Draw me like one of your French girls chubby middle age guys…

…or “Painting my backside is an odd job.”

There’s this neighbor of mine who is a professional artist. He’s done all sorts of stuff. He’s done covers for Hard Case Crime. He painted half of one of the LDS Church’s Illustrated Scripture books (I think the New Testament.) He paints a ton of pop art now. I hope to someday be able to hire him to paint a cover for StoryHack. One project he’s recently done is some James Bond commissions. He needed to put Oddjob in one, so he called me up, took my picture, then painted me into the scene. Well, at least the back part of me.

 

Now if we’re ever at the same convention, you’ll be able to recognize me from behind. If I’m in a suit at least.

If you want to check out more of his work, go to PaulMannArtist.com.

Start Thinking “Issue 2”

For those of you who are writing types, I’m finally clearing some time and brainspace for publishing Issue 2 of StoryHack Action & Adventure. I’ll update the submissions page, but I wanted to give the blog-following-faithful a heads up first.

I’ve been lucky to get a good variety of genres as submissions, and I’d like to do a include a couple more. For instance:

  • A treasure/artifact/McGuffin hunt. Think Indiana Jones or National Treasure.
  • A solid espionage story. I’m not a huge fan of Deus Ex Machina style gadgets or Mission Impossible-style masks.

Also, I just don’t get enough submissions of modern thrillers or urban fantasy. Not nearly enough.

I’ll still publish sword & sorcery, because I love it, but there are now several places to publish that, so don’t expect to see more than one per issue. Cell Phones & Sorcery, as I mentioned, would be a go.

And I go back and forth on this, but I think I’m back into liking the longer stories (9-12K word) again. I’d even consider a novella here and there.

The Importance of Characters

This is part of the Writing Tips from the Pulp Era series. It was published in Writer’s Digest August, 1943, and is now in the public domain. This one is kind of light on how-to details, but is an important concept to consider. It’s hard to get someone to read a story if he isn’t interested in the characters. Marian ended up writing often for TV, including a few episodes from the original Batman TV show.

Breath of Life

Marian B. Cockrell

No one thing in writing fiction is so important that nothing else matters, but I think that making the characters in stories individuals who are real and believable, instead of male and female puppets moved about by the author arbitrarily for the purposes of his plot with no consideration for their feelings (and how can one consider their feelings if he doesn’t know what they are?) is so important that it is impossible to write a good story without it.

It is said that there are no new plots. But there are new people. No person in the world is exactly like another, and no character in a story, presented by a writer who knows him well, is exactly like any other that was ever depicted by anyone else. Even such fundamentally exciting things as violence and death are interesting in fiction only according to whom they happen to. If the reader doesn’t care whether a character lives or dies, then whether he does or not is completely unlimportant.

If there is a man on a submarine who likes to be on submarines, then the fact that he is on one is not very interesting in itself, and the reader waits impatiently for something to happen that will arouse his Interest. But if the man on the submarine suffers from claustrophobia, why the mere fact that he is there, before any action whatever takes place, produces the sense of anticipation in the reader that is so important in persuading him to finish the story.

A plot has to be credible and interesting. Its basis may be quite fantastic, but the story is made perfectly credible if the people engaged in the action are the kind of people who would act that way. Or the plot may be about things intrinsically dull and Commonplace, but made absorbing by the kind of people these dull things are happening to.

I read an article in the Writer’s Year Book called “Tag Your Characters” and the general idea was to be sure and give each character some individual idiosyncrasy, such as a habit of biting his nails, or always remembering names, or never getting a haircut, so that the reader could always tell them apart. I think that is a step in the right direction, but to my mind arbitrary tagging merely for purposes of identification is sliding lazily over the most important thing in the story. The reader should be able to tell the characters apart with ease, without the device of having different colored ribbons around their necks. Of course, people do have idiosyncrasies, and the ones the people in the story have should be included, but they should spring from the personality of the character, and the writer should know very definitely what that is.

I have written a good many short stories, and have sold about a third of them. I searched for interesting, unusual plots (none of them were, very) and some of the stories sold and some didn’t. They were all written with the same care and in much the same style. On looking them over and analysing the plots, I have come to the conclusion that if synopses were made of them all, of the bare fiction, no one on earth could possibly tell which were the ones that sold and which weren’t. But on reading the stories the difference is immediately apparent. The ones which sold were stories about real, living people (I don’t mean portraits from life) who aroused the reader’s interest and anticipation before they had done anything at all.

And a character doesn’t have to be particularly unusual to be the kind of person people like to read about. He simply has to be alive. He can be the village idiot and have the reader palpitating with anxiety because he can’t find his other shoe, if the reader knows what it means to him to find it. The reader has to know him as a person-not a type, not a shadowy shape.

I don’t mean that one should go into tedious detail about the life and appearance and psychology of every character in his story. There isn’t time, and it slows up action. But the writer should know so much about his character that he can indicate his personality and emotions with very few words.

Suppose one decides to write a story about Joe, a typical high school boy. He will do this and this. So it is written, and it was supposed to be funny, or tragic, but somehow it doesn’t quite come off. So-suppose we start over.

What is a typical high school boy? And of course the answer to that is, there isn’t any. Well, what is this particular boy, who happens to be going to high school, like? The practical thing to do is write a short biography, a character sketch. What kind of people are his parents, how much money have they, what kind of home, what does Joe think of them, what kind of girls does he like, who are his friends, how does he stand in school, what are his interests?

By the time the writer has done a page or so about Joe, probably completely extemporaneous, he knows things about him that never occurred to him when he was writing the story the first time. And when he writes it over he may suddenly say to himself, “But Joe wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t feel that way about it at all. And if this happens to him, what difference does it make? He doesn’t care. Let that happen to him instead. That would be terribly important to Joe.” And that is the time when he changes his plot, and when he doesn’t try to jam Joe into the one he had originally, because Joe wouldn’t be comfortable there.

The writer knows Joe so well by now that the reader knows him too, and if Joe is made to act or react unnaturally the reader will resent it. And there are things in the story about Joe that reveal his personality, things the writer couldn’t have put in the first time, because he didn’t know them himself.

If the writer is absolutely determined to use the original plot, why he must change Joe’s name (because by now he knows Joe too well-he’ll have to write it about someone else) and invent a boy who would do those things, and feel them; and then he’ll write with conviction and the reader will feel what he feels.

In writing a book, of course, convincing characters are even more important than in a short story, and one should be especially thorough in getting acquainted with his people before he starts writing. Even then they will grow and develop and sometimes run away with the plot entirely. And a plot that has been run away with is usually a good plot, for the people in it have had enough vigor in them to insist on being themselves.

These things apply to any kind of story. It is perfectly possible to lay down a detective story with a yawn in the midst of spouting blood and sudden death. I have read a great many detective and mystery stories where the sole interest of the reader could only be the mental problem of who done-it-and a few where the characters were so interesting to read about that the book would have been good whether anybody ever got murdered or not. And these are the best ones, and the most successful. They are interesting novels.

In writing any kind of story it is important to remember that in fiction nothing is important except in relation to the people it happens to. Anything can be important if it happens to, or is done by, the right person. If a writer has a character, or characters, who are interesting and unusual personalities, they can go through the most commonplace actions and incidents, and hold the reader’s interest completely. Or an unusual or exciting plot can be written about the most ordinary run-of-themill people, and if they are real and alive they can produce an absorbing story merely by their reactions to an unusual situation.

Having written the paragraph above, it occurs to me that of the two books I have written, the first was about ordinary people faced with an unusual situation, and the second was about an unusual girl’s reactions to the most everyday experiences possible.

A friend of mine, who has read innumerable books on writing, read the second book in manuscript form, and told me when she had finished, that if she didn’t know already that the book had been sold, she could tell me dozens of things that were wrong with it.

“The fact that it’s sold doesn’t mean that it’s perfect,” I said. “But did you find it interesting to read?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “I was so afraid that girl was going to marry Martin. But
I think you should have more in it about Giles.”

“But he’s just a sub-character, and the rules you’ve been talking about-”

“I don’t care about the rules. I liked him. I want to know more about him.”

“There you are. There are dozens of things wrong with it. It would be a better book if there weren’t. I’ve written only two books and don’t know as much about novel construction as I should. But the characters are alive and make you intersted in them, and anxious to see what happens to them, and the book is going to be published because of that, and in spite of the dozens of things that are wrong with it. And if the construction were perfect and the characters dead it wouldn’t have been. Maybe next time I can get them both right, but the people in it are the part that has to be right no matter what. (I did put in more about Giles, because I had got interested in him too).

Successful fiction is fiction that is interesting to read, in which the people behave consistently and don’t let the reader down; and one may follow every rule of construction in all the books and still come up with something anyone would go to sleep over. Or one may write a story which contains flagrant violations of some of the rules of the how-to-write boys, and still know that it is right and the way it ought to be, and someone will buy it while his drawn-with-a-ruler stories are still making the weary rounds.

I don’t mean that one should ignore the sensible and helpful rules that are generally acknowledged to be good. But if a writer finds he can’t use them in a particular instance, he shouldn’t let them get in his hair.

If a writer with any ability to express himself knows his characters and presents them faithfully without trying to twist them out of shape to suit him, and has them do and experience things that are important to them, he has accomplished the most important thing in fiction writing. All the other things one has to learn are important too, but not that important.

Emotion and Storytelling

This is part of the Writing Tips from the Pulp Era collection. It’s from the October, 1940 issue of Writer’s Digest, which is in the public domain. This is the third and probably last article I’ll be posting from this issue.

TL;DR – Your readers will feel something while reading your work. So give them a protagonist to relate to with big emotions.

Let Yourself Go

James H. S. Moynahan

Roger Torrey, who does the Marge and McCarthy series in Black Mask, stopped over at the house one Sunday afternoon with Helen Ahern, and I asked Helen how she was doing on a story she’d been working on.

Roger winked at me. “She’s holding her own,” he said, mock-loyally. “She’s still on page 26!”

Helen joined in the general laughter. She knew the we all knew, too.

The casual quip started me thinking. Why do we strike those impasses, and what gets us out of them?

I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the most important factors is this: We stall because we don’t feel our story. We have a few rough ideas, but no strong emotional reaction to them.

Steve Fisher, whose stuff you have read in Liberty, Cosmo, and will read shortly in the Post, puts plenty of study into this business of what makes a yarn tick. After I saw the Dorothy Lamour picture Typhoon, which carries story credit in big letters on the screen for Steve, I asked him what, in his opinion, did he consider the most important factor in selling his stories.

