Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Prompt the Muse #11 - Wednesday Speculative Writing Prompt

Art: Cemetery Arch
Your main character has stumbled into a haunted graveyard. To escape, this person must perform a ritual under a great stone arch, using five items found in the graveyard. What are the items, and what does your character do with them? Describe the ritual in 200 words, including what happens to those who haunt the graveyard, if you like.

Image Credit:  Cemetery Arch from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Prompt the Muse #10 - Wednesday Speculative Writing Prompt

Art: Exploding Planet
Something has gone terribly wrong inside the core of a planet, causing it to explode. Imagine the reason for this explosion. Perhaps it was caused by the action of sentient beings, a natural process in the core, the birth of a powerful life form, or a malicious curse. Write your idea in 150 words.

Image Credit:  Exploding Planet from Wikimedia Commons

Monday, May 17, 2010

SFPA New Poets Contest: The Art of Poetry

Art: Medea
I am excited to announce that our poetry contest for new poets has gone live.  I've been working with the Science Fiction Poetry Association, as a member, to create an art-inspired poetry contest.  We are hoping to raise awareness about the society among new poets, as well as continue to see new people invest themselves in this genre.  I've put the entirety of the guidelines below in this post, for completeness, but here is the short version.

The contest is offering small cash prizes (10$ or less) as well as SFPA membership or books of speculative poetry to the three top poems submitted.  Poets who have three or fewer paid poetry publications are eligible.  The contest is being run on the SFPA Forum, and you must register to even SEE the contest topic which is SPFA New Poets Contest: The Art of Poetry.  It is also password protected.  This is to protect the poets and their poems, and to keep down any possible spam.

As I said, the poetry must be related to art.  The SFPA has chosen five works of art, and linked to them under the topic on the forum.  (I've also posted them below, and show one of them Medea, here.)  The poem(s) submitted must be inspired, however loosely, by one of these five works of art.  Some are classics, like Vermeer's The Astronomer, and The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestry.  But there is also modern space art from Don Davis.  The SFPA is a speculative poetry society, so poetry themes must follow science-fiction, horror, fantasy, straight science, or have some speculative aspect.

I would greatly appreciate it if you would spread the word.  Our deadline is June 30, 2010, so there is plenty of time to view the art, write a poem or two, and get them in!


Image Credit: De Morgan Medea, Public Domain Image from Wikimedia Commons

Forum rules
Contest Guidelines – SFPA New Poets Contest: The Art of Poetry

The Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA) is holding a poetry contest with art as its inspiration! The contest is offering cash prizes and there are no fees to enter. New poets are invited to contribute. Non-members as well as members are eligible. Please read the complete rules below for theme, submission specifics, etc. Then write 'em up and send 'em in! 

First prize: $10, a one year SFPA membership, and publication on SFPA's web site
Second prize: $8, a copy of Cinema Spec: Tales of Hollywood and Fantasy, and publication on SFPA's web site
Third prize: $7, a copy of Dwarf Stars 2009, and publication on SFPA's web site 

We plan to archive the winning poems indefinitely, but authors may request removal from the web site after six months. SFPA reserves the right to grant all, some, or none of the prizes, at its discretion.

The contest is open to new poets, SFPA members and nonmembers alike, with the following exclusions. Poets must have three or fewer paid poetry publication credits. No members of the contest committee, no current SFPA officers or web site staff, and no family members of the judges may enter the contest. 

Write a speculative poem of 20 lines or less inspired by one of these works of art: ... onomer.JPG ... _Medea.jpg ... stry_7.jpg ... nset_2.jpg

All forms welcome--haiku, cinquains, tanka, sonnets, free verse, etc., but poems must contain one or more of the following elements: science fiction, fantasy, horror, surrealism or straight science. Post previously unpublished poems only. No reprints. Poems should be appropriate for a general audience. We reserve the right to remove from contest consideration and from the forums any poems that might be considered above a "PG" rating.

Submissions must be made at the SFPA Forum (
index.php). Registration at the forum will be required to post poems. Poets shall submit poems as posts under the heading SFPA New Poets Contest: The Art of Poetry. This topic will be password-protected. The password will be listed on the forum, right under the contest topic heading. One must register to even SEE the contest topic. One poem per post, with a maximum of three poems per person. Include your name, title of poem, and then text of poem. Winners will be contacted for their addresses via email after the contest closes.

The deadline for submissions is 11:59 EDT on June 30, 2010. SFPA reserves the right to extend the contest deadline, if necessary. Winners will be announced on the SFPA Forum. Questions? The first topic under the contest heading is the place to post questions. If you cannot access this topic after registering, post your question in the “Website and Forum” area. The SFPA shall not be held liable if submissions cannot be made due to website problems or connection difficulties, etc.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Prompt the Muse #9 - Wednesday Speculative Writing Prompt

Art:  Horned Skull
"In the deepest part of the castle, past the prison, the dungeon, even lower than the tombs, we found an odd circular chamber. On the wall of the chamber was a horned skull, with fresh blood dripping from its mouth. As we drew closer, the mouth opened, and words formed ..." What did the skull say? Write this in 150 words. Feel free to include the reactions of the characters.

