Writing Fight Scenes by Marie Brennan

WritingFightScenesIf you’re anything like me, fighting scenes are among the most challenging. Even if they flow when you’re writing them, they sound wooden when you go back. You spend twice as much time on fight scenes as any other scenes in the book, sometimes more than that. So you might be pretty excited about the title of this book. I know I was. In fact, it was one of the most exciting titles I saw in the Writer Tools book bundle.

Marie Brennan is an author who has not only written many fight scenes in her time but who also has some practical experience in both martial arts and fencing. She uses examples from her own work and life as well as some well known books and movies including The Princess Bride(definitely one of my favourite things about this book).

Writing Fight Scenes goes through all the important aspects of a fight scene: who’s in it, why they’re fighting, where they’re fighting and what they’re fighting with. It focuses primarily on how to weave the fight scene into your story and goes into great detail about how you can write an excellent fight scene without getting into much technical details.

Out of everything in this book, I found the sections about emotions and pacing the most useful. Pacing is definitely one of my biggest issues in a fight scene. I’m always torn between impressively long scenes to show off my characters’ skills and short, punchy scenes that focus purely on the chaos of battle. Reading this book has given me some excellent tools for deciding how to pace battle scenes in my next project–and how to improve pacing in the ones I’ve already written.

The section about different combat styles and weapons wasn’t quite as extensive as I would have liked, but I’m the type of person who would have been completely fine if this was a 700 page book that went into extensive, gruesome details–and I’m also smart enough to know that even that wouldn’t have been able to truly cover every style of fighting. Brennan does talk briefly about different types of swords as well as other common weapons like bows, maces and slings.

Overall I think most writers whose work involves battle scenes will get a lot out of this book, especially if most of their battle scenes are one-on-one or small group fights. Purchase your copy today and prepare to take your fight scenes to the next level!

Great writing isn’t about structure, it’s about emotions


I read this book in London!
I read this book in London!

What separates a great novel from a good one? What makes one book stand out in your mind forever while countless others drift off to be forgotten? What keeps you coming back to an author, time and time again?

Your first instinct is probably to say something very writer-y. Something about the kind of plot, the worldbuilding, the characters.

But it isn’t really any of those things. I mean, it is–these things are all important–but these are the superficial things. What really makes a great book stand out from a good one is deeper than that. It’s emotion, the emotion being poured out of the book and into you.

The best books can make us laugh in one chapter and have us crying in the next. They keep us awake at night, afraid or excited for what comes next. When you finally put the book down you’re exhausted, because the best books are like emotional roller coasters. You feel every success, every defeat as if it were your own.

Let me give you an example: Clariel by the amazing Garth Nix. Clariel is the fourth book in the Old Kingdom Series. Most of these books have been published for a while, but Clariel only came out last fall, right around the time I started re-reading the other books.

Clariel is actually a prequel. It’s a shocking glimpse into what the Old Kingdom was like before Sabriel, when you find the kingdom in dire conditions, but it’s more than that. It’s the kind of book where a character can die only a few sentences after you realize you really do like them.

About two thirds of the way through you realize exactly how this book sets things up for the future you encounter in the other books. It’s a heartbreaking moment, and I spent the rest of the book holding onto a faint hope that I was wrong. In fact, this book is written so well that right near the end I actually believed I had made a mistake.

By the end of Clariel I was in complete shock, with about four different emotions battling inside me. I actually had to take time to process it and come to terms with it, and I read the author’s note at the end (which explained a couple things, including the next book) about three times before I processed it.

But I wouldn’t think this was such a great book if it didn’t break my heart. The best books leave you with strong emotions, emotions you’ll have again whenever you talk about them. They don’t just have good characters. They make you feel with those characters.

What do you think makes an amazing book? Let me know in the comments below!

Author Spotlight: Matthew Munson

FallFromGraceI’m extremely proud to announce that I’ve partnered up with Inspired Quill Press to present a number of debut authors here on The Dabbler. Each author will share some of their journey to publication and advice for those of us still working towards our first book contract.

Matthew Munson is the first Inspired Quill author to join us, here to discuss his debut fantasy novel Fall From Grace. 

Please give Matthew a warm welcome.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Fall From Grace?

Absolutely. Fall From Grace is all about a trio of friends – Paul, Joseph and Lauren – who are caught up in the middle of a two-thousand-year old heavenly war. Paul is an ex-priest who is struggling to find his purpose in life, Joseph is a complete sceptic about anything otherworldly, and Lauren is the most spiritual out of the three, who wants to believe but also needs to know. During their exploration of what’s happening to them, they discover the secret truth about a very old rebellion.

2. When did you know you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

When I knew that I was allowed to! As a child and teenager, I always thought you had to have special qualifications in order to qualify as a writer. Well, that’s true, in a way, but the qualification you need is creativity, and you can’t necessarily study for that; you develop your creativity by reading, practicing your art through writing and discussion about books and words that you care about.

