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Author: Dave (Page 1 of 7)

Writing past your headlights

This article on my writing process was posted as part of a blog tour for What Grows From the Dead. It was originally posted here.


Writing past your headlights

It’s late, and your trip’s been long and difficult. You’re off the main road, trying to follow directions, but they aren’t detailed enough. You’ve never been here, you’re not familiar with the territory, and nothing looks familiar in the dark – just shadows, hints, only coming into focus for an instant as your lights cross them. There’s paint on the road to show the lanes, but some of it is worn away, and the intersections and turns aren’t marked.You’re going too fast for your lights, and if something’s in the road, you’re in for a few moments of either terror or panic as you try not to run headlong into it. 

That’s my writing process. I’m what writers call a “pantser,” somebody who writes by the seat of their pants. That’s in contrast to a “plotter,” somebody who has reams of backstory, character profiles, recipes, history, and a massive, detailed plot outline, somebody who knows what’s happening in each chapter, what beats they need to hit, as they progress towards the plot’s conclusion, along the route they’ve already worked out and carefully crafted step by step.

Those two styles are wonderful in that they both can lead to terrific work. J.R.R. Tolkien was clearly a plotter, almost more excited about creating the details his world’s history and language and legend than he was in the story on which the book rests. Donald Westlake, author of countless mysteries, legendarily hated outlines and just wanted as he wrote to find “what’s next?”

How it works for me is I just start writing, page one, and usually I just write until the first draft of book is finished. I usually have no more than a couple sentences of concept, not a plot, just a setup. I often don’t know who my characters are, or even how many they will be, until I begin to discover them on the page. A pattern I often follow is to write for a bit and then throw myself a curve at the end of a chapter – a twist in the plot, an unexpected appearance, a secret revealed. I certainly don’t try to make every chapter end on a cliffhanger, but those seem to me to be natural moments of heightened interest, nice punctuation marks in the narrative. Often I don’t know what they are or even when they’re coming until I write them. If I’m doing my job right, they also serve as little nudges to keep reading – the reader saying “what’s next?” right along with me.

In What Grows from the Dead, one of those moments that turned out to be central to the story was a “what’s in the box?” moment, one that readers of the book will surely remember. I had no idea starting the chapter what was in the box. I hadn’t even known there was going to be a box until I threw it in as another twist a couple chapters earlier. I certainly didn’t know that the contents of the box would be critical to how the story played out. I did know it had to be something important and maybe a little unexpected given that I’d kind of hyped it up some, but beyond that, I didn’t know until I wrote the last sentences of the chapter what was in there.

I’m sure that sounds chaotic, and it is, but I have a good bit of background in thinking this way. I’ve been doing improv comedy for the past 18 years with a group at a local comedy club, and my love for that feeds perfectly into my writing style. With improv, you start a scene without knowing what it’s about, without knowing where you are, who you’re with, or even who you are. All of that gets solidified as you go, ideally early on in the scene so you can build the relationships and the drama that make the scene get moving and have a more appealing (and if you do it well, amazing and funny) plotline. You’re doing all the elements of storytelling there in the moment, while people are watching you, without a chance to edit or go back or rethink, and it’s just magical when it works. The basic tenet of improv is “yes, and” – meaning I accept what you’ve just added to our world, and here is something else I’m giving back, something that hopefully expands and defines the world, our characters, our relationships, our desires. 

When improv succeeds, it’s absolutely enchanting. In part, that’s because the expectations the audience has are so low – they know you’re making up a scene and a story and a world on the spot, and if you pull it off, even halfway, they’re with you, impressed or even amazed. If you fail, you can just go on to the next scene, and you’ve only wasted a few minutes of people’s time. With books, however, it’s totally different. You’re asking people to spend hours in your world, and there’s a strong expectation going in that the book will be good, that it will be polished, tight, meaningful, lyrical. You don’t get the grace that an improv audience will give you, and you shouldn’t get it. Even if you write a book using the principles from improv, the book still needs to be just as good as what you’d get from somebody with fifteen notebooks full of outlines, backstory, and character sketches.

That’s where editing and rewriting come in for me. I can improv a first draft, see what happens, get to know my characters, come up with a plot and world, emotional beats and a satisfying ending. Once I’ve done that, I get right back in my car and drive that route again, this time in daylight, where I can see appreciate the colors and the leaves and see everything coming. That’s when the world truly takes full shape.

Writing to genre

This article on my writing process was posted as part of a blog tour for What Grows From the Dead. It was originally posted here.


Writing to genre – challenges and shortcuts

I’m here to talk about my mystery book, but I have been publishing books for about five years now, and I’ve branched out from fantasy, where I started, to sci fi, and more recently, to mysteries and thrillers. I love to read in all these genres, but writing them really reveals what different ingredients are needed for each.

With my fantasy novels, most of which are actually also mysteries, I feel like I have the most freedom. I can create new worlds, new cultures, new populations. I can mess with reality using magic and weird forces. I can create people who are very different from people in the real world, and give them all kinds of interesting skills and quirks. I do a lot of research to try to understand how people lived with less technology and in a feudal society, and I try to represent that to the extent that it fits into the story. Medicine and laundry are two areas where I’ve done a deep dive, along with different styles of fighting, because fighting is central to lots of stories.

Sci-fi has a bit more constraint. You need to respect the rules of physics and reality, or at least most of them, and, more than with fantasy, you need to justify where you’re breaking these rules and how. Sci-fi readers can be more unhappy when your worlds don’t make sense or violate basic laws. With the sci-fi books, and with the scientific elements of my thriller, I’ve enlisted physicist and biologist friends to check my work and make sure what I’m saying is at least in the neighborhood of plausibility. There’s also a kind of common lingo with sci-fi that fans know and accept, some of it real, some of it sci-fi – nanites, wormholes, that kind of thing.

With my novels set in the real world, there is, paradoxically, a sense of relief but also a sense of even more responsibility to get things right. The relief comes from not having to invent or explain everything about the world. Readers understand cars and cell phones and cultural references and how people in the modern world live their lives, so you don’t have to explain the society your characters live in at the same time as you’re trying to tell a story. That can make the storytelling much more focused, because you don’t have to digress to explain who the Knights of the Imperial Boot are, or how mineral magic works, or how space warp travel works and is possible. These mysteries and thrillers can be leaner, more efficient, and hopefully more relatable right at the start.

The responsibility part of writing in the modern world is that people can almost instantly tell if you’re getting something wrong. You can’t just make up how something like a hospital or a police station works, because your readers, or at least some of them, will find your errors and be unhappy about them. I should know – as a geologist, I am often annoyed when shows get things like lava and quicksand and Earth history wrong.

That responsibility is a duty, but it’s also an opportunity. When starting to write Got Trouble, I made my main character, Glynnis, knowledgeable about guns, something that I wasn’t at all. That meant I had to learn and research to get that stuff right. I read up whatever I could find, and I watched a ton of videos, which helped not only with factual stuff like loading and unloading and effective range and all that, but also with a culture of gun owners that I hadn’t had much contact with. I also have a friend (and reader) who gave me some great feedback both on how the guns would work but also how somebody comfortable around them would think of them and act. I also had some friends who work in emergency departments help me with how the intake of a patient with gunshot wounds would work. When I wrote a story set on an old sailing ship, I consulted with sailors to make sure I was getting the sail names, the equipment, and the basic operation correct. 

With What Grows From the Dead, I made the main character somebody who had worked as a professor, a life I know very well. But the stuff that happens to him and the things he chooses to do were not familiar at all. I needed to research how police procedure works with search warrants, arrests, defense counsel, and a county jail. I also spent a whole evening learning how to run a meth lab, something that will raise concerns if anybody’s watching my search history. With all the poisons, swords, and other questions I’ve done with the fantasy stuff (e.g. how long would it take somebody to die if stabbed in the gut?), I’m sure I must look like a seriously troubled Google user.

There is a lot that’s common to books no matter whatever genre you’re in. You need relatable characters who act believably, who make choices that fit their situation and their personality. You need the words they say to make sense, to mesh with their values and background, and to be what actual humans say. You need excitement, secrets, humor, longing, adventure, sorrow. Those are the fundamental elements to any human story, going back to tales around campfires long ago. If I do my job, then my readers will find something to relate to as they sit there in the firelight, imagining other lives and keeping warm.

Vampire Steve

Vampire Steve is a character in What Grows From the Dead. This was a character guest post as part of that book’s blog tour, originally posted here.


Transcript of Taped Interview: Stephen Janewicz, session #2

Date: November 3, 10:45am

Background on the Drummond case

Interviewer: Det. Gerald Palmer, NCSBI

Palmer:  Mr. Janewicz–

Janewicz: You may call me Steve, mortal.

Palmer: Sorry, Steve. We’ve covered the facts of the case in our conversation earlier this morning, so now I want to turn to what you know about Morris Drummond. I’m trying to get a sense of who the guy is.

Janewicz: To what end?

Palmer: [breath noises] He’s not in trouble. At least, not yet. I’m just trying to corroborate the things he’s said while we unwind what’s going on in Baxter County.

Janewicz: Very well. You may continue.

Palmer: So, you’ve known him a while?

Janewicz: The fleeting lives of your kind do not always impinge upon my memory.

Palmer: Right. But you know Morris better than that?

Janewicz: He has served as my chariot-master these past six moons.

Palmer: The chariot in question being his mom’s Chevy?

Janewicz: [no reply]

Palmer: How often did he drive you?

Janewicz: When the sun was at its height, and at its most dangerous to me, and again when the gloom of night reigned.

Palmer: Can you put that in, er, mortal terms? With hours?

Janewicz: My shop opens at noon and closes at midnight.

Palmer: So he drove you there and back?

Janewicz: And sometimes other places, when I was in need of sustenance.

Palmer: What’s a guy like you eat?

Janewicz: I favor pork rinds. And other foods darker and more mysterious.

Palmer: Right. So, you and Morris are friends?

Janewicz: I sensed there were none closer to him than I during his time of darkness, though others became entangled. I hope his curtain of shadow may yet lift.

Palmer: That was kind of a yes or no question, you know.

Janewicz: [no reply]

Palmer: This curtain of shadow thing. You mean the business with the Baxter County sheriff’s department?

Janewicz: In part. But the pall cast over Morris began well before that. He dwelt in shadow, sucked dry by his employer and then by the loss of one he loved.

Palmer: Who’s that? That he loved?

Janewicz: The one who cast him forth into this sorry world.

Palmer: His mom, you mean?

Janewicz: [no reply]

Palmer: So, he was, what, depressed?

Janewicz: His soul shed tears of blood from a wound that would not close.

Palmer: Right. [Breath noises. Papers shuffling.] Do I have this right that you were in the military?

Janewicz: I served in the ranks of blood and strife, once. It was a time long ago, before I became as I am now. I almost feel that was a different man.

Palmer: [chuckling] I bet. Can’t see you pulling off this, uh, whatever this is, in basic training.

Janewicz: [no reply]

Palmer: Did you ever know Morris to be violent? Use guns?

