½ Price Sale on Many of My Books!

You’re looking for some great beach reads for your Kindle this summer. You keep hearing about that author—what’s his name?—who everyone is talking about. That’s right, it’s Steven R. Southard, the one who calls himself Poseidon’s Scribe.

You’ve been meaning to read my books, but you keep thinking they’re so darned expensive. Well, you’re in luck. Your wait is over.

For the month of July only, Smashwords is offering many of my books (the ones in the What Man Hath Wrought series) for ½ price! That’s right, get two for the price of one.

Here’s how to take advantage of these great prices. When you click on any book at my Smashwords site, a message will appear telling you to use a specific code at checkout to get the discount.

Here’s the list of stories and their prices during July:

AftertheMartians72dAfter the Martians
$2.00

 

RippersRing5Ripper’s Ring
$2.00

 

TimesDeformedHand3fTime’s Deformèd Hand
$2.00

 

TheCometeers3fThe Cometeers
$2.00

 

ToBeFirstWheels4To Be First and Wheels of Heaven
$2.00

 

RallyingCry3fRallying Cry and Last Vessel of Atlantis
$2.00

 

ATaleMoreTrue3fA Tale More True
$2.00

 

TheSixHundredDollarMan72dpi-1The Six Hundred Dollar Man
$1.50

 

ASteampunkCarol3fA Steampunk Carol
$1.50

 

AgainstAllGods4Against All Gods
$2.00

 

LeonardosLion4Leonardo’s Lion
$2.00

 

AlexandersOdyssey3fAlexander’s Odyssey
$2.00

 

WithinVictorianMists4Within Victorian Mists
$1.50

 

WindSphereShip4The Wind-Sphere Ship
$1.50

 

Better take advantage of this limited time offer before Smashwords wakes up and realizes what they’ve done. Heck, you could buy all 14 books for a cool $26. How’s that for value?

Remember, go to Smashwords and grab these deals while they last. Tell ‘em you were sent by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

When Characters Wrest Control

Sometimes, while playing God, writers get surprised. Occasionally, while we’re creating our little worlds and our little people to inhabit them, one of those people doesn’t stay in the intended space.

Wresting ControlToday I’ll consider the topic of characters getting too big for their britches, and assuming a bigger (or different) role than the one planned for them. When this happens in your writing, should you take it as a good thing or a bad thing?

This has happened to me a few times. In my story “After the Martians,” the character Frank Robinson is a war AftertheMartians72dphotographer. He’s meant to be a secondary character, pursuing a parallel plot line that intersects the protagonist’s life near the end in a meaningful way. However, Frank became a little more compelling than intended and darn near overshadowed the protagonist. I kept most of his exploits in, so the reader cares what happens to him and follows his plot line with interest.

RippersRing72dpiIn “Ripper’s Ring,” Diogenes is a Bassett hound owned by a Scotland Yard detective. You know how some movie actors dread performing with animals because the animal might steal the scene? That nearly happened with droopy old Diogenes, whose seeming lack of interest in following a scent made him an endearing comic character in an otherwise dark and philosophical story. I kept him that way.

ATaleMoreTrue72dpiThere’s a French servant named Fidèle in my story “A Tale More True” who almost ended up having a more compelling personality than that of his master, the protagonist. Once again, he was a secondary character meant to provide comic relief and to showcase the protagonist. However, he tended to get the best lines, and to be the one suggesting the right course of action. I kept him as I’d written him, since the story is a voyage of learning and discovery for his master, and Fidèle is a necessary part of that.

WithinVictorianMists9Another servant, this time a plump Irish one named Daegan MacSwyny, nearly took over my story “Within Victorian Mists.” I’d meant this secondary character to be funny and unintelligent, but he ended up being secretly wise in almost magical ways. As with Fidèle, he gently prodded his master, the protagonist, toward the right answer at every step, though it’s never clear whether that’s by intention or accident. MacSwyny and all the Victorian Mists characters appeared again in “A Steampunk Carol” but there the servant kept to his secondary status.

In each case, a secondary character threatened to take over the story by force of personality and by being more endearing than the protagonist. That’s just the way my muse rolls.

But not only mine. Other writers have blogged about this phenomenon. Mae Clair lets it happen, for the most part, and later writes separate stories featuring such characters.

Melanie Spiller had written such a good scene about the death of a character whom she hadn’t meant to kill off, that she kept the scene in. She’d once been told a character wresting control of the story is a sign you’ve created a believable character.

When a character takes on a bigger role, you have choices. You can:

  1. Let that character go in this new direction, at least to some extent.
  2. Rewrite the story to keep the character as intended.
  3. Delete the character.

So far, I’ve always chosen option 1. Other writers choose either 1 or 2. It would be gut wrenching to opt for 3, so I suspect that’s rarely done.

When you play God by writing fiction, do you have characters wresting control every now and then? If so, what do you do? Or do you just like that word ‘wrest?’ Rise above your role as a blog post reader, and leave a comment for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Envelope Please…

All the votes are in, and the critters.org site has released the unofficial tally of their critters_header2015 Preditors & Editors Readers Poll. In the Horror Short Story category, Steven R. Southard’s RippersRing72dpiRipper’s Ring” came in…

…drum roll, and dramatic pause…

4th out of 17.

That’s great, and I’d like to thank all the wonderful people who voted for my story. It’s an honor to make the top top10shortstoryhten (top five, even) of the nominated horror short stories of 2015. I’m proud of “Ripper’s Ring” and gratified that readers think enough of it to send in their votes.

One caveat—apparently the results are unofficial at present. If those standings change, you’ll learn that news right away from—

Poseidon’s Scribe

January 17, 2016Permalink

Vote for Your Favorite Story of 2015

Happy New Year! It’s time again for the Critters Writers Workshop to conduct their Preditors & Editors Readers Poll (their 18th) to see which newly published e-book readers prefer.

critters_headerYou can vote for your favorite book in a wide variety of categories. It’s not really a scientific poll, but winning it (or landing in the top ten) gives each author some bragging rights.

RippersRing72dpiPageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]AvastYeAirships

One of my stories, “Ripper’s Ring,” is in the Horror Short Story category, and is currently second of ten in votes. In the Anthologies category, two books contain other short stories I wrote. The two anthologies are Hides the Dark Tower and Avast, Ye Airships! The links in this paragraph and the book cover images take you straight to the correct poll category to vote.

To vote, click the button beside your favorite story’s (or anthology’s) title, then enter your name and e-mail address, then scroll to the bottom where you’ll see the image of a book’s cover (not mine). Type the author’s name of that book in the box to prove you’re not a spam robot. You’ll receive an e-mail to confirm your vote; just click the link in the e-mail and you’re done. Please vote before January 14, when they close the polling.

Whether you’ve read “Ripper’s Ring” or the anthologies, or not, this is a great way to start 2016. If you haven’t read my stories, you might feel prompted to buy them and read them. If you have, then it’s a great way to show your appreciation to—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Judging Covers

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but some of your potential readers will, and you don’t want them wincing at the sight of your book. Today we’ll be judging covers, or at least reviewing what makes a good one.

After you read this post, please check out Derek Murphy’s take on cover design here. He goes into more depth. Although I’ll only be discussing fiction covers, his post also addresses non-fiction.

Resources

Where do you get cover art? Here are some sources:

  • If you sold your book to a publisher, the publisher may do your cover. They will likely work with you and do their best to accommodate your preferences.
  • If you’re also an artist or graphic designer, you can make your own cover art. If you’re manipulating images found on-line, be careful not to violate public domain restrictions. Sites like Dollar Photo Club and Dreamstime offer thousands of images at reasonable prices.
  • You can pay someone to do your cover art for you. Perhaps you have an artist friend, or you can get in touch with a talented artist at a local high school or college through the art department. There are websites such as 99Designs where you can have artists compete to make your cover.