I discovered that this passion I had – that had always existed as a flame in the pit of my stomach – could be turned into a career by tenacity, hard work and creativity. I was in heaven!

3. If you could attribute your writing success to one turning point in your life, what would it be and why?

I was 10 years old, and I was in my final year of primary school. I hated geography, and I suspect that my displeasure was fairly obvious – so my sainted teacher, Mrs Cooper, allowed me to write a short story instead. It was about a cowboy who flew into space on the back of a dinosaur. When I’d finished writing it (and illustrating it too), no-one laughed at me or called me stupid; in fact, they encouraged me to continue and improve my writing.

Even before that, however, any moment that I was encouraged to read, voraciously, was a good time in my life; it showed me what I wanted to read, what styles I admired and what good writing looked like.

4. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?

You know, I really admire people who completely plan out their story before writing the thing. I can’t do that – and believe me, I’ve tried. No, I’m far more of a “pantser” – I write and develop the characters and plot as I go. It feels more natural and creative that way.

Being literal for a moment, I like to write at the “extremes” of the day; usually between 7am and 8am and then again between 7pm and 10pm. I can usually pound out 2 or 3,000 words in that time, and I spend the time in between on other things – usually making notes, emails and everything else that pays the bills!

5. Your novel centers around the concept of a war in heaven. Did you do much research into mythology before writing it?

Oh, very much. I went to a Catholic high school, so can honestly say that I’ve read the Bible from cover to cover and understand it from a textual point of view. I’ve also moved from a Christian to an spiritualist to an atheist, so I’ve been very much able to experience different points of view all within my own head.

I’m friends with people who are religious, spiritual and atheist, and they’ve all given me a lot of things to think about. I consider myself fairly open-minded and willing to accept other points of view, so it’s given me a lot of contextual information for the book and its sequel.

6. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?

The ending, as I hate to see the back of characters I’ve grown to love and care about. Paul, Joseph and Lauren were all expressions of different parts of my own life and journey, so it was hard when I wasn’t writing about them anymore. I initially coped with that by writing a sequel, but now that’s over to, I’m having to write something completely different so I can try and move on with the end of my baby!

7. What’s your favourite part of the writing process?

The blank page. Seriously, I love it. There are so many possibilities ahead of me there, and it excites me beyond measure.

8. If you could give an aspiring author just one piece of advice, what would it be?

Read everything. Don’t limit yourself to a particular genre just because it’s your favourite; I’m a sci-fi / fantasy geek, but I read thrillers, crime and adventure books as well; they help expand my mind and my writing ability. It’s how you learn.

9. What are you reading right now?

I’ve just started reading 11.22.63 by the sublime Stephen King; what a great writer that man is.

10. Are you working on anything readers can look forward to?

I hope so! I’m currently working on three books; a non-fiction book on dyspraxia, a condition I have, which is a collaboration with a friend of mine; a thriller provisionally entitled Darkness Falls and a sci-fi book – the first draft of which I’ve just had back from an editor I work with, Lin White. Life is very busy right now, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

MatthewMunsonMatthew Munson is a book hoarder and inveterate writer. There have been times when he’s realised that he hasn’t been listening to anything another person has been saying because he’s been planning a chapter in his head. He lives in south-east England by himself, which is probably for the best, as he spends a lot of time muttering to himself to see if dialogue works …

Purchase your copy of Fall From Grace today!

Don’t forget to leave any extra questions or comments you have for Matthew in the comments section below!

Why I believe in celebrating life instead of mourning death

Sir Terry Pratchett, April 1948-March 12th 2015
Sir Terry Pratchett, April 1948-March 12th 2015

Mourning someone we care about is natural, and we have to experience it to work through it, but our eventual goal should be to celebrate life instead of mourning death.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since Sir Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors, passed away last week. His long term struggle with Alzheimers was no secret, and although his death was premature and I do believe the world has lost one of its greatest minds, he died with dignity in his own home–not something a lot of Alzheimers patients get to do.

He also left behind a legacy of more than 70 books, most of them in the hilarious and yet deeply powerful Discworld series. His books inspired millions of readers across several generations. I don’t know anyone who picked up a Discworld novel and didn’t enjoy it–and I’ve convinced numerous people to pick up his books over the years.

I’ve read 10 of the Discworld novels, but I still have lots of Terry Pratchett to discover and plenty of world to explore, and I’m extremely grateful for that. Terry Pratchett himself is gone, but his extraordinary body of work remains for us all to enjoy.

Most people don’t leave behind that kind of legacy–even I’m not sure I have 70 books in me–but I still believe it’s important to focus on celebrating life instead of mourning death. The people we’ve lost might not have been successful authors and artists with a massive creative legacy, but everybody leaves something worth celebrating behind. There is something worth celebrating in every life.

