How to Dunk Your Reader in the Details (Figuratively)

I’m finishing up converting the workshop I did at Surrey International Writers Conference a month or so ago, Dunking Your Readers in the Details, as an on-demand class. That class was in turn based on an hourlong online writing class I did for Greg Wilson’s Twitch channel a few months ago.

The class has been fun to put together. Over the course of being taught multiple times, it’s evolved to a point where it presents a dozen tools for writing more immersive worlds, and includes several exercises to allow you to test out the different techniques and see what works for you.

Curious about it? Here’s the section on prioritizing the senses.

A common tool of “Golden Age science fiction” — the late 1930s through the 50s, when science fiction was first coming into its own as a genre — was to invoke all five senses within the first page of a story.

It turns out there’s some science behind that method, in that writing that uses the senses creates more brain activity, setting off mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are neurons that fire under two circumstances: when you are experiencing an event and secondly when you are watching someone else experience it. Writing that invokes the senses makes mirror neurons fire, which makes your reader feel as though they’re experiencing what you are describing.

But beyond that, three of the five senses are more useful to you and should be focused on. Sight and sound will come naturally, and we’re inured to them from watching television and the movies. What you need to push to invoke are smell, taste, and most importantly: touch.

Why is the last the most important? Because touch is more than a question of smooth or rough, velvet versus pebbled. It includes:

◦ Temperature like a chilly breeze, the warmth of a sunbeam

◦ Bodily sensations such as pain, nausea, exhaustion, fever, itches

◦ Motion moments like falling, flying, and floating

When you use these senses in your writing, you are making the reader feel as though they are in the body of the point of view character and experiencing the story world through them. This is a key technique when writing an immersive world.

Update: the class is now available here!

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Cat Rambo Award Eligibility for 2019

It’s that time of year again when I urge my students and mentees not to be shy about spreading word of the great stuff they’ve done over the course of the year. I’ve blogged before about how important it is particularly for marginalized writers, and you can find my usual round-up of such posts here along with A.C. Wise’s here.

What did I publish over the course of the year? The thing I’m proudest of is my novelette, CARPE GLITTER, which just came out from Meerkat Press. It is available in both electronic and print form. If you’re reading for awards and need a copy, please let me know.

Other things I had published include:
A Merchant Has Maxims (novelette) UNFETTERED III, edited by Shawn Speakman

A Merchant had a journal since first learning to write. A Merchant without one felt that lack like a missing limb, something Essa kept reaching for and not finding. She already missed being able to flip through it at night, to figure out the results of different actions and what part each God had played, from small ones like Kepterto, who handled tailors, or Rilriliworhaomu, Trade God of Hypothetical Marital Alliances, to the larger ones like Enba and Anbo, Want and Supply.

Big Rural (short story), THE WEIGHT OF LIGHT, edited by Joey Eschrich and Clark A. Miller

She gulped down the last of the water and stuck the bottle in her purse. The tomato red sun rolled on the horizon, sending long black shadows walking across the land, towards the enormous black square that was Phase One of the Sol Dominion power plant, glittering in the last of the sunlight. You could barely see the storage structures scattered among them like enormous alien flowers, many petalled and made of dark carbonized plastic with an oily undersheen of cobalt and purple.

Arms folded, she looked towards the town bordering that square to the east, where lights were flickering alive. She could name most of them. The gas station. The diner. The tiny grocery/hardware/drugstore locals just called “the store.” The two block strip that was Main Street, the grade school on one end, the high school on the other, but meeting in shared sports fields: baseball, soccer. Still no football stadium. The coal plant, unlit now.

When you came home again, even “the big rural” as the song called it, things were supposed to have changed. Here the only change was that black square. Between the town lights and the scattered but symmetrical lights surrounding the plant, a dark strip, perhaps a mile wide, stretched, unlit. As though town and plant had turned their backs on each other.

A Hand Extended, (short story), CITIES OF DUST, PLANES OF LIGHT, edited by Todd Sanders

The person closest to the mage was an Ettilite, all four arms folded. Despite stiffly formal body language, he was dressed simply for his race: plain brown tunic drawn over his humanoid torso’s purple skin, and matching trews and…were those boots? On shipboard you never needed such a thing, and coming down to Tarn had been a revelation to Niko in her flimsy ship-sandals. Imagine having to dress for a totally random circumstance called “weather”? It was absurd. She hated this place.

