Month: November 2017

Spare the Reader, Spoil the Reader?


We writers have a contract with our readers. We provide entertaining material, and they continue to read our stories. As writers, how much care should we take to not traumatize the reader. Should we carefully select how much negativity or uncomfortable information to share with them, or is that self-censorship not helpful? I asked author friends their opinions on this topic.

Stephanie Barr talked about her experiences. “In my first novel, I had a lot of dark and I didn’t sugarcoat it or excuse it or make it okay. I have a good person do something heinous. It was so dark, my then husband objected strenuously, but in the end, I kept it because it happens. And people for whom it happens need to know you can survive it, to let them know I believe them. I think this is particularly important for women–their stories and experiences are often dismissed as overblown or imaginary.”

“Ironically, when I read my last novel (Dracul Morsus) to my now ex, he told me I needed more dark in it. Sometimes, you need to understand the dark, see it up close and personal, to understand how (a) tough people are and (b) how brutal people can be often for what seems like minor reasons. It’s the belief that the worst can’t happen that allows folks like Hitler to prevail and do great harm.”

“I am not opposed to showing the bad things in graphic detail, I am somewhat concerned if I give too much detail I am cutting out the reader’s imagination. I want each reader to have a somewhat different experience when they read my books. Some details I leave up to the imagination, others I give more direction.”

Greg Alldredge shared his thoughts with me. “I try to use language appropriate to the situation. During a scene in my upcoming book Pretty Waiter Girls, a police detective is examining the body of a dismembered woman. I use more detailed, clinical descriptions, I envisioned a policeman would use to distance themselves from the grisly scene. Later in the book, someone dies in a most horrific way, I hopefully use just enough detail to lead the readers in the correct direction while trying to instill the horror the lead character is experiencing.”

“I go back to the horror and suspense I enjoyed growing up, either books or film. I try to hold back, giving the reader just enough to let their imagination run away. I think readers are smart enough not to be spoon-fed every detail.”

I personally feel very protective of the audience, I don’t want to share the ugliness the world holds. In my writing, I want to entertain the reader, without bumming them out. I don’t want to give them images that will stay with them that are negative. So, I guess there are different styles and approaches to this question.


Stephanie Barr:

Greg Alldredge:

S. A. Gibson:

The Origins Of English

Nicholas C. Rossis

TED-Ed Original lessons feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Educator Claire Bowern and Director Patrick Smith have produced a great little film that explains the origins of English. As they explain, when we talk about ‘English’, we often think of it as a single language. But what do the dialects spoken in dozens of countries around the world have in common with each other, or with the writings of Chaucer? The Origins Of English traces the language from the present day back to its ancient roots, showing how English has evolved through generations of speakers.

Going Further Back

However, illustrator Minna Sundberg went even further back. She has captured in an elegant infographic a linguistic tree which reveals some fascinating links between different tongues, illustrating how most of the different languages we speak today can actually be placed in only a couple of groups by their…

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Writing in Asia: The Author’s View


With the planned re-release of my book, Pratima’s Forbidden Book, I’ve thought about the setting of that story. Set in Northern India, Pratima and the other characters must navigate a world they are immersed in that contains a mostly alien culture. I decided to ask other authors about the topic.

Erin Yoshukawa gave me her thoughts, “I got lucky: I’ve been to certain parts of Asia and I’ve known a lot of people from these regions. Being from Hawaii places me perfectly in the nexus for Asian-Pacific cultures. Anybody from Hawaii probably has the same insights I do. Our culture isn’t indigenous, per se. It’s a patois of every country that lands on our shores. We see glimpses of these places and find the intersection where our cultures (the indigenous population) and their cultures (recent immigrants) mingle. The devil is in the details, I suppose? The small things like attitudes towards strangers and other genders aren’t immediately apparent, in most cases. But small gestures and throwaway comments add up.”

In respect to Lesser of Two, the book I wrote with Mirren, I have one leg up on most people: I’ve been close to certain individuals who have traveled to Southeast Asia for sex tourism. And through that person, I’ve met several women who were in the trade on different levels of involvement.”

S. L. Kerns also shared his experiences, “After living in Thailand for nearly six years–and currently in Japan going on three–I have learned a lot about Asian culture. While cultures do vary, I am discovering first-hand that by and large people around the world want the same basic things: a good quality of life, love, and a purpose to exist, no matter how insignificant that purpose might seem to others. As a writer these all work to my advantage, allowing me to write from various POVs and still be able to move the readers with believable characters and situations they can relate to.”

