Guest Blog: S.J. Chambers on The Writer’s Impulse

I met the fabulous S.J. Chambers at WorldCon in 2012. Her fabulously strange story “The Şehrazatın Diyoraması Tour”  appears in Steampunk World.

Originally, this post was going to be an appreciation of the underrated film The Rum Diary, but, nigh on my deadline to Sarah, I’ve changed my mind on doing that because I’ve come to realize that what I wanted to discuss isn’t something I learned solely from the film, but something I have been learning on my own over the past ten years as a writer. You hear from most scribe-sages that you’ve got to find your voice or style, but I have personally never heard much about gaining experience.  If you have found your preferred syntax and have a grab bag of your favorite mellifluous words, great, but if you don’t have anything to write about, then basically you are playing scrabble. You also have to find your impulse, a word I’ve started using to describe the drive that makes a writer not just a skilled word-slinger but a poet in the mystical sense of the term.

Everyone’s impulse is unique and is hard-earned from experience and experience alone. Impulse takes time and can be elusive, and for those who are eager to write but have yet to find what to write about, this journey can become one full of fear, disillusionment, discouragement, and writer’s block, if not complete abandonment of one’s talent and dreams. Gaining experience doesn’t sound like a difficult thing to do, but I have seen too many people miss the rare occurrence of a double rainbow in the sky or dolphins hunting a beach shore because they are staring at their phone worrying over keeping up with the Facebook Joneses. Even among the older unplugged folk, I know people in my Florida hometown who have never seen the ocean, although the Gulf is only forty minutes away west, and the Atlantic just a few hours more east. So, I don’t think being open to or even appreciating opportunity and experience is natural to everyone.

It wasn’t for me, anyway. The first time I left the South was when I got a museum scholarship to New York City. I was 22 years old and had never traveled anywhere alone, much less been to a metropolis. There was immense culture shock, a lot of money spent, some friendships severed, and slight trauma induced, but after all that, I came back with unknown sights seen, conversations with diverse strangers spoken, thoughts never thought, and an all-around broaden horizon that made me begin to understand more of myself and glean more meaning from the art and literature I assiduously studied.  Most of all, I realized the power of a posteriori over a priori learning and wanted more.

So let’s go back to The Rum Diary. The Johnny Depp film is an adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s novel of the same name, and is something of a Hemingway-esque roman à clef of the Doctor’s time as a news reporter in San Juan during the 1960s. The main character, Paul Kemp, is a failed novelist who flees the states for a clean slate. In the middle of the film, after all of his prospects (including journalism) seem to have hit nothing but brick walls, he laments while reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner that Coleridge “…wrote this when he was 25. I’ve been dragging a typewriter around for 10, and I’ve written nothing.…I have no voice, I don’t know how to write like me.” He had the drive, but not the material until he meets several personalities who cast and reel in his life through a series of larks. In the end, he discovers that he has an extreme dislike for lying, corrupt, greedy people, and stumbles upon the impulse that opens the flood-gates to his writing.

When I saw The Rum Diary in 2011, Kemp’s melancholy admiration of Coleridge resonated with my own. At the time, I kind of felt like I had wasted my time after eight years of trying my hand at various modes of writing—from British jewelry copywriting to newspaper journalism to criticism to co-authoring a critically-acclaimed coffeetable book. I was dowsing in all directions and not digging any of it. I began to doubt I had didily to say. But when I saw The Rum Diary, I realized I was a late bloomer like Kemp, and  all of that dowsing was leading somewhere. I was gaining experience, and that experience was being (albeit slowly) digested and gestated into my impulse.

I haven’t written as much, or met certain benchmarks as I had hoped I would in ten years, but I have been traveling  and leaving the hotel, working odd jobs, and meeting and learning as much about people and their yearning and existential exigencies as possible. Publishing has become fast-paced, and feeling like a “slow writer” has given me a lot more anxiety about the whole thing than was really warranted. This is why I wanted to share this with people because I know how daunting it can seem when people are creating two or three finished products to your one, and how easy it can be to feel like you have to do more at the sacrifice of going out with friends, hopping in a car to go explore some hillbilly-guided caverns, or help out a sick family member, even though doing those things may do more for your writing in the end than sulking behind a computer screen. It is okay to mess around a little, and to live life and go out into the world. I have always believed that the whole point to writing is about living, and to do that you have to leave the hotel and send back postcards about what you have seen.

Many thanks to Sarah Hans for letting me send one to her and her readers today.


S. J. Chambers writes in Florida. Her fiction has appeared in anthologies like the Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (Harper Voyager), Zombies: Shambling Through The Ages (Prime Books), The New Gothic with Jesse Bullington (Stone Skin Press), and in the forthcoming tomes: Steampunk World (Alliteration Ink), and Starry Wisdom Library (PS Publishing). Her lit fic series, Vintage Scenes, which are stories based on specific wines, will be running all year at Also a non-fiction scribe, her essays have appeared at, Strange Horizons, and Bookslut, and is co-author of the Hugo and World Fantasy nominated The Steampunk Bible. You can find her online at

Guest Blog: Bill Bodden on Networking for Writers

Bill Bodden brings us the second post in the guest blogging series, on the topic of networking. Bill is a great writer and a really splendid guy whose story “In The Shadow of His Glory” is the dark heart of my first anthology, Sidekicks! 

