Firstly, I’m involved in another Kickstarter, though in a different role this time. Prospective Press is an inclusive, pro-diversity, feminist-friendly, queer-welcoming, and #ownvoices-embracing publishing house. Jason Graves is the series editor of their Off the Beaten Path paranormal anthologies, Tales from the Old Black Ambulance, and the Concrete Dreams series of urban fantasies. Jason has invited me to write a foreword to the next Concrete Dreams anthology – Fiendish and the Divine. These stories will explore the intersections of what we think we know and what is undiscovered, the prejudices of the past and the startling newness of fresh perspectives. In these pages, you will meet gods, real and imagined; dragons of air and earth; beings alien to our world, with indecipherable intent; and monsters, some human, some not…
Secondly, I’ve mentioned a few times this year that I’ve written a novella for a shared world project. Now all can be revealed! So far Adrian Tchaikovsky and Justina Robson have each written a novel for Rebellion Publishing, set in a fantasy realm that’s recently seen a dark lord overthrown. The series title is After The War, and the novels so far are Redemption’s Blade, and After the Fire. Now there are The Tales of Catt and Fisher, a collection of four novellas by me, Adrian, Freda Warrington and K T Davies, to be published on 3rd December 2020. These two characters from the novels are scholars, shopkeepers, collectors, obtainers of rare antiquities … who can’t resist a lead, even when it takes them into terrible danger. There’s always an opportunity to be found amid the confusion, in the wake of the terrible Kinslayer War. There’s always a deal to be done, a tomb to open, a precious thing to… obtain.
This project was a lot of fun to write for, and I really enjoyed getting back to some epic fantasy. There was plenty of leeway for inventing new aspects and elements to expand on the existing scenario created by Adrian and Justina. Reading the books have already written in this world, I found a handful of lines here and there which added up to something very interesting indeed, when I summoned up my inner GM…
Third and last, but by no means least, I’ve written a guest blog post for my good friend and fine writer, Sarah Ash. I’ve been thinking a lot about mythology lately, and our relationships with folklore, old and new. We had a particularly interesting discussion about these things online at this year’s Octocon, so I welcomed the opportunity to explore this in an article.
Hopefully you’ll have noticed that the excellent small press ZNB (Zombies Need Brains) are running a Kickstarter to fund three new anthologies, titled THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, DERELICT, and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, containing approximately 14 all-original (no reprint) short stories each from established SF&F authors in the field and new voices found through an open call. The fundraising is going well, so we can hope to reach some stretch goals. Do check it out!
Regular readers will know that I’m a regular contributor to these projects, sometimes as an invited author, sometimes through submitting to the open call. The thing is though, I’m really not a natural short story writer…
A great many authors will tell you they have an instinctive length when it comes to writing. That can be novel, novella or short story. It’s the sweet spot for their imagination, where ideas come together most effectively. For me, that’s most definitely the novel. It has been said, with perfect justification, that my early short stories read like excerpts from a longer work.
So that’s the first thing. I want to improve my skills in this particular area. Short stories, in anthologies and as standalones are having a resurgence just at the moment. That’s thanks to the ease of digital downloads, a smartphone in every pocket or bag, and the way short-form fiction is ideal for a commute. That makes the short story an ideal way to introduce readers to my writing, so if they like it, they can look up my novels. But it has to be a good short story, and that’s why I always want feedback from professional editors so I can learn how to create my very best work. I get that advice from ZNB projects, without fear or favour! That advice doesn’t only help my short stories. Learning more about the differences between different forms of fiction hones my novel writing as well.
The second thing? Ask any author where they get their ideas from, and they’ll tell you lack of ideas is never the problem. The challenge is knowing what to do with them. My wide-ranging research reading turns up a whole lot of interesting possibilities which are often nowhere near novel-length material. Short stories offer me the chance to get these intriguing tales onto the page. My story for last year’s Alternate Peace anthology is a case in point. I’d read Bill Bryson’s book on the remarkable summer of 1927, and quite some while later read a much less amusing book on the ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918-1919. These books had nothing to do with each other at first glance, but that’s not how this works. If I put together that piece of information from one book and a passing footnote from the other, as well as a few more ‘what if?’ possibilities from both, I got an intriguing idea… I wasn’t sure it would make a novel though, and in any case, my other writing commitments would make that impossible. But this idea was ideally suited to this collection’s theme.
