Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Favourite Holiday

by Dianna L. Gunn

Okay, most countries don't officially consider Halloween a holiday, but odds are pretty good that you still think of it as one. After all, every year brings with it a wide array of Halloween events that range from readings done by horror writers in coffee shops to massive parties filled to overflowing with people in various states of intoxication. Not to mention the quantities of candy everywhere.

All in all, you might not get the day off work, but Halloween still feels like a holiday. And over the years Halloween has become my favorite holiday, for a list of reasons so long I couldn't possibly list them all.

What I'm going to list instead are the three reasons why you should love Halloween just as much as I do:

Awesome costumes. I live in a fairly large city, and you see all kinds of costumes, both on children and on adults. Sometimes you'll see them several days before Halloween or several days after, especially if the 31st isn't on a weekend.

There's extra cool factor when you meet people who made their own costumes. I happen to have a fair number of friends who do make costumes, which means every year I get to see some amazing stuff.

All of the horror movies everywhere. I don't know if you were paying attention, but the latest season of American Horror Story just started. Quite a few TV stations do horror movie marathons, which I loved when I actually have cable.

These days I don't watch much in the way of TV and actually having cable isn't worth it, but I still enjoy a good horror movie marathon right before—or on—Halloween.

Chocolate and candy sales. The day after Halloween, any leftover candy or chocolate a store stocked up on specifically for Halloween most likely is on sale. After Halloween sales are usually awesome, and the Halloween bags have so many chocolates or candies that you can buy two or three and have chocolate for at least a month.

And really, what's better than cheap chocolate?

Regardless of Halloween's status as an official holiday, its roots are in a culture very different from our own. The traditions have changed over the centuries, and that makes me love Halloween all the more.

Have a happy Halloween and don't forget to go chocolate shopping the morning after!

Dianna L. Gunn is a recent graduate and full time freelance writer who dreams of someday becoming a famous fantasy author. To learn more about her journey as a writer and discover a wealth of advice for every kind of writer, check out her blog, The Dabbler. Stay connected on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Shame on You, Eric!

Lie vs. lay
Take a Tip from Helen #12

by Helen Hardt

Ah yes, the lie versus lay debacle. And Eric Clapton got it wrong. Admittedly, this is a pet peeve of mine -- especially when I see the mistake in New York Times bestsellers. I had a critique partner once who stopped using lie and lay in her writing because she wasn't sure of the difference and didn't want me yelling at her for using them wrong.

Of course, I never yell... :)

BE NOT AFRAID. The whole lie/lay thing is very simple once you do two things: 1. Learn the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb, and 2. Memorize the past tense and past participle of each verb.

Here we go:

A transitive verb is one that requires a direct object. To lay is a transitive verb. You lay something on the table, but you don't lay down. You can lay another person down (physically, you're laying him on the bed) but you yourself cannot lay down, nor can you tell another person to lay down. Yes, I'm sorry, but Eric Clapton is grammatically incorrect when he commands Sally to lay down.

To the contrary, an intransitive verb is a verb that has no object. To lie is such a verb. To die and to sleep are other examples of intransitive verbs. You can't sleep someone, or die someone or something. You and you alone can only sleep or die yourself. You also can't lie something. You can only lie down yourself.

Repeat after me: To lay is transitive. To lie is intransitive.

Now that you know which verb to use, let's look at their forms. This gets sticky for some people because they've said it wrong for so long, the correct form doesn't sound right to them. Trust me, you'll get used to it.

Broken down, here are the forms:

To lay

present tense -- lay
past tense -- laid
past participle -- laid

To lie
present tense -- lie
past tense -- lay
past participle -- lain (this is the one that seems to freak people out)

Let's put them into action:

Today I lie down. Yesterday I lay down. For the past three weeks, I have lain down for a nap each afternoon.

Today I lay the pencil on the table. Yesterday I laid the pencil on the table. For the past three weeks, I have laid a pencil on the table every afternoon.

Simple, yes? I hope this clears up the mystery of lay vs. lie.


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, October 23, 2014

Why Flash?

by José Iriarte

The majority of my in-real-life writer friends are novelists or aspiring novelists, so I'm a bit of an odd duck around them, with one foot in the novel-writing world and one foot in short fiction. Over and over my novelist friends say to me, "I can't possibly write anything as short as a short story," or "Every time I try to write a short story it turns into a novel."

