Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

philconGreat weekend! I spend most of it at PhilCon — the Philadelphia Science Fiction Conference. Actually held in Cherry Hill, N.J. But I guess PhilCon is too august a name to change lightly. This event has been going on in one form or another since 1936.

In the near future, I’m sure I’ll be blogging about different elements of it in greater detail. Geez, I got enough material there for a year’s worth of blog entries. And I got the contact info for a lot of people I intend to be interviewing here — after reviewing their works, in a lot of cases. So stay tuned.

Anyway, I was very impressed. Up to now, I haven’t really been big on conventions. As I’ve mentioned here many, many times, I love science fiction, horror and fantasy. And I certainly don’t want to put down the means by which anyone chooses to enjoy them. Hey, it’s a big tent. Glad everyone’s here.

Still, I’m just not into the obsessive parsing of specific TV shows and movies that seems to characterize a lot of fandom. And I had this image in my mind that the convention scene has a lot of that.

I was pleasantly surprised, though. PhilCon seemed to have a very pronounced emphasis on the literary side of science fiction, which I appreciated.

Hell, I walked through the door of the hotel and momentarily wondered if I was in the right place because the lobby wasn’t packed with people in outlandish costumes. The I looked to my right and saw Gardner Dozois — legendary writer and editor — hanging out at one of the hotel restaurant tables. The guy’s been one of my heroes since I was a kid. After suppressing a “SQUEEEE!” worthy of a 14-year-old girl who’s just spotted One Direction, I wandered over, told him I was a big fan, and asked if he could point me toward the convention.  Mr. Dozois, who proved to be every bit as cool as I could have hoped, did so.

So my convention experience started out good, and pretty much stayed there the entire weekend. I think I might end up attending more conventions.

Like I said, I plan to blog about it more. But I’m kind of tired and about to crash, so I’ll get to that later. Time to dream pleasant dreams stoked by the endorphin rush I’m still riding.

ZZZZZZZZ! What’s that, Mr. Dozois? You say you want to edit an anthology of my short stories with introductions by Joe R. Lansdale and Neil Gaiman? Why … I’m flattered. ZZZZZZZZZ!


cheesesteak 2“Naked Came the Cheesesteak.” Weird fetish site? No. At least … I hope not.

Actually, it’s a “serial novel” mystery, with each chapter written by a different Philadelphia-area writer. And it’s happening right now at Philadelphia Stories, where a new chapter is being released each month.

So how do nakedness and cheesesteaks tie in? Here’s a little bit of background.

Back in 1969, a bunch of journalists played a literary practical joke by releasing a deliberately bad book titled “Naked Came the Stranger,” in which each of them wrote a different chapter and released it under a pseudonym. Their intent was to show that any book could be a success, as long as it featured lots of sex. Turns out they were right. The book became a best-seller.

In 1996, a bunch of South Florida-area writers — including the legendary Carl Hiaasen and the beyond-legendary Elmore Leonard — did something similar by crafting a mystery/thriller parody in which a different author wrote each chapter. Unlike “Stranger,” this one wasn’t a hoax. But the title, “Naked Came the Manatee,” paid tribute to its literary forebear. Or, should I say … foreBARE?

Sorry. I kind of hate myself now. Anyway.

Some of the folks over at the wonderful Philadelphia Stories decided to do something similar with a bunch of Philadelphia-area writers.

I don’t want to talk about it too much. I’ll let co-editor Mitchell Sommers take care of that in the following interview.

But I will say this. I recently attended the launch party for “Naked Came the Cheesesteak,” at which a number of the authors gave readings from their contributions. I can tell you already that it’s very different from “Naked Came the Stranger,” which the writers intentionally made bad. Because “Cheesesteak” features some amazing writing.

The writers themselves, who didn’t see the chapters that came after their contributions, have no idea if it’s going to hold together as a story. But hold together or not, it will definitely be worth reading for the quality of the prose, if nothing else.

That’s why I wanted to feature it here. That, and the fact that it gives me an excuse to use the word “naked” a lot, which I figure will boost my Google search rankings.

By the way, the writers associated with the project are: Kelly Simmons, Nathaniel Popkin, Kelly McQuain, Warren Longmire, Don Lafferty, Tony Knighton, Merry Jones, Victoria Janssen, Shaun Haurin, Gregory Frost, Mary Anna Evans, Randall Brown and Diane Ayres.

The co-editors are Mitchell Sommers and Tori Bond.

So here are the questions that co-editor Mitchell Sommers graciously agreed to answer for me:

Q: Can you give us some background on how “Naked Came the Cheesesteak” happened, and your involvement with it?

