Saturday, May 25, 2013

Strange Blog – or how I stopped worrying and learned to love blogging - Guest post from J.S. Watts

Strange Blog – or how I stopped worrying and learned to love blogging

By J.S.Watts

Blogging hasn’t come naturally to me. My website may be hosted by Blogger, but it’s first and foremost a static website, rather than a chatty blog. My posts tend to be brief news items and updates, not opinion pieces or diary entries. Until 9th June last year I had never actually written a real blog post.

My first post, written for a writers’ online colony that I belong to, actually focussed on my blogging virginity and the losing of it. It was fun. I enjoyed writing it, but it didn’t exactly unleash a torrential flow of pent-up blogs.

It was a month until I managed another post. In fact, spurred on by an imminent trip to the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival to read some of my poetry, I managed two posts in July and one in August. Then my usual blogging lethargy returned and I didn’t write another post until December.

Almost a year later and by the beginning of October 2012, I had written the grand total of just six blog posts. That’s less than one piece every two months. I clearly wasn’t at risk of writer’s cramp, or its modern equivalent, RSI, when it came to blogging. So what was the problem?

Obviously, it’s not that I don’t like writing. I’m a poet and author; it’s what I do. I love writing, but blogging somehow worried me. It seemed to require an opinion, something factual to comment on and I didn’t think I had that much to say that would interest readers in the Blogverse. Plus, with so many blogs already out there, why write even more?

I was happy writing book reviews for various literary and genre magazines. There were my poems, poetry books and short stories and a brand new novel. I wasn’t exactly short of things to write and publish. Blogging was a worry I didn’t need.

It was the novel that finally propelled me into the world of blogging: the novel and its publisher, Vagabondage Press. Thanks guys…

There I was, hard work done: novel written, edited and about to be published. I was looking forward to putting my feet up for a bit when Vagabondage effectively said, "Great book, J.S. We love A Darker Moon and want others to love it too. You’ll help getting the word out, won’t you?" What could I do, but say, "Yes". The next thing I knew, there was a growing pile of interview and guest blog-post requests and an enthusiastic publisher telling me how great it was that we’d got so much upfront interest.

The interviews were fine. All I’d got to do was answer the questions provided and chat about A Darker Moon. The blogs, however, were another matter. They were blank, structureless pages waiting to be filled with comment and opinion. Yes, I wanted to promote A Darker Moon and talk about its mythic literary fiction qualities. As a result there was bound to be some similarity between posts, but I couldn’t churn out the same thing. I needed to do original pieces, find original things to say, write from different angles and do it differently over and over again: I needed to become a regular blogger.

I hesitated, dithered and worried and then I realised something so obvious that I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before. I am a writer. Writing, laying down and shaping words is what I do. Blogs are written pieces, collections of words laid down on the page and shaped. So where is the problem?

I picked up my pen (I always do first drafts in long-hand. I think better that way) and then I moved to the keyboard. I adored the stunning cover of A Darker Moon that the talented Art Director at Vagabondage had come up with. I loved the glowering, wide-eyed owl, the full moon and the black yet moonlit water because they are visually awesome and because they are brilliantly selected key motifs from the novel itself. I wrote about this and the importance of book covers in general. One blog post successfully completed.

The next piece looked at the significance of the novel’s London location (that’s London, England to anyone reading this in The States. I’m a British writer). Then came writing about myth and fantasy, followed by my personal take on the modern horror genre and another piece on the range of myth and legend I had drawn on to shape the dark psychological fantasy of A Darker Moon.

In a little over one month, and including this piece, I have written six full blog posts. That’s as many as I had previously written in sixteen long months. And I haven’t lost the urge to blog. Indeed, the more I write, the more I find I have to write about: the importance of fine art to A Darker Moon, the essence of memory, writers writing about writing (my anti-hero, Abe, is a compulsive writer), the psychology of religious delusion, the impact of family and the implications of writing both poetry and prose. Such is the joy of a multi-layered story: there’s always another topic to pontificate on. I’m seemingly on a roll and if any blogger out there is looking for someone to write them a guest post , I’m your woman! So thank you, Vagabondage, for releasing my inner blogger. I just hope the Blogverse is ready and braced.