When they hear about flash fiction—I'm going to go with "under 1,000 words" as a definition, though many people set the bar even higher lower—their jaws practically fall off. They tell me a thousand words just isn't enough space to even begin to tell a story. Or they tell me being able to write that concisely is a gift they just don't have.
I would have agreed with them a few years ago. Back in 2012, my New Year's writing goal was to learn to write shorter stories. I'd completed two novels at this point, and the few short stories I'd written clocked in at around nine or ten thousand words a piece. And every time I turned a "short" story in to my critique group, they invariably said it read like the opening chapter of a novel.

I needed to learn to be more concise if I wanted to start selling stories, so I started studying the craft and reading the shortest stories I could find—especially flash, which seemed as unattainable as a unicorn back then.
When I was a kid I owned a collection of "short short stories," which I guess would be called flash fiction today. I remember enjoying the anthology, but ultimately feeling that many, if not most, of the stories were set-ups for punny endings. I could appreciate that in the moment, but that's not what I'm mainly looking for as a reader, and not really my speed as a writer. The stories that stick with me are the ones that pack a wallop. I read to experience emotions—and generally different ones than "amusement." That's not a slight on people who look for different things in their fiction; it's just what I'm about.

So until I started seeking out flash fiction again a couple years ago, I didn't realize stories this short could suck the breath from my lungs, bring a tear to my eye, and/or put a great big smile on my face.

And that's a kind of magic, isn't it?

Seriously, though. I get a bit of awe just thinking about it: Make me feel something. You've got four minutes of my time. Go. That's godlike power right there, if you can pull it off.

That's a hell of a hit for an emotion-junkie like me. As a reader, I'm eating it up. As a writer, I want to learn to harness that type of power.

And that's why.

José Iriarte is a Cuban-American writer and high school math teacher living in EPCOT Center with his wife Lisa and their two teenage kids. He writes because he can't afford therapy, and he blogs (infrequently) at Labyrinth Rat.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Europa and Callisto - Cold to the Core

Sci-Fi Deak Style
by John Deakins

Simon Marius discovered the four Jovian moons the same year as Galileo. His names, centuries out of favor, are used today. Jupiter’s moon, Europa, though the smallest, gets the spotlight because of its water content. One model gives it 1-10 km of surface ice; the other argues for 60 – 100 km of ice. Both models predict a salty ocean beneath, perhaps another 100 km deep, stirred and heated by tidal flexing from Jupiter and the other moons.

On Earth, where there’s water, there’s life. The hope is to find deep, water-based life under the ice. Its energy source would be sulfur compounds or iron, as it is for some Earth bacteria, instead of light. Theoretically, we could seed Europa with Earth bacteria, and some of them would prosper. The purists bellow like gutted behemoths at the thought of contaminating a pristine potential life-bearer. Complex Earth-life might wipe out primitive Europan life-forms before they could be studied.

Callisto’s ice isn’t as thick, but the potential for liquid water remains. Callisto, with lower radiation and more rock surface, might be a better landing site, but any ocean would be smaller and colder, from insufficient tidal flexing. Water-ice is all over the outer Solar System. Major asteroids have sub-surface ice. Gas-giant rings contain mountainous chunks of water-ice. For the SF writer, that makes little difference, because you have to play the Ignore It card before you can deal with anything else.

The distances are simply too far. A one-way trip would require years. NASA recently admitted that the only way we’ll get to (closer) Mars is to perfect human hibernation. Sustaining a perfectly recycling ecosystem aboard an interplanetary craft is beyond us. Only cold-sleep could make such a trip possible. No human crew could remain active for a decades-long voyage to the outer system; they’d asphyxiate or starve.

So postulate human hibernation, already! Unexplained Science rescues you. Interplanetary crew-chambers could be thoroughly shielded, unless they have to pack along a greenhouse and supplies for an extended journey. Nevertheless, using Ignore It and Unexplained Science, when you arrive at Europa, you aren’t home free. The surface radiation will kill you within days. Your lander has to fly down into one of the kilometer-wide crevices and find a deep, lateral cave for ice shielding: not impossible.

Colonizing Europa or Callisto would be like creating a permanent exile colony under the Antarctic ice. Getting home would be just as difficult and time-eating as getting there. I would predict that the biggest problem would be sustaining political support on Earth for astronauts that might not return for fifty years. Dealing with Mars (which we haven’t done) looms like the face of a mile-high glacier. The push for Europa continues only because of an atheistic hope of finding spontaneously formed life somewhere off Earth. Mars is dead, despite ancient life-potential.

