What To Do If You Can’t Get An MFA

(If you find this post helpful or you enjoy it, please consider buying my new book, or backing me on Patreon for just $1/month, where you can read more posts like these as well as short fiction. Thank you!)
If you’re anything like me, you desperately want an MFA in Popular Fiction, but the possibility is out of your reach. You may have a disability, children, a more-than-full-time-job, a heap of student loan debt, or just a really busy yak-shaving schedule. (I don’t know your life, and I don’t judge.) Increasingly, even people with MFA’s are advising beginner and intermediate writers alike not to bother with getting one. “It’s simply not worth the crushing debt and limited job prospects,” those handsome and talented people with MFA’s tell you as they twirl their mustaches and snort cocaine off their latest bestsellers. 
So, then, what’s a sad little wannabe writer to do? Here are f̶i̶v̶e̶ ̶s̶i̶x̶ a bunch of alternatives to obtaining an MFA:
1. Critique Group
Price: free
A critique group is generally made up of writers at around the same skill level/point in their career development. Usually they also write in the same genre(s). You can use sites like MeetUp and Facebook to find critique groups, but I’ve been more successful meeting people in person at conventions (more on that below). A critique group not only gives you feedback on your writing that can be invaluable, but also teaches you a lot through the process of critiquing other writers’ work. And it can give you a solid group of people with whom to share the joys and frustrations of the writing life, which you’re going to need even more than a writer’s traditional lifetime supply of Jack Daniels.
2. Conventions & Conferences
Price: $100+
There are dozens of literary conventions and conferences every year all over the world for every genre you can think of. Cons are a great place to learn about writing, network with other writers, and get the latest gossip. Cost varies depending upon how far you’re traveling, how many people you’re willing to bunk with, and whether or not you volunteer for the convention to lower the cost of your badge. There’s a handy list of conventions here, or you can follow your favorite authors on Twitter to see what conventions they’re attending. I highly recommend the GenCon Writer’s Symposium
3. Writer’s Workshops
Price: $5,000+
World-renowned workshops for speculative fiction are so numerous these days you can’t swing a pencil without hitting a writer who has  “Clarion Class of 2015” in their email signature. Workshops are expensive compared to other options, and the price doesn’t include travel expenses, but hey, they’re considerably cheaper than getting an MFA. They offer more small-group and one-on-one attention from professional writers, editors, and agents than attending a con, plus the bonding experience of getting matching VIABLE PARADISE 4EVAH tattoos with your fellow students. Some workshops offer scholarships to offset the costs. You can find a list of workshops on the SFWA website
4. Online classes
Price: $150+
Several places like LitReactor and Writer’s Digest University offer online classes with professional instructors that generally last a few weeks. Some class topics are incredibly broad (HOW TO NOVEL) while others are much more tailored (how to use your experience shaving yaks to write a transformative personal essay). They usually offer the opportunity to receive feedback on your work from both peers and an experienced professional, as well as lectures and required reading or suggestions for further reading. You can also find courses offered directly by authors like K. Tempest Bradford, Nisi Shawl, Cat Rambo, and Alethea Kontis if you follow them on Twitter or sign up for their email newsletters, which you should do, because all of these writers are awesome.
5. Professional organizations
Price: Free to ~$115/year
Joining a professional organization like SFWA, HWA, Codex, or the SCBWI will give you the opportunity to network with other professionals, enter writing contests, submit to invitation-only anthologies, find a mentor (discussed more below), and give you access to forums where professionals discuss every aspect of the business, including whether or not riff-raff like you should even be allowed to join in the first place, because what kind of place is this, a speakeasy? Heinlein would never have allowed for this kind of rabble! If you dare, there’s a list of a bazillion organizations here. Because there are so many, it can be really helpful to pay attention to what organizations writers recommend you join. Seriously, ask them, they’ll love to tell you all about which orgs have done them wrong and which are worth your time.
6. Writing contests & challenges
Price: Free
Writing contests can be a great way to get yourself noticed by the right people, even if you don’t win. Don’t ever, ever pay to enter a writing contest, however, and if the prize is voted on by the members of a forum, recognize that your work will be publicly available, meaning you’ll have given up your precious first publication rights, even if you don’t win. That you might never be paid for it. I usually find out about writing contests randomly because I’m friends with lots of writers on Twitter and Facebook, but I’m sure there are lists of them somewhere.
7. Writing Retreats
Price: $100+ 
Have you ever dreamed of returning to the magical time when you had no responsibilities and you got to have sleepovers with your friends and geek out shamelessly about your favorite things? A writing retreat is like that, especially if you know the people you’re retreating with, and it is, indeed, quite fucking magical. Locations may vary–I’ve been to retreats at convents, cabins in the Hocking Hills, and peoples’ houses. Some retreats may have guest speakers, and others may have strictly-enforced writing time, and still others are basically just a chance to drink sake and talk shop with other equally frustrated and hopeful writers. It’s a rejuvenating experience, and you might even get some writing done, or at least find the motivation to keep going when you were about to give up on writing, burn your typewriter, and take up yak farming. If you can’t find any writing retreats near you, then start one! Recruit some writers and rent an AirBNB for a few nights. 
8. A Mentor or Coach
Price: varies
Mentors and coaches provide writers with targeted critique, guidance, and (I’m assuming) unlimited 3 am pep-talks. Okay, probably not that last thing. But still, they can be invaluable resources for new and intermediate writers alike. There are lots and lots of pro writers out there willing to provide mentorship and coaching–but remember, for many of them, writing is a business. Time they take out of their busy schedule to coach you is time they’re not writing, so they may charge for coaching or mentoring. The nice thing about getting free mentoring (which you may be able to get through a professional organization like the HWA) is that it’s free. The nice thing about paying for coaching is that now you’re a client, so you can get an even more dedicated level of professional guidance. Lots of authors post about their mentoring or coaching opportunities on their blogs, email newsletters, and–you guessed it–Twitter. Additionally, Lucy Snyder has created a helpful list on Facebook. It’s by no means comprehensive but, it’s certainly a starting place. You may also be able to find resources through the various professional organizations. Some writers and coaches (like Lucy) now offer their services through Patreon, in smaller monthly chunks. 
9. An Editor 
Price: varies
BUT SARAH, I hear you gallumphing, ALL THESE SUGGESTIONS ARE FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BE TRADITIONALLY PUBLISHED. I WANT TO SELF-PUBLISH. Okay, stop shouting! That’s fine. Then you need to hire an editor. Developmental editors will edit your manuscript for plot, characterization, consistency, and just good writing. Copy editors will edit for typos, spelling, and grammatical errors. You’ll pay more for a good developmental edit, because it’s considerably more work, but you need both. This service may seem expensive, once you’re looking at the cost for an entire novel manuscript, but it was your choice to write a 400,000 word tome that would make George RR Martin proud, so now you have to pay the piper. The alternative is that your novel will simply be added to the garbage pile of forgettable self-published novels consumers increasingly ignore. These days, some authors are paying editors to fix their work before they submit it to major publishers, so this can really give you an edge over the competition, even if you’re looking to go the traditional route. 
10. Twitter
Price: free (unless we’re talking about the emotional toll)
It doesn’t have to be Twitter, but I highly recommend getting on some kind of social media and following your favorite authors, editors, and agents. You never have to tweet or retweet anything if you don’t want to, but a lot of industry chatter happens on Twitter, and you’d be amazed what you can learn–and what opportunities you’ll find–just from keeping your ear to the ground. Facebook is most useful for groups where editors post the latest paying deadlines that have open submissions for your preferred genre. Social media is also great for fueling paranoia and anxiety and driving you into a cataleptic state from sheer mental overload, so set a timer on your phone or something so you won’t just get sucked in for hours and forget to eat, okay? All things in moderation. 
11. Good old books
Price: free, if you have a good library
There are many, many books about the craft of writing. Some of the ones recommended to me by other successful writers: Stephen King’s On Writing, Jack M. Bickman’s Scene & Structure, Noah Lukeman’s The First Five Pages, Samuel R. Delaney’s About WritingWriting the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, and Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel. You can also search Amazon or Goodreads for top-rated writing books, visit your local independent bookstore, or, once again, ask your favorite authors for recommendations. If there’s one thing authors like to talk about more than their current project, it’s books, especially ones that have influenced them greatly. 
12. Podcasts
Living in the future is magical, isn’t it? You can now have your favorite authors beamed straight into your ear-holes whenever you want, offering writing advice, author interviews, book reviews, and more. I highly recommend the podcasts Writing Excuses and Speculate! (especially their author interview episodes; the one with Tim Powers is amazing!) and I’ve also heard good things about This Is Horror.
I hope you found this list helpful. If you have anything to add or I’ve inspired you to take up yak-shaving, leave a comment, okay? Comments feed the ego beast that lives in my basement. ❤