“That’s easy,” he said. “Mood is easily the most important essential. Back in the days when I was writing pulp, I used to fly in the face of editorial tradition in a lot of offices by turning in stories that had a strong emotional pitch running through them. You had to write action to sell, of course, but I always tried to include that other element, an emotional tone that held throughout the story. Hit that and hold it, and your story writes itself.”

The story we had been reading and discussing was a mood-picture of the war in France, held together by a mounting sense of impending tragedy that reaches its peak in battle and hospital scenes. In these it was not difficult to feel the impact of the writer’s emotional reaction to his material.

He didn’t just report them mechanically; he threw himself into the soldier’s stat of mind; his desperation, his fury, his resignation, his despair.

Such writing calls for telling in the first person, as you would set down your feelings in a letter to a friend. In a third person story the same emotional writing would seem forced and patronizing, as if the reader were too stupid to gather what the hero’s emotions must have been from the recital of the events themselves.

So there you have it. Unless, that is, you think Steve doesn’t know himself why he sells!

For my part, I think he’s got something. I’d like to go a little further with it, though.

l’d like to see whether we can’t examine this business of mood, and discover just how to evoke it in the reader. Steve feels it–and he writes it as he feels it. I think you’ve got to do that, ultimately, but maybe there are some steps that precede the writing. Let’s see what does move people,

I’m not going to be chump enough to try and get you dabbing at your eyes over bits lifted from stories. So, even if you weep at card tricks, l don’t think I’m letting you in for any emotional orgy. What I hope to do is illustrate a principle, and show you how you can use it to lift the pitch of your own yarns, this excerpt’s from The Blue Light, Private Detective, August, 1939, by Henri St. Maur. The detective, Fort, has just phoned his client that the murder mystery has been cleaned up.

He hung up, turned to Judy, (His office assistant) “Well, sweet, that’s how it is. Now if you’ll tell me what Stoughton did with the pistol-the little twenty-five he had when you conked him this morning-we’ll have him sewed up.”

Judy started at him. “I conked him?”

Fort said impatiently: “Stop it. Stop it! Are you asking me to believe that a timid kid like this Armitage girl wouldn’t run for her life if she saw Stoughton in my office? No, what happened, darling, was that you saw him going for her, and you conked him. It wasn’t till after he’d worked on you with that Tyrone Power act of his that you fell, What’d he do-promise you a cut on the take if you planted the card on my desk?”

Judy’s lips peeled back from her teeth and she clawed the little gun out from the bosom of her dress. Fort jumped at her, slapped the gun down.

“Don’t make it worse, you little fool!” he said. His voice held only bitterness. He twisted the gun from her singers, put it in his pocket.

“Get out of here,” he said in a low, controlled voice. “Get out of here.”

The girl looked pitifully at him, “Oh, Al, I-”

“Get out,” he said between his teeth.

She looked at him, lowered her eyes, went through the door.

Fort, blood dripping from his slashed arm, watched her take her hat and coat from the rack, go out without looking back.

Behind him the Armitage girl said: “Oh, Mr. Fort, do you suppose they’ll get my things back?”

Fort said, not looking around: “Maybe.” His lips were shut white. His fists were knots.

She said: “Maybe you could work on it for me.”

Fort didn’t turn. “Maybe I could,” he said slowly. “Maybe I could.”

In Roger Torrey’s Party Murder, Black Mask, April, 1934, a police Captain has just learned of the death of his daughter.Dal Prentice is the hero, a lieutenant of detectives. He is phoning.

He could hear somebody say say: “Hold it!” then: “You, Dal?”

“Uh-huh!”

“Dal! They just picked up the… what’s left of my girl off Aldena Boulevard. She’s been dumped out of a car.”

“Oh… my… good… lord!”

“Dal! Doc says her head was just beaten in. Let that go and come down.”

After some discussion, Prentice hangs up.

The phone clicked and Prentice turned a somber face to his audience, (His two partners and a prisoner).

“Cap’s feeling bad, They found his girl for him.”

Peterson (one of the police detectives) said: “I’ve got two and I could hear what was said…”

Let’s start with these two illustrations. Can you see what they have in common? Can you see how, in the complete story they might tend to evoke enotion in the reader? And why?

The explanation for the reader’s emotional reaction is this: empathy-or, if you prefer, sympathy.

Have you over wondered why mob will react so violently to things that its members, as individuals, might very well ignore? Or why a comedy is funnier in a full house? Or why you can read a headline: Thousand Chinese Slaughtered in Battle, with dry eyes, and yet weep over a dead puppy of your own daughter’s?

The answer is sympathy. Emotion is catching. A loud, angry, furious voice makes us irritable even if it is not addressed to us at all. Its mere sound evokes anger in us.

Thus, in the examples above, we take our cue from the characters’ emotional reactions. Had the writers made the characters meet these emotional crises with indifference, we ourselves should not be moved, but should find ourselvesmeeting the challenge of the situation with the same emotional indifference.

For example, in the first excerpt, substite for words like “bitterness” words like “amusement,” “boredom,” “indifference.”Watch what happens to the emotional tone.

For: “His lips were shut white. His fists were knots,” substitute: “He glanced down idly at his nails. They were clean and smmetrical.”

High spot in the Torrey excerpt is the point where Peterson says: “I’ve got two and I could hear what was said…” Just as Peterson, himself a father, is quick to respond with ready sympathy to the news of his chief’s tragedy, so the spectacle of a fellow human being responding thus to a situation tends to make us automatically respond in the same fashion. And note here that we might have responded with anger, with indignation, with despair, with indifference, or any number of shades of emotional reaction. Later in the story, when other characters become angered over developments, we find our own pulse rising, too.

Now the point, for you, is this. If you write a beautiful scene, full of menace, terror, and fury, and in it you show no character reacting to these stimuli as you wish have your reader react, what do you do now?

You take the yarn out, and carefully write in passages showing how the characters react to your menace. And remember: The more moved they are by story developments, the more moved your reader is going to be. Up to a point.

That point is incredibility. If you go too far-if you have your heroine throwing a wing-ding at his frown, like Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt, then you must expect your reader to say: “Sa-a-ay! What is this! Take it easy, will you!”

The trick is to force the emotion, to make your characters react as violently as possible or as deeply as possible to a given situation, but only up to a point which is still logical, and credible. Overdo it, and your drama will spill over into laughs.

Now not all this depicting of your characters reacting emotionally will be done by saying to the reader in so many words: “My hero is gritting his teeth. He’s biting his lips.” I think some of the biggest kicks a writer gets out of his trade is working out more subtle ways of showing these reactions without describing them in so many words.

For example, the way Fort, in the first excerpt, reiterates: “Get out of here.” We don’t say he’s obsessed with that single idea, but can it be done more effectively? We could tell the reader that the Armitage girl is a silly, self-centered little fool who misses entirely the significance of what his secretary’s treachery means to Fort. But her insensibility, so necessary here for contrast, is brought out in her complete preoccupation with her own lousy little “things.”

Note, in the Torrey excerpt, that the reader is not beaten over the head with adjectives, the distracted father is only a voice, yet we sense his controlled agony better than if we were having it described to us. You can do a lot just with the use of a person’s first name, as you see here. And note the grimness of Peterson’s “l’ve got two, and I could hear what was said.” We can just see this big, human cop holding back his feelings and resolving to handle this murder as if it had been one of his own two kids that had been the victim.

Instead of cluttering up your next yar?n with long descriptions of your characters’ emotional throes, try seeing how much you can do with dialogue alone. Try figuring out how many devices you can hit upon to do the work instead. For example:

“B-but I can’t g-go in th-there! Do you want me to be k-killed!”

“John. Please, now, John! He’s just a child. John, ple-e-ase!”

“Will you shut up!”

“I… see. A wise guy, huh?”

“Why you, you… !”

And so on. Repetition, stammering and stuttering, meaningful pauses, desparing wails, little intimate, impulsive appeals-give dialogue first chance at delineating these.

Where you do find the need for pantomime, use it as sparingly as possible. That is to say: One good effect is worth ten mediocre ones. For economy of effect, James M. Cain’s The Postman. Always Rings Twice will well repay any study you may give it. You will find numberless effects such as the part where the new helper, finding himself alone with the Greek’s wife, locks the door and comes inside carrying a plate and fork as an excuse to make conversation. When he says: “The fork on the plate was rattling like a tamborine,” he’s told you everything.

One more thing. Rules for writing are never of much use until their employment has become second nature and you no longer think consciously about them. Don’t expect these suggestions to help you right away. They may even confuse you and upset your writing for a while.

But here’s one rule for evoking emotion I can give you that you can put to work right away, and one that won’t give you any trouble. It’s this:

Let yourself go. When you’re writing about emotion, throw yourself into the feeling you want the character to experience, and write out of your own emotion. If you can do that, then everything I’ve told you above is just the malarkey, because you’ll do it instinctively so much better that any rules, no matter how effective, must necessarily step aside for reality. Because that’s what you’ll be writing.

Become a Better Writer by Following this One Simple Rule

This is part of the series Writing Tips from the Pulp Era, which is a collection of now-public-domain articles. Click the link for a full list.

This one comes from the October, 1940 issue of Writer’s Digest, which is in the public domain. The short version is this: Always send out/publish the very best fiction you are capable of producing. No phoning it in.

A Very Simple System

by William Benton Johnston

I would rather sell a good story to Grit for five dollars than a bad one to Collier’s for five hundred dollars.

Screwy? In view of the fact that I ama professional writer-and plan to continue in this business-I think not. The good story would advance me toward my ultimate goal; the bad one would take me back a step. Against this, four hundred and ninety-five dollars loses significance. I’m no long-haired artist. I’m almost bald and an a hardworking “money writer”.

In the beginning, I evolved a very simple plan: to select a plot and write a story I around it, putting into every paragraph the very best of my ability.

You’ll probably say: “I’ve read some of your stuff that was awful tripe.”

True enough, but it was my best at the time and I have no apologies for it; only regrets.

After eight years and some two hundred and Seventy-five published stories-and read hundreds of theories–I’m using that same system. Perhaps it is because I am too dumb to learn a better method, or because te old one has supported me, and my family, all those years.

Some beginner, confused by so much varied and often complicated advice, may find the
simplicity of this one-rule system a steadying influence.

