Category Archives: Reviews

In Loving Appreciation of the Story Swirl

OtherlandAs a reader, I have a lot of reverence for the cliffhanger. I think I am perhaps in the minority here. I can certainly remember a time when cliffhangers drove me crazy. Back when I was in junior high, I would anxiously (not boldly) go into the various Star Trek season finales, knowing they wouldn’t end well for my heroes and I’d likely suffer months of torment afterward waiting for the inevitable resolution come fall.

Now, an undisclosed number of years later? To put it mildly, I’ve changed my mind. I love cliffhangers. Love them! In movies, in books, in television series, in all their different forms. But we’re mostly talking about books here at the Fictorians, so I’ll continue in that vein. In particular, I love the way multiple storylines come crashing together in a maelstrom of calamity at the end of a book. I love how these storylines may seem unconnected—that is, until the disparate threads careen together like shoelaces tipped with metallic sheathes, all drawn irresistibility to a magnet (one of the strangest and most ineffective metaphors I’ve come up with, granted, but which I’ll fail to edit out only on account of its extreme curiosity). As a writer with a greater understanding of narrative and structure, I don’t often fall for this anymore, but I try to pretend I don’t foresee the adhesive “story swirl” that brings characters and plots together in fun, hopefully unexpected ways.

Nowhere has this been better executed than in Otherland: City of Golden Shadow, the first in Tad Williams’ Otherland trilogy (or rather, one of his patented tetralogies). I can remember exactly where I was when I first raced through the concluding chapters of that book. I was in my first year of university, secreted away in a quiet nook in one of the library’s upper-level alcoves; these alcoves were magnificent places, because you could spy down on people wandering the stacks unawares. Very little spying occurred that day, however, much to the delight, I’m sure, of the unsuspecting library populace (so far as a person ignorant of spying can be delighted that they are not in fact being spied upon), because I was engrossed. Tad Williams had my exclusive attention, and he held it in his unyielding grip of fiction prowess.

My carpool had deposited me at school about an hour before any of my classes started, so I had some time to read. But an hour was not enough time to get through the last 150 pages of the book. To this day, that’s an unprecedented amount of reading for me to accomplish in one day, never mind one sitting, as I typically do not read very quickly. My class’s start time approached, and I could not put the book down. I realize that is an oft-abused cliché in reading circles, and I don’t go to this particular well lightly. That well-worn paperback may as well have been cemented to my hand with skin-ripping crazy glue. My first-year psychology seminar could not compete. I stayed up in that alcove until I got to the last page of the book, and not a moment sooner. In fact, I only left quite a large number of moments later, since I had to sit silently in stunned, mandated appreciation for about half an hour after turning the last page.

That ending is a work of art which never fails to stimulate me, and I’ve subsequently read the story five or six times. It’s the classic “story swirl” effect I mentioned earlier. I fear spoiling this magnificent read with plot specifics, as my zealous desire is that this blog post will inspire you to search it out and experience it for yourself. Suffice to say that there are a large cast of characters, of different ages and ethnicities, in wildly divergent corners of the earth, in circumstances so unrelated that I could not imagine how they might conglomerate in the end. But they did, and it was (is) beautiful. I don’t think there has ever been a reader who got to the end of Otherland Volume One and then didn’t immediately flip into Otherland Volume Two, were it available. (Fortunately I did not have the second book available that day, else I would have missed several classes.) It would be like someone seeing Locutus of Borg declare war on the Federation at the end of “The Best of Both Worlds, Part One” and then say to herself, Meh, I don’t care what happens next. It has been scientifically proven that no such breed of human exists.

I dare you to prove me wrong. I dare you!

When to Walk

Guest Post by Josh Morrey.

walkI’ve been writing for almost ten years now. And I mean actively pursuing the coveted title of “published author”. Early on I was bitten by the Writers of the Future bug—my first submission earned an Honorable Mention—and I’ve submitted more than two dozen stories to the contest over the years. I am pleased to report that my efforts have garnered three Honorable Mentions and a Semi-Finalist, so it hasn’t been entirely in vain; but I have yet to actually win.

