Guest Blog From Joshua Palmatier

Jacey Bedford graciously invited me to guest here at her blog today so that I could talk about the small press Zombies Need Brains and our current Kickstarter (check out attempting to fund three brand new SF&F anthologies.  I thought it might be nice to explain where the themes for these three anthologies came from.

PORTALSsmallFirst, the lead anthology, which is really my own little baby.  I grew up reading fantasy novels in the 80s, which means I read a ton of novels with characters from our world transported to another world.  Books like Andre Norton’s WITCH WORLD or Stephen Donaldson’s CHRONICLES OF THOMAS COVENANT.  There were many, many others, but I noticed that I hadn’t seen or read many “portal novels” in either fantasy or sci-fi recently.  I loved those stories, so thought, “Why not do an anthology with portals as the theme?”  Hence, PORTALS was born (although the original name I had for the anthology was WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE; I think PORTALS is much more concise and explains the theme rather well though).  Even though this was my concept, I decided I’d let Patricia Bray and S.C. Butler edit it.  I expect I’ll read a fair amount of the submissions to the open call though, perhaps stick my nose in occasionally with a thought.  *grin*

The second anthology in the Kickstarter is TEMPORALLY DEACTIVATED.  This theme came about when I received a spam email from a bank I didn’t have an account at that warned:  “Your account will be temporally deactivated unless you respond to this email now and confirm your account! [suspicious link here]”  Zombies Need Brains had just released the anthology TEMPORALLY OUT OF ORDER (to great success) and I immediately thought “SEQUEL”!  I added it to my list of potential themes and then promptly forgot about it … until David B. Coe got the same email a few years later (these things never die) and pinged me about it.  He’d had the same thought:  “SEQUEL!”  And so the theme was revived and of course David B. Coe is now editing it with me.

The last anthology for this Kickstarter came out of the blue.  I’d honestly been considering doing just two anthologies this time, but Steven H Silver emailed me with this cool concept for an alternate history anthology, ALTERNATE PEACE.  Most alternate history novels and stories begin with a change in the outcome of some kind of violent event, such as a different result for a battle or a war.  His idea was to find alternate history stories where the divergence from our own timeline came from a peaceful change, such as a discovery (or lack of) in science or a societal culture change.  That change could lead to violence, but the change in the timeline itself was peaceful.  I liked the concept and thought it fit well with the other two themes, so I decided to add it to this year’s roster.

So that’s how the three themes for this year’s Kickstarter were selected.  If you’ve got a moment, swing on by the Kickstarter at and make a pledge!  Help bring these themes to life!  It’s only $15 for the ebooks and $48 for the paperbacks.  And once the Kickstarter is funded, there will be an open call for submissions, so anyone can submit a story for consideration.

And if you haven’t heard of the small press Zombies Need Brains before, we are a relatively new press with 10 anthologies under our belts.  We’ve been recognized by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SWFA) as a professional market and we have had three of our past stories in anthologies up for the WSFA Small Press Award.  Two of those stories are up this year and we hope that one of them wins!  Fingers crossed!

You can find out more at and  I hope to see you on the backer list!

BenTateJoshua Palmatier has published nine novels to date—the “Throne of Amenkor” series (The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, The Vacant Throne), the “Well of Sorrows” series (Well of Sorrows, Leaves of Flame, Breath of Heaven), and the “Ley” series (Shattering the Ley, Threading the Needle, Reaping the Aurora).  He is currently hard at work on the start of a new series, as yet untitled.  He has also published numerous short stories and has edited numerous anthologies.  He is the founder/owner of a small press called Zombies Need Brains LLC, which focuses on producing SF&F themed anthologies, the most recent being Guilds & Glaives, The Razor’s Edge, and Second Round: A Return to the Ur-Bar.  Find out more at or at  You can also find him on Facebook under Joshua B. Palmatier and Zombies Need Brains, and on Twitter at @bentateauthor and @ZNBLLC.

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Finish What You Start – Or Don’t

Unless you stop faffing about re-writing the beginning of your story/novel, you’ll never finish it.

Believe me, I know this. I am an expert in faffing around.

I’ve spent untold hours/days/weeks/months getting the start of my novels just right. Sometimes that means rewriting the first few scenes time and time again. Sometimes it means starting the story in a different place, either earlier or later than I had first envisaged.

The acknowledged writerly wisdom is that even though you know the opening isn’t perfect, you can move on to the rest of the novel then come back at the end and rewrite the beginning with the hindsight of having a finished story. And, indeed, that’s not a bad idea at all.



For me the opening is my launch pad into the story. Unless I have a clearly defined jumping-off point I find I’m floating in a bit of a vacuum. I need solid ground from which to jump.

I’m one of those writers who is halfway between a plotter and a pantser. At the beginning of a novel I’m usually ‘pantsing’ – i.e. writing by the seat of my pants, trying to discover what the story is about and who the characters are. Though I often have an ending in mind, I can get twenty thousand words on the screen before I start to jot down notes-to-self on where the story is going.

Nimbus front coverWhen I started to write Nimbus, the third book in my Psi-Tech space opera series, I think I must have written four or five different openings. (The first one I wrote eventually ended up as a story thread that appeared about one third into the book. So don’t ever throw your rejected openings away. They may still be useful elsewhere.)

The writers’ group I belong to must have been punch drunk when presented with my multiple alternative beginnings, but eventually I got to where I needed to be and with great relief, moved forward.

The book I’m working on at the moment, The Amber Crown, had a clearly defined beginning from the moment of its conception and yet… it has three individual viewpoint characters, all separate at first. So, really it has three beginnings. I wrote it right through to the end and then decided that one of my characters began her journey in the wrong place, so I’ve just gone back and inserted two additional chapters to begin her story much earlier. Not at the beginning, but at her beginning.

Rowankind_cover 400In my upcoming book, Rowankind, (DAW, December 2018), the final book in my Rowankind trilogy (a historical fantasy set in the early 1800s) I was almost ready to send the finished manuscript to my publisher when I finally figured out that I’d left something out that needed to be right at the beginning, so I added in a new chapter.

But what happens when you can’t get an opening to work?

Unless you are a serial abandoner of half-finished novels, there’s really nothing to stop you from saying, “This simply isn’t working.” We all have moments when we think what we’re writing is trash, and it will never work, and it’s the worst thing we’ve ever written, so we have to judge very carefully. Is this one of those phases that all authors go through, or do we really, truly know this book is not working? I have one of those. It’s a book I started writing and spent several months on, but the further I got into it, the less confidence I had. In the end I showed it to my writers’ group and though they didn’t hate it, they didn’t totally love it either. I felt justified in retiring it to the bottom drawer. Maybe I’ll look at it later and be able to see why it didn’t work for me. Maybe I’ll have a sudden insight and know what I need to do to set it right, or maybe it will languish, forgotten forever. Since I have six books published and four more finished, I don’t feel guilty about the one that got away.

Sometimes a thing simply doesn’t work, and we have to admit it.

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Jaine Fenn Guest Blog

HiddenSun_cover 144dpiEvery writer has their obsessions, the themes we return to; real-world stuff that bothers us enough that we pick and peck at them repeatedly through our stories – because y’know, writing is therapy.

I’m fascinated by juxtapositions. Especially physical ones: I’ve lived much of my life between the rural and urban, on the edge of towns, seeing the best and worst of both worlds, escaping to one when the other got too much. Perhaps that’s why I love the idea of divided worlds. How do they come about? Can one exist without the other? What happens when they rub up against each other?

Although it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind, looking back I can see that this obsession was there from the start. Khesh City, the setting for my first novel Principles of Angels, is physically divided into an upper and lower city, one on top of the other. I spent a long time getting to know that setting while I learnt the craft and wrote (and rewrote… and rewrote) the novel, but one book wasn’t enough for this particular obsession.

Not that the idea of a divided world was the seed for the Shadowlands books. I’d had it in mind to write something with weird-yet-accurate cosmology for some time, and from this cosmology came the division of a world into skylands – where the heat, radiation and scary wildlife would soon put an end to an unaugmented human – and the shadowlands – isolated low-tech settlements not unlike the old Greek or Italian city-states.

Writing the shadowlands books has been in challenge in many ways, as I’m taking the stories into places I’ve not dared before, and I’ve had to get various scientifically trained grown-ups to help me design the world. But once the underpinnings were in place, the physical set-up became a major driver for the story – all the while allowing me to explore one of my favourite obsessions.


JF torso shotJaine Fenn studied linguistics and astronomy to a level just high enough to be able to fake it and worked in IT just long enough to never trust computers again. She is the author of numerous published short stories and of the Hidden Empire series of space opera novels, published by Gollancz. She also teaches creative writing and is currently writing for the video games industry. Her upcoming novel is Hidden Sun, out on 4th September 2018 in paperback and ebook from Angry Robot.

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Book Covers

The page proofs for Nimbus just landed in my desk, so I’m a bit busy this week, so rather than rushing to write a post I thought you might be interested in my book cover illustrations for the Rowankind trilogy, and how they turned out after the designers had turned them into the actual book covers. Sometimes I’ve looked at the initial images and wondered how on earth the designers (not the same people as the illustrator, Larry Rostant) were going to fit in the type, but they always do.


Rowankind Vis


Silverwolf Revise

Silverwolf final front cover

Winterwood Vis 2

Winterwood front cover

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Dropping a Pebble in the Pond

I used to think that if I could only get one book published by a major publisher I would be able to die happy (though I did not necessarily plan that particular event soon). Now I have five books published and another coming out in December, so my ambitions have changed. Now I not only want my books to be published, but I actually want people to read them, to like them, to tell their reading friends about them, to review them (favourably, I hope, but also honestly) and to talk about them online via Facebook, Goodreads and Amazon reviews.

And that’s where you come in, gentle reader.

These days–unless authors are already ‘best sellers’–publishers don’t really give our books much of a push. Oh, yes, they publish them, and make sure they are the best they can be in terms of editing and cover design. They put us in their catalogue, and tweet about us the day our book is released, but my publicist is also the publicist for any number of other authors, and the time she can give my new book (or any new book) is limited.

I’m not grumbling about this. I love my publisher. It’s just the way it is for many, many authors out there who are published by any number of publishers, large and small.

So what we rely on, gentle reader, is YOU.

I’m not just begging for myself, but for all author-kind. If you like a book, shout out about it. Mention it in your blog, recommend it to friends, tweet about it, add your review to the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and any other bookish sites that solicit your opinions.


For almost a decade I’ve been blogging about books and reading to anyone who will listen. Some are books that I like, others not so much (but I try to be fair). I blog every book I read and have done since 2009. I have a completely separate book and movie blog on Dreamwidth:

Sometimes it feels like a bit of a bind to finish a book and have to write it up, but I’m so glad I’ve stuck to it. Flicking back through my blog reminds me of all the books I’ve read. How I wish I’d started doing it years ago.

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Character self-determination

There’s one of those little graphics floating around Facebook that says: Main Characters: You do everything you can to raise them right, and as soon as they hit the page they do any damn thing they please.

Yes, fellow writers, we can all grin at that because sometimes our main characters do go off and do something that we hadn’t originally planned for them to do. However, if we’ve raised them right, i.e. drawn all aspects of their character well enough to make them a fully functioning, three-dimensional person, then whatever they do should arise from the character we’ve created. Their actions and exploits will be in character. And if they aren’t, we need to go back to the drawing board.

Characters should have not only basic traits but quirks and flaws – consistent ones – and they need vulnerabilities to make them interesting. No one is going to root for a hero who gets it right all the time. A character’s bad decision is often what makes for a good story as long as you follow it through to its logical conclusion.

Empire of Dust

Empire of Dust – Cover

In Empire of Dust (DAW 2014), the first book in my Psi-Tech trilogy, Cara Carlinni makes a bad decision – possibly the worst of her life – before the book opens, and she spends the rest of the book trying to get out of the mess she’s created. Why did she make that decision? What drove her then and what drives her now?

It took me a while to sort that one out in my head. I knew Cara as a character, all the many different aspects that make her, for me, a real person, but it took listening to a John Tams song (from his fine album, Unity) to suddenly crystallise a central point. Everything was there in the character I’d already drawn, but I hadn’t joined the dots. When I heard the line I had an ‘Oh, of course,’ moment.

The line is: ‘I must be getting easier to leave.’

Of course! That was what drove Cara.

Her parents had split up when she was a child. She’d shuttled between them until her father died suddenly and she was dropped back in her mother’s lap. Her mother had a series of new projects and new men, each one more important to her than the little girl who was always being left behind. Cara grows up and gets a job which sends her scuttling off for long periods (to the other side of the Galaxy, but the character motivation isn’t dependent on the SF setting) and in one traumatic incident she loses a lover, i.e. is left again. So when she’s offered something that looks like stability she grabs it. She puts her trust in the wrong person.

It’s the wrong decision, but getting out is not an option until it becomes the only option. What happens in the rest of the book follows on naturally from that one bad decision.

Ross Partial

Ross Tremayne, from Winterwood.

Sometimes what a character wants is to get out of the situation she finds herself in through no fault of her own. In my Rowankind novels, Ross Tremayne is backed into a corner by events in her family’s past. She’s given a quest, which she tries to ignore. She’s bounced around by fate (on land and at sea) but it’s not until she accepts the responsibility that’s fallen to her that she becomes proactive and takes charge of her own future. Ross doesn’t want the quest, but she needs it, and it changes her life (eventually for the better).

The problems often occur when a supporting character tries to take over. That happened to me when I was writing Empire of Dust. Max kept trying to get more page time. I liked him as a character, but his antics were distracting me from the forward thrust of the main story (Cara’s and Ben’s). I had to cut out about five chapters of Max’s shenanigens. You really have to keep a tight rein on some of the characters. They can so easily run away with a story.

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Writing New Series Vs. Sequels – A guest blog by Gail Z. Martin

HawthornMoon1Readers ask, “What do you like better, starting a new series or writing another book in an existing series?”
That’s like asking, “What do you like more, going to visit old friends or taking a trip somewhere you’ve never been before?”
I like both, but of course, they’re very different. Writing a new series is exciting, because it’s very much a trip to uncharted territory. Whether the setting is somewhere in the real world, or in a place I’ve made up, there’s so much to learn before I feel like a ‘native’. I need to get immersed in the history, landmarks, geography, and magic system, as well as getting to know the main and secondary characters. Until I really understand the characters, they won’t feel real to the reader.
TangledWeb_500Then again, writing a sequel in an existing series is like going to visit old friends, or coming home. I already know the people and the territory. I can slip into it like a comfortable pair of sweats and write with confidence, because I know where I’m going, and the characters whisper in my ear in familiar voices.
Building a new series requires a lot of research, delving into history, geography and folklore/mythology to build the world. Or if the series is set in the real world, getting my details right so people who actually live in that location won’t call me out! I’ve got to think through the characters, their personalities and motivations, their hopes and fears and insecurities, so that they come alive for the reader.
This summer, I’ll have sequels out in both the Darkhurst series and in the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures. And we’ve just recently brought out Tangled Web, the third book in the Deadly Curiosities series, as well as Deep Trouble, the third Mark Wojcik Monster Hunter novella (co-written with Larry N. Martin).
FC (Vengeance)Vengeance is the second Darkhurst book, a sequel to Scourge. When undertaker brothers Corran and Rigan Valmonde became outlaw monster hunters and fled beyond the walls of Ravenwood, they thought they had defeated the source of the abominations that killed so many of their friends and loved ones. But the more successful they become at destroying the creatures, the more they realize a greater evil is at work – larger and more monstrous than they ever could imagine…
Darkhurst is a sprawling, complicated world and the plot has a lot of moving parts. What seemed like a fairly straight-forward problem in Scourge turns out to be much bigger and more dangerous now that Corran, Rigan and their friends understand the true scope. I had a lot of fun with the storyline, although it’s definitely one of my darker reads, and I think the big battle is one of my favorites that I’ve written.
DarkRoadThe Dark Road is the second book in the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, a prequel series to the Chronicles of the Necromancer. It takes us through Jonmarc’s years as a mercenary, the massive betrayal that makes him a wanted man with a royal death warrant on his head, and his years as a Nargi fight slave, and later as a bodyguard and smuggler. By the end of the book, we’re about five years out from when Jonmarc meets Tris Drayke in The Summoner. I plan to write more about his smuggling years at some point to bring Jonmarc’s story up to right before he meets Tris and the others in Ghorbal. (Both The Shadowed Path and The Dark Road are collections of previously published short stories and novellas that make up two serialized novels. This is the first time the stories have been collected and available in print as well as ebook.)
Tangled Web is the third book in the Deadly Curiosities series, set in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s so much fun to be back with Cassidy, Teag and Sorren—as well as their awesome friends and allies—battling big evil in the Holy City! Then in Deep Trouble, Mark Wojcik tackles vengeful spirits, the pissed off ghost of Revolutionary War general ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne, the Pig People of Radio Tower Hill and a hungry dragon lurking in the ruins of an abandoned amusement park. It’s snarky, sarcastic comedic horror!
On the new stuff….I’m working on Sons of Darkness, a brand new dark urban fantasy set in Pittsburgh, PA. I lived in Pittsburgh for ten years, and it’s a perfect city for a demon-hunting ex-priest and a former Special Ops soldier to team up against the forces of evil! Assassin’s Honor, the first in the new Assassin’s of Landria series, is a buddy flick epic fantasy, sort of like if Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were medieval assassins. Expect it to be a little lighter and not as sprawling in scope as my other epics, more of a high adventure. Look for those new books this fall.
Stay tuned—there are a lot more new adventures coming up!
Enter for a chance to win a $25 Amazon gift certificate in my Hawthorn Moon Blog Tour giveaway!

Gail Martin, Dreamspinner Communications

About the Author

The Hawthorn Moon is the annual summer blog tour for Gail Z. Martin, and features guest blog posts, giveaways, surprises, excerpts and more on a number of blogs worldwide. Find the master list of posts and goodies at
Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books, Orbit Books, and Falstaff Books. Series include Darkhurst, the Chronicles Of The Necromancer, the Fallen Kings Cycle, the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, and Deadly Curiosities. The Mark Wojcik Monster Hunter series and Iron & Blood in the Jake Desmet Steampunk series are co-authored with Larry N. Martin, along with the related Storm and Fury Adventures. She also writes urban fantasy MM paranormal romance as Morgan Brice, including the Witchbane and Badlands series.
Vengeance: A Darkhurst novel, is the second in a new epic fantasy series. Her Deadly Curiosities urban fantasy series set in Charleston, SC has a new novel, Tangled Web, and a new collection, Trifles and Folly 2. The Mark Wojcik Monster Hunter series includes Spells, Salt, and Steel, Open Season and Deep Trouble in a new comedic horror/urban fantasy series (Falstaff) and the Iron & Blood universe has the  Storm and Fury Adventures collection of short stories, and an upcoming new novel, Spark of Destiny.
Gail is also the author of Scourge: A Novel of Darkhurst, Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, War of Shadows and Shadow and Flame in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen); The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) and the urban fantasy novels Deadly Curiosities and Vendetta. Gail writes three ebook series: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures, The Deadly Curiosities Adventures and The Blaine McFadden Adventures.
Her work has appeared in over 35 US/UK anthologies. Newest anthologies include: Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens, Gaslight and Grimm, Hath No Fury, Journeys, #We Are Not This, The Baker Street Irregulars, In a Cat’s Eye, and Afterpunk: Steampowered Tales of the Afterlife.
Find her at, on Twitter @GailZMartin, on, at blog and on Goodreads She is also the organizer of the #HoldOnToTheLight campaign
Gail Z. Martin
Proud Member: SFWA, Broad Universe
New in 2018
Vengeance: A Novel of Darkhurst
Trifles and Folly2: A Deadly Curiosities Collection
Tangled Web: A Deadly Curiosities novel
Storm & Fury: The Collected Stories
Salvage Rat (new space adventure by Larry N. Martin)
Assassin’s Honor: Book One in the Assassins of Landria
Plus all-new novellas in the Spells, Salt & Steel universe and several new series!
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