Judging a Contest/Sh0wcase artist Melissa Mary Duncan

I have had the pleasure for the past two years of judging the finalist and  runners-up for Pulp Literature’s Raven Short Fiction contest, a stunning Canadian magazine now in its fourth year of publication. I am now completing second reads before handing over my choices to the editors.

Over the past few years Pulp Literature has showcased the writing of many well-known award-winning writers of genre fiction: Robert Sawyer, Susanna Kearsley, Carol Berg, C.C. Humphreys,  Eileen Kernaghan, J.J. Lee, George McWhirter, Douglas Smith, Bob Thurber.

Moreover their cover art is eye-catching and varied, featuring the work of many artists. A sample of Melissa Mary Duncan’s art appears on today’s header and I hope you will visit her here to see her evocative mythic-inspired work.

The editors of Pulp pick their selections from two specific segments: exceptional emerging talent, and established writers and artists who wish to break out of their genre confines.

to find out more about this stunning magazine and its publishers, go here:

Now on to my comments about judging a contest. In my previous study of anthology assemblage and providing short fiction for book bundles and anthology open calls, I have come to understand several things about catching the editors (or judge’s) eye.

Subject matter: I am looking for subject that will fit the call. I am looking for a subject that treats the call in an exciting and surprising way. I am looking for pieces with a unique voice, perhaps a surprising and compelling cadence and word choice that fits the story itself like jam on bread.

Length: Do not exceed word count. Did you get that? I’ll say it again. Do not exceed word count. Unless you have a well-known name and your name is already listed in large print on anthology covers. Exceeding the requested word count will bump you out of the arena for that coveted spot quicker than a newbie in a roller derby.


I always consider the length of my work when I submit to an anthology open call and when submitting to a contest I do as well. As a reader or a judge I am keenly aware of the length of a piece. Many editors read millions of words of submissions every month. They read until their temples ache and they think their eyes are bleeding.

Often it is easier to fit a short, tight story into an otherwise filled anthology. In my judging this year many of the finalist’s pieces were short and sweet, packing a lot of story within the bounds of only a few pages. This is not to say you shouldn’t write long, but if you do, remember it must be a grabber right from the very first line and something the (already overhwelmed) editor can not do without. Remember your longer story might mean someone else’s story can’t be fitted in due to budget and space restraints, and if the editor didn’t buy your work, this might be the very reason why they didn’t–someone else’s amazing longer story bumped yours out.

Or not. It is futile to second-guess the reason you had a nice note but a pass from the editor. Better to just re-submit and keep writing. The dreaded rejection might not have anything to do with the quality of your writing. Sure it will hurt, but move on. All the stories I received to judge were well written, carefully edited and unique. I had a hard time making choices and regret not being able to choose all of them.

Completion: There were some stories in the bunch that left me with a feeling either that this was part of a much larger story and therefore not complete, or I had somehow missed the ending somewhere and there was a last page missing. Please make sure your story has a beginning a middle and an end. Nora Roberts says she writes for ‘stupid people’. What she really means is make your work easy to understand and don’t disguise your meaning under the tent of ‘being literary.’ I love Gary Larson’s Far Side for this reason.

Taste: this said, I love genre writing. I read everything from literary to thriller to horror to fantasy to romance to sea adventure to women’s fiction to historical. But always as I read I want story.  I have personal tastes and those tastes influenced me as I read. In judging this contest, I was struck by the number of pieces that were written in first person present tense and I find myself wondering if it was the story that dictated this, or was the person and tense the challenge they set for themselves even before they began to write?

Every judge has tastes. For instance, I am not a great fan of existential prose, but I adore humour. How I view the feel of a story right from the beginning will influence me and either make me want to read more or hold me back. I certainly gave every story a fair read, and as said before am now doing second reads and possibly thirds related to my top choices, but my personal tastes were there at the beginning and still present at the end.

Read what you write:  If you want to write short fiction then read widely in this field. Submit widely and write to challenges. The same goes for long fiction and for producing cover art. When I go to conferences I always stop into the Art Show and talk to the artists. I take cards, I visit sites and I take note of what styles of art influence me the most.

Over the next few weeks I intend to interview a number of artists who also write. I plan to talk with them about styles, genres and success in their personal field and how they achieved it. The nature of success is also something to be defined. For instance, the fact that Pulp Literature is moving into its fourth year of publication is in itself a striking success, and I for one hope to see many more issues in future.