Acknowledging death is important, but death–and the struggle of dealing with a long term illness–shouldn’t be the thing we remember about our loved ones. We should remember their lives, their smiles, their hugs and their accomplishments. The things that made you love them in the first place.

For this reason, I celebrate my dad’s birthday every year. I’m normally vegetarian, but on my dad’s birthday, I get a meal I would have eaten with him–usually a chicken dish from Swiss Chalet. Some years I also go to the movies, if there’s one he would have liked in theaters. Otherwise I go home and watch shows we used to watch together online. Either way, I spend the day celebrating his life, not cooped up in my house mourning his death.

Off the top of my head I don’t know Terry Pratchett’s birthday, but I do know how to celebrate his life: by reading his books whenever I have the opportunity and cherishing every one.

Death is part of life, the price we pay for the miracle of being born, the miracle of life on this planet. Everyone dies sooner or later, and it’s entirely possible to find yourself mourning forever, but a life spent mourning isn’t a life spent moving forward.

Choose to celebrate the lives of the people you’ve lost instead of mourning their deaths. If they made you happy during their lives, focusing on the happy memories is the best way to honour them when they’re gone.

Do you celebrate the lives of people you’ve lost? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

The Power of Re-Reading

The book I'm re-reading right now.
The book I’m re-reading right now.

As a kid I re-read books fairly often, but eventually I grew to hate re-reading books. I have a pretty good memory so if I’ve read it in the last couple of years, I’ll only find surprises if it’s a really well written book. Besides, there are so many amazing books I haven’t read, and more being published every day.

I’ll admit, I have a more personal reason: some of the books I loved most as a child seemed awful when I re-read them. The characters were flat or I had simply changed too much to like them. For the first time, I noticed pacing issues and once in a while even realized the story wasn’t all that interesting.

If you re-read books regularly, sooner or later this will happen to you. Still, revisiting a book you loved five or ten years ago is often worth the risk. After all, you loved it for a reason, didn’t you?

This time around, you’ll  also be reading like a writer. If you’re not familiar with the term, “reading like a writer” means thinking critically about the work as you read, making special note of what works and what doesn’t. You can take notes or highlight as you go, but I find this detracts from the reading experience–and I hate highlighting books.

And here’s the thing: even if you read like a writer five years ago, your tastes have still matured. We learn something from every book we read, whether we know it or not. We also learn something from everything we write, and if you’re here, I’d bet you’ve written pretty frequently for at least a chunk of the last five years.

Here are some questions you can ask  while reading to analyze a book you love:

  • What about this book stands out most to me? Is it the same thing I originally loved the book for?
  • Do I feel the same way about the characters I did when I was young?
  • How does the writer tap into my emotions? You can even ask this one in every scene if you want to be meticulous.
  • Does the dialogue still seem authentic?

If you’ve waited long enough, there will be surprises. You probably don’t want to re-read a book you read last year unless it’s extremely complicated and there’s a sequel coming out soon, but if it’s been more than four or five years, you’ll probably have forgotten quite a bit about the story.

In the highest caliber books you’ll also notice extra layers in the world, the characters and the relationships they have with each other and their world.

Re-reading books you love allows you to fall in love with those worlds all over again. What could be better than that?

Remember: if you realize you hate the book, you don’t have to finish it. Life is far too short to read books you don’t like. Make a note of why you didn’t like it and move on, no hurt feelings.

I’m re-reading Sabriel by Garth Nix right now. Have you re-read anything lately? Are you planning to? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

Author Spotlight: Keith Yatsuhashi

kojiki-200Today’s author happens to be one of my favourite people at Musa, and I’m thrilled to have Keith Yatsuhashi here to discuss his work. I haven’t actually read his novel, Kojiki, yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Please give Keith a warm welcome.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel, Kojiki?

Sure. Kojiki is the story of an eighteen-year-old Japanese girl named Keiko Yamada. Keiko lives in the US, but when her father dies unexpectedly, he leaves her with a mysterious note, telling her to go to Japan in his place and find ‘the Gate’. He gives no other explanation—just that her camera will show her the way. Not knowing what else to do, Keiko follows her father’s last wish and soon finds herself in the middle of a war between ancient gods and gigantic monsters. Even her own history isn’t what she believed it to be, and she soon learns her father kept a fairly significant secret from her. Battles ensue, the world stands on the edge of a knife, and a once noble god, now insane threatens to burn the world to cinders.