Janewicz: Morris is a man of peace. Weapons of war and violence were alien to him.

Palmer: How do you know this? Did you talk about it?

Janewicz: He told me he had to watch YouTube videos to even figure out if a gun was loaded.

Palmer: Right.

Janewicz: I must needs depart? My place of business opens anon.

Palmer: Sure, just one more question. When did Morris get agitated about all this… this situation he found himself in?

Janewicz: I think it grew with each new insult to his honor, each new threat to his life and safety.

Palmer: Right. Can you maybe put a date on that?

Janewicz: It was when he found that which his mother preferred buried.

Mindy

Mindy is a character in What Grows From the Dead. This was a character guest post as part of that book’s blog tour, originally posted here.


An essay about a family member? Are you kidding? That’s soooo sixth grade. No, I don’t think I’m special. No, I don’t want detention. Duh. 

Ugh.

OK, here you go.

Mindy Drummond
AP English 
3rd Period Mr. Jones

My Beloved Father  

(Of course I’m going to give it a stupid title if you make me write a stupid essay)

My dad, Morris, is a college professor. Well, sort of. He’s on a leave of absence now because of the business-ification of higher education administration. That all happened last year. Well, last academic year, in like February. Well, I think some of it was going on before that, but that’s when he told me, during one of our weekly phone calls. He doesn’t usually say much during those calls because I talk so much, but I could tell he was unhappy, so I asked. I think talking about it made him more unhappy, maybe, but it also seemed like he felt better telling somebody. I wish he’d find a girlfriend, but I think he needs to get through this stuff first.

Anyway, it sounds like the college where he works, Riggson, was a bunch of XXXXs (fill in strongest insult that won’t get me detention). Well, the administration, anyway. They closed his department and fired him, even though he has tenure, and even though he’s worked there for years. It sounds really sketch. He said he’s protesting, going through an appeal, and that he can sue them for breach of contract and improper termination. Maybe that will work, I don’t know. Do I look like a lawyer? No, I do not, is the right answer to that question.

That all was hard on him. Like, really hard. I don’t remember too much from when he and Mom divorced, because I was little, but I think it might be like that. Like, he pledged himself to this stupid institution, gave it the best years of his life (well, so far), and then they cheated on him and fired him, and now he’s left feeling hurt and betrayed and angry and sad. I don’t know. It’s not like I’ve been divorced. I’m sixteen. But it seems like that might be what it’s like.

I go out to see him summers, and I convinced Mom to let me stay a little longer last summer. It wasn’t fun, because Grandma (his mom) was sick. Serious sick, stage 4. With dad just terminated from the college and dealing with all that, and Grandma dying, he was pretty much a wreck. I mean, we all were. Grandma physically, him emotionally, and me too, trying to help, even though there wasn’t much to be done. I mean, Dad was cool even with all that going on. He’s funny, and nice, and he really cares about me, unlike certain other supposed father figures who live in Alpharetta I might mention. He’s really dorky too, but in that kind of cool way dads can sometimes be. He also buys me milkshakes all the time, which is nice – the divorce dividend, you know? They destroy your home life and fracture your family and your identity, and you get delicious ice cream.

Anyway, Dad took Grandma’s death even harder than I thought he might. I think it’s because of the job thing, like everything being stripped from him at once. He’s pretty strong, usually, and stays happy, but this was as dark as I’ve seen him go. He put on a brave show at the end of the summer, when I had to go back, and he acts like things are OK when we talk, but I can tell he’s not really holding it all together. I really don’t know what he’s going to do next, and I worry about him.

In conclusion, this is my essay about my dad. More than 500 words, which is what was required. If you find it boring, remember that if you let us do cooler stuff, like multimedia or TikToks, you would have more interesting things to grade than this dead-tree old-school drivel, so it’s kind of your own fault. Get with the 21st century, Mr. Jones. We are the youth of tomorrow, not the youth of 1960 or whenever you went to school.

SPFBOX Haiku Project

To celebrate the tenth running of the SPFBO, in which my own The Glorious and Epic Tale of Lady Isovar is entered, I decided to read the first bits of each of the 300 entries and celebrate them in a silly way. Using the samples provided by Amazon (or any reasonable substitute I can find) I picked (based solely on my stupid opinions) the best name and the best word I found in the opening parts, and I composed a dreadful, inexpert haiku about what I read.

I randomized the order I did them, but they are listed in reverse order here because I was updating as I went, and because it’s far too much work to change that now. One author whose book didn’t make it past the SPFBOX participant lottery was sad to have missed out on this silly project, so I went ahead and haikued their book as well as a special guest stupid haiku.

Thanks so much to Mark Lawrence for running the SPFBO all these years and also to the judges whose hard, selfless work makes the competition possible.

Heartfelt gratitude also to the wonderful authors whose works I enjoyed reducing to seventeen syllables. I so enjoyed spending time in your worlds with your characters and savoring how you told their stories.

#300: Sidetracked

by S. K. Kelley

Best Name: Ice Monroe

Best Word: straw-blond

Peaceful student life.

Good decisions here. Thank you.

Cat’s gonna get weird.


#299: The Stars Would Curse Us

by Stephanie Combs & Valerie Rivers

Best Name: Arianwen

Best Word: Ilithania

Prophecy to start

Wedding lottery picks mate

Culture needs grrrl rights


#298: Amiant Soul

by Deborah Makarios

Best Name: The Three Men

Best Word: Kelanti

Deathly pub patron

gets heave ho; heaver balks; fired.

Who’s the poisoned man?


#297: Elegy of a Fragmented Vineyard

by Kaden Love

Best Name: Mehnrin Diphlek, Krall of Court Chuss (tons of cool ones here)

Best Word: Zhaesmen

Shocking opening

Surgeon forced to do grim task

Culls superbabies?


#296: Steamborn

by Eric R. Asher

Best Name: Miss Penny

Best Word: Walker

Nerd street thief flees guards

Busted by bae! Lost in crowds

Monsters siege city


#295: A Drifting Sun

by Ashley Capes

Best Name: Young Fox of Omaila

Best Word: Greyshields

Impostor is king

Intrigue, murder, succession

A well-tangled plot


#294: Mother of the Fallen

by J.R. Manga

Best Name: Natalia

Best Word: chilaquiles

Girl rues mom’s changes

Ill? Possessed? Or something else?

Doctor, priest both called.


#293: Ghosts of the Catacombs

by Janna Ruth

Best Name: Beatrice Ileneuf

Best Word: Guillaumot

French ghost whisperer

sees dead; others can’t. Awkward!

To the crypts she goes…


#292: Gluttony

by Viljami L

Best Name: Belle

Best Word: Neomander

Girl is fists, power

Post-fight chat with friend at fair

Barter for lizard


#291: Liberation

by R. M. Krogman

Best Name: Konan

Best Word: husk

Konan? Bold name choice.

Mute miner mourns his mentor

Work ordeal endures


#290: The Wind at Oak Hollow

by Melissa Widmaier

Best Name: Dark Pilgrim

Best Word: Na-ir

Man wearing cat rests

Dad’s mad, mom worried. Rough tiffs

Leave him hurt but proud


#289: The Bones of Prophecy

by J. Rokusson

Best Name: Setulech

Best Word: harrumphed

Inked by magic force

Man mulls mission of murder

Shade walks beside him


#288: Undine’s Blessing

by Tessa Hastjarjanto

Best Name: Marella

Best Word: squawked

Fisherman’s daughter

Mom sick, dad gone, hard work calls

Weaving simple lives


#287: The Oathsworn Legacy

by K.R. Gangi

Best Name: Baelin Terricaut

Best Word: cadaver

Horrific start here

Trauma begets monster hunts

Brothers roam ruins


#286: The White Mask Society

by A.M. Colwell

Best Name: Yara Rivers

Best Word: hydan

Elite magic squad,

initially named. Group guards

unwitting target


#285: A Breaking of Realms

by Jasmine Young

Best Name: Skálda Branwright, Hrafenfjall, lots of great ones

Best Word: dragonpost

Dream calls, girl awakes

Gritty Norse feel is fun here

Tiny dragons! Cool!


#284: Creatures of the Malignant Thicket

by Demetria Meltinos

Best Name: Squad Lead Jatniel

Best Word: Guildedwares

Jurassic humans?

Girl and dad face allosaur

Carnage! Let us prey.


#283: Umbra: Tales of a Shadow

by Freddie A. Clark

Best Name: Donatella Cantorino, Fulvio Donati, Soleluna Giordano, Courtesana Honesta – lots of great ones

Best Word: curlicues

Cyberpunk rogue schemes

Italian alt-Florida

Action, mayhem, style


#282: Courier Quest

by Flossindune

Best Name: Truk-kun

Best Word: isekai’d

Manga vibe strong here

Trevor ported to game world

Humor as stats build


#281: The Kiss of the Sky

by Signe Hart

Best Name: Myrthe

Best Word: amoria

Sylvan girls seek herbs

Attuned to forest music

Tranquil ’til men come


#280: Seeds of Inheritance

by Aimee Kuzenski

Best Name: Ansellema, Adept of the Fingertip Order (quoted as saying the hips don’t lie 🙂 )

Best Word: palacetree

Angry elf enslaved.

She plots deaths. Elves in space? Cool!

So much sucks for her.


#279: Defy

by C.S Doraga

Best Name: Redrinna

Best Word: Eridian

Princess faces woes

Farm loss, attacks, plus self-doubt

Royal blood sets fate


#278: Darkness Below

by Barbara Cottrell

Best Name: Miskatonic

Best Word: scurrying

Lovecraft! Tentacles!

Girl snaps as students tour school

Ellen’s a psychic


#277: Infinite: Rise of a Rebel

by Diana Priyanka Chowdhury

Best Name: Caloren Hearth-Bringer

Best Word: Anorea

Creation myth start

Low-born boy’s dad assaulted

Protector appears


#276: The Winds of Change

by Sam Paisley

Best Name: Sofyross

Best Word: Elevation

Old prophet meets fate

Now modern world – portal soon?

Pals face two futures


#275: The Dragon Legion

by Isaac Hill

Best Name: Ralaria

Best Word: cutter

Strangers come aboard

Offer refused; won’t help war

Jump to drunk tank cell


#274: Cascade of Sparks

by Mary Stephenson Su

Best Name: Swordmaster Eva

Best Word: Gem Wars

High school but with elves

Fencing match, heal spell – only

she can see magic


#273: Cthoma’s Fated

by Jeffery A. Smith

Best Name: Raistle Millon

Best Word: Ixafore

Tough guy hassles guards

Ten rings? Blinged up Sauron style.

Lots of history here.


#272: The Dryad’s Crown

by David Hopkins

Best Name: Ald’yovlet

Best Word: Raustfweg

Tree baby? Tell more.

Three kings are four druids here

Go, fish! Now, she learns.


#271: The Erstwhile Tyler Kyle

by Steve Hugh Westenra

Best Name: Goth Girl

Best Word: accouterments

Delicious humor

Mom’s map leads to backwater

Podcast seeks closure?