A: The idea of a serial novel has been something I’ve thought about ever since reading the Dave Barry/Elmore Leonard creation “Naked Came the Manatee,” which was also a serial novel/ murder mystery set in Miami using South FL writers. It’s a crazy book (and totally worth reading). And when I finally had a forum to try something like this in Philly, I decided to try it. I’m fiction editor for “Philadelphia Stories,” and the two co-editors and founders, Christine Weiser and Carla Spataro, were totally on board. They may have thought I was nuts, but they were on board. I very quickly realized that I was not even going to come close to organizing this thing myself, and I asked Tori Bond, who is also with “Philadelphia Stories,” and who is a recent MFA graduate from Rosemont College, to become co-editor. She has an important quality I lack, that being anything involving even rudimentary organization skills. (Note to my law clients: Please ignore what I just said.)


Q: What were you hoping to accomplish with this?

A: Two things: First, I wanted to see what a bunch of writers, with different styles, writing in different genres, could do on a project like this. The story very quickly became a murder mystery–that format worked well with the concept, and it was a way of paying homage to Naked Came the Manatee. And it really did take on on a life and shape of its own. Getting several member of the Liars Club (Kelly SImmons, Merrey Deedee Jones, Gregory Frost and Don Lafferty) was a big help. We also had two poets (Warren Longmire and Kelly McQuain), which I thought added some interesting shape and texture to the project. But really, every writer brought something cool to the project.

Second, I wanted to bring attention to “Philadelphia Stories.” Our mission is fostering a community of writers in the Greater Philadelphia Area, and this fit perfectly. I wanted people to read us, to stick with us, to come to our readings and our yearly Push to Publish one day writers’ conference. And, hopefully, give us money. Our on-line auction is up right now.


Q: Do you think there’s any particular literary quality that tends to characterize work from the Philadelphia area?

A: I don’t think pretense is a quality you’re going to find in Philly writers. They, like the place, are a tough bunch, without a lot of fake sentimentality. Funny and poignancy exist pretty much side by side.


Q: Obviously, everyone involved is having some fun with this. But do you think it reveals anything about the storytelling process?

A: That it’s mysterious, lively, capable of taking inspiration from all kinds of places and if I knew more, I’d use it to finish my own novel.


Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Philadelphia Stories?

A: We’ve been around since 2004. That’s 11 years. We publish quarterly, featuring poetry, fiction, non-fiction and artwork. We are completely, totally free, and are distributed across the Delaware Valley, including every branch of the Philadelphia Library. We also publish PS Jr., twice a year, featuring the work of children up to 12th grade. And the aforementioned Push to Publish writers workshop, in which more and more agents (the magic word to a writer) show up every year. It’s a great magazine. I’m thrilled to be a part of it. Nobody else would have let me do this.

Noir2Tomorrow night (Oct, 29), I will be one of the crime and thriller writers doing a reading at Noir at the Bar in Philadelphia. Join us! But look, you. I took the fall for a dame who played me for an all-day sucker. Now I’m on the lam for a murder rap. If John Law shows up, you never saw me. Keep that pretty kisser of yours shut, got me?
Anyway, we’ll be at the Misconduct Tavern, 1511 Locust St., from 7 to 9 p.m. Many great writers will be on hand to do readings, including Jon McGoran, Dennis Tafoya, Bill Lashner, Erik Arneson, Wendy Tyson, Robb Cadigan, Don Lafferty, Merry Deedee Jones, and Duane Swiercynski. With an introduction from Peter Rozovsky, the father of Noir at the Bar.

See more information here:

I’m excited about the coming weekend. I’ll be attending the 9th Annual Western Maryland Independent Lit Festival in Frostburg, Md. I’ve gone for the past couple of years and it’s always a very rewarding experience. I get to meet some very talented authors and publishers, exchange ideas and network.

I’m particularly psyched this time around, because I’ll get to do a reading from my upcoming short story collection, “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests.” I’ll also be selling advance copies, as well as copies of my 2013 novel, “The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report.”

Joining me at the Codorus Press table will be Wayne Lockwood, author of “Acid Indigestion Eyes,” and Scott Pruden, author of “Immaculate Deception.”

My apologies. The blog’s been dormant for a while. A bunch of stuff came up — primarily a new job — and I was obliged to put it on the back burner. But I’d like to start it back up. So how about I begin with a new, original novelette, presented to you for free?

Here’s the deal. I have a young, talented friend named Frank who portrays a character known as “Cuddles McSpanky” at haunted attractions. He knows I’m a writer. At a recent party, we got into a discussion about our mutual love of horror and noir. And we agreed that it might be fun if I tried writing a story featuring his character. I found myself really getting into it. To my surprise, the short story I initially intended to write somehow expanded into a novelette.

I tried including it in my short story collection, “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests,” due out from Codorus Press early in 2016. But my publisher told me we’re a bit late in the process for that.

So I figured, what the heck. I wrote it mainly as a fun project anyway. And I’d like Frank to be able to share it with his friends and followers. So here it is, presented as a freebie. Enjoy. Share it, if you’re so inclined. And if you like it, keep an eye out for “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests.” Or check out my Pushcart-Prize-nominated debut novel, “The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report.” You can find Cuddles McSpanky’s page here. And if you’re REALLY brave and/or crazy, you can go see him in person here.

For the record, this is a work of fiction and is not intended maliciously. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any other resemblance to actual events, groups or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

So here goes:



By Tom Joyce

Based on a character created by Frank Paul Staff IV



Somewhere in the night-darkened pines to Kevin’s left, chainsaws buzzed like mechanical hornets. Followed by screaming.

Startled, a cluster of girls in Kevin’s group let out screams of their own, giggling at themselves immediately afterward. The Trail of Terror at the BloodShed Farms haunted attraction in Pierce Township, N.J., followed a snaking trajectory, frequently turning back on itself. Intermittent cries from the densely encroaching pines on either side signaling that the group ahead had encountered whatever as-yet-unseen horror would ambush Kevin’s group next, be it zombie, vampire or psychopath.

An unnerving effect, Kevin had to admit, jangling his already jangled nerves.

Kevin trailed behind a dozen or so teens and adults venturing through October darkness punctuated by pale lights on poles set at infrequent intervals along the paved path. Wishing that the night’s errand was already over. He yanked the brim of his baseball cap down lower on his forehead and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt tighter about his face.


Keith StrunkI haven’t forgotten about this blog. Honest. Here’s the deal. Through a chain of circumstances I still don’t fully understand, I ended up on a judging panel for the Hugo Awards. As a lifelong science fiction fan, I’m pretty thrilled. The Hugos are among the most prestigious international awards for science fiction. They’re a bit controversial this year. Since I’m on the judging panel, I better not say anything about the controversy. Just Google it. Trust me, there’s a shitload of reading about it to be found on the Internet.

Speaking of a shitload of reading, that’s the main reason I haven’t posted in a while. I came into this kind of late in the process, and am now reading all of the Hugo nominees to catch up. Aside from my job, just about everything else in my life has gone on the back burner. My workout schedule. Basic hygiene. This blog.

More stuff will be posted soon. In the meantime, here’s a wonderful interview with Keith Strunk: actor, producer, writer, Renaissance man. It ran in the most recent issue of the quarterly newsletter for the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, which I edit, and it concerns book trailers.

It’s geared toward writers. But if you’re involved in anything that could benefit from some online promotion — which describes pretty much every field of human endeavor these days — you should get something out of it. Enjoy.


Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background, and your involvement in the production of book trailers?

A: I’m the product of the professional training program in acting at Rutgers University. My son was born the day the thesis for my MFA was due and I found that I was an actor that had to find paying work quickly! I had a friend doing production work on commercials in New York and he got me on set as a production assistant and my parallel career in production had begun. I’ve done a great deal of work as a director, editor, and scriptwriter in the years since. My partner Laura has had a similar evolution career-wise with the addition of being a graphic artist as well. All of this combined with my own experience as a writer and author has led us to producing book trailers.


Q: What are book trailers meant to accomplish, and how important are they?

A: A book trailer should create interest that moves a viewer to action. In this case, to buy the book. It can excite, seduce, entice, enthrall, and even incite a viewer with just enough of the story to make them want more. At the end of the book trailer, your viewer should be saying, “I’ve got to know what happens in that book!”

If you look at the trailer as an integral part of the overall marketing plan for your book, it’s very important. It’s an opportunity to imprint a potential reader using images, music, sound, and words both printed and spoken. If done well, it all happens in a minute or less and reinforces the themes that drive all of your marketing materials to create a cohesive message about your book. The important thing here is that a book trailer is one component of your larger marketing strategy and not a strategy in of itself.


Q: What characteristics should a good book trailer have?

A: It should engage the viewer right out of the gate, compel them to watch it to the end, and leave them wanting more. In the case of book trailers, Shakespeare’s observation that “brevity is the soul of wit” couldn’t be more apt (that he chooses to have Polonius, who is the least witty and most verbose character in Hamlet say the line is grist for another discussion).

Simply put, you should work to keep a book trailer’s running time, including credits and cover quotes, to no more than one minute. Don’t succumb to the urge to stretch it to two minutes because you have to get components into the trailer that are “too important to leave out.” The exercise of staying within the one minute mark will yield a far better trailer than the more artistically indulgent three minute opus that has “all of the important stuff” in it. By working to keep the trailer at one minute, even if your trailer ends up running a bit over a minute, there’s a very good chance that it will be a tightly structured, effective video.

Never lose track that the objective of a book trailer is to sell books. It’s a marketing piece. That said, there are marketing pieces, some notable TV commercials for example, that have an artistic flair and in fact become a bit of art unto themselves. Even in these cases, the art form is subservient to the marketing objective to sell. And while it may not be art, a good trailer evokes a compelling emotional response in the viewer.

Simple components well executed are far better than poorly done attempts at more complex techniques. The exception is if you’re going for a camp or cheesy style (think Ed Wood flying saucers on strings) although, it’s actually harder to make this work than it looks. The best homework you can do before setting out to do your book trailer is to watch a lot of book trailers so you start to get a sense of what works and what doesn’t work so well.

These are three examples of book trailers that use simple components to create effective book trailers. Images, movement, music, animation, text, and voice over are used in some part in these trailers. The text for Kathryn Craft and Donna Galanti’s trailers were written specifically for the trailer while Tori Eldridge chose to use the text directly from her short story. Watch each trailer with an eye towards understanding how individual components in each trailer make them effective.

“Joshua and the Lightning Road” by Donna Galanti

“Call Me Dumpling” by Tori Eldridge

“The Far End of Happy” by Kathryn Craft


Q: How does a writer go about getting a book trailer produced, and about how much should the writer expect to pay?

A: Watch as many book trailers as you can. Note the ones that appeal to you in style and production values and find out the company that produced them. Network with other writers to find out who they recommend. You’ll find that there are a number of authors that have skills in video production or performance that have produced or contributed to the production of their own trailers. Obviously, this is a way to cut costs if you have skills in these areas.

It’s difficult to pin down the cost of producing a trailer as there are so many different factors that impact it. A simple trailer with music, images, and scrolling text will be far less expensive to produce than one that uses voice over, complex effects, or live action. Find out from the production company how the process for producing your trailer will work and what you will get for the money you spend.

It’s very important to understand what you can afford and adjust the concept of your trailer to fit your budget. Without a solid budget in place, you run the risk of adding components in the creative heat of the moment that will drive your costs up very quickly. In short, the budget drives the concept. Letting it work the other way around can be a costly mistake that will run in the thousands of dollars.


Q: Are there any special considerations for writers of science fiction, horror, fantasy or other genres?

A: Genres like science fiction, horror, and fantasy with otherworldly settings, characters, and situations have to be particularly aware of the parameters of a lower budget trailer and find creative ways to bring their worlds to life. Good costuming, makeup, special effects, and animation requires a great deal of skill to execute effectively in a video. That skill comes with a cost that has to be factored into your budget if your concept demands those components. If you can’t afford them, then change your concept and find other creative ways to get your message out in a trailer that is perhaps simpler in concept but well produced and effective.


Q: Any advice for ways to incorporate the book trailer into your overall marketing strategy?

A: Be sure to insert the link for your trailer everywhere your book is seen online. We are naturally drawn to videos and if presented with a link to watch a “movie,” we’ll almost always click it. And if it’s compelling and effective, we’ll share it.

Another thought is to coordinate your efforts with your publisher if you’re traditionally published. They most probably have a long list of distribution points for your trailer and if you’ve allowed them to be a part of the process of creating your trailer, they’ll be inclined to push it out there to be seen.

On the indie publishing side, I think networking with other writers to find distribution points is imperative. For example, there are three trailer linked in this interview which is a result of a conversation I had with Tom Joyce at the Liars Club Writer’s Coffeehouse.


Keith Strunk is an actor, author, and partner in Interlude Group LLC with Laura Swanson and a member of the Philly Liars Club.

McGoranHere’s an interview with author Jon McGoran, who is carving out a distinctive niche for himself with tech thrillers that incorporate cutting edge advances in biotechnology. Really cool stuff. I’ve reviewed his books “Drift” and “Deadout” on this blog previously. This interview previously ran in the quarterly newsletter for Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, which I edit. The issue was geared toward science fiction writers who might be interested in incorporating some genuine science into their writing. (I’ve previously written about the increasing disconnect between science fiction and actual science here.) Jon’s a really well-informed and interesting guy. So even if you’re not a writer, I guarantee this interview is worth your time. Enjoy. And check out Jon’s Website here.


Looking for a subject for that gritty crime thriller you want to write? Genetic modification of plants probably isn’t going to be on your short list for potential topics. But author Jon McGoran has already authored two books featuring Philadelphia narcotics detective Doyle Carrick and his involvement in cases involving biotechnology.

We’re not talking “Day of the Triffids” style plant monsters here. McGoran’s books are firmly grounded in contemporary science, and touch on real concerns and controversies related to producing genetically modified food. That might seem a bit dry and academic for a police thriller, but both of his Doyle Carrick novels — “Drift” and “Deadout” — are taut, gripping narratives guaranteed to please any fan of action-packed crime fiction. “Publisher’s Weekly,” which gave both books starred reviews, apparently agrees.

While his books fall more under the heading of “science thriller” than “science fiction,” I thought he might be able to provide some valuable advice for us about incorporating recent scientific developments into a narrative. Check out his Website at


Q: Can you tell us a little about your background?

A: I’ve been writing since I was a kid, and took it pretty seriously up until my late teens, when music and songwriting became more important to me. For about 10 years I wrote and performed a lot of music, but even while I wasn’t writing fiction, I still thought of myself a writer as much as a musician. After I did NOT become wildly rich and famous, I went back to school and finished my degree, started writing more as a job — copywriting, public relations, journalism. But after a few years, I realized how much I missed fiction, and how much writing and creating was at the heart of who I was. For some reason, when I returned to writing, instead of concentrating on science fiction and short stories, I was thinking only in terms of novels, and primarily in the mystery/thriller genres. Since then, I’ve started writing short fiction again, a lot of it science fiction, and my interest in science and science fiction has definitely informed my thrillers, which have strong elements of science.


Q: How did “Drift” and “Deadout” come about?

A: I had been working for some time as communications director at Weavers Way Co-op, a natural foods co-op in Philadelphia, and had been publishing the monthly newspaper there. We covered a lot of broader food issues, and the last few decades have been a tumultuous time in the American food system. A lot of alarming stuff has been going on: factory farming, irradiation, lots of questionable chemical inputs. I had long been thinking that a lot of what I was writing about during the day was crazier and scarier than the science fiction and crime fiction I was writing at night. But especially alarming and compelling was the way genetically modified foods or GMOs had quietly taken over the vast majority of so many sectors of our food supply, and the fact that so few people knew about it, even knew what GMOs were. The growth of the biotech industry was something I thought was grossly underreported and in need of further discussion, but it was also tailor-made as a thriller premise: Secretive multinational corporations use their financial and political clout to push untested new lifeforms into the food supply of an unsuspecting public. That’s a thriller right there! The more I dug into the topic, the more ideas I came up with for books in the series. And I won’t go into the nuts and bolts of how I came up with Doyle Carrick as a protagonist, but I will say that I love writing him. I love his voice and his world view and his sense of humor.


Q: What kind of response did the books get?

A: The response has been great. The reviews have been wonderful, and “Publishers Weekly” has been particularly kind — in addition to giving both books stars and glowing reviews, they interviewed me for “Drift” and spotlighted the review for “Deadout”. “The Inquirer” has also been great, and so has “Booklist,” “KYW,” “Grid” magazine, and genre outlets like “Criminal Element” and “Crimespree,” places like that, and lots of blogs, as well (including my favorite —!). It’s great to get a lot of love from your hometown press, it’s great to get love from the big national outlets, and it’s great to get love from the genre press, because they’re your people. Of course, there are many outlets whose radar doesn’t seem to pick me up, and you always want more, partly to grow your profile and achieve greater commercial success… but primarily because deep down writers are all needy, pathetic and insecure.


Q: Is all of the science in them 100 percent verified, or did you do any speculating based on current scientific theory?

A: There is some extrapolation, to be sure, but I would say that all of the science is legitimate, and that everything in the books could be accomplished using current science, if someone put the resources into accomplishing it. I hope they don’t.


Q: Where and how did you do the research for the books?

A: For these books, most of the research is done initially online, and then interviewing the experts whose work I’ve read, to drill down on the specific ideas I am focusing on. Not everybody wants to talk to you about their work, but I’m constantly impressed by the generosity of the great minds out there, who frequently are not just willing to answer my sometimes ridiculous questions, but engage in these great speculative conversations, and often share ideas with me that might not even be relevant to the book I am currently working on, ideas that they find fascinating, that are fascinating, and that often times surface in another book down the line.


Q: What advice would you give for incorporating scientific explanations into a story, without letting them bog down the narrative?

A: That’s a great question, and to some extent, it depends on the book and the reader. Some readers revel in descriptions of different kinds. Just as some readers bask in pages of detailed naturalistic descriptions, other readers feel the same about science and technology, especially in more far-out stories where world-building is a major component of the book. Many readers though — and I’m one of them — don’t like world-building or complex ideas to get in the way of lean prose and a minimum of clunky exposition. As with so many elements of exposition, one of the most important things to keep in mind is the difference between the level of detail and understanding necessary for you, the writer, to write comfortably, knowingly and compellingly about a topic, and the level of detail necessary for the reader to enjoy it. Just as there may be many elements of characters that help the writer understand them and depict them realistically and compellingly, but which never make it onto the page, the same is true of scientific ideas. You need a deep understanding of the ideas (real or fictional) behind the work, but the reader doesn’t necessarily need quite so much. The trick is in deciding what’s necessary and what’s not. There are also nuts and bolts ways of making facts more interesting — characters can discover things instead of just relating them. Facts can reveal themselves through action or physical description instead of just lecturing. And while you should be judicious in the use of exposition via dialogue, there are ways to make it more palatable and entertaining. Imbue the exchanges with conflict or revelations of character and it feels a lot less expository. (e.g., instead of “As you know, Bob, the X-12 is a brand new technology… ” something like, “I was surprised Bob even knew about the X-12…” or “I couldn’t imagine an idiot like Bob having a clue about the X-12…” or, “Bob rolled his eyes. “There’s nothing new about the X-12. It’s the same crap they’ve been calling new for the last ten years.” Or, Bob smirked. “Nice X-12 you got there. You should see my new X-13.” ) The point is, if you make it feel like it’s about character or conflict or the fact that Bob is a bit of a dick, the reader will just kind of absorb the fact that the X-12 is newer technology, without feeling like they’ve been informed.


Q: Did you feel like you were under any pressure to get things right, in light of the fact that people familiar with the science would likely be reading the books?

A: Yes, but I would feel that pressure anyway. You really don’t ever want to get it wrong, ever. Not just on the science, but anything. Any time a reader thinks you got something wrong, even in very subtle or minor ways, you lose them a little bit, you put a distance between them and the book. And if you screw up something small, they are going to be that much less likely to give you the benefit of the doubt on the bigger things.


Q: Any advice in general for science fiction writers who want to incorporate some genuine science into their stories?

A: The first thing, obviously, is to get it right. Some science fiction or science thrillers are about the science itself, and some are about the effects of the science. Some readers want to revel in the details, and some want to trust that the details ring true and get on with the story. So, whether the background of your story is how the time machine works, or simply the fact that it does, you need to be comfortable and confident in the level of detail that’s appropriate for your story, and then make sure you get those details right — real or fictional. And, of course, whatever universe it is you’re defining — almost like ours or outrageously out-there — internal consistency is key.


reel roy 2I’ve been reading movie reviews since I was a kid. Every Friday, I’d go for the reviews in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s weekend section before I hit the funnies. Even now, I’ve been known to guiltily flip past the front section of the paper to check out the movie reviews before going back to read about more weighty matters.

And Roy Sexton is the first movie reviewer to ever make me laugh out loud.

Not just once either. I made the mistake of bringing his latest book — “Reel Roy Reviews, Vol. 2: Keep ’Em Coming” — as reading material on Philadelphia’s PATCO High Speed Line. Spent the entire trip giggling like a stoner in study hall. I think I scared some people. It would be worth getting the book just for his side-splitting evisceration of “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”

Here’s the great thing about Sexton’s humor, though. Even when he’s trashing a film, he’s got a rare knack for being sharply funny without coming across as snide.

You can tell Sexton is one of those guys who just really enjoys the experience of going to the movies. Reading his reviews is like heading to the cineplex with an affable, really-freakin-funny friend. For a sparsely attended afternoon matinee, maybe, where you can put your feet up on the seats and do a “Mystery Science Theater” without feeling like a jerk.

If you and your friend like the movie, great. If not, you can still have a blast ripping on it, and laughing about how bad it was over beers later.

In his second volume of reviews (see my review of the first volume here), Sexton expands the scope a bit. He includes more reviews from concerts and regional community theater productions from his home turf of Michigan. He even has a few pieces about the local theater scene. Even if you don’t have any inherent interest in Michigan community theater, the latter have a pleasant local-newspaper-columnist feel that you don’t see enough of since this whole digital age thing happened. Besides, Sexton is the kind of guy who could write a septic tank installation manual, and still be fun to read.

What I enjoyed most in the book, weirdly enough, were the reviews of movies I wouldn’t have any natural inclination to watch. Not because he artfully lambasted them, but because he made them sound like fun.

His innovative approach as a reviewer is to evaluate the overall experience of watching a movie, rather than judging it as good or bad according to some film scholarly criteria that — let’s be honest — most film viewers don’t particularly care about in the first place.

It brought me back to those pre-Netflix days when I’d sometimes watch movies not because I’d specifically chosen them, but just because they were on.

I don’t do that anymore. When I’m watching a movie now, it’s one I’ve read about and determined will likely be worth the time I’m investing in it. Something critics have praised, or else a less revered but still cinematically significant film watched out of obligation to shore up cracks in my cultural literacy.

Nothing wrong with that. Still, Sexton’s book reminded me of the half-forgotten pleasures of accidental viewing. Discovering a glorious piece of cheese like “Roadhouse.” Or watching Jean Claude Van Damme now being acknowledged as a gifted comic actor, and knowing you picked up on that the first time you saw “Kickboxer.” Or maybe the fifth time. Or maybe … what is this … the 15th viewing? Hell, I don’t even remember. Hey! “Big Trouble in Little China” is on next! BOOyah!

Ah, those were the days.

Sexton is a welcome reminder that movies like “300 — Rise of an Empire” can still be a hell of a lot of fun. Especially if you’ve got a hilarious guide along with you.

Oh yeah. Be sure to check out more of Sexton’s stuff at his Website, Reel Roy Reviews.

Marie Lamba, authorMarie Lamba is the author of acclaimed young adult novels including “Drawn” and “Over My Head.” Publisher’s Weekly called her humorous YA novel “What I Meant…” “an impressive debut” and Kirkus described it as “realistic and well-paced.” She’s also author of the upcoming picture book “Green, Green,” co-authored with her husband Baldev Lamba and illustrated by Sonia Sanchez.  More than 100 of her articles have been published in regional and national magazines, including “Writer’s Digest.”

She’s also an Associate Literary Agent with the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in New York City. It was in that capacity that I interviewed her for the quarterly newsletter of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, which I edit. The piece was intended primarily for writers. But even if you’re not an aspiring writer, I hope you find it interesting. (And if you’re NOT an aspiring writer, consider becoming one. It’s a blast. And you meet lots of cool people. Like Marie.)

Be sure to check out her very informative blog here.


Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your career as an agent and a writer?

A: I knew I wanted to be a writer from age 10. I never guessed I’d be an agent, too. But my own agent, Jennifer De Chiara, saw I had the skills to be a solid agent, so she offered me the gig a few years ago, and I love repping writers and illustrators!

I bring to the table experience in publishing as an editor and a book promotion manager, I’m an award-winning public relations writer, and I know what it’s like from an author’s point of view to create a manuscript, send it out into the world, see it published, and then promote it. This all informs my actions as an agent selecting manuscripts, working with my clients, and selling manuscripts to publishers. My recent sales as an agent include picture books, middle grade novels, YA novels, and adult fiction. I’m actively building my client list, and you can find my current list of clients and my submission guidelines here:

As for my writing self? I’m the author of the contemporary YA novels “What I Meant …” (Random House) and “Over My Head,” and the time-travel novel “Drawn.” I’ve had essays in anthologies, a short story in Liar Liar” and more than 100 articles in national magazines, including “Garden Design” and “Writer’s Digest.” You can also find my articles in this year’s editions of “The Writer’s Market,” “The Guide to Literary Agents” and “The Children’s Writer’s Market.” Plus my first picture book, which I co-authored with my husband Baldev Lamba, is titled “Green Green” and it’s coming out through Farrar Straus Giroux in the next year.

Q: What are the benefits of having an agent?

A: Access. So many publishers are closed to non-agented writers. As soon as you have an agent, all of those doors are open. If you have an agent with an established firm (even a new agent which such a firm), that person can pick up the phone and call any editor at any level and get their attention. I know, because I have done just that. J

Career development. An agent will be engaged in growing your career. Getting the best deal for you at the best publisher that they can. Helping you direct your writing in a productive way. Giving you realistic market-informed feedback when you need it.

Cheerleading. An agent will be your number one supporter. Speaking up for you to the world.

Creativity. With an agent taking charge of pitching your work, and managing your contracts, etc., you are more free to WRITE.

Contracts. Your agent will negotiate the terms of your contracts, and make sure everything is in order before you sign. They’ll also be there to make sure things are carried out as promised. And to go to the matt for you if needed.

Q: How should a writer go about finding an agent, and what are some things he or she should keep in mind?