2017 Sucked But Somehow Was Also Great

As the title implies, 2017 was a flaming bag of hot smelly dog turds for a lot of reasons, mainly political. Oddly enough for me, however, it was actually a pretty great year on a personal level. Let’s do a point-by-point rundown:

  • The Kickstarter for Steampunk Universe funded and backers received their ebooks
  • I started a Patreon where you can read my stories for just $1 a month
  • I entered and was a finalist in the Green Ronin Lost Citadel contest
  • I had a great time creating my first roleplaying game supplement
  • One of my reprints got great reviews in a book called Memento Mori
  • I wrote my first collaborative story with the amazing Maurice Broaddus, which will be appearing in print in 2018
  • I sold 3 or 4 other reprints that will be appearing in 2018
  • I started a really kickass D&D group
  • I got a job I love, teaching eighth grade
  • I visited Toronto to see the At Home With Monsters Exhibit

Big shout-out to ADHD medication, which I started in January 2017, and without which this list of accomplishments probably wouldn’t exist.

Of course, none of these things involved Getting A Novel Published, which has been my focus all year. But I am halfway through writing my young adult horror novel, and I’ve gotten some excellent feedback from pros I really respect, so I will finish it this year. It’s hard, when you have ADHD, to keep your eye on the prize where long projects are concerned. I’m constantly tempted to do other things, because switching is easier than seeing it through. But I’m going to finish writing this YA novel, and then I’m going to go back and do some edits to my first novel, and then I’m going to start submitting them both to agents and publishers.  Here’s to laser-like focus in 2018.

What are your plans for 2018, dear friends?