Cover Art and Book Bundling

Today I am showcasing two clear and very informative blog posts. I hope to talk more here with each of these authors in future.

The first post is written by long time award-winning author and cover artist Dave Smeds for Book View Cafe, and it shows clearly and succinctly the process of building a good book cover. Also a shout-out to Dave on his release today. He designed the cover and has a story here. For more information on Dave go here.



My second shout-out is to Author Jamie Ferguson. She talks here, at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, about putting together a successful book bundle. I am looking forward to working with Jamie early next year on a book bundle. For more information on Jamie, go here. And here is a look at her latest bundle. Released through BundleRabbit.  halloween_sale_facebook_851x315_minimal_text


World Fantasy Conference 2016

Here on November the 1st, at the Samhain door between fact and fancy I have need to blog about making one’s dreams a reality.

As usual the World Fantasy Conference was a delight and an inspiration. A great big thanks to Meg Turville-Heitz and the entire Columbus WFC Committee for all the hard work you did. It takes a heroic effort on the part of many to host a convention for so many authors, agents, artists and editors to meet in this forum to do readings, panels and conduct business in the publishing industry. Building dreams. If any industry is build on making dreams a reality, this one is.

But how does a dream become reality. Passion one way. Planning another.

As this conference often happens close to Hallowe’en, and though it is not conventional for attendees to costume, inevitably some costumes do show up from non-attendees and in this case this photo by Saytchyn Maddux-Creech of a T-Rex caught in the lobby’s revolving door had a feeling both of humor and a metaphor for ‘planning ahead’.



I joined a group of talented women (Paula S Jordan, Elizabeth Crowens, Carol Berg, Carmen Webster Buxton, Sally Weiner Grotta, J Tullos Hennig, Julia Dvorin) in the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading, where each of us had nine minutes to read from a dynamic passage of our own work. As always the reading was varied and skilled and our large audience was appreciative of the words and the give-aways we raffled off.

Food and nourishment:

At Schmidt’s in Columbus, (check them out on Man VS Food) hosted by the ever-talented David Boop, 15 hungry authors and editors enjoyed delicious German buffet while sharing ideas and laughter. I must have come up with at least ten new story ideas in that one evening alone.


I had the very great pleasure to share in a panel with artist authors Jerome Stueart, Charles Vess, Sally Wiener Grotta and Seth Lindberg, who put forward some great information on the marriage of writing and visual arts. This one panel alone combined with a comment from good friend and mentor Carol Berg led me to what will be a bunch of blog posts and interviews with artists and authors about their dreams of success and building the reality.  I already have an impressive line up of names in the art and illustration field and in the authorial field, some of these are of course one and the same.

I am so looking forward to sharing their views with you.



The Love You Take…

I am blessed today in so many ways and not just because it is my birthday (Thanks Google!) but because at the ripe age of 66 I have learned that my birthday isn’t about me. it’s about connections. It’s about the world. Google has so learned that and look where they are!

Let me explain. The past few months have been an interesting compendium of insights, pitfalls, and enlightenment. Now every day  reminds me of The End by the Beatles. Every minute is the end to the last and the beginning of the next and in that one minute lie all possibilities.

I am an advocate of the late Wayne Dyer’s philosophy. So simple and yet so profound. In June I came down with a terrible flu and my writing stopped for a couple of months. Grief was making me pull back rather than reach out.

I had to take complete rest, but I look back on that time now as a time of renewal rather than one of sickness. Sometimes being sick is the only way to get well. Being sick put an end to my writing for a while, but it gave me a chance to look around and begin a program of renewal both physically and mentally. I channeled my grief into journal writing and asked myself at the end of each daily binge of anxt what small think I could do to change direction. Sometimes it takes baby steps not giant ones.

During that time I began work on this site with the help of my talented niece Amanda Truscott who now has a wonderful blog on creativity while she and her partner travel. I had the pleasure of taking two courses in the Landmark series for leadership and life goals. I am reading the incredible Meditations Trilogy by friend and mentor James Artimus Owen. I am headed off to work with friends at the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus Ohio.