Using it, I do not write a pulp or a slick yarn; I write a story and do my damndest to make it good. This may seem artless and unorthodox, but here are some actual results:

(a) A short-short, written with a one cent market in mind, sold for forty cents per word.

(b) A western, intended for the pulps, landed me in one of the big weeklies, to which I have made three subsequent sales.

In 1933, I was doing a few yarns for All-America Sports, at twelve to fifteen dollars per story. I had such a script in my pocket, ready for mailing, one day when I met Henry G. Rhodes on the streets of Memphis. He read the story and suggested that I try a thirty-five cents slick with it. The yarn was bought and featured; since then I have sold that publication thousands of dollars worth of fiction, with only one rejection.

Doesn’t going over each story, putting everything you have into it, cut down on production? Yes, it does. My agent sometimes calls me on the carpet about this, but in other letters, he says:

(a) “Enclosed herewith is my check for the story which we sold to [X] last week. The story wasn’t so wonderful; the plot material was trite indeed, yet I must admit that excellent writing and careful characterization put it across…”

(b) “We felt all along that this one, despite the fact that you really dovetailed two stories into one, would sell, for it had the virtues of being beautifully written and of presenting real living human beings.”

In trying to prove that constant efforts at perfection pays, this article may seem, a personal success story. Nothing could be farther from truth. I’m nowhere near the top and I may never get any closer. I mentioned that my writing has supported a family for eight years. Supported, in this instance, is a flexible word. Sometimes the going was pretty tough, and the meals anything but pretty. The family’s attitude has been swell, taking the cornbread and peas along with the caviar-and no grumbling.

For the past eight years and a half, ít hasn’t been so bad, because I have been fortunate in having the assistance of an agent with a keen story sense and a broad knowledge of markets. So now I just write the yarns and he sees that my efforts are shown to the proper books. Even the dog, Amos, is getting fat.

All this in defense of my simple system. Now let’s see how it works-in practice.

Several years ago, I was writing a serial and having a hard time with the plot (long fiction has always been my nemesis). The finished story was far from satisfactory. In fact, the whole thing was so hopeless that I grumbled about the long and tedious work of rewriting it paragraph by paragraph, cutting out every word that I could and re-casting clumsy sentences.

A writer friend of mine said: “Send it out a time or two ‘as is’-maybe you’ll get a nibble.”

It was a temptation. That kind of re-write on a serial adds up to work. Yet I decided that anything was better than making too bad an impression on editors. It took a couple of weeks to go over the manuscript and polish it up.

Mark Mellen was editor of Post Time. I sent the story there. In due time, came a letter:

“Your ‘Valkyre of Cumberland Hall’ received and first installment has gone forward to illustrator…

“I had another serial on my desk, with perhaps a better plot, but not so well written as yours…”

I have that original script in my desk, together with the revised version. Let’s look at the changes. Not particular good writing ín eíther ínstance, but the differerence between a rejection and a substantial check.

(a) Original.

The sale of stock to Cumberland Hall was successful so far as attendance went and when ít was over, the old shedrow was empty save far the one occupied by Tallahatchie.

After the crowd had drift£ed away, Betty and Allen sat in the office. Allen’s face was clouded with worry.

“The auctioneer did his best,” he admitted “and we sold them all, still we lack $2,400 and the note is due tomorrow.”

Betty looked at her bank book.

“We have $1,900 here, Allen.”

“You need that for current expenses.”

“We’ll live on bread and water. Mr. Gray must be paid in full. For some reason he wants Cumberland Hall- and badly.”

Allen figured again. “All of which comes to-five hundred short.”

“You can cipher up the darndest things.” Betty laughed. “Here, take this, jump in your roadster, drive down to Nashville and sell it.” She slipped a diamond ring from her finger and passed it across the desk.

“But, Betts, that was your graduation present.”

“Never mind; Gray must be paid.”

Allen drove away and, in the late afternoon, hitch-hiked his way back to Cumberland Hall.

“Where is your car?” Betty asked when he walked up the graveled drive.

“A crazy guy in Benjestown offered me six hundred and fifty bucks for it. Imagine a goof that screwy!”

He took the ring from his pocket and” lessly tossed it to her.

“Here’s your glassware; we won’t need it now.”

With a little cry, Betty ran down and flung herself into his arms.

“That car was the only valuable possesion you had left. Allen, you should done it.”

She pushed him away and looked at him. “If I lost Cumberland Hall and everything else I have in the world, I’d be rich having you, Allen Lamar.”

(a) Revised Copy.

When the stock sale was over, Tallahatchie was all that was left of Cumberland Hall stables.

“The auctioneer did his best, Allen admitted to Betty, “and yet we’re five hundred short.”

She slipped a diamond ring off her finger and gave it to him. Take this to Nashville and sell it.

“But, Betts-”

She said it again, “Take it to Nashville and sell it.”

Allen returned in late afternoon, walking. “A guy in Benjestown bought my car,” he explained.

“Imagine, six hundred bucks for that old wreck!” He gave Betty back her ring. “We don’t need to sell it now.”

For a moment she stood there and stared at him, then came down the steps very slowly and put her arms around him.

“If I lose Cumberland Hall and everything else that I possess,” she said gently, “I’ll always be rich–as long as I have you.”

(b) Original.

Jed Huskins came around the beech tree and shook hands with Jurden.

“What you want with me?”

“I got a job for you.” Jurden told him.

“What is it?” Jurden took out a wallet and counted from it a hundred dollars. “Sometime this morning, Jed, a horse van from Cumberland Hall Stables is going to leave Benjestown for Louisville. Now, that van will have a big black horse with a white star in his face, aboard. I don’t want that horse to go a bit farther than these hills; I want him taken from the van and killed, see?”

Jed Huskins thoughtfally took a chew of home-made twist tobacco.

“That van will have to come close to here; it’ll have to come right along Durveen Pike,
the lonliest stretch of road in this country.”

“Exactly.” Jurden grinned evilly. “It ought not to be much trouble.”

Huskins reached out and took the money.

“It won’t be no trouble a-tall,” he drawled.

(b) Revised Copy.

Jed Huskins came around the beech tree.

Jurden said, “Jed, I’ve got a job for you.”

“What is it?”

Jurden opened his wallet and counted out a hundred dollars. “Sometime this morning, a Cumberland Hall van is leaving Benjestown for Louisville; a black horse with a star in his face will be aboard. I want that horse removed from the van and destroyed.”

Jed Huskins took out a plug of tobacco and bit off a chew. “The van will come along Durveen Pike, the lonsomest stretch of road in this here country.”

Jurden grinned. “Exactly-it ought not to be much trouble.”

Jed reached out and took the hundred dollars.

“No trouble a-tall,” he said.

~

Let me try to prove, in another way, that I write without the handicap of slants, pulp or slick. The opening paragraphs quoted below are from four of my stories: two pulps and two slicks. Can you denote any particular difference?

(1) The house was new and unmellowed, and the cleared ground around it made a brown scar on the green, far-reaching length of the valley. Yet there was already a home-like atmosphere here, manifest in bright curtains and planted flowers and consideration of small details which showed a woman’s care and pride.

It was a pretty place, too, with the up-sweep of the hills back of it and, beyond these, stony summits making their high, irregular pattern against the sky. Before it, the mesa ran into the far distance, smooth and flat and unbroken. (“Homesteader,” Dime Western, Feb., 1940.)

(2) Mrs. Molly Brown’s cottage stood on the outskirts of the little town of Barclay. It was a neat place, with orderly hedges and close-cropped lawn. In the rear, there were clean, well-arranged chicken runs and row after row of apple trees. Just outside the front gate, a sign announced that apples, fresh yard eggs and blooded Minorcas and Plymouth Rocks were for sale. (“The Eye of Death,” Secret Agent X, Feb., 1938.)

(3) White thunderheads lay like puffs of carnival taffy against the blue dome of the China sky. Wayne Driscoll, with a veteran’s instinct for advantage, lurked in the blindspot of the the sun and throttled the Curtiss combat ship to idling speed. The deadly little plane fretted as a high-strung thoroughbred fret under heavey, restraining wraps.

Wayne chuckled: a hell of a place to be thinking of horses. Seven thousand feet above the broad Yangtze, with Nanking sprawled like a helpless giant before the Japanese bombers coming over Pootung from their carriers anchored at the mouth of the Whangpoo.

Yet the human mind sometimes becomes strangely detached during crucial moments, groping into the past as if attempting to fix clearly old, familiar scenes against the endless stretch of eternity. (“No More Guns,” Turf ard Sports Digest, June, 1939.)

(4) There was an unrealness about the entire scene, as if someone had splashed gay
colors against a grim and sombre canvas.

First, the flowers blooming in the arid soil beside the walls of the old Territory prison. Then the little girl, with her deep blue eyes and bright print dress, leaning against those drab, tragedy-enclosing walls, laughing at something the Maricopa said as he lugged water up from the Colorado and filled a barrel at the garden’s edge. Then, too, the mere fact that the Kid was there, carrying water for flowers and making a little girl laugh and follow his movements with adoring eyes. (“A Well Remembered Kiss,” Liberty, June, 1940.)

~

I remember reading an article by a “million-words-a-year man” in which he ridiculed the idea of going over and rewriting pulp material. He said, in effect, “Rewriting or revising cent-a-word stuff is equivalent to getting half a cent for it—slave wages. Better to hammer it out, charge off your rejections and let volume take care of you.”

I watched the progress of this man for quite a time. I’ve forgotten his name, but he was contemporary of H. Bedford-Jones, Ernest Haycox and Cleve Adams. The conclusion is obvious, isn’t it?

I know the old gag about “An amateur writes a story and looks for a market; a professional looks at a market and writes a story.”

Naturally I “study markets”; a thing which every writer must do. But it doesn’t mean to study a small, fourth-rate one and then decide that you can meet its requirements without putting forth your best effort.

You are not writing for that particular magazine; you’re writing a story with your name signed to it. You’re laying a stone in the foundation upon which you hope to build a stairway to Liberty or Collier’s or The Saturday Evening Post.

You are advertising yourself as a good or a poor writer. Every story is a vote one way or the other.

Writing your First Novel

I’ve decided to make this a series. I have purchased a few copies of now-public-domain writing magazines from the 30s-50s and I’m reprinting various articles from them and calling them “Writing Tips from the Pulp Era.” Click the link for a full list of articles.

Editor’s note: Marjorie Holmes ended up writing 134 books, 32 of which hit the bestseller list. She also wrote for all manner of magazines. From Writer’s Digest, August 1943, which is now in the public domain.

