I’m delighted to announce that my little slice of Victorian feminist sci-fi, ‘Tabula Rasa’, found a home with the fine folks at Empyreome and was published this week in their October issue. You can find it free to read online at their website, and I would love to know what you think of it! This is a story that’s particularly close to my heart, and its characters have stayed with me long after I finished writing their tale. Story notes will follow next month, but for now, please do read it and the other stories in this issue. Empyreome have been a pleasure to work with from start to finish, and they definitely deserve your support and time.
My health has taken a downwards turn recently, and now that my university course has resumed with the arrival of autumn, I’ve realised that I need to be more selective with the submission calls I want to write for, only giving my time and energy to those that truly catch my attention and are a pleasure to write. One of those that I’ve been working on this week is this submission call from Belanger Books, exploring the classic Sherlock Holmes characters in the realm of steampunk. As I dived into Arthur Conan Doyle’s world to get in the right mindset for my story, ‘The Silver Swan’, I could not help but remember my first forays into allowing other people to read my writing. Like many others, I suspect, I started out in fanfiction. As an unashamed Potterhead with a vivid and consuming imagination, I could not resist the compulsion to take JK Rowling’s wonderfully deep and detailed world and play around with her characters. The first novel I ever wrote aligned itself with the last three years of the series, clocking in at an immense 110k. That’s 110000 words I wouldn’t have had the confidence or inspiration to write were it not for fanfic.
Fanfic often gets a bad rep, and I think it’s one that’s hugely undeserved. Oh, of course there are a lot of stories out there that could be described as raw and unpolished at best, but they are, nonetheless, the product of someone’s imagination, sparked by their love of the story and world that the original author created. If nothing else, fanfic can be a powerful writing exercise for writers who want to refine their craft. The real beauty of fanfic is that it allows the novice – or even more experienced – writer to take the rich tapestry at their fingertips and use that as a base to weave their own stories into it. As they do so, without even realising, their experiments with plot, dialogue and the individual voices of each character will start to strengthen their own stories in turn. Learning the nuances that authors like Rowling use to distinguish their style and narrative can be a tool to then use when they have the confidence to craft equally rich and detailed worlds of their own.
And so we come back to Arthur Conan Doyle. I’ve been writing professionally for seven years. I am (mostly!) at ease with worldbuilding and relying upon my own ideas to spark a story with characters that are as real to me as if they are standing at my side, but something about this submission call and immersing myself in 221B Baker Street was impossible to resist. The story is coming along swimmingly, and even if I don’t manage to bring it in under the upper word limit or finish it on time, it has proved to be an enjoyable and much-needed exercise in first person narrative, something I tend to avoid as a rule in my own writing, but writing as Watson, a character I know intimately through Conan Doyle’s work, has liberated me to try my hand and experiment with the style.
Authors must never be content to rest on their laurels. There are always lessons to be learned and ways in which we can refine our craft, and maybe by going back to the basics and using fanfic as a framework, we can do so without the added pressure of starting from scratch with the blank page staring at us balefully and the flashing cursor a potent reminder of a story that has to be pulled, line by unwilling line, from our heads onto the page.
I’m delighted to share the news that another story of mine will be released next month. ‘Broken Wings’ will feature in the Witches vs. Wizards anthology from the great team at Zombie Pirate Publishing. My story features a witch with her back against the wall, forced to turn to lore of old in order to fulfil her fate. I’ll share the purchase links and official blurb when the anthology comes out in October.
In other writing news, I’m completing edits on another short story that was conceived in rather less fortunate circumstances. My beloved godfather passed away, and I chose to write my way through the pain and draw on it as inspiration for a piece of dark psychological horror, tightly-knit with a close focus on the central character and her emotional response to the night’s events. It’s called ‘Anamnesis’ (and there’s a deliberate clue in the title, if you know the word), and I have a venue in mind for it. Hopefully I can send it off in the next couple of days, then it’s back to the Submission Grinder to perform yet more complex rejectomancy.
