Thursday, August 27, 2015

When Fiction Is Reality: Kevin Hopson on Loss, #Writing, and DELIVERING JACOB

Please welcome my fellow MuseItUp author, Kevin Hopson, who wrote his new novelette, Delivering Jacob, on a painfully personal topic. I invited Kevin to talk about the transfer of real life into fiction.

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When Fiction is Reality
By Kevin Hopson

If you’re a fiction writer, you know that writing often portrays some aspects of our real life. Whether these depictions are in the form of names, character traits, settings, themes or whatever, they all come from a universal comfort in finding something we can relate to. As a result, we can’t help but include reality in fiction. However, what happens when an event, especially a devastating one, has impacted your life so much that it inspires you to write a story about it?

My cross-genre novelette, Delivering Jacob, is a perfect example of this. It deals with the loss of a child, which is something I experienced back in August 2010 when my son, Aydin, was stillborn at 36 weeks. Numb and in shock, I couldn’t imagine ever writing again, yet it crept back into my life only a few months later as I attempted to grieve and cope with the loss. My writing wasn’t the same, though. It turned more laborious, and the quality I had come to expect with my work was lacking. While writing provided a means of release for me, I had to come to terms with the loss before taking it seriously again.

It took nearly eighteen months for this to occur. After the birth of my second son, Skyler, I was motivated to pick up where I left off. That was three-and-a-half years ago, and I have published nearly a dozen stories/books since then. Even though I integrated some aspect of my loss into several of those works, none of them dealt directly with the death of a child, which is why I felt the need to write Delivering Jacob.

The idea hit me out of the blue, and everything fell into place almost immediately. In fact, the topic felt so natural to me that I managed to write the story in a few days. In addition to the theme, there are many ways I paid tribute to my experience. For example, the main character’s son, Ken, was named after my father who passed away in December 2011. I include other names of family members and even set the story in the Pacific Northwest, which is my favorite part of the country.

I’ve been told that Delivering Jacob is my best work to date. I’m not sure if I agree, but it’s definitely the most personal piece I’ve written, so maybe it hits the reader in a way that my other stories don’t. Regardless, it’s a diverse story that has a little bit of something for everyone … mystery, romance, crime, thrills, and even a hint of the supernatural. The subject matter is important to me, as well as the characters, which is why I have already written follow-up stories revolving around the life of Jacob.

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Here is the book trailer for Delivering Jacob:

Learn more about Kevin Hopson on his blog

Purchase Delivering Jacob as well as Kevin Hopson's other books on Amazon.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

10 Years of Social-Political #scifi: Djibril al-Ayad Talks About THE FUTURE FIRE

I'm honored to join in celebrating ten years of existence for The Future Fire, an e-zine focusing on near-future feminist and queer science fiction with a political edge. Djibril al-Ayad is its editor and co-founder, and she joins me today to talk about her passion for this project. TFF is currently running an Indigogo campaign to help pay for an anniversary anthology.

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Keeping The Future Fire Burning
by Djibril al-Ayad

When three friends (in Switzerland, California and Scotland) and I launched The Future Fire in 2005, we may have had different ideas about what it represented (nihilistic postmodern American literature; classic cyberpunk and golden scifi; new wave political angst; samizdat and Borgesian horror) but we all agreed that we wanted an independent zine that was separate from conventional publishing, that neither made nor spent money, didn’t take advertising or sell copies. In fact we were very na├»ve, both in a relatively benign sense of not knowing the market and its limits, and also in the deplorable sense of thinking we were doing something new when in fact a hundred people were trying to do the same thing. But we had fun along the way, learned some hard lessons and some healthy ones, and although I’m the only one of the original four still standing, a lot of our original ideas are still strong (and nine fabulous co-editors are contributing new vision and inspiration).

