Guest Post: 4 Essential Tips for Writing Cinematic Fantasy by Savannah Cordova

Fantasy is quite literally a magical genre, and as a fan, there’s nothing more exciting than seeing that magic brought to life. From epic undertakings like the Lord of the Rings trilogy to dazzling new Netflix series like The Witcher, adapted fantasy has more than proven its entertainment value and staying power in recent years — which may have some fantasy writers wondering, How can I do that with my book?

Of course, blockbuster dreams shouldn’t be your only motivation; in order to succeed as a fantasy writer, you need genuine passion for your story, regardless of whether it ever hits the big screen. That said, there are definitely some things you can do to make your book more vivid and “cinematic”! Here’s how to strike just the right balance to write fantasy that’s both compulsively readable and potentially watchable.

Create a unique, vibrant world

When writing fantasy, worldbuilding should come before all else. If you don’t lay out your geography, cultures, and magic system(s) first, your storytelling will almost certainly feel thin or haphazard in places. Not to mention that a well-established world is key to a great adaptation: the realm you create will serve as the visual and atmospheric backbone of your show or movie, so make sure it can hold itself up.

You might start by thinking about your world’s predominant beliefs and power systems. What folklore, religious influences, or other major ideas have shaped it, and which might clash and lead to conflict in your story? What group is in power — or which groups are contending for it — and what are their motives and ambitions? How have factions arisen within this context, and to which do your main characters belong?

Once you have a strong sense of these elements, you can think more about the “fun” cinematic details: what your world will look, sound, and feel like. Consider your wider setting — whether that’s a collection of feuding countries or the far reaches of outer space — as well as smaller ones that will lend your story color. Flesh out what people do on a daily basis: how they work, interact, and take care of themselves, and how all this reflects the society in which they live.

Finally, think about what will distinguish your world from other fantasy worlds. Will it be based on unusual mythology? Will it offer a new aesthetic, or revitalize an old one (as Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse, now being adapted as Shadow and Bone, has done for steampunk)? Though cinematic considerations should not take precedence over organic worldbuilding, it never hurts to muse on this sort of thing early on.

Plan rewarding character arcs

Now you’ve hammered out your world, it’s time to fill it with characters that will engage readers and viewers alike. Though some might argue that writing physically attractive characters is the best approach here, those of us who have watched too many shows on The CW will know that even stellar looks can’t make up for poor characterization — which is why you should focus on strong character arcs instead.

Why highlight character arcs in particular? Firstly, because fantasy tales can easily get lost in their own grandeur. You need human stories to act as an anchor, otherwise people will simply stop caring. And secondly, because at the end of a (usually lengthy) fantasy book or adaptation, readers want to feel the journey was worth it. If your characters don’t end up changed or at least reaffirmed in their principles, people will wonder, what was the point of all that?

To give you a jumping-off point: a strong character arc should intrigue readers from the beginning, giving them a sense of the character’s potential for various outcomes. As the story unfolds, the character will face obstacles — often in the form of other characters on their own journeys — and make choices that determine who they become.

The trajectory of this arc depends on what role you want each character to play. For example, you might have a character renounce their previous goals and become an antagonist, moving the story in a brand-new direction. From there, you’d need to work out whether this character will revert or fight it out with the protagonist. But either way, you’ll have the audience deeply invested — and ultimately rewarded with an exciting, emotional (and yes, cinematic) finale.

Hone your action and dialogue

Action and dialogue are two more crucial elements when writing screen-friendly fantasy. However, there’s a reason this tip reads “hone” rather than “increase” — though you might be tempted to cram your fantasy with epic battles and rapid-fire dialogue, quality remains much more important than quantity.

When writing action (used here to mean “physically active things the characters are doing”, i.e., not thinking or sleeping) it should be pacy and easy to visualize, yet not overwhelming in its description. Whether your characters are dancing, feasting, or hiking up a mountain, provide just enough detail to conjure a clear image while still leaving some things to readers’ imaginations.

The only exceptions are tide-changing fight scenes, for which you can take a beat-by-beat approach to draw attention to their significance. This scene from Dorothy Dunnett is an excellent case study in descriptive, revealing action; see how she uses long, all-in-one-breath sentences to illustrate the rush of action. Of course, this isn’t the only way to write a good fight scene — you might find that short, staccato sentences better reflect the punchy combat styles of your characters, or that interspersing the action with dialogue creates more emotional resonance.

Speaking of which, let’s talk dialogue (no pun intended). Like character arcs, this is important in every story, but especially in fantasy; it adds another human element that will keep readers invested. And witty banter is a real breath of fresh air onscreen!

But writing great dialogue is easier said than done. To tackle this challenge with confidence, nail down your characters’ voices before you dive into your story. You can try dialogue-based writing exercises — or, if these feel too random, write a few prequel stories about what your characters were doing before your central narrative began. Whichever exercise you choose, just remember to really delve into your characters’ minds in order to grasp their distinct voices.

As your story progresses, you’ll be surprised how much your characters have to talk about. Once again, honing is key. Though you can draft as much dialogue as you like, keep only the best lines in your actual book — not just the clever ones, but those that also enhance characterization or serve the plot. The rest you can save for a rainy day, like the sequel or even the eventual adaptation, which will likely place more emphasis on dialogue.

