Tag Archives: Mary Pletsch

Returning to the Lake

downloadLast year, fans of lovely monstrosities, dark secrets and long-lost nightmares ventured to Fossil Lake, a place where things perhaps best left buried stirred in the sediment beneath the water in an Anthology of the Aberrant.

This year, horror fans who’ve faced the darkness and find themselves hungry for more can return to the Lake in Fossil Lake 2:  The Refossiling.

“Red Ochre,” my contribution to Fossil Lake 2, allowed me to address one of my greatest regrets about my story in the first Fossil Lake.  I wrote a previous Fictorians article *here* about the experience of writing “Mishipishu:  The Ghost Story of Penny Jaye Prufrock.”  Mishipishu was set at a summer camp for kids and, like the summer camps I went to at that age, I gave the lake and its legend names from Native American folklore.  But I remained cognisant of the fact that there’s something culturally appropriative about the way summer camps used Native names to suggest wildness and closeness to nature, and yet rarely had any Native staff, Native campers, or instruction on any aspects of Native culture beyond the shameless borrowing (stealing?) of names and ghost stories.

I used the Native names as a matter of authenticity – this is something summer camps did, and some still do.  But I felt a certain lingering regret for the way that Native American identity had been stripped away from these names.  Longtime readers may recall an article earlier this year where I talked about how changing the point of view character helped make my contribution to Fossil Lake 2 into a stronger story.  If you missed it, you can find it here.

“Red Ochre” has been my opportunity to tell a scary story through the eyes of a Native American character, Meesha.  Meesha is torn between her shaman uncle, urging her to learn more about her heritage and her people’s traditional beliefs, and her parents, who want to see her as a successful, respected member of the wider society.  Meesha wants to fit in with the other students at her school, but she recognizes that elements of both her own history and her people’s change how others view her.  She had hoped that a camping trip with her friend, Perry, could give her a much-needed vacation.

Unfortunately, Perry is more than he first seemed.  And so, too, are those legends her uncle swears are true.  Meesha finds herself caught in the riptide of history, and its current threatens to drag her away…deep down into the waters of Fossil Lake.

If you’d like to take another dip in the Lake, Fossil Lake 2:  The Refossiling is now available in Print and Kindle editions.

And if you’ve never been, the first Fossil Lake Anthology is still available, also in your choice of Print or Kindle.

So come on in.  What are you waiting for?

The water’s fine.

April: In Love…and In War

In February we took a look at the different kinds of love that characters can experience, and the importance of allowing characters to feel love.  Whether that’s romantic love, love for family, love for friends, love for a belief or a cause, or any of the other myriad forms of love, stories convey intense emotion when it’s clear the characters care strongly for something or someone.

In April we’re taking a look at the other side of the equation:  conflict.

If a character strongly loves something, but there’s no threat to that thing, there’s no conflict and no story.  If a character strongly loves someone, and the other person returns the feeling without obstacle or hindrance, there’s no conflict and no story.  If a character passionately believes in a cause, and immediately puts that cause into effect, there’s no conflict and no story.

A strong conflict is essential to a strong story.  It’s hard to keep a reader’s interest when the characters don’t face any challenges, and there’s nothing to stop them from doing, having, and enjoying what they want.

Just as there’s many different types of love, there’s many different types of conflict.  Conflict can run the gamut from actual combat to a character trying to come to terms with her own thoughts on a subject.  Stories can include more than one conflict.  For example, two members of the superhero team might be rivals, fighting against one another to be chosen as team leader, while also fighting villains.

Conflict can include:

Fights against an antagonist adversary, whether that be a single villain, a government system, an opposing nation, a bully, a competing love interest, a series of foes, or a concept such as criminality or evil.


Physical fighting, ranging from one-on-one to armies in combat

Contests (sports games, chess matches, spelling bees, races…)

Arguing (fighting through communication, whether it be spoken, online, a series of gestures, etc)

Conflicting ideas or philosophies

Obstacles preventing the lovers from getting together, or the hero from enacting her master plan, or the apprentice from reaching his goal

A character struggling to survive against nature (ie natural disaster, trekking across the wilderness, being abandoned to the elements)

A character fighting to overcome (or live with) a disease or illness

Internal conflict.  This occurs when the conflict is in a character’s own mind.  Examples include ethical dilemmas, characters raised in one culture, faith, or belief system questioning whether what they’d always believed is in fact correct, or a character wondering if his current course of action is what he truly wants to be doing.