In Butterflies in the Killing Fields (coming soon from Burning Willow Press: Crossroads in the Dark IV), the MC tries to give his life meaning by finding out the truth about his ancestors deaths in the Killing Fields of Cambodia. In Angel and the Weeper (coming soon in Heartfelt Flows and Misery), Sunsanee seeks the fame she has missed out on as a struggling actress in Thailand. These characters could have been anyone from anywhere–of course with changing out the details of certain situations and locations. But I try to write what I know and what I know now is Asia.”

One thing that a writer should keep in mind when writing on another culture is: what you like and what you know is not exactly the same as what they like and what they know. This is something I struggled with early on when attempting a short story called Chouko (unreleased). It is the tale of a young Japanese woman with a unique job. I wanted to make her an individual, someone in Japan yet into the American emo music scene–and such a person most likely exists; however, beta readers did not buy it. She should like Japanese music, and, Would she really know so much about the emo scene having never visited America? were common complaints that awoke me to the reality. Yes, characters can be, and at times should be individuals, but don’t expect the reader to always buy what your waving in front of them. Research is key in making fictional characters believable, no matter where they live or come from.”

Greg Alldredge contributed some thoughts, “I try to insert as much reality as possible in any story. I feel the real life experiences helps me to insert details to make the settings more believable. Last thing I want to be accused of is cultural appropriation but I think there are so many good stories that can be based or set in Asia it is an untapped location or at least underutilized setting for stories.”

“I also try to write in believable characters into my stories. Not just stereotypes or tropes of people. Everyone or thing I have written about are bits and pieces of different people I have met traveling around the world. Even the Transgender Hostel owner was an amalgamation of a few different people I have met over my travels, though I have yet to meet anyone with real super powers or aliens. Those all come from my head!”

I agree with points mentioned by these authors, Asian cultures share similarities with others, and are not uniform. Setting my story in Northern India required extensive research for me to imbue the story with realism and authenticity. For me, the important factors are authors immersing themselves in the culture, and clearly showing the culture is not uniform. Authors can convey an alien culture when they put in the effort and take the needed care and love.


S. L. Kerns:

Erin Yoshikawa:

Gregg Alldredge:

S. A. Gibson:

The Most Luxurious Medieval Manuscripts

Nicholas C. Rossis

I have Anika Burgess and Vittoria Traverso of Atlas Obscura to thank for the beautiful images you can enjoy below and for the fascinating tale of the Luneborch manuscript; a long-lost 15-century prayer book that had been missing for some 40 years.

The Luneborch Manuscript

Luneborch Prayer Book | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book Two pages from the Luneborch Prayer Book. Back cover, Lindau Gospels, c. late eighth century. Image via Atlas Obscura

One day in 2012, the rare books assistant at the George Peabody Library at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, opened a package that had been delivered to the library’s mailbox. Inside was a long-lost 15th-century illuminated prayer book.

Luneborch Prayer Book | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book A page from the Luneborch Prayer Book. 

The manuscript is one of the rare examples of vernacular spirituality—meaning it was for personal use, not in a church—from early Renaissance Germany. Known as the Prayer Book of Hans Luneborch, it had been commissioned in 1492. The book had…

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“On the Horizon”

“On the Horizon”

(Almost) Average

On the Horizon is the 22 author scifi/fantasy boxed-set I’m super excited to be part of. It releases on May 1, 2018. My novel The Selection will be one of the 22 novels featured in this collection.

Even if you’ve read my book, you can still pre-order this amazing collection of stories from a cast of international authors. With a price of .99 you can’t go wrong!


Right now we are able to offer pre-orders on the Nook (or Nook app if you’re like me and read on an iPad using all the different reading apps). By pre-ordering the collection on the Nook, you are helping us to achieve our goal and supporting talented authors from around the world.

Go ahead, click “pre-order” at the Nook store below! I’ll be extremely grateful if you did!

Nook Pre-Order

Amazon pre-orders will be coming soon in a few months. They only…

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Rereading Counts As Reading!