J.S.Watts is a British writer. She was born in London, England and now lives and writes near Cambridge in East Anglia. In between, she read English at Somerville College, Oxford and spent many years working in the British education sector. She remains committed to the ideals of further and higher education despite UK governments of assorted political persuasions trying to demolish them.

Her poetry, short stories and book reviews appear in a variety of publications in Britain, Canada, Australia and the States including Acumen, Envoi, Mslexia and Fantastique Unfettered and have been broadcast on BBC and independent Radio. She has been Poetry Reviews Editor for Open Wide Literary Magazine and, until its demise, Poetry Editor for Ethereal Tales. Her debut poetry collection, Cats and Other Myths and a subsequent poetry pamphlet, Songs of Steelyard Sue are published by Lapwing Publications. Her novel, A Darker Moon, is published by Vagabondage Press Further details of her books can be found on her website: . You can also find her on Facebook at

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Author Insides - Jon Hartless

Jon Hartless was born in the 1970s and has spent much of his life in the Midlands and Worcestershire, England. He is the author of three bleakly humorous science fiction books under his own name, and two even bleaker works under the pen name Barnabas Corbin.
His humorous historical satire, Jack The Theorist, is available on Amazon.

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
About the only time I was happy at school was when I could write a story, so I suppose it grew from there.

Why do you write?
I simply enjoy it enormously.

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
I never imagined the attitude of most publishers and agents, who simply reject your work out of hand without even bothering to read it. In the past, I’ve sent stuff off via snail mail on a Monday and get it back by Wednesday with the claim it ‘wasn’t right’. The quickest rejection, however, was by email; just under ten minutes.

What do you think makes a good story?
Simply ask: does it work by its own logic? If the answer is no, it has failed.

What's your favorite genre to read?
Probably murder mysteries, but recently I have been drifting more into factual works.

Who is your favorite author or poet?
Arthur Conan Doyle, for his brilliant style, characters, and ideas. EF Benson, for his wit and satire.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
Probably a mix of the above, plus some of Oscar Wilde’s work. I also enjoy the 1890s as a period, so the fin de siècle is bubbling about somewhere in the subconscious. Certainly my one book, Romanticism Lost, was inspired by popular figures from nineteenth century literature; Sherlock Holmes, the Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein etc. I just wondered how such characters would fare in today’s grey, bureaucratic, health-and-safety world…

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
I’m not sure I could isolate any; we’re all a product of so many influences…

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
Sometimes from a direct source, sometimes from years of seeing things, reading about a subject, hearing things etc, until they all mesh together. My YA novel The Wolves of Androcolus combined both these elements.

I was watching a documentary about BBC children’s television from the 1950s to the early 00s, and Jacqueline Wilson popped up to explain the concept behind her Tracy Beaker series.

As often happens in the modern media, where the audience is treated as a brain dead entity, we were only given a brief snippet of Miss Wilson before we jumped to another scene, so all she had time to say was that the story revolved around a girl in a foster home that nobody wanted, and then the scene shifted to something else.

This, however, left me with practically the whole plot laid out in my mind for my story. Why would no one want a girl from a home? Because she was an ex-junkie. Who would want her? Someone with very dark intentions. Who are these people with dark intent? Religious werewolves. Why religious werewolves? Because of what I’ve seen and read on religious fundamentalism over the years. It was all there, laid out, ready to be written…

What does your family think of your writing?
My big brother is very proud.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
Hectic. I work full time, so I have to snatch whatever time I can to write. My latest project has been mostly written in my car between jobs.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
The nearest thing to a ritual I get involves getting distracted from doing any work…

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Good grammar. I have to edit time and after time to get the prose flowing.

What are your current projects?
I’m writing a YA novella that reworks the Pandora myth. In it, we see what the world would be like if the moral minority were to attain supernatural powers that enable them to recreate the world as they think it should be.

What are you planning for future projects?
I must try and get started on the sequel to The Wolves of Androcolus, but it is finding the time.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Edit ruthlessly, get some input from someone who knows what they are talking about and who will give a truly honest opinion, and keep trying.

