting in mind, I have the myth in mind. It’s down to weaving the two, figuring whodunit and whydunit, and maybe having an actual plot in mind.

The Midnight Game lended itself to “Midnight” by its very existence. Others myths, legends, and stories take a bit more creativity t work into a mystery. I think I know where the key lies, now. I just don’t quite know the answer to that question yet.