Use plot twists wisely

This article on writing cinematic fantasy would be remiss if it didn’t discuss plot twists. From Snape being a double agent to Gandalf coming back from the dead, a thrilling twist is often the cherry on top of an action-packed fantasy… just be careful not to overdo it. To extend the sundae metaphor, one or two cherries is fine, but more than that and you’ll make your readers sick.

Audiences particularly dislike out-of-nowhere twists, so make sure any twists you do include make sense within the story. If you find yourself throwing in a twist when you haven’t built up to it enough, whether to liven things up or because you feel like you “should, ” stop right there! You might think it’s cinematic, but it’ll only come across as cheap.

That said, it’s fine to come up with a twist at the end of your book, then go back and sprinkle in hints throughout your story — “mak[ing] it look like you knew what you were doing all along,” as Neil Gaiman advises. You might even devise a twist that could be revealed now, but would have much better payoff down the line. If that’s the case, be patient; your readers will appreciate the strategic mastery of saving the big guns for later books.

And of course, if a bona fide “twist” simply doesn’t suit your story, don’t force it. Books aren’t adapted on the basis of twists alone; people want fantasy tales with wildly original worlds, compelling characters, and creative writing to rival the likes of Jemisin and Le Guin.

Sure, it’s a tall order. But won’t it all be worth it when you’re the showrunner on your very own fantasy series? With these tips in mind, you might just have the next Game of Thrones on your hands… only your ending will be a lot more satisfying.

BIO: Savannah Cordova is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors and publishers with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers.  In her spare time, Savannah enjoys reading contemporary fiction and fantasy, as well as writing short stories.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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Guest Post: Alienation and Marginalization: Demons, Robots, Aliens and Monsters in Fantastic Literature by Laurence Raphael Brothers

It doesn’t take any very profound insight to see that the roles nonhumans play in speculative fiction are often stand-ins for humans. In first-intention and unselfaware work (two very different things, see below), nonhumans are often monstrous and hostile. They frequently stand in lieu of othered humans who the writer might think it improper to name directly, or for that matter who the writer is intentionally dogwhistling by associating their secondary attributes with the negative qualities that racism and other forms of bigotry have painted for them.

And yet there are dangerous animals and people in our world who are hostile, sometimes implacably hostile and deadly dangerous, and in principle there should be nothing wrong with embodying these figures in fantastic fiction, even in pared down and totally inhuman forms from which all other qualities but their monstrousness have been flensed. In real life, sharks and venomous snakes and grizzly bears are not generally malicious, and their relative danger is far inferior to that of automobiles, diseases, and police officers. But in fiction, does it do any harm to pretend they are terrible threats? As always, the answer is yes, and no, depending on technique and presentation.

Cover of THE DEMONS OF WALL STREET.The trope-subversive reaction to monster stories generally involves their humanization. The dragon-viewpoint story that sees the questing knight as a villain, the sympathetic look at a fallen angel’s rebellion, the AI who comes to life only be oppressed and treated as a thing by their creator, the alien whose attempts to help humanity are viciously rebuked: all these acknowledge the base form of the monster story and turn it on its head. In many cases, the inversion is charmingly, touchingly, and effectively achieved, but again the final result depends on the author’s insight and skill, not just the fact of the reversal.

So what makes a monster story good or bad, or for that matter, a monstrous-sympathy or anti-monster story? In a word, understanding. In The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells had two objectives: first to present the visceral fear of the monster to his reader, the overwhelming power of an implacably hostile foe whose strength cannot be contested. But he also wanted to present his idea of what indigenous populations such as the Tasmanians must have experienced when British colonial military forces invaded. There’s no characterization of the Martians in Wells’ book. They’re apparently trying to seize terrestrial resources, but it’s not as if they twirl their mustachios and speechify to a captive audience. They just do their thing, obliterating any opposing military forces and casually wiping out civilians who are in the way until finally they’re overcome by terrestrial disease. (This last is so that for Wells’ didactic purposes, something like the status quo can be regained, with a cautionary warning.) This is an example of a “first-intention” monster story that is nevertheless self-aware; the monsters are simple to the point of being simplistic and more or less incomprehensible, but their action and the reason for their action is based on the writer’s understanding of humanity and his hope to prevent his own people from adopting the monstrous role of his Martian invaders.

Must a good monster story always be intellectualized? Not at all, hopefully needless to say. Consider Beowulf, another first-intention story, and this one with probably considerably less deliberate auctorial intention behind it. In this story, Beowulf is a pure hero, and both Grendel and his mother are pure monsters, though the mother’s desire for revenge is only natural, and this serves in some way to humanize her. But I shouldn’t leave the reader with the idea that self-awareness and understanding are modern qualities, and that older works are necessarily simpler, more direct, and more “primitive.”

