Thursday, August 28, 2014


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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Calling All Punctuation Abusers

The Semicolon
Take a Tip from Helen #9

by Helen Hardt

This little punctuation mark is probably the most misused on the planet. The semicolon is a divider. It is used ONLY (okay, there's one exception, but you won't come across it in fiction) to mark off the boundary between grammatically parallel elements. It is most often used to separate independent clauses in compound and compound-complex sentences and to separate items in a series when one or more of the items include interior punctuation.


His heart told him to move to New York; his head told him to stay.

(Two independent clauses joined)

He pleaded with her to stay; however, she left on the train at noon.

(Two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction, when the second independent clause contains a comma.

My favorite movies are Titanic; Yours, Mine, and Ours; and Avatar.

(A series of three items, one of which includes interior punctuation)


We're looking at the city's liability; a problem that could be addressed by raising taxes.

She'd need a few months to learn to walk again; to adjust to living again.

She quickened her footsteps; stopped; turned around.

If you choose to use the semicolon, please use it correctly :).

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, August 21, 2014

E. Catherine Tobler Makes Her Choice

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

If I could only read the works of one author for the rest of my life, I would presume I'd been thrown in the worst jail ever (and what was my crime, probably eating too much cake). This bleak prison cell would look out over a vast library that I had no access to save for when the jailers made me name an author. There would be too many and the mere idea of it would be a kind of punishment. But within this horror, there would come one name, one name to save me for the rest of my days.

Ray Bradbury's works are vast and varied. He writes long, he writes short; he can write tender, and then turn around and cut you. He can take you to Mars, but can also make Earth feel like an alien landscape.

I do not remember the first Bradbury story or novel I read -- he's always been a part of my library -- but I remember summers spent sprawled in the sun, reading about Martian adventures. It wasn't grass I rested in, but hot red rock, waiting for the Martians to find me. I remember running alongside Jim and William, in search of carnivals that would later inspire my own.

Bradbury can tackle fantasy as easily as science-fiction. There are Martian ghosts and dreams and lion longings and adventures across far-flung skies. There are little girls locked in closets, there are houses that go on living far past their owners; there are firemen who burn books (and wouldn't this idea bring a chill to my heart as I sat in my cell, seeing that library but unable to reach it!), and men whose very skin moves with illustrations.

The best part is, as much Bradbury as I've already read, there is still more to read! Since I plan on living forever, he seems the perfect author.

E. Catherine Tobler's fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Strange Horizons, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her first novel, Rings of Anubis, is now available from Masque Books.

Learn more about E. Catherine Tobler on her website. Follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Short Story Market is Dead

by Jennifer R. Povey

Or rather, it's been declared so quite a few times. Alternatively, we've been promised a short story boom that never seems to happen.

What is definitely true is that short fiction is...well. Not as popular as long fiction. Not as visible on the shelves. Many publishers won't touch short story collections. Book stores seldom buy anthologies.

Except...and there's always an exception. The exception is science fiction. True, science fiction shorts are still not going to sell the way novels sell, but the science fiction short story market retains several pro-rate paying periodicals - something that's simply not the case for anything else other than high-brow literary fiction that's generally bankrolled by universities.

Science fiction. Is there something about science fiction that keeps magazines like Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Penumbra, Strange Horizons...the list goes on...going when there are only two markets for mystery shorts, for example, that pay any kind of decent amount.

I think it has to do with the fact that science fiction is, first and foremost a genre of ideas. I write and publish science fiction, fantasy, horror and even non-genre shorts. The science fiction shorts are by far the easiest to write because: Ideas.

A good short story is based off of one single, simple idea. Nightfall, considered by many to be the finest science fiction short of all time, focuses on one idea: What if night only came every few thousand years? (If you have not read this story it has a 1941 publication date and is public domain - you can find it easily online). One. Idea. And every science fiction story starts with a single it's much easier to corral into the length of a short story. Fantasy, on the other hand, often starts with a character or even a world - fantasy as a genre runs long and there's a reason many of the classics of the genre don't even fit into one book - with Lord of the Rings being the obvious example).