Get That Novel Out of Your System

By MARJORIE HOLMES

Once you’ve written that novel that’s in you, crying to be written, you can live with yourself again. You can face your image in the mirror without flinching. You can sleep nights.

You’ll never be satisfied to dismiss it in a few pages as The Novel I Didn’t Write. A matter of personal integrity is involved. If it’s peculiarly and fiercely your novel, no one else can write it but you. And if you’re at all serious about your work, you’re in for self-inflicted hell until you do!

Writing a novel is so long a task, so perilous a gamble. The free-lancer must stake so much valuable writing time against monstrously uncertain success. In that same period he knows he can be turning Out many shorter manuscripts, making a go of Writing.

But unless the “good book” in the back of the mind of every writer is actually written, he fears that always he will be a hack Writer, at odds with himself and the people who have had faith in him.

But-and here looms the most sinister threat of all-what if he does gamble all on his novel and then it doesn’t sell? He realizes that, in that eventuality, he can no longer take refuge even in his dreams. He will be shocked and wounded; he will not only be far behind the eight-ball financially, but he will probably be conditioned for good against the novel form… And so, while you are tormented by the knowledge that you’re compromising, shirking your task, the cold sick dread of failure is holding you back. Mentally and emotionally you are a mess!

This is the story of the novel I did write. Things that affected the slow, agonized crawl to its completion. Maybe there’s something in it for you?

I began my novel shortly after I was out of college. The stimulus was a series of remarkable articles by Clark Venable, which the WRITER’s DIGEST ran from February through July, 1933. “Subject Matter and Beginning,” “The Voice of Jacob,” “Characterization,” “Color and Tempo,” even “The Last Hard Mile.” (They were wonderful!) I gulped down Mr. Venable’s advice, gave myself the tests: “Am I equipped to tell this story? Have I the dogged determination required for the chore? Is my story worth the labor and will it justify the use of the equipment I will bring to it? If all answers are definitely yes,” Mr. Venable urged, “then in heaven’s name begin.”

And so, gasping a frantic yes, yes! to all of them, in heaven’s name I-began. In heaven’s name I wrote, furiously, gloriously, for weeks. Then one sad day I paused for breath and looked back. To my stunned amazement, I found it had taken me 90,000 words to simply set the stage! Actually, I knew nothing about writing the novel. Even Mr. Venable’s fine articles assumed an experience and technical background I did not have.

I would have to put this material away. I would have to start at the bottom with stories and articles. I would have to learn structure and dramatic balance and discipline. I would have to mature.

It was a bitterly disappointing decision to have to make, but I knew it was the only way.

At that time I had sold a couple of pulp and confession stories. To these I gratefully and hopefully returned. I painstakingly built plot outlines; I polished and tested every page.

Sometimes, angrily throwing away the tenth version of a dramatic scene, I would protest, “What’s the difference? The editors will probably cut. And it’s just a confession, isn’t it?” But I could never kid myself. And I believe that this habit of petting, and practically tasting every sentence, every word, before letting it go, made for the kind of writing that had to go into my book. The book that I was still working on-simply because I couldn’t resist it-now and then.

To get my name into the more general magazines, I was also writing fluff. Airy little articles about love, glamor, personality, husbands, kids. These were easy to write and sold readily. I got anywhere from $10 to $75 for them, with frequent reprint bonuses which made the total take for the time involved very good. Together with story sales I made sometimes as much as $800 a month. I was in a (very small) unspectacular way, doing all right.

But-I couldn’t sleep nights. I’d read articles like Steve Fisher’s “Literary Roller Coaster” and walk the floor. Why, the guy was only 25 While I-well, let’s skip that. Anyway, I was old enough to have finished my book too if I’d just quit stalling, if I just had the courage to drop everything else and see it through. In a kind of panic, I’d open my notebook to the words an English prof had scribbled there once: “You can write beautiful things for people who crave beautiful things. There is a duty!” Or I’d gaze wretchedly at Clark Venable’s closing paragraph, clipped, framed, and hung over my desk: “For aught any man can say to the contrary, the author of that greatest novel may be now a lowly beginner who has within him the seed of genius which flowers only when WORKED. You?…”

In spasms like this I would haul down my novel, which despite the infrequent spurts on which I had worked on it, had grown to surprising proportions, and brood over it. I felt that I really had something in it; that, if nothing more, I had captured the spirit of a kind of people I wanted to portray. But something was wrong-and I didn’t know just what. I was too close to it, perhaps too much in love with it to regard it with an objective, discerning eye. Finally, though I’d never had much faith in critics, I bundled it up and sent it off to Mr. A. L. Fierst.

Money was never more luckily spent. I already knew that the book was too long, but I was lost and confused in determining what to cut. He pointed out what must go-and why. He suggested a plan for complete reorganization. In one letter he taught me things about writing a novel that I’ll remember all my life.

One mistake I had made was in the number of characters. I love characterization. My idea of creative bliss would be to write nothing but character sketches till the end of time. This I had been doing with the excuse that I was writing a novel. Every amusing or colorful character I had ever observed and “canned” in my notebook, had been lovingly dusted off and shoved onto a stage where he served no particular purpose and had no business to be. The result was a bizarre collection of personalities, each interesting in itself, perhaps, but contributing nothing to the plot, and only obscuring the true protaganists.

It was these few principal characters who were really important. On their backs rested the plot. It was through their courage, loyalty, and rollicking spirits that I must accent the theme. They deserved the spotlight, the very best that I could give them. To do this I couldn’t go dashing down bypaths, exploring the morals of the town drunkard, deciding what the garbage man thought about.

And once I had-however regretfully-killed off all these other minor characters, I had not only shortened the book considerably, but gained elbow-room to build up the characters I was really interested in. The Andrews family itself, and the few people who contributed to their destiny. This simplified the problem, the story, and the mood. It made for dramatic unity. It quickened the pace.

To further quicken the pace, I did what I should have done in the beginning-made chapter outlines, as if each were a short story in itself, leading to a dramatic climax. Then I went through every chapter already written, trying to shape it over the skeleton of this outline. A lot of irrelevant scenes had to be lifted out bodily-some of them to be discarded completely, others to be salvaged and worked into different chapters where they more aptly fit. For instance, in the original version of the manuscript, I had scattered the theatrical experiences of Ken, the older brother, through four or five chapters dealing with other matters. In revising, I gathered them all together and sewed them into a couple of chapters all his own, where they belonged.

In making these tardy chapter outlines, I discovered chapters that seemed dramatically out of place. These I shifted around until-like those little dime-store puzzles where you tilt and twist until the darkie’s eyes or teeth fall into place-they seemed to fit. To illustrate, I tried the chapter where the kitchen catches on fire, at least four different places. But not until I arranged so that it should follow a chapter dealing with the family’s difficulties at Christmas, did it live up to its own dramatic implications.

Timing, in the modern novel, is important. Almost as important as in a short story, I think. Speaking for the moment as simply a reader, I am distressed at how often novelists pay no attention to it. A dramatic effect achieved, a point made they often still go wordily on, to ruin that effect. I’m wordy enough myself, heaven knows! But the precaution of a chapter outline, pointing to a definite curtain line or peak of interest at which to stop, is a safeguard against going too far afield, as well as invaluable as a timing device.

Another mistake I made in first writing my novel was in handling the dialogue. My own short story experience should have taught me that dialogue serves two purposes-to delineate character and advance the plot. But somehow I got the notion that in novels no such hampering limitations prevailed. I love to write dialogue, and so I had a grand time letting everybody talk their heads off. They argued, they dissertated, they philosophized. And while a lot of it made interesting reading in itself, it kept the characters marking time when they should have been going someplace. A novel-as Mr. Venable had warned-must march!

Perhaps the over-abundance of dialogue had been due to my anxiety to make my characters realistic. I had faithfully reproduced pages of conversation authentic to a certain kind of people. Every interruption and half-speech, every “huh?” “gosh, kid,” “I dunno'” and “damn.” The result had used up a lot of space (you haven’t nearly as much elbow-room in a novel as you might imagine-the pasture looks vast and green after the narrow roads of short story writing, but that’s where so many of us go astray). More disastrously, it had become so realistic as to defeat its own end. The oral word is a tricky thing when reproduced in print. For instance, if I were to take down literally the conversation that took place recently at a luncheon, I would succeed only in making a group of refined ladies sound like a bunch of bawdy madams. Similarly, in my novel, the dialogue of typical, small-town middle-class girls, too conscientiously recorded, gave the impression that they were tawdry and cheap, instead of the nice, appealing youngsters they were. This dialogue had to be pared down and cleaned up. Since my novel wasn’t to be hairy-chested Steinbeck or Hemingway realism, anyhow, dialogue that went all out for realism threw the thing out of balance; actually giving it an unrealistic effect. Rather than impairing the ultimate realism–the stuff that makes a reader feel that he sees and knows the places described, participates in the story-a realism that, thank heaven, the critics are agreeing is there-I believe that my willingness to compromise a little with realism, contributed to its final achievement

In other words, the novelist, like the painter, must sort over his material, using only that part of it essential to the design he has in mind-and often streamlining and simplifying even that.

While on the subject of realism, you might like to know something about my methods of capturing it. This will take us back for a moment to characterization. Most people agree that the scene stealer in World by the Tail, is Sam, a cocky, witty, infuriating little clown of a dad, so let’s take a look at him. Better, let’s look at the strip of paper that was long pinned over my desk, labeled-SAM.

Physical Characteristics:

  • short, fat tummy, bald-headed
  • big nose
  • ruddy complexion
  • fat lips-wrinkled, like prunes
  • devilish blue eyes
  • likes snappy clothes
  • traces of powder on his ear lobes after
    shaving.
  • … etc.

Mannerisms:

  • thumbing his suspenders
  • slapping his knee
  • noisily blowing his nose
  • pointing foolishly to his bald head
  • … etc.

Pet speech tags:

  • “Never did like ya very good, any
    way-“
  • “Don’t y’know it is?”
  • “Cheer up, Christmas is comin’, ain’t
    it???
  • … etc.

I didn’t remember or think up all these characteristics at once; they came to me as I brooded over the character, recalling or observing them. The list grew along with the story. But having it within glancing distance kept Sam always vividly strutting and chuckling and kicking up his heels before me. I couldn’t lose sight of him, consequently he came vividly out of the typewriter.