Making Some Changes

Conveniently, this post comes at the end of 2016, but I promise you, that’s coincidence. This is NOT a New Year’s Resolution Post. For real! This is a post I’ve not had time to write for two months. Also, I’m a teacher now, so the end of the year comes in June. December is a reality break, not an end or a beginning.

Anyway, a lot of things changed for me in the last few years. The last year has been especially full of super serious life changes, and I’ve done a lot of contemplating how to deal with it all. I finished getting my license in Special Education 2.5 years ago and I’ve been teaching ever since. My first job was pretty laid back–adult students and only on the clock four days a week (and let me tell you, I miss that schedule sometimes, even if they did pay me a pittance). I only worked about 36 hours a week, so I had lots of time for writing, and with every Friday off, conventions were a breeze. I continued to attend 8-10 conventions a year, and got a lot of writing done in my off time.

But I didn’t get to teach in that job, as great as it was in other ways, so ultimately I left to pursue a position at a school where I could do the thing. I don’t want to say that switching schools was a mistake–more on that in a minute–but the second school was not a good fit for me. It made me question whether I should be a teacher. Hell, it made me question whether I should be a person. I felt inadequate in every way. I started having weekly panic attacks. I noticed that I was more exhausted than everyone else, exhausted all the time, down to my soul, the kind of exhaustion that made me feel like I’d never stop being tired. I’d been fatigued before but never like this.

The upshot is that I went to a psychologist and got a new diagnosis: ADHD. I was skeptical until I talked to friends who have it (which, as it turns out, is like, most of my friend circle? Because of course it is) and read a book about how untreated, undiagnosed ADHD can manifest in adults. Once I saw how highly I rated on both the inattentive and hyperactive scales, I thought, well shit. And when the psychologist explained it to me–ADHD is an inability of the brain to prioritize and control impulses–I thought, well double shit, that describes me completely. I cried in his office. Not because I’m sad, but because I’m relieved. There’s a reason I’m like this. It’s not my fault, and now I can finally do something about it, something that’s more than just treating the symptoms.

I also got a new job. And this is why I don’t regret Job #2, even though I was miserable there and my boss made me cry more than once and I thought about jumping out a window every day. Because without Job #2, I wouldn’t have gotten Job #3. And this job, you guys. I love this job. I love the school where I teach. I teach in a beautiful building with amazing coworkers and supportive administrators and the kids are tough but that’s why I love them. Because nothing worth doing is ever easy.

This post is getting long. Still with me? Okay. You get a gold star if you’re still reading. I’m getting to the point.

I love my job now, but holy cow the long hours. This is a for real teaching job. I go in at 7:30 and I’m lucky if I leave by 5:30. I usually work six days a week. For the first two months, I was working every waking moment. They changed my job responsibilities, so now my schedule has gone from 80 hours a week to about 60, which is an improvement, but that’s still a lot. I barely see my friends and family. I don’t get much writing (or editing) done. I have a panic attack every Sunday, like clockwork, as Monday looms.

The point is this: my life has changed, so now some other things need to change. My time is suddenly very, very precious. I still want to be a professional novelist,  as I always have, and my focus needs to be like a laser instead of scattershot to make that happen. Here are the changes I’m implementing:

  • Fewer conventions. I used to enjoy going to small conventions where I barely break even on book sales, but now I find them really stressful. If I attend a convention, it needs to be one where I can network and/or benefit my craft.
  • More writing retreats. If I’m going away for a weekend, it needs to have purpose. I need to get shit done, especially if I’m taking a day off work. Retreats help me do that. Plus, they’re relaxing AF.
  • No more short stories. My focus can only be in one place right now, and that needs to be this novel. I’m going to finish the collaboration I’m currently working on, and then I’m done with short stories until I have a finished novel in my hands. I’ll continue to submit works I’ve already written, but I won’t be writing any new shorts.
  • No more editing. I’ll complete Steampunk Universe and then that’s going to be it, maybe forever. If you want to know all the reasons, buy me a drink sometime and I’ll tell you all about why I don’t really want to do it anymore.
  • Medication. For ADHD, specifically. Hopefully soon I’ll be less of an anxious wreck and better able to get long projects finished because I won’t get inexplicably bored after writing the outline.

Thus, for a while, at least, I’ll be turning down invitations to conventions (as a panelist) and short story anthologies (that pay less than pro rates). I don’t want to turn them down. It kills me to say No to anything, because some part of me still feels, after 5+ years, that I’m still a beginner in this writing game and I shouldn’t turn down any opportunity. But things have changed for me, and now I have to turn down anything that’s not going to get me from Point A to Point B. I don’t think I’m too fancy for your anthology that pays $50/story or your convention that has 300 attendees. I just can’t afford to take detours from the main route anymore, no matter how much I may want to.

Onwards and upwards in 2017. Here’s to a finished Young Adult Horror novel. I leave you with a picture of my dog, Princess Sophia McSnarfles, aka Tiny Bites, who I adopted in September, and who is pretty much the best dog ever and kept 2016 from being a total shitshow. Thanks for reading this far. In the comments, tell me about your goals for 2017.