One can see some very profound self-awareness in the nameless author of the Gilgamesh epic, who takes the monstrous and frightening foe Enkidu (created by the gods to give Gilgamesh someone to fight because he’s been ruining his own subjects’ lives) and turns him into a sympathetic friend. Along with the wild and uncivilized Enkidu (humanized through sleeping with a priestess of Inanna), and apparently as a result of their coming together, Gilgamesh matures from a boorish and casually destructive youth into a mature, responsible, and reflective adult. With its transformation of Enkidu from monster into a friend so intimate as to be closer than most lovers[1], the epic’s attitude may seem implausibly modern, except of course that our intuitive notions of what constitute “modern” and “primitive” are wildly biased in our own favor. Coming thousands of years before most classic western monster stories, the transformative early section of the Gilgamesh epic (the latter half mainly involves Enkidu’s death due to Gilgamesh’s arrogance, and Gilgamesh’s futile quest to resurrect his fallen friend) illustrates that anti-monster stories are at least as old and as essential.

Man, I hope all that didn’t come off as too pompous, or too obvious either. In my own stories, I most often do the inversion thing, but I have the deepest respect for people who can write first-intention monster stories without dehumanizing the antagonists or deliberately or unconsciously linking their monsters to othered humans in the real world.

But that’s a tough thing to pull off. In my stories, the apparent monster is frequently your friend, and the real monster is another human, or perhaps the social forces that move humans to act monstrously. For me, that kind of story is much easier to write.

My romantic noir urban fantasy series beginning with The Demons of Wall Street (Mirror World Publishing, 2020) and in its recent sequel The Demons of the Square Mile (Mirror World Publishing, 2021) features demons who are indeed monstrous in many respects, due to the horrible ecology and social forces of their native world. But they’re also oppressed slaves summoned and bound by financial industry banker-sorcerers who want to exploit their precognitive abilities to manipulate markets. Some of these demons are true to type, but others are capable of defying and transcending their origins to become people more capable of kindness and compassion than the abusive humans who summon and bind them. The real monster is late-stage capitalism; but I guess that’s either trite or obvious, depending on your point of view.

The main character in this series, occult PI Nora Simeon, is a deeply traumatized and alienated person, in danger of becoming a moral monster herself by dint of her isolation and lack of empathy. She starts the first book convinced that demons are essentially evil and destructive (note in the books they are beings from an alien realm of existence, not fallen angels). She soon learns that just like with humans, these qualities are contingent, not essential, and in the usual moral fashion, the worst monsters are those we make of ourselves. And with the help of her unusual friend and lover Eyre (met in the first book and becoming a Thin-Man-style romantic and professional partner thereafter) she wrenches herself free from her downward spiral; it’s not an easy thing to do, and it will take her the full arc of the series to become truly free, but like the rest of us, all she can do is take the next step. My own next step is tentatively titled The Demons of Chiyoda, a just-completed first draft that I’m getting ready to submit to my publisher. In the meantime, I hope you’ll take a look at the first two entries in the series, available in paper or ebook direct from the publisher as well as from most online bookstores.

[1] I suspect this to have been the first ship in history, and that therefore the epic of Gilgamesh could be the first example of fan fiction, too.

Headshot of Laurence Raphael Brothers.BIO: Laurence Raphael Brothers is a writer and technologist. He has worked in R&D at such firms as Bell Communications Research and Google, and he has five patents along with numerous industry publications. His areas of expertise include Internet and cloud-based applications, artificial intelligence, telecom applications, and online games. He has published many science fiction and fantasy stories and is a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Find out more about Laurence Raphael Brothers on his website.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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Guest Post: Historical Fiction Requires Research: Including Pop Culture! by Elizabeth Guizzetti

Thank you for having me today!

I love writing about vampires because of the historical research. One question I always ask when doing this research is: what would someone of that era know?

My latest novel, Accident Among Vampires (Or What Would Dracula Do?) is set in 1951-52. The protagonist is Norma Mae Rollins, a 14-year-old girl who is learning to survive as a vampire. Before she was transformed, she spent many Saturday afternoons and evenings in her small hometown theater.

Going to the movies was a different experience than it is today. The movie started with not just trailers, but also newsreels, cartoons.

The movie palaces of this era often showed first run movies, but small theaters often showed older movies. Some B films were made to be the less publicized of a double feature, but before television, cable, and streaming services, movie studios sold second run movies to drive-ins and smaller theaters in bundles who played them as double features or as the B showing with a newer film. This is why Norma would have likely seen movies such as Dracula, 1931 though she wasn’t born until 1938.

I also used these films to ensure my speech patterns felt correct as I used a few archaic words in dialogue: may’ve, shall, and shan’t. Norma doesn’t call adults by their given names without permission. Other than close relations, Norma calls adults: ma’am, Madame/Lady, sir, Sir, or honored ancients/one. She calls her creator Mr. Caruso, until he said “Call me Bill or even Dad…”

I will offer a warning: modern audiences delving into classic American theater will find plenty of cringe-worthy moments. For most of these films, the Hayes Code was in effect. A woman’s innocence was generally their ticket to life; conniving women were killed. In Dracula’s Daughter, the love interest (human) talks about shooting women as a joke. Son of Dracula has racist depictions of minorities: Black and Roma characters. You will, and should be, offended by certain spoken lines or things you see in these old movies.