2. When did you first realize you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

I’ve always enjoyed story-telling. The first inkling came in high school. I hated doing term papers, so whenever I had to write one, I entertained myself by writing as fluidly and vividly as I could. I continued that in college, and that’s where I started to gain confidence. My professors said I had a real flair with words. A few suggested I pursue a career as a journalist or editorial writer. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I actually started to write what would be Kojiki. The reason was ridiculously simple. I had the story rattling around in my head, and I wanted to see if I could turn it into a book. At the time, I was daydreaming about how I wanted Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series to end. I remember picturing the final scened in my head and , knowing it wouldn’t play out like I was imagining, thought, “hey, I might have a book here.” Not long after that, my father’s last remaining sibling died. She was a fun-loving if eccentric woman. At her funeral, her sister-in-law told me a wonderful story about my family’s history—the origin of the name Yatsuhashi, what it meant, and how my grandmother’s ancestors actually fought to repel the Mongols when the famous kamikaze typhoon wiped out their navy. That was enough to fire my imagination. From then on, I committed to writing my first book.

3. What modern author do you admire most and why? (Modern = still alive in this context)

I have tremendous respect for fantasy author Brandon Sanderson. Tor Books tasked him with the herculean task of completing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series, which he did. Spectacularly. Just before the release of his first book in that series, (I think it was book 12), he agreed to meet with me at Book Expo America and offered tips and encouragement. I was as yet unpublished. He was gracious and insightful. I asked for 15 minutes of his time. He gave me 45! Apart from being an author who likes to help other authors, he’s fantastic with his fans, and it just so happens he writes really good books. I’m amazed at how many worlds he’s created, and how they’re each unique. The POV voices too. His characters really pop from the page. You’ll never confuse one with another. What a gifted writer/storyteller and a very nice person.

4. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?

I’m a big fan of Dragon Dictation software. We’re all stretched to the limit these days, and this software is a great help. I use it to get ideas down. I know this sounds like a commercial, but I like that the software transcribes recordings from about any source. I can dictate on my phone while driving, for instance, and Dragon will import it and convert it to text. Using it, halved the time it took me to write a first draft. I don’t use it for editing, though. There, you need to be precise. For me, the best way to do that is to upload my book to an e-reader and read a chapter as if it was any other book. No editing software, no opportunity to change anything. It’s just you and the book. You’d be amazed at how many errors you’ll find and how easy it is to see them. And not just the typos either. You’ll notice right away when the prose breaks down, when the flow stops, and when the story doesn’t make sense. I’ll highlight the rough spots then go back to my computer to dig into the edits. The beauty here is that you’ve highlighted what you need to work on. Once I’m done, I repeat the process until I can get through a chapter without feeling the urge to fix it.

5. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?

Waiting for the epiphany! I have this knee-jerk reaction to writing that “it’ll come to me” when I know that’s not true. You might get that flash of inspiration, but it’s never consistent. Sometimes, I have to force myself to sit at the keyboard and work through some really horrific writing until I get anything I can use. At first, it feels like a waste of time, but I always seem to get there.

6. What’s your take on writer’s block? Does it exist, and if it does, how can you cure it?

Because writer’s believe it exists then it does, right? My independent editor gave me the best take on this. She said writer’s block is your subconscious’s way of telling you something’s wrong with that part of the story. I think she’s right. Whenever I get stuck, it’s usually because something’s not working with that section. Her advice to me was to REALLY look at the preceding paragraphs. Once, she had me change an entire chapter to a different character’s POV. It was a good deal of work, but it broke the block and made the chapter so much stronger. So, when stuck, maybe you need to reconsider what’s on the page and overhaul it.

7. Why did you choose an ebook publisher over a print publisher?

I wish I could say I did a good deal of research, but the truth is Musa was the first publisher to make an offer. I didn’t sign right away, though. I weighed the pros and cons of going with an ebook publisher over continuing the agent search process. I was getting many agent requests for the full manuscript and was torn. In the end, I made my decision after reading about authors who signed with agents, but still couldn’t land a publisher. Just because you have n agent doesn’t mean you’ll land that deal. I figured, well, a publisher already wants me. Better to go with that then take the risk. I’m glad I did that too. I’ve found a lot to like about Musa. As a new publisher, I knew I wouldn’t get lost. That’s certainly been true. Musa’s been fantastic. They treat their authors like family and do what ever they can to help. They are also exceptionally well managed, which was one of the things I noticed right away. With the industry in flux, you want to be with a publisher that doesn’t over extend or try to do to much too soon. 

8. What was it like to work with an editor for the first time?

I was really nervous. After more rejections than I’d like to admit, I read an interview with author Steve Alten, who said hiring an independent editor was the difference that hooked an agent. I took that to heart and after attending a writers conference, I was lucky enough to find an incredible editor named Lorin Oberweger of Free-Expressions.com. Lorin went above and beyond our contract. She didn’t just edit my manuscript; she taught and mentored me. I give Lorin all the credit in the world. She took me from being a real amateur to where Musa took a chance on me.