Writing is a pursuit full of setbacks and disappointments, which is why it’s extra super important to celebrate those rare successes, especially those that are first-time events. I’m not sure where the road to writerly success is leading me, but here are some milestones along the path I’ve recently passed. They tell me that I’m going in the right direction, even if I’m not quite there yet:


My story “Sa fè lontan / Long Time, No See” was in the coveted first spot in the anthology That Hoodoo, Voodoo, That You Do edited by Lincoln Crisler. The anthology was actually released (with a gooorgeous cover, OMG) in January, but I was so busy that month I didn’t have a chance to say anything about it. I get paid royalties for that story, so if you buy a copy of the anthology a few pennies actually go straight into my pocket, which is pretty neat.


I sold my first reprint a few months ago to Whispers from the Abyss Vol. 2, edited by Kat Rocha, which should be released soon. The story is “Shadows of the Darkest Jade,” the first story I ever sold, to Historical Lovecraft, way back in the day. “Shadows” is arguably the story that started all this, so it’s particularly poetic that it’s my first reprint sale. The antho also has a spectacular cover! I’m thrilled to be included in what looks like a really great horror anthology. I can’t wait to see the Table of Contents!


I’ve saved the biggest, best news for last! Steampunk World took home the 2015 Steampunk Chronicle Reader’s Choice Award for Best Fiction a couple of weeks ago. I’m so proud of the team of authors, publisher, cover artist, and editor (that would be me, haha) who earned the popular vote. My thanks go out to all the people who voted, because I never expected to win the award for my first nomination. There’s nothing quite like the endorsement of your chosen community to encourage you to do another volume! I’m so over the moon about this, words can’t really express it. So I’ll link you to this video of Kermit flailing so you can get an idea of what I was like after I’d heard.

I’m also working on a novel that I hope to finish soon, so I’ll finally have that to add to my list of milestones. It’s important to remember one’s accomplishments, because there are long dry spells in writing where one feels like every email is a rejection and every review is negative. So, dear reader, what are some milestones you’ve achieved recently? Tell me about them so we can celebrate!

All About Podcasts

I’m currently shopping a few stories around to podcasts, so I ended up compiling this list of podcasts and their submission guidelines. I thought other people might find it helpful so…here you go. All of these podcasts pay their contributors (sorry, StarShipSofa) and publish some variation of speculative fiction, and aren’t associated with a print magazine (like Lightspeed or Clarkesworld). Pay careful attention, because many of these podcasts are closed for submissions at various times, and may be closed right this second. They’re arranged according to payment offered.

Escape Pod: Pays $.06/word for original science fiction stories and $100 for reprints between 2,000 and 6,000 words.

PodCastle: Pays $.06/word for original fantasy stories and $100 for reprints between 2,000 and 6,000 words, or $20 for stories under 2,000 words.

PseudoPod: Pays $.06/word for original fantasy stories and $100 for reprints between 1,500 and 6,000 words, or $20 for stories under 1,500 words.

The Electronic Voice Phenomenon: Pays $.05/word for original dark speculative fiction stories under 2,000 words.

The DrabbleCast: Pays $.03/word for dark/weird speculative fiction stories between 500 and 4,000 words. Reprints welcome.

Another Dimension Magazine: Pays $.03/word for horror and dark fantasy stories between 1,000 and 3,000 words. Reprints welcome.

GigaNotoSaurus: Pays $100/story for original science fiction and fantasy stories between 5,000 and 25,000 words.

Glittership: Pays $.01/word for science fiction/fantasy stories about LGBTQ characters between 100-6,000 words. Reprints welcome.

Tales of Old: Pays $25/story for historical fiction and alternate history stories between 3,000 and 6,000 words. Reprints welcome.

Cast of Wonders: Pays ~$8/story for young adult speculative fiction stories up to 7500 words. Reprints welcome.

The Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine: Pays $.005/word (that’s right, 1/2 cent per word) with a maximum payment of $10 for speculative fiction of various lengths during open contest periods.

Toasted Cake:  Closed as of May 31, 2015.

So, dear reader…what podcasts do you listen to? Are there any fiction podcasts I missed that I should add to this list?

Honoring Jay Lake

Jay Lake has unfortunately passed away. Although I only met Jay in person twice, he had a big impact on me as a writing professional. Last year, when I was putting together Steampunk World, I sent him this email.


I read your blog post today about your declining health. I am so, so sorry to hear it. While I would love to receive a story from you for Steampunk World, new or reprint, I don’t expect one. It’s a trivial thing in the grand scheme. I’m sure it’s not high on your to-do list right now, and it’s fine if it stays that way.

I wanted to tell you how honored I have been to know you. I know we’ve only met twice (you probably don’t remember the first time, at the rave at World Steam Expo last year, and that’s okay) but you definitely left an impression. You were the only Guest of Honor up late partying into the wee hours at WSE, for one, and I remember thinking “Everyone was right, this guy is awesome!” 

For two, you were the first writer I approached about submitting a story to Steampunk World (go big or go home, right?) at Chicon, and you said yes.  And that might seem like a small thing to you, but to me that was huge. Because believe it or not I’m a shy, rather socially awkward person. I was (and am) this small-time writer nobody had ever heard of, so I was fully expecting you to say no, but you didn’t. You were lovely and kind and generous with your time and your words and because of that, because you said yes, I’ve had the courage to ask other authors to do projects with me, and some of them have said yes. And every time I’m scared to ask someone to be involved in a project with me I just think about how Jay Lake said yes. And every time it gets a little easier, I get a little bolder and braver. 

It’s funny how the smallest gestures can change the world for people. And I just wanted you to know that you changed mine with that little “yes.” 