I kept sheets like that for every one of the characters-Jean, Ken, Polly-all of them. Such lists helped me to visualize and get hold of the characters I wasn’t quite sure about. And they prevented me from being so mentally sure of a character that I failed to portray him on paper, where the reader could see and know him, too.

The realism of your settings is important. I know the small, midwestern lake town background intimately, but every time I go back to it I fill my notebook with homely little details never recorded there before. The shaggy, mashed-down look of dock posts, the melancholy dip of rowboats at anchor, the dried foam looking like snow upon the sand. Dusty little towns with their jutting flagpoles at the corner of main street, ordering inside turn… small town hostesses reminding pertly, “Save your fork,” as they serve the pie… the look and smell of a hayloft in late afternoon-. Those are the kind of things that go into my notebook. Then when I’m miles from the midwest but trying to write about it, I have at my fingertips all the warm, pungent, vivid details that will recreate the scene.

But in the use of realistic detail, as in all else, I learned that the novelist must not overplay his hand. Background must remain just that-background. It must not be so glowing as to detract from the color of the characters. It must not hold up the action. Any vast ornate chunks of it must be broken up and scattered throughout the scene.

Figures of speech also pepper my notebook. Everything I see seems to remind me of something else. It’s fun to discover unique ones, and I am perhaps overfond of using them. One reviewer said my novel starts off as if I had “contracted with Reader’s Digest to supply its Picturesque Speech department for the season” before I settle down to telling the tale. I shall remember that next time. Too many similes can be too much cake.

Another mistake I made in my first floundering attempts at writing a novel, was failure to clarify the theme. Frankly, I hadn’t considered that I was writing a “theme novel”—that is, a book to prove anything. I was interested only in showing a certain kind of people for the gay, courageous souls they were. What I had failed to realize was that by their gaiety and courage they were proving something-if I could just fasten on what that was, make all episodes, however subtly, point to it, draw it out. I reread novels that I had loved for their characterizations deliberately refusing to be charmed away from that binding thread-the theme. However well hidden, it was always there!

Well, I thought about this theme business a lot during the three years that my novel lay around the house untouched. You see, shortly after receiving my criticism of this first version and getting all steamed up to revise, there were complications on the home front. I was going to have a baby. It seemed a very poor time to turn my back on all the money I could be making free-lancing. Besides, I began to be plagued by all those doubts mentioned at first. What if I gave up my markets, gambled a year or two on my novel, and then it didn’t sell? I just didn’t have the nerve. Perhaps-now keenly aware of its many faults, and quailing at the staggering amount of work involved-I was discouraged. I had lost faith.

And so I went back to free-lancing, writing everything under heaven-confessions, articles, verse, juveniles, pulps. I collaborated on booklengths with Mary Frances Morgan, that clever, attractive gal who never fails. We made a lot of money. We had a lot of fun. But after a while I began to have that harried look again. And again-I couldn’t sleep nights. I’d lie awake thinking about my novel, figuring it out. I began to sneak a day or two Out of my busy schedule to work on it. But I’d just get going strong when a hurry-up, sure-money assignment would come in to lure me away from it. That would be followed by another-it would be weeks, months, before I could come back.

Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. I decided to get that novel out of my system—however swiftly, however poorly I wrote it, to get it done! I dropped everything else-sent back assignments, telling the editors the baby was keeping me busy (and he was). But even taking care of a new baby, an older child and the house didn’t seem so hard when I was doing the work I wanted to do-and now felt that I was ready for. I had had ample time to ponder over the mistakes I had first made; I corrected them. I had learned a lot more about story structure; I applied it to my book. I had gotten a grip on my theme. Whatever my impatience, habits of slow, painstaking writing were not to be thrown overboard. I fought every sentence to a finish. I let nothing go until it was right.

Finally, amazingly, the thing was done. Relieved, almost incredulous, I typed the final word. It might still be a punk book, but by golly, it was a whole one! Whole and balanced out this time in a sense that satisfied.

I sent it off to my agent and forgot about it. It was wonderful just to have it out of the house. I hoped that even if nobody bought it (and somehow I could scarcely conceive that they would) he would never send it back. Consequently it was the biggest shock of my life to arrive in Pittsburgh last summer (after moving up from Texas) and find a letter from my agent, saying the Lippincott editors would like a luncheon date to talk about the book!

I went to Philadelphia with a feeling of dazed incredulity. I came home sort of drifting on bubbles and stars. But I had to get my feet back on the ground and keep them there. There was a lot of cutting to be done, and I had to cook up a new ending before they would decide. I’m terribly superstitious; I didn’t risk jinxing it by telling anyone or even indulging in a dream. All I could do was work. I even wrote two new endings, so as to give the editors a choice. And fortunately so, as it was the second one they liked.

Because of my experience, I don’t advise people to start their novels too soon. Don’t gamble everything on your novel until you’re sure you have something to say, and know how to say it. But once you’re confident of that, wade in. Get it out of your system You’ll never have a moment’s peace until you do.

The Future of StoryHack

For all of you who are waiting for physical rewards from the Kickstarter campaign, I have ordered copies of StoryHack from the printer. They told me I should expect them to come in no later than the 17th of October. They’ve beat their estimates on a large order before, though. May they print and ship quickly.

Now, after I deliver the goods, what is next for StoryHack?

The magazine is a labor of love for me. I don’t need or expect it to ever be a real part of my income. That being said, eventually my wife’s vast tank of patience will run out and I’ll have to stop feeding it from my own pocket. So the plan is to publish at least another 5 issues. (3 or 4 a year, depending) If by the end of that time the magazine is self-sufficient, it’ll just keep going forever. And as the magazine becomes more profitable, I’ll pay more to the authors & artists. I think the fact that the Kickstarter campaign funded despite the fact that I am a nobody without any big name connections or large audience shows that readers are hungry for a quality publication.

If by that time the magazine is not self-sufficient, well, then I’ll just publish when I can, or suffer the indignity of becoming a token-payment market. But that thought makes me sick to my stomach, so let’s spend no more time considering it.

What you can do to keep this ball of pulp rolling?

The biggest thing I need right now are reviews. If you’ve read Issue 0 or 1, please leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, your blog, or anywhere else it’s appropriate. Also, if you see me in real life, a high five would not go amiss.

And what am I doing before I start on Issue 2?

I’m going to run some marketing tests. Without much of a backlist, I don’t think dumping a lot of money into marketing is the right choice. When a new reader finds StoryHack, it would be nice to be able to sell her 4 issues rather than 1 or 2. But I know there’ll be a learning curve, so I’d better start learning.

I’m building a better submissions process. Doing everything via email is rather inefficient. I have plans to make a system that would shepherd stories from submission all the way through editing and approvals. But for Issue 2, I’m just going to have the software ready for the submission/accept/reject process.

I’m setting up a subscription option. It will bill when I release new issues. The plan is to make it $2.99 an issue for electronic versions, and $9.99 for printed (shipping included to U.S.). Printed subscribers will also get the electronic version. I will also try to throw in at least one fun freebie per issue like the extras I included to all backers of the Kickstarter. Price everywhere else will be $3.99 for electronic and $9.99 for paperback-only.

I know this is a wild dream, but If I could somehow get about 300 physical copy subscribers, I can speed up and simplify the printing and shipping significantly so that my grubby hands don’t have to touch a thing. And at that level, I think payment to authors would be up around $0.04 per word.

That’s about it for now. Thank you everybody for your continued support.

StoryHack, Issue 1 is available!

I have my proof back and everything looks good. So I’ve flipped the switch making it available for purchase in paperback. Down below you’ll see what to expect.

It took a couple of weeks longer than I wanted to get art back and such, but I believe it was worth the wait. It is seriously the best pulp magazine I have ever published. Thank you everyone who backed the issue or otherwise helped support the project. I hope you like it as much as I do.

And speaking of Kickstarter backers…

I’ll be ordering a big box of physical copies tonight. As soon as they get here, I’ll be packaging them up and shipping them out to those who backed for physical rewards.

Digital rewards have been available since last week, and everyone who backed at any level gets a couple of digital bonuses. If Kickstarter didn’t send you an email about that, then contact me and I’ll give you directions for claiming your downloads.

Cheers,

Bryce

Issue 1 Contents

StoryHack Action adventure is a fiction magazine in the style of the great pulps of years past. It includes stories from a wide variety of genres.

In this issue, you’ll find:

New Rules for Rocket Nauts by Michael DeCarolis. A recently dismissed recruit watches in horror as an alien race betrays and massacres his former classmates. Now he may be the only person capable of stopping the first wave of an interstellar war.

The Price of Hunger by Kevyn Winkless. A desperate chase through the woods leads to an occupied cabin. Has Fred Moose doomed everyone to be slaughtered by the wending outside?

Retrieving Abe by Jay Barnson. Lydia Madison is the daughter of a dragon hunter, and the second of three wives in a plural marriage in a tiny village in the Utah Territory. When her husband is abducted by a dragon, only Lydia can rescue him… even if it means trading her own life for his.

Protector of Newington by John M Olsen. A wealthy inventor has been secretly sponsoring do-gooders in steam-powered suits for years. When another of his heroes faces death, can he just stand by and watch a good man die?

Brave Day Sunk in Hideous Night by Julie Frost. Ben is a PI with PTSD who also just happens to be a werewolf. He is handed a repo job that seems too easy to be true. Of course things go awry and an accident flings him into a grim future. Will he be able to make it back to his wife and friends, or will he be doomed to die amongst total strangers?

Taking Control by Jon Del Arroz. What is a seasoned outlaw to do when she’s too worn out to heist?

Some things Missing from her Profile by David Skinner. His blind date was kidnapped by Martians. He had no idea why. But he wasn’t about to let them keep her.

Dream Master by Gene Moyers. What strange power could cause wealthy men to suddenly give away their fortunes and commit suicide?

Under the Gun by David J. West. A young man with a possessed gun that can’t miss collides with an aging gunslinger that can’t be hit. Trouble and death can’t be far behind.

Circus to Boulogne by Mike Adamson. A WWII pilot is shot down over enemy-held territory. Will he make it to safety, or will he spend the rest of the war in a POW camp?

StoryHack Issue 1 Going to Print

Here’s what’s been going on in the world of StoryHack.

I just ordered a physical proof of StoryHack Issue 1. I just want to make sure everything looks good before shipping to backers.

I wrote and did some testing on a download script to deliver all the ebook files to the backers who wanted them. I just need to import backers into it now. By the end of this week maybe early next everyone should get an email with downloading instructions.

