Category Archives: The Writing Life

Writing About Writing

A guest post by Brent Nichols

(And if you think that’s hard, I had to write about writing about writing)

We write. It’s what we do. Fiction, mostly, and if we’re lucky we have readers. It’s when we don’t have readers, or we want more, that we sometimes have to resort to writing of a different sort.

Fiction comes more or less naturally to me. My head’s full to bursting with imaginary characters, and sometimes I let them out to play on the page. It hardly seems like work, most days. The sense of work comes when I’m doing the other kind of writing. You know, the tedious reality-based kind. Especially when I face the tricky problem of writing about my own writing. But every so often, if I’m lucky, even non-fiction writing – even thorny non-fiction writing about my own fiction – manages not to be work. It even manages to be fun.

bdbfullserialA couple of years ago some entrepreneurs approached me, wanting to feature some of my self-published steampunk fiction on a new website they were launching. I was happy to agree – until they told me they wanted a couple of blog posts to go with it.

Having already sweated through the ordeal of making blurbs for the stories in question, the last thing I wanted to do was write even more about my work. However, being a sucker for direct appeals to my ego (hence my appearance on Fictiorians), I reluctantly agreed.

But what could I tell the average web-browsing reader about my work that would make them keen on picking up my stories?

I decided to write about the reasons I wrote steampunk fiction. Now, there are many reasons I turned my mad keyboarding skills to that particular sub-genre. Laziness in high on the list. Steampunk offers the cool gadgets that make science fiction fun without the tiresome need in most science fiction to be sure your gadgets would actually work. It offers the entertaining trappings of the nineteenth century, but being an alternate history, it spares the efficiency-minded writer all that pesky research. In a world where Queen Victoria commands a flying navy, most anything goes.

Sloth on my part, however, hardly seemed like a selling point to my droves of potential fans. So I dug deeper. I wanted a blog post that came alive for the reader, and I found myself thinking back to a time when I felt that spark myself, that shiver of excitement that came along all unexpected and made me, suddenly and for the first time in years, excited again about writing.

I was floundering in the doldrums of discouragement, the dream of writing like a faded picture of something I could remember being keen about, when I decided to attend the first ever When Words Collide festival. That was where I encountered a call for submissions to Shanghai Steam, an anthology of steampunk/wuxia fiction.

Just like that, my perspective on writing changed. All the eager excitement of my teenage self came flooding back. That call for submissions had two things going for it: It was cool (I mean, come on! Kung Fu action and steampunk? Who can resist that?) and it was specific. There were exact requirements, down to word count and cultural influences. I could stop floundering around and tackle a sparkling world of possibilities with a clear framework to guide me.

This, I realized, was the essence of what I needed for my blog post. Why did I write steampunk? Because it’s so damn cool. And how would I communicate that thrill to my readers? By being specific.

After that, the blog post seemed to write itself. I wrote about nineteenth-century technology, the glory days when the most wonderful machine you could imagine was still accessible to a clever person, something you could take apart and tinker with in your basement. A time when the world was enormous and exotic and full of unmapped corners. And a genre that said, never mind exactly how it actually was. What if? What if, in addition to all the grubby bits, there were airships and walking robots and clockwork birds? What if we took an entire genre and said, never mind that it won’t quite pass a rigorous historical or scientific examination? It’s marginally plausible and it’s cool, and that’s justification enough.

We don’t have Barsoom anymore. We lost Tarzan, too. We know too much about Mars and Africa and the universe for those grand adventures to survive. But we have steampunk, and it’s awesome.

That’s how you write about your writing. You look past all the details you’ve been buried in. You dig deep and look for that buried gem of excitement that got you started on the story in the first place. If you can communicate your excitement, readers will be excited to read what you created.

I sent the blog post off, and then I forgot all about the blog and the website. I was too busy to give it another thought. Because the post had the same effect on me that I wanted it to have on every reader – it made me want to drop everything and go read some steampunk.

Brent Nichols is a science fiction and fantasy writer, book cover designer, andBrent Nichols man about town. He likes good beer, bad puns, high adventure, and low comedy. A native Calgarian, he is a member of the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association and is the author of the War of the Necromancer series of sword and sorcery novels (available at a fine ebook retailer near you). See his book cover designs at or visit his website

Batman, Boldness and Book Reviews

A guest post by Jeff Campbell.