It would be no exaggeration to say that 90% of the writing work I’ve had in the last five years has come through networking. To paraphrase the old saw, (in my case, at least) it really is all about who you know. I’m writing this from a writer’s perspective; pretty much everything applies, with only slight variations, to illustrators, editors, graphic design/layout professionals, the whole gamut of folks involved with publishing books.

As a freelance writer, I scour the web for open calls for fiction, but in truth, I somehow miss most of the ones I would be interested in. As a no-name writer, I very rarely get invitations to submit stories to anthologies. Besides the depressing work of sending out stories and waiting for the rejection letters, I’ve found that I can keep my writing skills sharper if I continue to work as a freelancer.

I’ve recently finished work on a couple of different table-top RPG projects, one of which I was recommended for by a friend. After I completed my assignment, I was given more work by that firm, so I must have done an okay job. I know the developer of the second project personally, and he very graciously farmed some of the writing work for this book out to me.

So how does one get to know people in positions like that? Buy them a drink at a convention. Chat with them; strike up a conversation about puppies or the stock market on aluminum siding – whatever. If they’re gamers, play games with them. Find something you’re both interested in and talk about it for a LITTLE while.

Remember your manners.

Also, remember that this isn’t all about you. Ask them questions about stuff they’ve mentioned; ask what they like to read. You know, carry on a conversation. If it comes up, mention some writing work you’ve done that’s appropriate, but absolutely don’t lead with that information; it sets an impossible standard for the rest of the conversation. If someone else introduces you and THEY lead with “This is Bob Schmalkald; he had a story in the anthology What the Hell Is This? by Editor X,” then go with that, but be prepared to move immediately on to talking about something else.

Then leave. Don’t follow them around from panel to panel; don’t barge in on their dinner party and expect to be invited along as they’re leaving for the restaurant. In short, try — try really hard — to NOT act like a stalker. Being memorable is good, but being memorable for not being a creepy, clingy jerk is much, much better. If you run into them later, great. Chat a bit more maybe, then go chat with someone else. Don’t monopolize their time, and know when to back off. If they happen to invite you along, great; they like you.

Remember your manners.

After the convention is over, friend them on Facebook OR Twitter OR Goodreads. Don’t friend them on all three on the same day – remember that warning about not acting like a stalker? Yeah. After a week or two has passed it’s probably okay to friend them elsewhere, particularly if you’ve been interacting.

Eventually, you’ll be networking without even realizing it, swapping business cards with editors, publishers, and other writers. This is good. It gets your name out there so people will remember you, and think of you when they have a project and need some help writing it. People will actually check out your work, and talk about it with each other. That part is the icing on the cake.

Perhaps the most important thing about networking is this: Deliver what is asked. There is nothing — and I mean NOTHING — that will get your name spread around faster than being on-time and on word-count for a project. If you sign a contract stating that you’ll have 50,000 words typed, double-spaced on 60-lb. linen paper by tomorrow, you’d better do exactly that. Read your contract and know what it means before you sign it.

And remember your manners.


Bill Bodden has been a freelance writer since 2002. Most recently he has had a story included in Sarah Hans’ anthology Sidekicks! from Alliteration Ink, and upcoming credits in the Achtung! Cthulhu Keeper’s Guide plus several as yet untitled projects. You can check out his work and his weekly blog at

Guest Blog: Alana Lorens on The Importance of Critique Groups

For the next few months, I’m not going to have time to update my blog regularly. Rather than let it go fallow, I thought I’d hand it over to my friends and fellow writers so they could talk about…well, whatever they want that’s related to writing. To kick us off, here’s Alana Lorens. Alana is an accomplished author whose deliciously sinister story “A Recipe for Success” appeared in my editorial debut, Sidekicks! Today she wants to expound on the benefits of a good critique group. Take it away, Alana!

As a writer friend of mine scolded, “It may be fun to chunk out novel after novel, but until you put in the work to edit, they will never go anywhere.”

For me, it is in fact, fun to chunk out novels. I enjoy the process. I’ve won NaNoWriMo twice, creating a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. Over the years, I’ve written maybe twenty novel manuscripts. I had to wait till I was past 50 before I saw any published, though I have been blessed enough to see many of them come to the light—in fact, I received five contracts in 2010, three for fantasy novels, one for a romance and the last for women’s fiction; in 2011, two romance novels, a space opera and a fantasy, as well as a paranormal mystery; last year, a YA post-apocalyptic series, a romance novella, a space opera, and a romantic suspense, as well as a spooky short story for an anthology, and set so far for 2014, another space opera, vol. 2 in the YA series and a straight suspense. What has made the real difference for me is my critique group.