Where else can we find your work?
At Double Dragon Ebooks, and also third party retailers such as Kindle, Nook, Fictionwise etc. I am also published under the pen name Barnabas Corbin.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Importance of Being Ruthless - Guest Post from Corinna Weyreter

The Importance of Being Ruthless
Corinna Weyreter

The problem with entering stories into competitions, or submitting them to magazines, is that most editors lack either the time or the inclination to enlighten the unsuccessful writer as to where she’s going wrong. If the rejections keep rolling in there comes a point when, clearly, she needs to know.

When I found myself in this situation, a search of the web led me to YouWriteOn, a peer review site for writers. Members can upload a short story, or the opening chapters of a novel, and receive one critique in return for each they write, with assignments allocated by the system at random. It’s an excellent way to improve your writing, not only because people highlight the weak points in your work, but also because you learn from seeing the weak points in theirs, which can often be the same. To be a good writer you need to be an avid reader, but high quality novels are written by experienced authors and have been edited several times before publication. They make writing look easy. So it’s extremely useful to also read the work of aspiring authors, where problems with plot, pace, characterisation, clichés, similes, overused adjectives and adverbs abound, because if these things are sabotaging your own manuscript, you’ll be primed to root them out.

Inevitably some critiques are less valuable than others, usually because the writer is keener to receive a review than produce one, but by the time you’ve amassed ten or so, valid criticisms start to recur. In the case of my stories, these were of dialogue that didn’t sound realistic, and a lack of description that prevented the reader from being fully drawn into the story. I was told that one character was too much of a caricature, and that another behaved in a way that seemed inconsistent with his nature. There were also some positive reviews that made me feel good but ultimately left me no wiser, and others that simply disliked the plot, but what could I do about that except write a completely different story? No writer can please everyone. It was the hardest reviews to read that were usually the most useful, and once the dejection started to wear off, I could see that the criticisms were valid. In fact, not only were they valid, I’d actually been aware of them myself but had chosen to ignore them.

I realised that the main reason for this was I hadn’t always trusted my instincts when I was editing. A devilish voice had persuaded me to spare those clichés that caused a twinge in my gut the instant I reread them, insisting they really were sentences of poetic beauty. Not trusting my instincts prevented me from cutting out words that I’d spent hours writing, and from investing even more time knocking others into shape. It was only when reviewers confirmed my suspicions, and after I’d seen similar mistakes in others’ work, that I learnt to stop listening to that fiendish voice. Reading the stories aloud proved to be a great help in doing this. Any problems with the flow of the prose quickly became apparent, and unrealistic dialogue in particular was impossible to ignore.

It’s sometimes hard to see what’s going wrong with a story when you’re so involved in it. Only an outsider can tell you if it’s really working the way you want it to. Other writers helped me face up to aspects of my writing that I needed to work on; I wasn’t going to get away with not putting more effort into it. I began to examine my writing with a more critical eye, to be on the lookout for common mistakes, and to edit it more ruthlessly before being satisfied. Because it didn’t matter how much time I’d invested in it up until then, if I didn’t really believe it was perfect, why would anyone else?

Corinna Weyreter won the 1998 Bridport Prize and has had several short stories published. She worked in the oil business for fifteen years before resigning to sail around the world with her boyfriend. Her book about their trip, Far Out: Sailing into a Disappearing World, was published this year by Sunpenny Publishing. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Why I Write Sad Stories - Guest Post from Darci Schummer

Why I Write Sad Stories
Darci Schummer

On 1st Avenue and 28th Street in Minneapolis, a house catches fire.  Fire trucks arrive in a blur of lights and a wail of sirens as flames cut the early morning sky. In housecoats and slippers, the neighborhood watches from living room windows and front yards.  Sweat gathers on its lip.  Smoke fills its nostrils.  Its children, woken from their dreams, point at the flames and vibrate with terrible excitement.  A group of firefighters battles the flames from outside while another group walks into the fire to save those who can be saved.  They rescue one person from inside the house and then another.  Then, they rescue two more people from a second story window. 

But by the time they rescue Jenny, it's too late.
My stories have been called bleak, brutal, depressing. And I have been asked why I write such sad stories. 

