NaNoWriMo 2022 Update

Happy National Novel Writing Month! Whether you’re a writer participating, you’ve heard about NaNoWriMo because of friends taking part, or you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, I wish you a month filled with stories. For hundreds of thousands of authors, November is a time to attempt the Herculean task of writing 50,000 words (around 200 pages) of a novel over the course of 30 days. In other words, expect me and plenty of others to be in caffeine-fueled hazes of delirium for the next few weeks while we spend more time with our characters than actual people.

Though part of me rails at the thought, 2022 marks thirteen years since I started writing more seriously. I’ve participated in NaNo many times over that span; often I failed to hit the goal, other times I conquered it. But regardless of the amount of words I actually managed during the month, I always felt like I emerged from NaNoWriMo in a much better position than I entered it.

The thing I love most about National Novel Writing Month is that it’s a perfect excuse to re-evaluate your writing schedule. If you’re already pushing your storytelling to the limit on a daily basis, it can be a super productive month to finish out the year. If you’ve been on a writing hiatus, it’s an excellent opportunity to get back into gear. And if you’re somewhere in the middle, as I was this year, it can be great for finding the equilibrium to start making headway again.

Whether you “win” NaNoWriMo or not, that hard check on your priorities and time management can be an incredible learning experience. The 50,000 words can be amazing to have under your belt, but the habits developed along the way can be even better in the long run.

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NaNoWriMo is perfect for reflecting on your writing journey and needs

How does writing fit into your lifestyle and schedule? The answer will change throughout your career, often whenever your life shifts in major or even sometimes minor ways. Since NaNoWriMo is a month to prioritize writing stories, it’s also the perfect time to reassess whether that balance needs to be adjusted to accommodate where you are now, as opposed to where you used to be.

For me, the name of the game this NaNo has been finding ways to better balance my day job writing with my creative writing. The biggest change from last year’s event to this one is that I’m now working full time at Winter Is Coming and writing articles for the site most every day. On average I churn out around 3,000 words per day; some days less, others much more. Generally, I’m writing quite a lot.

That makes turning around and writing fiction in my after-work hours a lot more challenging than it was when I worked at other day jobs or did the starving artist thing, focusing solely on my writing and music. At WiC I’m using the same muscles for work that I do for writing stories. And as much as I try to convince my body otherwise, I only have a finite amount of time and energy each day to get all the things I want to done.

Learning how to coordinate my natural biorhythms with my work and life needs has been essential. Try though I might, waking up early to write simply isn’t my thing. I’ve always been a night owl. It’s just the way I’m wired, and a big part of my creativity has always lived in those magic hours when the world is asleep. I literally wrote the first draft of this blog post at 2 a.m. so yeah…this is just what I do.

For this first week and a half of NaNoWriMo, I’ve just been enjoying taking the time to explore what it means to better balance my two separate writing schedules, and remember why I love writing stories in the first place. It’s been refreshing as hell, if I’m being honest.

Sticking with that that idea of keeping things low pressure, I’ve been doing things a little differently this NaNo: instead of working on a novel, I’m aiming to finish a few pieces of shorter fiction. Tonight I completed the first one, capping off a science fiction novelette that I’ve been wanting to finish for months. I’m not sure if I’ll ever share it, and it almost certainly is not very good in its current state…but the act of simply writing it has been a blast. And finishing it has been even more of one. I’m very excited to move onto the next, and keep writing through the month!

Whether I hit the wordcount or not, if I come away from November with a better understanding of where I am right now as a writer and some habits that better fit my needs, I’ll count that as a win.

Wordcount: 8,025 / 50,000

Samhain Reflections

Yesterday was Samhain, marking the end of the pagan new year. I’ve always found the holiday to be a good time for reflecting on the year past. Grounding myself and thinking about the year ahead. The gravity of that feels heavier than usual this year, because 2022 has been one of extreme challenges and growth.

The past few months have been ridiculously busy here. My first year working full time at Winter Is Coming has been an absolute blast, but since mid-July I’ve been firing on all cylinders due to the amount of crazy good fantasy and science fiction media coming out. I’d meant to write a blog post hitting some highlights from those past few months of covering shows, books, and movies, and I may still. But with the seasons changing and my focus balancing a little bit more squarely between fiction and journalism, I wanted to talk a bit more about what’s ahead…as well as a few big changes that have happened here.

I suppose the first thing to share is some good news: I’ve sold a new short story! It’s science fiction, which has been a wonderful stretch for me creatively. For the most part I’ve primarily written fantasy; this new short is one of only a handful of attempts at sci-fi in the 13 or so years I’ve been writing stories. I’m not allowed to talk about the details quite yet, but I’m very excited to share more soon.

Speaking of short stories, I’ll be spending the next few weeks writing even more of them. November is National Novel Writing Month, and I’ll be participating in a slightly different way this year. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words of a novel over the course of the month. Instead of the traditional NaNo, I’ll be focusing on short fiction instead, aiming to finish several different smaller stories. I have different aims for each, with some earmarked for submissions or self-publishing or other things. I’m keeping them close to the chest until I actually get some words down, because NaNo is hard enough without jinxing myself, but I’m very psyched to be taking part in the masochistic fun again this year!