A: There are SO many does and don’ts out there. The first thing you MUST do is finish your manuscript and polish it to perfection. Then you simply must do your homework. There are a ton of articles with query submission tips and other insider’s advice posts over at my site I do an Agent Monday post nearly every week, so if you subscribe to the site, you won’t miss any. And you must Google the agents you are querying to find their guidelines. Follow those guidelines, or you will most likely be deleted without ever being read. There are great resources out there to help you, including,, and, plus the annual market books put out by “Writer’s Digest,” etc. And if you are really serious, subscribe to, even if only for a month, to research agents, who represents who, and what deals are being done in your genre. Great up-to-the-moment info you won’t find anywhere else.

Q: What are some things that would encourage you to represent a particular writer?

A: Professionalism. Someone who has a strong voice. Originality. Someone who is in the business for more than just this one book, and ideally is working on a number of other projects.

Q: What would lead you to reject a writer?

A: Something I’ve seen before. Sloppy or boring writing. Not following guidelines. Obnoxious in the cover letter. Unprofessional online presence — like dissing agents and editors online. Not understanding their readership. Preachy tone.

Q: Are there any current industry trends that you think would be valuable for writers to know about?

A: Career-wise, I think the opportunities for writers are growing the farther away we are getting from the not-so-great-recession. This is a very important thing for writers to keep in mind as they move ahead. Are you creating scaled-back future goals based on the crap the recession years handed you? That is probably a mistake. Expect more and dream big.

As for fiction trends? I’m sure your readers know that Horror is no longer a “dirty word” in the industry, and you’ll see more agents and editors including the word “horror” in their guidelines. In general, novels with speculative elements that also appeal to mainstream audiences are being sought more widely.

I personally don’t represent straight genre fiction, and so I’m speaking from the point of view of an agent who deals with the top commercial presses. (Niche presses that specialize in speculative fiction are a different bag of apples.) In general, for the top commercial publishers, dystopian fiction is a hard sell these days, as are zombies and vampires. Agents have seen a LOT of it, and so have editors. I’ve also seen a ton of fae and mermaid and werewolf stories. That doesn’t mean these are completely dead (they never really die, right?), but it DOES mean that you need to be completely unique if you are approaching this market. If you are writing a dystopian, say, and your book features a fractured society with a wall and a wasteland beyond that wall, well, it is going to feel VERY familiar. Strong characterization is key, as is a unique setting and a fresh voice.

In the YA market, thrillers are still hot, and speculative elements (again, with very strong characterization and a unique take), when blended with an authentic YA voice, are doing well. Middle grade novels are always a strong market for fantasy elements, especially when they are rooted in the real world, and for mysteries and the creepy crawly elements of horror done with a lighter touch.

Strong realistic contemporary novels are longed for across all age groups. It’s almost like a palate cleanser after all the complicated and drama-filled stories — ah, to have a simple story told in an elegant and page-turning way… Diversity is huge! Representing the underrepresented voices in fiction in an authentic way is especially sought after right now. But PLEASE don’t force your manuscript into the diverse category by suddenly giving a character an accent, or a disability. I’ve seen a lot of these, and they ring false.

Thanks for having me here! I wish everyone much writing success.

AddisonNote: The following material ran in a recent issue of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers quarterly newsletter, which I edit. Here’s the fifth part of the piece, along with my original introduction.

Several things inspired me to put this project together. But mainly, it’s because I still frequently encounter the tiresome “nerdy boys club” stereotype regarding speculative fiction writers and readers. The widespread perception that our branch of literature is the domain of emotionally and socially stunted man-children who don’t want icky girls in their club unless they happen to be wearing skimpy cosplay outfits at conventions.

I think it’s important that we speculative fiction writers do everything in our power to help dispel that stereotype, and make it clear that women are a major, vital and respected part of our community. So I reached out to a number of prominent woman science fiction, fantasy and horror authors and editors, and invited them to share their perspectives.
Tom Joyce

Linda Addison is the award-winning author of four collections of poetry and prose and the first African-American recipient of the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award®. She has published over 290 poems, stories and articles and is a member of Circles in the Hair, Horror Writers Association, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America and Science Fiction Poetry Association. See her site:, for more information.

My first publication was in 1994. At that time I considered changing my name to L.D. Addison so it wasn’t obvious that I was a woman. I decided not to use an alias. Today there are more women writing speculative fiction than twenty years ago.
I’ve always seen myself as an author first, then any other labels are acceptable: woman writer, African-American writer, African-American woman writer. Through my eyes I see myself writing the stories and poems that come to me. It just so happens my imagination always went outside the realm of reality-based writing. I’m blessed to represent women writing weird stuff, always will be.