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A Fantasy Tip From History: The Infamous Gu Poison

Nicholas C. Rossis

Gu poison | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books Minority women in southern China were accused of poisoning northern men with a special poison made of venomous creatures. WELLCOME LIBRARY/CC BY 4.0 via Atlas Obscura

Fans of the film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and the television show Sleepy Hollow may remember a powerful poison, used as a method to manipulate lovers and cause death. Atlas Obscura has the fascinating history of this legendary toxin — and I use the word “legendary” both figuratively and literally, as it is still unclear whether such a concoction was ever anything more than an ingenious way of marginalizing southern China minorities.

Dating as far back as 610 AD, travelers to southern China were warned of women who seduced travelers, feeding men meals laced with a powerful poison known as gu poison to keep their lovers from returning to their homes in the north. Gu poison, so the stories went, was collected by sealing venomous snakes…

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Before Wonder Woman


This year’s Wonder Woman is not Hollywood’s first attempt at showcasing a powerful leading female. Early film makers hinted at and teased audiences with portrayals of strong women.

The first Alice in Wonderland was released in 1903. The 1939 The Wizard of Oz is a well beloved musical film story about Dorothy’s struggles to return home.

The 1950s saw many exploitative representations of powerful women, including Cat-Women of the Moon (1953), Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956), Queen of Outer Space (1958), The Wasp Woman (1959), The Leech Woman (1960), and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968).

In the 1968 film, The Lion in Winter,  Henry II of England’s wife and adversary, Eleanor of Aquitaine, is the main female character. She became, through inheritance, marriage, and her own military actions one of the most powerful women in western Europe in the 12th century. She led armies and a Holy Crusade. The film exposed some of her strong aspects, while showing her as shrewish and manipulative.

The 1970s and 1980s, mirrored the 1950s with a continuation of strong women who were shown in erotic costumes and situations. Star Wars (1977) infamously showed Princess Leia in the slave outfit. Cat People (1982) gave the top female character a seductive beauty that enticed all men.

The 1990s saw only sight maturing of the vision of female powerful leads. Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992) offered a humorous take on a superhero. Buffy attended high school and wisecracked while staking vampires.

In 2012, the Hunger Games film introduced a somewhat rounded character as the main warrior woman. Some have seen the character Katniss as showing agency, and nuanced responses to situations. She is neither completely confident, nor always fearful. She was a character in an action movie with feelings and complexity.


This year’s audience and critically acclaimed Wonder Woman movie gives us hope that the powerful female can be portrayed in ways that are not stereotyped and limited. I look forward to the future developments in strong female leads in movies.

My 4 Golden Rules of Writing

Nicholas C. Rossis

Found on Found on

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now. The main reason is that I keep coming across several writing rules that make little sense to me. Then, I came across a gem of a post by Constance Hale, “When Shakespeare Committed Word Crimes” on TED.

Constance confirmed what I long suspected: when there is tension in a language between what comes naturally and the rules, it’s because someone has tried to shoehorn the language into their idea of conformity.

Does this mean there are no rules? Not at all. It just means that the ones we are taught in workshops and classrooms are not necessarily the ones that matter to actual readers – as opposed to teachers, agents and editors. So, here are my golden rules; the ones no fiction writer should ever break, in my view:

Rule #1: Don’t let your writing get in the way of your story.

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The Sunshine Blogger Award: An interview with Lakisha


I’ve been nominated by Ed Ryder for the ‘Sunshine Blogger Award’, where a character in one of my novels has to answer ten questions about themselves. I’ve chosen Lakisha, the young teenager in the Asante’s Gullah Journey. She has had incredible adventures on her way to finding a position in the Library.

  1. Tell me about the world you live in.

I live in the world of the American South of the future. We done lost all modern technology and live by farming and simple ways. The Librarians be in charge. I been told, ‘the libraries hold all the knowledge of the before times, so they’ve the right to rule.’ I ‘spose that’s right.

  1. You have only $50 left (or local equivalent) in the world, what do you spent it on?

I spend most my time with Asa the dog. I will buy food for Asa, and have a dog house built. The dog and me can live happy, even wit’ no money.

  1. What scares you the most?

I always worry that I won’t be able to stay with the Library. Then I might be forced to go back to where I came from and work in the fish cannery. The smell can’t never leave my skin and clothes.