This list is not by any means extensive, I watched close to a hundred movies for this book alone, but this list is the vampire-specific films I watched to prepare me to know what Norma knows about vampires in 1951. She thinks about what hurt (and didn’t) the vampires from films and books constantly. She asks adult vampires about scenes in many of these films. And she pretends to be Bill’s “sweet” daughter because as I said, sweet innocent women survive.

This list is in order of release. There are actors you will see again and again: Bela Lugosi, Lionel Atwell, Lon Chaney, as many of them were typecast into these roles.

Dracula, 1931, Universal Pictures (PRECODE)

This is the one with Bela Lugosi in the title role that everyone knows, loves, parodies, and quotes.

My Thoughts:

The first act follows the book, then it tells its own story with many of the book’s characters. If you haven’t seen it, it is a classic piece of cinema.

Helen Chandler plays lovely and sweet Mina but her near transformation scene when she wants take a bite out of Jonathan make the movie worth watching.

Dwight Frye as Renfield is the closest to the book character: always escaping his cell and very strong.

The Vampire Bat, 1933, Majestic (PRECODE)

Villagers start dying of blood loss and town leaders suspect a resurgence of vampirism.

Dr. von Niemann (Lionel Atwell) cares for the victims. He learns a patient, a kindhearted woman, Martha, was attacked by a bat. Another villager, Herman Glieb, claims he likes bats.  Soon the village thinks Herman is a vampire.

My Thoughts:

This movie felt original and fun. It is definitely worth watching. It is a mystery and a horror film. Plus there is a scientist.

The portrayal of women is straight out of Gothic Tropes 101. Fay Wray plays the good and clever ingenue, but there is also the foolish middle-aged hypochondriac, the kind-hearted villager, etc.

Finally, the expressions, general strait-laced manner, and mustache of the police inspector directly inspired the vampire Derrik Miller in my novel.

Mark of the Vampire, 1935, MGM

After a nobleman dies, his daughter is seemingly threatened by vampires and no one know if there is a connection.

My Thoughts: I enjoyed this movie, but as it is a murder mystery, I do not want to say too much.

Bela Lugosi plays a side-role of meta-vampire, Count Mora. Carol Borland plays another vampire, Luna, who draws your eye whenever she is on screen.

Many people hate the ending, because it was held together by a trope which was old-fashioned in 1935.

Dracula’s Daughter, 1936, Universal Pictures

A reluctant vampire, Countess Countess Marya Zaleska, believes that by destroying Dracula’s body, after his death, she will be freed of her vampirism. This fails, she turns to a psychiatrist and becomes obsessed with him.

My Thoughts:

If you watch any film on this list, please watch this one! This beautifully shot film plays with lights and shadows as if it were a film noir. The characters all feel important, nothing in the sets or onscreen feels wasted.

Gloria Holden plays the Countess Marya Zaleska in a soft but deadly way. A direct sequel to Dracula, 1931, it said to be loosely based off Dracula’s Guest or the title character of Carmilla, but the plot has nothing to do with either story. The Countess’ preferred victims are women (she kills men too), and she is thought to be coded bisexual or lesbian which is the only tie it has to Carmilla.

Son of Dracula, 1943, Universal

Lon Chaney plays Count Alucard/Dracula who marries an American woman named Kay who loves all things morbid. She wants to gain eternal life. She is turned into a vampire when her ex-lover shoots her accidentally, he was aiming for Dracula.  Kay changes in unexpected ways.

My Thoughts:

This is a very good film and well-worth watching, but there are several racist depictions of minorities. One of the best parts about the film is everyone is acting pretty smart. Also it has the first on-camera transformation of a bat to vampire. (Earlier films were done with cutting, this is done with animation.)

In regards to my novel, this is the film which gives Norma daymares after she is transformed as a vampire for two reasons: Kay is the smartest one in the room and will do anything to get what she wants. Sometimes, Norma fears being a “bright girl” for this reason.  Though her death is offscreen, well the idea of it gives Norma daymares.

Dead Men Walk, 1943, PRC

A kindly small-town doctor Lloyd Clayton murdered his evil twin brother, because Elwyn practices the occult. However, Elwyn returns as a vampire and murders the villagers by draining them of their blood and leaves evidence The doctor, his niece, and her fiancé discover that Elwyn still lives.

My Thoughts: PRC is known for low budget B films. While this is an original story, it hits many of the same beats as Dracula especially in regards to the ingenue (Mary Carlisle) and her love interest. The lead dual role played by George Zucco is very campy (especially when he plays Elwyn) so if you enjoy that, you’ll enjoy this one.

House of Frankenstein, 1944, Universal

The first of Universal’s monster mash movies!

Dr. Gustav Niemann played by Boris Karloff escapes from prison along with his hunchback assistant, Daniel. To exact revenge on the man who had put him in prison, Niemann revives Dracula. Dracula, played by John Caradine, seduces Hussmann’s granddaughter-in-law and kills Hussmann.