The other big development over here is that my agent and I have parted ways. It was an amicable split, and for the best for all parties. One of those situations where it simply wasn’t the right fit. This happened only a couple of weeks ago, so I’m still processing exactly what it means in terms of where I’m going next with my writing. I’m far more excited than nervous, which feels pretty telling. At some point I am sure I’ll blog about the experience.

But that day is not today. For now, I’m just peeking out of my hobbit hole to say hey, and that I hope Halloween or Samhain or whatever else you may celebrate during this time has treated you well. Here’s to another year and a day of good stories.

Now back to work I go!

Tales from a Year on Submission

We’re well into the summer, which means I’ve officially passed my one year anniversary of being on submission. Since a year feels kind of like it should be a milestone marker, I figured I’d pop onto the blog and share some thoughts about what I’ve learned from this last year and change on sub.

It’s been a long road, filled with a swirling maelstrom of emotions. Being on sub is pretty similar to querying, except you have far less control. Instead of you sending your book to agents, your agent is sending your book out to editors at publishing houses. Having a novel out on sub is a weird, isolating, magical and often stressful experience, and it’s one that gets talked about in the writing community a bit less than, say, querying or the run up to the release of a debut book once you’ve signed a deal. Despite spending years researching the traditional publishing process, querying, conventions and any number of other topics, sub was one part of the publishing journey that I knew basically nothing about before I was in it. I’ve met a lot of writers who felt similarly.

However I’ve since discovered plenty of other amazing writers who have talked about their experience on submission. Which is great. The more that information is shared to remove some of the mystery surrounding these crucial aspects of the writing career path, the better. So I guess this me trying to add a little more to that. 

Long post ahead!

A desk. It’s much tidier than mine. (Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

You’ll learn a hundred new ways of looking after your mental health…and periodically fail at all of them. One thing you’ll hear pretty consistently from most people who’ve been on sub for any amount of time is how emotionally challenging it can be. Unless you’re in the lucky minority whose books sell very quickly (it does happen, rarely), it’s totally normal to go through all sorts of emotions while on sub. Mitigating those feelings can often feel like running on a treadmill, where stressors pop up and in response you discover new ways of keeping yourself grounded, healthy, and focused during this time. But no matter how well you do at it, you’ll inevitably have days where you don’t feel great and question every life choice you’ve ever made. That’s okay, it’s normal, and it’s happened to pretty much every single writer I’ve talked to who’s been on sub. Being gentle with yourself in those moments is so important.

Develop/fine tune your writing process and habits. Working with your natural biorhythms can be a game changer. I often write fiction at night and have always gravitated toward that. When I accepted that and worked with it instead of telling myself that I “wasn’t a real writer” if I didn’t wake up at 5am to write or force myself onto a rigid schedule, it made writing much easier. Mileage may vary here, and your needs as a writer can and often do change as the years pass, but at the end of the day, the right thing for you as a writer is whatever gets you writing.

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“At the end of the day, the right thing for you as a writer is whatever gets you writing.”

Honing your ability to discern actionable editorial feedback, trends in feedback from rejections, and what to let roll off your shoulders. This can often be much easier said than done. A general rule of thumb is to not take any one particular bit of criticism too deeply on submission, with a few crucial caveats.

  1. If the critique resonates with you on a gut level, either when you first receive it or months later when you realize that thing you dismissed outright because they were talking about your baby was actually a pretty good idea. If you feel it could make the story better, and hearing the criticism helps you realize how that could be the case, then it’s always worth paying attention to.
  2. If you see a through line in the rejections. These can range from easily decipherable to opaque and anywhere in between.

To give a few examples from my own experience, my novel is a 240k word adult epic fantasy. I know the market well enough, and designed this book intentionally enough as a doorstopping tome that I was confident in it, but always expected to receive length rejections. One day I’ll talk more about that, but suffice it to say that we did get some rejections that cited length, primarily from smaller publishers. This was an easy through line to spot, but also one I knew not to worry about unless it was a blanket response from everyone (which it wasn’t).

However, you might also find yourself in a position where you’re getting different, sometimes conflicting feedback. This is actually a very good thing, even if it can feel confusing. It means different aspects of your work are resonating with different people, and that there is not necessarily an easily identifiable weak point in the book. I once got two rejections on the same day; one said the equivalent of “I loved the characters but couldn’t get into the plot” while the other said “The plot was compelling but I didn’t connect with the characters.” That’s a great example of non-actionable feedback, because it’s clearly a matter of personal preference.

However, after getting a few more rejections, I did notice a common complaint that was never worded exactly the same, but amounted to one consistent idea: that the story wasn’t immediately gripping from page one. It’s a door-stopping epic fantasy tome, and is set up for a longer payoff…but as I thought about this, I did see a way to improve the book that could help with that. The more feedback you get on submission, the more you hone your ability to discern the difference between the actionable feedback, and the kind you don’t need to sweat over.

Either way, it’s good to at least think on all of it. Even if it’s not actionable, there may still be something to be learned. And an editor took the time to give it to you, after all!

Communication is key. When in doubt, talk to your agent. If they’re good at what they do, you’ll often leave feeling better than you started even if you’re discussing difficult topics. You’ll be figuring out the dynamic of this relationship while on submission as well, and good communication is an extremely important foundation. Learning your agent’s communication style, how it meshes with yours, and discussing things is crucial.

Learning to work with agents could be its own post, but since I don’t know when I’ll get to that, I’ll just say there are plenty of good places out there that discuss it in depth. The Bookends Literary Agency YouTube channel is a personal favorite, and sci-fi author Michael Mammay’s blog has plenty of good stuff on the topic as well.