Sarah Hans


I thought about waiting to post those words in a tribute blog post in the event of Jay’s death instead of bothering Jay with an email, but then I thought what a pity it would be if he never knew what a positive influence he’d been on me. So I sent them to him a year ago. I wasn’t expecting to get a response at all (because…priorities). Instead, Jay kindly sent me a story for Steampunk World. Because that’s the kind of guy Jay Lake was.

There’s a good chance that without Jay’s participation, Steampunk World would not have been so successful. Thus, the publisher and I will be donating 20% of the proceeds from the anthology’s retail sales to the memorial fund mentioned on his blog. It’s a small gesture but hopefully one that will give other cancer patients more time with their families.

I will miss working with Jay very much, but I’m very glad we have his words to enjoy again and again in the form of books and stories and essays…and also in our kindness and generosity to each other. Has anyone made a bumper sticker that says WWJLD?

Best. Panel. Ever.

Best. Panel. Ever.

Guest Blog: Nisi Shawl on Where Writers Live

The amazing Nisi Shawl wraps up my guest blog extravaganza with this entry. Her post here deals with how writers can find the perfect personal setting for living their creative lives.  Nisi’s story “Promised” will be appearing in Steampunk World


Location, Location, Location.

Where’s the best place for a writer like you to live?

An April 2014 list I spotted online says St. Louis.  Because of favorable experiences with the nearby Hedgebrook retreat and the Clarion West Writers Workshop, I picked Seattle, which squeaks into that post’s top ten at number nine.

When I moved to Seattle from Michigan, a local author offered his advice on where to live.  But his list of “fixer-uppers” wasn’t what I wanted.  In this man’s mind affordability trumped every other consideration, but I told him I’d rather spend my valuable time writing than sanding floors and painting drywall.

Different authors write different stories, and we want and need different living situations, too.  But we do have common points to consider when deciding where we want to be when hearing our Muses’ calls.  Below are some very specific questions to ask yourself; they’ll help you figure out if a particular place is what and where you’re looking for.

*How close will your family be to your new home?*  Too close?  Too far?  A day’s drive away?  A direct flight?  The ideal answers will likely change during your span of days; when I moved to the Northwest one of its pluses, in my view, was the way it put a couple thousand miles between me and all my relatives.  Now I’m in my tenth year of campaigning hard for my mother to come here and share my household.  And I was overjoyed when, before she died last year, my sister told me she planned to move here because of Washington’s liberal pot laws.  Which brings me to the political and other social aspects of the setting you’re pondering.

*What sort of community will you be joining?*  Do you have any idea who else lives where you’re considering going?  Other artists?  What sort of artists–performers?  Professionals?  Will you be setting up housekeeping in the midst of potential audience members and supporters?  And are you opting for a monoculture or for heterogeneity?  Will you share your new neighbors’ racial backgrounds, their sexual preferences?  Will those around you have similar physical, mental, and emotional abilities?  Will they be members of the same age group?  Or will you be the lone 50-something white cis man–and is that how you like things?

*How much is living there going to cost you?*  Though low rent was not my biggest concern when choosing where I’d wind up, I did have a budget.  You should, too.  Also, when adding up the price of living somewhere, factor in not just whatever rent’s being advertised or however much of a mortgage payment the bank demands, but other expenditures as well: taxes, maintenance fees, charges for utilities and parking spaces, and other ponderables.

*What’s great about the place?*  Typically called “amenities,” the features of a given neighborhood deemed nonessential-yet-nice will need to be weighed with your personal preferences in mind.  Is it possible to walk to a bakery or bookstore or coffee shop?  How far will you need to go to get groceries?  Is public transit available, and is it convenient and affordable?  Are there clinics nearby that will provide the medical services you’ll need?  A hospital?  Schools for you and/or your children?  What’s the area’s internet connection like?

Most of the so-called amenities mentioned above would count as essentials in my opinion.  There are other elements such as scenery and nightlife which seem much less crucial to me.  _Those_ are what I would call amenities.  YMMV, of course, as it will for most of these questions.  The same goes for the answer to my penultimate one.

*What’s the climate like?*  Seattle’s famously rainy.  I don’t mind.  Maybe you would, though.  I _do_ mind the Northwest’s shortened winter days, with sunsets around 3:30 in the afternoon, so I have technological fixes I apply.  And I also mind the way the region’s damp weather has made it impossible for some of my writing friends to stay here.  Cynthia Ward, co-author of _Writing the Other: A Practical Approach_, has seen a huge improvement in her arthritis since moving to the sunny Southwest.  The great and brave Joanna Russ, who began teaching writing at the University of Washington in 1977, lived out her final years in Tucson, Arizona, to the dismay of her former neighbors but the relief of her chronic health conditions.  Find out what you can ahead of time about what sort of weather patterns to expect in a given place, but know that direct experience will tell you more than the wisest informant about which conditions you can and can’t assimilate to.

Finally, ask yourself about a variable that “10 Best Cities” post saw as the most important: *How are you going to earn a living there?*  The list I’m referring to gave higher rankings to places where there were jobs to be had writing stuff.  Writers don’t always want or need a day job doing the same thing they do when pursuing their true careers, though.  Octavia E. Butler, for instance, went for manual labor that left her mind free for plotting and planning and thinking through the situations into which she would thrust her characters when she got home.  On the other hand, Ted Chiang is a tech writer for Microsoft.

