Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Robert Lowell Russell is in the Spotlight

I'm always impressed by the quality of writing I see in every issue of Penumbra. Today's author has also managed to impress me with the sheer amount of things he's managed to fill his time with since being published in Penumbra back in 2012.

Please give Robert Lowell Russell a warm welcome.

Can you tell us a bit about your publication experience with Penumbra?
My story, "Path of Stones," appeared in Penumbra's May '12 Fractured Fairy Tales issue, along with a number of other great stories. What I remember most about my publication experience is that it was painless and smooth. I've certainly come to appreciate editors with a light touch, and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. Actually writing the story, however, wasn't nearly as painless. No story I've ever written has gone through so many transformations. "Path of Stones" went from 1600 to 6000 words, eventually settling in at 3000 words. My story always included a mishmash of fairy tale and fantasy elements and a protagonist with an impaired memory, but I think forcing myself to strip away everything that didn't fit the theme helped me write a successful story. Orienting my protagonist who was lost while not losing my readers in the process proved particularly challenging.

What have you been up to since then?
"Path of Stones" was my eighth published story. I've had twenty more stories published or accepted since, all while trying to juggle the rigors of nursing school and dealing with being an undergrad for the second time (as well as being a husband and father) alongside students who are literally half my age. I have another half dozen or so pieces of short fiction making the rounds at various markets, but I've decided to move away from writing short fiction and start tackling longer projects. With this goal in mind, two of my most recently completed projects are a novelette and a novella. Next up on my "to do" list: my first novel.

Are you working on any big writing projects right now? If so, tell us a bit about them.
I've had success writing humorous speculative fiction, and my sense of humor tends to be pretty juvenile, so it dawned on me that I should combine what I already do well with my goal of writing longer pieces of fiction. I'm currently working on the first in what I hope will become a wildly successful series of middle grade books set in a very unusual middle school. With hard work, a little luck, and a lot of questionable content, one day I hope to join visionaries like Dav Pilkey and his Captain Underpants series on top of the American Library Association's Top Ten Challenged Books List.

Robert Lowell Russell once aspired to be a history professor, but found writing about the real world too constraining. He is a former librarian and current nursing student. Not satisfied with writing stories of questionable content for adults, he's hard at work on series of middle-grade books incorporating his love of not-so-super-heroes and toilet-humor.

Learn more about Robert Lowell Russell on his blog.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Shannon Leight is in the Spotlight

One of the greatest things about working at a magazine like Penumbra is that sometimes you get to meet newbie writers. The excitement rolls off of them in waves, and they're wonderful people to work with.

What's even better is when you get in touch and find out they're still writing stories that sound like you might just want to read them. Today's author, Shannon Leight, hasn't gotten a plethora of work published since she appeared in our March 2012 issue, but she has been busy writing.

Please give her a warm welcome.

Tell us a bit about your publication experience with Penumbra?
My story "A Thousand Words" (which was, in fact, more like 3,000 words) appeared in Penumbra's March 2012 steampunk issue. It was the first time I'd ever sold a story, so I don't remember much about the experience except that there was a lot of jumping up and down. The story itself is about a woman who owns a camera that reveals the one thing you most want to hide. I love photography and I've always been fascinated by the idea of a camera stealing the soul of the photo's subject. That story seed rattled around in my head for years before it collided with my writing group's semi-annual Short Story in a Week contest.

What have you been up to since then?
In the last two years, I've finished two novels and I'm about halfway done with a third. I also had another short story published. I participated in National Novel Writing Month for the first time last year, and won. It was a huge amount of fun, and now I'm left wondering why I never did it before. Well, aside from the fact that November is a horrible month at work. I wrote a good chunk of those 50,000 words in various hotel rooms. Turns out, travel is good for my writing! Amazing how much free time I have in the evenings when I don't have to actually, you know, DO anything. It's also amazing how much free time I have when the only available internet connection is roughly as quick as a frozen snail. Hmmm, the internet as productivity killer. Who would have guessed?

Are you working on any big projects right now? About to start something? Tell us all about it.
I'm working on two big projects right now. The first is to finish the in-progress novel, which has been a "pick it up, put it down, pick it up, put it down" project for the better part of three years. Having now finished two other novels, I feel like I finally know what's wrong with this one and can finish it. I've set myself a deadline of August 31, in the hopes of cutting down on my tendency to vacuum the cats instead of write.