#270: The Lost Wings

by Camilla Vavruch

Best Name: Chim

Best Word: chevolant

Royal sisters prep

Goofus, Gallant princesses

Bro is unruly


#269: Under an Azure Sky

by Wil Chan

Best Name: Ma Windum

Best Word: gargantuan

Idyllic farm life

Dragon visits, invaders

Tragedy sets scene


#268: The Burning Fire Rises

by Jeff Walker

Best Name: Darkk

Best Word: manifestation

Granny and dog find

death blast crater. G-men need

arcane P.I. team


#267: Obsidian Murders

by Nicole Brona

Best Name: Tessa O’Hara

Best Word: Drusil

Office faerie? Cool!

Journo stuck in weak sauce job

Only she sees fae


#266: The Forest at the Heart of Her Mage

by Hiyodori

Best Name: Tiller Koya, Carnelian Silva

Best Word: paisley-print

She must place ashes

deep in O.G. angry wood

Rogue mage answers call


#265: Qing’s Quest

by Henrik Saetre

Best Name: Typiare

Best Word: Rargrhg!

Gamer has sick sis

Shy, sad, small life; wakes to world

of game-style mayhem


#264: Sneakthief

by J. R. Rainville

Best Name: Oradil Thramus

Best Word: Eldingar

Man cast down; no gift

No magic means servitude

Love waits but betrays


#263: Splitting Dawn

by Katherine D. Graham

Best Name: Queen Luvia of the Ruby Throne

Best Word: unoiled

Hellhound chase – great start

Memory of sacrifice wiped

Ghouls threaten, mom gripes


#262: Five Lords of Dusk

by F. Malbeck

Best Name: Lord Serinin

Best Word: Brightspir

Enby lord ascends

Blood magic grants power, but

friend may turn enemy?


#261: Searlight

by R.R Echevarria

Best Name: Princess Sunsea

Best Word: Prism Key

Maligned princess hides

She has fae friend, magic sword

World’s enchantment fades


#260: Darkness of the Northern Sky

by A.E. Engle

Best Name: Herra Jalali

Best Word: Saka’Ali

Searing fatal glimpse

Soldier kills, finds death inside

Gives it all up? Wow.


#259: Blood of the Stars

by Karyne Norton

Best Name: Aeliana

Best Word: Gahldric

Woman seeks arrow

She’s human Miracle-Gro?

She needs freedom, bad


#258: The Book of One

by Adam Gaffen

Best Name: Kalili

Best Word: arima bikia

Immortals bicker

NYC sex, 10th c. sex

Demon reaps frailty


#257: City of the Seventh Moon

by Antano Sparreboom

Best Name: Lord Gunwer Urwilar, Rasinyme Galomon – these are awesome

Best Word: Bogwalker

Glorious cover!

Man dropped off at pier, exiled

Seeks champion role


#256: South Breaks

by Hannah Steenbock

Best Name: Moon

Best Word: Pillars

Cloistered woman rides

towards sacrifice; remembers

sexy rite of death (!)


#255: King’s Imitation

by Erin Grunke

Best Name: Shiri

Best Word: mold-blemished

Captain’s orders blare

Woman looks daggers at foe

Someone wants her dead


#254: Order of the Shadow Dragon

by Steven McKinnon

Best Name: Adrian Navarro

Best Word: Sol’s Kiss

Harrowing open

Demons hop on pop. Jump to

sword practice with friends.


#253: Light My Pyre

by Kat Kinney

Best Name: Asher Heath

Best Word: cerulean

Hunky cover dude

is fire (magic,hotness – both)

Protects from demons?


#252: Goddess Found

by Calanthe Colt

Best Name: Mirabelle Crowlea

Best Word: aetherweb

Tarot in titles

Magic-poor chef can’t find work

Dinner guest intrigues


#251: The Youngling

by Stephen Harrington

Best Name: Griffinkat

Best Word: Crixus

Flying feline beast

Holds her like cat toy in flight

Their goal: House of Scribes


#250: Through Blood and Dragons

by R.M. Schultz

Best Name: Renorrax

Best Word: Galvenstone

Dragon riders? Cool!

A chase! Dragonbollts! This rocks.

Dragonmage betrays?


#249: Soultaming the Serpent

by Tar Atore

Best Name: Jun

Best Word: kohl

An end to dragons?

Drought remains – the reign ended.

A journey begins.


#248: The Warrior’s Path

by Karim Soliman

Best Name: Masolon

Best Word: Kahora

Caravan dangers

Ghosts watch from the desert sands

Man waits, but for whom?


#247: Runelight

by J.A. Andrews

Best Name: Shadow Grave Shaft

Best Word: Prapiro thesaur

Kids clean barn – weird smell?

Red flag – always on my mine.

Who’s coming? We’ll see.


#246: Clysm Games: Dark Seeds

by Dom Sabasti

Best Name: Venribosch Institute

Best Word: ethereal periphery, hyperpigmentation

Kid hides in his mind

Invited to secret school

Snap to brutal scene


#245: Wish Givers

by Shannon Knight

Best Name: Tapu’oire

Best Word: Ali’i

Woman hides in crowd.

Risks priests, temple. These guys suck!

What is her mission?


#244: Rumor of Thorns

by Sandell Wall

Best Name: Arnoth

Best Word: brigand

Brief history prologue

Woman runs through storm, finds corpse

Sorceror felon?


#243: Fires of Caprica

by Mandy O’Dell

Best Name: Physician Langosa

Best Word: mio angelo

Sleeping girl guarded

Weird-eye lady heals the sick

Tired, she rests and chats.


#242: Blood Runs True

by Kyle Johnson

Best Name: Agheeral

Best Word: enkatiks, peylongitog – lots of fun ones

Level 1,000,000

lady fighter slays spirits.

What can stop her strength?


#241: Moon Bitten

by C. S. Churton

Best Name: Jade, er, Hart

Best Word: T-Rex

Brit takes on old house

Dog attack! Yikes. AAAH! Two now.

Hey, handsome stranger!


#240: Echoes of Memory

by M. Anthony Harris

Best Name: Aris Ravenscroft

Best Word: viscera

Opens with torture

Memory dump fails. Jump to

tranquil noble dude.


#239: Mushroom Blues

by Adrian M. Gibson

Best Name: Neo Kinoko

Best Word: Coprinia

Jaded cop finds corpse.

Whoa, it’s a shroom child? Cool twist.

Murder al funghi.


#238: The Warhog Paladins

by Jer Patch

Best Name: Revivium

Best Word: nanobots

Steerage trip to space

Live to play and play to live

Game awaits brain gear


#237: Mercy

by Ian Haramaki

Best Name: Father Ilya Pavlovich Sokolov

Best Word: drekavac

Stunning cover here

Ink beast leaves vile bloat corpses

No help for priest’s town


#236: Of Wind and Lightning

by Ella Walker Henderson

Best Name: Layil

Best Word: kabaraq

She ponders freedom

Crowded city oppresses

Her grace marvelous


#235: The Afterlife Experiment

by Sam Weiss

Best Name: Creepsley

Best Word: Tendrils

Asylum inmate

resists. Dread comes unbidden.

Fake doc! Great stuff here.


#234: What The Echoes Say

by B.C. Rico

Best Name: Dugard

Best Word: Talmad

Wanted man flees war

Wife, kids threatened, bounty calls

Wait, it’s all a dream?


#233: Blood of The Hunted

by Marc R. Micciola

Best Name: Rosalie

Best Word: Gen de Cloque!

Mythic beast people

tormented by human crowds

Hate lives in faux France


#232: Worldbreaker

by Becca Lee Gardner

Best Name: Nokte Murosa

Best Word: Imprevari

Shadow octopus

A brother’s dire wound threatens

Dark pillars frame town


#231: Shadow of the Soul Blade

by Jay Roland

Best Name: Nuratha

Best Word: otabi (otabby?)

Cat man battles dreams.

What is real here? Lots of shifts.

He wins cat lady!


#230: The Yawning Gap

by C.V. Vobh

Best Name: Kalos Omma

Best Word: vicissitudes

Man reads complex texts

Jump to would-be warrior

dogged by fractured world


#229: Dead As Dreams

by Alexa Grave

Best Name: Mahlani

Best Word: nose-wrinkling

Shepherd of Dreams? Cool!

No sheep counted, but dreams seen.

She edits our minds.


#228: The Call of the Valkyries

by T J Mayhew

Best Name: Gullveig

Best Word: Hlioskjalf

Norse gods spar, one charged.

Spears, then fire, but now reborn.

Odin not coping.


#227: The Spark

by Katrine Buch Mortensen

Best Name: Aisma

Best Word: The Tine

Rave girl joins mad duel

Farun Clan holds Burning Man

sans weed and celebs


#226: Kingdom of Forgotten Curses

by Autumn Kaufer

Best Name: Celine

Best Word: muritor

Beauty’s Beast undead?

Is that male as old as time?

Proud prince vampyrized.


#225: A Curse Within The Waves

by B. N. Reele

Best Name: Theo Hanningsworth

Best Word: coasting

Sorrowful parting

Sirens and treasure both call

Iris writes and waits.


#224: If The Walls Fall

by Kay Malady

Best Name: Dave

Best Word: fishhook

Girl flirts, or tries to

Romance novels as game plan?

Heard worse ideas.


#223: Ohlegan’s Treasure: Search for the Runes

by Brian Gardner

Best Name: Tengar

Best Word: pruned

Dead (?) guy lives nightmare.

Will fight. Fisherman lad makes

light conversation.


#222: Rematch of the Titans

by Samuel Gately

Best Name: Scott Flawless, but all the wrestler names are pure gold

Best Word:

Titan WWE?

Tartarus has folding chairs?

Bonkers, but it works.


#221: The Dreams Thief

by Bella Dunn

Best Name: Brun MacLugh

Best Word: sennight

Stormy Scottish ride

Lady treacherously killed

Now fae war is joined


#220: City of Rain

by William Lejeune

Best Name: Summer Fontenay, Alcidimus, Kleodius, Beophulous – so many good ones.

Best Word: Kholukkhel

Ancient scroll baffles

Red and black pose deep riddles

Sassy aide mocks, helps


#219: Black Dot White

by JPS Marinho

Best Name: Amahru

Best Word: Vulgar of Fire

There is so much lore!

Pages sought, traps pose dangers

Jump to training scene


#218: By Blood, By Salt

by J L Odom

Best Name: Serivash

Best Word: Piarago

soldier of low birth

mean kid, holiday of blood

city bathes in hate


#217: When Shadows Fall

by Lindy Enns

Best Name: Elik Frostenner

Best Word: emotionry

Scary things outside

Mom’s rage cooks? Don’t burn dinner

Untenable life


#216: Heir of Amber and Fire

by Rachanee Lumayno

Best Name: Melandria

Best Word: gilt-framed

Jen practices spells

Dad hates magic (jerk!). Rescue’s

not the same as love.


#215: Od and Ed

by Shanti Leonard

Best Name: Odlyn Perfect

Best Word: Velcro palms

Kids with weird powers

experiment in secret

Closet monster’s mad?