Niemann causes the poor vampire to perish in the sunlight. Niemann and Daniel move on to the flooded ruins of Castle Frankenstein, where they find the preserved bodies of Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) and Wolfman/Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney).

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed all the monster mash-type films as did Norma. They are her favorites on this list.

House of Dracula, 1945, Universal

This is the sequel to House of Frankenstein Dr. Franz Edelmann is visited by Dracula and the Wolfman who are trying to cure their vampirism and lycanthropy. John Carradine, Glenn Strange, and Lon Chaney reprise their roles from The House of Frankenstein.

My Thoughts:

The sequel is even more wonderful monster mashup film. It has all the wonderful tropes of the era. There is one thing that always strikes me as unintentionally funny–a very polite mob.

I love this movie and it is also Norma’s favorite on the list. She questions the older vampires about things she witnessed in this movie.

The Return of the Vampire, 1943, Columbia Pictures

Bela Lugosi is a vampire named Armand Tesla who is thwarted over the course of two wars by a doctor, Lady Jane Ainsley, played by Frieda Inescort. Lugosi basically plays the same characterization as Dracula, but due to copyright issues, he is Aramand Tesla.

My Thoughts: 

This is another movie I really enjoyed. Inescort plays an educated doctor who is also a successful, loving mother. Obviously, she is a privileged woman, but it’s always nice to see an educated adult woman, who raised a son on her own, being the smartest one on the screen. Her aging makeup was well-done and restrained.

Other than a few moments of overacting at the first death of Tesla, the werewolf character, Andreas, is another standout. His acting is subtle even through his wolf makeup, and there are so many moments the audience feels for him.

The Vampire’s Ghost, 1945, Republic Pictures

John Abbot plays Webb Fallon, a nightclub owner and occult expert who offers advice on some murders. He falls in love with the ingenue. Loosely based on the 1819 short story “The Vampyre” by John Polidori.

My Thoughts:

The film hits several ingenue threatened by vampire stuff, but I felt this movie was somewhat forgettable and had very little tension. Even when the scene was supposed to be tense.

Abbot and Castello Meet Frankenstein, 1948 Universal Pictures

This is the last vampire Bela Lugosi played, but the first of several films in which the comedy duo, Abbot and Costello, meets classic Universal’s monsters and characters from their films. They and their friends encounter an evil doctor, Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf Man.

My Thoughts:

The chemistry between Abbot and Costello makes for good comedy, even if the comedy itself isn’t evergreen. The actors who play monsters play their roles straight from their respective films. There is also an uncredited cameo of Vincent Price as the voice of the Invisible Man.

Accident Among Vampires or What Would Dracula Do?

By Elizabeth Guizzetti

Issaquah, Washington, USA, 1951

My name is Norma Mae Rollins. I’m fourteen and an illegal vampire. I miss my mom, but new ghoulish appetites force me to remain with my creator.

Bill didn’t mean to transform me. At least, that’s what he claims. His frightening temper, relentless lies, and morbid scientific experiments makes it hard to know what to believe. However, someone snitched about Bill’s experiments to a nearby coven. Now both of our corpses will burn.

Bill won’t run. He is curious what happens to a vampire after final death. I don’t want to die again. It hurt so much the first time. Bill thinks his vampire boyfriend might shelter me. I must brave an eternal existence with elder vampires and other monsters who don’t think I ought to exist. Oh and figure out who I am allowed to eat.

A vampire’s reality is nothing like the movies.

Available on Kindle and Paperback

BIO: Much to her chagrin, Elizabeth Guizzetti discovered she was not a cyborg and growing up to be an otter would be impractical, so began writing stories at age twelve. Three decades later, Guizzetti is an illustrator and author best known for her demon-poodle based comedy, Out for Souls & Cookies. She is also the creator of Faminelands and Lure and collaborated with authors on several projects including A is for Apex and The Prince of Artemis V. To explore a different aspect of her creativity, she writes science fiction and fantasy. Her debut novel, Other Systems, was a 2015 Finalist for the Canopus Award for excellence in Interstellar Fiction. Her short work has appeared in anthologies such as Wee Folk and The Wise and Beyond the Hedge. She loves vampires and after writing Immortal House, she has written​ several other vampire stories in the same universe. Guizzetti lives in Seattle with her husband and two dogs. When not writing or illustrating, she loves hiking and birdwatching.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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Guest Post: Dan Rice on Inspirations for Dragons Walk Among Us

I knew I needed to become a writer after reading Frank Herbert’s Dune. I must’ve been about eleven years old at the time. I didn’t have an inkling about writing a rough draft, let alone the laborious editing process required to craft a decent manuscript. But I was captivated by how Mr. Herbert spun such a fascinating and realistic world of sci-fi splendor and swashbuckling adventure in such a slender volume. If you discount the appendices, Dune is well under 500 pages. To this day, I’m hard-pressed to think of another author who created such an enthralling and believable world with so few words.

Frank Herbert isn’t the only author I owe a debt of gratitude. My novel Dragons Walk Among Us is a young adult urban fantasy written in first person present tense. I never would have considered such an undertaking when I first found the stick-to-it-iveness to sit down and crank out words. That was before I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I admit I found the style a bit off-putting initially, but I quickly warmed up to the immediacy the technique gives Katniss Everdeen’s adventure. When I first started writing in first person present tense, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I feared I’d find the first person narrative limiting and the present tense aspect hokey. Not the case at all. Turns out, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.  If it wasn’t for Suzanne Collins’ example, I never would have even considered experimenting with the technique.

Two themes that play essential roles in Dragons Walk Among Us are being an outsider and questioning one’s perception. The works of Fonda Lee and Rachel Hartman helped me solidify my thoughts on these themes. In Hartman’s Seraphina series and Lee’s EXO series, the protagonists are pariahs who end up questioning the social order of their respective worlds. In Dragons Walk Among Us, Allison Lee, the protagonist, is a member of a minority. She often feels she is an outsider and, after being blinded, questions reality, even her sanity. The protagonists’ character arcs in Seraphina and EXO gave me insight into how to elucidate these themes in a manner that I think resonates with readers. Of course, Rachel Hartman’s books include dragons, and just about any book containing dragons is inspirational.

Lastly, I drew inspiration from observing my son’s experiences, who is biracial. Not being a minority myself, I can’t claim to have ever experienced racism. My son, however, has experienced it. He was upset and pensive over the incident but has since moved on. His experience had a profound impact on me. I was already aware of the racial tension permeating the United States, but having my child brush up against the ugly beast of racism brought the issue to my doorstep. I fear the fault lines of bigotry and bias run deeper and wider than many people care to admit. One example is the anti-Asian sentiment emerging in the wake of the pandemic. All this is to say, some of Allison Lee’s experiences are loosely based on my observations of my son’s experiences. I can honestly say, I don’t think Allison’s story would be authentic without my son providing some inspiration.

BIO: Dan Rice has wanted to write novels since first reading Frank Herbert’s Dune at the age of eleven. A native of the Pacific Northwest, he often goes hiking with his family through mist-shrouded forests and along alpine trails with expansive views.

Dan has traveled extensively around Southeast Asia, where many of his in-laws live. He hopes to include some of the locales he has visited and thoroughly enjoyed in future novels. Dragons Walk Among Us is his debut novel. He plans to keep writing fantasy and science-fiction for many years. On his blog, you can find posts about the many books and experiences that have helped make him a better writer. Find out more:

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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9 Speculative Stories for Pride Month

Happy Pride Month! I wanted to put together a list of some of my F&SF stories featuring queer characters that I particularly love.

And as he spoke of understanding, I looked up and saw the rainbow leap with flames of many colors over me. -Black Elk

Every Breath a Question, Every Heartbeat an Answer” is a story that appeared this year in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, set in a hospital for war veterans, involving a lesbian centaur coming to terms with loss and the enigmatic ace paladin who seems to promise an answer to the question haunting her. Like many of my stories and the Tabat Quarter, it’s set in the world of Tabat, where intelligent magical creatures are beginning to question the roles society has allotted them.

“Hoofsore and Weary” precedes “Every Breath a Question” but features one of the previous story’s main characters, involved in the journey that will later bring her to the war hospital. It appeared in the anthology of military fantasy Shattered Shields, edited by Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt.

Rappacini’s Crow” is set in the steampunk world of my Altered America stories and has a trans protagonist who must figure out how to escape not just a malignant crow, but its owner as well. It appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

“How Joyful the Work” appeared in Predators in Petticoats, edited by Emily Leverett and Margaret S. Mcgraw. This theme anthology of 25 original stories focused on “fearsome feminine power”. I chose the figure of Penelope from Homer’s Odyssey, because I’ve always found her an intriguing figure. In this story, told from the POV of a household maid, instead of weaving tapestries, she creates clockwork contraptions.

“Preferences’ was recently reprinted in a special cyberpunk issue of The London Reader but originally appeared in Chasing Shadows, an anthology edited by David Brin and Stephen Potts, stories based on Brin’s book The Transparent World. It’s a short piece about data privacy, and reflects some of my experience working in that industry.

“The Threadbare Magician” is urban fantasy featuring a gay magician and his attempt to evade a particular doom. Seattle denizens will recognize references to a multitude of landmarks, including the Value Village store in Redmond, and you may be surprised what a simple trailer park on the East Side can hold. It originally appeared in Genius Loci, edited by Jaym Gates; you can find the audio version on Podcastle here.

Call and Answer, Plant and Harvest” is set in the city of Serendib, a location that has for some reason supplied a number of very short pieces set on its streets, including “The Subtler Art” and “The Owlkit, the Candymaker, the Beekeeper, and the Brewer”. This appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies; it was originally written for an anthology but the editor was anti-Chaos Mage. 😉 Luckily editor Scott Andrews was not.

“Elsewhere, Within, Elsewhen” was originally written for Beyond the Sun, an anthology edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. It features a protagonist trying to come to terms with his husband’s betrayal, on an alien world that presents him with an extraordinary way to escape it.

Ms. Liberty Gets a Haircut” originally appeared in Strange Horizons but has been reprinted in multiple anthologies. It’s my favorite of all my superhero stories.

