Wednesday, August 4, 2021

New Story in On Spec Magazine

My short story, "Hand Delivered", (a prequel to my WIP-novel) came out in On Spec Magazine, #116, (June, 2021).

Amazing Stories' reviewer (and the editor of Polar Borealis) Graeme Cameron, called it "Enjoyably old-fashioned space opera, yet psychologically astute and offering much food for thought."

The same issue features Cat Mcdonald's in depth interview with me, which Cameron also included in his review, calling it "tremendously inspirational" and that "it’s crammed with pertinent and valuable advice on writing and editing. You owe it to yourself to read it."

So pretty pleased with all of that.

Monday, June 21, 2021

"Birthday Barbeque" Reprinted in Best of 2020 Collection

I'm pleased to have my short story "Birthday Barbeque" reprinted in Potato Soup Journal's "Best of 2020" collection. The Amazon blurb says "These fiction and nonfiction stories from around the world range from the transformative to the inexplicable. The end of a love story hangs in a tree, a family barbecue enters the twilight zone, and a woman seeks the ultimate backdrop for Zoom meetings, with unexpected consequences." I'm rather flattered that "Birthday Barbeque" is one of the three stories highlighted in the blurb.

The story idea came to me at a family barbeque over 15 years ago but it took me a while to get it to work on paper. With Twighlight-style stories, one has to walk a fine line between over-explaining and being too obscure. Pleased that the editors must have thought I got that right.



Chicago Manual of Style Applied to Fiction

The Chicago Manual of Style is industry standard for North American publishing, but it was designed for academic texts, not fiction. So, that's always been problematic when coming up with questions about style while editing (writing) fiction. I was this many days old when another editor pointed out that Chicago Manual has a BLOG for fiction to answer those questions:

Well duh! Great resource!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

New Short Story Published

Was super excited when I got my copy of the Scottish SF&F magazine, Shoreline of Infinity_#21, in which my story "Al/ice" appears, to realize I got my own interior Andrew Owens illustration! It's totally great! (I think the last time I rated custom interior illustrations was 1989 in the first issue of _On Spec_ Magazine.)

The story features Fami and his friends, previously seen in "Fami's Dissertation Defense" published _Ripples in Space_ (Spring, 2020) and in and "Detour on the 8-Fold Path" published in _Neo-Opsis Magazine_ #31 (Nov, 2020). "Al/ice" is the origin story for Fami meeting Julia. There's one more Fami and the Watch story looking for a home, and two more that still need to be written, and then I can put out a reprint collection of stories about Fami and crew...

You can get a copy of issue #21 (or other Shoreline of Infinity issues/books) at

Old Short Story Published

Received my copy of the newly released _The Chorochronos Archives_, edited by Jessica Augustsson, with my story "Sermon on the Mount" [which originally appeared in On Spec Magazine, #106, Vl 28 (3) (January 2018).] Very pleased with the cover and with everyone at JayHenge. I will definitely submit stories to them again. A class operation... recommended.

Less is More: Burger Toppings

An excellent column by editor Laura Bontje on why less is often more in fiction:


Photo. credit: Fresh Avocados - Love One Today:

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

New Short Story Published

Just received my copy of Mythic #15 with my story, "Jerry" in it. Pleased to find my name on the cover, rather than my usual "and other stories" spot.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

The Value of Pay vs Non-Paying Markets for Short Stories

On FB, someone asked “Is it worth submitting to non-paying markets, or are we just perpetuating the exploitation of writers?”, and received a good deal of sanctimonious feedback about how real writers always get paid for their work and that non-paying markets (“for exposure”) were completely unacceptable. I beg to differ. Never one to waste a good rant, I repost my arguments here.

Capitalist Ideology

First, although I certainly agree that writing should be valued, the idea that “My work is only worthwhile if paid for it” is capitalist thinking. I reject this hypothesis, as I reject the hypothesis that one is only a "real" author if one is a full time professional, professional defined as writing as their primary source of income. A hearty “Bah humbug!” to that.