 

StoryHack Podcast: Interview with Ryan Decaria

Ryan Decaria is a fellow podcaster and author. His debut novel, Devil in the Microscope, was recently published by Immortal Works. We met in his secret lair high above the bustling streets of Ogden to have a little chat.

Show Notes:

  • [0:35] The King of the Meeple Nation discusses board games.
  • [4:23] This was not intended as a fart joke. I promise. I’m not above making fart jokes, but this just happens to not be one.
  • [5:40] Mad science is better than sane science.
  • [7:00] Ryan’s favorite mad scientists.
  • [9:20] Mad science heroes vs villains
  • [12:16] The Devil in the Microscope
  • [15:32] Ethically-challenged scientists have more fun.
  • [17:45] Church ball is great. Not the movie, though.
  • [19:09] How Ryan writes: in defense of outlining
  • [20:55] Why Ryan writes
  • [22:12] What’s next?
  • [26:15] Where to find Ryan

For more about Ryan:

StoryHack Podcast: Interview with Gene Moyers

I recently had a chat with with new pulp author Gene Moyers, whose story “Dream Master” is appearing in StoryHack, Issue 1.

Some notes from the interview:

  • [0:25] Introducing Gene
  • [1:00] What is pulp fiction to you?
  • [1:45] How did you fall in with the New Pulp crowd?
  • [3:35] Pulp-Specific Conventions (Windy City Pulp and Paper, PulpFest) and why they’re great.
  • [7:03] Gene’s Hobby Shop
  • [8:08] How Gene writes
  • [10:50] Gene’s favorite classic pulps
  • [12:40] What’s coming up for Gene
  • [18:01] Modern authors Gene likes
  • [19:00] Writing inspirations
  • [21:00] Gene loves critical reviews (and positive ones, too.)
  • [23:00] Gene’s story in StoryHack, Issue 1

For more about Gene:

StoryHack Issue 1 Updates for 8/9

Here are some updates so that you know I’ve not just been sitting on my thumbs.

  • I’ve done my edits on all but 2 of the stories.
  • Artists have been found and started on the interior art.

Still to do.

  • Get a friend or two to do a copyediting pass.
  • Hound/plead with the artists to get art back to me.
  • Layout the magazine.
  • Once last comb through for typos.
  • Send out backer surveys getting physical addresses for those that need it and email addresses for those that need it.
  • Work out a good delivery system for the electronic copies.
  • Upload/print/publish/etc.
  • Deliver all the pulp.
  • Look to the future.

Release date? I think Cirsova is planning to release Sept 1, so I’ll shoot for a week after that.

I’m also working on a double-extra-secret something else for my wonderful backers (& even the less wonderful ones. You know who you are.) I hope it comes together in time.

Thoughts on Hiring a Cover Artist.

First, a couple of examples for those who are interested in behind the scenes stuff. At the end, I’ll collect a list of things I’ve learned. And I’ve talked about a couple of other cover projects before.

Project 1

After I finished the first draft of my children’s book I thought for a while that I would be self publishing it. I eventually decided to hire an editor then submit it for publication, but I did play around with making a cover for a bit. I went on fiverr and found three reasonably-priced artists. I asked for a a single character without a background (Artists on fiverr almost always charge extra for a 3/4 body, full body, background, etc.) I gave the artists the exact same description and this is what I got back.

Artist #1

Artist #2

Artist #3

 

Note: My instructions said “either running or dancing.” I included no instruction on arm position.

I had decided at the time to go with artist 3, simply because it was the most “painted” look. I dropped in a background and did some fiddling and here’s basically what I would have ended up with (but you know, with the title.)

Project 2

Here’s the process I went through for my recently released sword and sorcery novelette Swordcrossed Frostbite.

I tried the same thing again, except this time I just wanted a picture of my main character. If the picture was great, maybe I’d negotiate for commercial usage of the picture or hire the artist to do another for the cover. Here’s what I ended up with:

 

Again, I used the same description to give to all the artists.

In the end, I found someone else on Artistsnclients to do the cover, and I paid a little more. In case you haven’t seen it, this is what the finished cover looks like:

Project 3

There was this time that I thought my artist for StoryHack Issue 0 had disappeared (this was a deviantart hire). I emailed 4 times over a 3 week period without response. So in my freaking out, I hired a backup artist on fiverr. Two days later, I got the artwork back from the original artist and it was fantastic. A day or two after that, the backup artist sent me this:

Who knows, I still may use this for something.

Random Lessons

  • The sites I have used to find artists are Fiverr, Artistsnclients, and deviantart. I used to just search around deviantart but now I always use the job offers forum.
  • Artistsnclients either needs to hire a new web guy or move servers. They seem to go down quite often.
  • Fiverr and artistsnclients.com have a sort of escrow system set up to prevent you from losing your money if an artist disappears or does not fulfill on their end of the bargain. Deviantart has no such system.
  • Posting a gig request on fiverr is a good way to get a lot of offers for your art. You’ll have to constantly go through and remove offers from artists who obviously don’t use the style you ask for. I think it only lets you have 30 active offers at a time. Hence the constant removing. I’ve seriously gone through like 90 offers before finding one that would work.
  • If you post on the job offers forum at DeviantArt, you’ll be swamped with artists looking for work. You work out payment on your own. Usually paypal. I didn’t know for the longest time that deviantart even had a forum, so well do they hide it. The quality of the artists responding tends to be higher than the fiverr respondents.
  • While hiring an artist, especially on fiverr, be sure to look at an artist’s whole portfolio. If it feels like they’ve stolen some art to stick on there, do a google image search. I have almost hired several artists before realizing that they were using someone else’s work in their portfolio. Fiverr has no easy way to report those people, so if the pictures look way too awesome for the price, beware.
  • ArtistsnClients has a bunch of inactive artists. Just message your chosen artist first before buying a gig. That’s actually a good idea anyway.
  • No matter what service you use to find an artist, be prepared to look at a lot of portfolios before you start finding ones whose styles meet your needs.
  • ArtistsnClients itself is slow to respond to inquiries. I once had an issue with an artist. I emailed, tweeted and facebooked the company (after trying in vain to reach the artist) and it still took a few days to get back to me.
  • If you look around, you may be able to score a deal. Don’t expect to pay less than $100 for a decent piece of art, though.
  • The more info you can get to an artist, the better. Poses, references, descriptions.
  • If your artist want pose ideas and you can’t find any you like, you can try the software Design Doll. It’s kind of a pain to get used to the controls, but you can pose a virtual mannequin and render a picture that an artist can base the drawing on.
  • Know beforehand how well the artist communicates and how long they think it’ll take.

Issue #1 Lineup

Things are moving right along with Issue #1. I just got a new wip from the cover artist and I couldn’t be more excited. Little by little I’m working through edits of the stories. I’m horrible at finding typos, though, so I have to go slow. Also eating at my time is the day job and parenting and such, blah, blah, blah, I’m slow but it’s going to be great.

In no particular order, here’s the lineup for Issue 1:

  • “Taking Control” A western with a hint of magic by Jon Del Arroz.
  • “Under the Gun” A weird western by David J. West.
  • “New Rules for Rocket Nauts” A space opera by Michael DeCarolis.
  • “Protector of Newington” A steampunk adventure by John M Olsen.
  • “The Price of Hunger” A supernatural horror adventure by Kevyn Winkless.
  • “Retieving Abe” A fantasy western by Jay Barnson.
  • “Brave Day Sunk in Hideous Night.” An accidentally time-travelling werewolf adventure by Julie Frost.
  • “Dream Master” A supernatural detective mystery by Gene Moyers.
  • “Circus to Boulogne” A historical adventure by Mike Adamson.
  • “Some things Missing from her Profile” An off-planet action mystery by David Skinner.

Right about 65,000 words of pure action adventure fun.

Issue 1 updates, 7/21

Quick updates:
  • I believe I have now responded to all submissions for this issue of StoryHack. Contact me if you’re still waiting.
  • I’ll post the lineup sometime next week after contracts are all signed and whatnot.
  • Still waiting on the cover. The artist sent a cover sketch about 2 weeks ago.
  • I started an editing pass on the already contracted & paid stories
  • I commissioned the first piece of interior art. Once the authors are all paid, I’ll double check against my original budget to see how many more I can get.

Another Pulp Story Formula

This is the first in a series I’m calling “Writing Tips from the Pulp Era.” These are writing articles from books and magazines that have entered the public domain. Click the link for the full list of articles.

Author Note: Nelson S. Bond wrote and had dozens of pulp stories published by a wide variety of magazines, including Blue Book, Fantastic Adventures, Weird Tales, Esquire and Amazing Stories. He also wrote for radio and television.

Copyright Note: This article comes from the October, 1940 issue of Writer’s Digest. The copyright records from 1940 do not show a filing for either the magazine issue or the article itself. Neither is there an entry in 1968, the year it would have needed to be renewed. So I believe it is in the public domain.

It’s All A Matter of Timing

A Foolproof Fiction Formula
by Nelson S. Bond

It’s the damnedest thing! I stand up there with my heart full of hope and my mitts full of driver; I wiggle and I waggle; I straighten my left arm and lower my head; I haul my hips back. I swing. My clubhead goes swoosh! – and the ball goes ploop! A one hundred and fifty yard drive. Fifty up, fifty down, and fifty yards into the lush tangle of crab grass between the tee and the fairway.

My companion says, “Tsk,” and stares after my ball thoughtfully. “You going after it?” she asks. “Be careful. There’s lions and tigers in there!”

She takes her stance. She’s tiny and slim, and her hands are soft. She weighs 106 in her Kaysers. Her biceps are about as tough and sinewy as a cup custard. She swings. A gentle little swaying motion. But the club head goes splat! against the ball. Said pill takes off like a homing pigeon; soars high and far and true, and comes to rest at long last, gleaming whitely upon the green bosom of the fairway halfway to the pin.

Why? I weigh more than she does. I’m taller. I’m stronger. My clubs are heavier.

* * *

If I wrote like I golf, there wouldn’t be any long, lazy, blood-pressure-raising afternoons on the links. There would be handouts and patched breeches and truckloads of rejection slips. But by some quirk of fate-possibly because the gods have a celestial budget to balance-I am so lucky as to possess, in my vocation, that which I can’t grasp when I’m playing. A sense of timing.