Niko gnawed at a cuticle, then caught herself and dropped her hand back into her lap. Stay calm and don’t expend energy. Save it for the Threefold Gauntlet.

How I Come to Be the Queen of Treacle, (short story), WONDERLAND, edited by Marie Keegan and Paul Kane

When we grimbled, how we grambled, children, down in those treacle mines, with a slow syrup slurry that clung to your boots, your hands, and every bit of skin, so you’d lick your lips, vicious-like, and taste gritty sugar and wonder what was happening up in the blue-sky world. And then we grimbled and we grambled more, and when we were weary walking, sleep stepping, we came up to the wasty world and tumbled into our blankets, and then in the morning before the sun came into the sky, we went back down and did it all again.

Broken all My Boughs and Brittle My Heart (short story), UNLOCKING THE MAGIC, edited by Vivian Caethe

It was a lizard dropping on her face from the ceiling that woke Ambra in a panic. They ran back and forth all night, feasting on spiders and midges and the slower moths, but they were sticky-footed and rarely lost their grip. This one scampered away while she smacked herself in the face, much harder than she’d intended, so that she saw stars and bit her tongue, all at once.

Dawn, seeping gray, outlined the window, showing the shutter slats as faint lines of light. She nursed her tongue, which felt awkward and painful in her mouth, and swallowed blood as she swung herself up and out of bed, abandoning thought of sleep. Once she’d had a soldier’s knack of being able to sleep anywhere, anytime, but nowadays that skill was long gone and she was lucky to pluck a few uneasy hours from a night.

Cold stone struck her feet as she stood, and she fished around under the bed for the knitted socks that served her as slippers, disreputable and threadbare but warmer than being barefoot. The narrow chamber had only the single window; she moved to it and swung the shutters open, then leaned out on the wide stone sill.

The Chosen One (flash story) Patreon
Neighbors Poem poem, Patreon
April Rain (poem), Patreon
Quick Gulch Poem (poem), Patreon
Poem for Sarah, this blog

Nonfiction and other sundry things

Patreon content varied but included things like this story wrangling session, special convention ribbons, and so many pictures of my cat Taco
Video tutorial on researching and evaluating story markets
Video on submitting to story markets
An on-demand flash fiction class
Nonfiction essay for Clarkesworld, Stories That Change the World
Edited political science fiction anthology IF THIS GOES ON

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Round-up of Awards Posts by F&SF Writers, Editors, and Publishers for 2019

Once again I have created this post for consolidating fantasy and science fiction award eligibility round-ups. Here are the rules.

I prefer to link to, in order of preference:

  1. Your blog post listing what you published that is eligible
  2. Your social media post listing what you published that is eligible
  3. A single link to the material that is available online

Fair warning: If I have to click through multiple links in order to figure out your name and which category you should be put in, it will slow me down and make me cranky.

A.C. Wise maintains a similar list here.

Here are the SFWA recommended reading lists. These lists are the suggestions made by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and represent pieces they found particularly read-worthy over the course of the year. Appearance on the list is NOT the same thing as a Nebula nomination.

Here is the Coyotl Award Recommended List.
Here is a page where the Dragon Awards spreadsheet maintained by Red Panda Fraction will appear.
Here is the Hugo Award Nominees Wiki

Writers (Game and Fiction)