Image Credit:  EonWorks

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Perils of Telling a Story Out of Chronological Order

A am both a reader and a writer of my chosen genres. It was first reading these types of stories that made me begin to imagine and then write my own. I do think being an avid fan is important, especially in speculative areas of writing. It is easy enough for me, since I really enjoy the subject matter, and have my own favorite authors and book series that I follow enthusiastically.

Recently, this brought me face-to-face with the idea of time lines, or chronologies, in stories and storytelling. This is a very important topic to me, since the main character about whom I have written the most is a time traveller. There is always the question of "what's the best order to tell this?" I want to maximize the impact of the story without confusing the reader.

Or perhaps alienating the reader.

One of the series of books I have been reading for many years is Stephen Brust's Jhereg (also called the Vlad Series.) (Warning, possible spoilers in this post about that series.) It appears that Brust is 12 books into what I think will be a 19 book series (one book for each "house" in the empire, with Taltos and a final wrap up book.) If 19 books sounds like a lot, I'll point out that these are not long books at all; they are only about 180 to 280 pages of mass market paperback. Taltos at 180 pages almost feels like a novella. But I'm used to carrying around the bricks written by C.S. Friedman, for example, which are in the 580 page range.

A six hundred page book stands some chance of keeping my attention for a while, because I do not merely read books, I eat them whole. I horde my favorite series books for trips and vacations, and then devour them in a single sitting. So I actually had three books from the Jhereg series on my shelf, unread, at the same time, just waiting for a good long plane flight on which to eat them. But I broke down the other day, and figured it was time to crack open the next in the series, Jhegaala, and get back into the story.

And now we come to the actual point of the post.

Jhegaala takes us back in time, into the main character's - Vlad's, past. This is not the first time this has happened, it is the fourth. So I should have been mentally prepared. I wasn't. Instead I was actually disappointed and peeved.  I put the book down in disgust the moment I realized what was going on. I said to myself, "I don't care about this. I want to know what is going on NOW."

Reading through the books has become a bit of a roller coaster, and in my view, not in a good way. Here's my diagram of said roller coaster.

We start at Jhereg, which the stars denote as "begin here." Next is Yendi, which instead of going forward, as one might expect after the first book in the series, it goes back. This wasn't too irritating since it went back immediately to the time before the first book, and answered some important questions.  Then we got back to the "real" story with Teckla. But then Taltos came out, and I had my first "what the heck" feeling. It is a good book on its own, but by now we are invested in the growing rebellion in the main city, as well as the situation between Vlad and his wife. This step back didn't work for me. It answered questions I wasn't thinking about. But fine, back story is good, on general principles.

Fortunately, three books in a row came in chronological order. And one of them, Aythra, is a particularly good book, perhaps the best in the series so far. So I calmed down, my faith restored, even when Orca wasn't quite as good. And then Brust gives us Dragon. Take a look at how far back this one goes. Serious, serious bummer. It had me thinking "when can I get back to the story I actually care about?" I read some of the beginning, trying hard to focus, but the story couldn't hold me. I skimmed it, just to make sure I wouldn't miss key plot or character elements, and then dropped it.

Brust then supplied two books in a row in chronological order. Issola does not deal with the story I had become invested in, but it does bring up some excellent issues with the origins of the species on the planet, and a nice battle with big bad guys. Dzur does in fact, finally, finally, deal with some of the story I wanted to learn more about, which got me back into the series, and happy once again.

Yet somehow I was not expecting Jhegaala. Which takes us four books back in the timeline. Again. I'm tempted to skip the book entirely, but don't want to miss a piece of back story the author is going to assume the reader knows. I have to say I feel tweaked by the whole process.

My point about all of this comes down to this question - Why don't I care about the stories Brust is telling me, when he is telling me? Where is the breakdown between writer and reader? I like the character of Vlad, and Brust does a good job of leaving hooks at the end of his books so you want more. But then the bait and switch ... you get more, but not of what came at the end of the last book.

BUT many authors have a publication order, a storytelling order, that is not chronological for the main character. And it works fine. I'm having trouble thinking of one at the moment ... but I know it works. So my questions to you: When should the story be told in an order other than chronological? How does the author make it work, keeping the reader interested and the tension up? How does the writer avoid giving a reader that 'bait and switch' feeling? Your thoughts?


Image Credit - Art:  My Secret Garden by janenorman on

My comments: I went looking for art that would express some of that sensation of being lost in a book. This piece does exactly that through a wonderful fantasy composition and amazing color. It also asks its own questions - is the person reading a journal, a spell book, fairy tales, or an ancient text of some kind? What books would exist in this culture, and what would be so compelling?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mixing Genres in Spec Fiction - Some Pros and Cons

The topic of mixing genres has been on my mind lately. As I consider the issues surrounding the publication of my work, the subject of genre mixing keeps coming up. So I thought I would first post about the pros and cons of blending genres within a piece of writing. And then I'll follow up on a post with some tips for doing it in ways that enhance your efforts.

