Thursday, May 7, 2015

Biggest 'Ah-ha!' Moments in Writing Web Ring

Thank you to all the authors, editors, and magazines that made this web series about writing possible. I was only able to put this giant ring of essays together, each detailing an author's biggest 'Ah-ha!' moment in writing, because of all of you.

For those who haven't heard of this web series: What is the Biggest 'Ah-Ha!' Moments in Writing Web-Series?

Who is in this web series you might ask? Below is a list of all the authors involved, as well as a link to their post. Most of the authors are Bram Stoker winners and nominees from the last ten years or so. I hope you will read this, remembering to pass it on to other writers and people who have a love of writing. Remember, this 'web book' was put together for all new writers, so they would have a free resource to study their craft.

Please feel free to share this web-ring with others.

Michael Knost - "The Aha! Moment"

Joe Pulver – Dancing with Words

Lisa Morton – Gaining Confidence

Kimberly A. Bettes – Don't Believe Your Eyes

Brandon Ford – Drafts

Keith Minnion – Full Circle

Greg Petaloudis – Introduction to Diabolique Magazine

Tracy L. Carbone – POV and Camera Angles

Don D'Auria and Samhain Publishing - Gothic Horror

JG Faherty - Thoughts on Writing

Sheri White – An Editor Talks Shop

Norman L. Rubenstein –  JournalStone - An Editor's Biggest 'Uh-Uh!' Moments

Benjamin Kane Ethridge – Knowledge is Power

Bruce Memblatt – The Importance of Research

Bev Vincent- I Smell an A-ha Moment

Marty Beaudet – Being ****ing True

Gemma Files – The Croneberg Method

Gregory Hall – Strange Bedfellows

Lynn Hubbard – Building a Character

Stephen Graham Jones – Three Moments

Nate Kenyon – A Good Knifing

Nick Mamatas – Writer or Filmmaker?

Piper Bayard – Hemingway was Right

Brian McKinley – Adverbs

Stephen Volk – She Spoke

India Drummond – The Value of Broad Experience

Nancy Kilpatrick – On Editing

Stacey Longo Harris – Writing a Successful Query

Draven Ames - I'm Not Ready

David Oppegaard – The Core Puzzle

Marty Young – Sit and Write

Gwendolyn Robertson – Start, or you may not ever start

Bruce Boston – Letting it Come to You

Geoff Brown- Networking

Kevin Lucia – Changing My Thought Process

Hank Schwaeble – Letting Go of Reality

KH Vaughan – Where to Start

Frank Larnerd – The First Draft of Anything is Shit

Steve Tem – Beyond What Defines Us

Allyson Bird – The Artist and Society

Michael McCarty  - Big Bangs

Tim Waggoner – The Devil’s in the Details

Michael Collings – My Aha Moment in Writing

Graham Masterton – Rules of Writing

Ellie Ann Soderstrom – Creativity Without Walls

Matt Moore  – An Author and the Lingo

Tom Barczak – Eaten by the Bear

Brett J. Talley - Wanna Bet?

Simon Wood - Hidden Agendas

John Hornor Jacobs - THE END

Amy Grech - Why I Write Horror

Erin Lale, Acquisitions Editor for Damnation Books - What We Seek

Caren Widner Hanten - They Are Waiting

Ronald Malfi - The Best

Josh Wagner - How to Show Backstory

Maurice Broaddus - My Aha Moment

Teresa Milbrodt - Tips for Surviving the Writing Life

Stan Swanson - Little Moments

Douglas Equils - My Aha Moment

Walter Greatshell - Fast or Slow Zombies

Jeani Rector, Founder and Editor at The Horror Zine - A Day in the Life an Editor

Weston Ochse -  My Aha Moment,Thirteen Years in the Making

John Peters - Where to Begin - Right in the Middle of the Action

Jeani Rector, Founder and Editor at The Horror Zine - What Does it Take to be a Successful Short Story Writer?

Norman Prentiss - Change in Direction

Roy Robbins - Bad Moon Books - You Like What?

Brad Hodson - Building Tension

Kirstyn McDermott - Out Loud

Brian Matthews - My own Worst Enemy

Rachel Nussbaum - Clicking Together

R. Thomas Riley - Profanity in Writing

John R. Little - Moving to Longer Forms

Wrath James White - Only You

Mark Allan Gunnells - Going Ghost!