From my own work, I can cite single idea stories. A sentient ship returns home a hero, but doesn't get the welcome she deserves ("A Star To Steer By", Analog, June 2014). "Steampunk Golem Fish" (Water Demons, FISH, Dagan Books). What if the idea that poor people are all lazy junkies really becomes policy? (Saturday Night At The Wonderland Club, Penumbra).

Science fiction will always have a healthy short fiction market. It's in the nature of the genre and while I don't see or hope for a boom, this patient is a long way from being dead. Or even particularly sick.

Here is a brief intro to Jennifer's sci-fi novel Transpecial.

Humanity Fired First

The Contact War. Started by humans who could not bear to face the alien, who could not even look at them without killer rage and terrible fear overwhelming them. The destruction of the 'Valley Forge' marked a new and dangerous era for humanity. Key to their salvation? A young woman from Mars, a brilliant linguist with a profound social disorder...for only the autistic, it seems, can see the beauty within the ky'iin. Yet, can this young woman, who barely understands her own kind and has no experience in diplomacy truly stop the destructive war?

To read an excerpt from Transpecial please click a vendor's name.
Musa Publishing - Amazon

Jennifer R. Povey is in her early forties, and lives in Northern Virginia with her husband. She writes a variety of speculative fiction, whilst following current affairs and occasionally indulging in horse riding and role playing games. She has sold fiction to a number of markets including Analog (her latest story, The Skeptic, ran in the April 2013 issue), Digital Science Fiction, and Cosmos.

To learn more about Jennifer, please visit her website and her Amazon Author Page. Check out Smashwords to read more of Jen's work.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

William Meikle is in the Spotlight

Over the last three years both Musa Publishing and Penumbra have come a long way. So have many of our writers, including today's guest, William Meikle, who we first met when he had “#solsticedreams” published by Penumbra way back in 2012.

Please give William a warm welcome.

Can you tell us a bit about your publication experience with Penumbra?
I've had a couple of stories published in Penumbra — “#solsticedreams” in 2012, and “Ae Fond Kiss” in last year's Christmas issue. Both experiences were professional and friendly, and both a joy for a writer who knows only too well that it's not always like that.

“Ae Fond Kiss” is a wee ghost story—I like doing them at the festive season. It was written longhand with a fountain pen, by candlelight, which is something else I like to do with ghost stories, where atmosphere is all important. The inspiration came from my own Granddad, and watching him after the death of my Grandmother. As such, it struck a chord with me emotionally, and I think that shows in the finished story.

I've had some great feedback on it — it seems to have gone down well with all the soppy old romantics out there — you know who you are.

What have you been up to since then?
Since the turn of the year I've been working on two main projects — a series of 3 weird Sherlock Holmes novellas that I've sold to Dark Renaissance and will be out later this year, and a horror / scifi novel set in a Newfoundland winter storm which wasn't hard to get inspired to write, as all I had to so was look out the window. The novel, The Dunfield Terror, will be out from DarkFuse in spring 2015.

Are you working on any big writing projects right now? If so, tell us a bit about them.
I'm winding down a bit since finishing that novel, but I am contracted to do three more for DarkFuse over the next 3 years, so rest will only be temporary. I'm playing around with ideas at the moment for a large scale cosmic horror apocalypse thing, which I think will be huge fun if I can pull it off. Watch this space.

William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with twenty novels published in the genre press and over 300 short story credits in thirteen countries. He has books available from a variety of publishers including Dark Regions Press, DarkFuse and Dark Renaissance, and his work has appeared in a number of professional anthologies and magazines with recent sales to NATURE Futures, Penumbra and Buzzy Mag among others. He lives in Newfoundland with whales, bald eagles and icebergs for company. When he's not writing he dreams of fortune and glory.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why Do I Write Dark Fiction?

by Richard Thomas

People often ask me why I write such dark stories—why horror? Sometimes those questions come from my wife, sometimes my mother. “Why don’t you write something funny, or romantic? You’re so funny!” they say. I wish I knew. I’ve always been this way. I hear Stephen King gets the same questions. The “romantic” story I tried to write for my wife ended up being “Flowers for Jessica” (Weird Fiction Review) and was the story of a woman who dies of a broken heart, and comes back to life as a plant, the outline of her body in vines and blooms, until her husband does some rather strange things to bring her all the way back (various bodily fluids are involved) and then she pulls him back into the weeds, so they are one again. My wife read it and asked me what was wrong with me. I thought it was a sweet story.