My personal editing process is stimulated, challenged and greatly aided by a talented critique group I met through Pennwriters. I can’t stress enough the value of a good critique group for any writer. While your mother/partner/daughter may rave about the wonders of your manuscript, if you’re serious about editing for the reading public, you need critical eyes of a variety of sorts. Our group, which meets every Thursday, is a veritable mashup of varied bodies of knowledge; a retired police officer, a therapist,  a lawyer, an artist, a technical copy writer, a barista, some students, some working, some retired–all gifted. Many are published in short form, in newsletters, newspapers, or short story. The group boasts three published novelists, though others are coming up close behind.

This brings me to my first point: find a critique group at the level you need. If you’re just starting out, you’re still learning about everything—grammar, rhythm, metaphors—and need to become comfortable with the use of words on the page. What you don’t need in a critique group is a bunch of snippy professionals who will tear your piece apart as soon as you share it. You need a group with other beginners and a few mentors, a group that runs exercises each week to help you grow as a writer. Hold out for that group.

Conversely, if you’ve been writing some time and you’re ready for publication, you need a group with some published writers in it, to learn about queries and marketing and how to set your work before the public. You’ll want some harsher critiques—in a constructive way! Hopefully, your writer’s skin has thickened to the point where you can hear some criticism of the work, but still understand how changes might make the work better.

My second point: ego has no place in critique groups, on either the writing or reading side. In order to get the most from your feedback, you should listen, not talk. When group members comment on your work, take in what they say. They might not be right. They might not understand what you meant by a particular phrase or scene. Arguing with them just shuts down their urge to help you. Frankly, if the scene is so unclear that they missed the point—maybe the scene is that unclear. If only one person missed it, but the majority got it, maybe it’s fine. Listen. Then decide.

As a person giving feedback, remember your ego doesn’t matter, either. A critique session is not where you score points for being brilliant. Your opinion of someone else’s work only matters as far as it improves the other person’s work. It’s their work. Constructive criticism helps; tearing someone to bits doesn’t. In a business where sheer persistence and will to continue is sometimes all that stands between a writer and publication, destroying someone’s self-confidence to prop up your own ego is criminal. It happened to me, more than once. Receiving scathing words from someone claiming to “help,” I decided to give up any hope of being a published writer. Thank the stars that my inner urges kept that from happening. Primarily because I found my new group.

What I like best about this group is the creative flow that works between us. Ego isn’t an issue. When we have questions, we toss them on the table, and they receive open, honest answers: Is this an information dump? Do you understand the character’s motivation? Is this too big a clue early in the story?

More importantly, in the discussion and exchange process, we’ve shared brainstorming moments that open the door to deeper understanding of my own work. What if your character did…? Perhaps the relationship between the girl and that boy could lead to…? What setting would make this scene most effective? What if the journey took on a more metaphoric flavor and…? I always love it when someone spots a meaningful undertone that I haven’t quite grasped, so I can coax it into the light.

Once you’ve worked over your manuscript with your group, then back to your computer to polish, polish, polish.

Though writing is a solitary process, editing can work best as a collective. I’d urge any writer to find a group, online or in person, that provides what they need. Be prepared to do your share to help others along the way ; keep your ego in check. And start chunking out those novels!


Alana Lorens dreamed for many years of being a spaceship captain, but settled instead for inspired excursions into fictional places with fascinating companions from her imagination that she likes to share with others. She has been a published writer for over thirty years, including seven years as a reporter and editor at a newspaper in Homestead, Florida, with a list of eclectic publications from horror to tech reporting to television reviews. She writes urban fantasy and science fiction under the name of Lyndi Alexander. The Elf Queen, her first novel, was released by Dragonfly Publishing in July 2010; the series continued with The Elf ChildThe Elf Mage and The Elf Guardian. She’s now working on the space opera Horizon Crossover series, and a YA trilogy, The Color of Fear—the first book, WINDMILLS, was published by Zumaya Publications this summer.  Writing as Alana Lorens, she produces romance and romantic suspense, including the Pittsburgh Lady Lawyer series, CONVICTION OF THE HEART, SECOND CHANCES, and the latest, VOODOO DREAMS, released by The Wild Rose Press in October 2013.

She is a single mother of seven, with two special needs children at home with her in Pennsylvania, and she volunteers at her local shelter for domestic violence victims, believing in every person’s right to be safe.

A Look Back At 2013

2013 was a big year for me with a lot of successes. I’m going to make a bulleted list of them, because I love bulleted lists:

  • In March, I saw the publication of my first anthology, Sidekicks!
  • Three new stories appeared in print, and one was rereleased 
  • I sold quite a few other stories and an essay which should appear in 2014
  • I quit the job I had grown to despise in order to move on to better things, like teaching and writing
  • I was a panelist at the GenCon Writer’s Symposium for the first time
  • In December, we launched the Kickstarter for Steampunk World, which was funded in a matter of days
  • Thanks to said Kickstarter, my dream project appeared on Boing Boing and io9, and my squees were heard round the world
  • I managed to maintain my above-4.0 GPA despite being overwhelmed much of the time
  • I started the paleo diet in the hopes of improving my health
  • I wrote about half a novel that I’m hoping to finish as soon as the editing for Steampunk World is complete
  • I made a small profit on writing and editing this year for the first time!

