Author Archives: fictorians

An Interview With Ken Scholes

I interviewed Ken Scholes to close out our month on writing series. He gave some amazing insight on his process and some helpful tips. Enjoy! 

I hope all of our readers are familiar with you and your work, but just in case can you tell us a little about yourself and your series, The Psalms of Isaak?

Sure. I’m Ken Scholes. I wear lots of hats – dad, writer, musician, civil servant. My origin story involves trailers in the forest and fundamentalist revival services in the hills. My short stories started coming out in 2000 and my first novel came out in 2009. At this point, I’m at around fifty short stories and five novels out in the world. The five books comprise my series, The Psalms of Isaak.

Typically you write short stories. How did you prepare mentally to make the transition from writing short stories to writing not only a novel, but a five book series?

I really didn’t prepare at all mentally. I resisted anything longer than 10k for as long as I could…years even…and finally a dare put my feet to the path when one of my short stories did well in Realms of Fantasy. I took the dare and jumped in with both feet but I was convinced Lamentation would fail by the time I hit chapter five. I thought it might be a trilogy when I first started but then I saw there was more to tell once I finished the first draft. I decided I would stop at five and force the story to fit because I felt we were all tired of never-ending series. And even with my entire series told within ten years of starting the long waits between Antiphon, Requiem and Hymn really slowed the momentum.

How important is it to have the same beta readers throughout the entire series?

I suspect it is nice if you can have it but it’s not easy to get someone along for that length of ride. And you pick up extra betas as you go if you have books coming out. Having the same editor and copy-editor, I think, is more important.

Over the course of the series, I had two copy editors and one editor. My copy editor was the same from Canticle forward. But my beta readers shifted around a bit. I’m not sure I had input from any of the same betas in the last book as I did in the first. My beta strategy is to aim wide with complete forgiveness if a person has no time. I don’t do reminders. I just take the feedback I get and make the changes that make sense to me.

One of the things I love about The Psalms of Isaak is how your characters steadily grow and change over the course of the series. How did you pace that growth so that no one grew too quickly or too slowly?

Thank you. I really didn’t do any pacing. But I was growing as they were growing, as their story unfolded, and I suspect we all just followed the path of change in keeping with the events transpiring around us. I have that strange origin story that has given me a broad range of life experiences and I tend to write those experiences into my fiction both consciously and unconsciously. So the various directions each of the characters were pulled just felt true to who they were and to their lives and circumstances.

You and I have talked before about building spin-off potential into a novel and into a series. For the sake of our readers, tell us how you did that? Was it intentional or a happy accident that you realized after you wrote it?

Sometimes it was intentional and sometimes a happy accident. The accidents are found usually during revision or copy proofing. Little references to the world that can be expanded upon. A character that seems awfully interesting for just the few scenes they have. A pistol buried in the forest. But the intended – references to battles, people, events, vessels – are woven into the narrative against the day that there’s more demand for stories in this world. I have several spin offs buried in the Psalms of Isaak.

It’s a great way to expand story without expanding the current series or book. Of course, the trick is keeping track of them all.

What do you say to readers who want a particular spin-off story that you either aren’t able to write right now (for whatever reason) or don’t feel inspired to write at this point in time?

Well, it doesn’t happen very often. But I nod and smile and say I’d love to write that at some point if everything else lines up.

Thanks for taking the time to answer these, Ken! You can find out more about Ken and what he’s up to at his website.

The Long and Short of a Series

Guest post by Lauryn Christopher


I am a fan of short fiction. Most of the books on my nightstand are short-story collections, and I enjoy dashing off a short story whenever I can. There are many reasons for this, but for now I’d like to talk about short stories that connect to the larger world of an author’s novels, from the perspectives of a reader, a writer, and a businessperson.

As a reader, a short story is a great way to test the waters and see if I like a new-to-me writer’s work without the commitment of reading a full novel – and when that short story is set in the same world as the author’s longer world, so much the better. It’s like going to the store when they’re handing out free samples, knowing that if you like the little taste, you’re more likely to purchase the full-sized product.

As a writer, of all the things I like about writing short stories (which includes challenging myself, and using short stories to help me practice particular writing skills), I think my favorite is the opportunity they give me to wander the side-streets of a larger work. In a short story, I can:


  • get to know a secondary character in greater depth
  • explore a story idea that doesn’t require the complexity of a novel
  • explore an idea or character to see if it’s a world I want to play in at greater length

As an example, my short story, With Friends Like These (at 9,500 words/~40 pages) was written as the result of an intensive writing workshop assignment. But as I got to know the main character, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she had many more stories for me to tell, and I quickly went on to write the novel Conflict of Interest. And thus my “Hit Lady for Hire” series was born.

As a businessperson, I routinely look at each short story in my inventory to see how I can best leverage it. That’s not to say that I don’t go all creative-artist during the writing process – I do, even when writing on demand for a particular market or to a specific theme – but when the story is complete, and the act of artistic creation is finished, I now have a new piece of inventory, and it’s time to put on the business hat.

It’s a simple truth that every additional piece of inventory we create provides readers with one more point of contact for finding our work. Because discoverability is such a critical part of a successful writing career, one way to think of your short stories is like the magic breadcrumbs that lead your readers to the rest of your work. Remember my “As a reader” comment at the beginning of this article – the more of those “samples” you have out there, the more opportunities you create for readers to find you.

Selling your short fiction in to the magazine and anthology markets is another way of leveraging your short stories. Be aware: There are a lot of unpaid markets out there for short fiction, and rates in short fiction markets are typically in the pennies-per-word range, so writing short stories probably isn’t your best plan if you’re looking to get rich quick. However, because short fiction markets only hold onto the rights for a very limited time, when those rights revert, you can then sell reprint rights, put the short story up as an ebook at low or no-cost as a loss-leader, offer it as an audiobook, etc., and continue earning from it. The more you learn about ways to license your intellectual property rights, the more you can put your short fiction inventory to work for you.

It’s often been said that the best publicity for your book is your next book. Well, you can also leverage your short stories as advertising for your related novels. Whenever you sell a short story into a magazine or anthology, in many ways, it’s as if they are paying you to put a multi-page advertisement in their publication and then sending your advertisement (in the form of your short story) to their subscribers – and unless you’re exceptionally well-known, it’s likely that they have a much more extensive mailing list than you do. That short story publication helps you:


  • build name-recognition among readers
  • keep your name visible between related novels
  • give your new readers an introduction to your work and world
  • build a collection you can eventually sell/self-publish to accompany your full-length novels
  • gives you a “backlist” you can draw from (your previously published short stories). This is a great source of bonus, series-related material you can give to readers when they sign up for your mailing list!


As an example, working around the demands of everyday life (read: the day job), means my readers have to wait a while for the next book in my “Hit Lady for Hire” series of suspense novels. But rather than keep fans of the first book twiddling their thumbs and risk having them forget about me, I released Backstage Pass (at 8,000 words/~35 pages) in a mystery collection, and not only connected with my own readers, but also with the readers of all of the other authors in the collection.

In summary, short stories connected to the worlds of your full-length novels can be great workhorses:


  • They keep existing readers happy
  • They introduce new readers to your series
  • They help you expand your fictional worlds
  • They provide an additional income-stream
  • They keep your readers happy (it bears repeating!)


If you enjoy reading short stories, there’s a wealth of material out there for you to enjoy. And if you enjoy writing short stories, there’s plenty of readers waiting to read them.


– Lauryn


Lauryn Christopher has written marketing and technical material for the computer industry for too many years to admit. In her spare time, she writes mysteries, often from the criminal’s point of view – they’re not always who (or what) you might expect! You can find information and links to more of her work, and sign up for her newsletter at



Plotting a Series

A guest post by Gama Martinez

How do you approach a series? How do you make sure that you’re not setting yourself up for difficulties because the rules you established for your world in book 1 make the ending of book 6 not work? One way, naturally, is to outline the whole series, but that can be an equally daunting task. Like outlining a book, outlining a series is not for everyone. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s not for most people, and you won’t really know if it’s for you unless you try it. Here’s the method I use.

A number of years ago, I was talking to Brandon Sanderson, and I told him that the second book in the Stormlight Archive, Words of Radiance, felt like the end of act 1, and I asked him if that was deliberate. He said that it really was. Books 1 and 2 are act 1. Books 3 and 4 are act 2, and book 5 is act 3. That completely opened my eyes to plotting a series.

The traditional three act structure has a number of parts. What I realized in my conversation with Brandon was that many of these could be applied to a series. It’s not as detailed as can be applied to a novel, but the major parts still apply. The first act is a setup. The second, which can be longer than the others, is the protagonist taking a more active role in their journey. Generally, halfway through, there is a shift. We learn that the world is not what it appeared to be. This act ends when things are pretty much as bad as they can possibly get. The third act is recovering and clawing your way toward victory. Fair warning. I am about to be giving a lot of Harry Potter spoilers, because that series illustrates this beautifully, but given that that series ended ten years ago, I’m going to assume that if you want to read it, you have. If that’s not the case, just skip over the next paragraph.

For Harry Potter, books 1-2 are act 1. Books 3-6 are act 2, and book 7 is act 3. Books 1 and 2 are basically “Harry goes to Hogwarts and something happens.” We’re introduced to the characters, and they start to come into their own. Sure, a couple of important plot details happen, namely, the destruction of the first horocrux, but it’s mainly getting to know the setting and people. In book 3, there is an immediate change. Harry starts off with a specific goal. He wants to kill Sirius Black. From then on, Harry is a more active protagonist. The shift in tone happens at the end of book 4, with the death of Cedric. Someone has died. They weren’t a monster. They were a friend. This is no longer a story for children. The low point, obviously, is the death of Dumbledore. Hogwarts has always been a safe place. Sure, dangerous things happened, but it was home. Harry was always happy to get there and sad to leave. Now, “father” is dead. Home belongs to the bad guys, and Harry cannot return.

I applied many of the same concepts to my Pharim War series. I changed how long each “act” was, but having these points in mind allowed me to outline the entire series fairly early on. I knew what had to happen in book 3. I knew that in book 4, there had to be a shift. I knew where to put the catastrophe. I never follow my outlines exactly, so book 2 didn’t end where I planned. As a result, I had to make minor adjustments to the outline of book 3 before I started, but I knew where the story was going, and that let me jump fairly easily from one book to the next. The ultimate result was a seven book series released entirely in the space of just under a year and a half. Try it out. See if it works for you.


Gama Ray Martinez lives near Salt Lake City, Utah. He moved there solely because he likes mountains. He collects weapons in case he ever needs to supply a medieval battalion, and he greatly resents when work or other real life things get in the way of writing. One of his greatest accomplishments is getting Brandon Sanderson to give him a cover quote for his book, Shadowguard. He secretly hopes to one day slay a dragon in single combat and doesn’t believe in letting pesky little things like reality stand in the way of dreams.

The Role of Short Fiction in a Series

Guest post by John D. Payne.

I haven’t written my second book yet. Any of my second books. Oh, I’ve written a few first books. (Hey, look! This one’s in a bundle!) But so far none of them have got a sequel yet. So my experience in series writing is with stories, not books.
Although most people think of novels when they think about series writing, short fiction is actually a huge part of series writing. And there are definitely characters and worlds that only appear in short form that are nonetheless hugely popular and influential.

For characters, think of Conan the Barbarian. Robert E. Howard never wrote a Conan novel, but he wrote 21 Conan stories, 18 of which were published in his lifetime. For worlds, think of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, which originated in a loosely connected series of stories written over the span of twenty years or so.

Today, Conan and Cthulhu are each billion dollar intellectual properties that have directly spawned video games, television shows, movies, plays, games, comics, stories and novels written by other authors, etc. And an uncountable number of other works were influenced by Howard and Lovecraft’s creations.

(Then again, both men died poor. So, you know, take this all with a grain of salt.)

So it is definitely possible to have a highly successful series that stays entirely in the realm of short fiction. But let’s say you want to write novels. Nothing wrong with that. And nothing unusual.

When people fall in love with a character (or a world) that they encounter in one format, they often want to repeat the experience in a different format. (Like the Lovecraft and Howard fans buying all the stuff listed above.) So let’s consider two different scenarios, depending on the original format where the series is found.

First, let’s think about a series that originates with a novel and then spins off short stories. This is increasingly something that publishers ask authors to do between books. Or maybe it just seems common to me because some of my favorite authors (Jim Butcher, Larry Correia, Brandon Sanderson) do this.

At a minimum, the story in between books reminds the audience that the series is out there. And if the story is outstanding, and released at just the right time, it can whet readers’ appetites and lead to a feeding frenzy when the next book in the series comes out.

Or maybe I’m the only one who wears a shark suit to the bookstore on release day?

Writing stories between books has also been a helpful thing for me as an writer. It helps me see both what my audience responds to and also what my own creative brain responds to. There are always more ideas than time, so figuring out which projects are the most exciting really helps me prioritize.

For example, last year I wrote a story that takes place after the end of my novel The Crown and the Dragon, and it really got me thinking about a second book. I wrote from the perspective of a totally new character and really felt like I was seeing the world through new eyes. Not only was this fun, it helped me figure out theme and plot issues that will make the sequel a much stronger book.

Then, the story sold to an anthology that should come out any day now and when it does, I’ll be very interested to see how readers respond. If my audience is as excited as I am to be back in this world, then book two is going to leapfrog its way up to the top of my next-to-write list.

I’ve been talking about stories that come in between novels in a series, but it’s also possible for a series that starts as a book to end up mostly in the short story format. And to be very successful in doing so. For example, Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series began with a short novel, followed by another three novels and 56 short stories.

Again, this is a billion dollar intellectual property, and it’s mostly short fiction. And unlike Conan and Cthulu, Holmes was managed to win his creator wealth and fame in his lifetime.

Which is nice, so I hear.

Anyway! Let’s consider a second scenario, one in which short fiction is the origin of the series. One of my favorite examples is the Ender series, which began with a short story which later got reworked and expanded into a novel. But it all started with the story, which attracted a huge audience that wanted more of this character and this world.

If you’re writing stories that are getting you a great reaction, you’re probably already thinking about how to put these characters into novels. I’m doing this myself with a story I wrote for One Horn to Rule Them All: A Purple Unicorn Anthology. Readers have told me they like the characters in the story, and wanted to find out what happened to them. Well, me too! So I’m working on a novel that follows the short story, and I have two other novels planned to continue the series.

Short stories are also a good way to flesh out a setting, a piece at a time. Larry Niven did this with his Known Space universe, which began with his first published short story and includes numerous other works, including what is probably his best known novel, Ringworld.

I am trying to do this same thing with a sword and sorcery series I’ve been working on for years. I have several stories written here, including three published, and each one helps me develop a richer world with more fully realized characters. I’ve got I’ve got novels planned for this setting, and when I finally get to write them, they’re going to be awesome because they’ll be built on a foundation of super-rad stories.

In the end, no matter where you are with your series, short fiction can be a great vehicle to help you get where you want to go. Spin-offs, in-between stories, explorations of character and setting– these are all great ways that short fiction can help you and your readers get excited about your series. Or they might just end up being the perfect format for your series to end up in.

So give it a try! And when you end up with a billion dollar IP on your hands, don’t forget who loved you way back when.

(It was me.)



John D. Payne was born on the prairie, where tornadoes and electrical storms come to play. So he grew up watching the lightning flash outside his window and imagining himself as everything from a leaf on the wind to the god of thunder. Today, he lives with his wife and family at the foot of the Organ Mountains in New Mexico, where he he focuses his weather-god powers on rustling up enough cloud cover for a little shade.

His debut novel, The Crown and the Dragon, is a thrilling epic fantasy published by WordFire Press. A Kovel award-winning author, John reads and writes in many genres. His short fiction has been published in anthologies like Dragon Writers and magazines like Leading Edge. For stories, exclusive bonus content, updates and more, please visit him at: Or tweet how dumb this post is to @jdp_writes.