Chad Helder - Allowing the Unconscious to Enter

Joe Gazzam - Screened Writer

Kevin McClintock - Bird Writes

John Palisano - Writing in the Digital Age

Charles Day - Why I'm a YA Novelist

Paul Tremblay - My Aha! Moment

Dee Anne Finken - Concise Writing

Lisa Mannetti - Researching a Period Piece

Lisa Mannetti - Kamikaze Plot Rescue 

Joe Buff - Listen to your Agent

Jack Dann - Listen...

Joe McKinney - Career Counseling

Lucy Snyder - Two Big Moments

Frank Hutton - Be a Brave New Voice

John Everson - Strangle Your Inner Critic

Nancy Kilpatrick - On Editing

A Hand Selection of other authors will be added in the near future.

Thank you to all who have taken a part of this, read this, and to all those who share this with someone.

~ Draven Ames

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

What We've Learned in 25 Years of Publishing Aurealis - Aurealis and Michael Pryor

Aurealis is Australia’s premier magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Now in its twenty-fifth year, we began – naturally – as a print magazine and now we electronically deliver the best speculative fiction in the land. Over the years we’ve discovered, fostered and featured many, many writers and illustrators and acted as a showcase for the finest in the field.
The article below is a distillation of twenty-five years of experience, reading and selecting stories for inclusion in our magazine. We’ve seen things … and we thought that sharing could be of benefit to all those out there who are thinking of submitting to publications like ours.

What We’ve Learned in 25 Years of Publishing Aurealis
Aurealis has a proud history of publishing fiction in Australia. Since our first issue, we have introduced new authors to the reading public and given established authors a means to continue their relationship with their audience.
These are some of the things we’ve learned over nearly twenty-five years of selecting stories for publication.
• If you don’t read in the genre, you’re unlikely to create an original, refreshing genre story.
• One idea is rarely enough to sustain a story.
• Many stories would be far better off if they were a third shorter.
• If you use genre trappings, then your story will end up in the reject pile. ‘Trappings’ implies something added after the event, mere decoration. Respect the genre.
• Short stories are short. Don’t waste time—get into the story.
• If you can’t handle dialogue, your story will suffer badly.
• If nothing happens in your story, you don’t have a story. You might have a vignette, or a mood piece, but we don’t publish vignettes or mood pieces.
• Stories that only have one character can struggle. So much talking to her/himself…
• Don’t submit a first draft. Submit a story that you’ve polished until it glows.
• Clichés are clichés are clichés—and we’re not interested. Whether it’s a clichéd story idea or a clichéd character or a clichéd resolution, we’re really not interested.
• Solid, well-crafted writing beats pretentiousness every time.
• We are well over monospaced fonts. Courier is hard to read.
• If you’re not spelling and punctuating properly, you’re not using the fundamental building blocks of writing. Very few stories show a finely structured, well-nuanced, carefully textured narrative with poor spelling and grammar.
• Genre cred isn’t enough. You must write well on top of that.
• Subtly integrating background detail about the different places and times your story is set in is a major and impressive skill, likely to get our attention.
• Character diversity is a good thing and tends to suggest a thoughtfulness that bodes well for the rest of your story.
• If you jump on a trend from TV or the movies, it’s likely to be too late. We will have seen it a million times by the time your story gets to us—and we’ve probably rejected all of them.
• Surprise endings and shock plot twists rarely are.
• Humour is hard.
• If you don’t read our guidelines, you’re not likely to get published in Aurealis.

Career Counseling - Joe McKinney - Biggest Aha! Moments in Writing

Great Ah-ha! Moments in Writing:  Career Counseling
By Joe McKinney

I’ll let you in on a little secret.  When I got started, I had no idea I was a writer.  None.  I wrote a novel called Dead City, about a young patrolman trying to get home to his family on the first night of the zombie apocalypse, because at the time I was a young patrolman dealing with the stress and anxiety that comes with being a new parent.  I kept wondering to myself why anybody in his or her right mind would trust me with a kid.  I mean, me.  I’ve got issues out the wazoo.  In what kind of universe am I qualified to raise a child?  Every time my wife and I went to the doctor’s office for a checkup, all I could think of was that famous opening quatrain from Philip Larkin:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

That was totally me.  I was so scared of being a dad.  I was so totally convinced that I was going to screw it all up.  That poor child in there, mewling in the nursery, she was going to have the world’s most conflicted, most frightened, most God help me I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing parent this side of wherever.

I was struggling.

But I’m a fixer.  I’m that guy who has to do something about his problems rather than just accept them.

So, what I did was write a novel about a young cop fighting zombies.

It seemed simple enough; and really, the book wasn’t written with any sort of market in mind.  I knew nothing of publishing, in fact.  I had only vague notions, and those were of the distorted kind I’d picked up from authors who like to write about authors, like Stephen King.