Working with her was fantastic. She was always positive. Lorin has a way of looking at a very bad piece of prose and telling you its bad without hurting your feelings or shaking your confidence. I guess the best way of describing it is to call it a gentle touch. It’s like she was teaching me to walk one step at a time. Now, considering she has many clients, some pretty high profile, the fact that she took that much time with me was amazing.

My streak of good luck continued with Musa. My editors with Musa have a similar touch–that ability to say ‘this needs a little more work’ without being too…um…blunt about it.

9. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice, what would it be?

Hire an independent editor. Seeing errors in a work you’re so invested in is very hard. Family and friends will couch their comments and not be entirely honest. An independent editor is skilled at finding deficiencies in your work. It’s an invaluable investment. A VERY good editor will also teach you and give advice on how to become a better writer. I was lucky to find Lorin, and I’m indebted to her. She took a very rough manuscript and helped me get it publication ready.

10. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

I just finished a short story prequel to Kojiki called Torii. It came from some of the large backstory I had to delete. In Kojiki, those scenes slowed the book’s overall pace. I still liked them, because I saw them as intense battle scenes that really shows how the events in Kojiki came about. I’m also about 2/3 of the way through a follow-up to Kojiki. It’ll be a very different story. Kojiki’s character’s finished their arc. This is all new. After that, I have a YA apocalyptic romance/thriller in the works. I’ve been planning a murder thriller for some time now. It’s just a matter of getting to it.

Keith Yatsuhashi was born in 1965 in Boston, MA. He graduated from Northeastern University in 1989 and is currently the Director of the U.S. Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center in Providence, Rhode Island.Keith was a competitive figure skater for ten years, winning the U.S. National Junior Dance Championships in 1984, a bronze medal in the 1983 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, and a silver medal in 1984.

In addition to his love of writing, Keith enjoys many hobbies such as golf, reading, and playing football and hockey with his sons. Keith currently lives in Norfolk, MA with his wife, Kathleen and three children.

Guess what? I’m a steampunk blogger

theglasssealingI’ll admit, there’s no interview here today because I got distracted doing about a thousand other things: preparing for three book releases in the next three months, celebrating the release of The Caelimane Operation, editing one of my own manuscripts, starting a column on The Oak Wheel and writing guest posts for multiple other blogs.

But none of those things, as exciting as they are, are what I really want to announce today. I’ve also been working hard to revive the blog associated with The Darkside Codex. I’ll be posting a weekly column called Steampunk Musings and sharing both my thoughts on steampunk and interviews with fantastic steampunk artists.

Today is also your last chance to win books from The Darkside Codex blog, so head on over and check it out!

Direct links to Steampunk Musings articles:

The True Appeal of Steampunk

Meeting The Tinker’s Daughter

5 Ways to support small publishers (and why you should)

A strampunk anthology by one of several Musa authors I represent
A strampunk anthology by one of several Musa authors I represent

This month I’ve been talking a lot about how we can support great authors, and today I’d like to expand on that. It’s not only important to support great authors, it’s crucial that we support small publishers, especially if we want to become published authors ourselves.

Here’s the thing: there has never been a more exciting time in the history of humanity to become an author. Thanks to the digital revolution, there are more publishing options available than ever before, and the best thing for an author is options. With such a wide range of options available, authors can choose the best publishing option for them.

There are dozens of small publishers online, and the Big 5 are just that–5 big publishers. We might all daydream about getting published by the big 5 and having our books come out in shiny hardcover all over the world, but realistically, most of us are going to someday find a home with a small press. Many small presses focus on specifically print or ebook formats, but many also do both. The options are pretty much endless.

Small presses also tend to be more author focused, offering higher royalties and friendlier contracts. The sheer number of these publishers means you can choose exactly what kind of contract you want and what kind of company you want to work with.

If we want to continue having these options, we have to support small presses. Publishing is a huge industry, and it’s easy for voices to get lost in all the noise. Most authors go through a phase where marketing feels a lot like trying to yell through a tornado. Even most authors published by the big 5 don’t get a huge marketing budget to work with. Selling books is almost entirely up to the author and word of mouth.

This is even more true of small presses. To be heard above the noise, small press publishers and authors need people like us to support them.

How to support small press publishers & authors

1. Purchase books directly from the publisher’s website. Every third party vendor takes a percentage of royalties when they sell a book. When you purchase a book directly from the publisher’s website, all your money goes to the people who actually make the book: the publisher, the editors, the author.

I’m not saying you should never purchase books from Amazon or telling you to avoid the Kobo store, but if you’re purchasing a book you know is from an awesome small press, consider purchasing it directly from the publisher.

2. Always review books you enjoyed written by small press authors. Every author needs reviews to help them sell books, but the small press publisher with 3 reviews on Amazon will appreciate your review a lot more than the traditionally published author with over three thousand reviews.

If you’re not fully convinced, you can always read this article about why it’s important to review books you love.