Techniques

Derek Murphy’s post spells out the secrets to good book cover art in detail, but his overall message is that people will only glance at a cover for a moment, so it has to grab them. Your cover has to convey its message in a couple of seconds. All eight of Murphy’s cover design secrets flow from this principle. I’ll discuss each technique with respect to the covers of my books, or anthologies in which my stories appear.

51aDCvEwjvL1. Make it “Pop.” Use contrast between light and dark, or opposing colors. The cover of 2012 AD uses that technique to show off the explosion.

 

 

 

 

2. Lots of space. Avoid clutter. LeonardosLion3fThe cover of “Leonardo’s Lion” is simple; the reader’s eye doesn’t have to wander all over to get the point.

 

 

 

 

ASteampunkCarol72dpi3. Make it emotional. Your cover should be beautiful; it should appeal to the heart and make readers feel something. Remember, readers of different genres react emotionally to different things. The cover of “A Steampunk Carol” has the brass gears that steampunk lovers enjoy, and adds the red and green flowers of Christmas.

 

 

4. Use a subtitle, teaser or tagline (and a review!). It’s an effective technique, but none of my covers so far have used this.

Cover art5.1jox6w Pick the right font (and effects). The font should be readable and should help deliver the book’s message. In Quest for Atlantis, the main title font has an ancient (or at least olden) look. For “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai,” the title font has an Asian feel.

 

 

RippersRing72dpi6WithinVictorianMists9. Make it personal (but not cheesy). It’s good to have people on your covers, though Murphy argues against silhouettes. “Ripper’s Ring” gives you a glaring Jack the Ripper. We did use silhouettes for “Within Victorian Mists” but I think we did it effectively, to convey dancing on clouds.

 

ATaleMoreTrue3f7. If it’s too hard, go simple. Murphy argues against trying to cram in all the ideas you’d like to convey. I think “A Tale More True” illustrates a reasonable amount of simplicity. The reader has to wonder how a tricorn hat ended up there.

 

 

 

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]8. A little more on text placement. Murphy makes some additional points about text contrast with background, as well as fitting in short words (a, by, in, or the) in among the larger words. I like how the tower in Hides the Dark Tower seems to punch through the word ‘tower.’

 

 

 

As writers, we’re not expected to be great cover designers. If you are, or would like to be, then more power to you. For the rest of us, we must depend on (and pay for) the skill of others such as Derek Murphy. Leave the judging of book covers to the experts; that’s the advice of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

October 25, 2015Permalink

Writing Blurbs

Whether readers buy books online or in a bookstore, they look at the cover first and the blurb second. If the blurb doesn’t grab them, they move on. Don’t kill that sale with a bad blurb.

BlurbA blurb is defined as a short description of your book, written for promotional purposes and appearing on the back cover. That definition sucks all the life out of the word, though. Scratch out “written for promotional purposes” and substitute “written to seize the prospective reader’s attention and imbed an irresistible desire to possess the book and read every word.”

My primary publisher, Gypsy Shadow Publishing, asks for two blurbs for each book—a long one that’s less than 150 words, and a short one no longer than 25 words. Both of these are difficult for me to write, but the short blurb is the toughest.

What should be in a blurb?

  • Hint at the plot or main conflict.
  • Name and mention distinguishing trait of main character(s).
  • Describe the setting or ‘world.’ This is vital in science fiction and fantasy.
  • If available, include quotes about this book or your previous books.
  • If space available, include an author bio.

How do you write one?

  • Study other book blurbs in your genre. Learn the common words and language.
  • Write a summary of your book (if not done already), then shorten it down to its essence. What’s the book’s “elevator speech?”
  • Use image-laden words, those powerful words that speak to readers of the book’s genre.
  • Ensure the tone of the blurb matches that of the book.
  • Write several blurbs and combine the best features.
  • Set it aside for a few days, then read it again. If meh, rewrite.
  • Ask your critique group to comment on it. You are in a critique group, right?

Further Reading

You can find out even more about blurbs from Amy Wilkins, Marilynn Byerly, and the master of writer advice, Joanna Penn. I’ve shamelessly stolen from them in writing this post.

Examples

Here are three of the 25-word blurbs from my most recent books. These don’t contain all the elements noted above, but the 150-word, lengthier versions do:

  • Ripper’s Ring:” The ancient Ring of Gyges grants the power of invisibility to Jack the Ripper. A Scotland Yard detective tracks a killer who can’t be seen.
  • Time’s Deformèd Hand:” Time for zany mix-ups in a clock-obsessed village. Long-separated twins, giant automatons, and Shakespeare add to the madcap comedy. Read it before it’s too late!
  • The Cometeers:” A comet threatens Earth…in 1897! Of the six men launched by cannon to deflect it, one is a saboteur. It’s steampunk Armageddon!

With some practice and creativity, your blurbs should be even better than any written by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Pictures from BALTICON

During my book launch at BALTICON, friend and writer Kelly Harmon took some pictures of Steven R. Southard, my alter ego.

SteveReadingSteve2At the book launch of “Ripper’s Ring,” I described the story, passed around my 3D-printed version of the Ring of Gyges, and read an excerpt from the story.

It was the first time I had conducted a book launch at a con, and I learned some things about how to do it better next time.

My thanks to Kelly Harmon for taking the pictures. It’s much appreciated by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

What a Great Time at BALTICON!

Although I’ve attended the major science fiction and fantasy convention in Baltimore for many years, this year marked the first time I spoke as a participant. It’s been a wonderful experience!

b49_banner_1First, I spoke on a panel called “Being Out in Fandom.” It was about the issues faced by the LGBTQ community as fans at cons. My thanks to fellow panelists Stephanie “Flashcat” Burke and Hugh J. O’Donnell, and to moderator Jennifer R. Povey for helping me through that unfamiliar territory. I think I learned more than the audience!

I felt more conversant about being on the panel called “Engineers Can’t Write—Some Known Counter-Examples.” I had suggested that idea to the BALTICON staff, after all! I greatly enjoyed the experience with the other panelists Karen Burnham, Gary Ehrlich, and Walt Boyes. Jack Clemmons did a superb job as the moderator.

The next panel was part of the weekend-long tribute to the late C.J Henderson, who was the con’s Ghost of Honor. It was titled “Do You Want Pulp With That?” and we talked about what pulp fiction is, and Henderson’s forays into that realm. It was the first panel I’d ever moderated. I’m grateful to panelists John L. French, Michael Black, and Michael Underwood for keeping things interesting and informative for the audience (and for me).

On Sunday morning, I was honored to be in a reading session with Melissa Scott and Ada Palmer. (Despite the ‘ladies first’ adage, I should have gone first. I see that now.) After they read wonderful excerpts from upcoming works, I read a passage from “A Clouded Affair” in the anthology Avast, Ye Airships!

That afternoon, I sat at an autograph table with Jack McDevitt. Yes, the Jack McDevitt, winner of the Nebula Award, and recent winner of the Heinlein Award. He was wonderful to talk to, and a few of the fans who’d lined up for his autograph spent some time at my end of the table.

We had a packed session for a panel I moderated called “Bars, Inns, and Taverns: Fiction and Reality.” Panelists Katie Bryski, Ada Palmer, John Skylar, and Nathan Lowell kept it fun and instructive. BALTICON’s Guest of Honor, Jo Walton (Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell Award winner!), also attended and shared her knowledge of the history of English pubs.

Among those who attended the launching of my story “Ripper’s Ring” were friends Kelly A. Harmon and Trisha Wooldridge. I thank them both.

Late Sunday night, I moderated a panel called “Knowing That I Know That You Know: Xanatos Gambits and Chessmasters.” The only panelist was Grig Larson, who was both funny and knowledgeable about this rather arcane topic.

On Monday I moderated the “Long YA, Short YA” panel discussing the explosion in long novels for young adults. Panelist Michael Underwood and Compton Crook Award Winner Alexandra Duncan kept the audience engaged.

Lastly, I moderated one more panel on “Tropes in Young Adult SF/F.” The lone panelist, Alexandra Duncan, was marvelous in this one too. I’m learning how to be a panel moderator, and it’s nice when a skilled and expert panelist makes up for any shortcomings in the moderator, (like when he runs out of questions).