I think that absolutely the first thing to do is to understand, concretely, what your eventual goals are for being a published writer. Some people want fame and fortune, and nothing less will do. Still others want to find a tiny niche audience and become a cult legend for those two thousand people. Some people write because they want to push the envelope of technology, of what writing means, and how it is accomplished. And others, like myself, write the stories they do because they feel compelled, and just hope they can create something in the process that people want to read.

With that in mind, it is easy to see that what might be a pro about mixing genres for one person will be a con for the next. So I can't just make a 'pro' and 'con' column for this post. Instead, I'll call out a few key points.

One point is that mixing genres can confuse the publisher.  They don't know how to clearly pitch the book, how to create obvious cover art, which audience to target it to, etc. In a post called "For the Love of Pete, Don't Mix Your Genres" the author, Justin Allen, gives humorous advice to writers about how to make publishing the most straightforward. "So do yourself a favor and stay right in the middle of the publishing industry’s wheel-house. Give them a book with an obvious cover and a story that is immediately recognizable; one that won’t offend liberal New England schoolmarms with its depictions of guns or violence, or conservative Southern aristocrats and Western individualists with any themes suggesting ecological conservation or multicultural understanding. If at all possible, make your book ‘literary.’ That will ensure you the chance of at least one big payday."

This is clearly tongue-in-cheek, but yet accurate. This advice is useful if you want to be rich and famous and don't care what you write. For someone like me, this advice isn't useful. I am thinking about the places where my stories mix genres on the sci-fi/romance line. I do not intend to change my writing because someone finds the gender balance in the relationships offensive. One of my species has seven genders. One of my species does not have any genders. Our own ideas from Earth do not hold in such an environment. I'm not making my sentient species suddenly all dual-gendered and giving them equivalent moral standards on relationships. It makes no sense in the context of the stories.

This probably means that Walmart, one of the biggest sellers of mass market paperbacks in the country, will not sell some of my books. Very well. If I get published to the point where that is even an issue I'll consider myself outrageously blessed.

Another point goes back to the idea of categorizing and marketing your book. It will appear on only one shelf in the bookstore, and you have to pick a category. A mixed genre book will be hard to place, and may miss some people who might like it very much because it simply won't be in "their" section. This does seem like a con for everyone who mixes genres, but again, it might be less of a problem if you only intend electronic publishing, say.

Mixed genre writing also needs the writer to understand the basic formulae and structure of all the included genres. This could be a con in that it makes the writing more difficult, and it can be a pro because the book might end up being quite a bit more interesting.

At the moment, certain mixed genres are very trendy, say like urban fantasy/horror. So one pro of mixing genres is that you might find your writing is hitting a sweet spot of popularity. Yet, just as certain mixed genres become trendy, they also fall out of popularity, so you can't count on a trend lasting long enough for you to ride the wave. Still, mixing genres can give you an opening where "popularity" has closed a door. I enjoy writing and reading space opera; with governments vying for galactic power, fleets of warships doing battle, and threats of planetary destruction. Yet at the moment, the wisdom is that space opera is out, too overdone. As it is, some of my work retains additional marketability because it is not straight sci-fi. I've mixed in strong fantasy, as well as romantic elements, which make the story more quirky and less predictable than your standard space opera.

Back to the post above. The author also says, "As a writer between genres you can be your own boss, ignoring and embracing the usual tropes and traditions of the movements in whose shadows you walk. You can work toward a uniquely American vision of fantasy, horror, or romance – casting off the shackles of the old world with a shout of “Live Free or Die!”"  Again, this is intended as humor, but remains true. A pro of genre mixing is this flexibility, and sense of uncharted territory ahead.  Of course if you get lost, you are on your own.

What are your thoughts?  Other pros and cons of mixing genres in speculative writing?


Image Credit: Not an Atmospheric Phenomena posted with generous permission by the artist, julian399 on

My Comments: This piece could include elements from a range of speculative genres like urban fantasy, science fiction, straight fantasy, psychological thriller, mystery, or even horror.  What is the story of this strange castle or structure?  Why is it in the desert?  What is the meaning of those machines flying above it that look so much like helicopters?  Is it a threat, or the appearance of a once-in-a-hundred-years sort of Brigadoon?  Or perhaps the title is ironic, and it is, in fact, only an illusion.  (Again, I suggest taking a look at the high resolution image on the deviantArt site to see the piece in detail.)

Artist's Comments: "What we saw in the deepest part of the Sahara Desert was definitely not a military installation like everyone says... but rather a giant crystal citadel towering and glimmering brightly in the heat of mid-noon... are they lying to us about an installation? Or is that it!?"

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Prompt the Muse #8 - Wednesday Speculative Writing Prompt

Image: Hurricane
The universe appears to love the shape of a spiral. It can been seen in sea shells, galaxies, hurricanes and in many more objects or events. Think of ten things in nature that form the shape of a coil or spiral. Choose the most original one from your list and now imagine it was made by 'people' for a purpose. Write down the purpose for this structure or item in 100 words.

Image Credit:  NASA