3. Interact with them on social media. Writing reviews and sharing or retweeting an author’s content are obvious ways to support them, but I think people underestimate the importance of interaction. If you have 2, 000 or even 10, 000 followers but nobody comments on your blog or interacts with you on Twitter, you’re still going to feel like you’re shouting into the wind.

Taking the time to have a conversation with a small press author you love on Twitter or to comment on their blog can help encourage them to keep writing. Authors tend to be sensitive people. Many struggle with depression and pretty much all of us struggle with imposter syndrome, unable to acknowledge our actual skills and success. A single comment can brighten an author’s day and send them back to the keyboard eager to write.

4. Invite your favourite small press authors to take over your blog for a day. Most small press authors are always looking for new blogs to appear on and new audiences to reach. If your blog is related to fiction–or you can find another interesting reason to interview one of your favourite authors–reach out to your favourite small press authors and invite them over for an interview or guest post.

Don’t assume that your blog isn’t going to be helpful to an author just because it’s small. Every appearance helps, and every sale counts. And since small press authors tend to be among the friendliest people in the world, you’ll have a great deal of fun. You might even make some friends along the way.

5. Don’t just follow authors, follow publishers. I’d have a hard time naming a publisher with absolutely no social media presence. The vast majority of small press publishers have two or three social media channels, used to advertise new books and book promotions. Pick one to follow and pay attention when you notice  their logo.

Following publishers is often a great way to find out about blog tours, giveaways and discounts on books. Everybody likes discount books and interesting giveaways, so spreading the word about these events makes your followers happy and supports the publisher.

Publishers rely on readers for success, and you rely on publishers for books

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. We need publishers–self publishing is great sometimes but it doesn’t work for everyone–and they need us. We learn from great authors, and they can only keep writing the amazing books we learn from if we keep buying them. Our support is crucial to their success, and a solid reading education is critical to ours.

Even if you don’t write, a great author can be responsible for dozens of hours of entertainment. That’s worth supporting, right?

Do you go out of your way to support authors published by small presses? Let me know why/why not in the comments below!

Author Spotlight: Eric James Spannerman

One of the books I have on tour this month
One of the books I have on tour this month

January is the month of steampunk here at The Dabbler, and Eric James Spannerman is one of the Darkside Codex authors here to school us on steampunk and how exactly one goes about writing it.

Please give Eric a warm welcome and enjoy his thoughts on steampunk and writing. And don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the bottom of the page for a chance to win some amazing steampunk books!

  1. Can you tell us a bit about Applied Natural Magic?

Applied Natural Magic is the story of Charles Woodridge, a young professor in the city of Southwatch who hopes to improve the fortunes of the poor and secure his place among the elite by improving hydroponics. Of course, just because something is good and straightforward doesn’t mean it’s easy — reducing starvation and malnutrition proves to be surprisingly unpopular in some quarters. Along the way there are riots, financial scandals, magic-driven knife fights, murders and monocycle chases. And in the end, Charles has to face some unpleasant realities and make some tough choices.

  1. When did you decide you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

In a sense, I’ve been a professional writer for most of my working life.  My degree is in journalism, I was a Public Affairs Officer in the US Air Force, and worked as a technical writer or in jobs with a large technical writing component for over 20 years.

As for fiction, I worked on it pretty hard in college, but put it aside when I graduated. About five years ago, I made a serious effort, completed several stories and sent them out, but ultimately decided to concentrate on my day job instead. Finally, about two years ago, I came back to fiction writing with renewed focus and energy, and this time I’m definitely in for the long haul. Applied Natural Magic is the most significant result of that renewed commitment so far.

  1. Why steampunk?

Aesthetically, I’ve always found brass, leather, fine woods and intricate mechanisms attractive. However, in the case of Applied Natural Magic, I was grabbed more by the idea of Southwatch and The Darkside Codex than steampunk per se.

I like the opportunity to explore class relationships and economic issues from the standpoint of a place as starkly and obviously divided as Southwatch. I also like the sheer variety of characters and creatures available — light and dark fae, automatons with varying degrees of consciousness, and of course the whole gamut of human characters: devious aristocrats, men and women of science, and out and out criminals of various types. Not to mention lots of ordinary people trying to make their way as best they can.

  1. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?

At the very, very beginning I have vague ideas about scenes and characters. Usually, I don’t know how they’ll be used or how they’re connected, but I record them in Evernote notekeeping software, along with any other scraps of information that seem interesting. When enough of this activity seems to be coalescing into a project, I open an Evernote folder for it and collect all the relevant notes there.

When I feel like I’ve done enough “composting,” I start in on Randy Ingermanson’s “Snowflake” method, which involves a great deal of prewriting – character biographies, a scene-by-scene spreadsheet, plot summaries of progressively-greater length and detail, and so on. So far, I haven’t completed the entire process, but I always end up wishing I’d gone further than I did before I start a first draft.

I did the drafts for Applied Natural Magic and my current project as part of NaNoWriMo. I crank out a rough, messy draft that’s heavy on dialog (because I like writing dialog) and light on description (because I have to really think about description). The draft also typically has some glaring plot holes and places where I changed my mind, despite the planning.

When the first draft is complete, I spend several months cleaning it up. Early rewrites fix glaring problems, iron out continuity issues, and ensure the story and character arcs all “work.” Later passes through the manuscript are often focused on a single issue, such as making sure each character has a consistent “voice” when speaking. The final passes are focused on the fine points of grammar and punctuation.

  1. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?

Line edits and proofreading. I make this easier for myself by doing it in short bursts, and doing tricks like reading the pages out of order, or working through chapters backwards to get my mind off story flow and on to the details of the wording.

  1. Your first novel is part of a shared world series. Are you interested in writing novels within worlds of your own creation as well?

Definitely. My current project is a near-future world where debt slavery has made a comeback and formal duels have replaced the courts for many types of disputes.

  1. What are the biggest limitations of your chosen genre?

Probably the most restrictive thing about steampunk is that the social mores and basic social relationships are set, as is the “look and feel” of the surroundings. However, restriction in these areas leaves the author with a lot of freedom to experiment in others.

  1. Can you recommend some other awesome steampunk stuff for people interested in the genre?

Although it’s been out there for about 25 years, I can’t over-recommend The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Considered one of the genre-defining steampunk novels, it’s an alternate-history story in which the information-technology revolution takes place in the 19th century, driven by steam-powered mechanical computing, and is lead by Great Britain rather than the United States. The results are fascinating. I read the book before I knew that steampunk was a thing, and I was totally captivated by it.

One of my other favorite steampunk works is Girl Genius comics. Agatha is an amazing character, and I love the idea of a Europe ruled by Mad Scientists.

  1. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice, what would it be?

Write a lot and get good feedback.

The former is mostly a matter of deciding that writing is more important than something that you’re doing now, and making that decision a habit. The latter is mostly a matter of “finding your tribe”— gathering with smart, compassionate, skilled people with similar goals who are willing to tell you the truth.

These aren’t complicated things to say, but they are hard to do.

  1. What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

I’m planning some contributions to The Darkside Codex blog. I have some thoughts on a follow-up to Applied Natural Magic and on another TDC project involving airships and economic warfare with Atragon, but those are both definitely at the “composting” stage right now.

Eric James Spannerman has been a farmer’s son, a US Air Force officer, a technical writer, a computer support specialist and a business analyst, as well as being a writer of speculative fiction. Applied Natural Magic is his first published book. He and his wife live near Des Moines, Iowa.
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Author Spotlight: Chris Pavesic

The Caelimane Operation by Chris PavesicToday’s author, Chris Pavesic, is a very special lady. Not only has she published some excellent short fiction in her time, she’s also written a spectacular steampunk novel, The Caelimane Operation, the most recent novel in the Darkside Codex shared world series from Musa, to be released tomorrow.

Please give Chris a warm welcome and don’t forget to read until the end so you can enter to win some awesome books.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about The Caelimane Operation?

The Caelimane Operation is set in the shared world of the Darkside Codex. This world, which revolves around the city of Southwatch, was created by Celina Summers and Richard C. White. Stories in this world are based in the steampunk genre, but can have additional elements of science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, romance, paranormal, and/or noir.

After reading the Darkside Codex bible (a text which provides authors the basic concepts of a shared world) I was drawn to the religious concepts outlined by Summers and White. The Caelimane Temple is a powerful organization in the world they created, but it has been gradually losing influence with the general population due to many factors, including the Temple’s inability to banish the dark cloud of pollution that plagues Southwatch. I found it interesting that the Temple elders routinely send out members of the clergy on secret missions, called penusms, to spy on both the human population and the fae. From this scenario my story began to develop.

In The Caelimane Operation, the Temples to the Goddess outside of Southwatch have been burned and human followers of Dione murdered. A seemingly unstoppable army of the undead ravages the countryside. Suspicion for these crimes falls on the fae. It is believed by the human population that only a fae sorcerer could control the amount of magic necessary to raise such abominations. The fae were also the first to worship Dione and there are those among both the Seelie and Unseelie courts who resent the usurpation of their religion by humans.

Catherine, a Hierocrat in the Caelimane Temple, is assigned to infiltrate an annual gathering of the fae that includes members of both courts, find those responsible for the murders, and bring them to justice. With only the help of a traveling group of minstrels and a retired fae investigator, Catherine must solve the mystery before more people are killed. But with members of her own Temple and rogue members of the Seelie Court working against her, events do not unfold as planned.