Some not-so-great things happened too, like dropping out of Dragon*Con even after wheedling my way onto panels because it was giving me stress-induced vertigo attacks. I also upset a writing colleague whom I considered a friend because, let’s face it, my combination of GAD and OCD sometimes mean that I’m not great at letting things go and tend to over-explain myself, especially via email. My brain believes that if I just say the right words, the person I’ve offended will see that I never intended to offend them at all! Stupid brain. This is not how human interaction works. My one comfort is that, even though I’m over 30 now, I’m still learning a lot as I go, so hopefully this is a mistake I won’t make again. I may not be able to repair this friendship, but at least I can learn from this experience and prevent myself from bungling things in the future. The experience with Dragon*Con taught me, similarly, that I have certain limits, and I need to be better at listening to my body so I’ll know when I’m pushing those limits too far.

Despite these few setbacks, I think I have to put 2013 down in the WIN column, overall. The beginning of the year was rocky, but the end of the year, with quitting my job and seeing the Kickstarter achieve ~200% funding, was spectacular. And I learned a lot about myself, my limitations, my talents, and exactly what I’m capable of given the right resources. Perhaps most importantly, I kept writing, and my writing got better. In three years my stories have improved drastically. Hopefully soon I’ll have some examples in print so you can see for yourself.

Since 2013 was so great, I’m looking forward to 2014. Steampunk World will appear in print, I should get my teaching license, and hopefully I’ll finally get a novel or two done and crack the SFWA-approved markets.  This is my year. I can taste it.

So, dear reader, how was your 2013? What are you looking forward to in 2014?

A Big Thank You

When you’re a depressive, even one in remission, extreme highs in emotion–the kind that can result from a month that included both the holidays and a successful Kickstarter campaign–can result in extreme lows, too. So I apologize for the delay in posting this. My only excuse is that my disorder had me by the throat. Fortunately, copious amounts of chocolate, tea, pet snuggles, period dramas, and time with good friends are bringing me back up for air.

The Steampunk World Kickstarter was successful beyond my wildest dreams. We didn’t quite get to Volume 2, but we exploded the two stretch goals that were most important to me, netting ourselves a fancy custom cover by James Ng and interior illustrations for every story in the book. This is so much more than I could ever have hoped for. (Before you ask: don’t worry about Volume 2, that will probably happen anyway. But that’s a blog post for another day.)

Yes, I’m the editor of Steampunk World. Yes, I conceived the idea for the anthology, invited authors, chose stories, found a cover artist, and created the backer levels. I am still editing the stories but I’m nearly done. Yes, I did or am doing all of those things, and, as my friends point out, I should pat myself on the back for doing all that. I deserve a little credit, they remind me. I shouldn’t give it all away. Consider my back patted. Go me.

But no woman is an island. I could not have seen this project succeed without help from a lot of people. And I certainly would not have seen it leap from the tracks and go flying into the stratosphere without so many people feeding coal into the burners of this train metaphor that I’m starting to regret. At the risk of this blog post sounding like an award acceptance speech, I need to thank some people, and this seems like the best way to do it.

Thank you, Steven Saus, the man behind Alliteration Ink, who took a chance on a relatively unknown writer and completely untested editor. You may not realize this, but I pitched Steampunk World to Steve before Sidekicks!, so he agreed to it before he knew that I could follow through. That’s the kind of faith and trust that makes me all verklempt if I think about it too hard. I hope I’ve paid back that faith and trust and will continue to do so. Steve also ran the Kickstarter, for which I am eternally grateful, because I have no desire to be saddled with that responsibility.

Thank you, Jay Lake and SJ Chambers, for being the first two big-name authors to agree to submit stories for the anthology. I met these two fabulous writers at WorldCon in 2012.  That convention changed my life, in no small part thanks to their kindness and willingness to take me seriously even though I was dressed like a weirdo and they’d never heard of me before. They gave me the courage to ask other big-name people to participate in the anthology. They lent credence to my belief that I had something special that might actually succeed. And, perhaps more importantly, they taught me that people will say yes, if you just ask. Always ask!

Thank you, James Ng and Diana Pho, for agreeing to supply the cover art and introduction, for mobilizing your scads of followers into backing the Kickstarter, and for being flexible and completely delightful in every way to work with. These two were my first choices for the art and the introduction, and emailing them both was incredibly intimidating. In the end, Diana and her fiancee proved instrumental in creating the Kickstarter video, and James agreed to do not just a custom cover, but all the interior illustrations as well. Basically, everyone has blown me away with their enthusiasm and generosity. Especially these two.