  1. What would your ideal alternative career be?

I am learning so much doing odd jobs for the Library, I don’t never want’a leave. But, If’n I had to go, I’d want to sail on one of the great clipper ships that sail across the ocean. I’d learn about the rigging and tacking across the ocean, all the way to Africa, and around the world.

  1. Slay the dragon or set it free? (and why)

I’ve never seen a dragon, but I don’t never wanna kill nobody. If’n the dragon was dangerous, I’d try to find a way to protect the people. If’n it couldn’t be trusted, I do my best to lock it up.

  1. Would you join an old enemy to fight a new one?

Sure. Granny always says to forgive the sinners. I would forgive baddies if’n I needed them to make things better. I could talk ’em into helping. I been told I could talk the dew right off the honeysuckle.

  1. What do you do to relax between adventures?

I take care of the little ones. I even work, in a fun way. I take books to the neighboring farms, so the little ones can enjoy them. I learn new skills, like fighting with sticks and knitting.

  1. Has your author ever made you do something you completely disagree with?

Authors be a pain! I get thrown into danger in every single story. Don’t ever gets no relaxation and peace. The worse was when Asa had to fight the baddies who was trying to hurt the Librarian. I was scared for all of us.

  1. Are you in love with anyone you shouldn’t be?

I’m embarrassed to talk on it. I surely love Asante, the Library Scout. But, I can’t be that way. Beneda’s my friend, an’ I’d never betray her. Besides, everyone’d say he’s too old for me.

  1. Would you take a life to save ten?

Again I can’t stomach the idea o’ taken a life. Yet, were the need great enough, I have to try everything in my power to help. I would want to do whatever I could, using everything I’ve got to bring a good ending. I would hope, I didn’t have to take no life.

Who’s next?

Part of the chain is to nominate people with your own questions, so here’s mine!

1. Tell me what your life is like.

2. Who do you care about the most?

3. Who or what do you fear the most?

4. What kind of work do you like the most?

5. If you had one incredible power, what would it be.

6. What is one bad thing, you secretly wish you could do?

7. What’s is your favorite swear word?

8. Do you consider yourself a dreamer or a doer? Give an example.

9. Would you replace your author if you could? Does your author annoy you?

10. What type of weather best describes you?

I have tagged several author friends, including:


The Sunshine Blogger Award: An interview with Rowena Schoier

Ed Ryder - blogging to an empty theatre


I’ve been nominated by Debbie Jinks for the ‘Sunshine Blogger Award’, where a character in one of my novels has to answer ten questions about themselves. I’ve chosen Rowena Schoier, the wife of Caden, a politician in the Ministry of Reproduction. She has her own plans for the fate of the world.

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So… Cock-up? The Phrase Finder

Nicholas C. Rossis

One of my favorite pastimes is to find out the origins of common sayings or phrases. So, I was thrilled when my author friend Sebastian White (of Quirky Claus fame)  alerted me to The Phrase Finder, a wonderful resource for anyone with a passion for English.

In true English fashion, The Phrase Finder explains the meanings and origins of thousands of English idioms, phrases, and sayings such as:

  • Proverbs – a list of hundreds of the proverbs that give meaning to our language like no other form of expression.
  • American Idioms – Divided by a common language? Not when you understand the phrases that were born in the USA.
  • Phrases coined by Shakespeare – He gave us more words and expressions than anyone else.
  • Nautical phrases – the phrases came from our nautical friends.
  • Phrases from the Bible – the single book that has given more sayings, idioms, and…

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Science Fiction and Fantasy Books into Movies


I am obsessed with reading science fiction, fantasy books, and watching movies. So, I am bewitched by those movies, based on science fiction and fantasy books and stories. You could say I make the ideal audience member. Movie producers have used written works to inspire and serve as the launching point for depictions on the screen. The history of science fiction and fantasy stories turned to movies dates back to the beginning of moving making. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne was adapted into a 1916 film. The German movie Nosferatu was the first film version of the Dracula tale.


In the years since, Some film adaptations have worked, while some have not. In 2016, M.R. Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts was brought to the screen, with the title character played by Sennia Nanua. This version conveyed much of the horror and hope of the book version. In 2007, I am Legend by Richard Matheson, was adapted with Will Smith playing the leading role. The movie changed the ending to be more optimistic than the book.


