My 2019 Ravencon schedule

Ravencon is a fun little convention that keeps growing — It used to be in my hometown of Richmond but now it’s in Williamsburg, right next to Busch Gardens where I spent many days riding roller coasters when I was younger… This year, the writer Guest of Honor is Melinda Snodgrass (who I interviewed on this blog 7 years ago — I’ll finally get to meet her in person)!


The entire program is here but here’s where you can find me (when I’m not sitting at my publisher’s booth in the dealers room):

Geek Debates (Friday 5 pm): RavenCon’s geek debates explore the issues that plague the conversations of geeks worldwide. Could Boba Fett defeat a Borg drone? Is James Bond a Time Lord? These and other questions could be explored this year at the debates. With Elizabeth Gribble, Rich Sigfrit, and Michael J. Winslow

Meet and Greet for Guests (Friday 6 pm): A semi-informal party where you can rub elbows with the guests

Opening Ceremony (Friday 7 pm): In which special guests are introduced and announcements made and awards presented

Whose Line Is It Anyway? (Friday 8 pm): Based on the TV show, our talented writer guests take improv to a new level, with a science fiction theme. Host Peter Prellwitz does not let them know beforehand what they’ll be doing. Audience participation is expected! With Billy Flynn, Gail Z. Martin, and Peter Prellwitz

Beta Readers (Saturday 11 am): Do authors still use beta readers? Who should an author’s beta reader be? Panelists discuss the use, or lack thereof, of beta readers in the writing process. With Patrick Dugan, Jason Gilbert, G.B. MacRae, and Christopher Metcalf

Steampunk 101 (Saturday 12 noon): Steampunk crosses the worlds of literature, costuming, crafting, movies, and more. But what is steampunk? Where did it start and why is it called that? A look at the history of the genre and its rising popularity over the past decade. With Sandra Baldari, Doc Coleman, Gail Z. Martin, and Margaret S. McGraw 

Reading (Saturday 3:25 pm): I’ll be reading from my latest novel BIG STICK.

Legal Fictions (Saturday 4 pm):  Is it weird that so many lawyers become authors? Our lawyer/authors share amusing anecdotes from their unique intersection of careers. With Melinda Snodgrass and Steve White

Masquerade Pre-Judging (Saturday 7 pm): My wife Heidi Hooper is one of the judges for the Masquerade, and I’ve been appointed to give all the participants a prep talk and instructions on how to present your costumes to best show the audience and judges.

Late Night Geek Debates (Saturday 11 pm): This year RavenCon is trying debates with more mature topics. What topics? You’ll have to come and see. (18+ only, IDs checked.) With Cailen Cutrell, Wade Cutrell, and Lilith Lore

This schedule is subject to change!

Here are some pictures from previous Ravencons!


“Across the Universe” submission guidelines

The anthology I am co-editing, Across the Universe, is now open for submissions!

Through a Kickstarter campaign, we were able to raise enough to go ahead with this project, and we have confirmations from authors Spider Robinson, David Gerrold, Jonathan Maberry, Alan Goldsher, Cat Rambo, Keith DeCandido, Jody Lynn Nye, Lawrence Watt-Evans and Gail Z. Martin with notes by Janis Ian and Nancy Holder.Beatles cover color

We should have room for a few extra stories as well. But only a few.

Book Theme

The theme of the anthology is “The Beatles – What if?”  What if Brian Epstein hadn’t managed the band? What if George Harrison hated sitar music? What if Ringo had been the true star of the band all along? What if the Beatles had been aliens? Or magic users? Or zombies? Or American?

Story Concepts: What to Avoid

The confirmed authors have already begun their stories, so please avoid the following ideas:

  • Beatles as zombies
  • Beatles as super heroes
  • Beatles as time travelers
  • Beatles as “the Scooby Doo gang”
  • Beatles as medieval fantasy adventurers
  • Beatles as Tetrad wizards representing the elements
  • Beatles as animatronic robots
  • Beatles as paranormal investigators

This is not to say that you cannot do a variation on these, but keep in mind that if we get more than one story with the same theme, your chance of having your story accepted is reduced. That said, do not contact us with your idea first. After all, two authors can take the same basic idea and produce completely different stories.

Story Length

The story should be no more than 4,000 words. This should be sufficient for what should most likely be a somewhat humorous tale. A ‘short story’ should be defined as not less than 1,000 words for the purpose of this book; we want you to write the story at the length it most makes sense, but we are not publishing drabbles or flash fiction, and prefer stories in the 2,000 – 4,000 range.  This is not a strict cut-off, though.

Payment is $200 a story, so there is no advantage to padding your story. Take as many words as you need to make a great story, but if it is too long, it had better be so great that we can’t refuse it. A good but padded story may get rejected over a concise, fast-moving one, because we want to fit in as many stories as possible.

No reprints. And only one submission. If you have two stories, send your best.

I’m Unpublished. Can I submit?