I have a few more stories out at the moment which I’m feeling hopeful about, and of course, the obligatory submission to Artemis Rising at Pseudopod, my dream market. If you identify as female to any degree, I urge you to submit a story to Pseudopod or one of their sister podcasts before the end of this month. Don’t self-reject!
I’m excited to share with you all that the charity anthology Dark Voices has been released by Lycan Valley Press! Originally titled Her Dark Voice Vol 2 and put together by Theresa Derwin at Quantum Corsets, the project moved to the team at LVP and is now available for you all to buy.
In other news, I was thrilled to sign a contract with Empyreome to publish my SF story ‘Tabula Rasa’ in their October 2018 issue. More to come on that soon, but suffice it to say that this story is particularly close to my heart, and I’m delighted that it’s found such a great home with Randy and the rest of the team at Empyreome.
The new horror anthology from Horror Addicts, Crescendo of Darkness, was recently released. Featuring my story, ‘Six String Bullets’, among a whole host of talented authors and twisted tales, the anthology is available through Amazon, and my story notes are on the Horror Addicts blog.
It was an absolute pleasure to work with the team at Horror Addicts. If you get a chance, do check out the rest of their blog and the podcasts as well!
As previously announced, my story, ‘Under The Skin’, will feature in Her Dark Voice Vol 2 from Quantum Corsets. I’m excited to share the news that pre-order links for the charity anthology are now LIVE, along with tickets for a raffle organised by editor Theresa Derwin that features some fantastic prizes!
The anthology will be launched at Edge-Lit 7 on July 14th, and the raffle will be drawn on that date. Follow the link to Theresa’s website to see the prizes, pre-order your copy and pick up some tickets for the raffle! The more that is raised, the more we can donate to Breast Cancer Now – a truly brilliant cause.
So, as it often does, a storm has blown up on social media these last few days. If you’re active in the writing community on Facebook or Twitter, you can’t have failed to hear about Faleena Hopkins and #cockygate – hell, even the Guardian here in the UK has picked up the story today, running a decisively biting assessment of her attempt to prevent other authors using a titular word that she’s laid trademark to (even if they have crushingly failed to spell her name correctly throughout!).
If you have somehow managed to miss the furore, Courtney Milan has written a thread with a succinct summary of precisely how this all went down.
The long and short of it is that an erotica author by the name of Faleena Hopkins managed to file a trademark for the stylised word ‘cocky’ as a series title, and by a succession of strong arm tactics and downright bullying behaviour, has tried to stop other authors using that word in their own titles – even those whose stories were published prior to her series, which incidentally, seems to have been referred to by Hopkins as ‘The Cocker Brothers’ series until she filed for the trademark. Even if the trademark can stand up to the separate legal challenges being prepared by author Kevin Knuepper and the RWA, to attempt to retroactively prevent authors like Jamila Jasper from using the word in their title with threats like the one below are, quite frankly, abhorrent.
And it isn’t only about the titles, even though Hopkins is surely on shaky legal ground with those alone. As of today (8th May), authors are reporting that even the use of ‘cocky’ as a keyword is resulting in their book being removed from sale.
This is people’s livelihoods at risk, and quite rightly, the romance community has rallied around each other to support authors who have been targeted by Hopkins, who, at the time of writing, has refused to apologise or withdraw her threats, claiming instead to be the victim of a sustained bullying campaign. However utterly delicious it is that the community has come together over a controversy by the name of #cockygate, the mere fact that at this moment in time it seems to be possible to trademark a word means that authors and publishers across every genre need to sit up and pay attention.
Imagine how many sci-fi books have ‘stars’ in the title? Fantasy books with ‘tower’, ‘mage’ or ‘witch’? Horror books with ‘dark’ or ‘shadows’? There’s a reason why those titular words are so prevalent, and that’s because they work. They clue the reader in as to the genre of the book, tell them what they can expect and stand up in the search listings as a flag for the story’s content. They work for both the author and the reader, and in my opinion, they can never be allowed to become the sole property of one overreaching, narcissistic author alone.