I’m not sure that I can tell you what it is, or how to do it. I suspect it’s One of Those Things, like swimming or swinging a golf club or knowing that the third Scotch-and is enough.You have it or you don’t. If you don’t, you just keep on plugging, going through the motions, until one day, suddenly, there it is and you know what I’m talking about.

And when you’ve got it, you’re sitting pretty. Meat on the table, checks in the poke, and luh-huv in my heart for yoo-hoo!

You’re bound to get it, too, if you keep working at it. You know the old gag about how “every writer has to get a million lousy words out of his system.” Of course, that’s the old malarkey. Some writers click on the first go-round, others (like myself) have to do it the hard way. The truth remains, though, that those first, feeble, fumbling attempts are valuable. Every word you put on paper is another lesson in writing. Even if the story comes bouncing back with the stamps still moist, you’ve learned something from it. Maybe you’ve just learned how not do it next time. And, buddy, if you have-that’s valuable!

Did I hear a snarl in the audience? You want me to skip the fight-talk, huh? Get down to business? All right. You’re asking for it. Here’s my theory on the way to “time” a normal, 5,000 word story in such a way as to make it fast, dramatic and salable.

I don’t guarantee it; I don’t claim that all other methods are wrong. I believe, with Kipling, that “there are six-and-twenty ways of constructing tribal lays . . . every single one of them is right!” All I say is that this works for me.

* * *

DESIGN FOR BRICKLAYING A STORY

(Patent not worth applying for)

General Instructions

Lay out approximately 20-25 sheets of clean, white paper. I prefer Corrasable Bond because it actually does-as Arnold Gingrich of Esquire puts it-“take erasure with dignity.” And an ordinary pencil eraser, to. If the Eaton People want to send me a check for this plug, I’m not proud. Use the 16, rather than the 20 pound weight. It costs less, and keeps down the postage.

Lay out an equal amount of yellow “second sheets,” a piece of carbon paper, your cigarettes and matches-Hold it! Change that typewriter ribbon! Your chances of selling fade in direct proportion to the fading of your ink, friend! Now put that damned thesaurus away. Hide it! If you don’t know the words and use them in your ordinary conversation, they’ll bulge in your story like an olive in a snake’s gut.

We’ll take it for granted you know how to title and identify your manuscript. If you don’t you shouldn’t be reading this; you should be studying back issues of Writer’s Digest. Name and address in upper left corner, approximate number of words in upper right, title and your name halfway down the page. All right! Let’s go!

* * *

First 1000 Words. Ends on Page 5.

Get going with a bang! Remember, you’re writing a short story, not Gone With the Wind. You can’t waste words, nor will the editor permit you to waste his or the readers’ time. Your first thousand words must tell who are to be the central characters of this work-of-art, when the story takes place, where the scene is set, what the problem is, and set the question as to how the hero expects to take care of it.

Get me straight! I don’t mean you should start off anything like this-

“John Marmaduke Frasier, tall, blonde and handsome Sheriff of Burp’s Crossing, Arizona, strode down Main Street wondering what he should do about saving the property of his fiancée, sweet Hildegarde Phlewzy, from the clutches of rich bank president, Phineas Gelt, who threatened to foreclose the mortgage on August 19th, 1904, twenty days hence . . .”

You think I’m crazy, eh? Nobody ever introduced a story that way? Guess again! I sat beside Harry Widmer of Ace Publications for a full hour one afternoon, reading over his shoulder unsolicited manuscripts that opened in exactly that fashion. Needless to say, the stories were not offered by “regulars,” nor did they come in the folders of an agent. They were the “unrush” mail, i.e., the free-lance offerings that earn pale blue slips reading, “We regret to say-”

But get the thing moving. Start with something happening to somebody; not with mental maunderings, Grab your hero by the neck and shove him smack into a mess of trouble. Then show who started that trouble-and why. Introduce the other persons involved in the problem, make their opening speeches depict their characters. As you write, keep an eye on your page numbers. Remember that this phase of the story must be finished by the middle of page 5.

End the opening sections with the implication that Our Hero recognizes his difficulty and knows what he’s going to do about it.

Second 1000 words. Ends on Page 9-10.

This is the phase wherein Our Hero’s star is in the ascendancy. Things move along with reasonable assurance of eventual success. Looks like the problem wasn’t so terrible after all. With matters moving smoothly, this section may also be used for brief, telling “flashbacks” (if required), and for strengthening characterizations.

A word about scene changes. Many beginning writers seem to go haywire over time and place transitions. That’s simply because they make an easy job tough for themselves. For instance, We’ve all seen manuscripts in which a character leaves a room, goes to another place, meets other people. The beginner, his “timing” hopelessly off, tries to follow the character all the way-

“He stalked from the building indignantly, found a taxi at the door, rode uptown, got out at his own apartment, paid off the cabby, took the elevator upstairs…”

Sharper-edged, neater and vastly more readable is a device used by all professionals and editors. The bridging of time by a quadruple space. Finish one scene. Slap your space-lever twice-and begin your new section with a scene as fresh, as new, as clean-cut as if you were starting an entirely new story!

Here’s the way it works in actual practice. Scene one was in the apartment of a detective, Sid (“Softy”) O’Neill. A policeman has come to bring Softy to headquarters. The first scene ends and the second scene begins as follows.

“Okay, let’s go!” (said Softy.) Then he remembered and jerked open a drawer in his desk. Dull blue glinted as he jammed something into a harness beneath his left arm-pit. “Let’s go!” he repeated.

The Chief said, “Gentlemen, meet Detective O’Neill. Sid is not a member of the city force, but as I told you . . .”

It is not until some paragraphs later that the Chief is introduced by name, or the second phase of the plot determined. But story stuff is unimportant here; we are concerned only with the question of time-and-place transitions. During the blank space left above, Softy O’Neill presumably covered a number of city miles and consumed a half hour’s time. The reader is made conscious of that by implication. You don’t have to drag him along the route with you. How Softy got to headquarters is unimportant; all that matters is that he got there! Save words, save time. It’s all a matter of timing!

Third 1000 words. Ends on Page 13-15.

Here’s where the Hero stubs his toe. Things looked good-now the Villain heaves a monkeywrench onto the woiks! Trouble-with a capital “Boo!”-pops up. Technically this is known as a “plot complication.” Which is just a literary way of saying it’s a, “Dood Dod, what do I do now?” mess.

Let’s backtrack a moment and dovetail this. We’ll suppose our story to have been (1) sports, (2) science-fiction, (3) detective, (4) love, (5) romantic adventure. Show how a “complication” piles on the major problem in each of the aforementioned.

  1. Hero flashy player, without his team cannot win championship vital to athletic future of small college. In phase one, main problem set forth. In phase two, path looks easy-hero going like house afire. Phase three, complication-vital blocking back busts leg before crucial game!
  2. Hero hastily finishing spaceship with which to visit Mars; must get special Martian desert weed to stave off dreadful scourge which threatens to destroy Earth. Complication. Enemy scientists corners market on beryllium, vitally essential metal for construction of spaceship.
  3. Detective hero hunting Red Jornegan, gangster, whose fingerprints were found all over gun that murdered cop. Tracks Jornegan to hide-out. Complication. Finds Jornegan dead, killer’s gun lying across room with Jornegan’s fingerprints on it! (Whew! This one came off the top of my mind. I wonder whodunit?)
  4. Hero admires movie idol, wangles introduction, succeeds in making him veddy, veddy interested. Soft odor of orange blossoms in distance, and then-complication! Learns his contract has a nix-wedding-bells clause.
  5. Hero, Foreign Legion lieutenant, besieged by a mob of howling Bedouins. Must carry news of uprising to post. Remembers cache of ammunition in desert. Finds it. Complication. Bullets are for different rifle!

In short, then, this complication is generally something he did not nor could have possibly expected; it may even be a break the villain himself did not count on. But it makes a heluva situation for Our Hero.

Fourth 1000 words. Ends on Page 17-19.

Herein, two things happen. The Hero, finds, thinks, or fights his way out of the complication. This consumes almost all of the fourth phase. And when we’ve suffered with him, bled him into open country again-

Up pops the Villain with his deepest, most dastardly plot, unfolded, finally, in all its dire ramifications!

This is the trouble! Ossa on Pelion, if youse lugs know what I mean. This is the spot wherein (in the ancient mellerdramers) Nick Carter used to get two busted legs and a broken back, while a horde of savages armed with scythes and swords and Stuka bumbers swarmed in on him.

That won’t go today-thank heaven! I’ve heard too much poppycock and balderdash about how “the pulps demand an excess of emotion.” Action, yes! True emotion, yes! But in my opinion, they neither want, nor will buy, blatantly overwritten mellerdrama.

Anyway, that’s a good rule to go buy. Figure it this way and you can’t go far wrong-the only reason pulps print hokey stuff is that sometimes they can’t get the smooth kind of writing they’ll grab when it’s offered to them. Let a man learn his trade, and he’ll be snatched up by the slicks in a split-second. I think none of the following ex-pulpateers will object if I mention their names in passing: William R. Cox, who has parlayed his Dime Sport muscle men into American, Liberty, et al. Ernest Haycox, who sells super-Westerns to every top-ranking magazine and to Hollywood. Richard Sale . . . Jacland Marmur . . . William Fay . . . but why go on? Their stories had what it takes; they’ve moved up (Yeah, yeah, I know, they still sell some to the pulps!) and others can profit by studying their techniques.

Some digression. We were in Phase Four, where Our Hero is up to his neck in Trouble. And the Villain is on the bank, heaving rocks at his head.

How to get him out? That’s your problem, pal! If I knew, I’d write the story, not donate the outline. But there are several sturdy, tried-and-true methods. By his superior knowledge. By a quirk of chance carefully planted in the earlier part of the story (none of that long arm of coincidence stuff)! By sheer fighting ability.

And he accomplishes this in-

The Fifth 1000 words. Ends on Page 21-25.

This is the phase of the solution, of final explanation, of denouement. In the detective story, here’s where your cop or shamus explains whodunit, why, and how he figured it out. In the western, science, sport or action story, this is where Our Hero fights free and, tying up loose ends, explains to his public how he knew just what to do.

The fifth phase of begins with violent action, tears along swiftly, leading to a swift, decisive conclusion-and ends happily.

Watch your timing here! Pace your final conflict so that the action of it consumes approximately 500 words or more. Previous action may have been truncated to move the story along-but not this final scene. Your readers have suffered with the Hero for 4,000 words. Give ’em a blow-by-blow description of the Last Stand, let their empathies jump with glee as the Villain flinches, cowers, and dies.