This month we’re going to talk about the different kinds of conflict, how to write about conflict, how to make conflict believable, and how to tackle conflicts you as the writer haven’t personally experienced.   Take up your shields (or your swords) and prepare to defend that which you love.

I Write For Money–Except When I Don’t


Money flows to the writer.

It’s a great rule, created to help new writers from being taken in by scam publishers who make their money by demanding payments from authors rather than from selling books to readers.

When I first began submitting my work, I made a deal with myself:  I was submitting only to markets that paid up front.  I wasn’t going to settle for “exposure in lieu of payment.”  If I wanted “exposure” I could post my stories on my tumblr.  I wanted to see cash up front.  And I wasn’t going to fill my garage with hundreds of copies of my books that would then be up to me to sell.

For the most part, this is a good rule and it’s served me well.  It’s a great feeling to be able to buy things and pay bills with the money I make from my writing.

But I’ve broken this rule a few times with short story anthologies, and I still feel good about it.  Here’s why.


Charity anthology 

I gave a short story to an anthology in support of animal welfare.  I give cash to the Humane Society, so I was also willing to give a story in lieu of cash, in support of a worthwhile cause.

Similarly, some of my writer friends have donated copies of their books or anthologies they are in from their stock (see below) to silent auctions and other fundraisers.  Although they’re out the cost of the book, they’ve increased visibility for their work and contributed to a good cause.

As with cash donations, writers need to strike a sustainable balance for giving away stories or hard copies.  You will need to decide for yourself how often you’re willing (or able) to give away your work for free.  If you’re gaining exposure in a way that counts–for example, appearing in a charity anthology with some big-name authors–or if you feel strongly about the cause you’re fundraising for, it’s worth doing this sometimes.


Payment in royalties

Payment in royalties is a gamble.  If the anthology sells well, I stand to make more than I might if I’d simply sold the story for a flat fee.  If it doesn’t, though, I risk seeing little if any return on those first publication rights.

The first time I took this gamble, I had a story that was shorter than my usual work.  It had been sitting on my hard drive for the better part of a year and I’d been having trouble thinking of where I might place it.  I finally found the perfect anthology call, but it paid only in royalties.  I decided to take the gamble.  It was accepted.  Currently, I’m still a little short of what I’d like to have sold it for, but the anthology is still in publication, meaning I will hopefully be seeing more royalties in the future.

Royalties are a lot more common when you’re writing in longer forms.   My first novella (written under a pseudonym) also pays entirely in royalties, so I’m waiting to see whether I get more, or less, than I would’ve gotten if I’d cut it down to anthology length and sold it to an anthology for a single up-front payment.


Stocking your work

On occasion I’ve paid more than I’ve earned getting extra copies of the anthologies my work appears in.  The first time, I looked at that box of books and my empty wallet and winced a little.  In the end, though, having a few copies on hand has proven to be worth the investment.

Earlier this year, I participated in an author launch and came away with cash in hand—even after giving copies to the event organizer, my fellow authors, and our fearless sales-table staffer.  I also attended Ad Astra convention in Toronto and sold enough books to pay for my food and travel expenses, making the con much more affordable.  The launch party and the convention gave me the ability to promote my work to a wider audience, something I couldn’t have done as easily without stock on hand to sell.

Another factor is when acquaintances, co-workers and party guests ask me:  oh, you’re a writer?  Can I see your work?  I’ve gotten my anthologies into a number of hands just by saying:  yes, I have some copies on hand, this one is $15…

So how much stock should you have?  I’ve had authors recommending five copies of each work as their ideal stock number.  Other factors to consider include how much money you can afford up front, how much space you have to store stock, how many anthologies you’re in, and how marketable each book is (for example, in-person I attend more sci-fi events than romance events, so I stock more of my sci-fi themed work.)  I also find that I get better shipping prices on 10-20 books than I do on 5; fortunately, I have family and friends who lay claim to most of the difference, which helps to keep my first stock shipment affordable.