  1. B. Morris Allen
  2. Mike Allen
  3. G.V. Anderson
  4. R.R. Angell
  5. Marika Bailey
  6. Jason Baltazar
  7. Elly Bangs
  8. Devan Barlow
  9. Yaroslav Barsukov
  10. Phoebe Barton
  11. L.X. Beckett
  12. Rebecca Bennett
  13. Brooke Bolander
  14. Keyan Bowes
  15. Laurence Raphael Brothers
  16. Rebecca Campbell
  17. Isabel Cañas
  18. Thomas K. Carpenter
  19. Siobhan Carroll
  20. Eleanna Castroianni
  21. S.A. Chakraborty
  22. L. Chan
  23. Keidra Chaney
  24. Carolyn Charron
  25. Tim Chawaga
  26. Mike Chen
  27. John Chu
  28. Nino Cipri
  29. M.L. Clark
  30. C.S.E. Cooney
  31. P.A. Cornell
  32. Brandon Crilly
  33. Raymond Daley
  34. Indrapramit Das
  35. David Demchuk
  36. Meghan Ciana Doidge
  37. Jen Donahue
  38. Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald
  39. Aidan Doyle
  40. Nicky Drayden
  41. Katharine Duckett
  42. Andy Dudak
  43. Laura Duerr
  44. Andy Duncan
  45. R.K. Duncan
  46. Anthony W. Eichenlaub
  47. Meg Elison
  48. Jasre’ Ellis
  49. Louis Eon
  50. S. Usher Evans
  51. Karolina Fedyk
  52. Vanessa Fogg
  53. Teresa Frohock
  54. H.L. Fullerton
  55. Scott Gable
  56. Ephiny Gale
  57. R.S.A. Garcia
  58. Catherine George
  59. Craig Gidney
  60. Chadwick Ginther
  61. Lora Gray
  62. A.T. Greenblatt
  63. Elad Haber
  64. Cathrin Hagey
  65. Christine Hanolsy
  66. Nin Harris
  67. Alix E. Harrow
  68. Maria Haskins
  69. Tyler Hayes
  70. Kate Heartfield
  71. Joachim Heijndermans
  72. Judy Helfrich
  73. Russell Hemmell
  74. Crystal Lynn Hilbert
  75. Audrey Hollis
  76. Nalo Hopkinson
  77. Jessica Jo Horowitz
  78. Kat Howard
  79. Jennifer Hudak
  80. Andrew D. Hudson
  81. Walter Hunt
  82. Brit Hvide (see also in Editor category)
  83. Innocent Chizaram Ilo
  84. Jessica Jo
  85. Heather Rose Jones
  86. Mikki Kendall
  87. Brandon Ketchum
  88. Ahmed A. Khan
  89. Scott King
  90. Gwendolyn Kiste
  91. Ellen Klages
  92. Barbara Krasnoff
  93. Jordan Kurella
  94. J.R.H. Lawless
  95. Fonda Lee
  96. Kara Lee
  97. Sharon Lee
  98. Tonya Liburd
  99. Marissa Lingen
  100. S. Qiouyi Lu
  101. Catherine Lundoff
  102. Nicole Lungerhausen
  103. Jenn Lyons
  104. Jei D. Marcade
  105. Marshall Maresca
  106. Alanna McFall
  107. K.C. Mead-Brewer
  108. Jo Miles
  109. Steve Miller
  110. Samantha Mills
  111. Premee Mohamed
  112. Aidan Moher (see also in Other category)
  113. Mimi Mondal
  114. Dan Moren
  115. Diane Morrison
  116. Rajiv Moté
  117. J.D. Moyer
  118. Munin and Hugin
  119. Annie Neugebauer
  120. Valerie Nieman
  121. Wendy Nikel
  122. Bennett North
  123. Julie Novakova
  124. Brandon O’Brien
  125. Laura O’Brien
  126. Clare O’Dell
  127. Aimee Ogden
  128. L’Erin Ogle
  129. Tobi Ogundiran
  130. Malka Older
  131. Chinelo Onwualu
  132. Emma Osbourne
  133. Karen Osbourne
  134. Suzanne Palmer
  135. Suzanne Palumbo
  136. Rhonda Parrish
  137. Charles Payseur
  138. Aaron Perry
  139. Cindy Phan
  140. Dominica Phetteplace
  141. Sarah Pinsker
  142. Vina Jie-Min Prasad
  143. Laura E. Price
  144. Hache Pueyo
  145. Alexander Pyles
  146. Carly Racklin
  147. Cat Rambo
  148. Shiv Ramdas
  149. Jenny Rae Rappaport
  150. Arula Ratnakar
  151. Jessica Reisman
  152. Juliana Rew
  153. Joanne Rixon
  154. Rebecca Roanhorse
  155. S. Brackett Robinson
  156. Marsheila Rockwell
  157. Karlo Yeager Rodríguez
  158. N.R.M. Roshak
  159. Frances Rowat
  160. Alexandra Rowland
  161. Eden Royce
  162. A.T. Sayre
  163. Effie Seiberg
  164. Nibedita Sen
  165. Ben Serna-Gray
  166. Grace Seybold
  167. Jennifer Shelby
  168. Sameem Siddiqui
  169. Elsa Sjunneson-Henry
  170. Rivers Solomon
  171. Carlie St. George
  172. David Steffen
  173. Romie Stott
  174. Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
  175. RoAnna Sylver
  176. Bogi Takacs
  177. Wole Talabi
  178. Jordan R. Taylor
  179. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas
  180. Tade Thompson
  181. Steve Toase
  182. E. Catherine Tobler
  183. Evgenia Triantafylloy
  184. Cadwell Turnbull
  185. Setsu Uzume
  186. Valerie Valdes
  187. Ricardo Victoria
  188. Erin K. Wagner
  189. Phoebe Wagner
  190. Izzy Wasserstein
  191. Kat Weaver
  192. Chuck Wendig
  193. Sally Wiener Grotta
  194. Fran Wilde
  195. Alison Wilgus
  196. A.C. Wise
  197. John Wiswell
  198. Isabel Yap
  199. Caroline Yoachim