All in all, a spectacular weekend! My sincere thanks go to the BALTICON programming coordinators for giving me a chance. I’m grateful, as well, to all the more experienced authors I met who told me, and showed by example, how to have a successful convention.

This BALTICON will linger long and fondly in the memory of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Join Me at BALTICON this Weekend

b49_banner_1

All right, Poseidon’s Scribe fans, here’s an opportunity for you. I’ll be speaking, and generally causing trouble, at BALTICON this weekend. BALTICON is the major science fiction and fantasy convention near Baltimore, Maryland.

Here’s my schedule (subject to change):

Date Time Topic
Friday 10:00 PM Being Out in Fandom
Saturday 10:00 AM Engineers Can’t Write? Some Known Counter-Examples
Saturday 1:00 PM Do You Want Pulp with That?
Sunday 11:00 AM Readings
Sunday 4:00 PM Autograph session
Sunday 8:00 PM Bars, Inns, and Taverns: Fiction and Reality
Sunday 9:15 PM Book Launch: Ripper’s Ring
Sunday 10:00 PM Knowing That I Know That You Know: Xanatos Gambits and Chessmasters
Monday 12:00 PM Long YA, Short YA
Monday 1:00 PM Tropes In Young Adult SF/F

For some of the panels I’m the moderator and for others a panelist. After years of sitting in the audience at these events, now I’ll be one of the authors doing the yakking. A new experience for me.

Stop by, say hi, and listen to the wit and wisdom of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Basset Hound in Ripper’s Ring

There’s a basset hound in my upcoming story “Ripper’s Ring.” Let me tell you about him.

His name is Diogenes, and I’ve described him as having a copper-and-black mottled coat, a white blaze down his snout, and a white-tipped tail. He’s a pet, owned by my one of the story’s main characters, Detective Wellington Thales Bentbow.

Bvdb-bassethound1Diogenes is not quite like the hound pictured here, but you get the general idea of their characteristic wrinkled, sagging skin and drooping ears, giving them a perpetually depressed countenance.

I chose a basset for my story for a couple of reasons. From the time my wife was growing up until a few years after I met her, her family kept pet Basset Hounds, owning as many as three at a time. They remain one of her favorite animals.

Second, I discovered Basset Hounds possess a sense of smell for tracking that’s the second keenest of all dog breeds, behind only the bloodhound. That makes this breed a good dog for a detective to own.

Especially a detective like Wellington Bentbow, who is philosophical by nature, a loner, and probably a bit wrinkly and gloomy himself. He’s come to regret purchasing Diogenes, though, because the hound much prefers sleeping to any sort of detective work.

Bentbow chose the name Diogenes for his pet because of the ancient Greek philosopher. Diogenes of Sinope has become associated with dogs. In addition, Diogenes would wander around in the daytime holding a lamp before him. When asked why, he said he was looking for an honest man. (How he planned to detect honesty using a lamp was, I believe, part of his little joke.) But this idea of tracking down a particular man also played into the choice of name for my basset hound character.

In a future post I’ll blog about the uses of pets in fiction, but for now I’ll say there’s a danger involved when you introduce familiar pets in your stories. In particular, dogs and cats are endearing to readers and it’s so tempting to provide details about the animal’s cute behavior and personality, they can steal the show if you’re not careful. I had to fight to keep Diogenes a minor character, because he could have taken over the story.

RippersRing72dpi“Ripper’s Ring” takes place in London in 1888, and basset-type hounds were then new to England, having only recently been imported from France. The modern Basset Hound (capitalized) didn’t become a standardized breed until after the time of my story, so strictly speaking, Diogenes would be categorized as a basset-type hound.

You can read all about Diogenes in my story, “Ripper’s Ring,” due to launch on Monday, May 4th. If you own a Basset Hound that matches my description of Diogenes, I’ll be happy to post a picture of it, if you’ve taken the picture and give permission for posting it by leaving a comment for—

Poseidon’s Scribe