Suddenly today I realize I am brimming over with energy, not because I want it for myself but because I realize my success is only a very small part of a much bigger satisfaction taking risks. Reaching out. Being wholly in the zone of creating success and delight.

What seemed so very hard a month ago is now possible. Why? because I changed my outlook from within me to caring about everyone else. It’s not about me.

Being sick gave me the opportunity to catch up on my reading, and as a result I now realize I am behind in going to write comments for so many wonderful books. Here are a few I most heartily recommend: Ash and Silver by Carol Berg. (If you like wondrously layered Epic Fantasy) The entire Morland Dynasty Series by Cynthia Harrod Eagles. (If you enjoy richly layered historical fiction.)  The GodsLand series by Brian Rathbone (if you like dragons, and not only dragons but steampunk ones.) Some of the ever-wonderful books with a darkish flavour from Ragnarok Publications’ authors. Ann Gimpel’s books (if you like spicy romance). To read the quirky and the awesome and the wonderful from Kevin J Anderson and Rebecca Moesta’s Wordfire Press, and of course the varied works of Sue Bolich. (If you love horses as I do, you will find much here to endear you to them still more.)

I have a new story out edited by the wonderful author Kerrie L Hughes, called the Crow War of Willows beach which you can find here, in the Haunted Anthology, just in time for Hallowe’en. Connections! And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

I would love to hear from you regarding your own discoveries today.

Happy birthday every moment to you. Every day. Every minute.



When a friend dies it’s hard, but so doubly hard when a fellow artist passes without the recognition she worked so very hard for. Sue passed with such a wealth of story still within her that I am not only saddened by her loss but by the loss of so much humor and wisdom still to come. Her site is not only a gorgeous one to visit but the books you can find there are exciting and visionary adventures. Also, here is the link to her gorgeous world map. I hope you will check them out to see for yourself. Farewell Sue. Your new journey begins but may your works continue to shine down here.

Images and Impressions

I will be posting bits of works in progress and visual moments of surprise and inspiration  captured around my island home. It is these moments of inspiration that often lead me into story.

If the stones could speak:

The ‘fish’ in the image above is carved in the stones of our beach, whether by time and nature or by the hand of some vanished human, I don’t know. What if, in story, this fish was just the icon for something deeper–something that could emerge from the stones with the right magical call? In my work in progress, I have dragons with the potential to emerge from the stones. But will they and can they if the time is right?

Building a Site

I have been working closely with my new webmistress, Amanda Truscott to build this site. It is still in process, but I do believe it speaks more strongly about who I am and what kind of stories I write. Amanda is the perfect assistant. She is industrious, A writer, and artist and a soon-to-be world traveler and a keen listener. I am so very happy we are working together.

We are still figuring out how to make my blog posts run according to when they were initially published on my old site, but so far, no luck, so any posts previous to this one will be out of order. Nevertheless, I have included them anyway as they do represent my journey up to this point.

Currently there is a lot of distraction at our Island home. The Municipality of Saanich is working on the easement beside our house in order to put an access stair down to the bay. Living on the water has disadvantages but also the glorious pleasure of watching the water, the day and the seasons change before one’s eyes minute to minute.

Two excavators are currently at work moving earth and creating a toddlers’ bliss of machinery, rumbling and beeping. I so wish I could rent a child for the day just to let them watch what is going on next door. Sometimes I sit on our flat garage roof and watch them do their work on such a steep incline it makes my bones shiver. I guess there is some toddler in me as well. excvators in the easement

Credit Where It’s Due

I have come to appreciate my sister, Mary, in so many ways over the years.  In our early years, I was her baby, much to my annoyance, but she took her position seriously.  It was she who made me understand the power of the written word. She who encouraged me to draw and celebrate my successes.  She who first wrote and read her own stories to me.

Mary showed me how hard a person can work against brutal obstacles and succeed.  She was disabled with polio at eight years of age. She married a great guy and lost him a decade later to Huntington’s disease. She raised five children on her own (her youngest are identical triplets), continued to work as a youth librarian, and continued to paint and draw when there was no time to do so.

In 2011 Mary discovered she had colon cancer and dealt with a series of operations and infections that seriously affected her ability to paint. She dealt with the big C with the same kind of courage and optimism as she faced everything else. She fought hard for three years, and when in May 2014 she was told the cancer had moved to her brain, she understood her gift of time was gone. She and I had three precious but very painful months together.