Right now, this is a one-off that will hopefully see justice done when all the dust settles. What’s most concerning, though, is the thought that right now, hundreds of entrepreneurial chancers are racing off to the USPTO to try to file copyright claims just like Hopkins before them. This sense of self-interest goes against everything I love about the supportive writing community. There’s limitless room for beautiful, well-written literature across all the genres. We need to support each other and build each other up, amplifying everyone’s success to promote the world of publishing as a whole. Divisive tactics like this harm authors, publishers, and the readers who invest their time and money in the stories we write.
I suspect that in a year or so, Hopkins’ name will be no more than a footnote in the annals of publishing history, one of those memes that everyone rolls their eyes at when they look back at the ashes of what was once a successful indie publishing career. We can only hope that she hasn’t unleashed Pandora’s Box on her way down.
Recently the Yorkshireman asked me why it was that I struggle to watch TV shows or movies unless I’ve looked up the ending first, and I remembered how when I was little, I would always turn to the last page of a book to internalise the ending before I could read the rest of a story. That’s a habit I’ve broken now, but the sense of unease about not knowing how something will end has stayed with me. Hell, I even find birthdays and Christmas stressful unless I know in advance what’s inside all those wrapped presents, even those belonging to my daughters.
Now I’ve had a chance to think it through, I can see how that carries through to my writing. Even though my characters and the plot are under my control (most of the time!), I find it hard to throw in a big twist at the end of the story without signposting it so much that there might as well be a big neon spotlight dancing over the hints that are woven in. I feel cheated when I read a story with a final twist that comes out of nowhere. If it feels like an organic progression of the plot, with hints throughout the story (even if I missed them at first), then well done to the author, but it destroys the enjoyment of the story for me if I feel like the author is deliberately trying to pull the rug out from beneath the reader’s feet by throwing in a twist for the sake of it. It’s one thing to draw in a peripheral character, for example, and show the hand they played in how the plot unfolded, but to introduce Sally’s long-lost third cousin, twice removed, on the final pages merely to unmask him as the villain is sloppy writing.
Of course, as with all things, there is a balance to be found. Whilst relying too heavily on the surprise element of the twist should be avoided, the reader needs to feel a satisfying pay-off from their investment in your characters and stories, and a well-crafted, genuine twist is often a great way in which to pull your plot together at the denouement. That’s something I intend to work on in my writing this year.
Let me know about the twists that worked for you – and those that didn’t!
So my little corner of the internet has been quiet for a while. I make no apologies for it – this is my space, after all. However, I would like to offer up an explanation, as well as looking forward to better times to come. The end of 2017 and the start of this new year have proved difficult for me, health wise. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I have a chronic pain condition which affects my mobility, and despite my efforts to follow doctor’s orders (most of the time) this has worsened significantly in the last few months. The new medication I now take to make it out of bed each day has proved hard to adjust to, and combined with a truly delightful kidney infection that landed a week before Christmas, I’ve found myself struggling to balance looking after my health with my university commitments, writing, and most importantly my children.
It’s come to a point now where I have to prioritise my health until I have my meds and pain under control, because if I don’t, I simply won’t be able to keep on top of anything else. But whilst things may be quiet on my end for a few more months yet, I have no intention of giving up writing. Not only is it hugely beneficial for my mental health, but I simply couldn’t imagine going without an outlet for all the stories that burst into being inside my head. I have inspiration aplenty – all I need is pain-free time and a chance to get them down on paper. I have (runs off to check The Grinder) 8 submissions out right now, with another I’m hoping to beat the deadline on next week, health permitting. Hopefully at least 1 or 2 of those will be picked up.
On a brighter note, I have stories out in two upcoming anthologies to look out for; Fluky Fiction’s The Muse and The Flame, and Crescendo of Darkness from Horror Addicts. Also published this month was all the sins, Issue 6, which featured my short story, ‘The Price of Blood’. Please check it out and let me know if you liked it!