Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How a Person Becomes a Writer

by Anna Yeatts

I wanted to be a writer when I was young in the same way I wanted to be an astronaut, a pirate, or a showgirl. But I didn’t truly become inspired to write until four years ago — after the birth of my son and a near-crippling bout of postpartum depression.

I had an emptiness inside that had nothing to do with external fulfillment. I had two beautiful children, a loving and supportive husband, a comfortable lifestyle. Who was I to whine about being intellectually unfulfilled? The self-induced guilt surrounding my depression ate at me, day in and out. It was like burrowing into a hollow place that kept closing in on top of me.

I remember being on the phone with my sister. I was exhausted, sleep deprived, and probably hadn’t showered in days. She was trying to be patient and supportive, but my reasoning ran in obvious circles. I’m so tired of feeling this way. Yes, it’s awful. No, I can’t do anything about it.

Finally, my brother-in-law chipped in from the background. “Ask her when she’s going to shut up and write her book.”

Up to that moment, there had been no mention of my writing. His overly blunt statement was the proverbial thunderbolt from the blue. I stood in the living room, frowning at the sofa, and wondering why the hell I hadn’t written anything yet.

Let’s just say I got a little mixed up in my career choices, tried medical school due to a case of identity foreclosure, decided I was more fascinated by cadavers than living people, and had zero interest in actually getting that MD.

I’d always wanted to write, but it was a dream I never thought would happen. The possibility of becoming a writer was like holding a soap bubble in my hands. I was too frightened to breath because it might burst. I walked around for days, turning the idea over in my head, feeling the first stirrings of “maybe” I’d felt in a long time.

I cornered my husband in the bathroom a week or so later. It was all I could do to say the words “I want to write” before I burst into tears. But he didn’t laugh. He nodded and asked what we needed to do to make it happen. And he’s never faltered along my bumpy little journey since then.

I’m lucky to have a spouse who takes the children to the park or cooks dinner so I can write. I have two beautiful children who think it’s awesome that Mommy is dark and twisty and writes about ghosts and ghoulies.

Through it all, I found the part of myself that lives in the darkness and I managed to pull it into the light. It’s still a battle. But it has been pouring that struggle onto a page, wrestling those rough moments into submission and making something beautiful out of them that has made me a writer.

All my best,

Anna Yeatts is a fantasy and horror writer hiding out in Pinehurst, NC. Her short fiction has appeared in Suddenly Lost in Words, Mslexia, and Spark: A Creative Anthology among others and publishes Flash Fiction Online.

Learn more about Anna on her website and follow her on Twitter.

Thursday, September 25, 2014


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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Get Your Point Across

Punctuating dialogue tags and action in the middle of a sentence of dialogue
Take a Tip from Helen #11

by Helen Hardt

I've seen many errors in this area. I hope this post helps you.

If a sentence of dialogue is broken up with a dialogue tag, end the first part of the sentence with a comma and closing quotation mark, write the dialogue tag, comma, then the rest of the sentence, starting out lowercase.

“The thing is,” Gregory said, fidgeting with his phone and not meeting Beth’s eyes, “you told me that you would help me out this weekend. I was counting on you.”

If the sentence of dialogue is broken up with an action beat, use em dashes. The words that go between are treated as part of the sentence, meaning you don’t have to capitalize the first word or add a period at the end before the dialogue picks back up. Whether the dashes go inside the quotes or outside depends on whether the speech is intended to be interrupted by the action or intended to be spoken smoothly throughout the action.

Dialogue is paused for action:

“Well, you—” she huffed and grabbed the phone out of Gregory’s hand “—clearly didn’t listen to what I said.”

Dialogue continues uninterrupted while action is performed:

“What I said”—she placed the phone on the counter—“was that if I could get off work, then I would help. And I’m sorry, but my boss said no.”

Dialogue continues uninterrupted while the narrator comments to himself:

“What I said”—damn, that man never listens—“was that if I could get off work, then I would help. And I’m sorry, but my boss said no.”


To read excerpts from Helen Hardt's books please click a vendor's name.
Musa Publishing - Amazon

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, September 18, 2014


by Floris M. Kleijne

A good author plays his* strengths. A great author goes all the extra miles; a great author strives. A brilliant author? A brilliant author does all that, and wises up. Now make no mistake about it: a good author usually is a worthwhile read, and success comes to good authors more often, and in larger quantities, than to the truly great, it seems. Dan Brown is an excellent example. Mr. Brown made a gazillion dollars playing his strengths, and no one will deny that he is great when it comes to concept, theme, and effective scene-building. He plays those strengths like a maestro, and does the rest neatly by the book**. The result is a series of good—and hugely successful—books, written by a good author.

Had Mr. Brown wanted to write a great book though, had he been a great author, he would have had to dive deeply into believable, multi-dimensional, layered characterization; he would have had to develop his narrative structure skill set; and he would definitely have had to create his own, distinctive voice to support all of that.