I have a one-word answer:  Jenny.
I write sad stories because of ghosts, ghosts of the living and of the dead. I write sad stories to give voice to ghosts and to give voice to those who live with the ghosts of their dead, and the ghosts of their former lovers, estranged children, chances not taken, aborted opportunities. I write sad stories because they are the adhesive that binds people to ghosts.  I write sad stories because the stories themselves are my ghosts that, as Edna O'Brien writes, "are like dogs that bark intermittently in the night." 

Moreover, sad stories prepare us for futures we are too brittle to imagine or too ignorant to recognize as possible.  They allow us to experience death and loss and desperation with only a modicum of actual pain.  They are precursors to seasons not yet lived. 
I write sad stories because I want to live in the past, present, and future simultaneously.
On a perfect July morning, I am walking down 1st Avenue in Minneapolis.  In front of a burned out 2 and 1/2 story house near 28th street, an empty mailbox gapes like an open mouth, it's red flag 90 degrees in the air.  Mylar balloons tied to the front gate bob in the breeze. Affixed to the gate as well is a red sign that reads, “Hi Jenny, All students at Magic Beauty School miss you!”  On the front stairs at the foot of the gate, a plate of spring rolls sits untouched among bouquets of chrysanthemums.  An open bottle of water and an open can of juice wait among burning candles and incense.  And in the middle of these funereal offerings is a picture of Jenny, of beautiful olive-skinned, black-haired Jenny.   

The air still smells of fire.

I stoop down and leave a dandelion between two candles that will burn for her until their wicks are spent.  Then, I walk home on my strong, good legs, the breeze whipping all around me, a new ghost whispering in my ear.  

At home, I will work on another sad story—a story where there aren't neat explanations, a story where calculations and probabilities all prove incorrect. 

And Jenny, my beautiful olive-skinned, black-haired Jenny, this new story, a story where in the space of one night the whole world trembles into darkness, this is the story I am writing for you.

Darci Schummer lives, writes, and teaches in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Links to her work can be found here:

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Author Insides - Brian D'Eon

D’Eon lives with his wife and two cats in one of the world’s true Shangri-la’s: Nelson, British Columbia, Canada.

His writing pursuits have been forged largely in the fires of live theatre where, for thirty years, he has participated as an actor, director and playwright. Four of his stage plays have been produced locally and one in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He also produced more than a dozen original radio dramas plus radio adaptations of famous classical scripts like Oedipus Rex and Macbeth.

In recent years Brian has focused his attention more and more on fiction, and his short stories and poetry can be found in a variety of publications. Brian’s story Sun Dancer won the 2009 Okanagan short story contest. In 2011 his story Badlands won the fiction prize in the Kootenay Literary Competition.

Brian likes to write stories that are speculative or which, at least, have elements of magic realism in them. For more information about his projects, check his website:

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think there was ever any one "eureka" moment. It has always been the natural way for me to interact with the universe. Even as far back as elementary school, if a notion excited me, my first response was to write about it.

Why do you write?
I write because I am "compelled" to. I start to feel antsy if I haven’t written for a while. More than that, it’s also an act of adoration, my affirmation of the great mystery of things and my gratitude to be included in the mystery.

Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
I don’t think I ever spent time imagining it. Except perhaps thinking that maybe, some day, I would be interviewed on a national radio show—one that I have been listening to all my adult life—that would be sort of surreal.

What do you think makes a good story?
My views about this are old-fashioned and hark right back to Tolstoy’s little book on aesthetics—What is Art? A good story must be uplifting in some way. If I can’t find somebody I truly like or admire in the first fifty pages of reading, I’m not likely to finish the story, no matter how well written. And, finally, a good story must make me think. In new ways, or about new things or, at the very least, take me to places I’ve never been.

What's your favorite genre to read?
In truth I read more non-fiction than fiction. There’s just so much to learn out there! But when I do read fiction, I like a good science-fiction piece, hard science fiction mostly, and am also very partial to well written magical-realism. All that being said, it’s very hard to beat the great classics: I still believe William Shakespeare is the greatest writer in the English language ever. Period. Case closed.

Who is your favorite author or poet?
Shakespeare, Homer, Cervantes, Tolstoy. But, in more contemporary terms, I’ve long been a fan of the writings of the Greek writer, Nikos Kazantzakis. My favourite poet is Dylan Thomas. I seem to be partial to dead guys.