I honestly thought it worked like this:  You write a book.  It becomes a bestseller.  You quit your day job.  You wait around for adventure to come to you.

Really.  No joke.  That was what I thought the writing life was like.

But, back to the novel.

I wrote it, and a publisher bought it.  The book came out in mass-market paperback – with a horrible cover I might add.  But, despite all the marks against it, it did quite well.  I wrote a zombie novel when there were very few other zombie novels out there.  And I was in bookstores, before bookstores became dinosaurs.  What that meant was that I got read by readers hungry for what I had written.

I sold a bunch of copies.  Not a million, but a good amount.

And here’s the kicker, I kept selling.  My editor at Kensington admitted to me once that he expected my book to die on the vine within three months, and I was right there with him.  I wasn’t a writer, after all.  I was just some guy who used zombies as a metaphor for the fears of becoming a dad.

But let’s turn back the clock a bit.

I started as a short story writer.  The whole reason I wrote at all was to talk about individual moments that mattered to me.

And that meant short stories, mostly.

I’d write them, staple the pages together, and leave the manuscript at the corner of my desk until the next idea came along.  Nearly all those stories eventually got tossed in the trash because I didn’t think of myself as a writer.  Writing stories was just something I did because my mind was restless and needed an outlet.  And I hate Sudoku.

Yet I found myself with kind of a hit on my hands.  With Dead City continuing to sell, I suddenly found it easy to do something with those short stories I’d been trashing.  I could actually type them up, polish them, and ship them out to magazines and anthologies.  For a year after the publication of Dead City I went on a story-writing binge, sometimes turning out as many as three in a single week.

I sent them out to every market I could find, rarely researching the recipient beforehand…because everybody in this writing business of ours is respectable and has honorable intentions, right?

To be brief, I learned two lessons from this.

First, research your publisher before you agree to do anything with them.  There are good people out there…and then there are the creeps, and the dead beats, and the assholes, and the completely fucking clueless…and thanks to the Internet, every single one of them can put together an anthology or a magazine or a website or whatever.  You are the company you keep, my mom once told me, and after a year of recklessly publishing, I found myself in the company of some dubious bedfellows.

Research, people.  Know whose mule you’re hitching your wagon to.  When everything is said and done, a good name (you can put the word “brand” in here, if you want) is worth its weight in gold.  You have to be your own best advocate in this world, and that means learning the skills needed to understand the business side of writing and to navigate its (sometimes) rocky shores.

There are sirens out there that will guide you to your doom, so beware.

My second lesson is this:  The novel is king.

As I mentioned above, Dead City did better than my publisher expected.  It wasn’t the walkaway success The Walking Dead was, but I was suddenly money in the pocket, and publishers like that kind of thing.  After a year of sprinting through short stories I got an email from my editor at Kensington.  He wanted to know about a sequel.

I read the email and said, “What sequel?”  I’m not a writer.  I had the one story.  That was it.

Until I thought of the short stories I’d been cranking out.  Only then did I step back and say, “Gosh, maybe I am a writer.”

Yes, short stories are fun – but unless you’re Ray Bradbury, they don’t pay the bills.  I can’t stress this enough, and I really wish there had been somebody there to tell me, “Hey, don’t wait.  Writing is fun, and it can be a business too, if you work at it, and that means keeping the novels coming.”  Had I heard that, I would have been able to approach this writing gig with a little more direction and purpose.

I seem to have done okay, but really, it’s been a race to catch up on the time I lost that first year of my career as a professional writer.  So, my advice for managing your writing career consists of two things. First, know the business.  Learn it.  Take the time to discover the ins and outs of your trade.  And second, write books.  Always be looking toward that next novel, and make sure it’s better than anything you’ve ever written up to that point!

Change in Direction - Norman Prentiss - Biggest Aha! Moments in Writing

Change in Direction

A couple years ago, I was asked to submit a story to an anthology called Commutability: Stories about the Journey from Here to There. The editor, David Bell, was asking some horror authors to sub, but the anthology would include mainstream stories as well. Since the broad theme of the book was travel, I looked through my idea file for anything that might fit. I had one concept I'd been kicking around for a while, under the heading of "Strange Post-Apolacyptic Scenarios." The idea was to portray a future where unseen (supernatural?) barriers would suddenly appear along highways, preventing any high speed travel. I'd never gotten much past the idea phase--partly because, I think, the concept was a little too science-fiction, and thus outside my comfort zone. But it seemed a really good fit for the Commutability anthology, so I decided to go with it.