I could mention a half dozen writing “tricks” that arouse this emphatic feeling, but there’s no time to do so in this article. Nor is this the proper place to do it. This is simply a blueprint, a method of mechanically plotting the short story, that has worked for me-and it will work for you, if you’ll give it a trial.

If you’ll hew to the page-markers set forth here, I think you’ll have no more trouble with tedious openings, long, drowsy middle sections, stories that refuse to end. Because writing-like that confounded golf swing I cannot master-is all a matter of timing.

Oh, I said that before, didn’t I? Well-it still goes!

Podcast: Interview with Jon Mollison

Today on the podcast I interview author Jon Mollison. He currently has three books out (see links below.) His story “Desert Hunt” appeared in StoryHack issue zero, which you can still get for free by signing up for the newsletter.

Notes:

  • [0:20] A little bit about Jon
  • [4:01] Re: the #PulpRev crowd
  • [4:30] How do you define pulp? Jon mentions these 5 pillars of pulp.
  • [6:05] Action. Adventure. Romance. Heroism.
  • [7:05] Jon plugs the magazine. Thanks, bro.
  • [8:15] Classic Fictioneers
  • [10:15] Modern Authors with Action, Adventure, Romance & Heroism
  • [14:35] Jon’s writing proccess
  • [17:15] I’ve only missed my goal to post this by what, 3 weeks?
  • [17:30] Audiobooks
  • [18:15] That time Lee Merriwether (60’s movie Catwoman) shot Jon.
  • [19:30] Jon’s high tech recording setup revealed
  • [24:40] What Jon is working on now.
  • [28:30] The best advice
  • [31:01] Jon pimps the magazine again. I swear, I’m not paying him to say this stuff.
  • [32:20] Possibly Jon’s best line of the interview. “I have too much to read, and it’s still not enough.” I want this on a poster and a t-shirt. Maybe even a mug.
  • [33:05] Seagull Rising

For more about Jon, go visit him on his blog. And buy his books.

Jon’s Books:

Issue 1 Submissions are Closed

Submissions are now closed for StoryHack Issue 1. Thanks to everyone who has submitted. I wish I could select more stories. I don’t feel like a gatekeeper standing watch at the entrance to the Great Hall of Quality Fiction.  I feel like an explorer of an ancient temple who has just found the pulp treasure room, but only has one pocket available to fill with action/adventure jewels.

Getting through the remaining stories should take me another week or ten days or so. Acceptances and rejections will be going out every day now.

Author Business (Cards)

While I was busy pretending to be a real author at Fyrecon, I did sit in on a couple of very good classes.

One of these was on networking and was given by Jason King from Immortal Works. It wasn’t revolutionary or anything, but had lots of amusing slides and I had 2 very important takeaways. So, thanks, Jason!

Takeaway #1

I have to network if I want anything to ever come of my writing & publishing pursuits. No use trying to deny it. And it’s not like I didn’t know this, but it was a good kick in the pants.

Takeaway #2

I need an author business card. Again, I suspect that I knew this somewhere deep down, but I have never felt like it was that important. However, after the class I became hyper aware of how many cards I collected. And three or for times during the rest of the conference I really wished I had one to give out.

I also recognized that most people’s business cards are boring. Even if a card has a little personality, there’s no reason for me to keep it after I’ve sent a single email.

I think it’s high time for that to change. To that end, I set the hamster cage in my mind to whirring and I came up with an idea that everyone should totally follow. It started with the following question:

What if an author’s business card was not only useful, but collectible?

People would remember you better, and they’d keep your contact info around longer. They might even show it off to other people.

To that end, I spent some time thinking about what a collectible author business card might actually be like. After much reflexion, I have come up with the perfect solution. So here are the guidelines to the perfect style of business card that every author everywhere should always make and use from now on.

  1. Forget traditional size. Make it playing card/trading card game size. There is a good reason for this, which I shall disclose in a later guideline.
  2. Make it of a playing card stock/lamination. It will feel more keepable.
  3. On the back side, put the cover art from one of your books. People like pretty things, and your books all have pretty covers, right? I suppose you could fill the back with a quote from one of your works, but it should at least be jazzed up with clever colors and typography. This is the primary reason for the size. Cover art fits better on a playing card.
  4. Front side should have a picture, your name, best contact, and your website. Honestly, you don’t need every bit of contact. People can get your twitter handle off your website.
  5. Front side should also have a description of what the back side is. I put the name of the work and credited the artist. I had to put the name of the work because I put the raw art without lettering

That’s it. As a test I made three different versions and had them printed at a print-on-demand game company, as I knew they’d have the type and quality of paper I was looking for.

And if you want to know what’s on the other side of these cards, well, I guess you’ll have to track me down in person.

Podcast: Interview with comic & new pulp legend Ron Fortier

Special treat today on the podcast. I had a chance to interview Ron Fortier. He’s probably the greatest living expert on the Green Hornet. I guess that makes sense, as he used to write the Green Hornet comic book. He’s been a writer of comics and pulp fictions for over 45 years. He’s the co-founder of the new pulp publisher Airship 27, which has over a hundred titles in print. Next year I want to go to Pulpfest or Windy City Pulp & Paper just so I can meet him. This interview went twice as long as they usually do, and now I wish it was even longer. I might be just a wee bit excited about this.

Notes:

  • [0:10] Ron has been a working comics writer for longer than I’ve been alive.
  • [7:21] How Ron got into writing.
  • [11:58] Getting into big name properties. (Terminator & Green Hornet…)
  • [21:15] Preparing for the right moment.
  • [22:30] How the Green Hornet came to be
  • [28:58] Crafting a legacy backstory from many sources
  • [35:05] Ron’s thoughts on the Green Hornet movie (2011)
  • [39:25] Writers have to be bad guys
  • [43:00] Airship 27 – If you’re a writer
  • [47:00] Airship 27 – if you just plain like pulp fictions
  • [53:15] Where is new pulp headed?
  • [55:00] Final advice: share your talents.

Special Note: There is a movie based on Ron’s “Brother Bones” character currently being kickstarted. Go check it out.

For more about Ron & Airship 27 check out:

StoryHack Issue 1 Updates for 6/26

On Friday last week Kickstarter finished doing the things it had to do and it sent me the pledged money for Issue 1. That means I can start paying authors and artists. In fact, I’ve accepted and sent out contracts on the first three stories. I already have several other pieces on my shortlist, and a couple more acceptances will go out this week. Also, I’ll put out feelers to artists this week for the cover. One of the stories that’s been accepted suggests exactly the sort of cover I’d love to have.

There is only one week left for submissions to Issue 1. Space is filling up fast. I haven’t even had one modern thriller type story submitted. So if you’re working on something like that, your odds of getting in are increased. But even if I don’t get any, there will still be a good spread of genres for this issue. When I have the lineup nailed down, I’ll announce it everywhere.

I love the energy and the excitement that surrounds pulp-styled fiction these days. Fun fiction is making a comeback in a big way.

Thanks again for your ongoing support.

Cheers,

Bryce

Podcast: Interview with Martin McConnell

Through a suggestion via a friend on twitter, I met (in a virtual sense) Martin McConnell. He’s a fascinating guy, and took the time to chat with me via skype.

Notes:

  • [0:15] What it really means to be full-time in the writing business
  • [1:05] The joy of RC Helicopters
  • [1:25] What happened when Martin looked up (at the stars)…
  • [4:00] What do you get when you cross astronomy and writing?
  • [4:50] Historically accurate mooning in fiction. (Would have been a great linkbait title for this post)
  • [5:40] Things he has written
  • [7:35] The story of how Martin bought the farm.
  • [13:00] How his farming affects his writing
  • [15:05] Martin’s kick in the pants (for writers)
  • [18:37] Coming soon
  • [21:30] For more about Martin…

For more information about Martin:

Just how introverted am I?

My 2oth high school reunion was this past Saturday. No, I didn’t go. I didn’t have that many friends in high school, and of the people I actually want to catch up with, I know how to reach most of them. So it seemed like a lot of work to drive the 13 minutes into Salt Lake just so I can feel like an outcast again.

And it’s not like they’re bad people or anything. There’s a lot of people that I liked and thought highly of, and perhaps I still would. I fully recognize that I’m the problem here. I’m an introvert, and that’s okay.

“But Bryce,” you say, “Didn’t you teach Lindy Hop and run/DJ dances for almost four years? Didn’t you go out of your way to get a presenting gig at Fyrecon?”

Yes, I did those things. Because I love swing dancing and I love writing. So it’s worth the psychic energy required to get out in public and teach/talk about them. But I’m still an introvert.

How bad is it? I looked at the facebook group for my graduating class and glanced over the pictures taken at the reunion. I recognized very few faces. If there weren’t names attached to the posts, I would have no clue who most of those people are. And in reality, I only vaguely recognized most of their names. But it gets worse. On Sunday, a woman in my ward (congregation) came up and asked me if I had gone to “our” reunion. This is someone with whom I have been in the same ward for 4ish years. This is someone who has taught at least 2 of my kids in primary. I had literally no idea that we went to the same school and graduated in the same class. The same thing happened in my previous ward, too. A guy who ended up being one of my best ward buddies graduated same year, same school. I was in the ward with him for 3 years before I figured that out.

So if we ever are in the same room together and I don’t rush up to introduce myself, let me apologize now. Feel free to come say “Hi” though. I will probably like you, and I’ll be grateful for the human contact.

Fortunately writing is a hobby/profession that lends itself well to introversion.

Submissions for StoryHack Issue 1 are open!

Thanks to a bundle of support during a successful kickstarter campaign, it’s time to get moving on Issue #1. So I’m firing the metaphorical starting gun now and opening up submissions. They’ll be open until 12:01 AM on July 3rd, 2017, three weeks from now. I may open them up again for a bit afterword if I need to, but that’s currently the plan.

Go check out the submissions page for full details on submitting.

There’s this submission system used by several pro magazines. I emailed and tweeted at it’s programmer a few times to see if he’s sell me a copy or whatever. He never got back to me. I’d like to use Moksha, but I can’t exactly justify the $50 a month just yet. So I started coding up a submission system the other day, but it’s not to a point where I can use it. Maybe for issue #2…

It has also become clear to me that I’ll be needing to change up the theme of this blog now that I want to do the whole magazine thing. Now I need to decide if I can be happy with a theme that’s already out there, or if I should just grind out one of my own again.