Thank you, to all the authors who submitted stories for the anthology, even those whose stories I rejected. Please keep writing. When I started writing again four years ago, I couldn’t have imagined the incredible places this path would take me. And I’m only at the beginning of my journey, really. Don’t be defeated by rejections. Keep going.

Thank you, to all the authors whose stories I did buy for the anthology. You are all so talented. Sometimes your stories leave me breathless with wonder, and it is such an honor to put them in a collection and present them to the world. I can’t wait until people get to read the anthology.

Thank you, to all my friends and writing colleagues who backed the project, tweeted, retweeted, posted, and talked about the anthology. It is because of you that we were fully funded within a couple of days and achieved two of our stretch goals. You were–and are–a part of this, as much a part as the editor and the publisher and the writers and the cover artist. What’s the point of putting together a collection like this without an audience? Thank you for being that audience. No–thank you for being more than an audience. Thank you for actively making this project succeed.

Finally, thank you, all of you, for being part of a project that celebrates humanity in all its variations. Thank you for giving me hope that maybe someday the world will follow suit. Thank you for showing me that there are people out there who want to read the kind of stories I want to write and curate. Thank you for teaching me that I should always ask. Today the world seems like a bigger, better, brighter place than it did just a few months ago.

Thank you.

Lessons from Sidekicks!

As I begin work on my second anthology, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on what I learned in editing my first. Sidekicks! taught me a lot as an editor, but also as a writer. Thus, I’m going to separate What I Learned into lessons for myself as a writer and lessons for myself as an editor, and use bullets, because bulleted lists are awesome. And if you learn something from this list, then hey, bonus. Sharing is caring.

For Writers

  • Putting yourself out there is the best way to be invited to an anthology. Go to conventions. Enter competitions. Join a local writing group. Send your writing resume and a sample of your work uninvited to an editor or publisher. All of these were ways that I found authors for the anthology.
  • When you’re invited to an anthology, reply to the invitation. Even if you can only say “Sorry, this isn’t up to my pay grade” or “Sorry, I don’t have time for this project, but please keep in mind for others!” the editor will appreciate it, and remember it for next time.
  • Give the editor something she’s never seen before. Don’t bore her with the same concept, characters, and setting that every other author will use. Don’t go with the obvious.
  • Remember that you have to grab the editor’s attention with an intriguing title. Again, don’t go for the obvious. For instance, if you’re invited to an anthology about vampires, don’t put “vampire” in the title. Don’t use the word “blood” either. You want your title to stand out.
  • Common wisdom is that your first paragraph has to grab the reader’s attention, and this is true. But in a short story, the first page really has to grab. Don’t put a flashback or too much backstory at the beginning. Give me action and compelling characters. Make me want to read the rest by revealing the backstory as you go along, instead of infodumping it all over me in the first page.
  • Do your research. If you’re writing about someone who is different from you, talk to someone from that group. Read about them. Have someone from that group read your story and tell you whether it’s on the mark.
  • Copy edit. Put your story in front of a writing group or, at least, a reader who is a bit of a grammar hound. I might pass on a great story that is full of typos and mistakes simply because I already have too many other stories with similar problems and I can’t bear to deal with another one. This is especially important if you’re pinch-hitting, because your editor needs a story that she can insert into the anthology at the last minute, with minimal editing.
  • Even if the editor tells you the format of your submission is not a big deal, send it in Standard Manuscript Format anyway. At the very least, include the story title, author name, and an email address on the first page. Word count is also helpful. Your editor is tired. She has read many submissions. Make it easy for her to track which submission belongs to you. She might appreciate it so much she’ll take a chance on an author whose story needs a little work, but who obviously wants to be in the anthology badly enough to bother going the extra mile.
  • Get MS Word. Every editor I’ve worked with uses this program to track changes, and I also use it. I’m not saying you have to pay for it. But the tracking feature is really ideal for editors, and you don’t want to annoy your editor by adding another level of frustration to editing your story because you can’t accept her changes. If you don’t want to download MS Word, I’m sure there’s an Apple or Linux geek you know who can hook you up with a program that will work.
  • If your story is rejected, thank the editor for his or her time and move on. Don’t reply with something snarky or something that implies that the editor is making a mistake when rejecting your story. That’s a great way not to be invited to future anthologies. There’s a reason your story was rejected. It’s your job to fix it before you find another home for it, not the editor’s. If the editor is willing to give you any tips to improve it, great. If not, respect that she doesn’t have time. It’s also not personal. She’s likely had to reject stories by her friends, as well.