Thirdly, you never know where a short story will take you as a writer. Before ZNB was born, Joshua Palmatier and Patricia Bray edited a couple of anthologies for the US publisher DAW. One was The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity where I found I had an entertaining idea about dryads in the English countryside facing a road being built through their oak grove. There’s a passing reference in that story to dryads having sons with mortal fathers. I didn’t think much about it at the time. I did find myself thinking about it later though. Long story short? That did turn into a novel-length idea, and that was The Green Man’s Heir, followed by The Green Man’s Foe. Next month will see The Green Man’s Silence published by Wizard’s Tower Press.
So these are three of the things that writing short stories offers me as a novelist. Why not see what these projects can offer you as a writer – and a reader, obviously.
This year’s Kickstarter will fund three science fiction and fantasy anthologies, titled THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, DERELICT, and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, containing approximately 14 all-original (no reprint) short stories each from established SF&F authors and new voices found through an open call. Backers will essentially be generating the funds to produce these anthologies—payment for the contributing authors, for the cover artist, production costs etc. So the reward levels have been set to more closely resemble the cost of the final product when it goes on sale to the general public. In essence, backers are preordering the anthologies.
This is the anthology I hope to be writing for. In a follow-up to THE MODERN FAE’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, we switch our attention to the deities of old. Is Narcissus an Instagram influencer? Is Coyote playing the stock market? Does Ra own a solar panel company? Was Dr. Ruth really Venus? These authors will explore how the immortals have changed with the times.
No one can resist the mystery of the abandoned ship, whether it’s the ghost ship afloat in the Bermuda Triangle or the spaceship drifting in the depths of space. What happened to the crew? What horror forced them to abandon their vessel and flee…or are they still on board, trapped or even dead? These authors will explore the possibilities.
Julie E. Czerneda,
John G. Hemry/Jack Campbell,
Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, and
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE:
Throughout history, different cultures have collided, whether it be the peaceful contact between Rome and Han China in the second century that established the Silk Road, or the more violent interactions between Europe and the Americas thirteen hundred years later. Such first contact stories have long been a staple of speculative fiction, and these authors will explore the myriad ways in which two cultures—alien or fae, machine or human—can clash. Will the colliding societies manage to peacefully coexist after they finally meet? Or will they embark instead on a path of mutual self-destruction?
Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that I’ll be part of the @ZNBLLC Kickstarter for three new anthologies this year. I’ve had stories in four of these collections so far, as well as two earlier projects from this team. Sometimes that’s been as an invited author, sometimes I’ve gone through submission because I had an idea that was too much fun not to write. That’s the thing about these projects – they’re always full of intriguing possibilities.
That makes for great collections of stories and excellent value for readers at the entry levels. For those of you looking for something extra, there are a whole range of bonus reward levels. I’m offering assorted books and a couple of Tuckerisations (your name for a character in my story). There will be more detail on each theme soon, but for now, readers aware of my alter ego’s mystery novels set in Ancient Greece will not be surprised to lean that I’ll be writing a story for the ‘Deities’ anthology – as long as the Kickstarter funds.
Alongside the designated authors anchoring each book, there is always an an open call for submissions offering first rate editorial advice as well as professional rates of pay for the stories that make the cut. ZNB are also very keen to offer debut publication opportunities. Any SFF writers starting out should definitely go and take a look.
For the moment, this is the last of these stories, though as readers who’ve followed Dyal’s adventures will be well aware, this cannot be the end of his story. I know what happens next, and aim to find time to write that tale later this year.
At the moment, my Work diary is full! As of close of play yesterday, I’ve written 194231 words of original fiction since 2nd January this year, spread over one novel, completed in draft and with its editor, one novella ditto, and a second novel that’s due for delivery at the end of June and is currently about three quarters of the way to a finished draft.
I hope to take a few days off at the start of July, before I tackle the editor’s feedback on The Green Man’s Silence…
Dyal has learned secrets that the warlord’s family would prefer not to share. That means he must be drawn into the domain ruler’s inner circle, whether he likes it or not. What use can the young swordsman be? Now he finds himself trusted as a courier – and sent into fresh danger…
Revisiting your own work is a curious experience for a writer, in my experience at least. When you’re working on a book, from first outline to final page proofs, that’s pretty much all you think about. You have every detail at your fingertips. You know the story inside out. You’ve been living with these characters for however long the work’s been in progress. Then quite suddenly, that’s done, and you move on to the next thing. This new story may or may not involve the same characters, but regardless, it’s a new adventure full of fresh challenges for you as a writer. As it fills your thoughts, it’s surprising how quickly the fine detail of earlier books fades from your memory. You’ll recall the broad strokes, obviously, but not the line-by-line. By the time I was on the third, fourth and fifth book of The Tales of Einarinn, my reference copies of the earlier volumes bristled with Post-It tags so I could find descriptions and incidents I needed to refer back to. Thank goodness for electronic versions and search boxes these days.