When I am overcome with ‘troubles’ and the darkness that affects all creatives, I remember the path she took with heroism and unfailing hope. She told me at the end that she was proud of me. That I needed to do it–go for the gusto and follow my bliss. I promised her I would.

From time to time on my blog posts and in my stories of the month I intend to spotlight  Mary’s work as well as my own. I do believe she was on the point of breaking out with her art when cancer caught her and her energy left her. The picture in the banner above is a detail from one of her paintings. Like Mary, her paintings were dancing with light. I know wherever she is now, her spirit is doing that too.

I give thanks for Mary every day. For her friendship, for being my muse.  I miss her and always will. We were sisters of the heart. Our angels were sisters. My dearest muse will always be with me and I with her.

Do you have someone in your life who was instrumental in helping you be who you are? I would love to know.

The Road Trip of the Mind

On my way home from Missoula, Montana, just prior to returning to Canada across the border, I made this brief entry into my journal:

Having logged almost 2000k  on my car and some amazing memories in the bank of my mind over the last five days, I made a rest stop and got to thinking about way stops and ‘weigh’ stops and from there about losing weight, which I almost always do when I am traveling. I pondered about what matters and what doesn’t and how a journey can often clear the way, open new vistas and put the past into a different perspective.  Last night I decided to read over an entry in my journal. One made two years ago when I, my husband and sons took a journey to Europe and Croatia, and how, at that time, my journal enabled me to ‘snark’ about what seemed just then a journey more of endurance than joy. I began to laugh from the gut at an event that at the time was certainly not funny. Now, I see the joy behind the snark.

How was it I couldn’t see it then? Now, after taking this journey, I can look at the quirks of that time and see how constructive that earlier trip was. I see how it forged the more decisive me of today. On that two-month journey, I lost nearly twenty pounds in weight, due to constant travel, lack of worry about what I was eating (Italian food, need I say more) and the intense bursts of exercise–running with luggage, walking through ancient places. Not all this weight loss was physical, though. Nor was it due only to eating right and walking lots. I believe the weight loss was also do to the property of the way. Not the ‘weigh’.

The travel itself had an effect on my being lighter.  I have also lost some weight on this trip. My body feels lighter and my spirit does too. Travel and spirit. They connect.  Even if during those travels one feels busted down, harassed and frustrated, it’s a different kind of process working through it than being at home.  Not that one can’t approach frustration from a distance. It’s just I usually don’t. In my home state I have the tendency to become overshadowed by frustration and I seem to lose sight of the way. And the way stops where I can look again, think again and take a new step forward.

Therefore, as I begin this last lap of my journey home and cross that border into Canada,  I resolve to think differently about the road trip of my mind. Even the everyday one. Is it possible to make each day in the same manner as I did when I was traveling? I don’t know, but I aim to find out.

Go in the Direction of Yes

I have been sadly remiss in keeping up my blog.  No excuses or whining here. Writing the blog took a back seat to all the other experiences I have had in the past two years.  Exactly two years ago my husband, sons and I took a two-month trip of a lifetime to France, Italy, Croatia, Scotland, England and Wales. During this time I walked about twenty pounds off my body and filled my mind and my viscera with so many experiences, I came home dizzy and exhausted. Back home, I discovered my sister was ill with cancer. I spent the second half of 2011 watching her courageously meet her trouble and partially recover her health. She is an inspiration.

2012 was the year we purged our house, packed boxes, and moved to a new home. This took time on both ends as it took awhile to sell our old house and feel at home in the new one. 2012 was filled with saying goodbye to the city I had lived in since I was 18, many of the friends I have had for years, and the house where we’d raised our boys. Our sons were both out of the nest and it was time for us to stretch ourselves and follow our own inclinations.  I have traveled and kept a journal during this time. I have broken through opposition and done the impossible in so many ways. In short as one of my characters said once, I have chosen to go in the direction of yes. Now, I have returned to the manuscript that I set aside two years ago. During that time I have sold some short fiction but I have been daunted by beginning again. I know, however, that if I don’t go in the direction of yes with this manuscript and finish it at last, I will feel I have chickened out.  It is time to resurrect my blog as well. Not for any other reason than I need this outlet of creativity. It’s time to breathe again.

What outlets of creativity can you not do without and why?