#214: Forged By Pain

by Bojan Bilos

Best Name: Pretty

Best Word: suffocating

Abused woman seethes

Jailer promises freedom

Sincere, or hateful?


#213: Splintered Magic

by Jilleen Dolbeare

Best Name: Brigid

Best Word: mewed

Homecoming to a

neglected house. Odd cat waits.

Hold on, it can talk?


#212: Bringer of the Scourge

by M. Daniel McDowell

Best Name: Vierrelyne du Talorr

Best Word: prophecy

Bringer of the Scourge:

worst potluck guest? Lady waits;

Freedom, fire come soon


#211: The Treachery of Ravens

by Steven D Nickell

Best Name: Raynard Auffrey

Best Word: sanguinity

Mobs burn city while

man races to save lady

Cool steampunk feel here


#210: The Apprentice Storyteller

by Astrid V.J

Best Name: Viola Alerion

Best Word: timbre

Urchin is entranced

Mage tale-spinner walks and thinks

The boy won’t give up


#209: Quaint Creatures: Magical & Mundane

by Andrew D Meredith

Best Name: Norrik Softstep, Flint Dimmiksen, Hamitch Hofhofdersen – lots of great ones

Best Word: slimeoid

Giant vet (fo fum)

Pet store, clinic, huge hole house

Countless fun details.


#208: A Conduit of Light

by Chelsey Ann Tompkins

Best Name: Ash’Arah

Best Word: Hyrithian

Woman traded for

plague cure. Indentured, she goes

as baron’s trophy


#207: Chosen

by Scarlett Strange

Best Name: Dellus Gang

Best Word: non-canned

Woman tends wounds from

noble lost cause. Broke, hurt, mad.

Grim city struggle.


#206: Touched by Magic

by Celine Jeanjean

Best Name: Chanthara

Best Word: Mayak

Gritty urban feel

Barber breathes in her city

At margins, all ways


#205: The Tenacious Tale of Tanna the Tendersword

by Dewey Conway & Bill Adams

Best Name: Galdifort Quillpen

Best Word: Chronicler-in-training

Such cute art! YA?

Scribe follows headstrong hero

Very fun vibe here.


#204: Demon Gates

by Robert Day

Best Name: Master Zaleef

Best Word: candescent

Mage sends magic mail

Demon portals in; should’ve set

to Do Not Disturb


#203: Hallowed

by Y. R. Liu

Best Name: Taunsgrove

Best Word: bumble-Dee

Ruin holds wry shade

Tales of immortals; girl shops

Seems cozy so far


#202: The First Assignment

by Billy Kramer

Best Name: Roddick

Best Word: ricocheting

Mystery wagon

leads to self-analysis

am I dead inside?


#201: The Enchanter’s Counsel

by Thalib Razi

Best Name: Buzzard Galatiel

Best Word: Serendipitiya

Drunk elf guard bickers

Much fantasy racism

Goblin mage seems cool


#200: Destiny Awaiting

by Jan Foster

Best Name: Aioffe

Best Word: blustered

Fairy slams through trees

One squirrel, please, extra raw

Meets man, scared as she


#199: Woe to the Stargazers

by Alex Shipper

Best Name: Iludex

Best Word: rosestone

Three beings morph to

fearful forms. All flee their strength.

They seek magic sword.


#198: The Ashen Orb Bounty

by Patrick Dugan

Best Name: Jileli

Best Word: abomination

Elite crew finds crime

Fight, loot, bicker, but friendly

Strong D&D vibe


#197: City in the Dragon’s Eye

by Jordan Loyal Short

Best Name: Viscount von Holt

Best Word: blunderbuss

War ends; home calls loud

Man plays with dragon power

Catches case of scales


#196: A Song for Octaven

by R.C. Ballad

Best Name: Resenfeld Draper

Best Word: song-spells

Teen would-be dandy

leads complex life; spirit friend

makes school far simpler


#195: The Fall of Ahilon

by Samantha Shaye

Best Name: Keiyora

Best Word: tumultuous

Flex-fuel princess elf

Invaders come seeking spells

Dad won’t let her fight


#194: Legend of Elberkhan

by Yuxiao Chen

Best Name: Soulkeeper Mountain

Best Word: ashlar

Prologue has music!

Elf climbs mountain as sun sets

caught by lad, cowers


#193: Here There Be Monsters

by Josh Wright

Best Name: Mallory Leblanc

Best Word: bigfoots

Flaming eyeball chain

heart beholder, says cover.

Deathless man was sloshed.


#192: Trollgrave

by Alex S. Bradshaw

Best Name: God-Speaker Eylis Gudrunsdottir

Best Word: insensate

Crit fail on heal check

Then awkward convo, god stone,

and weird wind lady


#191: Cursed Cocktails

by S.L. Rowland

Best Name: Ehris

Best Word: behemoth

Mage de-hearts monster

Flash to carriage ride and then

simpler life of booze


#190: Smoker on the Porch

by Dom Watson

Best Name: William Biggot

Best Word: House of Sweet Things

Sudden death haunts town.

Kids know the answer: Sweet House.

Barely there, but foul.


#189: Tabby Swain

by Sithia Queen

Best Name: Tabby

Best Word: gibbous

Animal-tinged kids

talk love, have class, try to pass.

Strange normalcy here.


#188: Jem, a Girl of London

by Delaney Green

Best Name: Siobhan Calloway

Best Word: Lamesley

Brit girl sees spirits.

Mine tragedy, vividly

described. Sorrow reigns.


#187: A Contract in Sol Forne

by Élan Marché & Christopher Warman

Best Name: Hovardom

Best Word: djinn, neighborliness

Thought zygote? OK.

Vaelin visits crappy town

Elven relics wait


#186: Seeds of the Fallen

by Miriam Yvette

Best Name: Skiar

Best Word: celestial

Snowy wagon ride

Coarse philosophy ensues

Sharing gets them dumped


#185: The Fate of

by J.E. Lynn

Best Name: Lucere

Best Word: millefoile

Plague ward meet cute? Sure!

Church medics face dire disease.

Conspiracy? Cool!


#184: Princess of the Broken

by Jasmine K Swinburne

Best Name: Elisaria

Best Word: Fee (rainbow bird)

Fertility crone

gives baby, asks a high price

New Rapunzel tale


#183: A Rose Among Thorns

by Ash Fitzsimmons

Best Name: Yven ti’Ansha

Best Word: kraken

Rose Thorn’s a great name

Nursery (plants, not babies)

Home of mysteries


#182: A Vermilion Curse

by DC Guevara

Best Name: Chthassyl

Best Word: priority

Town falls; demon steals

Seeking books and dark knowledge

Finds wanted woman


#181: The Thief’s Keeper

by Kyrie Wang

Best Name: Mablethorpe, Aliwyn

Best Word: Barton-Upon-Humber

Musician thrall flees

Sheep and girl provide cover

She’s a mystery


#180: Rites of Passage

by M. D. Presley

Best Name: Raziel

Best Word: Midianites

Man flees cult, old life

FBI knows him. What’s up?

Shootout, chaos, bounce.


#179: The Awakening

by Mitchell Hill

Best Name: Broax

Best Word: simpletons

Girl visits, has tales

Town under seige, man chooses

baby over death


#178: Dawn of the Black Sun

by Timo Burnham

Best Name: Engi

Best Word: Barrenlanders

Exile withers, drained

Fights, wins, seizes magic sword.

Feels like kung-fu flick


#177: The Door to Trilesk

by Shannon Holly

Best Name: Miswala

Best Word: cellos

Kate risks visit to

enchanted house, fearing sale

Where has the aunt gone?


#176: Wolf of Withervale

by Joaquín Baldwin

Best Name: Lorr Tuam

Best Word: thwump

Whoa! Great maps. Fox flees.

Boy brawls. Quirky teacher helps.

Walkabout ensues.


#175: They Left Magic in Their Wake

by Marilyn Peake

Best Name: Zander

Best Word: ablutions

Tragic wasteland birth

Sterile harsh future – two friends

may yet survive it


#174: Smile and be a Villain

by Yves Donlon

Best Name: Melancthanon

Best Word: Collegienstraße

Such fun! Hamlet gets

real-world home. Vivid history,

Bard’s drama. Bravo!


#173: Tomb of Heart and Shadow

by Cara N. Delaney

Best Name: Yanren

Best Word: coldfire

Clock flies past lady

studying what, I wonder?

Genteel mages chat.


#172: The Saga of Bjorn Unfrid

by John L. Simons Jr.

Best Name: Jarlandi

Best Word: Ojibwe

Nordic Canada?

Cool alt-history. Bjorn battles

college, not draugr.


#171: The Wind Walker

by Simon Shugar

Best Name: Turbuskan

Best Word: aether

Bacchus meets Chandler

(not Bing). Cap’n thinks, could this BE

any more shady?


#170: Tears of an Indifferent God

by Isom Ashe

Best Name: Gordoneus

Best Word: Proedroi

Damedes, cynic,

helps mediocre hero

Oh crap! Beasts attack!


#169: The Autumn Apprentice

by Alexandra Runes

Best Name: Rigobert (but every name is cool – strong medieval Europe feel)

Best Word: Wodish

Girl struggles post curse

Disability makes her

intriguing MC


#168: Of Shadows and Death

by Sharlene Healy

Best Name: Rapunzel

Best Word: hair

Rapunzel’s sad plight

but it’s vampires, not princes

who want to embrace


#167: Blood Lust

by Devin Thorpe

Best Name: Sephora

Best Word: eggrew

A sylvan dream fades

Zealots have lycan captive

Monsters hold monsters


#166: The Lost Noble

by R. Litfin

Best Name: Adella Everheart

Best Word: jacquard

Rage mage tortures man

He has jealousy issues

Now girl does school prep


#165: Rise of the Forgehearts

by Emily Huffman

Best Name: R-0

Best Word: technomancers

Mechanical guard

has free will dawn. Is starfall

kind of ransomware?


#164: Strangers in Our Heads

by Bri Eberhart

Best Name: Gemma

Best Word: thrums

Foster kid empath

Typical teen, but magic

Fight triggers blast! Oooh.


#163: Wings so Soft

by Dani Finn

Best Name: Uffrin

Best Word: automatons

Clockwork owls? Baller!

Engineer lost in work, love

Beware human threat


#162: Secrets of the Sorcerers

by Joan Marie Verba

Best Name: High Sorceror Thorne

Best Word: unguents

Human roast? Escape.

Beaucoup hazing; this school sucks

but she beats meanies.


#161: The Torn Veil

by Timothy J R Rains

Best Name: Castle Klomm

Best Word: ravenous

A plea deal offered

Tense battlefield; death looms large

Broke king taunts foe knight


#160: A Song to Wake a Thousand Sorrows

by Michelle Manus

Best Name: Clare Brighton

Best Word: Faelhorn

Tortured swamp husk roams

Foulness defeated, she lives

Will it re-emerge?