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Make writer friends! Good communication extends way beyond your agent. In general, I’m a huge supporter of the idea that meeting other writers is pretty much always a good thing. We’ve all come to this crazy writing path for different reasons, from different places, and with different goals, but the mere fact that we’re all here means that none of us are alone. It’s great to make writer friends for your sanity (and your career). 

I think a good piece of advice is to connect with other writers at the same stage or slightly ahead of you…but really, it’s just good to make friends with anyone! I’m a big proponent of leading with just being a human being first. I used to cringe at the idea of networking, almost treating it like a dirty word because the idea of connecting with people with business aims felt fake or something. But really, networking is about being a person who wants to meet other people working in your field, and just being nice, professional, and kind. Being mindful of how you can help each other out becomes a lot easier when you’re not thinking of it like business levers, but instead as people you know whose work you want to support, or hope might one day be willing to help support you. Note the order of those two things. No one enjoys when someone comes hard at them with the asks without first establishing a relationship (unless it’s your literal job, like you work in PR. But even then, those are relationships too.) Remember that every person you meet is…a person. Like it or not, publishing is a relationship driven business, and one of the best ways to build relationships is to just be supportive of your community and those in it.

Speaking of networking, sub is a great time to work on your author platform. Sub is the perfect time for you to stretch your proverbial legs and get a feel for what it would be like to manage your online presence as an author. How would you want to organize things? How often would you like to blog, to send mailing list blasts, to post to social media? Which of those tools do you even want to utilize?

These kinds of questions will need fine tuning continuously throughout your career, but being on sub is a great place to start thinking about them if you haven’t already. A massive platform is absolutely not necessary to get a fiction book deal. The book has to speak for itself, and the biases of the market also play a huge role. That said, if you have an attractive social media presence (that doesn’t mean just numbers, but how you handle your presence), it can only look good to publishers. Same for having a mailing list, and all those other marketing things that keep writers up at night. You don’t have to do them all, but it’s good to decide what you want to do, and sub is a perfect time figure it out.

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You’ll have time to obsess. Which can make it the best time for re-evaluating aspects of your career…and also the worst. My rule of thumb is when I catch myself thinking in circles, it’s probably time to go do something else. Like…go for a walk. Or look at something other than a screen.

Keep working however you can. One of the most common pieces of sub advice I see is “write your next book.” And if you can do that, yeah, that is one of the best possible things you can do on sub. But even more important than writing a next book is just to keep writing, period. Whether it’s a novel, short stories, articles, blog posts, novellas, whatever; each does different things for your craft and career. Any writing is better than no writing.

That said if you do need a break, be kind to yourself. Recognize burnout and your natural reactions when you actually want to sit down and write. Does sitting at your computer make you feel like a weight is pressing down on you, and your mind is working through mud? Sometimes taking breaks, resting, or refueling the well is the best thing you can do for your writing. Your mental stamina and capacity are the fuel on which your writing business runs. Like any other bodily function it is not infinite, but it does recharge. For my money, learning to manage that resource is one of the most crucial aspects of developing a writing career. 

Over the course of the past six months I’ve transitioned to a full time writing/editorial job while simultaneously continuing to work on novels, and the thing I’ve found most challenging about it is balancing this physical capacity for writing. It’s helped me come to realize that when you’re in a position to put your all into writing, eventually you’ll still hit a point where your mind simply can’t push itself anymore; when it just shuts off, and lets you know the work is done for that session. This can vary day by day, week by week, project by project…but in general I’ve found a much more harmonious and productive writing lifestyle by learning to recognize and work with those natural limits than to constantly batter against them and wish they were higher, believing I wasn’t capable, or dedicated, or some other not enough while the real answer was simply that I needed rest.  It never ceases to amaze me how much easier a writing problem I spent hours staring glassy-eyed at when I was exhausted becomes after a night of sleep.

Speaking of being kind to yourself: Life happens. Remember that regaining momentum after a break is one of the hardest parts of an artistic career, so be patient with yourself. This is true for any career or activity or hobby, really. What stays in motion tends to stay in motion, what’s at rest wants to stay at rest. It’s why we all hate Mondays so much. (Don’t lie, you know you do.)

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This has gotten pretty long, so I’ll leave you with this final piece of advice, one of the best I was ever given. Just. Keep. Going. 

When I was a bookseller at Barnes & Noble, I had an older co-worker who had been involved in various creative careers for most of her life; writing, dancing, sailing around the world and teaching, a whole lot of things. She shared a piece of advice with me that I’ve never forgotten. “The one common trait that every single successful creative has is that they just kept going.” They refused to give up on their dream, their passion, this thing they loved so much that they couldn’t bear to not be doing it. Careers often take turns we don’t expect, for the good and the bad. They’re like life that way. The only certain way to fail at something is to give up. 

If you’re on sub right now, or contemplating this path, keep your head up. The road can be daunting, but you don’t walk it alone.

Difficult Words

It’s been a little hard to focus these past few days. Politico broke the news this week that the Supreme Court is considering overturning Roe v Wade in the United States, which would revoke the federal protections for abortion and cause individual state laws to dictate its legality. If that happened, safe abortions would almost immediately become banned, or so severely limited that they might as well be banned, in almost half of the United States. It’d be the kind of nightmarish societal implosion that should only exist in the cautionary tales of science fiction novels. Yet here we are.