What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
The lyricism and utter musicality of Dylan Thomas has influenced my work greatly, I think, and Shakespeare too, for similar reasons. If a work doesn’t "sound" beautiful when read out loud, it doesn’t really work for me.

What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
Well, if I had to point to one book, I might have to choose Zorba the Greek, by Kazantzakis. The central character, Zorba, is a man larger than life, an older man (like me now!), but nonetheless with relentless energy, ambitions and appetites. This story ends with the narrator getting a letter from Zorba, whom he hasn’t seen in years. Zorba tells him to drop everything and come and see him at once. Why? Because he has discovered an extraordinary green stone…

For me, the human condition can be summed up in that one scene. Are we willing to drop everything for the sake of a green stone or not? It’s a big question and a mistake to dismiss it.

Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
Nature, the world at large, the night sky, the laugh of a five-year old, any human being in the midst of doing what they love.

What does your family think of your writing?
Ha! I am pretty much the last one on their reading lists! To be fair, my son, Jonathan—himself a fine writer--is a very careful reader of my work and, generally, very encouraging.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I very definitely prefer to write in the morning and I need quiet. Can’t have music of any kind playing. I have to close the door so my cats won’t bother me.

Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?

I always like to read what I have written during the day, just before going to bed, so it can stew in my subconscious overnight. Also, during the day, I will take little breaks in the writing by playing a game of Hearts on my computer. I have named my opponents Einstein, Archimedes and Curie.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
I have to be careful not to let the musicality of the writing get in the way of the meaning. It can be hard for me to let go of a phrase if it "sounds" beautiful. I blame Dylan Thomas for this!

What are your current projects?
I am working on a historical-fiction novel, called Big Ledge, based on the true story of a murder that took place at the Bluebell mine in 1885, not far from where I live in British Columbia. I try to tell the tale from three different voices, but mostly from the POV of the man accused of the murder, Robert Sproule. I sneak a little magical-realism into the story as well.

What are you planning for future projects?
I’m still working hard to peddle my novel, Lunatics. And then, after finishing with Big Ledge, I think I might like to go back to Australia. To the year 1994, pre-Facebook, to follow the fortunes of a somewhat alienated exchange-teacher, on the eve of a remarkable celestial event: the first observation of a comet crashing into another planet.

Then there is my collection of short fiction to polish.

And maybe a children’s fantasy, something after the fashion of C.S. Lewis whose work I greatly admire.

Do you have any advice for other writers?
Oh, heavens! There are so many paths to follow. I might only argue against the advice sometimes given to write "only about what you know". How dull the world would be if we all adhered to that tenet. I would alter that advice to: "write only about what you have a passion for." You can get to "know" about it as you write.

Where else can we find your work?
The best place to start would be my website,


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Re-Thinking Revision - Guest Post from Tina V. Cabrera

Re-Thinking Revision
Tina V. Cabrera

Some writers find revision the best part of writing. They say it’s that space just above comfort because you now have something concrete to work with, that you get to flex different muscles than when staring at a blank page. That may be so, but it can also fill up that space just below the highest level of anxiety because of the fact that you have no idea of what to do with it. Then too I’ve gone back to revise a story, only to see the final result as lacking the original power or imagination that I had first begun with – the life sucked out of it. Or I find myself completely confused as to which draft is the better out of the two or three or more. And now, here I am looking forward to stolen moments of revising time, and here’s why. After several attempts at catching a publisher’s eye with various draft of my latest novella, some kind of science fiction/literary fantasy hybrid, I’m working on what I hope to be the final version. This after hearing from a couple of editors specifically pointing out what works well and what not-so-much. The consensus seems to be that the complex cerebral world that I’ve created manages to hold reader interest, but takes too long in getting there. The voice is distancing, removing the reader from the immediacy of the world. At first, I resisted the idea of going back yet again to what I thought was a done deal. Then after months of having let it be, I read my latest draft over and saw what the editors had concluded. Now I’m happy to say I’m halfway through revision and actually enjoying the process. I’m discovering it’s not ‘finished’ after all, and beyond a cosmetic re-working, I’m even adding to scenes that I had thought for certain were forever concluded. So is revision the best part of writing? To each her own, but once you get going you may find it absolutely necessary.

For more of my writerly musings, visit my blog at: