Monthly Archives: April 2014

Genre Hopping


I’ve been writing epic fantasy all my life, and had seven epic fantasy novels published, with more in the pipeline.  I write big, fat fantasy books with plenty of sword and sorcery, with sweeping plotlines (that’s the epic part) that consume kingdoms and dynasties.

I also write urban fantasy, both in short stories and with a new novel coming out in 2014.  Magic, modern times, supernatural creatures and a first-person narrative.

So why, when Joshua asked me to be part of a Steampunk anthology, did I jump up and down and squeal like a little girl? (Ok, I exaggerate on the squeal but I think I did hop a bit.)

As a writer, I’ve found that while a certain amount of familiarity with a topic breeds proficiency, staying only with that topic starts to make fresh ideas flow more slowly.  I was a little concerned initially when I started to write a monthly ebook short story, whether or not I would get “tired” of writing so much, on top of my book commitments.  The answer turned out to be, I had a bigger flow of new ideas because I was doing new things.

Writing something in a different genre makes you look at the world a different way.  Writing in a different style, like moving from third-person narrative to first-person, stretches different creative muscles.  It’s like switching exercise routines or weight machines at the gym.  All of a sudden, you realize that you’ve got a whole new goal to strive for.  It makes it fun and puts a little mystery back in the process.

Besides, I’ve loved Steampunk since before it had a name.  As a kid, I watched Wild Wild West, full of James Bond gadgets during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.  I loved Jules Verne and any movie based on his books.  The idea of gears and gadgets instead of rockets and ray guns made sense to me.  So when Joshua asked if I’d be interested, the answer was a fan-girl squee.

What Joshua didn’t know was that I’d already begun working on a concept for a Steampunk novel.  That project is still in development, but the short story for Steampunk vs. Aliens will be a little sneak peek.  And it’s fun working on the short story because it helps me develop some of the ideas better that might find their way into the novel.  Creativity works on a winding, circuitous route.  I’m having fun.

See you in the Clockwork Universe!

Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books.  My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

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Doing the Monkey Dance

20140317135848-Final6x9-Ron-JC-Dance By Gail Z. Martin

I’ve been posting a lot on social media about the Dance Like a Monkey anthology on Indiegogo. We’re coming down to the last 8 days of the funding campaign, so I wanted to explain why this is so important.

The anthology is a charity benefit to help out fellow author CJ Henderson. He’s battling cancer for the second time and the fight to stay alive has racked up major medical bills as well as taking him offline for writing and for selling his books at conventions, which is his source of income. So a bunch of CJ’s friends rallied together to put out an anthology where all the proceeds (except for shipping/printing and Indiegogo’s fee) go to help CJ with his medical expenses. None of the participating authors are getting paid, and neither is publisher Silence in the Library.

CJ 2CJ was one of the first people I met when I began doing conventions as a pro after The Summoner came out. He is a loveable curmudgeon, and he is also a fantastic encourager, good friend and a mentor to many beginning authors (although he hides it well beneath a crusty manner). I always knew that whenever I was at a convention with CJ, I had a friend close at hand. He’s been a positive influence on a lot of people, which is why his friends are doing this book to help him out.

Everyone who funds at $10 or more gets an AWESOME collection of stories by 31 authors including Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta, Maggie Allen, Jack Dann, Ed Greenwood, Joe Haldeman, Nancy and Belle Holder, Tanya Huff, Gail Z. Martin, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jean Rabe, Mike Resnik, Hildy Silverman, Janine Spendlove, Michael A. Stackpole, Anton Strout, Kelly Swails, Robert E. Vardeman, Elizabeth A. Vaughan, Bryan Young, Jean Marie Ward, Gene Wolfe, Tera Fulbright and Timothy Zahn. And, of course, CJ Henderson.

Every stretch goal we reach adds more goodies—either additional authors to the anthology or free ebooks, e-short stories and other loot.

So please, check out the Indiegogo campaign before May 1. Here’s the link:   If you like it, please toss in your ten-spot for an awesome antho. And please, help us add funding and extras to the anthology by passing the link along to your friends on social media.

Because in the end, we’re just Monkeying Around for a Good Cause!

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The Con-Going Writer


Sci-fi conventions are part of the fun of being a fan or a writer, and every con I go to offers the opportunity to learn something new, meet fantastic people, hang out with other authors, and see new places.  That’s why I’m a con-going writer.

Writing is a fairly solitary affair.  Once in a while you come up for air to connect with beta readers, agents and publishers, but most of them time is spent inside your own head.  My dogs make sure I get exercise, having an uncanny ability to smell the exact moment when I have gotten a great idea, at which point they need to go out to the back yard.  But on the whole, writing isn’t a social activity.

Genre conventions are a way for me to include that social piece into my writing life and not get thrown wholly off track.  I’ve attended many panel discussions on historical or scientific topics and come away with new ideas for plots, characters or story twists.  I’ve learned a lot about the industry by sitting down for coffee or a drink with other authors and listening to what they’re working on, how their relationship with a publisher or agent is going, or what new project they’re developing.  In the new world of hybrid careers and professional self-publishing, I’ve learned a lot about how other folks are successfully creating their own ebooks or print runs, sourcing artwork, and finding the best software.

Talking with readers is just as instructional.  It’s good to hear from the other side of the desk, to find out what people are reading and why, what they’re tired of, what they want more of.  Yes, it’s anecdotal, but it’s still outside input, and if you go to enough cons in a year (and I do), all that anecdotal information sifts together to form trends.

Cons are also places to get contracts.  I’ve come home from many a convention with a contract or an invitation for a short story in an anthology, and I enjoy talking with editors and publishers of all sizes of publishing houses because I learn something from every conversation.  Good relationships eventually open doors.  Besides, it’s nice to talk shop with other people in the business who actually understand the highs and lows–writing is a strange occupation.

Going to cons also gives me plenty of grist for the social media mill, with photos to post on Facebook, bon mots to tweet on Twitter, and new ideas for blog posts.  Sometimes, I end up tagged in someone else’s post, which is cool too.  And on many occasion, I’ve landed a magazine, blog or podcast invitation just by showing up.

Most of all, cons are an opportunity to reconnect with friends and meet new ones, talk about the fan stuff other people don’t understand, shop the dealer room, and stretch your creative muscles.  All the more reason to be a con-going writer!

Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books.  My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

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Gender and Genre


There’s been a lot of discussion in various places around the Net about gender and genre, specifically about women, sci-fi and fantasy.  You can find that for yourself online if you’re interested: I won’t rehash. But SciFiChick asked for my 2-cents, so I’ll preface this by saying that it’s my opinion, for what it’s worth, as someone who has made a living writing epic fantasy for several years.

Maybe some of my perspective is difference because I came out of the corporate world in the 1980s and 1990s.  I’m used to being the only female executive in a room, dealing with men who hailed from the Mad Men era and holding my own.  As the head of Corporate Communications departments, I often worked with the CEO and Chairman, and I learned early on to hold my ground and never let ’em see you sweat.  I’ve stared down boards of directors and attorneys, as well as pushy reporters. And I can flip and pin my 90 pound dog when he gets obstreperous.  Maybe it was the perfect background for coming into the genre.

I’ve never run into discourteous behavior from my publishers, editors or agents.  They’ve all been wonderful to work with, collaborative, respectful and professional.  I know there are some folks who keep a running tally of how many women win or are nominated for certain awards, how many sit on particular boards, and that kind of thing.  Maybe it’s my corporate background, but except for when I worked for a non-profit, I have never been in a work setting that was 50-50 men to women, so I don’t notice that kind of thing unless you point it out to me.  I don’t expect it, so not getting it doesn’t faze me.

I look around at my author friends, some of whom are waiting for their first big break, some who are climbing up the mid-list, some who are sitting on top of the heap and some who are navigating creative transitions.  I can’t say that I’ve seen those struggles go any easier for men than for women, or that I’ve seen men rocket to the top while women slog. Sometimes, I’d say that I’ve observed the opposite.  I don’t think it’s entirely a gender issue, although discrimination does exist. Often, I think frustration can be a matter of timing and luck.  Sometimes you’re in the right place at the right time with the right story, and sometimes you’re not.

I think we’ve come a long way since George Sands turned out to be female and everyone got the vapors.  By the middle of the Harry Potter series, everyone knew that JK was female and boys didn’t stop reading.  I think publishers may be more hung up on perceived reader opinions than the readers are.  After all, if people immediately see a writer who goes by initials, and assume the writer is female, it’s not much of a subterfuge!  Are there individual dinosaurs out there, either on the consumer or publishing side, who think women “can’t” write a particular type of book? Probably.  There were men who didn’t think women could or should hold certain types of corporate jobs.  Flip the one-finger salute and keep moving on.  Other people will recognize talent and not care which restroom you use.

When I was ten years old, my Great-Aunt Minerva sat me down for a talk.  She was born in 1895, and she was a medical doctor, following in the footsteps of her father.  She had co-habitated with her long-time partner Frank for 40 years, but they never married, the family rumor said, because they didn’t want to mingle their stock portfolios.  Minerva was a force of nature.  And she told me to do what I pleased with my life and to hell with what anybody’s opinion was.