Bigfoot, reprinted on my site here, originally appeared in a feminist fiction issue of literary magazine 13th Moon and features a newly appeared Bigfoot and the reporter covering that appearance.

Want more? My Tabat series features the charismatic Bella Kanto, a bisexual gladiator who finds herself thrust into schemes to overthrow the government — and very structure — of the city she fights for, Tabat.

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Fiction Reading: Exiles of Tabat, Chapter One

Due to the pandemic and isolation, I wasn’t able to do any live readings from my new novel, EXILES OF TABAT. So here you go!

Explore a fantasy world where the magical creatures on whom Tabat depends are revolting against their servitude. Exiled Gladiator Bella Kanto must cope with her new life — and the fact that the magic that sustained her once is now slipping away. Meanwhile printer’s apprentice Lucy has been kidnapped — and only a mistaken identity has saved her thus far. I’ve recorded Chapter One here, and hope you enjoy it. This is the third book in the series, and probably not the best one to start with if you’re new to the series, in which case I suggest starting with BEASTS OF TABAT. Thanks and let me know what you think!

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Rambo Academy Calendar for June/July 2021

Tuesday, June 1
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Wednesday, June 2
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Story discussion group, 11 AM-noon; Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Thursday, June 3
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Friday, June 4
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Chill and chat 10 AM-11 AM; Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Saturday, June 5
Prophecies, Predictions, and Prognostications: Creating Fortune-Telling Systems for Your World with Cat Rambo, 1:00-3:00 PM Pacific Time.

Sunday, June 6
Tarot for Writers with Monica Valentinelli, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time.
Story Generator Workshop with Evan J. Peterson, 1:00-3:00 PM Pacific Time.

Monday, June 7
If you’re on the Discord server, tell us your weekly goals in the #motivation channel!
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Tuesday, June 8
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Wednesday, June 9
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Writing games, 11 AM-noon; Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Thursday, June 10
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Friday, June 11
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Chill and chat 10 AM-11 AM; Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Saturday, June 12
Writing Masculinity with Sam J. Miller, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time.

Sunday, June 13
Behind the Curtain: Nuts and Bolts of Small Press Publishing with Catherine Lundoff, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time.
Literary Techniques for Genre Writers with Cat Rambo, 1:00-3:00 PM Pacific Time.

Monday, June 14
If you’re on the Discord server, tell us your weekly goals in the #motivation channel!
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Tuesday, June 15
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Wednesday, June 16
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Story discussion group, 11 AM-noon; Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Thursday, June 17
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Friday, June 18
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Chill and chat 10 AM-11 AM; Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Saturday, June 19
Taking Your Titles to the Next Level with Cat Rambo, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time.
All the Myriad Ways: Career Management for Indie, Traditional, and Hybrid Writers with Jennifer Brozek, 1:00-3:00 PM Pacific Time.

Sunday, June 20
Writing Stories that Change the World with Cat Rambo, Sunday, June 20, 2021, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time.
It’s Coming from Inside the House: Writing Domestic Dangers and Haunted Homes with Evan J. Peterson, 1:00-3:00 PM Pacific Time.

Monday, June 21
If you’re on the Discord server, tell us your weekly goals in the #motivation channel!
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Tuesday, June 22
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Wednesday, June 23
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Writing games, 11 AM-noon; Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Thursday, June 24
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Friday, June 25
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Chill and chat 10 AM-11 AM; Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Saturday, June 26
Rewriting, Revising, and Fine-Tuning Fiction with Cat Rambo, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time.

Sunday, June 27
Return to Journaling for Creativity with Fran Wilde, 9:30-11:30 AM Pacific Time.

Monday, June 28
If you’re on the Discord server, tell us your weekly goals in the #motivation channel!
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Tuesday, June 29
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Wednesday, June 30
Unmoderated co-working sessions midnight – 3 AM, 8:30-10:30 AM, 6:30-8:30 PM;  Writing games, 11 AM-noon; Moderated co-working 1-3 PM

Thursday, July 1 -August 1
Academy on reduced hours; unmoderated co-working and clean and chats will occur, along with some writing games, but no classes.

For more info about joining the Discord server, registering for classes, and free scholarships, see this link.

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Video: Three Tips for Success with Patreon

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Guest Post: Author Influences and Aha! Moments: The Evolution of Writing by S.G. Browne

Most writers can probably remember the moment when they realized that they wanted to become a writer. Maybe it was a story someone read to them when they were a child. Or a novel they read in junior high. Or the first time they wrote a poem or a short story for an English assignment in elementary school. Maybe they saw a play or a film and felt inspired to write their own script. Or wrote an article for their high school newspaper. Or took a writing class in college.

Everyone has their Aha! moment. An epiphany that sends them down a path of words and characters and plots, that takes them on a journey of creativity and self-doubt and soul-crushing rejection. Not to mention years of emotional therapy.

That moment for me happened in the late fall of 1985, during the first semester of my sophomore year in college. I’d been introduced to The Stand by Stephen King the previous summer and devoured the novel while on a family vacation. I didn’t read much as a kid. I was allergic to libraries and would rather play outside or watch TV. Books were an afterthought or a requirement for high school American and Western Lit classes. Although I did enjoy Vonnegut. And Lord of the Flies remains near the top of my list of Desert Island Books (irony noted). But after reading The Stand, I was hooked.