Part of the reason I’ve been so quiet on the blog these past few months is because I’ve had a difficult situation at home…which is unfortunately very relevant to the current discourse. I didn’t imagine I’d end up talking about it this way, but given everything that’s happening it doesn’t feel right to keep it to myself.

Content Warning: child loss, abortion

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At the beginning of 2021, my wife and I were eagerly anticipating our first child. We had been trying to start a family for a while, and were beyond excited when we discovered we were having a baby.

Just over a month and a half ago, we made the decision to end the pregnancy after the 20-week scan of the baby discovered a birth defect that would have seriously impacted our child’s livelihood. The scans at 12 and 16 weeks both came back without any issues, showing our baby was healthy. Somewhere between 16 and 20 weeks, that changed. The chances of debilitating, lifelong complications were extremely high, if the baby survived.

We did not want to get an abortion. We explored every option, and seriously considered continuing the pregnancy. But after an exhausting amount of research and meeting with multiple specialists, it became clear it was the best choice for all of us, the baby included. We had less than a two week window in which to make our decision before the procedure would no longer have been an option.

Only after we actually went through with the abortion did we find out that the baby had already passed away, sometime between our 20-week scan and the surgery.

Since then, I’ve often caught myself reflecting on how lucky we are to live in a state (New York) where getting an abortion was even an option for us. If it hadn’t been, it would have unnecessarily prolonged what was already one of the most difficult experiences of our lives. We still would have lost the baby, but would have been forced to use a less safe procedure because we would have had to wait weeks longer, putting my wife’s well-being at even greater risk. Having options in that moment was so incredibly important; not having them would have made the situation exponentially worse. It’s hard to truly fathom what an enormous difference that makes until you are standing in that doctor’s office, facing down a decision you never dreamed you’d have to make.

Banning safe, doctor-facilitated abortions is cruel and irresponsible. It will not stop people from having abortions, only force them to be done under more dangerous conditions. Deciding to end a pregnancy is a deeply personal decision, and not something any government should have a say in. There are many reasons why an abortion might become necessary for someone. And from the wording of the leaked Supreme Court document and arguments they’re entertaining in states like Mississippi, it’s clear those very valid medical concerns and practices are not being even remotely considered.

This week has been the first time either my wife or I have talked about what we went through outside of closed conversations with a handful of people. It’s insane to think that the very rights that kept her safe less than two months ago are in jeopardy. Insane that the next people who need those rights might not have access to them. Insane that this discussion is even happening in 2022.

Yet here we are.

A Look Forward, A Look Back

And just like that, we’ve already cruised through the first week of 2022. It’s amazing how time flies. I hope that you had an excellent holiday season, and an even better start to your New Year.

I’ve been busy settling into my new job as the associate editor of Winter Is Coming. Half of that has been getting accustomed to everything my new post entails (and writing…a lot of writing), the other half has been getting a feel for how I’ll be slotting my other creative pursuits into my daily schedule. It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything even remotely close to a regular day job schedule, but surprisingly I’m finding that I have way more time and energy to work on other stuff then I’d expected. So while this week has consisted of a lot of adjusting, I’m really excited to dig into this new schedule and get to work this year.

Which brings me to the “what I did last year” section of the post, because that was something I meant to talk about before the end of 2021 and just didn’t get a chance to. One thing I’m trying to embrace more this year is being easier on myself about those kind of slips. Writing has a habit of swelling to fit the time you allow it, and for me it always feels like I’ve got ten times more to do than I’m getting done — even when what I’m getting done is actually quite a lot.

That was certainly the case last year. For as many difficulties as 2021 held, it also somehow ended up being one of the best years of my writing career to-date. Hell, maybe the best year, though I’m hopeful that 2022 will top it. Early last year I sold my first short story — and it was published in the summer as part of THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY anthology. I actually got to hold a book with my writing in it, finally! I signed with a literary agent, and we took one of my novels out on submission. It’s still out on submission, because the process can stretch on (especially during these pandemic times). We’ve gotten rejections from several editors, and are waiting to hear back from several more. I also wrote half of a new book, a new short story (which I just sent out on its first submission!), and a truck load of articles for Winter Is Coming. It’s hard to choose favorites among all the work I did over at WiC this past year, but one of the things I’m most proud of are the interviews I did with C.L. Clark, Andrea Stewart, and Fonda Lee. I love talking with authors about their work, and doing those sorts of interviews has been one of my babies at the site. I also interviewed Joshua Palmatier, founder and editor of Zombies Need Brains, right here on the blog.

The twin capstones to the year in writing were that I was hired as the associate editor of Winter Is Coming (which happened just before Christmas), and going to Worldcon.

The Zombies Need Brains table at the Worldcon Dealer’s Room. Can you spot THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY?

All told, it was a pretty badass year for me. Surviving these insane times we live in was up there on the achievement list too, perhaps the most badass thing of all. I’m certainly not taking it for granted.

But while it’s nice to think back on last year, we’re already into 2022 and I’m already looking forward to the year ahead. I haven’t made any New Year’s resolutions, because honestly there’s just been so much that I’ve had to deal with that it feels a little redundant. My main New Year’s resolution is just to step up and keep meeting the universe halfway, doing the things that need doing, and putting as much energy into my writing, music, and home life as I can. It’s possible I’ll come up with some more finite goals as the month goes on though, because that’s the way my list-happy brain works. I’m already starting to feel “read a book a week” creeping up on me, because I finished a book this week and that felt pretty good. (And there are a lot that I want to read coming out this year.)