The other big project is to finish revising the longer of the two finished novels, which is a riff on the legends of Robin Hood, with all the major characters recast as women. It's been through the first revision pass already, which involved cutting 50,000 words and writing 30,000 new ones. This is what happens when I change direction halfway through! Still, it's a better story for the re-writes. Once the revisions are done, I get to tackle the next big hurdle: the dreaded query letter. I'm not dreading that quite as much as I used to, having discovered Query Shark and (I hope!) learned from others' mistakes, but it's still a little intimidating.

Shannon Leight lives in Virginia with two mammals, a reptile, and an anthropologist. If she's not working or writing, she's probably gaming.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Barry Rosenberg is in the Spotlight

Some of our writers get their very first publication—or first professional level publication—from Penumbra. Others have been writing for decades and gotten dozens of stories published.

Today's author, Barry Rosenberg, falls somewhere in the middle. He's come to share a little bit about what he's up to and where he's going.

Tell us a bit about your publication experience with Penumbra?
I've had two stories published with Penumbra. The first one was called, "Much Ado About Something", and appeared in 2012. In this story, Shakespeare appears as a genie in a lamp. A genie, or djinn, is usually seen as a magical being who can gift three wishes.

In some traditions, there is a price to pay for the three gifts. In my version, after the three wishes, Shakespeare is released but the giftee then becomes the new genie. As this Shakespeare is basically a benevolent person, he works with the giftee to subvert the power of the lamp.

My second story "ArachnidMan" was published in 2012/13.

The captain of a star ship is a werewolf. On a rescue mission, the crew land on a planet where the intelligent life form has obviously evolved from spider-like creatures. On the other hand, the non-intelligent animals and insects have evolved from human-type creatures. Consequently, we have a situation in which spiders appear to eat and stamp on people. In addition, when the moon is full, one of the spider people shape-shifts into humanoid form.

The captain has to deal with this situation in order to complete the rescue.

I regularly submit stories to Penumbra. I find writing to the theme is a good exercise. I'd be quite satisfied if one story per year is accepted.

What have you been up to since then?
I’ve been writing short stories for over 30 years. During the past six years, I decided that the business of writing included sending the stories out. So since then, I have had three novels published by three small publishers. I have had 16 short stories published. I have also won three competitions.

I am also a woodworker. I use a lathe and turn bowls. I also use the lathe to make wood turned kaleidoscopes. I've attached a picture of one.

Very slowly, I make wooden automata. These are wooden sculptures (?) that move when a handle is turned. I've attached a picture of my boxing kangaroo. Turn the handle and it swoops across, fists flying.

Are you working on any big writing projects right now? If so, tell us a bit about them.
I've just started to send out a novel. It's paranormal. A theatre group and woodworker (!) want to stop coal gas seam mining. The mining company use a contractor who appears to be possessed.

My next novel will be a paranormal take on Shylock.

With short stories, I've worked out a methodology for creating a 4000-5000 word story. So if I'm not redoing a story, I think of a quirky idea and get going.

Barry Rosenberg was born in London but moved to Canberra, Australia, after completing a PhD in information processing. Becoming involved in meditation, he left research to concentrate on tai chi and meditation. Twelve years later, he joined the Australian Public Service. A few years further on and he resigned to become a home-based picture framer.

Nowadays, Barry lives on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, with his wife, Judith, a fine art printmaker. Here he combines writing with woodwork. He began creative writing with poetry in 1975. Since the 1990s, he has mostly written speculative fiction.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Art of Untangling the Dangle

Dangling Modifiers
Take a Tip from Helen #7

by Helen Hardt

Here's a crash course on dangling modifiers.

Recognize a dangling modifier when you see one.
Modifiers are words, phrases, or clauses that add description. In clear, logical sentences, you will often find modifiers right next to—either in front of or behind—the target words they logically describe.

Read this example:
Horrified, Mom snatched the deviled eggs from Jack, whose fingers were covered in cat hair.

Notice that horrified precedes Mom, its target, just as deviled sits right before eggs. Whose fingers were covered in cat hair follows Jack, its target.

Sometimes, however, an inexperienced writer will include a modifier but forget the target. The modifier thus dangles because the missing target word leaves nothing for the modifier to describe.

Dangling modifiers are grammatical errors and MUST be corrected. Their poor construction confuses readers. Know how to fix a dangling modifier.