After a few years of maturing and evolving, TFF arrived at a fairly stable and discrete mission, which is to publish overtly social-political speculative fiction. We’re not interested in stories that hit the reader over the head with a partisan message, but we are keen to see fiction that recognises the human and societal changes that take place in a science fictional future (or mythical past) are more interesting and challenging than technology, magic or monsters. And we are interested in hearing stories from, about and for diverse and underrepresented viewpoints: feminist, queer, postcolonial and disability themed speculative fiction alongside eco-sf, cyberpunk and low-fantasy.

We’re feeling pretty pleased with TFF at the moment: we published three well-received print anthologies in the last three years (Outlaw Bodies, We See a Different Frontier and most recently Accessing the Future). All received positive reviews, and have individually been assigned to students in several college courses. Over a dozen of our recent stories have been shortlisted for awards or reprinted in “best of” anthologies, and we have authors submitting work who make me swoon! And all this without paying anything like a professional rate for fiction. We must be doing something people want to read.

So while we don’t feel we need to change the model too much, there are a few things we’d like to do better: chief among them is we’d like to be able to pay our authors a better rate—and perhaps even more importantly, the wonderful artists who illustrate the stories we publish. We have a call open now for our latest anthology, Fae Visions of the Mediterranean, collecting stories and poems of horror, monsters and piracy from North Africa, the Near East and Southern Europe. We’re also putting together an anthology celebrating a decade of publishing, collecting a few representative stories from the last ten years plus a bunch of new material into a print volume. To pay a fair rate for all of these will cost money, so we’re also running a fundraiser at, where anyone who likes what we’re trying to do can preorder a copy of the TFF-X anthology or our other books, or pick up one of our perks such as story critique, custom illustration or knitted undead doll in your likeness! The fundraiser runs until the end of August.

If you have any ideas for supporting the campaign, spreading the word, or just thoughts or good wishes for the future of TFF, please do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you!

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The Future Fire's 10th anniversary anthology fundraiser runs through the end of August, 2015. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Allyn M. Stotz Presents HIPPO BOTTOMLESS

It's picture book time again on Jester Harley's Manuscript Page. Please welcome. Allyn M. Stotz and her incredible sinking hippo.

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Starting With the Title
by Allyn M. Stotz

I love a good hippo story, don’t you? Why are these creatures so cute and yet so big, weird-looking, bald, and intimidating? I think it’s for these reasons that we adults find them fascinating and kids find them cute and funny. Adults want to know how to avoid them whereas kids want to know if they
could fit their entire body in a hippo’s gargantuan mouth!

When I sat down to write Hippo Bottomless, I knew I wanted to write about a hippo but that’s about all I was sure of. So just like I’ve done so many times in the past, I started picking my pea-sized brain for titles of the book first. I thought Hippo Bottomless was a funny name and would grab people’s attention and possibly give them a chuckle. I discovered after writing The Pea in Peanut Butter that the title of a book can make a huge difference in whether or not someone is interested in taking a peek.

Once I was sold on the title, I began writing down different scenarios for what might happen in the book. Would the hippo have a huge appetite and eat everything in sight, therefore everyone teased him about being a bottomless pit? Or would the hippo have some kind of problem with keeping his shorts up? I tried both of these possibilities but neither was working.

Then a writer friend of mine told me that her daughter is obsessed with hippos. So I thought it would be fun to challenge her daughter by giving her my title and letting her come up with an idea for the story. I promised if her idea worked and I got my book published, I’d thank her in the book. And luckily, her idea worked! The minute I started writing about a hippo who couldn’t swim, the words just flowed on the computer screen and Hippo Bottomless was born. And my book became that much more special… at least to me.

When writing for kids, the more you can get them involved, the better the story. Although my little helper didn’t help me write the story, she came up with the idea and without that, Hippo Bottomless might still be sitting in my “To be finished” book folder.

Writing a children’s book might seem easy to those who have never written one and gotten it published but trust me when I say, it’s difficult and there’s a lot involved. Including research. Yes, even though I was writing fiction about a hippo, it still had to be believable and accurate. It was during my research that I realized hippos can’t really swim. They just basically run on the bottom while keeping their heads above water. That’s why you don’t see a herd of hippos out in deep water. So with that knowledge, I decided to incorporate the message to never give up because most times things aren’t always as they appear.