  1. When did you decide you wanted to pursue writing as more than a hobby?

I have written stories, poems, and novels since I can remember. I have several short stories and poems that have been published in small print local venues. Two years ago I started to pursue this a more than a hobby and, in 2013, I made my first professional sale to Penumbra eMag. “Going Home” was the featured story in the H.G. Wells-inspired issue. (Yes—another steampunk connection!)

  1. If you could attribute your writing success to one turning point in your life, what would it be and why?

The turning point in my writing came when I decided to write the type of novels and stories that I enjoyed reading. Speculative fiction, steampunk, science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, young adult, and noir—these are the types of novels that fill my bookshelves. J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Jim Butcher, Agatha Christie, Piers Anthony, Douglas Adams, H.G. Wells, and Stephen King—these are the authors who have created story worlds that I have inhabited in my imagination.

  1. The Darkside Codex books are written in a shared world. Have you ever considered writing books within a world of your own creation?

Yes–I have two novels right now that are in the outline stage that are set in my own story worlds. I hope to start writing one of them in the spring.

  1. Can you give us a brief rundown of your writing process?

My process differs between short stories and novels. For short stories, I envision the entire story before I start writing—almost like watching a movie in my thoughts. Then I try to capture it in words.

For novels I tend to start with an idea that grows into a story question. (The story question is a way to summarize the plot of the novel in two or three sentences.) This is an important step for me because it helps to capture the core ideas of the story. For The Caelimane Operation I wrote the following story question:

When the Temples to the Goddess north of Southwatch are burned and followers of Dione are murdered, Hierocrat Catherine, a bard of the Caelimane Temple, sets out to find those responsible and to bring them to justice.  With only the help of a traveling group of minstrels and a retired fae investigator, Catherine must solve the mystery before more people are killed, but will she succeed when she finds herself pitted against members of her own Temple, rogue members of the Seelie Court, and a seemingly unstoppable army of undead?

I will then write a few chapters of the novel to get a “feel” for the story, and then develop an outline. I review the story question every time I sit down to write so that I can keep my focus on the core ideas and reference the outline for each chapter.

After completing a draft I ignore it for a few days. (This is generally hard!) I then start reading and revising.

  1. What’s the hardest part of the writing process for you and how do you make it easier for yourself?

The hardest part is taking time away from my family and friends to write. It used to seem selfish to sit in a room by myself and type words onto a glowing screen. Because of this, I tried to “force” writing into my schedule. I would stay up until the wee hours of the night, giving up sleep, in order to write. This was not the best idea for my health, wellbeing, or writing. (I never fell asleep at the keyboard, but it was close a few nights!) It took a while, but I did realize that writing can “fit” into my life. I schedule it into my day now, just like I would for any task I need to complete. I don’t feel guilty about working, gardening, or folding laundry. Why should I feel guilty about writing? Just because I enjoy it does not mean it is something I should omit from my schedule. Now if I stay up to the wee hours of the night, it is because I am reading a terrific book I just cannot put down.

  1. Steampunk is a relatively new genre to a lot of people. Can you recommend some good places for people interested in the genre to get started? 

Steampunk stories and novels have been part of speculative fiction for more than 100 years. Writers like H.G. Wells, Jules Vern, and Mary Shelly had steampunk elements in their writing.

In television, shows like The Wild Wild West (1965-1969), The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (1993), Legend (1995), Warehouse 13 (2009-2014), Dracula (2013), and the later seasons of Doctor Who (beginning in 2005 and continuing to the present) have steampunk influences. The Doctor Who Christmas Special, “A Christmas Carol “(2010), starring Matt Smith is an excellent example of the genre.

  1. Have you done any writing outside of the steampunk genre?

Yes—I enjoy speculative fiction of all types. I have written science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, young adult, paranormal, and noir. Fairy tales are a special favorite of mine.

  1. If you could give an aspiring writer any one piece of advice, what would it be?

I would like to share a bit of advice from another writer. Jim Butcher wrote the following on his Goodreads blog, and it is advice that really stuck with me:

YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD WHO CAN KILL YOUR DREAM. *NO ONE* can make you quit. *NO ONE* can take your dream away. No one but you.” (https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/10746.Jim_Butcher/blog)

I found this inspirational, and I hope that my readers do too!

10. What are you working on next that readers can look forward to?

Along with several short stories, I currently am working on the sequel to The Caelimane Operation tentatively titled The Fae Accord. I also have outlines for two other novels, one in the urban fantasy and noir category and one young adult novel set in a steampunk story world.

Turns out, Chris is also a talented video editor. Check out her book trailer below:


ChrisauthorphotoChris Pavesic lives in the Midwestern United States and loves Kona coffee, steampunk, fairy tales, and all types of speculative fiction. Between writing projects, Chris can most often be found reading, gaming, gardening, working on an endless list of DIY household projects, or hanging out with friends.

You can contact Chris at chrispavesic@outlook.com

 Stay connected at my Blog Facebook and Twitter.
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