Fixing a dangling modifier will require more than rearranging the words in the sentence. You will often need to add something new so that the modifier finally has a target word to describe:

Look at these examples:

Hungry, the leftover pizza was devoured.
Hungry is a single-word adjective. Notice that there is no one in the sentence for this modifier to describe.

Rummaging in her giant handbag, the sunglasses escaped detection.
Rummaging in her giant handbag is a participial phrase. In the current sentence, no word exists for this phrase to modify. Neither sunglasses nor detection has fingers to make rummaging possible!

With a sigh of disappointment, the expensive dress was returned to the rack.
With a sigh of disappointment is a string of prepositional phrases. If you look carefully, you do not find anyone in the sentence capable of feeling disappointed. Neither dress nor rack has emotions!

Strategies for revising dangling modifiers:

1. Name the appropriate or logical doer of the action as the subject of the main clause:

Having arrived late for practice, a written excuse was needed.
Who arrived late? This sentence says that the written excuse arrived late. To revise, decide who actually arrived late. The possible revision might look like this:
Having arrived late for practice, the team captain needed a written excuse.
The main clause now names the person (the captain) who did the action in the modifying phrase (arrived late).

2. Change the phrase that dangles into a complete introductory clause by naming the doer of the action in that clause:
Without knowing his name, it was difficult to introduce him.
Who didn't know his name? This sentence says that "it" didn't know his name. To revise, decide who was trying to introduce him. The revision might look something like this:
Because Maria did not know his name, it was difficult to introduce him.
The phrase is now a complete introductory clause; it does not modify any other part of the sentence, so is not considered "dangling."

3. Combine the phrase and main clause into one:
To improve his results, the experiment was done again.
Who wanted to improve results? This sentence says that the experiment was trying to improve its own results. To revise, combine the phrase and the main clause into one sentence. The revision might look something like this:
He improved his results by doing the experiment again.

More examples of dangling modifiers and their revisions:
INCORRECT: After reading the original study, the article remains unconvincing.
REVISED: After reading the original study, I find the article unconvincing.

INCORRECT: Relieved of your responsibilities at your job, your home should be a place to relax.
REVISED: Relieved of your responsibilities at your job, you should be able to relax at home.

Please feel free to ask questions,


To read excerpts from Helen Hardt's books please click here.

Helen Hardt is the Head Line Editor for Musa Publishing and a freelance editor. She is also an award-winning author. Helen writes contemporary, historical, paranormal, and erotic romance for several publishers. Her non-writing interests include Harley rides with her husband, attending her sons’ sports and music performances, traveling, and Taekwondo (she’s a blackbelt.)

Learn more about Helen Hardt and her editing service on her website.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


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Tuesday, July 8, 2014


by Dianna L. Gunn

A lot has happened in the last three years. Penumbra has grown more popular. Musa has grown to become an ebook publishing giant and published hundreds of fantastic books. And many Penumbra writers have gotten their own books published or accomplished other great things.

Today I'd like you to give a warm welcome to one such writer, Chris Ward:

Can you tell us a bit about your publication experience with Penumbra?

To be honest, I was a little surprised when Penumbra accepted my story, The Substitute, for their sports sci-fi issue. I had written this strange little thing about an android playing cricket, and unsure what quite to do with it, I had just left it on my hard drive for several months. When I saw the Penumbra sports issue was accepting submissions, I sent it off without any realistic expectations of it being accepted. I guess it must have been better than I thought.

What have you been up to since then?
Penumbra was the last magazine to publish any of my fiction. The following year I wrote a novel called The Tube Riders, and after failing to get an agent for it, pretty much gave up writing for a while. Those were the darkest days of my writing career so far. In 2012 I resurfaced, and decided to try self-publishing through Amazon. Since then I’ve self-published five novels, including The Tube Riders and its sequels, The Tube Riders: Exile and The Tube Riders: Revenge. The series has been a minor hit, with the first book now having (at the time of writing) 125 reviews across Amazons US and UK. A recent reviewer said I was a better writer than Veronica Roth (of Divergent fame), which was kind of cool, and I have quiet hopes that The Tube Riders series will break out and become the next big hit. It gets glowing reviews for the most part (especially in the UK, where it’s set), so I’m hopeful.