Much like Guy Gavriel Kay does so well in the best fantasy novel I know, Tigana. Kay goes for broke in all aspects of this book: his concept is gripping, his themes are powerful, his scenes have perfect rhythm; but he surpasses Dan Brown in exquisite narrative structure, a strong and fitting voice, and above all deeply insightful characterization for all his characters—including the antagonists, who both transcend the default fantasy evil overlord template. And the whole is so much more than the sum of these parts, because the interplay of these elements strengthens them all to greatness.

In much the same way, Iain M. Banks was a great author, while Peter F. Hamilton is merely good. Their novels are similar in that they are exquisitely readable galaxy-spanning sagas, but Banks brings powerful concepts and themes to all his Culture books, brings his characters to full, tormented life, and writes excellent prose; while Hamilton writes popcorn space opera, albeit really long popcorn space opera, getting away with simple characters, perfunctory themes, and stylistic mediocrity because he has such great command of the other requirements.

Or compare two of the Nebula finalists for 2013, N.K. Jemisin's Killing Moon and Saladin Ahmeds Throne of the Crescent Moon. Though Ahmed bagged the award, he is clearly the good author, and Jemisin the great. Ahmed's novel is a bug-hunt adventure novel, well-told and entertaining, but easily forgotten; while Jemisin, starting with a comparable setting and concept, digs deep into the darkness of human nature, and layers a thematic depth under the narrative that lingers long after the last page.

A great writer starts with his strengths, and then struggles to achieve mastery in his weaknesses, until every aspect of his story shines, and the whole isn't merely greater, but transcends the sum of its parts.

But even then there is one more ingredient, one intangible, one thing that goes beyond what can easily be translated into reading recommendations, or writing advice: the touch of brilliance that defies all rules. The daring to not simply leave the trodden paths, but to venture over the horizon, where no paths exist. In Tigana, Kay gives two of his most important characters a star-crossed relationship that defines and drives both of them, and develops into a centerpiece for the entire novel, but that would sound dangerous and ill-advised to the point of controversy in any synopsis. In his masterpiece Use of Weapons, Banks defies traditional narrative structure, and redefines human cruelty with a chair.

But my favorite example of this magical ingredient is not a book at all, but a movie. In Magnolia, P.T. Anderson demonstrates that he is a true master of all elements that work together to create a cinematic masterpiece—a great director. Most of the aspects of the movie that work well—a compelling storyline, an inventive and gripping narrative structure, excellent characters with harrowing backstories—can be analyzed, documented; explained. But only Anderson could have created that almost whimsical prologue, and had his main characters break out in song*** halfway through, and felt, perhaps even known, that these additions would take the movie across the boundary between greatness and brilliance.

A good author plays his strengths. A great author strives. And a brilliant author trusts his instincts, even when they seem to fly in the face of every writing rule, lesson, and best practice.

A brilliant author wises up.

* For the sake of this post, let's do an Ann Lecky and pretend our language has achieved
gender-neutral pronouns, which just happen to resemble the old masculine ones.

** The book being Larry Brooks's "Story Engineering", where I'm stealing my storytelling concepts from for this piece.

*** The song in question is beautiful, heart-wrenching "Wise Up" by Aimee Mann.

Floris M. Kleijne is the award-winning author of the novelettes Meeting the Sculptor and Conversation with a Mechanical Horse. He was the first Dutchman ever to win the Writers of the Future contest, as well as the first Dutch active member of SFWA. His short fiction has appeared in the Writers of the Future anthologies, Andromeda Spaceways, Leading Edge Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and other publications. His flash fiction ghost story A Cold Welcome is slated to appear in the October issue of Penumbra, Paranormal Adventures.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


If you could read works by only one author for the rest of your life, what author would you choose and why?

One author? For the rest of my life? I think we need to talk fine print here. Are the selected author's works defined as existing works only? Are future works guaranteed? Is that guarantee null and void if said author is deceased/pre-deceases me? Or can I assume that the author will continue to generate new works as soon as I need another book to read? Are pseudonyms counted when determining canon? Is my panic at the thought of being restricted to one author showing?

Thing is, I only like an author as much as I liked their last story. I'll remember them fondly in a we'll-always-have-Paris sort of way, but I'm not going back to Paris. Sure, I might get nostalgic, pick up a new release down the line, but we both know the magic's gone and it's just a pity read. (Don't get me wrong, there are some great authors on my pity read list. I might even recommend them to you should we have similar tastes in fiction. But they've already written what I consider their best book and I know they can't match the experience of discovering that book. (We can debate merits of certain titles later.))

