LATE-BREAKING NEWS

• All current issues of Stupefying Stories are now available free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. See the right column for links. For non-US customers, these should automatically redirect to your local manifestation of Amazon. If they don't, let me know.

• Yes, we are in fact reading new submissions. Our revised submission guidelines aren't ready for public consumption yet, so you'll just have to send your story to submissions@rampantloonmedia.com and take your chances. One story at a time, please! No multiple submissions and no simultaneous submissions!

SHOWCASE IS MOVING BACK IN WITH ITS PARENTS!

As you may have guessed from the new banner, we're consolidating the Stupefying Stories blog and SHOWCASE webzine into one new site. In the meantime, before it's gone for good, you really should check out all the great stories on the old SHOWCASE site.

NOW OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS


Submission Guidelines & FAQ
(We’re currectly rewriting our submission guidelines. Stay tuned.)

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Friday, April 20, 2018

A Little Something for the Weekend

• "Waving Goodbye to The Librarians" By Eric Dontigney

___________________________________________________________

The Librarians 
Science fiction and fantasy are genres dominated by darkness. It’s inevitable. If you want to raise the stakes and create tension, you need a serious threat. If you’re writing a series, you must progressively double down on the threat level. Yet, as a viewer of SF&F films and TV, the escalating grimdark of it all does one of two things to me. It either wears me down or breaks my suspension of disbelief by turning silly in a non-humorous way.

I cannot binge watch the rebooted Battlestar Galactica without starting to feel depressed. I’ve abandoned all the CW superhero shows because they’ve tipped into un-funny silliness. My solution to this problem for a long time was to watch the show Eureka. It was basically a family-friendly sci-fi show. That meant there was some silliness baked right into the DNA of the show.

Colin Ferguson, who played everyman Jack Carter, vacillated between stunned confusion and physical comedy. There were occasionally dark episodes and themes, but the show never took itself too seriously. It was fun without being condescending. So, naturally, it got canceled. Warehouse 13 tried to capture that same magic, but never quite found it. It leaned progressively more and more into grimdark as it wound its way toward cancellation.

Then, TNT of all networks greenlit a quirky fantasy show called The Librarians. It was a spin-off of the Noah Wylie-fronted Librarian films from the same network. What surprised me, though, was that they beefed up the humor in the show. They very consciously aimed at a family audience and hit the mark more often than not. In a sea of gritty procedurals, here was a show that cast Bruce Campbell (of Evil Dead fame) in a guest role as the actual Santa Claus. It was hilarious and brilliant.

Noah Wylie excelled in his role as the moderately unhinged Flynn Carson, the titular Librarian. Here was a guy who’d been saving the world solo from magical threats for a decade. It took a toll, but they played it for laughs more often than not. He was damaged, but not irretrievably, and driven by an essentially kind nature. The conceit of the show was that what this guy needed was a family, even if it was an ad hoc family thrown together by circumstance in the pilot episode. So they surrounded him with characters as offbeat as himself.

The moral heart of the show was Eve Baird, a NATO commando played by Rebecca Romijn. She was tasked with training and protecting the JV librarians with a combo of tough love, practical advice, and fierce maternal instincts. This job was not made easier by those placed under her care. A morally bankrupt thief named Ezekiel Jones, played to comic perfection by John Harlan Kim. A flighty mathematician and synesthete named Cassandra Cillian, played by Lindy Booth. Rounding out the JV team was oil rig worker and art history genius Jacob Stone, played by Christian Kane. The final member of this odd little family unit was Jenkins, the cranky caretaker of the Library played by the inestimable John Larroquette.

The disparate natures and life experiences of this group did a lot of the comedic heavy lifting and, when all else failed, they could just have John Larroquette toss off an acerbic remark. What this show also did that made me so forgiving of its shortcomings was not taking itself too seriously. When you’ve got a physical powerhouse like Christian Kane on set, it would have been all too easy to turn the show into a dark action show that focused on him. They never did that and here’s why.

The other primary conceit of the show, one that’s almost anathema to contemporary scriptwriting, was that knowledge was the source of power. Physical confrontations were there to keep things exciting. They weren’t solutions, though. Solutions always came out of a character’s understanding of history, art, science, mythology, mathematics, or some combination of the characters’ knowledge. The show elevated being smart into a kind of superpower and it did it without being condescending. When ignorance led to a crisis, the librarians were horrified or frustrated, but never cruel or judgmental.

So, naturally, the show was canceled last month after four seasons and 42 episodes. Granted, that’s a pretty good run for a show about smart people solving problems by being smart. It still makes me a little sad. It’s one less advocate for intelligence in a television landscape that seemingly values brute force solutions above all else. It’s one less show that serves a family audience with lighthearted fare. It’s another victory for an often wearying grimdark aesthetic. My one consolation is that it will survive on DVD and streaming video. So, if you need a break from grimdark and haven’t seen The Librarians, I highly recommend it to you.

________________________________________________

Eric Dontigney is the author of the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One.  Raised in Western New York, he currently resides in Memphis, TN. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally at ericdontigney.com.

Eric’s last appearance in our pages was “Memory Makes Liars of Us All,” in Stupefying Stories #13, his next will be “Lenses,” in Stupefying Stories #21, and later this year we’ll be releasing his paranormal mystery novel, The Midnight Ground. Watch for it! 

________________________________________________

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Talking Shop




Op-ed • “Blocked,” by Judith Field •



Time to over-share: I am what can only be described as verbally constipated. When it comes to writing, nothing will flow. All I manage to produce are those things that only a rabbit would be proud of…not for nothing do they call it writer’s block. But where is the Senokot, the cascara, even the vile castor oil, of the pen? Enough already with the unpleasant metaphors, I wouldn’t want people to describe my writing as crap—or worse.

There’s a novel by George Gissing called New Grub Street, written in 1891. It’s about a writer suffering from writer’s block while trying to finish a novel that he secretly knows is rubbish. He goes around thinking things like, “What could I make of that, now? Well, suppose I made him…? But no, that wouldn’t do.” He doesn’t write anything, but procrastinates his time away with nothing to show for it. Just like me. That tells me that things don’t change and it was as easy to get distracted then as now, even though there were no Facebook/emails/online games at the time it was written. In fact, kids, the Internet hadn’t even been invented.

James Thurber said, as the moral to his fable, The Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.” The moral is ironic here, because the sheep don’t do enough research before writing about wolves and they get the idea that wolves are just like they are. As a result, the sheep are easy prey. It’s a bit of a dig at those journalists who don’t care if they haven’t examined their information carefully enough, or even if it’s true, but only want to get a story into print.

However, that Thurberism is what a lot of writers cite, in defence of the crappy first draft which you then edit to perfection. All very well, but you have to have something to write about in the first place. Maybe I should try doing things that way, though. But not free writes, I’ve never been able to do those. Maybe I should stop stressing over it, just sit down, and write. But I’m an outliner, most of the time. So maybe just run at the computer and do an outline?

It reminds me of my childhood. We had a grand piano in our front room. I had lessons for about three years. I started on a book called Kiddies’ Carols (think ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ at quarter-speed—if things had really happened that slowly Jesus would have been ready for his bar mitzvah before the kings arrived). Later, when I got a bit more advanced, or perhaps it’d be more accurate to say when I could play faster, ‘Peasant’s Frolic,’ ‘The Little Spinner,’ and ‘Für Elise’. How can you hold yourself back from seeing if anyone’s put the first two in YouTube?

Eventually I gave the piano up for the clarinet. It was easier to take on the bus. But the person who could play the piano the best was my father. He could improvise any tune you could name, but there were a couple of pieces that he had trouble getting right, from sheet music. One was Chopin’s Piano Concerto number 1 (start at 3:59 if you want to know what he was up against). He would run at the piano and just play, before the music had the chance to bite him, catch him out, go wrong. Maybe it was a bit like Thurber’s “don’t get it right” thing. Just get it played.

So, I sat down and wrote. The phone rang—someone wanting to talk about an accident I’d had where I wasn’t to blame. The doorbell rang—someone wanting to sell me replacement gutters. My other half called up the stairs to tell me he was going to have a shower (no, I don’t know why, either). But I got it written. And here it is.



JUDITH FIELD lives in London, UK. She is the daughter of writers, and learned how to agonise over fiction submissions at her mother’s (and father’s) knee. She’s a pharmacist, medical writer, editor and indexer, and in 2009 she made a New Year resolution to start writing fiction and get published within the year. Pretty soon she realised how unrealistic that was, but in fact, it sort of worked: she got a slot to write a weekly column in a local paper shortly before Christmas of 2009 and that ran for several years. She still writes occasional feature articles for the paper. She has two daughters, a son, a granddaughter and a grandson. Her fiction, mainly speculative, has appeared in a variety of publications in the USA, UK and Australia. When she’s not working or writing, she’s studying part-time for a master’s in Creative Writing. She speaks five languages and can say, “Please publish this story” in all of them. She was Science Fiction Editor at Red Sun Magazine and is Assistant Editor at Gathering Storm Magazine.

[Editor’s Note: While we’re all waiting for Judith to finish her novel, please check out The Book of Judith: Sixteen Tales of Life, Wonder, and Magic. It got really great reviews on Amazon.co.uk, but for reasons unknown those reviews were never propagated to the US Amazon.com page and thus sales in the US have always been soft. This book deserves a better fate. ~brb]

[P.S. And Judith: finish that novel!]

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Notes Towards a Manifesto

Part 3 • “Where we’re going,” by Bruce Bethke •



This goes somewhere, but you have to read the entire thing. Trust me.

I’ve been trying on a lot of faces lately. Some are old. Some are new. Some come from deep in the catacombs of the ancient gallery. After quite a few experiments, I’d settled on this one:

This is how I look now. Or at least, it’s close enough. This photo is one of a series shot in July of 2015, as we were trying to come up with a good “author’s photo” and in which I was trying on different facial expressions. Friendly, serious, approachable, encouraging...

No, this candid snap is me now. Intelligent. Skeptical. Generally kindly, but querulous if provoked. I have a strong acerbic streak and have been known to reduce young writers to quivering mounds of jelly by telling them what I really thought of their mess of an attempted story. I have worked very long and hard to keep that acerbic streak under tight control. But I am getting tired of maintaining this whole Minnesota False Modesty façade.

The only real difference between this photo and how I look right now—aside from the lack of snow in the background—is the pipe. I quit smoking three years ago. Much as I enjoyed my pipe, or a good cigar every now and then, when one is married to a woman with metastatic breast cancer, one quits smoking.

There. You want a way to keep teens from starting to smoke? Forget the slick TV ad campaigns. Make them spend an hour a week in the waiting room of an oncology clinic, just watching the parade of patients in and out. Better yet, make them talk to some of the patients.

Talk? Who am I trying to kid? May as well ask them to talk to their grandparents.



As I make this transition, from author, to editor, to publisher, I can’t help but feel just a bit grandfatherly. Personally, I like to think that I’m at last evolving into my Protector stage—and if that reference confuses you, go back and read more early Larry Niven. The point is that this is a whole different way of looking at my place in the literary world, and yet, it’s strangely familiar. When I began this journey, I was a businessman, dabbling in writing. For the record I was a successful businessman, too, very good at what I did, and making what was then a very good living at it.

The problem was that when I was a businessman, I was also—well, kind of a dick. Arrogant. Brusque. Focused. Driven. Very impatient with people who got in my way or wasted my time. This worked a lot of hardships on my marriage, my friendships, and worst of all, on my relationships with my children. Thankfully, I was given the chance to change my life, and to take it in a better direction.

Now, though, as we evaluate Rampant Loon Press and Stupefying Stories, the conclusion is inescapable: what we need is a businessman.

And a Twitter account. Eric Dontigney has convinced me of that. Eric is a wonder. I really like what he’s done with our Facebook presence and wish I had six more just like him. Well, not just like him: I’d prefer to get my Additional Erics in a nice mix of ages, genders, and colors. Perhaps in a few years, when human cloning really comes online...

So here’s my fear, and my challenge. As I make this transformation to my final adult phase, and let my businessman persona out of the dungeon one more time and put him in charge again, can I make Rampant Loon Media LLC the success I truly believe it can be while still retaining my basic decent humanity?

I don’t know. Let’s find out. And so I hold my copy of today’s Wall Street Journal on high, take a deep breath, and shout the ancient magic name of power:

“MILTONFRIEDMAN!”


Right, okay, now where were we? Oh yeah, if you’ll just turn to page 3 of today’s agenda, you’ll see the goals we’re setting for 2018 and beyond:

1. Get Stupefying Stories onto a steady, predictable, first-day-of-the-month release schedule for both the Kindle and print editions. 

We’ve already got the technical problems licked and can produce both ebook and print editions from common source. What we need to solve now is the production problem, and release new books simultaneously in book ebook and print. There’s no way around it. We need to do this, therefore, we will.

2. Get the subscription problem solved and start selling subscriptions.

Right now Patreon looks like the best way to do this. Therefore, we’ll make this happen.

3. Build our mailing list and begin direct advertising. 

Much as we’d like to, we can’t trust Facebook or Twitter to be there tomorrow and thus far our Amazon ad campaigns have been financial sinkholes. We need to reach readers directly and build our readership.

4. Raise more money. 

There are two ways to do this: sell more books or beg people to support us through a Kickstarter or GoFundMe campaign. Personally, I find the latter to be just slightly more ethical than a Ponzi scheme. “Donate your money to help our business grow, because then you can bask in the glow of... feeling all virtuous or something.”

Me, I like the idea of selling more books. That’s the beauty of the free market. If people like the product you’re producing, they tell you so by buying it.

5. Remember that the ultimate goal here is to grow Stupefying Stories into a professional market. 

Right now we’re a small-press semi-pro market because that’s what we can afford to be. Thus far, we have plowed every penny we’ve made back into paying authors and artists more. The big target is to grow sales to the point where we can afford to pay authors pro rates and become recognized as a professional market.

6. Grow new editorial and production talent in-house. 

The company can’t survive and grow if I am the bottleneck on every project. Remember, my personal goal is to one day be able to step back from this business and watch it run without me like a well-oiled machine. This also ties into goal #4: we need to grow sales, to raise money, so that we can begin paying the staff. Thus far only the authors and artists are getting paid, and it’s hard to grow and keep production talent if they’re only working for the experience and a bullet-point on their resume.

7. Investigate other ways to raise cash.

We have put a lot of time and energy into learning how to create ebooks and print books, and into learning how to set up the behind-the-scenes sales and distribution mechanisms. Perhaps it’s time to—shudder!—seriously consider selling this expertise as a consulting service, for writers who want to self-publish.

I know: this way lies pandering to the lowest common denominator and something that looks an awful lot like vanity publishing, but perhaps we can make this into a viable source of revenue while maintaining our integrity.

...and that’s enough for this meeting. Motion to adjourn?

~brb 

From the SHOWCASE archives...

• Fiction: “Sport of Kings” by Judith Field •

[Editor’s Note: In place of today’s scheduled “Feeding the Muse” column, Karen has asked that I re-run this story instead.]



Rick woke up, rolled over, and collided with something solid. Stretching out a shaking hand, he opened his eyes. He was facing the oak tree in the front garden. Rainwater dripped onto him from the branches. A moment of calm, then images of the night before tried to shove their feet in the doorway of his memory. He groaned, and tried to get up.

Francine stuck her head out of the bedroom window, her mouth pursed up like a cat’s backside. She was saying something he couldn’t hear. Touching his ear, he looked up at her and shrugged his shoulders: no hearing aid. Rick clenched his right fist and rubbed it in a circle on his upper chest:
“Sorry.”

Francine didn’t understand sign language but it couldn’t do any harm. Bit like praying, really.

He’d only recently got this new hearing aid, and it wouldn’t stay in properly whatever he did. In these days of health cuts, would they give him another? The best cost thousands, if you went private. He’d been paid last week but was still overdrawn. And only another £500 to spend on the credit card.

Francine tiptoed round the puddles. Rick lip-read ‘pissed’, ‘knob head’ (she had her own sign for that) and ‘AGAIN’. He turned away. She walked round till she was facing him...

— [read the rest of the story]

Monday, April 16, 2018

Notes Towards a Manifesto

Part 2 • “Where we are,” by Bruce Bethke •



Funny how writing something out in detail and then letting it sit for a day before re-reading it can reveal a fundamental error in your thinking. When I wrote Part 1, I thought I had a solid grasp on the plan I was about to lay out in Part 2. I was going to spin a wonderful little analogy comparing Stupefying Stories to my garden, explaining that I plant a garden each year not because I need to but because I want to, and then talking about how much I enjoy the surprise of seeing what takes root and develops. I was going to explain that the best part of this job is seeing the names of writers who we were the first, or one of the first, to publish, show up years later on the short lists for major awards, or on the covers of major magazines, or on the bestseller lists. For example, if you look closely at issue #6, August 2012, you’ll see the name of this year’s Newbery Medal winner on the list of contributors.

Once I actually wrote it all down, though, I spotted a serious flaw in my thinking. To be blunt, I caught myself failing to follow my own often-given advice, which I usually present in words like these:
“To succeed as a writer, you need talent, good craft skills, good work habits, and at least some good luck. Since you can’t control how much talent or luck you have, if you want to take your game to the next level, you must concentrate on developing good craft skills and work habits.”
Hmm. Doesn’t exactly sync with the puttery, hobbyish, aleatoric nature of my garden analogy, does it? To make it worse, though, that thought collided head-on with something I wrote in Part 1:
“There is a distinctly generational component in the fiction writer’s life-cycle. At first we write to impress our elders, because they’re our parents, our teachers, and eventually, if we’re lucky, our editors and publishers. Then we write to impress our contemporaries, because they’re our friends and peers, and in general, they share our language, vocabulary, common assumptions, innate value judgments, and experiential base.

“The trouble comes in the third stage, when we’re writing to try to impress those younger than ourselves...”
Double-hmm. Who exactly am I trying to impress with Stupefying Stories? Certainly not my elders. They’re nearly all gone now. Probably not my contemporaries. There are fewer of them every day, and it’s hard to get the attention of those who remain. For the most part they’re focused on running out the clocks on their own careers, and have little interest in a new magazine unless it’s someplace where they can dump their old trunk stories for pro word rates.

Which leaves...

And this is when the fundamental error in my thinking rose up and slapped me in the face. For the past eight years, I have been treating Stupefying Stories as a puttery, hobbyish, aleatoric thing that I have been doing for my own amusement and to impress my contemporaries. I have been thinking like a writer, operating in a loose collection of writer-to-writer relationships, and giving scant thought to building the readership. I need to work on—

Not my craft skills as a writer. Not even my craft skills as an editor. But my craft skills as a publisher.

This makes me nervous. Writers hate and fear publishers, and usually for good reason. But the question we’ve been tap-dancing around since last Wednesday is this: what’s more important now? For me to be liked, or for Rampant Loon Press to become a successful business?

Tomorrow: Part 3 • “The Part Previously Known as Part 2”   

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Notes Toward a Manifesto

Part 1 • “How we got here,” by Bruce Bethke •



...and here we are, in the second week of April already. It’s 20-something degrees outside. There’s a fresh blanket of snow covering the yard, with more snow in the forecast. I’m standing at the deck door, sipping my coffee, looking out at the yard and the cow pasture beyond it, and thinking: looks like I’m not going to get an early start on the garden this year.

I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Thinking, I mean. As we’re formalizing our submission guidelines and hammering out a serious business plan for Rampant Loon Press and Stupefying Stories, for 2018 and beyond, the situation requires much serious thought and a surprising amount of introspection. Why am I doing this? What exactly am I trying to accomplish here? How will I know if I’ve succeeded? When will I know?

Who is this Bruce Bethke character, anyway?

If you’re reading this, that last one probably sounds like a fatuous and self-serving question. “Why, you’re Bruce Bethke, critically acclaimed and award-winning science fiction writer! Editor of Stupefying Stories! Author of Headcrash! You’re the guy who wrote ‘Cyberpunk’!

Yes, that’s all true, as far as it goes. But if we’re going to define Stupefying Stories as, “Stories Bruce Bethke® Likes,” we need to dig a little deeper. What do I like in a story? Why? We all have conceits and biases. What are mine, and how much of them is it advantageous to reveal now?

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Just 15 hours left!

And already, we have our first 5-star review!
“I can’t make up my mind whether this or book 2 is my new favorite Vogel novel, but the Recognition trilogy is definitely my favorite Vogel series. It’s not only an excellent scifi adventure, but also has elements of a thriller, a mystery, and transformative fiction. It’s fun and geeky, but it also explores deeper questions about what’s really important in life, whether you’re a royal, a hacker, or just an ordinary person.”

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Just 60 Hours Left!

THE RECOGNITION REVELATION • by Henry Vogel

   

AMAZON COUNTDOWN DEAL! To celebrate the release of The Recognition Revelation, we’ve got special pricing on The Recognition Run and The Recognition Rejection, but for a limited time only. Buy ‘em now, because the clock is ticking!

Talking Shop


Op-ed • "Basic Rules for Plotting," By Eric Dontigney



Plotting is one of those core elements that stress writers out. The underlying thought that drives that stress is this: “What if it I can’t resolve the novel?” It’s a fair concern. Most of us have read novels that were resolved only by the grace of a deus ex machina. Even though I don’t plot my novels in advance, I still need my novels to progress and resolve in satisfying way. In other words, I need to think about plot and how to deliver that progress and resolution.

To solve that problem, I’ve developed some general guidelines that I keep in mind while I’m writing.

1. There must be a compelling reason for people to stay in the situation other than, "I need these characters to be at place X in the final act."

We’ve all seen at least one horror movie and, if you’re me, yelled something like this at the screen: “Come on! You can’t be this stupid!”

The reason we think or yell these things is because no one even remotely rational would stick around in that situation. We’d look at our dead friend or the super creepy house obviously owned by Satan and run for our lives. This holds especially true in science fiction and fantasy, where the stakes are often life-or-death.

You must give your characters reasons for being where they are, whether situation or personal. Either way, the reader needs to know them. Are all the escape routes blocked? Is the character driven by some archaic code of honor? Are they on a mission from God? Whatever reason you pick, get it on the page early on. That keeps people like me from yelling at your book.

2. The complications must arise in a way that feels organic.

Ever heard of Checkov’s Gun? It’s a piece of advice for good writing that goes something like this:

“If you put on a gun on the mantle in the first act, it must go off in the next.”

It’s an oblique way of saying that things shouldn’t appear that don’t have a purpose. There is a corollary principle that you can draw from this.

“If you need a giant robot in the third act, you need to establish the presence of a giant robot in the first act.”

Let’s say that I’ve got the intuition that I need to wound my main character somewhere in the middle of the book. Yeah, I could have him or her get into some kind of accident, but that’s not very satisfying. That leaves another person or thing intentionally hurting him or her.

I could manufacture some kind of conflict in the middle of the book. That works okay if I’ve got my character in a natively hostile environment, but what if I don’t? I need there to be a plausible reason for violence.

That means I need to set up a deeply antagonistic relationship between my main character and another character who is not the big bad. This works for me on a couple levels. If I get there and my character does need to get wounded, I’ve built in an organic reason for it. If I decide my character doesn’t need to get wounded, that antagonism still serves a purpose. I get an ongoing, organic source of tension.

In essence, I’ve built myself a scenario that supports several outcomes without marrying me to a specific plot-point.

3. Characters must stay in character.

This is one of those things that drives me absolutely insane about a lot of television shows. The writers start with the conclusion of the episode in mind. Then, they make one or more people act out of character to get everyone from point A to the desired point Z.

Yeah, Arrow, I’m looking at you.

Let’s say that you’ve written a character as smart and reflective. You can’t make that person abruptly act stupid and short-sighted because you don’t see another way to get them where you want them. It’s makes smart readers step out of the story and start asking questions like:

“Gee, why did this smart, level-headed person suddenly start acting like a dumb rage monkey?”

That’s not to say that a smart, reflective character can’t behave stupidly. They can with the right build-up. If you want them running into a bad situation in a fit of blind, irrational rage, you have to slowly push them that direction over the course of the novel.

4. The resolution to the main plot problem must follow logically from the rest of the book.

I really can’t emphasize this enough. If resolving your novel requires a miracle or some other unlikely event, you need to reread your book and try again. If you can’t find enough threads to pull together a plausible explanation that doesn’t rely on deus ex machina, you need to do a rewrite. The logic of the resolution doesn’t need to be blindingly obvious, but it must be there. This is what helped me get a handle on this problem.

In the end, all novels are mystery novels for the reader. You’ve created a problem and, even if you know the end, the reader doesn’t. Ideally, they won’t know until they read the last chapter or two. This is as true for a book about the internal politics of a Midwestern farming family as it is for any murder mystery. The one sacrosanct rule of mystery novels is this:

“You must play fair. The clues must all be on the page.”

A discerning reader ought to be able to look back at the novel and point to the breadcrumbs that inform the resolution, even if those breadcrumbs are obscure.

So there you have it, four of the basic rules I use to get from page 1 to page last with a plot that holds together.



Eric Dontigney is the author of the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One.  Raised in Western New York, he currently resides in Memphis, TN. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally at ericdontigney.com. Eric’s last appearance in our pages was “Memory Makes Liars of Us All,” in Stupefying Stories #13, his next will be “Lenses,” in Stupefying Stories #21, and later this year we’ll be releasing his paranormal mystery novel, The Midnight Ground. Watch for it!



“Talking Shop” is an ongoing conversation in which writers talk about the craft of writing, the business of writing, and what it takes to make it as a writer here in the 21st century. If you’d like to join the conversation and write an article, please send a query first to Bruce Bethke at submissions@rampantloonmedia.com.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Feeding the Muse: Living Well on a Writer’s Budget



Recipe • The Fantastic Frittata • by Karen Bethke



The frittata is a traditional Italian egg-based dish, and it’s basically either a quiche without the crust or an omelet without the fuss. I love to make them because they’re simple, easy, delicious, can be very low-carb, and I’ve never really gotten the hang of folding an omelet without turning it into a mess. Frittatas can be served hot for breakfast, or refrigerated and served later as you would a quiche, and they have the added bonus of being a great way to re-purpose pretty much any leftover meat or vegetables you have in the fridge into a tasty dish that goes from fridge to table in less than half an hour and looks like it was a lot more work to make than it really was.

Before you begin
Since a frittata starts on the stove-top and then goes into the oven or broiler, to make a frittata, you must use a skillet that is oven-safe. You can use pretty much any metal-handled stainless steel skillet (not Teflon!), but at the risk of sounding like a TV commercial, my favorite frittata pan is a red copper knock-off we bought at Menard’s for about seven dollars. It has a metal handle, which makes it oven-safe, the copper ceramic non-stick coating, which really does work as long as you don’t scratch it, and a rounded bottom shape that makes it a breeze to clean with just hot soapy water and a stiff kitchen brush, even when what I’m cooking in it gets a little scorched.

Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/3rd cup some kind of animal protein, pre-cooked
  • 1/3rd cup diced sweet onion
  • 1/3rd cup diced bell pepper
  • 1/3rd cup grated or diced cheese
  • one leftover baked potato
  • 4 to 5 large eggs
  • black pepper to taste
To be honest, all these measurements are approximate and all the ingredients except the eggs and the olive oil are optional, improvisational, and depend entirely on what I happen to have on hand. If we made pizza the night before and have leftover crumbled Italian sausage, I’ll make a frittata with Italian sausage and Parmesan or mozzarella cheese. If we made tacos the night before and have leftover seasoned and cooked taco meat, I’ll make a frittata with taco meat and cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese. If I have leftover baked or fried potatoes, I might dice some up and throw them in, but if I don’t, or I’m trying to make a low-carb meal, I’ll skip the potatoes. You can use almost any vegetable in place of the onions and peppers; for example, you can skip the meat, onions, and peppers entirely and make a really nice vegetarian frittata with zucchini, or leftover roasted cherry tomatoes and asparagus.

In this case, I just happen to have some leftover ham from last Sunday, so I’m making a sort of Denver frittata with Maui Sweet onion, red bell pepper (they were on sale), no potatoes, and Gouda cheese.

Getting Started
Since I don’t trust my broiler, I’m going to start this thing on the stove and finish it in the oven. So I begin by pre-heating the oven to 450°, and then I put the skillet on the stove over a medium-high flame and put in a generous dollop of olive oil. The 2 tbsp listed in the recipe is approximate; my momma teacha me to cook by sight, feel, and smell. You want enough oil in the pan to sauté the vegetables, but not so much that you deep-fry them, and you want to be careful not to overcook or burn them. Once the pan is up to temperature, I dice up the onion and throw it into the oil, and while the onion is cooking I dice up the pepper and add it, same for the ham, and then I reduce the heat and just let the whole thing sauté and cook down while I’m cracking the eggs into a mixing bowl.


Some people like to add a little milk to eggs before whisking them, but I don’t. I use a fork to puncture the yolks and then whip them thoroughly, grind about 1/4 tsp of black pepper and toss it in with the eggs, and then toss in the shredded cheese and mix it thoroughly again.

When the meat/veg mix in the skillet is cooked through, I make sure the top of the meat/veg mix is level in the pan, and then pour in the egg/cheese mix, taking care to make sure everything is pretty much submerged in egg and covered.

The tricky part
This is the hard part: you have to be patient. Cook the mix in the skillet over a low flame until the edges have set. Test it with a fork. When you can lift the edge of the frittata away from the side of the pan, it’s ready to go into the oven.

Put the skillet into the oven. If you’re using the broiler, put it on the top rack, otherwise use the middle rack. How long it stays in the oven depends on whether you’re baking or broiling it; in either case, you want to cook it until it sets up solidly, the edges begin to lift away from the sides of the skillet, and the top is just starting to get that nice toasty lightly browned look. Check often to make sure you catch it before it begins to burn. In the oven, it usually takes from 10 to 15 minutes to go from set at the edges but liquid in the center to completely done.

 
Serving
Once the frittata is done, pull it out of the oven, turn the oven off, and then contemplate your next move. If you really want to make a big production out of it (and you used just enough olive oil) you should be able to slide the whole thing out of the skillet and onto a serving platter, but I like to put a trivet on the table and serve it right from the skillet. Usually I quarter it in the pan—carefully, you don’t want to scratch the pan!—and then lift the pieces out with a spatula. Sometimes, depending on what went into it, a frittata is really terrific with a spoonful of salsa or a few dashes of green Cholula sauce, but most of the time, it doesn’t even need salt or pepper.


Bon appetit!



Karen Bethke is a wife, mother, grandmother, and 8-year cancer patient. The product of many generations of Italian family cooking, she’s now on a mission to create low-carb, low-fat, low-sodium, and just generally healthier meals that still taste great.

Karen’s sole publication credit is as co-author of “From Castle Dracule to Merlotte’s Bar & Grill” in A Taste of True Blood, but behind the scenes, she’s the real driving force behind Rampant Loon Press.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

New from Rampant Loon Press

THE RECOGNITION REVELATION • by Henry Vogel

   

AMAZON COUNTDOWN DEAL! To celebrate the release of The Recognition Revelation, we’ve got special pricing on The Recognition Run and The Recognition Rejection, but for a limited time only. Buy ‘em now, because the clock is ticking!

Space Opera, Comics, and Professional Storytelling – The Henry Vogel Interview



Prelude to Interview… (the following events are probably fictitious)
Henry Vogel

Bruce: Hey! Social media guy!
Social Media Guy: *Gulp* Um, me?
Bruce: *Sighs with the weariness of 1,000 disappointed editors* Yes, you.
Social Media Guy: *Crouches Gollum-like over his keyboard* Mine. My very own…my…
Bruce: Is that a coffee pot on your desk?
Social Media Guy: It is!
Bruce: For God’s sake, why?
Social Media Guy: The kitchen was too far away.
Bruce: *Grumble, mutter* Embrace sanity *grumble, mutter* We just released Henry Vogel’s new book. I need you to interview him.
Social Media Guy: *Blink, blink, blink* I don’t understand. Is Henry Vogel a new A.I.?
Bruce: No! He’s a person!
Social Media Guy: But, I don’t really do person things. Plus, I’ve never interviewed anyone.
Bruce: Well, this is a golden opportunity for you to learn by doing. Make it happen, Internet gremlin!
Social Media Guy: *Stares into the middle distance with naked terror on his face* Yeah, um, okay.

Interview(the following events are probably real)

Rampant Loon Press: Ladies, gentlemen, artificial superintelligences, genius-level gorillas, and all others, welcome! We’re here today with Henry Vogel, author of the Scout series, the Matt & Michelle series, the Captain Nancy Martin books, and the Recognition Trilogy. Hi, Henry. Thanks for being here today.

Henry Vogel: I’m happy to be here and hope the AIs and the gorillas enjoy the interview. I’m not disregarding the humans, but those others represent a new market for us. I want to make sure they know I’m happy they’re checking out my work.

Rampant Loon Press: Before we start talking about your new book, The Recognition Revelation, I’d like to talk a little bit about your writing history. According to your website, you used to write comic books. Can you tell us a little about that?

Henry Vogel: There’s a lot to tell but the short version is David Willis, a friend from college, and I decided to create and publish a comic book. This was a long time ago—1982—but I already had some minor publishing experience (another long story) and an idea for a superhero team. David had a couple of thousand dollars he wasn’t doing anything with and lots of ideas for improving the superhero team. The first issue of The Southern Knights came out in August of ’82 (and, due to a different long story, was actually called The Crusaders). Over the next eight years, I wrote 35 more issues of the Knights, a four-issue mini-series concentrating on Dragon, the most popular member of the team, and a dozen issues of a different book titled X-Thieves (short for Xtraterrestrial Time-Traveling Thieves).

Rampant Loon Press: Can people still find any your comics for sale?

Henry Vogel: Issues and collected volumes turn up on eBay and on Amazon fairly regularly. It’s possible people might run across copies in a comic book store but that’s going to be hit and miss. PDF versions of the books are available from DriveThruComics.com distributed by Heroic Publishing.

Rampant Loon Press: I understand the format for writing comics is more like a TV or film script. Did you find the transition to writing novels challenging?

Henry Vogel: These days scripts are much more detailed. Back when I was writing there were two approaches to comics, full script and plot first (also known of as the Marvel way). I used the plot-first method, meaning I wrote a description of the action without any dialogue. The idea was to give the artist everything he needed to draw the book without worrying about most of the dialogue. The artist mailed completed art to me in batches of six to eight pages. While he began drawing the next batch of pages, I wrote the script for the pages I had in hand.

Essentially, I developed a ‘plot’ part of my brain and a separate ‘dialogue’ part, then drew upon them at different times in the creative process. When I started writing novels, I had to draw on both parts at the same time. It slowed down my writing because I found myself changing mindsets every time I shifted from description to dialogue and back again. It was a real relief when the two parts finally merged.

Rampant Loon Press: Were you able to carry over any lessons you learned about writing from comics to novels?

Henry Vogel: Absolutely. Stories require the same elements regardless of the medium. A comic book still requires characterization and a novel still requires conflict. If I’m being perfectly honest, I actually carried over the lessons I learned running role-playing games to my comic book writing. And all those lessons fed into my oral storytelling performances, which then fed into novel writing. TL;DR version—any stories you tell, regardless of medium, will help you tell your next story.

Rampant Loon Press: You mentioned oral storytelling performances. Some people might think you mean a reading, but it's something quite different. Could you tell us a bit more about what it is and how you get involved in it?

Henry Vogel:  Yet another question with a long answer! Fortunately, the "what" part is easy enough to answer.

A storyteller doesn't read from a book nor does the storyteller recite stories word for word. Storytellers learn what we call the "bones" of a story, what writers might call the story structure. During a performance, the storyteller extemporaneously layers muscles, tendons, and skin over the bones so they present an entire story. Each performance of a story is unique because the storyteller is always making stuff up on the fly. And sometimes inspiration hits and the story gets a new element or a new twist. That's what makes storytelling so much fun--different storytellers tell the same story in wildly different ways and with very different events.

My own involvement in storytelling dates back to when my son was four (he's twenty-one, now). For some reason, he decided stories before bedtime should be done with the lights off. I hated using a reading light so started making up stories for him, almost always featuring him in the stories. One of those stories--which didn't have him in at all--became a favorite of his. I told it to him many times, as well as to his friends during sleepovers. A few years later, I told it to his second-grade class when it was my turn to read stories to the class. The kids absolutely loved it. I developed a real connection with the kids because there wasn't a book forming a barrier between us. I kept making up stories and telling them to my son's classes. By the time he was in the fourth grade, I decided I wanted to try performing professionally. I joined the North Carolina Storytelling Guild and, a few months later, landed an invitation to a storytelling festival. That was twelve years ago and I've been telling stories ever since.

A few years ago, I even put together an illustrated children's book featuring three of my more popular stories. It's called I'm in Charge! & Other Stories and is available on Amazon as an ebook and a paperback. The title story is the one I told to my son's second-grade class.

Rampant Loon Press: Looking at your catalog of available books, you seem to prefer writing series over standalone novels. Do you find you get too many ideas to fit into one novel?

Henry Vogel: I usually set out to write a single book rather than a series. After I spend a few months with the characters, though, I discover they’ve got more stories to tell. The Recognition series is the exception. I knew it was going to be a trilogy before I began writing The Recognition Run. What I didn’t know was how the point of view characters would shift through the three books nor how complicated the overarching plot would become.

Rampant Loon Press: Your newest book, The Recognition Revelation, is the conclusion to a trilogy. Can you tell us a little bit about the first two books?

Henry Vogel: I originally conceived The Recognition Run as my response to the movie Jupiter Ascending, a hot mess of a space opera from the Wachowskis. I liked the setting but felt the movie should have dealt with Jupiter laying claim to her title—including making that less bureaucratic and more action-oriented—and left the rest of the action and political maneuvering for a later movie. I took that approach, writing the story of Jeanine, a woman living in an interstellar kingdom who discovers her previously unknown noble heritage and learns that heritage also comes with a rival noble house. She must find a way to survive her rival’s attempts to kill her long enough to claim her title through a Recognition ceremony.

In The Recognition Rejection, Jeanine finds herself dealing with (spoiler!) the fallout from her surprising Recognition ceremony from the first book. Lesser nobles, discontented with her Recognition, kidnap her and her unexpected visitor—the head of the rival house from the first book. A supporting character from the first book, Jana, becomes a new point of view character when she searches for clues to Jeanine’s whereabouts. What Jana learns forms the basis for The Recognition Revelation.

Rampant Loon Press: The world is wide open when you first start a series. When you’re closing it down, though, you need to tie up loose ends. Did you find that there were loose ends you’d forgotten about?

Henry Vogel: Always. It’s astounding how many loose ends and continuity errors I find the first time I read my first draft from beginning to end. From changing a country’s name from one chapter to the next to discovering I’ve written contradictory background details to rediscovering entire subplots I forgot about or that didn’t work out in the book. Sometimes I’ll leave those subplots in the book under the theory that real humans make and abandon plans all the time so imaginary ones should, too. In those cases, I make sure I reference the subplot later in the book so readers will understand it was just an unfulfilled plan and not something I simply forgot about. Of course, it is something I forgot about and then fixed in the rewrite.

Rampant Loon Press: What would you say was the hardest part of finishing this trilogy? What was the best part?

Henry Vogel: Far and away the hardest part was coming up with an ending that resolved everything. I ran through three different potential resolutions while writing the book and ended up throwing all three out and going with a fourth one. Every time I decided the current resolution wouldn’t work, I stopped writing until I came up with a new way to end things. In the end, I pulled the final resolution from a line of throw-away dialogue early in the book. Apparently, my subconscious knew what it was doing even if I didn’t.

The best part was finishing a series that shifted so radically in the telling. For example, Jana, the main character in The Recognition Revelation was a supporting character in The Recognition Run. Meanwhile, Jeanine moved from the original main character to more of a supporting character by the end. We don’t even discover the real problem until the second half of The Recognition Rejection, which made this a more complex plot than I usually write. I juggled a lot of balls writing this series and am pleased how it all came out.

Rampant Loon Press: So, without too many spoilers, what can readers expect in this installment?

Henry Vogel: Three women facing a tight deadline while fighting a star kingdom with the fate of mankind hanging in the balance.

Rampant Loon Press: Do you think you’re done with these characters now or is there room for more stories?

Henry Vogel: I think I’m done with them. They might have different ideas, though.

Rampant Loon Press: So, last question, what’s next for you?

Henry Vogel: I’m writing a new Scout book titled Hart of Adventure. It ties to the four existing books in that Gavin Hart, the main character eventually becomes a friend and mentor to David Rice, the Scout in the first four books. It’s set decades before David’s birth. Unlike the complex plotting of the Recognition series, this is a straight-forward adventure story featuring a lost Terran colony, an abandoned alien city, a barbarian army led by a powerful Warlord, and, since it’s a planetary romance, a princess.

Rampant Loon Press: Henry, thanks for being here with us today.

Henry Vogel: It was my pleasure.

Rampant Loon Press: Henry’s book, The Recognition Revelation, came out on April 1, 2018, and is available on Amazon for Kindle and in Print.

Monday, April 2, 2018

From the SHOWCASE archives...


Fiction • “Heart of Dorkness,” by Henry Vogel •



[Editor’s note: With the release this week of Henry’s new novel, THE RECOGNITION REVELATION, I keep trying to think of ways to introduce him to people who haven’t read him. I think this is the first story of his that I ever read. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading it. ~brb]

¤

The con had wound down. The fans were all gone back to their mundane lives, leaving the five of us in the con suite. Our host, the Gaming Director, passed around what was left of the free sodas. We drank and stared out the window as darkness gathered in the skies above the hotel. The Power Gamer spoke of adventures long past, with the Rules Law­yer interrupting whenever the Power Gamer incorrectly stated a rule. The rest of us lis­tened, extending the camara­derie of the con just a bit longer.

As the Power Gamer wound down Marlow took over the narrative. “Ah, friend, you have put me in mind of ancient games and old times. Of when Third Edition con­quered the gaming realms, banishing our cherished char­acters as mere second-edition cardboard characters. The end of the era when all it took was a handful of dice and a few spare minutes to bring your character to life.”

We all lifted our soda cans in salute to the bygone age as Marlow continued. “To learn this new approach to gaming, many of us ventured forth to small cons, far from the great cities and great hotels of the major cons. I was among those who ventured far from game shops, far from comic book stores, far from civilization itself. I remember not the name of the con, just that my dear aunt was on the con com­mittee and could get me in for free. Friends, a free con does not mean a good con. Let this serve as a warning to you...

A little something for the weekend...

Ready Player One • Movie review by Sean CW Korsgaard •


Depending on who you ask, Ready Player One is either a fun science fiction adventure and loving tribute to the nerd culture of the 1980s, or the personification of everything wrong with modern geek culture and nostalgia. Regardless, the moment Steven Spielberg announced he would be doing a movie adaptation, I was intrigued. America’s greatest living filmmaker, the man who made a career of turning airport novels into generational cinematic touchstones, tackling a book that partly serves as a love letter to nostalgia for an era he helped define? It made one hell of a selling point, at least if Spielberg could stick the landing.

Luckily, with Ready Player One, not only does Spielberg stick the landing, he delivers a rip-roaring adventure that may be the most entertaining movie he’s made in over 20 years.

Ready Player One follows Wade Watts, or as he’s known in the virtual reality world of the OASIS, Parzival, as he joins the ranks of millions of gamers questing to be heir to the throne of the world’s late trillionaire creator, James Halliday. Alongside a group of his friends, he makes the first breakthrough in the contest, making him the most famous player in the OASIS, and the biggest target of corporate suits like Nolan Sorrento, who seek to win the contest and twist the OASIS to their own ends. Risking fame, fortune, the fate of the world, and their very lives, Wade and his friends are in a race to the finish, and on the journey of a lifetime.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Book Release

THE RECOGNITION REVELATION
• by Henry Vogel •


RAMPANT LOON PRESS is excited to announce the release today of THE RECOGNITION REVELATION, the thrilling conclusion to Henry Vogel’s critically acclaimed Recognition Trilogy. THE RECOGNITION REVELATION is available now in both Kindle ereader and trade paperback formats, and is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. 
“Struck from the template of classic space opera, this tale of intergalactic adventure hits all of the right notes. It has a likable hero and heroine, nasty villains, a plot full of intrigue and unforeseeable surprises, and a colorfully rendered outer-space backdrop against which its well-paced events unfold.”
—Publisher’s Weekly BookLife Prize Critic’s Report

To make the deal even better, this week only, we’re putting the first two books in the series on a Kindle Countdown promotion. If you buy them right now, the Kindle editions are just $0.99 each. Wait three days, and the price goes up to $1.99 each. Wait a whole week... No, you don’t want to do that. Better buy ‘em right now.

Book 1: THE RECOGNITION RUN

“A great new series by Henry Vogel. In addition to his usual sci-fi thriller/adventure story, Vogel has added a generous splash of mystery, a computer slicer (hacker) character, and an atmosphere of political intrigue among royal families, reminiscent of C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series, only with a more positive attitude. I can't wait to see how the mystery unfolds in the sequels.”
» Get the Kindle edition

» Get the Trade Paperback


Book 2: THE RECOGNITION REJECTION

“This is a well-woven tale with captivating characters. I really enjoyed the character development, especially of the villains, in this second book in the series. It also has lots of unexpected plot twists and a surprising new enemy is introduced. Vogel really demonstrates his vivid imagination in this book, especially when describing the experience of being a data “slicer.” I had a hard time putting this book down and stayed up way later than I planned to finish it. I can’t wait to read his next book!”
» Get the Kindle edition

» Get the Trade Paperback


Book 3: THE RECOGNITION REVELATION

Just released! Hot off the presses! If you’ve ever wanted to be the first person to review a new novel, here’s your big chance! Buy it today!
» Get the Kindle edition

» Get the Trade Paperback


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Talking Shop


Op-ed • "Building the Right Protagonist," By Eric Dontigney

                                                                                                                                                                               


I’m an organic writer. Mostly that means I don’t outline my novels. It’s not because I’m too good for outlines. Honest. I tried outlining several of them. It’s because the books always drag me off in some direction I never expected. The thing I do try to pin down before I start writing is the nature of my protagonist. Just as importantly, I don’t generally start with character details. Here’s why. 

If you make your protagonist a teenager wizard, for example, you’re largely stuck with coming of age issues. A teenager can struggle with identity, but only in a context of self-discovery. The fluid nature of teen identities means we don’t set a high bar for personality consistency. The pitfall is that it cuts off narrative avenues like an identity crisis.

An identity crisis really only works when it happens to someone with a stable, defined personality. Give Harry Potter an identity crisis, and we chalk it up to growing pains. He’s still figuring himself out. Now, give Dumbledore an identity crisis. That’s a very different animal. It’s potent and jarring because we expect Dumbledore’s core identity to remain essentially stable. What we hand-wave away as growing pains for a Harry functions as a full-blown existential crisis for a Dumbledore.

You also bump into limitations on moral quandaries if you make your protagonist a hardcore hero or anti-hero. Heroes set a pretty high bar for what’s moral. I like to think of hero morality as idealized or amplified everyday morality. They act in the ways we think we should or wish we would in the clutch. There’s not a lot of wiggle room to make a hero act immorally in an acceptable way.

Look at all the flack Man of Steel took for having Superman kill Zod. It’s not like he was a sympathetic villain, either. That dude was insane, bent on wiping out humanity, and actively trying to murder innocent people. If there was ever a good candidate for a public service homicide, Zod was the guy. Yet, despite it being a literal act of last resort, we expected Superman to find a better way.

Anti-heroes pose their own challenges because they’re basically villains. It’s tough to put them into a plausible moral quandary because they see violence, intimidation, and crime as viable solutions to problems. Wolverine is a hyper-violent mass murderer when you get down to it. For all his suave charm, James Bond is a blood-soaked hitman on a government payroll. These characters only work because they’re a shade less awful than the people they fight. They can’t process tough moral questions because they’ve largely rejected normal morality.

All of those challenges contribute to why so many authors select everymen or everywomen for protagonists. They sit in the moral middle-ground between hero morality and villain morality. You can plausibly push them in either direction with the right circumstances. They are simply more malleable than a full-on hero or anti-hero.

After reading all that, you might think it’s an absolute necessity to know the plot details before you start. I’m sure it would help, sometimes, but it’s not a requirement. What you really need to know ahead of time is what kind of journey the main character will take. Once you know that, you can build the protagonist who will be the most interesting on that journey.

Let’s say, for example, I want to play around with a loss of faith. That defines key attributes of the protagonist. The protagonist is probably younger. People who hang onto some kind of faith into their 30’s and 40’s tend to keep it. That faith must be misplaced in some fashion. It must be crucial to how they live their life and make choices, otherwise its loss is meaningless.

I’ll grant you that’s a pretty bare bones character profile, but it does some important things. It’s enough to help structure how this character will think, talk, and act on the page. People who believe in what they’re doing treat it differently than people going through the motions. They’re more passionate and often a little blinded by the light.

It’s also enough to tell me the character can’t be an established hero or anti-hero. If they were locked into one of those two roles, a loss of faith journey wouldn’t track. A hero has already been through that crucible and come out the other side stronger for it. An anti-hero has been through it and found the world fundamentally wanting.

Building the right protagonist must start with knowing what kind of journey the character will go through. It tells you critical things about who the character can be. Not to mention putting some bounds on what they can or can’t do in the opening act. Once you know those things, you can start layering on the details that make a character distinct.
________________________________________________

 Eric Dontigney is the author of the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One.  Raised in Western New York, he currently resides in Memphis, TN. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally at ericdontigney.com.

Eric’s last appearance in our pages was “Memory Makes Liars of Us All,” in Stupefying Stories #13, his next will be “Lenses,” in Stupefying Stories #21, and later this year we’ll be releasing his paranormal mystery novel, The Midnight Ground. Watch for it! 

________________________________________________

“Talking Shop” is an ongoing conversation in which writers talk about the craft of writing, the business of writing, and what it takes to make it as a writer here in the 21st century. If you’d like to join the conversation and write an article, please send a query first to Bruce Bethke at submissions@rampantloonmedia.com.