#159: Tall & Dark

by Suzannah Rowntree

Best Name: Fraulein Gwendoline Chant

Best Word: Backpfeifengesicht!

Huckster governess

holds fake séance; gets real ghost

Yeah, that’s the spirit!


#158: Thornbane the Lost

by Paul Sating

Best Name: Fa Tonn Ul

Best Word: corpsmaster

Ash Sisters throw curse

Young widow gets gross black hand

How screwed is she now?


#157: Evil’s Unlikely Assassin

by Jenn Windrow

Best Name: Alexis Black

Best Word: grease-coated

She’s a vampire who

takes out other draculae

The stakes are quite high


#156: The Shepherds of the Sunstone

by Nicolin Odel

Best Name: Saudett

Best Word: Skrull’s ass, tytärellini

Bad dream all too real

Throuple next? Lady guard preps.

Street fight yields problems


#155: Visions of Snapdragon

by Jana Sun

Best Name: Puddin (a cat)

Best Word: blossom

Drunken scrying calls

Visitors come, Green and Black

Friends or enemies?


#154: Born of Scourge

by S. Jean

Best Name: Celena of Norian

Best Word: She, Born of Starlight

Star fall prophecy

The world shrouded in darkness

Wrong girl caught it – oops!


#153: The Vermilion Ribbon

by Hayley Price

Best Name: Corelle

Best Word: mundanities

Sapphic love nightmares

Dressmaker rails at sexists

Her dream love appears?


#152: A Circle of Stars

by Craig Montgomery

Best Name: Casper Bell

Best Word: quivering

Abusive father,

homophobes at home. Money

cannot fill that hole.


#151: Imago: A Dystopian Gothic

by M Zakharuk

Best Name: Ada Călinescu

Best Word: anaemic, spasmodically, ululation

Creepy train boxes

Scrabbling tortured souls, and then

Ada’s loveless sex


#150: The Lost Redeemer

by David Musk

Best Name: Lyraina Trelian

Best Word: Ethermancy

Woman seeks banned book

Odd stranger, then to tavern

Templars ride ill wind


#149: Landbringer

by Karen Lucia

Best Name: Devton, God of the Deviants and Vagabonds

Best Word: tarry lungs

Dirigible heist

above toxic steampunk world

Kinda loving this


#148: Death and the Taxman

by David Hankins

Best Name: Frank Totmann

Best Word: corporeal

Death finds auditor

Roles swapped like Freaky Friday

But so much weirder


#147: The Hybrid

by E.K. Frances

Best Name: Sebastian Parker

Best Word: guttural

Troubled teen takes test

Dad says Necro or nothing

Awful parenting


#146: Gabriel’s Journey

by Thomas J. Prestopnik

Best Name: Livingston

Best Word: billowing

Violent storm strikes

Beasts emerge – I think they’re cats

’cause the cast’s all mice


#145: Dango

by Jack Long

Best Name: The Ting Ting

Best Word: bull yeti

Hunter watches fight

Witch has penis necklace? Huh.

Will he be unchained?


#144: The Grand Game

by Tom Elliot

Best Name: Stayne

Best Word: Adjudicator

7K reviews!

Mike falls through void, enters game

Dungeon crawl awaits


#143: Red Flags

by Michael Procopio

Best Name: Mateo Álvarez-Moreno

Best Word: decapitate

Demon hunter Fed

Joins reality TV

Kill hellspawn, find love


#142: Dreams of a Dragon Girl

by Bonnie Jacoby

Best Name: Zanthor

Best Word: plague-riddled

Awkward teen called up

Must teach. Why is it so hot?

Psychic dragon swims.


#141: Glory to the Waxing Sun

by Cooper Ward

Best Name: Granya

Best Word: houndsman

Creepy opening –

Soul bottle, ghostly houndsman

Neat. No clue what’s up.


#140: Tea and Empathy

by Shanna Swendson

Best Name: Elwyn Howell

Best Word: spindly

Lady seeks death spot

Fascinating character

Magic trap house? Stuck.


#140: Tea and Empathy

by Shanna Swendson

Best Name: Elwyn Howell

Best Word: spindly

Lady seeks death spot

Fascinating character

Magic trap house? Stuck.


#139: The Young Necromancer’s Guide to Ghosts

by Vanessa Ricci-Thode

Best Name: Lusi

Best Word: Uncle

Necrokid’s life’s tough.

Ghosts are everywhere she looks

YA vibes galore


#138: Dread Child

by J. L. Doty

Best Name: Claudius ahm Modain

Best Word: dreadmark (this is a very cool concept)

20K dead? Yikes.

Who counts them? Why in stacks? Hmm.

Regret makes dark path.


#137: Silverskin

by Caitee Cooper

Best Name: Kukahi

Best Word: sea-brine

Evil halts; man dies

Ellie’s Alaskan return!

Fam’s fun, but Bad waits.


#136: Thorns

by Walt S. Williams

Best Name: Finn Silvers

Best Word: bumpkin

Man arrives on train

Demon resides in skull? Whoa.

Customs not impressed


#135: Wolves Running

by Deborah Jarvis

Best Name: Sasha Wellington

Best Word: feral

Shifters live hidden

Chatty start, then friend turns wolf

Things getting hairy


#134: Hear My Call

by Yvette Bostic

Best Name: Slim

Best Word: old-as-dirt

Werewolf mechanic

can’t fix life’s wreckage. Magic

parents leave problems.


#133: Cursed King

by Danielle Paquette-Harvey

Best Name: Euronymos

Best Word: prey

Blood and kisses? Eww.

Old vampire, young girl. Age gap!

May/Dec? More May/Dead.


#132: The Children of Never

by Christian Warren Freed

Best Name: Grey Wanderer

Best Word: whistling

Spectral dude raids graves

Zombies: cheaper than peasants,

And they complain less


#131: Dragon Princess

by Jason P. Crawford

Best Name: Aetheria

Best Word: odious

Blind princess bristles

Wants role to have more meaning

Blade lessons beckon


#130: A Night of the Burntmen

by Emmanuel Akeyo

Best Name: Meka

Best Word: rokba

Soldier rides wolf beast

awaits another man, late

Something wicked comes


#129: Checkmate

by K.D. Tabith

Best Name: Evland Childes

Best Word: Cessecounthe

Chess-like games collide

Tourney feeds press, politics

Prompt sex scene sets tone


#128: Lizardskin and Sharpened Steel

by Damien Larkin

Best Name: Dead Mudders

Best Word: barrel-horn

It’s got dinosaurs!

Continent’s an enigma

Mother’s oppressive


#127: The Black Crown

by John A. Douglas

Best Name: Seranna Queen of Namaria

Best Word: ramshackle

Why’s the guy so green?

Oh, he’s an orc. They lost, bad.

Elves are kinda dicks.


#126: The House of Starling

by Ciara Hartford

Best Name: Bleck Larin

Best Word: honeyed

Insides melting? Eww.

Baby elf has destiny

Rae hunts everything


#125: Stakes and Bones

by Julia Vee

Best Name: Laila the Enchantress

Best Word: akkoro

Would-be Slayer deals

to get her jacket warded

Which witch’s witchraft works?


#124: Dimensional Traveler

by John Champaign

Best Name: Giordano

Best Word: pantomiming

Bitter student joins

deckbuilding LitRPG

Jumanji with cards


#123: Bone Traders

by Rachel Ford

Best Name: Njál

Best Word: armoire

Failed apprentice mage

Seeks redemption with giant

Don’t torch your mentor


#122: Sailing to Redoubt

by C. Litka

Best Name: Island Crown

Best Word: spindrift

Vivid storm at sea

Nautical tale feels quite real

Author knows sailing


#121: Beyond the Burning Sea

by T.B. Schmid & R.Wade Hodges

Best Name: Mhorokai

Best Word: ketch

Perilous voyage

Nautical drama is neat

Lore comes at you fast


#120: The Eightfold Lairs of Xillenthia

by Melinda O’Donnell

Best Name: Sirrea

Best Word: megalith, nidhogg

Windswept tower holds

mysterious prisoner

Climbing lady helps


#119: Temper the Dark

by L Ryan Storms

Best Name: Alaris Kahlanik

Best Word: Throlani

Servant gets busted

Abused; crimes were to survive

Throlanis suck hard


#118: Crimson Spellscape

by Jina S. Bazzar

Best Name: Federal Arcane Bureau of Investigations

Best Word: cheese-laden

Past hurts for Innah

Her boss brings tidings of old

partner’s mysteries


#117: Merewif: the Mermaid Witch

by Amanda Adam

Best Name: Madge Farriter

Best Word: Pacific

Midnight swim calms Madge

Absent friends pose mystery

Merfolk not yet here


#116: A Bastard’s Birthright

by JE Payne

Best Name: Emrinthian Empire

Best Word: outmanouevering

Wearing other skin

Changeling dupes king, but not long

Should do more homework


#115: The Song of Thyssia

by S.J. Stiles

Best Name: Trejen

Best Word: cerulean

Husband barbecued

Past holds jealousy and rage

Queen dreads the future


#114: The Heir

by Claudia Klein

Best Name: Erlingue

Best Word: Arbinadian

Scout watches, antsy.

Desperate ride ends in puncture.

Needed faster horse.


#113: Isaree of the Wild Isles

by Noor Al-Shanti

Best Name: Chaarumathi

Best Word: lopsided

Haunted lad arrives

warning of bleak abductions

Isaree resists


#112: Trial of the Berserker

by Noel Traver

Best Name: Weihlaris

Best Word: Fursja

This guy is a bear.

Preparing by forging stuff.

Fight will be grizzly.


#111: The Highwayman Kennedy Thornwick

by Lisa Kuznak

Best Name: Muggy Sorleen

Best Word: half-cannibalized

Vulgar jailer spars

Magic prison holds questions

And foul-mouthed inmates


#110: Demon’s Vow

by R.W. Hert

Best Name: Amodinajai

Best Word: maviel

Ninja dude fights wolves

Rabies shot indicated

Teens come at bad time


#109: Fortitude’s Prize

by Ceril N Domace

Best Name: Vulturnus

Best Word: privateer

Flying islands? Score.

Complex gentleman remains

pitiful seaman.


#108: Stone & Sky

by Z.S. Diamanti

Best Name: Chartok Tundra

Best Word: mimicked

Axe in side equals

very bad day. But foes turn

paramedics. Cool.


#107: The Light Must Hold

by Kriss Gallom

Best Name: Lulit

Best Word: crimson

Monk has boils (bad case)

the kind that people speak of

In hushed tones after.


#106: My Boss is the Devil

by Ben Schenkman

Best Name: Declan

Best Word: haiku (!)

Homage to coffee

Homage to New Haven, too

Barista feels blah


#105: Way of the Wizard

by Michael Michel

Best Name: Seething Sea

Best Word: topknot

Stormlords are asshats

El’s life sucks so hard. Help, help!

He’s being repressed.


#104: The Stranger of Ul Darak

by S. C. Eston

Best Name: Shinanis

Best Word: Crusaders

Is grandad barmy

or about to reach his goal?