Snap quiz: What bit of non-fiction writing inspires both fear and joy in practitioners of the fictional arts?

Book reviews.

Full disclosure: Writing book reviews takes a special kind of boldness, a strain of courage I no longer possess myself. I blame Batman. Back when I was a pre-schooler Batman (’66) was my favorite television show. It had everything: a Batmobile, Robin, Batman, what else could you want, right? In those long ago days of polyester and groovy-ness people couldn’t just watch their favorite shows. You had to wait for your show to ‘come on’. Yet love knows no limits, so after years of waiting and at the grand old age of twelve, I was thrilled when my mother told me Batman (’66) was returning to the airwaves. When the bat-time arrived, I tuned to the bat-channel and watched my favorite show.

I mentioned love has no limits but I should’ve also mentioned how it mucks up your judgment. Tragically, something had changed during those off-air years. Like many pre-schoolers, I had lacked a sense of ‘camp’, a peculiar brand of humor from which the producers of Batman(’66) had drunk deeply. In a state of horrible youngness, I had not understood that Batman was meant to be funny. Kneeling in a rainy alley, looking over the lifeless corpses of my favorite show, I vowed never to write book reviews. Boldness, a necessary tool for any book reviewer, had been torn from me.

But that’s me, not you. You read books. You have opinions. Why not combine these interests? Why not indeed! But beware, bold purveyor of literature, for there are traps into which the unwary oft fall. How clever of you to have found this article! Although I myself do not write book reviews, I am willing to offer advice unbiased by practical experience. As a reader and fan of book reviews, I have seen things that tarnish the genre. This being the internet, allow me to present them in a useful and familiar form: 8 tips for book reviewers (you won’t believe #7!).

#1: Be yourself… I read a lot of reviews where the writer isn’t content to be a mere book reviewer, instead wishing to be acknowledged as a God of Literature! Judgment, swift, terrible, unquestionable, flows from their pens as the divide supplicant books into piles of classics or garbage. I’m not saying don’t be bold, I’m just saying that not everyone will always agree with you. That doesn’t make their opinions wrong or worthy or attack.

#2: …unless you are really snide, then be someone nicer. All reviewers will write reviews for a books they loathe. It’s part of the job. You rarely read reviews where praise upon praise is heaped on a book but many reviews read like an extended and continuous curb-stomping. It’s perfectly fine to write a negative review, just be honest. Some books deserves scorn but if you’re writing to see how many cheap shots you can fit in each paragraph, well, it’s no more interesting than fawning praise.

#3: Be a reviewer, not a teacher. Look, I get it – you belong to a writing group or went to a really great class. Good for you! Remember though, it’s neither helpful nor interesting to explain how a writer should have written a published book. That moment is gone.

#4: Batman. Just a word to the wise: Your opinions will change over time. Be bold and fearless but, yeah, if you can avoid making your future self cringe when they dust off that review and read it again, that would great.

#5: Have an opinion. There’s this one reviewer I keep coming back to because (a) he’s amazing and (b) he drives me nuts. He’s insanely well-read, fantastically organized and focused like a laser. His reviews are full of interesting anecdotes and trivia and – here’s the horrible part – he will not commit to liking or disliking anything. A book review needs an opinion!

#6: Your word count should match your opinion. Hey, I don’t like the four stars out of five rating system either but some reviewers fall into the unfortunate pitfall of writing reviews starting with ‘I loved this book but …’ and spending the rest of their word count on that one thing they hated. Naturally, readers believe the reviewer didn’t like the book. Reviewer gets snippy, he loved the book! He said so, with four words in a thousand word review.

#7: Pick the books you review. I once read a national newspaper review of a seventh book in a series by a reviewer who had not read any of the first six books. She didn’t like it, found it hard to get into, too many characters. Do not be this person.