For Editors

  • I invited about 150 authors to Sidekicks! and received 30 submissions initially. I bought 18 of these, and commissioned three pinch-hitters, two of whose stories I purchased, giving me an even 20 stories in the final manuscript. For an anthology that has a low pay rate, approximately 150 authors nets an appropriate number of submissions.
  • Make an effort to invite authors who are people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. I didn’t do very well on this for Sidekicks!, though there are a number of stories about POC and LGBTQ characters in the anthology. So this is something for me to improve for future anthologies. If you want diverse perspectives, you need diverse authors.
  • It takes me about two months to edit twenty stories. I was expecting to get it done in one month, but this was not enough time. I’m hoping that, for Steampunk World, since I’m mostly working with authors who are very experienced pros, the editing will be less extensive. Give yourself a cushion so that, if the editing takes longer than you expected, it won’t be a big deal.
  • Before you tell the authors that you’re purchasing their stories, try arranging them in a tentative Table of Contents. When you try to put similar stories far from each other in the arrangement, you may discover that some stories are too similar. Or that you have a story that just doesn’t fit. It will also reveal similar titles that you may need to ask the authors to change.
  • Have in mind some pinch-hitters (authors who write stories under a tight deadline to fill in gaps in your anthology). You can ask authors who have submitted stories that were rejected or authors you didn’t initially invite. I recommend inviting pinch-hitters whose work you have read, and whose writing tends to be very clean so they’ll be ready to insert into the anthology with barely any work on your part.
  • Spreadsheets are your friend. I have a spreadsheet with workbooks for invited authors, committed authors, and purchased stories. I keep track of the dates I receive communications and send acceptances/rejections, etc. I also track titles, word counts, and even story themes and the genders/races of characters in an effort to avoid too many stories with similar features. I use Google Documents for this, but Excel would also work fine.


If you’re an author or an editor, please comment below with advice you gained from your last project. Or tell me why I’m wrong! Or, suggest another tracking program I can use for editing stories, since so many authors don’t have access to MS Word. For Steampunk World, I may offer to attempt edits through Google Documents if an author absolutely refuses to use Word, but the tracking feature on Google Docs just isn’t as good.

The Art of Quitting

Let me start by offering you a quote.

“Quitters never win and winners never quit.” – Vince Lombardi

Sound familiar? We must persevere, push ourselves to the limit, never surrender, show no fear. American culture is saturated with the idea that we must never quit.

But two weeks ago, I did just that. I quit my job. And today is my last day. My replacement has been trained, the manual has been written, my personal belongings have been packed. After eight years (only about six of which were truly miserable) I’m finally done.

I quit.

The fact is that in this, as in so many other things, American culture is dead wrong. Quitting is good for you. Quitting is how we remake ourselves, our lives, and create joy out of misery, the lotus from the mire.

As you can guess, however, I didn’t flounce. I didn’t throw a tantrum, I didn’t burn bridges. I saved my pennies, I enrolled in school, I made a plan, and I lived on the hope that someday I would finally quit. And then I did. Naturally, my boss was upset and begged me to stay on. Perhaps, had I ever had an inkling of this appreciation at any point in eight years, I would have considered his proposal to work part-time until a suitable replacement could be found and trained. It was hard to turn down the extra money and the appeal of feeling needed and appreciated at last. But in the end I stayed firm and refused.

I also quit Dragon*Con. I had originally planned to attend, but after four years of running myself ragged trying to manage a job, school, and freelance writing, my mind and body are finally showing signs of the stress I’ve been putting them under. I need to recuperate more than I need to attend the convention that stresses me out the most. I was terrified that organizers and friends would be angry with me, but so far everyone has been terribly understanding. They’ll probably never let me sign up for panels at Dragon*Con again, but that is completely understandable, and collateral damage I had to be willing to accept. Some things have to take priority, and my emotional well-being, which has not been a priority in a long, long time, needs some time at the top of the list.

I had also hoped to attend PandoraCon, but that will be off the list as well. I’ll attend GenCon, Context 26, and TeslaCon, and that will be plenty of conventions for the remainder of 2013. I don’t know what 2014 looks like, but I imagine it will be considerably less convention-filled than the past few years. The insides of hotels are all starting to blur together, each event becoming indistinguishable from the next. That’s probably a sign that it’s time to hang up my boots. I don’t intend to retire completely from the convention circuit, but I find myself itching to travel and see something other than conference rooms and patterned carpeting, so I’ll be cutting way back.

I am resigning from Doctor Fantastique’s as well. I have enjoyed my time there, and remain extremely loyal to the editorial staff, who are as fine a group of people to work with as any writer could hope for. Now that I’m officially unemployed, I won’t have time to do any unpaid writing. Believe it or not, my articles for Doc F’s were extremely time-consuming, because I believe that if you’re going to do a thing, you should do it correctly, even if it’s unpaid.

Which might be the source of a lot of my stress, come to think of it.

Sometimes quitting is the best thing one can do for oneself. I challenge you to give up something that is sucking your time, something you’re doing out of obligation or perceived necessity, something that’s making you really miserable, but which you refuse to quit for all the wrong reasons. If you can’t walk away, because you’re stuck at a dead-end job (because, like me, you need health insurance) or in an unhappy marriage or some other complicated situation, then make plans to quit. Give yourself the gift of hope, that most elusive quality that can carry you from day to day.

A year ago, I thought this day would never come. It felt like I would be trapped in my boring, soul-crushing, empty job forever. But now I’m free, and on my way to a career I love, and I have time for socializing and reading and writing again. The investment has paid off, finally. Finally!