As for my Penumbra story, The Substitute, its publication inspired me to begin writing a series of cricket-related short stories under the penname of Michael White, simple tales of heroism on the village green cricket pitch, some with a sci-fi or supernatural slant. I now have six available for sale, plus an omnibus edition.

Otherwise, I’ve continued living my life out in Japan, where I work by day in a high school as an assistant teacher. I’m married, and a father to two needy cats.

Are you working on any big writing projects right now? If so, tell us a bit about them.
Many, many, many. I have a Tube Riders prequel in the pipeline, plus a standalone novel set between the second and third books. In addition to sci-fi, I write in all sorts of genres, and currently have a comedy and a young adult romance/mystery waiting for my editor’s attention. Next up for publication, though, is a new series about a deformed evil genius called Professor Crow, the first book of which, They Came Out After Dark, should be available in the next month or so. The second book in the series, The Castle of All Nightmares, is being written now. These are blackly comic horror/thrillers with a colorful cast of characters, both good and bad. Unlike the Tube Riders series, which is pretty much one long story, these can be read as single stories.

Learn more about Chris Ward on his blog and Facebook.

Be sure to enter Musa Publishing's easy contest,
Keep the Kids Reading
Click here to win paperback books from top children and YA authors.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Common Mistakes Among Writers

by Sarina Dorie

When we go to a job interview, we wear our best suit, come with a list of references, and might even remember to put on deodorant. At least, we do if we want the job. When we format a manuscript, self-edit a novel, or polish a book before sending it off to an agent or editor, we strive to present it as though we are professional writers who know what we are doing. At least, we do if we want to be published. Whether a seasoned writer, or someone just starting out in the writing process, there are weaknesses we don’t always recognize in our skills. We get into ruts with grammar, formatting or stylistic “rules” we learned early on in high school writing classes that are bad practices in professional writing. Learn the common mistakes so you can recognize when you make these in your writing so you can avoid them.

Five Common Mistakes

1. The manuscript isn’t in manuscript format
Short stories have a particular format and novels have different requirements. Additionally, some publishers have very specific variations from the standards that a submitter must be aware of. The number one cause listed on editor, agent and magazine websites for writing to be rejected is not reading the guidelines.

2. Grammar errors and inconsistencies
Sometimes a simple spell check will suffice. Other times, one needs to look up rules that are unfamiliar. Some rules of grammar are meant to be broken, but it is important to start with foundational knowledge and break a rule consistently if one chooses to do so. Classes, critique groups, peers and beta readers can help.

3. The mechanics of the story are broken
Sentence structure is unvaried, past and present tense rules are not consistently followed, or there are various typos not covered under grammatical errors that make the manuscript a chore to read. It is common to find long sections of dialogue without dialogue tags, setting information lumped together, chunks of unbroken interior monologue or sensory information in one section, and long expanses of exposition in others. The story might be all, or large sections of, telling.

4. The story itself is broken
The premise is unbelievable, the idea is trite or overdone, or the plot has no story arc. Maybe the characters are so unsympathetic the reader can’t get into the story or the writer has gotten a vital piece of information wrong that affects the story. This can be pretty important if an author is writing a paranormal romance with werewolves and the characters and plot don’t reflect accurate, wolf-like traits.

5. The story is boring
This usually means it lacks conflict. It might also be because there is no hook in the beginning, or it could be because the reader doesn’t understand or care about the characters’ motivations, feelings or situation. The reader needs to be emotionally invested. Sure, it might just be because the reader isn’t the author’s target market, but even romance readers can be persuaded to read a mystery if they care about the characters or a mystery reader can read a romance if they are invested in the plot.

Sarina Dorie brings to her writing background experience working as an English teacher in South Korea and Japan, working as a copyeditor and copywriter, and reading countless badly written stories. Sarina’s published novel, Silent Moon, won second place in the Duel on the Delta Contest, second place in the Golden Rose, third place in the Winter Rose Contest and third in the Ignite the Flame Contest. Her unpublished novel, Wrath of the Tooth Fairy won first place in the Golden Claddagh and in the Golden Rose contests. She has sold short stories to over thirty magazines and anthologies including Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Cosmos, Penumbra, Sword and Laser, Perihelion, Bards and Sages, Neo-Opsis, Flagship, Allasso, New Myths, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, and Crossed Genres to name a few.

Silent Moon is currently available as an ebook through Amazon and will be released in print next month.

Learn more about Sarina Dorie on her website.