Ray Bradbury’s A Sound of Thunder was filmed in 2005. Many readers of the story disliked the movie version. I enjoyed it, but had not read the story. Dune, the vast epic novel by Frank Herbert has experienced several adaptation attempts. I appreciated the 1984 version, though many criticize that movie. I feel the book conveyed so much deep background, side stories, and characters, that no movie could completely represent it.


In 2001 Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien was brought to the screen by director Peter Jackson. The film received critical and fan acclaim and was followed by more films in the series and Hobbit movie adaptations. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins spawned a series of successful movies, starting in 2012. The movies pleased fans with portrayal of a strong female character and futuristic action.


The use of science fiction and fantasy novels and stories to inspire movies is only increasing. Each year multiple titles are produced. The quality and faithfulness continues to vary. Fortunately, for me, my obsession is so great, I appreciate even mediocre productions. One question, I have is when more challenging written works will be produced. A few titles that would be interesting, if they could be made well, include Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy, and Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sowers. Let me know some movies, adapted from stories, that you liked or loathed.

Gifted: the Mysterious Edinburgh Book Sculptures

Nicholas C. Rossis

In 2011, ten exquisite sculptures made from books mysteriously appeared at libraries and cultural institutions across Edinburgh. The first and last were found here at the Scottish Poetry Library, and also a final gift at the end of 2012. The sculptures came with a simple message: ‘in support of books, libraries, words, ideas’. To this day, no one knows how they arrived, and the identity of the sculptor remains anonymous, but their story has traveled all over the world.

The artist’s note ‘… a library is so much more than a building full of books… a book is so much more than pages full of words.…in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…’ forms a refrain running through the all of the works, both celebration and call to action.

See all sculptures and find out more about this unusual mystery on the Scottish Poetry Library’s website.

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Don’t Advertise With Amazon Until You’ve Read This

Nicholas C. Rossis

Yes, this is the long-promised post where I share my experience advertising with Amazon and the things I’ve learned — things that could make or break your campaign.

What I’ve Learned Advertising With Amazon

You may remember my past experiences with Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) and the recent plan I’d set for myself. I started promoting in April with 3 kinds of ads:

Ad #1: Sponsored Products, Manual Keywords

This was the bulk of my promos. I chose up to 1,000 keywords for each book and used them to target potential readers.

How does one come up with so many keywords, you ask? Well, there are two easy ways:

Advertising with Amazon (AMS) | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books1. Choose The Best-Selling Books In Your Genre

The first strategy requires that you find the genres in which your books sells. Amazon does some automatic choosing for you, and you can sometimes see these listed under your book details…

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Writing as Editing

As a beginning fiction writer four years ago, I had no book author skills. What I brought to my new profession was experiences living and reading thousands of books, and knowing what I enjoyed reading. I began putting down stories because I could not find enough books to read that fulfilled my interests. So, I sat down to tell stories I wanted to read. These tales of swordsmen and swordswomen wandering dangerous lands, meting out justice and meeting exciting characters spilled out of me quickly.

But, editing was slow, frustrating, and limited. I mostly looked for typos, spelling, grammar, and plot errors. My creative process resulted in plots that moved from a beginning setup, through middle complications, cumulating in conflict, and final resolution. I tried to build tension, give fight scenes to resolve tension with antagonists, and carefully study the terrain and locations my characters would have to traverse. However, I was not editing to improve the story, or bring the characters or scenes to life.

I have enjoyed working with my editor over the last few years. EJ Runyan has supported my writing with permission to write raw and fast, those stories in my head. She says, ‘first you have to get it out on the page.’ Then we’ve worked together to turn it into a great story. Part of that editing process has been to convert telling scenes into showing scenes. I think of it as living in the scene, not telling about the scene. We work on making sure the action or decisions in the scene contribute to future aspects of the story. It’s important to have the motivations and intentions of the characters drive the scene. This process of editing, while time-consuming, results in more satisfying stories with life, grit, and staying power.

I will share some scenes from my stories and try to show the type of revision which have been carried out during the editing process. This first scene is from Asante’s Gullah Journey. Beneda the farmer and archer, with her friends, is making the final assault to liberate the Library from Cootuh and his henchmen.

Cootuh spots two people coming his way as he moves around the building. Beneda! Beside her strides Hector with a huge club.