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Guest Post: Chelsea Eckert on On Writing Anthropomorphic Animal Characters (For Adults)

As someone who works deeply in the zoo/conservation industries and spends a lot of time pretending to be a tiger at conventions around the country, you might say I’m enthusiastic about animals.

You’d be wrong, of course.

I’m zealous in my love for them. If I could be a little shield-carrying furry paladin, I would. (In fact, I play one in a homebrewed Dungeons and Dragons campaign.) I could go on and on about the why—because as an autistic person I relate to critters more, because there’s always something new to discover about ‘em, because they’re just badass—but the point is this…
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Checking In: October Stuff

I’m off to Multiverse Con next week – it’s their first year, and I’m there as Industry Guest of Honor along with Seanan McGuire and John Piccacio. Come say hi if you’re there! Two weeks after that I’ll be up in Surrey BC as a presenter at the Surrey International Writers Conference.

In writing stuff, I am working hard this month on EXILES OF TABAT, which should go to beta readers on November 1. THE FIVE OF US, my middle grade space opera, just went off to readers at the beginning of the month. Next up in writing is the sequel to the Tor space opera, which will be my November project. In December, I’m going to focus on short stories and outlining three of my 2020 projects: a horror novel, a novella project, and the third space opera book.
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Guest Post: Catherine Lundoff Talks About Gothic Horror And Me

This Sunday, Catherine Lundoff will be teaching a class that’s particularly apropos for this Halloween-laden month, on one of my favorite flavors of horror: gothic fiction. She talks about some of the influences that have brought her to gothic fiction, and what she loves about it.

Edward Gorey was one of the guiding lights of my teenage years. I saw his sets for “Dracula” on Broadway when I was about twelve and it was like coming home, aesthetically, at least. I loved his black and white drawings, his weird stories, his obsessions with cats and opera singers. I still do. I like to think of him as my posthumous Fairy Gothmother, who opened the door to a marvelous dark universe where I could wear black all the time and didn’t need to pretend to be happy if I wasn’t.

I read Dracula, of course, and “Carmilla” and Poe and Wilde and Northanger Abbey. Austen turned me on to Ann Radcliffe, but I found Byron on my own. I discovered fashion, the kind where you rim your eyes with liner and wear multiple black on black outfits that have, perhaps, a hint of lace or silk, if you are lucky. And when I got to college, it was 1981 and there I found Adam Ant and Prince and Siouxsie Sioux, along with glorious morbid folk rock bands like Steeleye Span. So many murder ballads! So much gender play and glorious costumes! All of it became a part of me long before I thought of myself as a writer or a teacher or as Goth.

I devoured Gothic romances by the likes of Victoria Holt and Mary Stewart, Gothic horror in its multimedia splendor, even more murder ballads, artwork, outfits with all the black lace my teenage heart could imagine. Starting to write ghost stories and tales of haunted mansions could not be far behind, though in my case it started with vampire stories and editing the first (to the best of my knowledge) anthology of lesbian ghost stories. From there, I moved on to writing ghost stories myself as well as monster tales, media tie-ins, psychological horror, each story shaped and honed by my earlier reading and watching.