I guess that stuck with me.  An awful lot of people tried to tell me that I couldn’t be something or do something, and they had their reasons, that it wasn’t ladylike or that their view of God didn’t like it.  Salute and move on.  I don’t have time to keep tallies.  Too busy doing what I do.  In the long run, succeeding at what you want to do makes your point better than any argument.  That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books.  My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

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Queen of the Outcasts

montage copy

by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

I have a secret for you. I…am the Queen of the Outcasts.

No…really. With a few, rare exceptions I fit nowhere in society. Not at work, not at church, not among my family. Always I have been that awkward figure on the fringes wanting to be embraced and brought in to the crowd. Always. This doesn’t mean I wasn’t welcome or loved, just that in general the world—yes, even my family—doesn’t get me and can’t relate.

Halfway through my life I found my exception to this rule.

Fandom. From the moment I entered my first convention I was greeted with open arms, with smiles, with understanding. A heady experience, I can tell you! I think this, more than anything else, keeps me doing what I do, no matter that it often feels more work than reward. When I walk among the community I am at peace and I am comfortable. When things go wrong, I find support without even asking.

What does this have to do with Tell Me? Well…let me tell you…

Things have gone wrong. Very wrong. Not for me, but for an icon of the community, CJ Henderson. He has cancer. Again. Twice in less than six months’ time he is fighting for his life and losing his livelihood. With the first course of treatments unsuccessful CJ is now subjected to 96 hours of continues chemotherapy every two weeks. He can’t write. He can’t go to conventions. In short, he can’t make the money vital to his family’s continued well-being.

Here is where the community comes in. Within two days of learning of the reoccurrence of CJ’s lymphoma plans were already in place for a charity anthology, Dance Like a Monkey. From stories to artwork, to publisher and administrative and marketing staff not only was everyone on board, but everything was in place and ready to go. Jean Rabe got on board as editor. Gail Z. Martin stepped in as Promoter. Silence in the Library Press agreed to not only fund this anthology, but also run the crowdfunding campaign that would make it possible. Authors Timothy Zahn, Joe Haldeman, Gene Wolfe, Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Jack Dann, Jonathan Maberry…I could keep going, but soon I’ll be running out of words. But in short, over sixty authors have pledged short stories, artwork, and music with absolutely no compensation to them. Before word even got out, fandom was lifting CJ up and helping to bear his burden.

Since then we have gone live with our campaign, Monkeying Around for a Good Cause. Unfortunately, due to Kickstarter’s policy against charity projects we have had to take this to another platform, Indiegogo, which is equally as able, but not nearly as frequented. Support has been heartening with over 220 donors getting behind the project, and whole legions of people helping us to spread the word via social media and news websites, professional organizations and fan bases. The love being shown to CJ heartens me every day. But sadly, it still is not enough. You would think something as inconsequential as a platform would not make a difference to such a worthy cause. Nearly ten days in and we still have not funded, let alone started to work our way through the many fabulous stretch goals that have been donated. But we have time and we have the support, so now it is up to us to spread the word. And that word is…


Final6x9-Ron-JC-Dance (1)We aren’t asking for a handout. Really. Despite our purpose we are not asking you to GIVE us anything. No. We are offering you an amazing collection of fiction in either DRM-Free ebook or in print (depending on your donation choice), plus plenty of awesome pledge rewards and potential stretch goals—ALL donated—we offer you value that well exceeds any contribution we are requesting, and all the money save the platform fees, print costs, and shipping, go directly to CJ Henderson so he can stop worrying about bills and focus on kicking cancer’s ass.

Between his years of fiction writing, mentorship, advice, and general jocularity, CJ has given so much to fandom. Let’s give him something back. And not just something, but the very best we can manage. I have seen what that looks like and we aren’t even close yet. If you can’t participate in the crowdfunding please help us spread the word to those who might be in a better position to.

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Series, Characters and Sanity


Sometimes, it gets crowded inside my head.

I currently write the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga for Orbit Books, which is epic fantasy, and next summer, I’ll launch the first book in the Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series from Solaris Books.  My original epic fantasy series was the Chronicles of the Necromancer.  And I write two series of ebook short stories, the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.  That means at any time, I’ve got several different worlds, time periods and sets of characters running around my imagination, vying for attention. It gets interesting.

When I was working on just one series, keeping everyone straight wasn’t a big challenge.  It’s still not so much an issue of mixing up people or places–that’s not really the problem.  The issue sometimes becomes giving everyone the attention they want–or demand.  If you’ve ever tried to juggle several different committee causes, you’ll understand.  Or just tried to keep several different groups of friends and family happy, when there’s only one of you.

See, characters are greedy. They want ALL of a writer’s time, because they’re only “real” when someone is actively thinking about them.  And they only get to do new things when one person in particular is thinking about them–me.  So there’s a constant whisper from one crew or the other, “Hey, write about us. We’re doing something interesting.”

Now sometimes, that’s exactly what I want to hear, because I’m on deadline.  Often, the crew whose deadline is coming up decides to go off and sulk and not tell me about anything they’re doing, and another crew, whose book isn’t due for months or who doesn’t have an active project, they’ll come up with an amazing idea.  It’s such a good idea, I want to dive in on it right away.  But I can’t, because of that deadline–for the other guys.

The best I can do is offer to take notes, and once the deadline gets met, I can come back and work on the other story.  The note taking part is essential, because no matter how awesome the idea is and how certain I am that I won’t ever forget it, if I don’t write it down, it’s gone when I go to look for it.

The best way I’ve found to keep all those characters happy is to spell out who gets what.  It’s like breaking up squabbling kids.  I’ll sit down and figure out a writing calendar of what I will be working on for the next several months, looking at deadlines first.  Once the deadlines are accounted for, the other projects go in order of which ideas take firmest root in my imagination.  That lets some projects percolate a little longer while I jump on those that already seem clear.  Eventually, everyone gets their time in the sun.

All those characters make my brain a crowded place, but it’s nice when they keep it down to a dull roar instead of bickering over who gets to go first.  On the bright side, there’s never a dull moment!

Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books.  My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

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My Superpower


My superpower is chasing squirrels.  Not the fuzzy kind, the mental kind.  I’m an “ooh, shiny!” kind of girl, but it’s not Tiffany’s bling that catches my eye, it’s usually something on the History Channel, or a footnote on Wikipedia, or a stray reference that I chase down “for authenticity’s sake.”

It starts out as a noble cause.  After all, as a writer, it’s important to fact-check.  That’s dangerous when you’re the kind of person who can go to the dictionary to look up a word and not come up for air for an hour because you’ve hopped from one interesting new word to another.  Fact checking is like that, too. I go out to look something up, and there’s a hyperlink to something that looks interesting, and –squirrel!–I keep reading, and then I click again, and again.  By the time I look up, I’d need a trail of bread crumbs to find my way back, but I’ve found some amazing new trivia.

The reason I consider my squirrel chases to be a superpower is that they’ve led to some of my best ideas.  Those intriguing links can take me places I would never have found on my own, and often, the elusive answer I was searching for shows up as I go from link to link.  When I get stuck on a point when I’m writing, I go looking for squirrels, starting on a related site and intentionally following a winding path of links until the light goes on in my head and serendipity strikes.

The power of squirrel lets my brain relax a bit so that it doesn’t seize up worrying about not finding the answer.  Squirrels also have the superpower to get into locked birdhouses and climb impossible surfaces to get what they want.  I’m not that acrobatic, but figuratively speaking, I am inspired by squirrel-like tenacity and adaptability.   Squirrels are also courageous.  They jump from limb to limb, and very rarely fall, even when the branch under them sways wildly.  They’re not so good at crossing busy streets, but then again, neither am I.

Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books.  My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.

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Playlist Changes



J. F. Lewis


Maybe you don't read or write with your headphones on, but I often do.


When I first started, I wrote on college ruled paper with my “very special pens” and listened to iron Maiden. Every writing session was a free write with me attempting to go nonstop for two hours, pen always writing even if it was relating the same word until I had the next one. It was a very self-indulgent way to write. Later, I moved on to writing on a laptop, to cut out the need to transcribe things later. Then I moved on to an iMac, iPad, Scrivener, and cloud synching via PlainText. But the music stayed, blaring at me from nearby speakers or whatever headphones I had at hand.


Recently, my habits have been changing. For my Void City books, I have specific “go to” playlists. A lot of instrumental music mixed in with character specific songs or artists. Eric would get angry to music by Disturbed, Metallica, or Kamelot and romantic to crooners like Sinatra. Greta would rampage to No Doubt, Korn, or Epica and make her brand of unhinged, yet plausible decisions to Disney tracks.


With my epics fantasy series things have changed. For whatever reason my writing muse kicks into high gear to strange, unusual tunes. I find myself writing to Tom Waits… listening to one album on a loop while as the words flow. It doesn't seem to matter which album, so long as it's one I know well. The drunken sounding patter of Nighthawks or the experimental strains of Bone Machine or Mule Variations work equally well.


Is it knowing the characters in the Grudgebearer Trilogy better? Is it a change in my maturity as a writer? All I can tell you is it works… and that is an important ting to remember about writing. No one knows how you need to write your novel. Your method is YOUR method and the key point is that you get the words out. Get them on the page. Right now, it takes music for me… Most of the time.


How do you write? Do you have a playlist? A go to album or song? I'd love to know.


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