Granted, for the first several years I didn’t seek feedback on my work before submission, or even write a second draft. I would crank out a story each quarter, read through the draft once making grammar and structural corrections, and then ship it out to the contest. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started actually making an effort to learn about the craft of writing fiction. I began attending cons, joined a writing group, became active on some online writing forums, and *gasp* even submitted stories to places other than Writers of the Future. And it’s been great. I’ve learned so much since I really got involved in the writing community.

One aspect of my new involvement that I really enjoyed for a long time was being active on the online forum for a short fiction podcast. On these forums, we would discuss the stories published each week on the podcast as well as writing in general. At one point, someone suggested creating a private writing forum where we could share our work with each other and receive feedback. This was a great opportunity for me, because several members of this forum were either professional editors or multi-published short story authors. It was a great way for me to learn from those more experienced in the professional field.

Over the next year or so, I submitted several stories to this group for critique, as well as critiquing many stories submitted by others. After a while I started to notice a pattern. To begin with, I found I didn’t connect with many of the stories I reviewed. Most of them were stuffed with metaphor and alternate meanings that I failed to pick up on. At the same time, not one of the stories I submitted was ever met with even a hint of approval. That’s not to say the critiques were harsh, most of the people on those forums I still consider friends. Nevertheless, my stories were never good enough.

Now, I’m the first to admit I’m still learning my craft. I’m still essentially unpublished. (I have one short story published in an online journal that has already gone out of production.) But, after more than a year of never pleasing any of these readers—even though my regular writing group really enjoyed many of them—I became very driven, almost obsessed, to write a story that would please the members of this forum.

Finally, I wrote the story that I wanted. The one I knew would wow them. It had depth; it had emotion. Members of my regular writing group hailed it as the best story I’d written yet. So, eager to finally get a thumbs up, I posted it in the forum.

Once again, it was met with apathy and criticism.

It crushed me. I mean it really took the wind out of my sails. I had worked so hard on this story, and had such high hopes for its reception, that another harsh criticism was more than I could take. I crashed hard. I spent the next several days in a depression, wracking my brain for how to finally please the members of this forum. Then I finally came to a realization. Though I very much enjoyed my time on these forums, and made many friends…these people were not my target audience.

I feel almost pretentious saying that, as if I’m crying, “You people just don’t understand what I’m trying to do here!” But the fact is, the members of this forum are much more literary in their writing than I am. And that’s ok. Some people enjoy literary writing. Me, I enjoy a good story told in a fun way. I’m not looking for deeper meaning, I’m looking for entertainment. And there are a lot of people out there looking for the same thing. Just look at Larry Corriea. Do you think he worries about allegory or literary depth? No, his biggest concern is how many monsters will die with the blimp explodes. And he sells a LOT of books. Some people just like that.

So, with this realization in mind, I made a very hard decision and I left the forum. I still keep in touch with a few of my closer friends from there, but for the most part I’ve moved on. See, my time there had shifted from productive to destructive. I wasn’t learning to improve my craft anymore; I was simply trying to please a very specific audience. And once you start writing for others, and not yourself, you’ve defeated the purpose. At least, I defeated my purpose; which is to write stories that I find fun and fascinating. Not to preach some deeper message or wrap my tale in metaphor and allegory.

Maybe I’ll never get published. Maybe my writing will always be too shallow and straightforward. Maybe no one will love my words outside of a few members of a small local writing group.

But as long as I have fun writing it, I don’t care.

JoshWriter, artist, gamer, husband, and father, Josh has been writing fiction for nearly ten years. He is a member of the Word Vomit Writers Group, which group blogs at The Writer’s Ramble. Josh has one story published in Issue 2 of Promptly and has earned three Honorable Mentions and a Semi-Finalist in the L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest. He is currently developing a space opera webcomic based on a short story he wrote for NaNoWriMo 2012. It will eventually be seen at Josh lives in Utah with his amazing wife, two beautiful kids, and two tiny dogs.