But for now, I’m just feeling incredibly grateful to be where I am, doing what I’m doing. That includes talking to you here on the blog…because I also started this website right around this time last year! So thank you for reading, and for coming along on the journey with me. It’s been so exciting, and I can’t wait to share more adventures in the coming months.

Here’s to hoping 2022 is kind to you, and filled with good stories. To the year ahead!

What I’m reading: CIBOLA BURN by James S.A. Corey

What I’m watching: Cobra Kai, The Book of Boba Fett

What I’m playing: Pokemon Shield, Animal Crossing, Hades

A Weekend at Worldcon

Happy holidays! I hope you and your loved ones had an excellent weekend, wherever the path may have led you, and that you’re getting lots of rest and festivities in this week as we head toward the New Year. The past few months since I updated the blog have somehow felt like they’ve flown and crawled by turns, but here we are at the end of the year. 2021 has been both extremely challenging, as well as the most exciting year of my writing career to-date. A year of juxtapositions, if ever there was one.

All I know is that I’m both extremely grateful and relieved to be sitting here writing this, and to look back on all the adventures the past twelve months have held. I’ll be talking more generally in my year-end reflection, which I hope to have up later this week, but for now I figured I’d updated on one particular thing while my excitement about it is still hot. (Aka, before I clear all the related swag and pamphlets off my work table.)

The weekend before the holidays, I attended Worldcon in Washington D.C. I’ve been wanting to go to a Worldcon for…gosh, I guess around a decade now. Considering that this year’s convention was a mere eight hours away and that I also made my first pro short story sale in 2021, it felt like this was the one. Due to general life upheaval, pandemic stresses, and whatever else, I waffled on whether or not I’d be able to go for months leading up to the event. But then the stars kind of aligned to let me know it was the right time. So Valorie and I packed ourselves up and road tripped down to Washington D.C., stayed with some family friends, and took the metro out to the Omni Shoreham Hotel for the con on Friday and Saturday.

(Yes, I did have to run up that escalator from the train station at one point during the weekend. No, I did not die — though it was a close thing.)

What an experience! I thought it might be cool to highlight some of my favorite parts:

  • Getting to meet tons of awesome people! This was absolutely my favorite thing about the convention. I got to meet some writers I’ve known for a while online, people in the publishing industry I’ve looked up to for years, and plenty of wonderful new acquaintances as well. Writing can be a lonely path, so to have an event like this where so many of us recluses can gather is really amazing.
  • I stopped by the Zombies Need Brains table in the Dealer’s Room! It was a real treat to get to catch up with Joshua Palmatier, the brains behind the zombies. We haven’t seen each other in person in years. Really, the fact that he was going to be there repping ZNB was one of the first factors that made me lean toward going. The Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity looked pretty awesome on the table alongside all the other fantastic anthologies that ZNB has put out. It was also pretty cool to meet some of the other anthology authors, or to talk to people who were thinking about submitting to this year’s open call.
  • I also attended a pair of kaffeeklatches. If you want to get some time with a specific publishing professional in a small group, where you’ll get to ask burning questions and receive unequivocal answers, these are some of the most valuable events you can do at a convention like Worldcon. Just make sure to sign up early — they fill fast! I missed one I had been hoping to attend, but ended up going to another I hadn’t been planning on. The universe, and its ways.
  • The panels were fantastic, too. I didn’t really plan for it, but somehow I ended up attending more panels about short fiction than anything else. Hearing thoughts on the short fiction landscape from people like Neil Clarke and Lynne M. Thomas was really enlightening. Apparently, the gods are steering me toward writing more short fiction this year. I have had a few short story / novella ideas kicking around, so hey, the extra education is pretty great in my book.
  • The Hugo Awards. This is a large part of Worldcon that I had been excited about, and basically have been dreaming about going to for years. Valorie and I went this year, and while we were just two more faces near the back of the crowd, boy was it awesome to actually be at the award ceremony, especially in a year like this one. The Hugos have made some changes in the past few years, and it seems the event organizers are pushing even more to make it as inclusive and welcoming a space as they can. I hope this trend continues. I wrote up some thoughts about this over at Winter Is Coming, but generally, I’ll just say that it felt an awful lot like a lifelong ambition being fulfilled to even be there, and that it was wonderful to see so many extremely deserving creatives recognized.

There were many more highlights, and many that I’m forgetting, I’m sure. It’s hard to narrow things down when the whole damn weekend was just so fantastic. This was my first Worldcon — and my first in-person writing convention in general — but you can bet it won’t be my last. I’ve already been mulling over the possibility of going to Boskone, which is much closer to home.

For now though, filled with gratitude for all the memories, friends, and fun from DisCon III!

August Update

Hard to believe, but the summer is already waning. (Or, as the Starks say, winter is coming.)

It’s been a long last year-and-a-half, but for some reason this summer has flown by…in some ways. In others, it feels like an entire lifetime has been lived in but three months. I have a few blog post ideas about writing craft that I’ve been kicking around, but since it’s been a while since I posted a proper update, I figured I’d start there. A lot has happened here these past few months, and I’d be remiss not to talk about it!

Where to even start?

First, the biggest (and most relevant) news to you: THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY is available now wherever you buy books. This anthology features 15 urban fantasy short stories, revolving around ancient gods adapting to the modern day in intriguing ways. My story, “The Teotl of Gaming,” is one of them. “Teotl” follows Macuilxochitl, the Aztec god of games, as he tries to get by as the head of an online gaming company…while moonlighting as a gambler to stave off the deific equivalent of a midlife crisis. As you might expect, things spiral out of control pretty quickly.

I’m really proud of how this story turned out, and that it’s part of a book with such an incredible line-up of authors. It was my first real foray into urban fantasy, and Macuilxochitl was a blast to write about. The book is available in several different print and ebook formats. All that good info is up on the Fiction page.

We just passed the one month mark since the release of THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE…but my focus has been divided into quite a few other areas as well.

The other largest thing I’ve had going on is that my epic fantasy novel, THE FOREST HEART, is out on submission to publishers. This is a story rooted in my soul, and it’s been so exciting to work with the Seymour Agency to get it out into the world. It’s been on sub for a few months now, which means I’m in that “questioning every decision I’ve ever made and courting madness,” phase of the process. I’m told this is pretty normal, but boy will I be glad when we move past it. Having a novel on submission is a lot of waiting, knowing that the book is either in the inbox of an editor you’re hoping to work with…or possibly even being read and considered by them. It’s a very exciting thing, as well as an anxiety-inducing one.

One way I’ve been combating the anxiety is by staying busy. I’ve been writing articles over at Winter Is Coming of course, about everything from Spider-Man rumors to dreamcasting the “10,000 Ships” Game of Thrones spin-off that’s being developed and beyond. I have a piece that went up this past weekend about a different GoT spin-off, the upcoming House of the Dragon, which was a lot of fun to research and write. It’s always a good time at WiC, nerding out about awesome sci-fi and fantasy stories.

On the fiction end of things, I’ve been diving into a different epic fantasy book series, THE PLANERENDER PROPHECY. This series is one I’ve been developing for nearly my entire writing life. It was one of the very first stories I imagined. Some of those scenes go back to when I was a teenager, washing dishes at the local café and daydreaming about seven-foot tall demons covered in blue scales. I finished the first book of the series, WHISPER OF THE DEIMWOOD, back in 2012, and nearly published it with a small press at the time before moving on to THE FOREST HEART. (That, however, is a story for another time.)

Now that THE FOREST HEART is on submission and I’m taking a mandatory break from that world, it’s been the perfect time to get back to DEIMWOOD. I’ve been hard at work revising it, figuring out what parts can be salvaged and which need to be totally rewritten. As you might guess, going back to a story after almost a decade away means there are a lot of opportunities for improvement. It’s nice to be rekindling my love for that tale, and re-immersing myself in its world.

When I’m not writing DEIMWOOD or articles, I have a handful of short stories in various stages of development as well, which I’m hoping to submit to several upcoming anthologies. The one I’ve talked about the most is a hard sci-fi, which I’m planning on submitting to one of the new Zombies Need Brains anthologies. ZNB just launched their kickstarter for those, and they look pretty awesome. As always, once the kickstarter funds they’re open submission. A pretty great opportunity for writers interested in doing SFF short stories, in my somewhat-biased opinion.

When I’m not doing all that…well, I still try to play music when I can. Always something going on here. I played my first live show since the pandemic last month, three hours of just me and an acoustic guitar. It was a really fun time, and definitely has me looking forward to getting out and playing some more. Provided the world doesn’t go into lockdown again. But since that looks like a hairy proposition at best…we shall see.

One final thing I’ll leave you with: I’ll be putting together my first newsletter mailing later this month. If you’ve read this far into the update, it might be the sort of thing you’d enjoy. I’ll be going into a bit more detail about what I’m working on, general thoughts on the publishing industry, glimpses at other fun creative projects, and exclusive previews of my current writing projects. As well as plenty of other stuff, as time goes on. My plan is for the newsletter to be a quarterly email, since no one likes to get spammed.

If you’re interested, you can sign up for it here:

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Be well, and be excellent to one another!

Joshua Palmatier talks Short Story Anthologies, Writing, and Zombies Need Brains

Tomorrow marks the release of THE MODERN DEITY’S GUIDE TO SURVIVING HUMANITY, along with its two sister anthologies, DERELICT and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE. To mark the occasion, I sat down with Joshua Palmatier, founder and editor of Zombies Need Brains, to talk about the short story anthology format, writing craft, and what goes into building books like these.

We also discussed the themes for the next ZNB kickstarter, and talked a bit about what it’s like to sift through the slush pile. If you’re a writer and are interested in writing short stories (especially science fiction or fantasy), Joshua drops some great wisdom for that sort of thing. Check out the full interview above!

“[Open submissions are] one of the things I always wanted to do, because in my opinion, often our strongest stories are coming from the writers that have never been published before.”

– Joshua Palmatier

Links in the Video

Zombies Need Brains website — zombiesneedbrains.com

Joshua Palmatier website — joshuapalmatier.com

Patreonpatreon.com/zombiesneedbrains

Twitter@ZNBLLC , @bentateauthor

FacebookZombies Need Brains , Joshua B. Palmatier

Instagram@joshuab.palmatier

Tips for #PitMad Success

It’s that time again: #PitMad is fast approaching. If you’re not familiar, PitMad is a writing pitch party on Twitter. The premise is simple: for a whirlwind 12 hours, writers seeking publication or representation from an agent post tweets pitching their books…and if an agent or acquisitions editor “hearts” the pitch, it’s an invitation for the writer to submit the book to them. And, hopefully, take a huge next step on their journey toward publication.

Pitch parties aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution on the road to publishing, of course, and there is an enormous element of chance involved. But aside from the obvious “home-run” of landing an agent or publisher, pitch parties can generally just be incredibly useful networking tools. Admittedly I’m a little biased–pitch parties have been a huge help in my writing career. I met my agent through a PitMad in September 2020, and participating in these events has been instrumental in helping me connect with the Writing Community online.

Given all that, I thought maybe there were a few bits of wisdom (read: tips gained by painful experience) that I could share with you. I’m also going to tell you the single best piece of PitMad advice I ever received. It was a total game changer that helped me not only have way more success during pitch parties, but also enjoy them much more. It’s probably not a coincidence that I was given this advice only a couple of days before the PitMad where I connected with my agent.

But before we get into the tips, a note on pitches…

What we aren’t going to talk about here is how to craft your actual pitch tweets. There are a ton of people and places online that have already summed that up far better than I could. This advice is geared toward navigating the actual pitch party itself. It assumes that your pitches are already amazing, and that your book has been written and polished to a publishable level. That stuff has to come first. Without pitches that will stop people in their tracks mid-social media scroll and pages that actually deliver, no amount of PitMad savvy will make the difference.

But let’s just assume your pitches have genius hooks, and your book is a masterpiece. What can you do to navigate #PitMad well, and add to your chances for success?


  • Go read the official #PitMad guidelines.
    Yes, I’m serious. You would be amazed at how many people don’t do this very simple step. (I know I am. Every single PitMad.) It only takes a few minutes, and is an essential part of setting yourself up for success. More, these guidelines sometimes change slightly from one event to the next, so it’s important to check them before every pitch party you plan to participate in. If you aren’t willing to spend 15 minutes researching to make sure you use the right hashtags for a pitch event, what does that tell publishing professionals about your work mentality and attention to detail? It’s right in the same wheelhouse of folly as addressing your queries “dear agent.” Luckily it’s so easy to avoid this pitfall. Research: it is your friend.
  • Focus on having fun and connecting with other writers.
    This is it. The big piece of advice that totally changed how I approached PitMad. A lot of the other tips stem from this one, so we need to talk about it first. A few days before the PitMad where I connected with my agent, I told my wife that I was thinking about not participating. Her response was “why don’t you just focus on having fun and connecting with other writers?”

    This mental shift changed everything for me.

    It might seem counterintuitive, but the truth is that once I stopped obsessively checking my own pitches for hearts and started just, you know, connecting with other writers and helping them boost their pitches, I ended up not only having way more fun but also seeing better results. Beyond making your pitches and pages as good as you can, much of what happens on the actual day of PitMad will be beyond your control. So you might as well focus on having fun and meeting other creatives, because that is in your control and pitch parties are an excellent opportunity to meet some of your peers.

    (There is a numbers-game element to PitMad as well, where the more you are retweeted, the better your chances of getting seen. And one of the best ways to get RT’d a lot (aside from having an incredible pitch), is to do the legwork to help share the work of others. Many will do the same for you. Publishing is an industry built on relationships, so you might as well start getting used to it now!)
As for navigating the actual event itself…
  • A few days before PitMad, start making a List.
    Twitter has a handy list function, which is perfect for an event like PitMad. On the day of the pitch party, your feed will likely be moving extremely fast. So fast, in fact, that it can be difficult to find your friends to help boost their pitches. (Which obviously, goes both ways.) So, what I would recommend is that a few days before PitMad, you start making a list of anyone you see tweeting about their plans to pitch who you want to support. And go one step further–if they posted, comment on their thread and let them know you’ll be supporting them. And let them know you’ll be pitching as well. This will make it so that during the event you can find those connections and retweet their pitches much more easily. Even if you don’t rely exclusively on your list (which you shouldn’t), it can still be very helpful.
  • Offer to retweet other writers.
    This goes hand-in-hand with the last tip. Posting during the lead-up to PitMad, offering to support others and letting the #WritingCommunity know that you’ll be pitching, is a solid idea. You can even take this a step further and post during PitMad day as well. (Just be conscientious about using the #PitMad hashtag on the day itself, because it can flood the hashtag and make it harder for agents to find actual pitches.)
  • If you can, dedicate the day to PitMad.
    Ok, so let’s start this one out by saying that obviously, not everyone will be able to do this and that’s fine. We all have jobs, families, pets, other responsibilities, whatever. But if you are able to dedicate the day of PitMad to the event, I highly recommend you do so. Pitch parties are one of those things where the energy you put into it is directly proportionate to what you get out of it. (Again, not just talking about agent/publisher notice, but also connecting with other creatives and making friends.) So if you can finangle your schedule to accommodate a day of Twittering, you should try it. PitMad only happens 4 times a year. Think of it as a networking/author platform building day if you need to mentally justify the time spent. It won’t even be a lie.
  • Schedule your Pitch Tweets.
    You know what’s not fun? Scrambling to perfect your pitches amidst all the mayhem on the day of PitMad, and then haphazardly throwing them up.