When I moved to Seattle I did so as a transfer from one branch of a now-extinct retail chain to another.  Being employed certainly made it easier for me to find an apartment.  If you have a marketable skill, take time before you pull up stakes to learn the market for it in your potential new location.

There are many, many online rankings of possible homes for writers.  They collate figures and compare categories that their compilers sincerely believe matter.  In the end, though, it’s up to you what to ask, and what to do with the answers you find.


Nisi Shawl, a 2009 James Tiptree, Jr. Award-winner, contributed “Promised,” an excerpt from her forthcoming Belgian Congo steampunk novel, to Steampunk World. It’s the first time we’ve seen a steampunk story in that setting. She’s also active on Facebook, and tweets as @NisiShawl.

Guest Blog: Graham Storrs on The Joys of Prompt Writing

Today’s guest post is from Graham Storrs, a writer from Down Under whose story “After the Party” appeared in my editorial debut, Sidekicks! Graham’s post is about prompt writing and how it has shaped his career. 

The very first time I attended a tutorial on writing, the tutor opened a newspaper and said, “This is what I use for writing prompts.” It seems he scans the headlines until one catches his fancy. It could be anything. In today’s news, for instance, I see, “Doctor’s Reject Work Contracts,” a story about 3,000 public sector doctors being forced by the State government onto very disadvantageous employment contracts. Having picked your story, the writer went on, you turn it into a “What if..?” question. “What if all those doctors decided to up stakes and leave the State?” Finally, you look at how your hypothetical would affect an individual, one of the doctors, perhaps, or a member of their family, the nurse who’s in love with her, a patient, a member of the patient’s family, and so on. I’ve never used this formula, but it’s easy to see how it could work. He claims to have based several best-selling novels on the technique.

At the time of the tutorial, I had never come across the notion of writing prompts – phrases, ideas, pictures, or whatever, intended to stimulate the imagination and kickstart the process of story creation. Yet, I realised, my very first book had been written as a result of one of them. I was a child of ten or eleven years and a creative writing exercise in a school textbook asked us to take a paragraph presented there and to continue the story, which I did, spinning it out across several notebooks into a fast-paced adventure story involving a couple of kids my age who had found an alien creature and were trying to keep it safe from the authorities – and that was a long time before E.T., I’m pleased to say.

For many writers, having ideas is not the hard part. The difficulty lies in evaluating the ideas and selecting the one that can be developed into a short story or even a novel. Yet, for many, the creative muscle needs a poke with a stick to get it twitching. Loads of websites exist to stimulate writers in this way, offering daily writing prompts or collections of writing prompts. Take a trawl through Writing Prompts, Daily Writing Prompts, Writer’s Digest’s Creative Writing Prompts, and a hundred others like them to see what’s on offer. But don’t do it just yet. I know how stimulating these things can be and I’d rather you finished reading this before you’re driven to your laptop in a frenzy of inspiration.

One of the most effective sources of writing prompts I’ve ever come across is the call for submissions to a themed anthology. The beauty of such a prompt is that, if it does inspire you, there is a market for your story, ready and waiting. Some I’ve written for in the past few years include Sidekicks! (the theme being the perspective of the great hero’s sidekick), In Situ (archeological finds), From Stage Door Shadows (the lyrics of the Elton John song, Tiny Dancer) and Masques (masks and masques). The same goes for themed writing competitions and themed magazine issues – which have also paid off in prizes and publications.

But inspiration may strike at any time from any direction. I’ve written two fat space operas based on a glimpse of a young starlet in a TV ad, and two sci-fi thrillers based on a drawing of a robot I saw on DeviantArt. I suppose the take-home message from those two examples is that, when you’re in a receptive frame of mind, just about anything and everything becomes a writing prompt.

OK. You can go and look at all those great sites now. But, before you go, why not leave a comment to share your favourite source of writing prompts?


Graham Storrs has released three novels since Sidekicks! came out. Two of these, Timesplash and True Path, are set in the same world as “After the Party” and were published by Pan Macmillan/Momentum. The third is a near-future thriller about the perils of augmented reality called Heaven is a Place on Earth.

Guest Blog: LaShawn M. Wanak on Making Time to Write (When You’re Out of Time)

LaShawn M. Wanak is another writer whose work I have not yet had the pleasure of publishing. I’ve long admired her work, however, and I’m very excited to have her here for the Guest Blog series to talk about time management for writers. 

Ten years ago, I made the decision to become a professional writer. Not that I wasn’t a writer before; when I was in college, I did a lot of fanfic writing, and I was working on my first novel (of course, I’m still working on that first novel, but that’s besides the point). The reason I did this was because, being a stay at home mom, I needed something to fill up the time besides endless episodes of Teletubbies and Little Einstein (which I was disturbingly hooked onto). So I wrote, and submitted, and got published.

Later, when my son was older, I did work part-time. It was perfect. I’d work four hours, pick up my son from school, write while he did his homework, cooked dinner, then write in the evenings. Then my inlaws moved into our house, and things got even better: my mother-in law did the cooking on weekdays, which meant I could spend even more time writing. It was awesome. For three and a half years, I had what I’d considered the perfect creative schedule.

Naturally, of course it didn’t last.