Cootuh freezes and waves his two men forward. Jeremiah, stopping also, pushes his two toward Hector. Cootuh moves closer to the wall on his left. Maybe, if I duck right quick, the wall’ll stop that club.

As Hector swings wildly, Cootuh sees Beneda’s raised her bow. In an instant Cootuh’s he’s looking at a arrowtip aimed his way.

As she releases, Malcolm smashes into her from behind. The arrow plants in the ground, inches from Cootuh’s boot.foot.

A man bounces from the wall in front of Cootuh’s men. Damn! Looking over he realizes Hector’s alone, except for this one a man hanging on his back. Jeremiah’s eyes meet his. He’s asking what to do. “There!” Cootuh commands.

On trembling legs, Jeremiah steps in front of Hector. But he only blocks the huge man for a second. That club crashes down on his shoulder and Jeremiah drops like a felled tree. Out cold.

Wait!” Cootuh shouts Hector flings the last man off his back. Off and away. “Wait!” Cootuh shouts. It works, Hector freezes with club raised.

There’s movement and grunting, out of the corner of his eye, Cootuh noticeshears Malcolm on top of Beneda. Sees both her hands grip his wrist. Malcolm’s small knife close to her face. With the free hand he hits the girl’s her head and chest.

Hector. We friends.” Cootuh’s spread splayed his hands apart wide, eyes opened as wide as they’ll go.

Shaking his head and the club, Hetor growls, “No.”

You worked for me.” Cootuh forces a distorted smile. “The farmers killed Brutha.” Cootuh casts his face toward Beneda as she struggles on the ground. Cootuh’s thinking the knife in his hand is a twin to Malcolm’s but his won’t stop Hector.

No!” With Hector’s shout comes a jolt of pain in Cootuh’s hand. Hector’s club has smashed down.

As Cootuh backs away, another black shape comes moving rapidly toward the struggling pair on the ground.

Malcolm!” His shout too late. The old attacker has thrust a Bowie knife into Malcolm’s kidney back. That old man, what helped the scout and the librarian woman. Now Hector’s closer.

Careful where he steps, No mora this! Cootuh’s turned now, Feets! Not caring to see or hear more, he tilts full speed, heading to the creek.

This next scene is from A Dangerous Way. The Library Scout, William Way, has been captured and placed with someone who should be his enemy, Meredith. Instead, they work together to achieve their freedom.

She goes to the At the door, Meredith cries out in a high, strangled voice, “Help, he’s getting away!” She keeps repeatedly calling for help, “Guard! Guard! Jonny! Quickly!” repeatedly until the guards open the door. Then as she Meredith runs toward the window, they step in pointing and yelling even louder, they both step in and survey the room. All the furniture has been piled up in strange lumps. around the room. She points again. at the window they Fredrico looks but sees nothing but a cloth blanket hanging from the window rod. As they’ve planned things, it can’t be seen whether the window’s is broken or not. As he walks to inspect it window Jonny stands back three steps from the door.

Suddenly William leaps steps out from behind the mattress and launches himself. Jonny the guard at the door holds his sword in low guard toward the left. William comes at him, from the right locks his arm between their two bodies. William He uses both hands to choke out the man. As he falls, Fredrico spins. while looking to the right. The man Jonny, beneath him, struggles less and less, finally going limp. But the other guard heads moves in their direction. With only three long steps between them, Fredrico he will reach William in seconds.

Unexpectedly, that one gets a burning lamp wick against his cheek. Meredith has grabbed the flame and used it as a weapon.

In the near dark, the guard Fredrico sweeps around and strikes Meredith down. As his he is turned back is turned, William leaps. jumps on him Clamping Fredrico in a headlock, and applies applying a choke hold between his forearm and bicep. After a few seconds, the man slumps down. The flickering lamp wick lies on the floor beside Meredith’s body.

Quickly Picking up the damaged lamp, William quickly kneels. She feebly looks up at the feeble light.

You saved my life,” he says. to her.

We can escape now?” she asks.

Yes, we‘re are not prisoners anymore,” says William. William says to her.

Good… it is Good to be free,” Her eyes close. William feels her neck. artery and there is no pulse. No pulse.

I have been learning how to craft stories to bring scenes more to life. My goal is now to live the scene, not explain the scene to the reader. It turns out that the editing step is a key to good writing.