I frequently submit to literary magazines, almost none of which pay in coin. Instead, I look for quality work with which I would like to be associated; high production values; and/or a fabulous community which one joins by contributing; and/or an interesting call for submissions. There are themes I wish to explore, so if there is a nonpaying literary market featuring that theme this month, I will go there. I do not mind not getting paid if it is for non-commercial markets (i.e., where all the staff are similarly unpaid volunteers putting their time, energy, and frequently money into producing art).

On the other hand, there are commercial markets that range from decent pay (I'm not Atlantic Monthly market worthy yet, so I won't say 'pay well') to those that pay nothing. I will not submit to a commercial market that makes money and pays authors nothing. I will consider low paying markets if I believe the editors are similarly investing more sweat equity and they are receiving $, and then the same criteria applies as for literary markets.

I have also donated stories to anthologies for good causes, such as a story I donated for an anthology to raise money for a women's shelter, or to support a writing charity, or etc. (I can usually sell those to a reprint or an audio market later, since the charity volumes are usually strictly local.) I donated a story to one anthology because the editor asked and I owed them a favour for a beta read that went miles beyond that definition to a full edit of the first 1/3 of the novel, which provided me the insights to do the next 2/3.

Therefore: there are lots of reasons to submit to literary journals or anthologies besides cash, and no reason to look down upon quality non-paying markets. I only eschew for-profit markets which are clearly rackets, where the editor/publisher is making $$ while the authors do not get an appropriate share. or where people try to con me with "exposure" nonsense.

The Referee Function

I frequently send out stories on simultaneous submission to gauge whether I have accurately assessed the story's quality. I start, of course, at the highest paying market and work my way down and sometimes my trunk stories end up in a non-paying market because that's still better than the trunk. If the other stories in that issue are of sufficient quality that I am happy to join them, then I appreciate the publishing credit.

This is not about ‘exposure’ (because exposure markets don't bring one any credit among people who recognize those are either hopeless or a racket) but because I appreciate the REFEREE FUNCTION. I often love my writing unconditionally (as one should always love one's children) but a bit of a reality check doesn't hurt. Having had at least one editor appreciate and publish a story I was a bit ‘iffy’ about (and throw in a Pushcart nomination while they were at it) gives me the confidence to include that story in my self-published reprint collection. In contrast, that nobody has taken my favorite story--now approaching its 70th rejection--gives me pause to consider that one might not be one to put in my 'best of Robert' collection.

Occasional Feedback

Further, some few (literally, very few) send back rejections with very helpful feedback. I find this especially true of respected non-paying markets, who make up for lack of funding with sweat equity of a couple of sentences of feedback. That feedback is precious--even when it's wrong (e.g., misses the point), it tells me that I am not getting my point across clearly enough. Were I to PAY for that level of advice, it would cost considerably more than even the higher paying markets pay me.

So...I'll take the feedback, the refereeing and the support of (and support for) a community over coin.


Of course, I recognize that I am speaking from a place of privilege. The few dollars I could make writing SF&F could never approach what I got paid in my day job, or even what I make in retirement. To make the sort of money I need to maintain the life style to which I have become accustomed, I would have to sell a short story about every six hours. That is just never going to happen. I certainly appreciate the $200 or $300 a short story sometimes brings me, but I only sold 12 stories last year and $3000 is not an acceptable annual income.

It’s different for novels and nonfiction books, of course, though it remains an open question of whether I could position a novel to make significant coin, but at least that’s theoretically possible. But when it comes to short stories, it hasn’t been possible to make a living in that market since before Television. (Professional pay rates have stayed roughly what they were in the 1930s.)


I certainly support anyone who restricts their output to paying markets both as a measure of ‘having made it’ to that level, and as a source of income. I do not accept, however, that that gives them the right to look down upon those who choose to join a community of writers, seek feedback from a respected editor, support a charity, or choose literary prestige over a dubious paying market. (Correspondingly, I don’t let my literary friends get away with sneering at commercial genre markets either.)