And yours will too. Save yourself, quit now!

So this happened (squee)

Last night I went to a book-signing for Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess) in Dayton with my friends Corielle and Christina. I wanted to bring Jenny some taxidermy but didn’t because Reasons. Instead I brought her a copy of Sidekicks! (in which I wrote a ridiculously gushy little note about how inspirational and encouraging she has been for ladies like me–the sort with anxiety problems, the sort who want to be writers, the sort who are beyond goofy in a world that expects adults to be, like, serious or something.)

You know how, when you meet people you admire, sometimes it turns out really well and other times not so much? Well I guess I’ve been lucky, because the vast majority of the people I fan over have been completely lovely. Jenny Lawson was perhaps the loveliest of all.

Me: I brought you a present. It’s a book I edited.

JL: Oh my god, really? Thank you! Oh my god! Did you sign it?

Me: (turning pink) Yes, uh, on the dedication page, I wrote you a little note.

JL: I’m so glad you gave me this, now I’ll have something to read!

Me: It uh, just came out this weekend, so, there are no reviews of it yet, so I can’t be like “Neil Gaiman loves this book!” but, maybe someday?

JL: (opens the book to a page and reads for a few seconds) Okay well, now you can say that Jenny Lawson read part of a page and really liked it. So there’s that!

Me: You’re awesome. Can we take a picture?

JL: Of course! Hey why don’t we get a picture holding each others’ books?

Me: (trying not to freak out) OKAY

True Story. Thanks to Christina King for the photographic evidence.


The Next Big Thing

I met AJ Scudiere at Context in 2012. You know how occasionally you meet someone and you feel instant kismet? That’s how it was for me  with AJ. She’s a fabulous lady: energetic, friendly, and with the kind of open enthusiasm that makes you smile despite yourself.

To make a long story short, AJ is a novelist. She has this blog called Smart Chicken, and she’s doing a blog hop called The Next Big Thing. She tagged me, so now I answer some questions about my latest project and then tag five more authors to tell you about their latest projects. Fun, right?

FYI: I have adjusted the original questions somewhat since my big project right now is an anthology instead of a novel.

1: What is the working title of your book?

Sidekicks! I’m not one for subtlety.

2: Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’m actually writing a novel about a sidekick. While I work on it, I thought it would be fun to see what other authors would come up with when asked to write about sidekicks. And my publisher had an opening for an anthology…so there you go!

3: What genre does Sidekicks! fall under?

Speculative fiction. Some of the stories are creepy, some are have a comic-book feel, some have happy endings, some have sad. I’ve got superhero stories, sword and sorcery tales, a vampire story, and a couple of futuristic science fiction yarns. Variety is the spice of any anthology.

4: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I can’t really answer this one, because I didn’t write the stories, and there’s so much variety. I’d love to see Patrick Tomlinson’s “Coffee and Collaborators” as a short film though. When you read the story, you’ll see what I mean.

5: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

The best stories aren’t about the people in the limelight, but rather those standing just behind them in the shadows.

6: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

The fantastic Steve Saus at Alliteration Ink is publishing it.

7: How long has the editing taken you?

Selecting the stories took about a month. I’m in the midst of editing now, and hope to be finished by the end of January. This is a tight schedule, and I’m only capable of fulfilling it because the anthology was invitation-only. I received 30 submissions, so it’s much more manageable than an open-call anthology that would have netted hundreds of submissions.

8: What other anthologies would you compare Sidekicks! to within your genre?

That question is too hard! NEXT!

9: Who or What inspired you to edit this anthology?

I really appreciate underdogs, so I set out to write a novel about one, and that inspired the anthology. I guess the novel comes from a place of always feeling second-best myself. I’m often friends with people who are flashy, charismatic, ridiculously good-looking, and maybe even a little egotistical. Most of the time I’m fine with playing second fiddle, because the world needs a second fiddle as much as (if not more than) the first fiddle, but sometimes I wonder why I (and the other second bananas of the world) willingly take the Beta role rather than the Alpha. So this project is born of those musings.

10: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Most anthologies (the ones worth buying, anyway) either pay a flat rate to authors or pay a piddling amount of royalties, like, the authors share a split of 25% of the profits. If you’ve got 20 stories in anthology, that leaves a tiny percentage for each individual author. Alliteration Ink is run by an author, and I am an author myself, so we’d like to see authors paid more than that. 60% of the profits will be divided among our authors (this was as high as we could make it and still allow the publisher to recoup his costs). So, if you buy this anthology from Alliteration Ink, you will be putting cash directly into the pockets of the authors.  Readers seem to really like that!

Thanks for reading! Now check out the blogs of some of the authors behind the stories in Sidekicks!