I write dark fiction because I want to see how my protagonists deal with a tough situation, and quite often, the reward is seeing what their true colors are, what they’re made of, right? Nobody wants to read about a father that gets up for work, showers and shaves, kisses the wife and kids, and then drives to work, where he sits at a desk, then has lunch, works until six, then drives home, has dinner, puts the kids to bed with a story and a kiss, and then watches television with the wife, going to bed at eleven. BORING. I want to see what he does when his life runs off the rails. Usually, the heroes remain heroes, and the cowards remain cowards, but sometimes those roles flip, sometimes we’re surprised. Either way, it’s much more interesting to me to see how a housewife, a little boy, or a retired accountant deal with stress, with violence, with heartache—with those life-changing moments, those crossroads, those tipping points. What does a mother do when her experiment in saving the human race keeps giving her monsters instead of little boys? She keeps fighting, she keeps trying, even if it means killing those creatures before they turn against her, getting pregnant again despite the risks. What does a little boy do when the monster at the foot of his bed keeps visiting him in the dark? He stabs it with a knife from the kitchen, and then doesn't look away when he sees his father’s cut and bloody hands at the kitchen table the next day. What does a father do when his daughter is brought before him by the police, in the not too distant future? Well, he protects her of course, even if that means cutting off his finger, so she can avoid punishment.

For me, it’s about vengeance, it’s about settling the score, and balancing the scales. It’s about exploring the gamut of human emotions and experiences. I have tried to replace death with love, to replace random violence with justice, whatever the beating heart looks like at the center of my stories. Those stories may still turn out dark, they may still be surreal, they may still be tragic, but at the end of the day, there may also be a ray of hope, a darkness turned away, a survivor who comes out of the tribulations stronger, and prepared for whatever may come next.

Richard Thomas is the author of five books--Disintegration (Random House Alibi), Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications), and two short story collections, Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press) and Staring Into the Abyss (Kraken Press), as well as one novella of Four Corners (Dzanc Books). All Richard's books are available from Amazon. With over 100 stories published, his credits include Cemetery Dance, PANK, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Arcadia, Pear Noir!, Chrial Mad 2, and Shivers VI (with Stephen King and Peter Straub). He has won contests at ChiZine, One Buck Horror, and Jotspeak and has received five Pushcart Prize nominations to date. He is also the editor of three anthologies out in 2014: The New Black (Dark House Press), The Lineup (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. In his spare time he is a book critic at The Nervous Breakdown, a columnist at LitReactor, and Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press. He agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch.

Richard's story in the August issue of Penumbra is entitled "Balance Sheet," a dark tale of fatherly devotion, and obviously—pain.

Learn more about Richard Thomas on his website.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Don't Have A Fit Over IT

Take a Tip from Helen #8

by Helen Hardt

The lovely Jen Murphy asked me to talk a little about "it."

So here goes!

Honestly, I'm not fond of "it"-- the expletive "it", that is. I'm okay with the pronoun "it" if it's not used repetitively.

What is the difference?

The expletive "it" is not a pronoun. It has no antecedent. It's basically structural support in a sentence.

For example: "It" is raining.

Here, "it" does not refer to anything, so it's not functioning as a pronoun. Try to avoid the expletive "it." "It is raining" (which is classic telling, by the way) can easily be re-written to "show" the reader the rain.

For example: Light rain pattered on the roof.

The pronoun "it" can't be avoided. It is the pronoun in English to refer to a singular thing rather than a person. But always make sure it has an unmistakable antecedent to avoid reader confusion.

For example: Be sure to add your phone number to your profile in Delphi. We need "it" in case of an emergency with your release.

"It" refers to phone number, which is its antecedent.

Just for fun, go through this email and count the times I've used "it" without quotations marks. You'll find them highlighted, and you'll also find that each use has a clear antecedent.

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.