Foggy march will tell.


#103: Stone-Cold Alibi

by W. B. Biggs

Best Name: Detective Seraph

Best Word: crumpled marionette, swamp’s embrace – lots of great language here

Crime scene in NOLA

Wait, the victim’s Matt LeBlanc?

Someone killed Joey!


#102: Changeling

by Arista Holmes

Best Name: Arbaon

Best Word: nocturnal

Lizzy seeks mother

but Fey Court won’t allow it

Friend means not alone


#101: Iridesce

by Cordia Pearson

Best Name: Daharsha

Best Word: seraphim

That cover’s baller

Horse race for warrior trainees

Dad is wicked pissed


#100: Embargo on Hope

by Justin Doyle

Best Name: Windoon’s Star

Best Word: violenccccce

Orphans scrounge for food

Get that hope out of here now

Battle, heist, duel, death


#99: Fruits of the Gods

by William C. Tracy

Best Name: Aricaba-Ata

Best Word: grim fertilizer

Treasure lies buried

In baby’s grave. Slave master

shouldn’t get to know.


#98: The Cursed Soul

by K.C. Smith

Best Name: Floating Temple of Gorria

Best Word: dragon-flower

Ten years with no land?

Wicked long time aboard ship

Homesick pirate mourns


#97: Elemental

by Tam Chronin

Best Name: Lesser Stonegore

Best Word: tasiado

Child learns from master.

Elementals, like Nietzche,

want gods to be dead.


#96: By a Silver Thread

by Rachel Aaron

Best Name: Victor Conrath

Best Word: waterfall

Monster asylum?

Silver threads for magic folks

The poor girl suffers


#95: Copper Cold Steel

by Sori Aryl

Best Name: Winterstride

Best Word: justacorps

Lots of weird eye hues.

Transmasc MC? Not sure yet.

Outfences bullies!


#94: A Witch’s Guide to Business

by Alex Evans

Best Name: Onezimus

Best Word: velocipedes

Consultants offer

Supernatural advice

Vampire visitor


#93: Fogbound

by N.J. Alexander

Best Name: Zercien Volnaire, also Skjóturi

Best Word: Telurdia

Sneaky pair betrays

With WonderTwins lich handhake

Jump to restless class


#92: Counsel of the Wicked

by Elizabeth Schechter

Best Name: Balthazar

Best Word: spike-horned

Oaf ruins man’s deer hunt

But then hot MM romance

Matthias would leave


#91: Tower of Dogs

by H. H. Miller

Best Name: The Orphan

Best Word: Onyx

Buddies seek conquest

of a crumbling old ruin.

Their lives await change.


#90: A Strange Bunch

by Nikola Stefan

Best Name: Vidra

Best Word: zduhać

Doula witch fights gosts

The Three come; shadow’s orphaned

Pair sprints to the flames


#89: The Serpent’s Quest

by Nerine Dorman & Toby Bennett

Best Name: Ib-Tuka

Best Word: convenient amnesia

Woeful general

rots, desolate. Bucket wisp

taunts yet saves? We’ll see.


#88: The Gatekeeper of Pericael

by Hayley Reese Chow

Best Name: Mimoosh

Best Word: prentiya par

Shaman tutor grouches

in portal world far from Earth

Late exit? Scary!


#87: Severed Legacy

by E.M. Zolotor

Best Name: Naith, the Mitad’s Pursuer

Best Word: tangerine

Banger cover, dude.

Dad trades self for sleepy kids.

Infinite Storm calls.


#86: Haelend’s Ballad

by Ian V. Conrey

Best Name: Lombard Greystrom

Best Word: Silent Hither, Ulnleif, Gunborg, Finnvard, Fleta – lots of great ones

Bar convo reveals

distant quest. POV switch!

Now other side gabs.


#85: Kindred of the Sea

by Raina Nightingale

Best Name: Corostomir

Best Word: Elethrians

Bros ponder wisdom

of death elf woods invasion.

Trepidation. Spells?


#84: Facing Shadows

by Anna J Worthy

Best Name: the insidious Duke Lethos of Eldaria

Best Word: paradisiacal

Runaway bride – neat!

Then tulerpetons attack.

Whoa, demon pygmys?


#83: Record of The Paladins: Book Of Oliver

by BP McCoppin

Best Name: Gerin Donnelly

Best Word: parishoners

Gun-toting pastor!

Ghoul has died, ghoul is risen;

Ghoul will die again.


#82: The Outer Darkness

by M. V. Prindle

Best Name: Merrick Thyr

Best Word: Reshik Ignoth

At world’s edge, a sad

guardian hews to duty.

Flat earther fanfic?


#81: Speak The Ocean

by Rebecca Enzor

Best Name: Sergio de la Cruz

Best Word: euthanasia

Blackfish but mermen

They’re all named for elements

Their reaction suits


#80: The Blood of Houses

by J.A. Garza

Best Name: Wootz

Best Word: Attican

City stands vacant

Where’d the bad guys go off to?

Warhammer vibes here.


#79: Poisoned Empire

by Elyse Thomson

Best Name: Eudocia

Best Word: child-devouring

Mom saves baby, then

she’s attacked by beast. Yow! Twist!

Dinner toxin fun?


#78: Hidden Worlds

by Kit Campbell

Best Name: Margery

Best Word: Spork

Calculus! My heart

smiles. Teens are mean. What is a

Spork Room? Mystery.


#77: Throne in the Dark

by A. K. Caggiano

Best Name: Scorlisha Baneblade of the Mounted Beasts, Plague Bringer Norasthmus, Everild the Necromancer, Damien Maleficus Bloodthorne, Zagadoth the Tempestuous – so many great ones

Best Word: inkarnaught

Blood rite yields power

Talisman of bleak control

This is quite funny


#76: Child of Vanris

by Nikki McCormack

Best Name: Delaphine

Best Word: anso

Apprentice aids a

cantankerous magician

Also blood donor


#75: Millennium of the Ocean Serpent

by Seth Hobbs

Best Name: Kalligus Kezz’arg

Best Word: Sendovians

That’s a long-ass time

to have an ocean serpent

Jonah is reborn


#74: Bloodwoven

by G.J. Terral

Best Name: Drekinsburg

Best Word: One-whispered

Obstetric journey

Someone cast Lamaze, will you?

He’s in a Bind now


#73: The Unspoken Truths of Casemiro

by Christopher Clouser

Best Name: Casemiro

Best Word: Fierce Siren

Wizard want-ad calls

A bleak return to past woe

Sample leaves plot dim


#72: Metamancer

by William I. Zard

Best Name: Sal Lehan

Best Word: hillock

Much-described lady

ditches baby with nobles

No tracking number


#71: Oak King Holly King

by Sebastian Nothwell

Best Name: Queen of the Court of the Silver Wheel

Best Word: mercurial

Dramatic battle

Gory spectacle excites

Butcher’s a grim name


#70: The Hunter

by K. Aagard

Best Name: Greer

Best Word: di’horvith

Direwolf comforts him

Vengeful hunter ails in woods

Purpose spent – what next?


#69: My Name Is Not Alice

by Angelika Rust

Best Name: Mr. Durkins

Best Word: windowless

Mean girls and drama

familiar – but then we

find some Wonderland


#68: The Humane Society for Creatures & Cryptids

by Stephanie Gillis

Best Name: Melpomene

Best Word: teraglossa

Dude plays mazerunner

then teen brews potions, longs to

flee her monstrous fate


#67: Unmagical

by Jenn Lessmann

Best Name: Cate-the-Cursed

Best Word: Quad espresso brevé extra-hot caramel macchiato

Brother torments his

barista sister. Magic

swirls about them both.


#66: However Many Must Die

by Phil Williams

Best Name: Wild Wish

Best Word: Hzinktos

Blood scout commandos

All women, badass as hell

Breakneck bloody war


#65: Dual Fires

by J.L. Anderson

Best Name: Lazarus Lightbreather

Best Word: darkbreather, airbreather

Mean kid takedown with

light spells. Flash forward to war!

So many breathers.


#64: Father of Constructs

by Aaron Renfroe

Best Name: Librium Esoterica

Best Word: World Boss

Prologue ’til respawn

Minmaxers take on World Boss

Janitor. Hero?


#63: Miss Bennet’s Dragon

by M. Verant

Best Name: Jane

Best Word: firedrake

Austen plus dragons

Smaug and Sensibility?

Visions disquiet


#62: Breaker of Fates

by Vaela Denarr & Micah Iannandrea

Best Name: Ziira

Best Word: disharmony

Caravan heist start!

Kidnaps non-binary kid

Unbroken will rage


#61: The Songs That Beckon

by M.A. Brown

Best Name: Drowned Marshes

Best Word: Reliquary

Studious maiden

Mom: Go dance! But Dad gets her.

Holy cow! Tragic.


#60: The First Scars

by Ivor K. Hill

Best Name: Unification

Best Word: ransacked

Village aflame, sacked

by cult. Freakin’ druids, man.

Worked for Conan, though.


#59: Molten Flux

by Jonathan Weiss

Best Name: Ryza

Best Word: smelter

Mad Max with zombies!

Captured dude is screwed. Next is

unlife? Sample ends.


#58: Legacy’s Price

by T. L. Rolston

Best Name: Dworran

Best Word: Blood Moon (great name for a fantasy bar)

Nightmares portend doom

Royal intrigue, secrets kept

Time to hit the bar


#57: Burden to Bear

by Gregory Amato

Best Name: The Queen of Stinktown

Best Word: Mossneck

Skald tells tales while witch

works wiles. Viking non-toxic

masculinity?


#56: Gates of Hope

by J E Hannaford

Best Name: Ameryth Dar Sea

Best Word: caldera

Emotion dragons!

Mysterious challenges!

Roll out the barrel!


#55: Whisper for Eternity

by Melissa Stone

Best Name: Szinre

Best Word: tihigne

Divine seizure means

gods in your DMs. Hey, a

talking skull? Neato.


#54: Surviving Westcliff

by Thomas Perkins

Best Name: Marissa Dunley

Best Word: wordsmithery

Seeks noblewoman

for questionable ship deal.

This guy exudes sleaze.


#53: Oathbreakers Anonymous

by Scott Warren

Best Name: Crooked Spine Bastard Vomiting (it’s a place)

Best Word: fateweaving

Dire hedgehogs are cute

Badass half-orc faces beast god.

More than he can chew.


#52: The Fealty of Monsters

by Ladz

Best Name: Jackiewicz

Best Word: autocar

City of learning

still needs mechanics. Geez!

What TF ate him?


#51: Black and Deep Desires

by Claire Trella Hill

Best Name: Etienne

Best Word: mémère

Loner vampire nerd.

Victorian gals talk love.

Dad’s mean. Who’s Addie?


#50: Ritual Income

by B.L. Brown

Best Name: Pinkerton’s

Best Word: Bitch Queen

Egotist peaces out

Milla’s not down for retail

Cold hands hint at strength


#49: Sigils & Sushi

by Nia Quinn

Best Name: The Harmonic Council

Best Word: svartalf

Sassy witch returns

rental cars and swipes contents.

Fiends and snark galore.


#48: The Glorious and Epic Tale of Lady Isovar

by Dave Dobson

Best Name: Lady Isovar

Best Word: miscreant

Haiku about my

own book reeks of puffery.

I hope you read it.


#47: The Plagued Elf

by Armanis Ar-feinial

Best Name: Cadrasar

Best Word: umbrellaed

Elf hunts in forest.

No dice. Finds frapped goblin bits.

Something weird’s afoot.


#46: Dark Empathy

by Katy Morgan

Best Name: Bastian Lucas

Best Word: interrogation

Empathic justice

has thorny legal issues

Psychics get raw deal


#45: Wings and Wounds

by Dr. S.K. Burkman

Best Name: Humphreys Peak

Best Word: Screeeee

A vet has visions.

Brain damage or enchantment?

Herpetology!


#44: Flight of an Orphan Thief

by S. M. Radjy

Best Name: Thapis

Best Word: norangees

Plans for burglary

overheard. Worms? A life of

freedom’s poverty.


#43: Dragon Thief

by Blake & Raven Penn

Best Name: Solrac, Duke of Glacia

Best Word: astromancer, bloodhusky, lavvu, mythraven (tons of great stuff here)

Mages await signs

from Miss Cleo psychic dude

Then urchins fight cops


#42: Where Fate Whispers

by E. G. Tudor

Best Name: Meuric

Best Word: Nosian

Fated Pairs joined with

magical ceremony

but then Kai swipes left.


#41: The High Seer

by Alex Bree

Best Name: Aurienne Azarrah

Best Word: Darkling

Prophecy dwells in

a macabre Spencer’s Gifts.

This drips with portent.


#40: River of Crows

by N.P. Thompson

Best Name: Eldrin Duclanach

Best Word: crrraw

Bloody opening. Two worlds here,

and that means portal’s coming

Corvid pandemic?


Special SPFNO Guest Book: The Banished Secret

by Niranjan

Best Name: Bhaskara

Best Word: angavastra

Trial by combat! Cool!

Wait, I’m a prince? Whoa. Time shift!

Present juxtaposed.


#39: The Ballad of Sprikit The Bard (And Company)

by Sean O’Boyle

Best Name: Pavlo, Taker of Credit

Best Word: spluttery

Bean Bro gets beat down

Wish he got more tenderized

I am with the Brutes.


#38: Messengers of Ilbeor

by T.J. Klapprodt

Best Name: Beianarian

Best Word: preternaturally

Starts off with hate sex.

Oh, that’s her thing, I get it.

Hero’s journey launched.


#37: The Desert Heiress

by Shoshana Rain

Best Name: Filip Cervenska

Best Word: flower-stuffed

Attending meetings

zonked on speed. Complex intrigue,

everyone sweating.


#36: The Will of the World

by M.J. Lindemann

Best Name: Sharon Adegast

Best Word: amalgamation

Even fantasy

capitalists suck. We can’t

afford zombie bill.


#35: A Heart of Bones

by Lily C. Strauss

Best Name: Dick Zuraw

Best Word: riparian

A ghost in the rain

Ghosts everywhere actually

Oh crap! An arrest!


#34: Spark of the Divine

by Louise Holland

Best Name: Kivery Czai

Best Word: meaninglessness

Assassination

then a fort heist. Shifters, guns.

Connected? We’ll see.


#33: Susan, You’re The Chosen One

by Lauretta Hignett

Best Name: Bart Montgomery-Lichtenstein

Best Word: inscrutable

Career woman faces

nasty colleagues. She should mind

the elves on the roof.


#32: Fragments of Skyonae

by Raleigh Markovski Falcone

Best Name: Raleigh Markovski Falone (I know, that’s the author, but still, awesome name)

Best Word: RATATATATATATATA

Anime given

textual life. So much weird.

Just needs laser shrimp.


#31: The Handwarmers of Immortality

by Karen McCompostine

Best Name: So many! Geronimo McCorgus, Clan McGargle, Glen Dondododondon

Best Word: unemancipate

Anachronism

adds to the fun. Delightful.

She’s pure dead brilliant.


#30: Lady of Dragons

by Shelby Elizabeth

Best Name: Finlay McDonough

Best Word: sinuous

Besties long for flight

Teen crushes among the potions

Something will go wrong


#29: Season of Kings

by A.J. Rettger

Best Name: Halfdan the Jackal (soon subdivided further)

Best Word: innards

Do not read before

eating. Grimm and unflinching.

Full throated gore fest.


#28: Knights of the Alliance

by Stefanie Chu

Best Name: Valiant Tiger

Best Word: Althaean

Berserker versus

twelfth-level fire mage lady.

Fight! Oops, she’s smitten.


#27: The Last Lunar Witch

by S.F. Henne

Best Name: Arkirith

Best Word: trepidation

Uncontrolled witch does

Mission Impossible heist

Ssshh! Library time.


#26: Dark City Rising

by CL Jarvis

Best Name: Francis Leechman

Best Word: genial cadaver

Steeped with small details.

Medical fantasy? Neat.

Such strong sense of place.


#25: Path of the Guardian

by Paolo Danese

Best Name: Feridun

Best Word: liquor-smelling

High body count here

No idea what’s up yet

Jailbreak is cool though


#24: Them Old Bones

by Astor Y Teller

Best Name: Crazyjones

Best Word: saggy-roofed

Present tense – urgent.

Is she both naked AND dead?

Corpse scholar seeks bone.


#23: Flight of the Scions

by D. Moonfire

Best Name: Bartim Lurkuklan

Best Word: Jinto Panzir

We are in for some

academy fantasy

Racist mailman sucks


#22: Woodspell

by C. R. Collins

Best Name: Maldhonia

Best Word: sedgewellow

Wrecked things – a glider

and a life. Lots of flashbacks.

Don’t chase the woods babe!


#21: Guarding Gus

by Karryn Nagel

Best Name: Viscidius Rubra

Best Word: Iowa

Two dudes find baby

gargoyle to raise. Is this a

book or a sitcom?


#20: Magic on the Cards

by Marina Finlayson

Best Name: Sunday Armitage

Best Word: un-extraordinaire

Spells summoned by cards

Monsters both help and eat us

Don’t forget teen angst


#19: Embers of Dusk

by D.G. Roberts

Best Name: Markallanoth, Oderious (tie)

Best Word: luminsyl

Clumsy girl preps for

rite of passage. Something bad

is coming, I bet


#18: The Best of Us Is the Last of Us

by Anthony Halligan

Best Name: Child

Best Word: panoply

A baffling dragon’s

psychedelic waiting room

Were those shrooms I ate?


#17: After Silence

by Natalie Northwood

Best Name: Cerys Odessa

Best Word: ever-tilting

Hey! Falling sky dude!

Arrives undocumented

Dwelling here it seems


#16: Dawn of the Darkest Day

by K.C. Woodruff

Best Name: Vayne Savant

Best Word: indigo

Genocide, terror

That Savant guy is a dick

He needs to die soon


#15: To Dance With Dragons

by Jaq D Hawkins

Best Name: Alinea

Best Word: demoniac

A runaway bride

Plus Cat-5 magic river

As good as divorced


#14: The Faithful Dark

by Cate Baumer

Best Name: Elmere

Best Word: rheumy

She’s losing patients

Evil stirs beneath it all

That cover rocks hard


#13: Callus & Crow

by DB Rook

Best Name: Callus

Best Word: mendin’

Eww, there’s a crow dude

sick and sleeping in my bed.

He really smells fowl.


#12: Soulstealer

by El McInerney

Best Name: Old Tsu

Best Word: Ilk

Rite of passage starts

A literal wild goose chase

Cheaters never win


#11: Moonshadow’s Guardian

by Dianna Gunn

Best Name: Magdalene

Best Word: nonmagicals

A bucolic ride

Shows parents can’t be trusted

Worst birthday ever


#10: Good Bad Witch

by Isa Medina

Best Name: Hazel Oakes

Best Word: affirmation

A shop for witches! Neat.

Oh crap, now there’s a body.

Or not? Yelp will choose.


#9: Beyond Misty Mountain

by Stephen Howard

Best Name: Broth Zolust

Best Word: Totulgny

To start: Theology

No, not those Misty Mountains

Replete with sly wit


#8: The Crippled King

by A. Trae McMaken

Best Name: Grashal-Indal

Best Word: uglan

Rustic prospecting

Interrupted by tree, bear,

crone. What’s mine is yours?


#7: A Cursed Son

by Day Leitao

Best Name: Sayanne

Best Word: drusils

Longing and intrigue

And hurt. But tangy too

Is stuff rated R.


#6: Lurid Lantern

by Victoria Clapton

Best Name: Kurai

Best Word: Refulgent

Her loyal service

is what makes a Subaru

as the king demands


#5: Into FaerLand

by A.J. Ponder

Best Name: Brocéliande

Best Word: Dornröschenschloss

A pair of heroes

seek training but only find

dire geology


#4: The Sunset Sovereign: A Dragon’s Memoir

by Laura Huie and C.D. Houck

Best Name: Vakfored

Best Word: terra sigillata

This hero bought tons

from some magical Costco

Dragon’s unimpressed


#3: The Tenfold Tenants

by E.V. Belknap

Best Name: Corvinian Hark

Best Word: Shenanigans

Dark stranger visits

Circle of life spins fast

Tantalizing start


#2: Oublié

by Susana Imaginário

Best Name: Jolyan

Best Word: Promethean

Does living inside

a sentient moon make one

a parasite? Hmm.


#1: Tobias

by Denis James

Best Name: Foxton Gray

Best Word: valedictorian

Metal detectors

don’t help when mages attack

Leave no child behind


A review of Echo (Marvel/Disney+)

I often post reviews of stuff I watch on Facebook, and I thought I might share them here as well. Here’s my take on Echo on Disney.

Beware: Spoilers below!


The Good:
— The lead, Alaqua Cox, is a tremendously intriguing actor – I’ve thought so since she showed up on Hawkeye, and this show really lets her go hard. She is up to the challenge. She’s got a tremendously emotive face and great physicality for this role.
— The care they took to include sign language in so many scenes was really neat. It slowed down the show and made each word signed more important, but that is 100% accurate to my experience with working with deaf colleagues, and it gives the show a different and valuable pace, flavor, and feel. Also, there is some great acting and emoting you can do while signing, and many (though not all) of the actors understood that and used it to great advantage.
— A lot of the fight choreography, especially in the first episode, was awesome – snappy, long sequences with cool choices and exciting moves. Later episodes had some similar shining moments but didn’t quite sustain the level of the earlier episodes.
— The setting in the midst of a fictionalized Oklahoma Choctaw community was new and different and intriguing, although Marvel fake history seemed to replace real Indian culture in some key areas, always to the show’s detriment.
— The journey from bad guy to (sort of) good guy can be a really interesting one, and Maya does have some of that cool antihero juice here. It doesn’t quite pay off, but her criminal background is present in her decisions and motivations, her assessment of herself, and in her fractured relationships with her former family and friends, and when it works, that’s strong stuff. It doesn’t always work, and I think it should have been easy to make it work better.