Poor Echo the Hippo kept trying to swim, but even with some training from friends along the way, he could still only manage to splash, splash, splash as he sank, sank, sank to the cold, murky bottom.
You’ll have to read the book to see if Echo ever achieves the ability to swim along with his other Hippo friends.

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You can purchase an autographed copy of Hippo Bottomless by contacting Allyn M. Stotz at or through her blog

You can also purchase Hippo Bottomless on Amazon

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Unexpected Time Travel to Ancient Egypt in Vanessa MacLellan's THREE GREAT LIES

One of my favorite new markets for speculative fiction is the Dreaming Robot Press series Young Explorer's Adventure Guide. I was honored to share the 2015 table of contents with Vanessa MacLellan, and I'm further honored to have Vanessa as a guest today to discuss her new novel, Three Great Lies.

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When I was little I had three great fascinations: Dinosaurs, terraforming other planets, and Egyptian mythology. Sit for a moment and remember the focus you had as kids, when all you wanted to do was play ball, or teach your dog to fetch, or read about space aliens? Well, for me, those three were tops. I had plastic dinosaurs I'd play with in the mud; they built towns and had a government. Read sci-fi where human colonists turned desert landscapes into rolling fields. And I had this great picture book with pyramids and pharaohs and mummies in it, along with a description of what each god meant.

I've been fascinated ever since. So, back in 2008 when I was preparing for my fifth NaNoWriMo challenge, I began to ponder... how well would I survive in an ancient world, like, say ancient Egypt?

Thus the seed was planted and much research was tackled.

A major aspect of the book (the stray dog theme) sprang to life at an agility dog show. The midsummer day was baking hot and I had parked myself under a tree for the next show. A Jack Russell Terrier was looking at me with that intelligent tongue-lolling smile terriers have. Honestly, the dog was smiling.

And that was the original start of the novel: "The dog was smiling at her." It's since changed, but that line and scene are still in there, the theme planted throughout the novel. The story just unfolded from that one dog's smile. I thank the heavens for smiling dogs!

After that, sitting in the hot sun, I began writing long hand. Then moved the novel to my computer and it flowed from there. I wrote 50,000 words of a woman fumbling her way through ancient Egypt, being chased by mummies, crocodiles and slave masters. Of her using her vast knowledge from spy movies to infiltrate a spy ring and help a young woman find her purpose and a mummy find his soul. It was a good ride.

It is still a good ride. One that's just starting.

Blurb for Three Great Lies:

While vacationing in Egypt. . .
Jeannette Walker, a cynical scientist jaded by swarms of tour groups and knick-knack shacks, is lured by a teenage tour guide to visit a newly discovered tomb. No other tourists there! Inside the chamber, she tumbles down a shaft and 3000 years back in time.

Now, in a world where deities walk the streets and prophecy stinks up the air, Jeannette is desperate for normal and the simple pleasures of sanitation and refrigeration. However, a slave master hawking a cat-headed girl derails her homebound mission, and Jeannette—penniless in this ancient world—steals the girl, bringing down the tireless fury of the slaver.

Saddled with a newly awakened mummy and the cat-headed girl, Jeannette, through her unparalleled experience gained from watching spy movies, contrives a plan to free them from the slaver's ire, but will she have to dive into the belly of the beast to succeed?

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Follow Vanessa MacLellan on her websiteFacebook, and Google+.

You can purchase Three Great Lies on Amazon

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pat McDermott continues her #YAlit GLIMMER series about Irish fairies

Always a pleasure to welcome back Pat McDermott. If you're intrigued by ancient Ireland and fairies, you do not want to miss her books!

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Blending Folk Tales, Boosting Glimmer
by Pat McDermott

When I started writing my young adult adventure series featuring Ireland’s fairies, I knew that at some point, I’d be dealing with leprechauns. They appeared at last in the third Glimmer book, A Pot of Glimmer. How to describe these famous sprites without making them sound like the run-of-the-mill gremlins on cereal boxes and in tourism ads proved challenging.