Everyday living for most people can be compared all-too-easily to what drought means for farmers, what the dry seasons meant to American Indians. It’s a barren time full of silence and waiting and subtle, fatalistic dread that nothing is going to happen, that life will wither and perhaps even die. And it’s that need for green, for life and living, which brings comfort and joy and the heights of emotional salvation when the rains finally come. One could make the argument that we read drama and fantasy and horror because we have an inherent, hard-wired need for emotional input—a need for rain.

That’s a writer’s job, at least some of the time. We must don the doe’s skull and bright feathers. We must clothe ourselves in tanned hides and wrap bone rattles about our wrists and ankles. We must dance, sprouting clouds of dust as we stomp our feet and we sweat upon the hard-baked clay of everyday life.

It’s our job.

One of the hardest things writers have to live with is the uncertainty that their dancing has brought rain, sprinkled or poured a little bit of life into a reader’s existence. The truth is that most writers, especially at the beginning of their careers, never find out if their dancing has borne precipitation. There is this gulf—a fundamental disconnect—between writer and reader, one that leaves writers with cracked lips and dusty throats.

I recently had two experiences—more milestones in my career—which gave me tangible evidence that my own dancing was not in vain. Last fall I submitted a short story called Family Heirloom to the magazine Steampunk Trials. It’s a steampunk take on the Underground Railroad where a white widow and a freed slave build an Underwater Railroad in Missouri.

Included in the acceptance email was a very simple accolade, and one I’ll never forget. The story had brought tears the editor to eyes. When I wrote that story, it was with the absolute intention of touching, playing upon the heartstrings of the reader. I intended to bring forth the emotions of suffering and sacrifice, highlight the resolve of an individual to carry on and enrich the lives of the next generation in spite of tragedy.

Because of that first editor’s response, I chose Family Heirloom as the lead in a short story collection of mine that came out this summer. It’s not a best-seller in no small part because it contains cross-genre short stories, which is really a double-whammy against people even looking at it, let alone buying it. And yet, in spite of its uphill battle to gain recognition, I recently received another bit of rain. One of the reviewers up on Amazon said the same thing as the editor: that the story had brought tears to his or her eyes, and that other stories in that volume also had profound emotional effects. A reader took the time to let me—and the world—know that there was rain to be found between those pages.

For a writer, there’s nothing better than that.

So, to all the writers who read this, I can say but one thing: keep dancing. And to every reader, for all the rain you have been given by authors, give them some back. Give them the rain they need in the form of emails and reviews and word-of-mouth praise for the rain that has sustained you.

Drought is a fact of life, but we all possess the means by which we can bring rain to those who need it.



Reevaluating, Reorganizing & Recommiting to Your Goals

A guest post by Kelli Ann Morgan.

Coming Summer 2014
Coming Summer 2014

If you are anything like me, you like to take on challenges that will push you to do more—to be more—than you have ever done or been before. Every year, a small group of wonderful writers and I get together to report on our previous year’s goals and to set new ones for the upcoming year over food and lively conversation.

During this year’s event, I set up a list of twenty-three specific goals that I wanted to accomplish throughout this year and placed each one on its own notecard to be displayed on the corkboard above my desk in my office. (Yes, I do realize that twenty-three is an insane number of goals, but I would rather shoot for the stars only to lasso the moon than to shoot for the mailbox and barely make it out my front door.) And believe it or not, my goals are not amongst the craziest of the goals some writers set.

Just like anything, your goals need to be tended. Nurtured even. Summer tends to mark the midpoint of the year and is the perfect time to look over your goals and make any necessary changes to get back on track. I use a simple three-step method I call the Triple R Process: Reevaluating, Reorganizing, and Recommitting to Your Goals. By following the Triple R Process, you will enjoy a more productive and happier year.