Now, I’ve gone back to being employed full-time, which I haven’t been in ten years. A couple of weeks ago, my inlaws moved out after living with us for three and a half years. That’s a lot of change in a short time. It’s a drastic change.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not griping. These were necessary, positive changes. How many times I’ve griped about my inlaws bickering and just wishing I had a quiet house for once? Or being frustrated at all the work I had to do but not being able to finish it because I was part-time? All the changes that happened this year are good, and I don’t want to give them up.

But still, change is change. And having the normal routine being shaken up is hard. I have become spoiled from having so much time in my life. Time to run errands, time to take care of my son…and time to write. Now, I have less time to do things, and I have to figure out how to balance writing, which is the soul of my life, into it.

There was a period of time when I stopped writing. It was right after I graduated from college, got married, and started working at a new job. Remember the fanfic writing I mentioned at the beginning of this post? That stopped. And so did work on my novel. I wanted to write, needed to write. But life had become so crazy busy that by the time I came home from work, I was so exhausted, I had no headspace left to even contemplate working on fanfic, let alone write.

One day, on my way to work, I checked my watch. It was one of those watches that had a tiny window that showed a sun during the day,  a moon at night. With my watch, the mechanism had jammed, so the sun and the moon were both stuck in the window, perpetually stuck between dawn…or dusk, if you prefer.

And the most depressing thought popped into my head:  there’s a story in that. I don’t know what, but I want to make up a story about that. But when? I have so much to do…I don’t have time. And what would I write anyway? I can’t think of anything now. All sorts of ideas would come into my head. But now, I got nothing.

I went to work. I didn’t write anything down. And I felt miserable. I didn’t have writer’s block. It was more writer’s constipation.

Now that I’m writing and publishing my work, I never want to experience that again. So I do what it takes to keep it going.

On Monday night, I finally bit the bullet and set my alarm for 5:30am to get up and write. I’m a night person, so I didn’t think it would be possible, but I was already so tired from running around and catching up on things, I was glad to crash.

Tuesday moring, at 5:30am, I woke up. The house was dark. Very quiet. I wandered the rooms with a cup of hot tea, wondering if I could do this, if I could really do this.

Then I opened my laptop and wrote.

Writing’s a crack habit. I suffer from withdrawal symptoms when I don’t do it. It’s the best bad habit one could have. I love writing because it takes me places I’ve never been before, whether if I’m doing it for an audience of one (me), or hundreds of people I will never see. And writing changes you, makes you into something you’d never thought possible.

As I am writing this, I am watching the world gradually brighten into being through my window. Outside the sun is rising, though in the west, the moon is still there, shining bright. Outside, it looks like dawn.  It also looks like dusk.

There’s a story in that somewhere. Think it’s time to write it.


LaShawn M. Wanak is a graduate of Viable Paradise XV and has been published in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction,  and Ideomancer. Writing stories keeps her sane. Well, that and pie. Find links to her stories at her blog, The Café in the Woods.

Guest Blog: Addie J. King on Conference Etiquette

I have not yet had the pleasure of publishing a story by today’s guest blogger, but I have had the pleasure of sharing a table with the delightful Addie J. King at conventions. She’s the best table-mate a writer could wish for, a cheerful and easygoing person who makes the three-day grind of table-sitting into something enjoyable. She’s also the perfect person to talk about convention etiquette, something she has mastered. 

The Golden (Conference) Rule(s)

Or not so much golden. Maybe silver. Or Bronze.

Anyway, I’ve written on my blog about conferences before. I’ve written about going to a conference on a budget. (CLICK HERE and CLICK HERE). I’ve written about finding conferences (CLICK HERE). I’ve written about preparing for conferences. (CLICK HERE). I’ve written about attending them (CLICK HERE), and I’ve written about what to do after you’ve been to one. (CLICK HERE).

I’ve been going to conferences for seven years, both as an aspiring writer and avid reader (i.e., to learn and to network), and now as a professional (in the sense that I get paid for my writing, and I’m going to network and promote my own works).

There are some rules…or maybe I should say, practical pieces of advice, which I can give to people heading to a writers conference for the first time. These are also good reminders for non-newbie conference attendees.

1) Be yourself. Unless you are a sucky, boring, mean, obnoxious person. Then be nice, interesting, and pleasant.

Don’t be a creeper. Period.

It’s one thing to go fan-girl, or fan-boy, on your favorite author. They do like to see it from time to time. It’s kinda cool to have someone come up and gush about one’s work.

Remember, though, that they aren’t there to be gushed over for the whole weekend by one fan. They want to talk to lots of cool people. They want to meet you. They want to know what you liked about their stuff. But they also want to know that from the three hundred people in line behind you. Or the three people in line behind you. They’re also there to talk to agents and editors and publishers and other authors. They’re there to do business.

Some of the coolest things I’ve gotten to do have been because I was in the right place at the right time with the right people, and I got to do more because I didn’t completely wig out, interrupt, and basically ruin everyone else’s day. I’ve been in a conversation with an agent at a conference about marketing and promotion, and she introduced me to one of her clients, a writer whose work I’m a fan of. I’ve gotten to do a reading and appear on panels with one of my absolute favorite authors, and the conversations themselves were memorable, rather than just OHMYGODFANGIRLSQUEEENSUES (That happened later. My husband is still laughing at that one). I’ve gotten to have long chats with agents and authors and editors and publishers because not only did I keep a lid on my excitement and be a pleasant person, but I’ve made friends all over the place…and some of THOSE friends have actually pitched my own work to professionals FOR ME. I’ve gotten leads on conferences from friends I’ve met, invitations to submit to anthologies…and the invitation to write for this blog…from people I’ve met and made friends with at conferences.