The Meh:
— The story, which seemed like it might be cool initially, devolved into standard superhero stuff, which is stuff that I’m very bored with after so many Marvel and DC movies. This isn’t entirely fair to the show, because the inclusion of Choctaw historical (or historically inspired) and mythological figures added depth. However, the show was still an “I suddenly have magic powers” superhero origin story, and the powers were never well-defined or even used much, except to make the final conflict not very interesting on screen (although an OK payoff for the mystical plotlines that came before).
— The storyline stalled out a bit in the middle episodes, although they all had interesting parts. Mostly this was because the central conflicts (both comic book battles and character interactions) kept getting derailed rather than moving forward, and the stakes and options and motivations weren’t usually well explained. With regard to the central comic book plot conflict, if what Maya was doing was as dangerous as everybody said, then (1) Maya would know this and should have planned better, and (2) we shouldn’t have had time to be dorking around with all these non-super characters in a Choctaw version of Northern Exposure. Instead, it was like the big bad guy threat just got turned off for long stretches so we could show family and community. The tension between Maya and her relatives and friends was at times interesting, but it wasn’t fully defined and then never really resolved, except that everyone easily became friends again when they needed to.
— The final conflict and battle were underwhelming, weirdly constructed from a plot perspective, and short – I was hoping for more badass kung fu action, and I instead got some wonder-twins we-win-because-we’re-magic stuff without even providing satisfying deaths for the main opponents. Most of the guys defeated here were nobodies who just showed up in cargo vans – no characters, no history, no motivation, just default. That doesn’t resolve much of anything, story-wise, and it’s not a satisfying ending. They can just send more vans next week, maybe with people who will actually pull the trigger rather than taking prisoners.

The Bad:
— Kingpin is just a terribly bland character, one with no interesting or redeeming qualities or complexity in terms of motive or desire. He’s such a default bad guy, and such an obvious villain, that everybody working for him has to know that he’s just completely evil and they’ve made a terrible career choice. Anytime you execute your henchmen for no reason in front of other henchmen, you create what should be insurmountable HR problems, but henchmen never seem to deal with this in realistic ways. Definitely not here.
— In this show, Kingpin has somehow survived getting shot in the eye, which itself is ridiculously annoying. I mean, that should kill you, and it was really satisfying in Hawkeye when Maya turned on him and shot him – a real emotional high, worked up to and well-deserved. Having him miraculously survive that is a cheap, bogus reset which is just stupid and stalls out any character or plot development that might otherwise happen in the wake of his death.
— Also, they are trying so hard here to give Kingpin a tortured backstory that makes him soft towards Maya, but it’s all just clunky and weak. Fisk is ruthless. Utterly. They try to show him bonding with Maya, and I suppose that might melt his evil heart some, but not after being shot in the eye. That’s just out of character. The scenes of him acting hurt at her betrayal, yet still giving her multiple chances (sometimes at stupid ultra-convenient plot-breaking moments), were just annoying and painful to watch. It would have been a much better show if he’d just turned cold and ruthless from the start, and Maya was having to actually defend herself and her community against his overwhelming rage rather than refusing his gift of cookies. Sheesh. So weak. Better still, introduce a new, more complex bad guy trying to settle the score after Kingpin’s murder. That would have been great.

The Verdict:
This show has lots of good parts, but I was left a little disappointed at how it came out. If you’re a fan of Marvel stuff, or if you want to see a cool take on a superhero with a (prosthetic) foot grounded in both the native community and the deaf community, this might be the show for you. If you want a satisfying story or complexity that pays off rather than fading away, you can do better in other shows. The Hawkeye show was, I thought, one of the best of this kind of show, in no small part because of Maya (and Ms. Cox) as a villain. The Hawkeye show played a lot of it for laughs, while there was darker subject matter here in Echo. This still tried for some lighthearted comedy, and I appreciate that, but they didn’t quite get the mix right.

Note: I don’t read comics and have no particular attachment to superheroes. Just watching the action shows available to me, and happier when the leave the woo-woo super stuff out. I think that’s why I liked the Hawkeye show so much – he’s just a mostly normal dude. They almost did that here, but not quite, and it would have been (I think) a far better show if the power of the ancestors had manifested in Maya’s character and heart rather than in her glowing wrists.

An indie author’s 2023, by the numbers

I did a financial wrap-up of my indie publishing efforts for 2022 that garnered some interest from other indie authors. The bottom line for 2022 was that I made a little over $2000 in revenue in 2022 compared to about $6700 in expenses, for a loss of around $4700. Not great, but growing in some good ways, and $2000 of the expenses last year was for production of the audio version of Daros, a big one-time investment that won’t repeat. I thought I’d do the same for this past year.

Revenues

So, let’s look at 2023 revenues. Here’s the Amazon revenue picture:

Here are the results for 2023 for individual books:

Markets

Amazon reported revenue from 11 countries, although many of them were negligible, including my three-cent totals from Brazil and India. Here is the breakdown by country – you can see the seven smallest markets fit into less than 1% of total revenue.

Formats

Here’s the revenue breakdown by format:

For me, Kindle Unlimited is a huge piece of my income. A lot of indie authors feel like going “wide” and getting rid of Amazon exclusivity helps them, but that move would have to more than double my sales revenues to make up for the lost Kindle Unlimited revenue to be worth it for me. I’m not ready to take that risk yet.

Audiobooks

There was another approximately $218 in Audible payments for Flames Over Frosthelm and Daros. At that rate, it will take a good many years to recoup my expenses (about $3200) for creating those two audio books, making it not a very good investment, but if I am able to grow my audience and increase audio sales, that analysis might change.

There’s also a small amount of revenue for paperback sales through my online store (and also in person). The profit and volume on those is pretty negligible, but it’s probably another $50 for the year, give or take.

That total revenue, maybe $4750-$4800, is a whole lot better than last year’s $2000 or so, more than double. Yay! But why? I would hope some of it is just from having more books out (I released two this year, Got Trouble and Kenai), and also from having reached more readers as I continue to work to expand my audience. But it’s also because of BookBub.

The role of BookBub featured deals

My first four BookBub featured deals were key revenue events this year. I’ve been applying for these competitive opportunities since I started publishing back in 2019, but I didn’t get any until this year. I’ve heard that BookBub is less willing to feature an Amazon-exclusive book, so that might be part of my difficulty, but it’s hard to say.

I had four features in total this year, each of which produced results big enough to be visible in the revenue graph above:

  • March 2023: (the big one) A global featured deal for my 3-book Inquisitors’ Guild compendium (light blue above) for $0.99. This cost me $712 plus a bunch of other advertising I stacked with the BookBub, but I made the BookBub cost back in sales and then had improved Kindle Unlimited page reads for several months afterward, making it a definite win for me.
  • September 2023: Another featured deal for the 3-book compendium, this one non-US only. This cost $196 plus other stacked ads and had a much smaller impact, although I still think it was a net positive.
  • November 2023: A non-US feature for Kenai (yellow above) for $167, which I think had a significant impact, although Kenai was doing well all year since its release.
  • December 2023: A non-US feature for Daros (green above) for $167. This also seemed to do well, reigniting interest in a book that had a great 2021 but which has slipped a bit since then.

I’m really hoping that I can continue these featured deals in the coming years. They’ve had by far the best return on investment of my advertising efforts. However, I have no control over when they are granted vs. rejected, which is a little frustrating.

Expenses

I didn’t do any audio books this year, which was a significant savings compared to last year. I did continue routine advertising, mostly on Facebook and Amazon, but also including blog tours for Got Trouble and Kenai. I spent a lot on some probably ill-advised expensive ongoing ads for Got Trouble on Amazon, too. Here are my expenses by category:

Promos (paying services to advertise free or discounted books) and Ads (general ads for my books) are similar, but I broke them out so that I could see what was happening. The BookBub featured deals mentioned above are a major component of the Promos category.

The “Giveaways” category is a GoodReads giveaway I did there for Got Trouble. I’ve done a few of those for other books. I’m not sure how much return there is for those, although it does get your book added to people’s “To Read” lists.

Summary

Last year, I had $2000 in revenue on $6700 of expenses, or a loss of $4700 or so, or -235% of revenue. That sounds bad, but of course I’m in this for the long haul, and I expect to lose money for a while until I get more established and figure out what expense choices produce useful results.

This year, I have $4800 in revenue on $7200 in expenses, or a loss of $2400 or so, or -50%. That’s progress, although it’s still not positive. But it’s headed in the right direction.

I have the ability (and true privilege) to be able to sustain losses like that for a while to get this going – I don’t need my book revenue to pay my mortgage or put food on the table, which is a huge advantage. And profitability is of course not a great way to measure the value of art. But it’s still interesting to keep track.

A loss of $2400 sounds bad, though. If I want things to look better, I can focus on revenue and readership, and for those categories, 2023 looks like a really good step in the right direction.

The good news about 2023

I had a huge number of paid orders compared to previous years (although many of them were at $0.99 for the BookBub deals, which made me only about $0.30 per book):

Light blue here is the Inquisitors’ Guild compendium, red is Daros, light green is Kenai, yellow is Flames Over Frosthelm, and purple is Got Trouble.

I also broke a million total pages read on Kindle Unlimited, with over half of that million coming this year, much of it buoyed by the BookBub promotions:

Light blue here is the 3-book Inquisitors’ Guild compendium, light green is Kenai, purple is Got Trouble, red is Daros, and yellow is Flames Over Frosthelm.

Conclusion

So, 2023 was a banner year in a lot of ways, but not yet a profitable one. The year-over-year trend is terrific, but it’s probably not sustainable – there are only so many BookBub featured deals I can get, and they’re not certain. But, if I keep writing more books and reaching more readers, I might even get this thing to work.

I’m having a lot of fun, and it’s great to see people responding to my books, and that’s the most important part.

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

I quite enjoyed this story from Nnedi Okorafor. Structurally, it’s quite similar to the first Harry Potter novel (and many other such stories) – a young outsider with an unstable family situation discovers something special about herself, and a hidden world full of people with magical power, often goofy, and with a cadre of young juju-using friends and a mysterious enemy on the horizon. It also seems to be directed at a younger YA/MG audience, although I found plenty to enjoy.

I found the plot and the inevitable battle engaging but not really original or strategic. In the climactic engagement, the characters did use abilities and followed traits developed earlier, but there wasn’t a really a cycle of defeat, setback, learning, and reengagement which might have made it more than just an unstoppable train towards predetermined destiny. It was still exciting, though. I actually enjoyed the big soccer game more than the battle, even though that was just a pure sports-movie feel-good scene.

What sets this book apart from others are three things – first, a very appealing main character, second, a rich and wonderfully detailed magic system and community and world, and third and perhaps most important for this Iowan, a window into everyday life and culture in Nigeria. All of these elevated the story well above a typical magic school tale and made reading memorable and rewarding.

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