Reader and Cat Pic

Photo Credt: The Distracted Reader, Rick and Brenda Beerhorst, 9 June 2006, uploaded 5 August 2013: Benzoyl/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

As many of my blog readers know, I’m a big fan of revisiting old favorites (books, films, art works) and I often do this. However, as a reader, the relationship between revisiting a book I’ve read and enjoyed the past and counting it as reading or not didn’t occur to me until I read Jessica Yang’s article “Does Rereading Count as Reading?”. At least, it didn’t until I decided to join the annual Goodreads reading challenge this year. Goodreads lets their readers set a goal for the year of how many books they want to read and then keep track of books on their site in an effort to encourage people to read more.

The idea of keeping track of how many books you read…

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Language & Culture: The Alien in Fiction


This week I thought about how we portray alien cultures in our writing. How do you handle different cultures, or alien groups. Should we use the spelling and pronunciation of names to distinguish the cultures we want to write about? Do we create a dialect, a patois that sets the culture apart, that conveys their foreignness? How do we indicate this is a different culture?

I believe an advantage for science fiction and fantasy writing is that we can infuse our stories with different creatures and peoples. This opportunity to explore different types of beings is wondrous. But the challenge is complex and difficult to clearly show aliens in ways that are understandable and interesting to the readers. We must carefully approach the steps we take, the words we use, and the names we choose in our writing. Too much detail and accuracy could bore the reader. Too little information could hide the difference and confuse it with our normal culture. To help me think about how we handle these topics I asked two writer friends their thoughts.

Stephanie Barr responded, “All but one of my groups are “different” as in not conforming to any particular time or place on earth. The culture for these groups is given as we go. Things that familiar or different are noted in passing as part of the discussion or demonstrated via action, all taken as a given rather than justified or explained.“

Since I’m character driven, generally the parallels between one culture and a human culture are deliberate, but different. Say, prejudice against shapeshifting/magic rather than skin color or religion. I try to keep the cultures a collection of characteristics that have been demonstrated actual past cultures so that I can say, if challenged, “Yeah, people really did that.” Naming methodologies are often indicative of the cultures (using my own ideas). I usually have handful of culture specific terms but use terms people would recognize to denote similar objects for clarity.”

Jason Nugent described his approach, “I use names to indicate it’s different. I sometimes will use a certain dialect however I feel like if it’s radically different, readers won’t deal with it for long.”

In my book Asante’s Gullah Journey I try to portray a different culture where the language and behavior are different. It was important for me to show an unfamiliar group of people. I made an effort to demonstrate with names, language, foods, and other cultural attributes how that society stands apart from the reader’s world. As writers we must communicate difference while keeping the reader in mind so we don’t lose them. We writers are fortunate to have such an interesting task, which makes the act of writing an always new and pleasurable experience.


Stephanie Barr: and

Jason J. Nugent:

S. A. Gibson:

Why It May be Worth your While to go Exclusive: By Brian Meeks

Books And Me Blog

It’s an age-old question.

Since the very first cave dwellers started telling stories on walls, human authors have been debating whether to go wide or exclusive on Amazon.

The early cave dwellers mostly went exclusive.

Should you?

I’m a novelist who makes a full-time living as an author. I quit my day job two years ago. It was because I went back to exclusive after my second attempt at wide that I could do this for a living.

There are arguments for and against.

Some of them are reasonable, others aren’t.

One of the authors I coach is wide. He makes 30% of his revenue from Amazon and 70% from the other venues. He is wide because it makes the most financial sense.

Some people are wide because they ask the question, “What if Amazon decides to do something terrible to authors, cut their percentage pay out, call them names…

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A Writer’s Guide to Firearms: Bullet Impact and Silencers

Nicholas C. Rossis

This is a guest post by my author friend, William R. Bartlett. It continues his discussion of all things firearms. Part 1, Introduction, was published in late October. Today, Bill continues his introduction to firearms with information on bullet impact and silencers. The next parts will be posted regularly, as Bill prepares them. Enjoy and bookmark! 

A Writer’s Guide to Firearms by William R. Bartlett

Part 2: Bullet Impact and Silencers

Bullet impact

Just a flesh wound | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book Just a flesh wound. Image: Travis J. Hanson – DeviantArt

Bullet impact is rarely a smoothly drilled hole. Depending on the type of projectile used, the bullet cuts, tears and plows its way through flesh, deforming as it goes. In addition, a shock wave is transferred through soft tissue that results in greater trauma. Hydrostatic shock, not unlike the ripples expanding from a rock thrown into a pond, can rupture organs and result in complications…

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