Ultimately, the quality of one’s professionalism must be judged by the quality of one’s output. Commercial success/popularity is one reasonable measure of quality, but not the only one and one which is not necessarily reliable, luck and an appearance on Oprah playing as big a role as quality. Believing that coin is the ONLY acceptable measure is to buy into capitalist ideology.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Common Mistake #23: The Difference Between Omniscient POV and 'Head-Hopping'

A question that frequently comes up is “what do you mean by ‘head hopping’?” so let’s talk about the difference between ‘omniscient’ point of view and ‘head-hopping’.

A rough analogy with film would be omniscient POV is voiceover narrating the action… like color commentary watching a football game or described video over a battle scene. The camera’s always a little distant from the action so the reader can see everything happening at once. This contrasts with third person POV, where the story is told from one character’s point of view at a time. It’s placing the camera on one character’s helmet, so we see what that character sees, but only what that character sees and from that perspective. (With first-person POV, the camera is behind the character’s eyes, and we have a mic inside there so we hear that character’s thoughts too.) Head-hopping is where the story is written third-person, but the director keeps cutting between helmet cams so we see this part of the scene from character A’s point of view, and then this part from character B’s POV, etc. It can be done (you’ve seen it in a few movies) but…it’s almost impossible to pull off without making the viewer/reader dizzy. So…basic advice to anyone not currently in the million-seller category: don’t even think about trying it. It will suck.

It is way easier to stick to a single character’s pov so that your readers come to empathize with that character, adopt that character’s perspective, become engaged with the story. Switching too frequently throws the reader out of Character A’s story, which (a) becomes confusing for the reader to figure out whose head they’re seeing this from at this moment, and (b) interrupts Character A’s story. If I was invested in A’s story, interrupting that not only throws me out of A’s POV but out of the story itself. That is, the reader stops reading and picks up the next book on their ‘to be read’ shelf.

On the other hand, it is okay—often advantageous—to have different POV characters in alternating chapters. That allows you to have two different perspectives, each with their own motivations, goals, frustrations, etc, but sustained enough to keep the reader engaged and committed to that character in that chapter. Alternating chapters means you can leave each character on a cliff-hanger as you pick up the action with the other one—but moving the story forward so you can skip the boring bits in each character’s storyline. You’re not head-hopping because each chapter is only from one POV and a sustained storyline to which the reader commits. Some writers can do this with scenes within chapters, but I don’t recommend it because, again, really hard not to screw up.

The most manageable book to write is the single POV. Readers identify with that POV character and become engaged, invested. Omniscient can too easily become distancing—too much emphasis on longshots without close-ups, too much reliance on color commentary rather than the reader watching the action and figuring stuff out for themselves, and way, way too much risk of the omniscient narrator switching from showing to telling. Omniscient POV lends itself to expository lumps—and unless really careful, the writer slips into telling us the book’s outline rather than showing us/writing the story. Whereas, all you have to keep from breaking the ‘show don’t tell’ rule with the single (first- or third- POV) is ask yourself “what is my character seeing at this moment”, “how do they know that”, and “would they be thinking about that NOW?”

So nothing inherently wrong about omniscient, and you probably read others doing that all the time, but the % of my clients getting it wrong is way higher than those who go third- or first-person. My advice is always to keep it simple, manageable, and go third-person, but one’s mileage may vary.

But there is no question that head-hoping is almost always a fatal flaw. It almost always represents a lack of command over POV, and editors will stop reading the manuscript the first time it happens. As a reader, I’ve only encountered a single published book in the last twenty years that had head-hoping, and I ended up throwing it across the room, and looked askance at other books from that publisher from then on, because the editor should have caught that was happening and fixed it.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Pushcart Nomination

I am honoured that editor Janna Liggan nominated my story, "Weathering" for a Pushcart Award as one of the six best of the year in Lamplit Underground Magazine.

The story is free to read at