These days, I’m a huge fan of Gothic horror and romance films and shows like Crimson Peak, Penny Dreadful and The Addams Family. I’ve written horror tales for publications like Respectable Horror, Fireside Fiction and one of the Vampire the Gathering 20th Anniversary tie-in anthologies, as well as my own collection, Unfinished Business: Tales of the Dark Fantastic. A childhood enthusiasm has morphed into a lifelong affinity for ghosts, haunted mansions and various interpretations of the monstrous.

I love watching authors and other creators turn their eye to new interpretations of female and queer monsters and different kinds of outsider survivors. The Gothic Heroine doesn’t have to be a cisgendered white Final Girl or married under dubious circumstances to a love interest who is, perhaps, not to be trusted. I want to read more of these stories, as well as classics like The Woman in Black and We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Let me help you bring your dark fiction into the light and help it come alive, no pun intended. Crimson Peaks and Menacing Mansions is an online class that I’m teaching on 10/13 from 9:30-11:30 PST at Cat Rambo’s Academy for Wayward Writers.. It will include a mix of lecture, discussion and writing exercises, as well as the opportunity to ask questions. I hope you’ll be intrigued enough to check it out!

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Guest Post: Roxanne Bland on Living in the Underground

“This is the weirdest book I’ve ever read.”

That’s what one woman wrote in her pre-release review of my paranormal urban fantasy/romance/science fiction hybrid The Underground. What a fabulous compliment! I wasn’t going for weird when I wrote the story but that’s the way my mind works so I’m happy to know my weirdness shone through. Still, I wonder what it was about the novel she found strange. Could it be The Underground is the story of an alpha werewolf and an interstellar assassin who fall for each other? Hm…maybe it was the sex. It’s not every day one snags a ringside seat at the Bedroom Olympics where one of the partners is an eight-foot wolf.

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Guest Post: Dawn Vogel on Fairy Tales and Fiction

Fairy tales have been around in one form or another for centuries, even if they weren’t written down and compiled into collections like Grimm’s Fairy Tales. They’ve changed over the centuries as well, shifting from folk stories to morality tales to more sanitized or “Disney-fied” versions of what they once were. In the process of this sanitization, oftentimes the messages the fairy tales purported to dictate have changed. Gone is the Little Mermaid who watched her beloved marry someone else, at which point she cast herself back into the ocean and drowned, showing us that you shouldn’t change for someone you love. Instead, we get the version where the mermaid and prince live happily ever after, flipping the moral to be that you can (and should?) change in order to make someone love you.
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Late September Thoughts and Checking In

I’ve been reveling in a chance to be productive and at home after a summer so full of travel, and have been getting at least 1-2k words in on most days, plus I’ve gotten back to early morning gym runs, so hurray me and boo for the fact that it stays dark later and later every day.

It’s very much fall and drizzling rain here. The raccoons have devoured the last of the grapes from the grapevine, shelf fungi has sprouted at several points on the front porch, and we’re experiencing an invasion of Seattle’s notorious Giant House Spiders, so I feel ready for October. Recent experiences include leading a trivia team in the Clarion West Trivia Night, lots of gaming, and taking Seanan McGuire to the Washington State Fair. Also so many spiders lately. Just so many. We have a detente and when I catch them I let them go under the bookcase downstairs but I have also warned them I will destroy any egg sacs I find in the name of sanity.

With projects and books, here’s what’s going on:
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Guest Post: Michael Mammay on Reading Outside the Genre

Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” I don’t know many pro writers who disagree with him. We might debate how much reading is enough, and I think a lot of us struggle to find time for writing, reading, and the myriad other things we have to do to live. To me, that competition for time makes the time that I do have to read more important.

I’m a science fiction writer. Right now, I write military sci-fi thrillers. My debut novel, PLANETSIDE, came out in 2018 and the sequel, SPACESIDE, released in late August. I think it surprises people when I tell them that the biggest influence on PLANETSIDE was GONE GIRL, by Gillian Flynn. If you happened to have read both, you’re probably thinking to yourself…but wait…PLANETSIDE is nothing like GONE GIRL.

Of course it isn’t. Yet, here we are.
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