 The first step in the Triple R Process is to reevaluate the goals that you set at the beginning of the year. Tug them down off your office wall or pull out the notebook you have them written in and look at them one by one. You’ve had six months to work on your goals. What worked? What didn’t? Ask yourself if they still fit as goals with SMARTS.

 NOTE: When setting my goals at the beginning of the year, I try to keep in mind the familiar SMART method with one exception. Many of your may already know how to set SMART goals and so I will not touch on that—other than to define what SMART stands for. Your goals should be: Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. My exception rule is to include at least one “Shoot for the Stars” goal. Therefore, they are goals with SMARTS. We all need a little latitude for attitude.

Life has a habit of throwing curveballs in your direction and that means goals or ideas that were once applicable or relevant may no longer fit into the overall vision you will now have for your immediate career. It is okay to change your goals. Let me repeat that. IT IS OKAY TO CHANGE YOUR GOALS. In fact, it would be counterproductive if they need to be changed and you do not make adjustments.

Reevaluating your goals and making necessary changes does not mean you have failed. It means that you have enough SMARTS to actively groom yourself and your career in an ever-changing industry. You do need to hold yourself accountable. You do need to work on them every day. You do need to…DO something.


The second step in the midpoint Triple R Process is to reorganize the goals that made it through the reevaluation step. You will also reorganize your workspace and your mind to be more positive and forward thinking. This step is very important—especially if you have more than one goal you are trying to accomplish. Learning how to prioritize your goals based on your experience over the last six months and understanding how to modify your approach to them is vital to your success. Take the time to make the necessary preparations to be successful. You may have learned that there is more, or a different type, of groundwork needed to be successful in one goal or another.

Next, make a schedule. This does not have to be a detailed, down-to-the-minute schedule, but a basic idea of what you will accomplish on any given day or in what month you will work on a or complete a specific goal. Reorganizing your goals will help you discover where your priorities lie. Reorganizing is different for everyone. Make a chart, goal cards, or some type of visual that you can display in a prominent place in your workspace as a reminder of what you are trying to accomplish. These reminders will help you keep focused on days things aren’t going so well.


The third and final step in the Triple R Process is to recommit to the goals that have made it through the reevaluation and reorganization steps. Remember, it’s all about the big picture. 2+2 does not equal 3 no matter how creative you get. Every goal should fit into your master plan and if you want your plan to be a success, you must commit to the goals that will get you there. Believe in the goals that you set. Know your limitations and strive to understand your strengths. Use them to recommit to the big picture.

Work doesn’t have to be miserable. Right now is an AMAZING time to be a writer with many opportunities both here and on the horizon. Whether you are just starting out, a seasoned best-selling author, or somewhere in between, the need to commit to your work is the same. Every step of the journey is worth taking if you look for the lessons and take time to appreciate every moment.

Look at your goals and recommit to achieve them. Find someone to report your progress to. Hold yourself accountable, but never give up. The road will not always be easy, but success is also found in the journey not just the destination. Do whatever it takes to do more. Be more.

It may sound like a lot of work, but it is all about perspective. You can achieve great things by starting out small and dreaming big. Shakespeare wrote, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” It is up to you. Reevaluate. Reorganize. Recommit. Then celebrate. Celebrate every one of your successes—great or small. You deserve it. Take the time to use my Triple R Process and watch your dreams come alive before your eyes. You’ll get out of it what you want to. I’ll see you out among the stars!

Kelli Ann Author Photo

Kelli Ann Morgan Bio:

KELLI ANN MORGAN recognized a passion for writing at a very young age and since that time has devoted herself to creativity of all sorts. She also moonlights as a Creative Designer – creating covers and more for other authors- and works as a photographer, jewelry designer, painter, and motivational speaker. Kelli Ann graduated Summa Cum Laude with her degree in Business and is the owner of Inspire Creative Services. She is a long-time member of the Romance Writers of America and was president of her local chapter in 2009. Her love of and talent for writing have opened many doors for her and she continues to look for new and exciting opportunities to teach, inspire, and entertain. Kelli Ann loves to hear from her readers. Visit her at