That’s not a guarantee that being the good guy will get you hearts and flowers and publishing contracts. It will, however, help you build a GOOD reputation. And a reputation for being a normal person, with a sense for business, does more to help you than being a jerk. Don’t be a jerk.

2) No Business in the Bathrooms.

There’s an urban legend out there about some neophyte writer following an editor or an agent into the bathroom conference and slipping their manuscript under the stall door.

Only it’s not an urban legend. I’ve actually talked to publishing professionals, and more than one, who’ve had it happen.

DO. NOT. EVER. DO. THIS. For any reason. Ever. NOT COOL.

Don’t pitch your work in the bathroom, either. There is absolutely no business so important that it can’t wait, not only until after the flush, but until after they’ve washed their hands and walked out of the bathroom. Do you really want them to mentally link you and your work to whatever they were just doing in that stall? I don’t.

3) Don’t Get Drunk.

Most people gravitate towards the hotel bar at a conference. Nothing wrong with having a drink or two, relaxing, meeting up with friends you only see a couple of times a year, and talking life, writing, the business, politics, pets, and whatever else blows your skirt up.

Agents, publishers, editors, and other publishing professionals do the same thing at conferences.

Have a drink. Know your limit. Stay well below your limit.Puking on your dream editor or agent, or favorite author is not how you want to be remembered. Ditto with slipping them your room key, or dancing topless on their table. Can’t have a drink without doing this? Don’t drink. This isn’t about singling out alcoholics. I have a writer friend who does not drink, ever. She’s not an alcoholic, just doesn’t like it. It’s not a big deal. She and I will network at a conference together and separately, and while I might have a glass of wine in my hand, she probably has a Diet Coke. No one cares. Don’t drink to impress someone, but also know that if you want to have a bit, it’s okay as long as you remember that you’re there to be a professional…even if you haven’t signed a contract yet.

And if your dream agent or editor or your favorite author is sitting there, sipping a glass of wine, it is okay to go up, introduce yourself, and ask if you can join them. It’s okay to ask if you can pick their brain if you buy the next round, but then keep it to learning about the business. Don’t bring up your own work unless they ask. If you’re smart, articulate, and pleasant to talk to, there’s a high chance that they’re going to think you’d be good to work with, and they’ll ask for a pitch or some pages on their own.

They’re trying to unwind, too. Ask them about something about the conference. Ask them about their favorite conference to go to. Ask them about the current state of the industry. Ask about promotional strategies, marketing, etc. Engage them, and learn from them. DON’T INTERRUPT an already going conversation.

4) Know when to walk away.

You’ve had a good conversation with a publishing professional, but they didn’t ask for pages, or a pitch. They might have asked for it, and then told you it wasn’t for them.

THAT’S OKAY. You know why? It’s practice for the next time you meet someone else. You might have made a good impression on them that they’ll pass on down the road. The five bucks you paid for their beer? It’s an investment in networking, and establishing a reputation for yourself as a professional. If you’re lucky, they’ve told you why it doesn’t work for them, or given you some advice, which is priceless.

There’s an editor out there who has never read my writing, and yet she’s approached me and asked if I had ANYTHING in the genre that she edits. You know why? She says she wants to work with me. Because we’ve been at the same conference multiple times, and we’ve talked business, conferences, anthologies, editing, submissions, etc., ad nauseum.

The sad part is that I don’t have anything in her genre at the moment. She told me specifically what she wants, and right now it’s not anything that’s on my plate, because I have contracts and deadlines for other things. That said, I have a project simmering in the back of my brain that I think she might be interested in. I haven’t seen her for a couple of years, but the minute I have the chance to get that project whipped into shape, she’s the first one on my list to send it to. I’d love to work with her. Both of us know ahead of time that we’d be a good fit…if we had the right project.

THAT CAN HELP YOU DOWN THE ROAD AS WELL. A no today might not be a no tomorrow ON A DIFFERENT PROJECT, and you want to be professional and courteous and business-like enough to leave a good impression.

And yet, I had to walk away from that conversation, because I wasn’t going to get a yes from it. I might someday turn it into a yes, but it wasn’t going to happen that day.


Publishing is a fairly small world. Word gets out pretty quickly about who is hard to work with, and who gets along with whom. I met the head of my current publishing house two years before she offered me contracts for four books. We had breakfast together, and talked about publishing and small presses. When I asked her later, she remembered the conversation and the conference, and she’s been awesome to work with. In fact, my impressions of her from the breakfast convinced me to submit to her (admittedly new at the time) publishing house.

Basically it boils down to being polite, being professional, and not being a jerk. If you are someone who doesn’t do well at networking, work on it. Go to events in your hometown and see how many people you can meet. Go to a wine tasting. Go to a book signing. Go to a local fundraiser (pick something that you actually care about), and get involved. Introduce yourself as a writer. And see if people ask about what you write. Learn how to meet people and make a good impression without being pushy.