Steve Saus – I’ve known Steve for some years now, and he was my mentor for much of that. He’s incredibly generous with his time and advice. He’s cut the strings on our Jedi-Padawan relationship, but luckily I still get to call him a friend–and publisher! Steve is the sole proprietor of Alliteration Ink. His stories are also fantastic, and I wish he would submit one for Sidekicks!, but he refuses to double-dip on projects he’s publishing. INTEGRITY. His blog, Idea Trash, also has great tips for independent authors and small-press publishers alike.

Michael Haynes – I met Michael through a local critique group and was instantly impressed with his writing. He has endured rejections numbering in the hundreds, but his persistence has paid off; his story for Sidekicks! was his 26th sale of 2012. The man is talented but also has something so many authors lack–determination.  He’s a great example for anyone looking to sell stories, and has a helpful blog with tips for authors and submission notices.

Chanté McCoy is the one author on this list I’ve never met in person. I know her through mutual publication in The Crimson Pact series. One of her strengths is in developing truly unique ideas–her story for Sidekicks! was one of the most original concepts I received.

M.E. Garber is another author I met through my local critique group. She has, sadly, moved out of Ohio, but not before she could impress me with prose I can only describe as delicate, clear, and sweet, like drinking from a cold Scottish loch (if you’ve ever done this, you’ll know exactly what I mean).

Patrick Tomlinson is last on this list, but certainly not least. Patrick is the epitome of clever, witty, and acerbic, and it shows in his stories. His tale for Sidekicks!, “Coffee and Collaborators,” is one of my favorites. I often joke that I plan to ride Patrick’s coattails to fame, but I secretly mean it. He’s one to watch in the coming years. Patrick has also done some slush reading, and he has a great series on his blog right now about how to get your story noticed in a pro-market slush pile.

A series of epiphanies

While I work on my Official Dr. Fantastique’s Review of Worldcon/Chicon 7, I thought I’d post something more personal in the meantime.

Worldcon was amazing. For me, it was like glimpsing heaven, brushing it with my hand, and then being sent back into purgatory (that sounds really melodramatic now that I’ve written in down). It was inspiring and motivating and depressing all at once. It made me believe in myself while simultaneously making me believe that I am the ant unworthy to crawl on Neil Gaiman’s shoe. It made me love everything I’ve ever written and then it made me hate everything I’ve ever written.

Along with all this emotion came a series of realizations, or epiphanies, if you will. Some of these were more spectacular than others, and included items like:

  • I want to be a professional writer (by that I mean, someone who makes a living writing) more than I’ve wanted anything ever.
  • If I work hard enough, someday I could be published alongside folks who are nominated for Hugo awards (I can’t even contemplate being nominated myself, that’s dangerous and ultimately out of my control), and make a living doing what I love.
  • I need to work harder and make more temporary sacrifices if I really want to make writing into a career. I have to become temporarily kind of selfish, because there just aren’t enough hours in the day for me to do a full-time job, take classes, and write if I’m spending all my time fulfilling other peoples’ expectations of me.

So I’m going to be making some changes around here. Some items are tangible. Others are more nebulous. For instance:

  • Write more, facebook less. Maybe facebook not at all, it really is a time-suck, and it’s not helping my career one iota. Facebook has become the way I entertain myself at my day job, but writing (or at least reading) needs to take its place.
  • Drop out of any groups that aren’t helping me meet my goal. As one of my Barfleet friends put it, “Sarah’s a member of every group ever.” Well, yes. And as a result, I half-ass my responsibilities to these groups and to myself. So it’s time to ask myself which groups are really benefiting me and which are just taking up more of my so-precious time. I hate dropping out of anything or losing touch with any friends, so this is going to be hard.
  • Sacrifice social time for writing time. Again, this is going to be hard. I’m one of those people who is terrified of her best friends replacing her so I must go to every social event ever. I’m just going to have to get over that. Scheduled writing time will be scheduled writing time no matter how tempting the social event. I can’t cut out social events altogether without becoming miserably depressed (which is the worst possible thing for my writing) but I can reduce them enough that I feel I’m getting more done. And I’ll have to count on my friends to know that I still love them and not to forget me.

Here’s my shiny new schedule for the next year:

Fall 2012: Revamp website. Send invites for Anthology #1. Finish Confessions of a Sidekick (novella).

Winter 2013: Edit and finalize Anthology #1. Write story for Empires of Steam and Rust.

Spring 2013: Celebrate the release of Anthology #1. Send invitations/notifications about Anthology #2. Start writing Tarabonti and Co. (tentative title, novella).

Summer 2013: Conduct Indie Go Go campaign for Anthology #2.

Fall 2013: Finalize Anthology #2, celebrate release, send rewards for Indie Go Go campaign. Finish Tarabonti and Co.

Of course in between these projects there will also be short stories and hopefully a comic book and science only knows what else. Hopefully.

Here’s what I need from you, dear reader: Your continued support. Your understanding when I say “I can’t come to your party, I have scheduled Writing Time.” I promise I will make it up to you by including you in my Hugo acceptance speech. I’m just kidding about that part. But seriously, I will appreciate it…and you’ll get me back once I’m a successful freelancer. Right? Right.