I'm not sure I could even restrict myself to one genre let alone one author. (Unless you'll accept fiction as a genre?) I read different authors for different reasons. Actually, it's all the same reason: I read authors who do great voice. Authors who if I found a page of a novel, I'd know it as theirs. Other than that, I'm eclectic. I just want to be entertained. Some authors I read because they make me laugh; some because they can suspend a moment taut like a tightrope; some because they keep me guessing; some because they amaze me; and some because they disturb me. I can't think of one author who can accomplish all that. Sorry.

If I'm going to be stuck with one author--oh, god, the horror! The horror!--then it would have to be someone prolific. And the problem with picking an author who has a nice canon going is that authors in this category have a shelf life. Some authors whose new releases I've scooped up for most of my adult life have already expired. So unless there is a guarantee that my choice--even if already dead--would release new work forever, I can't pick anyone I've already read.

I'm a binge reader. I devour books. And I'm not one to re-read. I don't pour over prose. I finish a book and pick up the next. There's a lot of fiction out there; I can't waste time reading words I've already digested. I'm trying to find my next favorite author. I have spots on my roster to fill. The deaths of Elmore Leonard and James Herbert left gaping holes in my rotation.

Choose one? Nope. Uh-uh. Not me. But I'm open to suggestions.

H.L. Fullerton writes speculative fiction, which is occasionally published in Penumbra eMag (June 2013, September 2013 & September 2014); reads popular fiction (unpopular, too); and routinely refuses to pick favorites.

To see a selection of H.L. Fullerton’s work please click here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sandra Odell is in the Spotlight

Sandra Odell is an energetic woman who allows her creativity to follow whatever path it chooses. We caught up with this little dynamo to learn a little more of how her career is shaping.

Can you tell us a bit about your publication experience with Penumbra?
"Good-bye Hello" was written shortly after my mother's death from inoperable, non-responsive kidney cancer, and was one of my first sales. Crippled by grief, sliding two steps back for every step forward,, writing was my only solace and outlet. The story was my way of expressing that confusion, as well as exploring the concept of a lost soul finding the parts of itself that mattered the most.

PENUMBRA gave Elspeth a good home. From Celina's appreciation of how the story "resonated" with her to the final contract and payment, I never once felt left out of the loop or overlooked. When writers and editors come together as a team, it can only make for a stronger story.

What have you been up to since then?
Wow. Well, I'm still writing. I've finished my first novel, and now have enough qualifying short story sales to finalize my application to join the SFWA. I helped with author spotlights for LIGHTSPEED's Women Destroy Science Fiction issue as well as the Women Destroy Fantasy issue.

Shortly after "Good-bye Hello" was published, my husband opened his own game store and I help behind the scenes. I suppose you could say we're married to one another and the business.

Oh, and my son's are now both taller than me.

Are you working on any big writing projects right now? If so, tell us a bit about them.
I'm currently shopping for representation for my first novel, a YA alt-Victoriana piece set in an alternate history 1852 Hawai'i with a native Hawaiian main character. I have four short stories in need of a bit of polish, then its on to laying the bones for my next novel (egads!) about murder, gender identity, and what it means to be human in the next century.

I also advocate for needs and ability diversity in fiction, and am exploring the possibility of a website to support both writers and readers. If you're on Twitter, check out #WeNeedDiverseBooks for more information.

Sandra Odell is an avid reader, compulsive writer, and rabid chocoholic. Her work has appeared in, or is forthoming from, Jim Baen's UNIVERSE, Crossed Genres, Galaxy's Edge, and Daily Science Fiction. She is a Clarion West 2010 graduate.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Clear Up That Confusion

That and Which
Take a Tip from Helen #10

by Helen Hardt

Editors are often encouraged to get rid of "that" when it's not necessary. In these cases, the "that" is an extra word that's unnecessary to the meaning of the sentence. You're not replacing "that" with another word.

For example:
He knew that the day was ending.

The "that" here is an unnecessary word. You can just as easily say:
He knew the day was ending.

However, when "that" is used as a relative pronoun, it has has a purpose in the sentence. Sometimes editors and authors confuse the relative pronoun "that" with the relative pronoun "which."

Use "that" with restrictive clauses and "which" with non-restrictive clauses. Non-restrictive clauses are usually set off by commas. A restrictive clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. A non-restrictive clause can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Let's take a look at the sentence in my second paragraph above:

In these cases, the "that" is an extra word that's unnecessary to the meaning of the sentence.

This is a restrictive clause. We're talking specifically about "that." Let's look at the same sentence using which:

In these cases, the "that" is an extra word, which is unnecessary to the meaning of the sentence.

The clause is now non-restrictive, which means it can be deleted and the sentence has the same meaning. (Incidentally, the previous sentence also contains a non-restrictive clause.) This sentence says simply that "that" is an extra word, and implies that all extra words are unnecessary to the meaning of the sentence. Obviously that's not what we want to say here.

Any questions, just ask!


To read excerpts from Helen Hardt's books please click a vendor's name.
Musa Publishing - Amazon

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.