A Pot of Glimmer opens in medieval Ireland, 1014 AD, just before the historic Battle of Clontarf in which High King Brian Boru defeated the Vikings. My patriotic commando leprechauns, led by one Awley O’Hay, rob a Dublin mint to provide silver coinage for King Brian’s troops. The theft leaves Steng the Money Master a tad annoyed with Awley.

“Irlander insect! I will hunt you down and find you! I will burn out your thieving eyes and leave your corpse for the crows to devour!

Awley isn’t worried. How can a mere Norseman capture a leprechaun?

“You and your kind couldn’t catch the plague! King Brian will send yez back where yez came from!

The unfairness of Awley wielding his magical glimmer while Steng lacked a comparable gift compelled me to even the playing field. My investigation into Viking mythology offered a fabulous way for the money master to take his revenge. From past research, I knew a good deal about Vikings, but I’d never heard of a draugr, an undead creature who leaves its grave at night to feed on men and cattle. Awley finds himself in serious trouble each time the money master-turned-draugr turns up to haunt him. There’s little he can do, however, for draugrs can only be slain by mortals. Yet he’s not without resources. More than once, he’s turned to Becula, a powerful fairy witch, for assistance.

“’Tis fine to see you, ma’am. I find I’m again in need of your help. Your latest Draugr Confinement Spell has kept the essence of Steng beneath the ground for two hundred years. He’d no doubt be there forever, but for the Yank ambassador.”

“The American ambassador? Ambassador Gleason?”

“You know him?”

“I do. His young granddaughter is a friend of mine.” Becula narrowed her eyes. “’Twould displease me if anyone tried to harm her. What’s this all about?”

“The ambassador’s hired diggin’ machines. I don’t know why, but those gizmos are pokin’ too close to the stone we set over Steng’s coffin box. If they disturb it before we can move him to a safer place…”

Awley’s dilemma casts American teen Janet Gleason and her royal friend, Prince Liam Boru, into a web of unthinkable horror. In the first two Glimmer books, Janet and Liam’s budding romance suffers from fairy mischief, but fighting a draugr together takes the cake.

“Are you saying there’s a dead Viking monster buried in my grandfather’s putting green?”

Liam and his royal clan are descendants of High King Brian Boru. Liam’s lineage impresses the leprechauns, yet he has no time for formality: the draugr has kidnapped Janet.

“We have to do something. Draugrs eat mortals, and my friend is a mortal!

Melding elements of two unique oral traditions entertained me enormously as I wrote. The characters seemed to dictate to me, guiding me through their struggles with danger and romance (leprechauns fall in love too). These classic story ingredients, commonly found in the folklore of every culture, gave the world its first great sagas. May folk tales ever inspire us!

Ireland, 1014 - Leprechaun Awley O’Hay robs a Dublin mint to help King Brian fight the Vikings. The money master’s vengeful ghost troubles Awley for centuries.

Ireland, 2015 - The fairies have not only plagued American teen Janet Gleason since she arrived in Dublin, they’ve also hindered her romance with Prince Liam Boru. When Janet’s grandfather, the American Ambassador, throws a Fourth of July celebration, Liam stops by. Also attending are several uninvited guests whose appearance plunges Liam and Janet into a nightmare they never imagined. Nor did they imagine that real leprechauns are nothing like the “little men” of Irish lore.

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A Pot of Glimmer, Book Three in the Glimmer Series, is available in print and eBook from Amazon.

Learn more about Pat and her books on her website.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Cover reveal: BEYOND: SPACE OPERA #scifi anthology edited by @mfowler76

Pleased as intergalactic punch to be included in this gorgeous collection, which comes out on August 15. Here's the plug from editor Milo James Fowler:

Mark your calendars, bold starfarers. Beyond: Space Opera will be available wherever eBooks are sold on August 15th, and it'll be chock-full of rollicking space adventures the likes of which you've never seen!