#8: Anthologies. When reading a multi-author short story collection, it is not necessary to say you liked some stories better than others. How could it be otherwise? As a reviewer, your task is to evaluate the book as a whole. Does it deserve to sit on your shelf or not?

jrc J.R. Campbell is an anthologist and writer living in Calgary. If you want to review some of his stuff, go for it. He’s not afraid. His latest anthology is Professor Challenger: New Worlds, Lost Places, co-edited with his friend Charles Prepolec. Take your best shot. If you look around, maybe you can find some of their Gaslight Sherlock Holmes anthologies (Gaslight Grimoire: Fantastic Tales of Sherlock Holmes; and Gaslight Grotesque: Nightmare Tales of Sherlock Holmes) too. Take a look. Write a review. Tear him a new one. He may lack boldness but he’s no fraidy-cat. Take your best shot.

An Interview on Interviewing

An interview with Celeste A. Peters.

Interviews can be entertaining, informative or a disaster. There are three types of interview styles: personal audio/visual (podcast, television, radio); written (email communications); and personal converted to written. It isn’t the type of interview that makes it good – it’s the ability to conduct the interview, to transform what you’ve learned into an appealing story. To learn more about how to conduct a successful interview, I asked Celeste A. Peters about interviewing tricks and techniques. She’s interviewed a broad spectrum of people including politicians, scientists, farmers and medical patients.

You’ve interviewed an array of people from different professions and in different walks of life. How do you handle your nerves when you’re interviewing someone you admire, someone who in your mind has great status or authority? Is there a difference in how you approach that person versus someone else?
I’ve found that conducting an interview with respect and an air of confidence garners the best results, regardless of the status of the person being interviewed. Sure, it can take time to develop your confidence, though. To do so, conduct all of your interviews as though the person you’re interviewing is a head of state. Just don’t tackle an actual high-level interview your very first time out.

You’ve done your prep, you’ve got your notes and your questions, yet the interviewee takes you off on a tangent. What do you do?
If the tangent seems littered with material that’s relevant to your other questions, it might be worthwhile to let the person ramble for a while. Sometimes they provide valuable material you never thought of asking about. On the other hand, if you’ve got limited time for the interview, you might interrupt and say something like, “That sounds so interesting, but I’m afraid we’ll run out of time if we go there right now. We were talking about X…” The interviewee usually gets the hint.

How do you prepare your questions? And how do you ask them? I mean, is it a good idea to ask personal questions first to become comfortable, a mix of light hearted questions and pointed questions, or do you just get to the heart of the interview, the nitty-gritty?
Before the interview, determine why you need it; is it to collect information, obtain someone’s opinion on a topic, or a mix of both? Also define your target market for the resulting written piece. This will determine the depth of the questions you prepare. Next, research what material is already easily available on the topic or individual. What unique angle can you bring? If you’re doing an on-spec piece, this will be critical. If you’re writing on assignment, the nature of your questions might be determined by your employer. Then prioritize your list of questions: know what information you absolutely must not come away without. And, finally, arrange the order of your questions. Lead with one or two easy, perhaps light-hearted questions, followed by the meat of your interview, then any questions you deem a ‘bonus’ if answered. And be certain to arrange with your interviewee beforehand—preferably when you book the interview—how much time is available. If it’s less than you expected, you’ll need to pare down your list.

What is the most challenging interview you’ve conducted and how did you handle it?
No single interview stands out as ‘most challenging’. I have had to interview what I’d call ‘reluctant’ interviewees, though. I once was hired to write the big, glossy PR book for the Canadian branch of a multinational company. Some of the department heads only granted an interview because they were ordered to. I eventually got all the information I needed by remaining serious in demeanor and strictly professional in approach, and by asking for the name and number of someone else in their department who could flesh out material they decided they didn’t have the time or inclination to cover.

Time has run out and there are still unanswered questions. What’s the best way to handle that situation?
If you don’t finish the interview within the specified time, you might want to estimate how much more time is needed and request the interview keep going if convenient or request another meeting. Neither of these moves is optimal though; this is where prioritizing your questions beforehand comes in handy. Are the ones still unanswered just your bonus questions or do they include one or more of your critical questions?

What are your thoughts on an interviewee wanting to see the final product before it’s released?
If you’re writing a piece of journalism, politely, but firmly, decline. Period. Some employers even forbid it outright. The interviewee has said what they said—you should have a voice recording or, at very least, detailed notes to prove it. How you incorporate it into your work is up to you. If you have any doubt whatsoever you’ve understood what they were saying, ask them to verify the quote or clarify the piece of information you are planning to use—and nothing more. If you’re writing something other than a work of journalism, use your judgment. For example, on my first book I worked closely with a leading researcher in the field of Seasonal Affective Disorder; his feedback on my first draft was essential.