I revisited The Aldabreshin Compass books in 2015, when I was proof-reading the text we’d prepared for the new digital editions from Wizard’s Tower Press. This was the first time I’d really engaged with these stories and characters since Eastern Tide was published in 2006. I’m pleased to say I thoroughly enjoyed the process. The books held up well for me as an author, and as a reader, I found the story really exciting! At a couple of points, I genuinely caught myself wondering what’s going to happen next?! I knew the situation, whatever it was, would be resolved, but I had honestly forgotten exactly how?
Perhaps it’s because I was engaging with these books at least as much as a reader this time around that I began to see other things. There’s a young soldier who falls off a battlement in the first book, Southern Fire. As the writer, I hadn’t given him a second thought, because my focus was on Daish Kheda, the warlord whose personal journey drives the narrative of this whole series. As a reader though, now I kept wondering what had happened to that young man who had disappeared into the darkness…?
As I read the following books, I found I had other questions. Kheda goes on his journey, but life at the home he has left goes on without him. Some of the consequences of this become apparent, as other people’s paths cross his own, but as a writer, my focus always stayed with his story. As a reader though, I found I wanted to know more of what had gone on without him. What lay behind the choices and decisions made by the people he had left behind…?
I am a writer first and foremost. That said, I’ve always found inspiration in the questions keen readers have asked me. Now that I was the curious reader, these questions just wouldn’t go away. Ideas stirred. In between other projects, I began writing a series of linked short stories that sit between the volumes of The Aldabreshin Compass. These can be read on their own, as well as offering added depth and insights for those who’ve read the Compass sequence.
So I started with that fateful night when Daish Kheda was so treacherously attacked, and his faithful retainers risked their lives to defend him. You can find the free ebook here, along with other free reading from Wizard’s Tower Press, and the ‘Colinthology’ which raises money to support Bristol hospitals.
When I was asked to offer a story* for this digital anthology, I immediately said yes. So did a whole lot of other writers, making this an outstanding collection of quality short fiction. All proceeds are being donated to support NHS staff and other healthcare workers.
So for £5.99 you get 53 stories, 253,000 words of fiction, including several pieces that are original to this volume, featuring some of the finest writers of science fiction, literary fiction, fantasy, horror, and more. Click here to buy it
Boost the signal! Spread the word! And raise a cheer for Ian Whates of Newcon Press, and those who helped him, for doing an amazing job so quickly.
* I opted for The Sphere, previously published in the 2016 ZNB anthology Alien Artifacts
Oh yes, says you, I remember it, Christopher Ecclestone and Simon Callow, great episode! Ah well, says I, it so happens I wrote a different story before anyone knew what Mark Gattiss was doing for the first season of the Doctor’s return.
Back in 2004, Paul Cornell was editing a Christmas anthology for Big Finish, and invited me to submit a story. I really enjoyed writing ‘Who the Dickens…?’, researching all the detail was fascinating, and Paul was very pleased with it. All was well until … the BBC spiked it. Sorry, that particular story was a no go for the forthcoming book.
Everyone was very nice, and thoroughly professional, and I was paid, and so while I felt a bit wistful, I didn’t feel in the least hard done by. These things happen with licensed property work. And when the new series aired, all was explained!
The story stayed in my computer archive because unlike a story of my own, I couldn’t sell it elsewhere, obviously. Then Paul contacted me earlier this year to ask if I’d ever done anything with it. No, as I explained, as far as I recalled without digging out the contract, the copyright and intellectual property rights belonged to Big Finish and the BBC, as is standard for such work. It would never see the light of day unless the powers that were gave their approval. Let me talk to a few people, says Paul…
As regular readers will know, I’m a great fan of ZNB’s anthologies, both as a writer who regularly contributes and also as a reader. The themes are always intriguing, drawing out entertaining stories, while the rigorous editing ensures a high standard indeed.