At present, Live With It won’t work in the Solar System. Some truly major discoveries have to be made first. Then, we shoot for the stars.

John Deakins, B.A., M.S.T. is a four-decade veteran of the science classroom and lives in Arkansas. As an author, John has fantasy novels in print from the Barrow series. His first novel was a B. Dalton SF bestseller when it was first released.

To read an excerpt from Barrow book one, please click HERE.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mark of Distinction

What Distinguishes Great Authors from Good Ones?
by Laura E. Price

Back when I was a self-conscious college student, I would answer the inevitable English-major question of "Greatest modern author?" with "Toni Morrison." She was a safe choice, because people wouldn’t look at me sideways for naming her, and doing so never made me feel like I was entirely lying.

Here's the secret: I always named Morrison because of Beloved. Which is a great piece of literature, one of the great works of American literature. But you know what else it is? One hell of a ghost story. And I have always, always loved ghost stories. Also aliens. Dragons and monsters and magic, too.

Nowadays, I am a lot less concerned with people looking at me sideways. I am utterly comfortable with my nerdiness and geekdom. When faced with a question about great authors and what makes them great rather than good, my problem isn't figuring out who's acceptable, it's trying to narrow down the field (well, and deciding not to use Neil Gaiman because I'm sure everyone would use Neil Gaiman).

I'd still name Toni Morrison, but I'd now add Octavia E. Butler and Sarah Monette. Butler is, of course, one of the greats of science fiction; Monette (who also writes as Katherine Addison) is one of the greats in fantasy and in horror.

All three of these authors have a strong sense of voice, the ability to ground a story in a very specific place, a mastery of language, and the latter two have left me with phrases that have been woven into my daily life: "God is Change," from Butler's Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower is my mantra when my life turns into total chaos. The phrase I picked up from Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths series is more vulgar, but comes in handy in many of the same situations.

But, really, lots of writers can do those things (I quote Ancient Aliens all the time; that doesn't mean it's great television). The quality these three authors share that sets them apart is the sense I get, when reading, that they want to do something different. All of them have surprised me: Morrison's ghost; Butler's near-future dystopia and her very alien aliens; Monette's fully-realized fantasy worlds that reference literature and history and folklore that aren't ours. There's ambition there, and also an ability to add more, to create something unique, to think sideways.

I do want to stress that there's nothing wrong with being a good writer. As a reader, finishing a nice, solid urban fantasy is not going to leave me feeling cheated. Not every author is a great author; even great authors write mediocre books (I love John Irving, but I still haven't managed to finish Setting Free the Bears); and frankly, to misquote Welcome to Night Vale, the line between what's great and what's good is blurry and covered in jellyfish. But when you find those books and stories that are great, that wrap around you while you're reading and stay with you when you're done, there is a difference. And it's usually because their authors were looking at things just a little bit sideways.

Laura E. Price lives in Florida with her husband, son, and an enormous number of books. Her short stories have appeared in Cicada, On Spec, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and GigaNotoSaurus, and another of her stories, "Hauntings," is in the October issue of Penumbra.

Learn more about Laura E. Price on her blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Crackling Spit

by Floris M. Kleijne

It was a beautiful, sun-drenched day in Ötztal Valley, Austria. My objective was a Hütte well above the tree line, where the proprietor served sensible Austrian lunches, and the view of the valley was supposed to be breathtaking. I had seen the Hütte high above me from the campsite, its red-white-red banner dancing in the wind.

At the murmuring brook where the path up the mountain side commenced, I set out into the trees, abandoning the road to hazard the attractively steep, narrow rock path. I walked with easy confidence, because the markers at the foot of the path had indicated the Hütte, and every new marker I encountered told me that the remaining time was decreasing at a satisfyingly rapid rate.

Until the markers disappeared.

At first, I didn't notice, caught up as I was in the steady rhythm of my own footsteps, and the slower beat of the switchback trail. I stopped every now and then to breathe in the vistas, but otherwise concentrated on my walking, achieving that state of concentration bordering on trance that is one of the attractions of mountain hiking. But suddenly, I realized there was an even slower rhythm that had been silent for a while: the rhythm of the regular appearance of way markers telling me I was on the right path.

Doubt crept in.

Had there been a fork in the trail at some point? I thought not, but with the trance, it was impossible to be sure. And very nearness of the mountain made it impossible to get my bearings.