Is any question ever too big or too small?
Depends on the scope of what you plan to write as a result of the interview. For example, you don’t want to ask someone to summarize their entire life if what you plan to write will focus on a single incident.

Is there anything I didn’t ask that you want readers to know?
Check your ego at the door. No matter how much you personally know about a topic, ask questions from your least educated reader’s point of view. This means you will need to ask questions that might make you look ridiculously uninformed in the eyes of your interviewee, but this way you get the answer in their words, from their point of view, not yours. Sometimes, I’ve even found my preconception of what their answer would be was way off track. Those were humbling learning moments.

Now for the big question: What style of interview did I use to interview Celeste? Was it personal audio/visual (podcast, television, radio), written (emails), or personal converted to written?

For this blog, Celeste A. Peters called on several decades’ experience in journalism,Celeste Xmas 2014 Big public relations, and non-fiction book writing—-now all in her past. Today she focuses on developing her skills in the wonderful world of fiction. Successes have included publication of short-stories in the Aurora Award-nominated Urban Green Man anthology, the Amok: Anthology of Asian-Pacific Speculative Fiction, the inaugural issue of Enigma Front anthology and in the chapbooks of winning entries for the 2011 and 2015 Robin Herrington Memorial Short Story Contest. Celeste is Senior Editor for Enigma Front’s upcoming second issue and she can be found at

Writing for Magazines and Newspapers

AntiquesThe place of my day job interviewed several candidates to assist with marketing a retail antique store and restaurant. After floating through a few self-proclaimed gurus with no real results we became frustrated. Then someone pointed out that Jace was a writer. I hadn’t considered writing in that fashion and at that time knew very little about antiques, but why not give it a go? I liked being referred to as a writer and wanted to prove that I deserved the title, so I wrote a piece and submitted it to a local paper.

Let me pause here to emphasize an important observation. While the piece was well written and fairly entertaining, the paper was overly excited to have content. I’ve noticed that time and time again magazines, periodicals, and papers are looking for content to legitimize their advertising space.

That local paper liked the article so much that they asked if they could run it in their national paper. Now antiques are a bit of a niche, I’ll admit, but still there are enough readers to support a national distribution. Within a month I had received versions of these papers from as far away as Rhode Island and Canada all featuring my article.

So I did it again. This time I was let in on a little secret. This national paper only had a handful of contributors and they were extremely grateful for another. The articles allowed me to mention our store, and have helped with some free press.

I wasn’t compensated for these articles from the papers but the free advertising we received was worth thousands. And because I wasn’t compensated there weren’t any contracts or rights or terms. So I turned around a couple months later and submitted that same first article to several other papers. Now I’ve submitted articles all over. I’ve ran the same article in multiple papers at the same time. In fact, each time I’ve submitted an article to a paper I’ve been thanked and the article has ran in the next installment.

This goes back to my earlier observation: papers are looking for content.

There’s a lot of blogging going on these days, but print articles are still in demand (especially free articles). There are nationalized papers, journals, periodicals that are specific to niches like antiques. Most (I assume all) of these papers maintain their existence through advertising, but they all need someone’s words to print, stories to share. Larry Correia gains continual attention when he writes nonfiction about things like gun control.

It has been good for me in my writing career. Not financially per se but it has given me deadlines to meet, word counts to maintain, and it has gotten my name in front of tens of thousands.

Tracy Hickman once asked me why I write. He answered for me while I was thinking on the question, “To inspire,” he said. Whether fiction or non, contract or free, I write to inspire. Antiquing has become a fun niche where I can do just that.


jace 1I live in Arizona with my family, wife and five kids and a little dog. I write fiction, thrillers and soft sci-fi with a little short horror on the side. I’ve got an MBA and work in finance for a biotechnology firm.

I volunteer with the Boy Scouts, play and write music, and enjoy everything outdoors. I’m also a novice photographer.

You can visit my author website at, and you can read some of my works by visiting my Wattpad page.