    Know what’s way more fun than that?

    Scheduling your pitches ahead of time, using a service like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. This way, during the actual event you can focus on networking and helping boost your fellow writers without needing to worry about your pitches. The sweet spot for me was scheduling my tweets the night before the event. Because let’s be real, anticipation keeps us up late then anyways.
  • Bookmark your Pitch Tweets as they go live.
    This is for easy navigation and access, because your feed is going to be flying during the pitch party. It’ll make it easier to check back on your pitches, to share them if someone asks, etc etc.
  • Pin your favorite pitch to your profile.
    This one is absolutely critical. If you want to give your pitch a good chance for visibility, you need to pin it to the top of your profile. Otherwise, when people go to retweet for you, there’s a chance they won’t be able to find your pitch. Some people advise switching your pinned pitch to each new one as it goes live, others say to just leave your favorite. So far as I’ve been able to tell, there’s no hard and fast rule where that’s concerned. But what is certain, is that you should have a pitch pinned to your profile for the duration of PitMad. And leave it up for a few days after, because sometimes agents aren’t able to respond during the actual hours of PitMad itself.
  • Keep querying.
    “Wait,” you might be saying, “I thought we were going to talk about succeeding with pitch parties. Why do I need to worry about querying?”

    To answer that, let’s imagine your dream situation. An agent or publisher you’ve had your eye on hearts your pitch. Or multiple agents heart your pitch. Guess what you have to do next?

    That’s right: send them a query letter, likely with your first pages attached. Just like you would normally. The only difference is they will be expecting it, and therefore more likely to give it a longer look (aka. it is a “solicited submission”). You need to be honing your query muscles, because you will need them one way or another. The last thing you want is to have an agent invite you to submit, and then totally botch the submission because you’ve only been focusing on pitch party strategies and can’t write a good query to save your life.

    So keep sending out queries between pitch parties. There are things we may grow to regret with the passage of time, like eating that leftover pizza or skipping out on yoga. Polishing up your query game, I guarantee you, will not be one of them.

That’s it. Those are the tips.

Pitch parties can be an amazing way to connect with other writers, as well as publishing professionals. There’s nothing to lose in trying them, and a whole lot to gain.

Good luck! May the odds be ever in your favor.

Modern Deity Release Date!!

I got the good word yesterday that The Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity officially has a release date! The book is coming out on July 15th, alongside its two sister anthologies, Derelict and When Worlds Collide. Each one features upwards of 14 short stories from a fantastic roster of science fiction and fantasy authors. Which I guess means if you got all three, you’d have enough short stories to last you the rest of the summer, at the least!

The Modern Deity’s Guide is a collection of stories that imagines how ancient gods could have adapted to the modern day. If you’ve ever seen the show American Gods or read the book by Neil Gaiman, this is right in the same ball park. My story, “The Teotl of Gaming,” is about the Aztec god of games Macuilxochitl trying to run an MMORPG company. But day jobs don’t necessarily come easily to deities. Throw in Macuil’s moonlighting as a gambler, and things quickly spiral out of control…which is just how the god of games likes them.

Since this is a little bit of an untraditional release cycle, I wanted to take a minute to give you an update on all the different places and times that the anthology will become available. Zombies Need Brains is a small press that publishes three themed sci-fi/fantasy anthologies annually, funded by a yearly kickstarter. They’ve been doing this sort of thing for upwards of a decade at this point, and their anthologies are beautiful. I’m beyond excited to have my first published piece of fiction be a part of one of their books.

So, where can you get it?

The Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity is currently available for preorder in two places. The first is on Amazon, where you can preorder the book for Kindle. The second is directly from Zombies Need Brains’ website, where you can preorder a physical copy as well as ebook. The print version you can preorder now, from ZNB’s site, is a limited edition mass market paperback. This is the ‘first edition,’ so to speak, which is also what everyone who backed the kickstarter will be receiving. The kickstarter edition is a limited printing of only 500 copies. Once they are gone, they are gone. They will hopefully be shipping out before the July 15th release date as well, so not only is this a limited edition, but you’ll be getting it early. If you order the ebook directly from Zombies Need Brains, the link will go out around the same time that the kickstarter editions start shipping. (Again, hopefully. We’re at the mercy of the printer’s schedule, and everything in publishing is running a little bit behind since the pandemic. But as of now, it’s looking likely that the kickstarter editions will be going out ahead of release day.)

Come July 15th, the book will become widely available on other ebook platforms, and it will be getting a general trade paperback release that same day…which means that if you missed the kickstarter edition, you can still get a physical copy of the book. There is no preorder for the trade paperback or the other ebook platforms, so if you prefer to go for one of these formats, all you need to do is go to your retailer of choice on release date and order it.

I’m in the process of laying this info out all nicely with links and such on the Fiction page for future convenience, but wanted to give you the details immediately. [Update: All preorder information, including for Nook and Kobo, is now up on the Fiction page.]

Thank you for taking this journey with me. I can’t wait to share “Teotl” with you, and to see how you react to all the other amazing stories in the anthology as well. I’ve had the chance to read a few of them, and am totally humbled to be among such incredible company.

Adding to the excitement: now that we’re closing in on release day, we can share more about the book. So here’s the full cover artwork, including the back copy!

And there you have it. The Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity, out on July 15th! I hope to see you on the mountaintop, where I will be shouting about this regularly for the next few months.