I drew out my map. Only now did I notice that two trails started at the murmuring brook. South of the brook was the trail that switchbacked all the way up to the Hütte. The northern trail just kept going up, and up, until it lost itself among the bare mountain tops and the Gletschers.

I concentrated on the sounds. The rushing of a waterfall had been with me for a while now, but was it left or right? Really listening to it for the first time now, it was immediately obvious that the white noise of the water was to my right.

Bad news.

I rounded the next zig to reach a stretch of path pointing towards the sound. This would take me even higher, but it looked like a long stretch, curving around the mountain's shoulder, and perhaps granting me a view of this waterfall, and a chance to get my bearings. Increasing my pace, I reached the next zag, and looked around me.

The mountain side swept down towards the valley floor in a steep, forested slope. The side of the mountain was cut deep by a narrow gorge, formed by the brook that crashed down from the heights here. Leaning out as far as I dared, I could make out no path that might take me to the other side. Looking up, the gorge turned into an impossible to scale precipice. Across the gorge, another mass of trees covered the next shoulder of the mountain.

I could just make out a red-white-red banner beckoning me from beyond the ridge.

My tension peaked, and suddenly I thought of crackling spit.

In stories, tension is often described as an arc, peaking and then released, dissipating. And it suddenly occurred to me that the most effective of such arcs have a keystone. My tension had been rising from the moment it seemed I had taken a wrong turn, and the view of that banner waving at me capped the arc of my tension. Now I could accept the truth, and deal with the reality of my mistake.

In Jack London's "To Build a Fire", the protagonist's awareness grows of the extremity of cold, and the tension climbs with it, until he spits, and his spit freezes, with a crackling sound, while still airborne. In Jurassic Park, the tension created by the characters' fear peaks in the circular shockwaves in a cup of coffee. I remember an old Dracula movie, where the tension built by the threatening, invisible presence of the Count is capped horrifically by the simple question, "But did anyone check the basement?"

Story tension can be described as an arc, that's nothing new. But do all such arcs have a keystone? Are they all capped with such small, but horribly effective devices?

If you have more examples, or counter-examples, leave them in the comments!

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 appears in the October issue of Penumbra, Paranormal Adventures.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


with a contest and excellent prizes

Grand Prize
$15.00 Musa Gift Certificate
6 Paperback Books
Baiting the Hook by Mary Palmer & David Wilton
Brothers in Crime by KM Rockwood
Legends of the Timekeepers by Sharon Ledwith
Indian Shirt Story by Heather Lockman
Pantheon by Josh Strnad
Windy City Heat by Remi Hunter

1st Place Winner
$10.00 Musa Gift Certificate
6 Paperback Books
Baiting the Hook by Mary Palmer & David Wilton
Brothers in Crime by KM Rockwood
Legends of the Timekeepers by Sharon Ledwith
Indian Shirt Story by Heather Lockman
Pantheon by Josh Strnad
Windy City Heat by Remi Hunter

2nd Place Winner
$5.00 Musa Gift Certificate
5 Paperback Books
Cairo in White by Kelly Ann Jacobson
Chasing Athens by Marissa Tejada
First Frost by Liz DeJesus
Who Wacked Roger Rabbit by Gary K. Wolf
Windy City Heat by Remi Hunter

3rd Place Winner
5 Paperback Books
Cairo in White by Kelly Ann Jacobson
Chasing Athens by Marissa Tejada
First Frost by Liz DeJesus
Who Wacked Roger Rabbit by Gary K. Wolf
Windy City Heat by Remi Hunter

Beginning October 1, 2014 we draw 2 winners a day and they will each receive 3 books

All participants receive a download of Cooking with Musa.
All entrants are eligible for Grand Prize and Other Drawings October 15, 2014

Winners announced October 16, 2014

Enter daily to win!

No particular order to the daily drawings for the books below

Random Survival by Ray Wenck
TRUE blue by Susan Rae
Chasra: The Homecoming by Joanne Hirase

Drowning Cactus by Carrie Russell
To Catch A Fish by Mary Pamer & David Wilton
Lies in Wait by Donna Del Oro

Question of Time by Mary S. Palmer
Glass Frost by Liz DeJesus
The Andersen Ancestry by Addie J. King

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest begins October 1, 2014 and ends midnight CST October 14, 2014. All winners announced October 16, 2014.

Winners who reside outside the Continental United States will receive their prize in e-book format.

All prizes must be claimed by October 20, 2014 or they are forfeited. Prizes will be shipped October 22, 2014.