Add to that, ZNB always hold open submission slots for debut writers. They hold these stories to the same high standard and that means this is a publishing credit well worth having. So I invited Joshua Palmatier to share a few thoughts for the benefit of those looking to place a story with one of this year’s proposed publications.
Zombies Need Brains’ latest Kickstarter started up on August 7th and, with the possibility of an open call for submissions if we fund, I thought that I’d spend some time talking about how you can better your chances of getting from the ZNB slush pile into one of our anthologies. The competition is pretty steep and only getting worse with each Kickstarter. (Last year, PORTALS had 550 submissions alone and we ended up taking seven; we had a lot of anchor authors for that one, though.) I’ve talked before about how to brainstorm your way to an idea that isn’t standard, but also isn’t so far out there it’s off theme. So let’s suppose you already have an idea of what you want to write. A core concept.
As you can guess, that’s not enough. We get a ton of stories submitted where, when I’ve finished reading the story (and I usually read all of the stories all of the way through, just in case), I end up saying, “OK, that was a cool concept, but there isn’t a story here.” In essence, the author wrote out their idea, but they haven’t yet taken the time to develop a story around that idea. And that’s key. It’s extremely rare for ZNB to accept a submission based on idea alone. This is why we rarely accept stories less than 2500 words or flash fiction–it’s not that the writing isn’t good, it’s that it’s difficult to get across a completely developed story in that short a timespan. It’s possible (I think we’ve accepted one or two in our past anthologies), but it’s rare.
The biggest element missing from the “only an idea” story is a character arc. Don’t get me wrong, there’s usually a character in the story, but the character is only there in service to the idea. The story needs to be turned around. The idea should be in service to the character, causing the character to change in some way throughout the course of the story. That’s what’s typically missing in the stories that I read from the slush. I want to be drawn into the characters and change along with them. So the character needs to be interesting, sympathetic, and above all engaging.
After capturing my attention, you need to hold it, so the pace needs to be fast. Remember, this is a short story. Each word needs to matter, so keep things tight and focused. Don’t let yourself wander into subplots and secondary threads or secondary characters, as you would with a novel. Keep yourself on track with the main idea. You can always expand the story later on into something larger if you want, but for now, focus. If you’ve already written the story, then during revisions you need to look at the main idea and cut everything else out. Narrow the story down to whatever is needed for the idea and the character arc. Everything else must go. Tighten, tighten, tighten.
Along the way, make sure that the character arc you’ve developed actually relies on the story concept. They can’t be two separate threads that you just happen to have woven into one story. If you remove the cool idea from the story, does the character arc still hold up? If the answer is yes, then you haven’t really found the story behind that idea. The character arc should collapse when the cool idea is removed, making the story impossible. The character’s change during the course of the story should come about BECAUSE of the cool concept.
So, when thinking about submitting a story to ZNB’s slush pile, start with a cool concept. Build an engaging character arc around that concept. Mesh the two together. Tighten the prose. Let it sit for a few weeks, then go through and tighten it again. Because that’s what we’re looking for: a tight, focused story where a cool concept and interesting character arc merge into a stunning work. Now, take these words to heart, sit down, and write that story. Good luck!
This post is brought to you by the Zombies Need Brains Kickstarter currently going on at tinyurl.com/ZNBApocalypse. Swing on by and check out the details for the three new anthologies we’re hoping to fund, including APOCALYPTIC, GALACTIC STEW, and MY BATTERY IS LOW AND IT IS GETTING DARK. Pick a reward level that suits you and back our project! We can’t do an open call for submissions unless we get funded. And once we are funded, sit down and brainstorm a cool idea, write it up, and send it in!
JOSHUA PALMATIER is a fantasy author with a PhD in mathematics. He currently teaches at SUNY Oneonta in upstate New York, while writing in his “spare” time, editing anthologies, and running the anthology-producing small press Zombies Need Brains LLC. His most recent fantasy novel, Reaping the Aurora, concludes the fantasy series begun in Shattering the Ley and Threading the Needle, although you can also find his “Throne of Amenkor” series and the “Well of Sorrows” series still on the shelves. He is currently hard at work writing his next novel and designing the kickstarter for the next Zombies Need Brains anthology project. You can find out more at www.joshuapalmatier.com or at the small press’ site www.zombiesneedbrains.com. Or follow him on Twitter as @bentateauthor or @ZNBLLC.