Writing for fun

I enjoy online role playing, fan fiction, talking about themes in my favourite comics, and other kinds of writing that don’t pay me money.  I’ve scrutinized my hobbies to avoid wasting time I could spend on paying writing, and have decided that if I accomplish my professional writing goals, I am just as entitled to spend my relaxation time on role playing as on video games, crafts or any other form of entertainment.  Sometimes, when I’ve edited a story for the tenth time or a conclusion just isn’t coming together or I’ve received a disappointing rejection, I feel that I hate writing, and ask myself why I’m doing this.  And then I hammer out a goofy little fan-fic, fall in love with my craft all over again, and the next morning feel inspired when I return to my original work.

All You Need Is Love

Love doesn’t always mean romance.

Let me say it again.

Love does not only mean romance.

When I was a kid, I didn’t like the way so many movies and books portrayed romantic love as the ideal be-all and end-all of human existence.  I wasn’t interested in romantic love; if anything, I was kind of disgusted by it.  I remember feeling disappointed that there were so few heroines who would turn down romantic love in favour of remaining free and unattached, able to take off on another exiting adventure with no need to give notice to a boyfriend or husband.  I remember the medieval festival in school, where I was the only girl who chose to be a knight instead of a princess (even though everyone was given the choice between knight and royal), and how I wanted nothing to do with the passive role where traditional romance made the woman into a prize to be won.

I decided that I was going to tell stories about characters I wanted to be.  Stories without mushy stuff.  Stories without love.

Only that wasn’t what actually happened.

As it turned out, my characters did experience love, even if they weren’t big on romance.  Most of them had friends.  Some of them had children, adopted or biological.  Some of them cared for parents or grandparents or other family members.  The most devoted warrior cared for her comrades and her country.  The most daring adventurer cherished her belief in knowledge and discovery, and risked her life for that belief.  The most dashing pilot loved his aircraft like a child.  These characters might not have experienced romantic love, but they felt love all the same.

A character who doesn’t love anything or anyone rarely cares about anything.  Love is the strongest form of caring that there is, and strong emotions mean high stakes and dramatic potential.  Who wants to read about a character who feels no passion, experiences no attachment, has nothing to lose, and can’t summon any feelings about it?  An utterly apathetic character is hard for readers to be interested in, because if the character himself cares about nothing, why should we care about him?

So let your characters love.  Let them develop friendships.  Let them have families, if the story allows for it.  Let them care passionately about a cause.  Let them believe in something:  a goal, a religion, a duty, another person.

What happens when a character is torn between two things they love?  This need not be a romantic love triangle.  What if a character has to choose between tending a sick relative and following their dreams?  Between their religion and their new friends?  Between their two children?  Between serving their country and raising their family?  These conflicts can create all kinds of tension without involving romance.

Sometimes I think it’s a little ironic that I’ve actually written some romance stories.  But even when I’m writing romantic elements in stories, I try to stay away from that old, abhorred idea that “falling in love” meant a heroine giving up her life of adventure for the sake of a man.

Sometimes romantic love means a bittersweet annual liason between a pacifist doctor and a female revolutionary.

Sometimes romantic love means the dashing gentleman pilot and the young man who fixes his airplane falling in love with one another.

Sometimes romantic love means sacrificing everything to save your partner…and failing, and your story is about what you do after that.

Sometimes romantic love means a turncoat and a pirate setting off together to found a new colony in the depths of uncharted space.

Romantic love is appealing to many readers.  It’s also an important part of many people’s lives.  These are only two reasons why so many stories contain romantic elements, and why romance as a genre is so successful.

I also, though, want to remember the readers who have been burned by romantic love, and want a story about a character who picks himself up and learns to live again.  I want to remember the readers who don’t experience romantic attraction and who are looking for characters who represent them and speak to them.  I want to remember the readers who, like me, are tired of forumlas and stereotypes and narrow definitions of what romance can (and by implication, should) be.

So let your characters love.  Let them love strongly and deeply:  family, friends, hobbies, careers, beliefs, and ideas.  Let the things they love create conflict for them.  If they experience romantic love, let it be as challenging and complex as any other form of human attachment.

Let love in fiction represent the multi-faceted presence of love in real people’s lives.