Included in this collection:

"The Ungreat Escape" by Siobhan Gallagher 
"All Comms Down" by Anne E. Johnson 
"Remembrance Day" by Simon Kewin 
"The Lion's Den" by Devin Miller
"Captain Clone" by Deborah Walker
"Captain Bartholomew Quasar and the Kolarii Kidnappers on Zeta Colony 6" by yours truly

When will this awesome anthology be available? August 15th. Where will it be available? Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords. How much will it cost? My goal is to make it FREE, but Amazon usually takes a few days to price-match. The list price will be $2.99, and I plan to have it perma-free by August 15th.


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Santa's Daughter as Dragon Slayer: Jason D. Wittman's SAINT NICOLE

I'm delighted to welcome fellow Alban Lake Publishing author, Jason D. Wittman, who promises to give some insight into his highly original fantasy novel, Saint Nicole. Christmas in July, anyone?

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Twisting the Roots of Christmas 
by Jason D. Wittman

When Anne invited me to discuss my novella Saint Nicole on her blog, I was not sure what to write at first.  Most writers grow uncomfortable when asked, "Where do you get the ideas for your stories?"
The reason for this is that the people who ask that question seem to expect some fascinating, eye-opening answer, like: "I was playing Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee on my bagpipes one day, when suddenly it occurred to me..."  In reality, most sources of inspiration are depressingly ordinary.  Stephen R. Donaldson, for instance, has famously said he was once inspired by a can of Lysol disinfectant in a men's room at a convenience store.
Me, I get my inspirations from other sources.  One time, some co-workers and I were discussing funny t-shirts we had seen, and I told them of one that said "Schrodinger's cat is dead," on the front and "Schrodinger's cat is not dead," on the back.  My co-workers all gave me blank stares.  And as I struggled to think of a way to explain the concept of Schrodinger's cat to them, my short story The Sarcophagus of Lady Schrodinger was born.
The inspiration for Saint Nicole, though, did not come from a t-shirt.  It came from those newspaper articles you see whenever Christmastime rolls around that tell of how the various Christmas traditions came to be -- the Christmas tree, for instance, comes from Germany; while mistletoe was originally used in druidic rituals.  This got me pulling together a mythical "origin story" of how all these ancient traditions joined forces to become what we know now as Christmas.  And that phrase "joined forces" put me in mind of an epic conflict, where the peoples of various cultures come together to defeat a common enemy, in the vein of The Lord of the Rings.  There would be mortal human beings, of course, and joining them would be the Fair Folk, as well as the Thunder People, vaguely representing the Norse, and the Lightning People, representing the Greeks.  I also put in a mysterious figure called the Silent Knight, and the Five Golden Rings, powerful magic talsimans inspired by The Lord of the Rings and the old song "The Twelve Days of Christmas."
Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas, would have to be involved, of course.  Eventually, I got the idea of there not being one, but generations of them, each inheriting the role from his father when the time came.  And this inspired a further twist: what if a Nicholas died without any male heir?  What if he only had a daughter?  And so our heroine Nicole was born, who finds herself assuming her father's mantle when he is killed by his ancient archenemy...
Archenemy.  Let's see now.  What kind of archenemy would be appropriate for this story?  Well, since Christmas is all about the bestowing of gifts, and of Peace on Earth, Good Will to All, it seemed to me that the story's main antagonist would have to be the most sociopathic, solipsistic creature ever born.  And so I came up with the dragon Furnaceheart, whose one single goal in existence is to eat everything and everyone in existence.  Throughout the entire novella, he cannot understand why all this yummy food does not want to be eaten.  Don't they understand that's what food is for?  I wrote an entire chapter of the novella from Furnaceheart's point of view, and it was extremely fun to write an interior monologue with that kind of mindset. I like to think I got it right.

In the end, it falls to the young, inexperienced Nicole to defeat this vile foe.  If you want to know how she fares, you will have to read the novella itself.

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Learn more about Jason D. Wittman on his blog.

Purchase Saint Nicole from Alban Lake Publishing.