So I picked up a few more of King’s novels, along with novels by Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, Robert McCammon, F. Paul Wilson, and John Saul, among others. All horror writers, all the time. I’d fallen in love with reading and I couldn’t imagine my life without books. But there came a moment when I was in the middle of The Talisman by King and Straub that I became so caught up in the adventure unfolding within the pages of the story that the world outside of the novel ceased to exist. It was something I’d never experienced before. Not with The Stand or any other of the books I’d read. And it was such an amazing and exhilarating moment that I thought: I want to make someone feel like this.

So I took some writing classes and I kept reading. When I graduated, I got a job to pay the bills and wrote short stories in my spare time, sending them out to magazines in the hopes of having them published. The stories were all of the supernatural horror variety, of course. And the influence of the books I’d read, especially the novels of King and Straub, loomed large on my writing. They were, after all, the impetus for my wanting to become a writer.

Over the next decade, I wrote dozens of short stories along with three novels. While I managed to get a dozen of the stories published, the pay didn’t amount to much. And although I received positive feedback on my novels, none of them found an agent or a home. Writing soon became a grind, the joy replaced by discouragement, and I started to question whether or not continuing along this path was something that I wanted to do. Cue the self-doubt.

Soon after, in October 2002, I was browsing the books at my local bookstore in preparation for another trip and came across the novel Lullaby by Chuck Palahniuk. I’d seen the movie Fight Club and loved it, and Lullaby was a supernatural horror-satire with a premise that sounded fun. So I bought a copy and put it in my backpack for the flight.

Have you ever read the first few pages of a novel or a short story and had to go back and reread them immediately because they spoke to you in a way that no story has ever spoken to you before? Suddenly an idea forms in your head. Except it’s more than just an idea. It’s an awareness. A realization that you have this story inside of you but you never knew it was waiting to be told until that moment.

That’s what happened to me in the first five minutes of that airplane flight, reading the opening pages of Lullaby. I’d written previous supernatural horror stories with elements of dark comedy and social satire but had never considered expanding any of them into a novel-length form. The idea had never occurred to me. But the dark comedy and social satire in Lullaby spoke to me in a way that straight supernatural horror no longer did.

So I read more Palahniuk. Around that same time, I discovered the comedic fantasy books of Christopher Moore (Lamb and Bloodsucking Fiends). Together, the influence of their books had an enormous impact on my writing. Where King and Straub had made me realize that I wanted to become a writer, Palahniuk and Moore made me realize what I wanted to do as a writer.

When I finally sat down to flesh out my darkly comedic short story “A Zombie’s Lament” that I’d written a year earlier, I discovered the joy of writing again. More than that, I discovered my voice. And that voice helped me to write Breathers, my fourth novel and first published novel, which came out in 2009.

I wrote four more novels after that, all of them dark comedy and social satire with a supernatural, speculative, or fantastic element. In addition to Palahniuk and Moore, I continued to read King and Straub but added other writers to my diet, including Gaiman, Pratchett, and Hiaasen, who all helped my writing to evolve. But Palahniuk and Moore were the catalyst for the writer I had become.

Then around 2014-2015, I discovered the short story collections of Karen Russell and Kelly Link, specifically St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Get in Trouble. This discovery created a third shift in my writing and I found myself exploring ideas and stories and characters that I never would have considered writing about before. Not only did the stories of Russell and Link inspire me to write a number of my own short stories, but they also helped me to bring more balance to my writing.

Although all of my novels and many of my previous short stories included female characters who featured prominently in the plot, none of the women played the role of the main protagonist. Half of the 14 stories in my new collection, Lost Creatures, are told from a female POV—including a ten-year-old Japanese girl, a college zombie, and a time-jumping alcoholic. And they are some of my favorite stories I’ve ever written.

Over the course of my creative career, dozens of writers have had an impact on my writing, influencing and inspiring me. And while my writing wouldn’t be the same without the existence of every single one of those writers, the books and words written by these six authors found me at the right time and had the most significant impact on the formation and the evolution of my writing.

BIO: S.G. Browne is the author of the novels Breathers, Fated, Lucky Bastard, Big Egos, and Less Than Hero, as well as the short story collection Shooting Monkeys in a Barrel and the heartwarming holiday novella I Saw Zombies Eating Santa Claus. He’s also the author of The Maiden Poodle, a self-published fairy tale about anthropomorphic cats and dogs suitable for children and adults of all ages. His new short story collection, Lost Creatures, is a blend of fantasy, science fiction, dark comedy, and magical realism. He’s an ice cream connoisseur, Guinness aficionado, and a cat enthusiast. You can follow him on TwitterFacebookInstagram, check out his website at, or learn more about his new collection Lost Creatures.

If you’re an author or other fantasy and science fiction creative, and want to do a guest blog post, please check out the guest blog post guidelines. Or if you’re looking for community from other F&SF writers, sign up for the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers Critclub!

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Video: How to Screw Up

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