I had the entire story planned out, from the title ("Distance"), to the ending, and knew which scenes I needed to write to create the story. For the opening scene, I'd decided to present a memory from before-the-world-changed--as a kind of ironic commentary on the weirdness of the story's present situation, and also to ease readers into the sci-fi elements of the story. I wrote the first sentence: "On the day of his brother's death, perhaps at the very instant of Denny's surprising accident, Scott again recalled the terror rides of his youth." These terror rides involved the older brother taking the story's protagonist for late-night drives along back roads, and for thrills the brother would switch off the headlights and steer blindly for long stretches. The opening scene engaged me more than I expected, and I developed the relationship between the brothers a bit, and the protagonist's mixed feelings about those dangerous rides.

But I couldn't manage to write the next scenes: the ones with the sci-fi elements that were the actual genesis of the story and were supposed to provide its framework. I put the story aside for a few days, and dreaded going back to it.

Until I had my "ah-ha!" moment. I figured out how to write the story without the sci-fi elements: more as a mainstream family drama, with a main character slipping into dark thoughts after his brother's fatal accident. It wasn't just that I was uncomfortable with the sci-fi elements…the story didn't need them, and it actually didn't need any overt horror/supernatural elements, either. The finished story, as it turned out, ended up being one of my favorites, partly because of that "ah ha" moment, and how happy I was when I broke through the story barrier that had been keeping me from moving forward.

I've had similar experiences with some other stories, where I've envisioned the story in a rigid way (to suit a particular market, or maybe just to try something new), and I'll keep writing to my original concept, plugging away at the daily word count. But then, something will happen and I'll figure out a way to make that story into my story: one that develops my favorite themes and allows for the atmospheric effects I like to produce. Those are happy times for me as a writer--when the story just clicks, and things finally feel "right."

So, the lesson for me is to be careful not to let the original idea for a story become a kind of trap. It's fine to have an outline or detailed notes about where a story can go--and I've written quite a few stories where the initial plans worked well all the way through. But some of my best experiences as a writer happened in those "ah ha" moments after I broke away from the outline and went in an entirely new direction.

Norman Prentiss won the 2010 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction for his first book, Invisible Fences. Previously he won a Stoker in the Short Fiction category for “In the Porches of My Ears,” which originally appeared in Postscripts 18. Other publications include the novella The Fleshless Man, a mini-collection Four Legs in the Morning, a chapter in the round-robin novella The Crane House: A Halloween Story, and story appearances in Blood Lite 3, Zombies vs. Robots: This Means War, Horror Drive-In: An All-Night Short Story Marathon, Black Static, Commutability, Damned Nation, Tales from the Gorezone, Best Horror of the Year, The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, and four editions of the Shivers anthology series. His poetry has appeared in Writer Online, Southern Poetry Review, Baltimore's City Paper, and A Sea of Alone: Poems for Alfred Hitchcock.

Visit him online at

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

On Editing - Nancy Kilpatrick - Biggest Aha! Moments in Writing

    As every publisher will tell you, "Anthologies don't sell."  They do, of course, but what is required to garner sales is "names", well-known and best-selling authors, with a following. Not only are such people necessary to sell to the public, but they are also crucial in terms of an editor selling the anthology idea to a publisher.
    When David Morrell and I co-edited TESSERCTS THIRTEEN (2009), it was a wide-open anthology--the only completely open antho I've edited.  Over 200 stories came in and we both read all of them, some several times.  That's a lot of work.  The rest of my edited anthologies have been only partially open.  Once the "names" are locked in, I try to include a few new writers who have written a knock-out tale.
    One thing I've learned over my 20 years of editing is that most new writers overwrite.  As Anton Chekov said, "The art of writing is the art of abbreviation."  The great thing about what is written down in print or ebook is that it can be reread, so there's no need to say it twice.  The other weakness I notice in new writers is overdescription.  Don't describe what's obvious, normal, commonplace and understood by all--that puts the reader to sleep.  Save the wordage for the tension of the plot, where it's needed most.
Nancy Kilpatrick is an award-winning writer and editor.  As the latter, she's just handed in her 13th anthology, EXPIRATION DATE, to be release at WHC 2014.  Her newest published anthology DANSE MACABRE: CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH THE REAPER features stories by Tanith Lee, Brian Lumley, Tom Piccirilli Nancy Holder and others, and has won the Paris Book Festival's award for best Anthology of 2012.  For a list of most of her anthologies, check her (sadly in need of updating) website:  And please join her on Facebook.