Yes! We encourage that. But you will still face the same standards for submissions as the published authors. (Pro tip: Check your spelling and grammar.)


Submit your story in 12-point, Times New Roman/Times Roman font, double-spaced.

If you have questions about other formatting (like setting up the story’s first page, and page numbering), refer to Shunn’s manuscript formatting guide.

The file should be RTF, not Word or DocX or anything else. The first page should be your cover letter – keep it brief – which will include your contact information and a 50-75 word bio. List previous publications or relevant experience in the bio.


Send your complete story/cover letter to – do not send to Michael or Randee personally. Your bio and story should be in the same document. We will accept submissions until June 14. Please continue to check this space for any updates. We will do our best to contact everyone who submits, but if you have not heard from us by August 1, you can safely assume that your story was not accepted.

Advice on Copyright Issues

Cory Doctorow was unable to contribute to the anthology, but did offer us these suggestions concerning copyright issues when dealing with real people and real songs. Keep his comments in mind:

Characters are copyrightable, but a mere mention of names is not enough to violate a copyright in Eleanor Rigby (the character), or Eleanor Rigby (the song).

However, if I actually wrote a short SF story featuring Eleanor Rigby and Father Mackenzie and if he were darning the socks and she were picking up rice at a church after a wedding and wearing a face (that she keeps in the jar at the door) then you could legitimately say I am taking so much of the song’s structure and plot, that I am effectively creating an infringing derivative work—just as Cats! expanded Eliot’s silly poems into a rock opera, (Which, given that the poems were written in the 30’s, are still under copyright.)  And that would need permission and or fee.

Of course, if this were a true parody in which it turns out that all the lonely people are actually smoking weed and having great sex at sock-darning parties, then that might be a fair use.  But if it is just that she keeps her face in a jar by the door because she is an actual alien, and the rice is to feed her growing insectoid child whose mind control will take over the earth… Well, I dunno.  Lots of courts would frown at that as just being an unauthorized sequel / unlicensed derivative work.

And others are not ok.  Saying that character names may never be used is silly.  If I said that  Cory Doctorow was “the Father Mackenzie of Sci Fi writers,” darning your antique 1950’s pajamas rather than hitting the hot spots, copyright law wouldn’t even be involved.  (Titles and short phrases are not copyrightable and that’s just an analogy).  But the fan fic extrapolation from an existing delineated plot, even if a plot developed in a song, might not be.

I don’t think there is a trademark angle. The courts have dealt relatively harshly with claims like that unless there is some way to claim sponsorship and affiliation.

Bottom line: Avoid retelling stories in the songs, avoid using the song lyrics (titles are okay), and avoid using copyrighted characters (such as the ones in the Beatles movies — no Blue Meanies, please).

My turn to be interviewed

I’m interviewed on the “Masters of Horror” website today. Why they wanted to talk to me, I’ll never know, but hey, it’s nice to be noticed. Take a look and drop a comment (or share)!


A new anthology of alternative Beatles stories!

What if the Beatles had never met? Would we enjoy Dave Clark Five-mania?

What if Brian Epstein hadn’t managed the band? What if George Harrison hated sitar music? What if Ringo had been the true star of the band all along?

What if the Beatles had been aliens? Or magic users? Or zombies? Or American?

Announcing my latest project (with co-editor Randee Dawn): a collection of alternative Beatles stories!

Beatles cover color

We’ve gathered some great writers to create Across the Universe: an anthology of speculative Beatles fiction, including Spider Robinson, David Gerrold, Jonathan Maberry,  Alan Goldsher, Cat Rambo, Keith DeCandido, Jody Lynn Nye, Lawrence Watt-Evans and Gail Z. Martin with notes by Janis Ian and Nancy Holder!

This is a kickstarter campaign, so we need you to order your copy now so we can raise the money to have it printed. Click here for more details!

We’ve left space for other authors to submit their stories, and the guidelines and deadlines for stories will be announced once we have met our goal and know the book will be published.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Nailing that opening

The monster perches on our shoulders, demanding that the opening of our story has to grab the reader. “You’re not Stephen King,” it howls. “He can meander around a bit because everyone knows it’s going to eventually get good. You’re no one! You have to pull them in early!”

This pressure often makes new writers believe this means the story has to start with an exciting fight scene or an explosion or something.

Not true.  the-writer2

As an editor, I’ve received many stories that fail on their first page. But the ones that are accepted almost always have four elements that establish the story early on. (I say “almost always” because, as has been pointed out many times, for every writing “rule” there is a very talented and experienced writer that has broken it. If you are reading this blog, it is unlikely that you fall into that category.)

To grab the reader early on, you need:

The scene. The idea is to get an image into your reader’s head. Does this story take place in the present? The past? On a space ship, in a living room, in the desert, on the moon? You don’t have to give everything away, and saying “London, 1856” is a cheat, so instead, describe the clicking of heels on a cobblestone street, the gaslight lamps, the fog rolling in from the river… Remember to use all of the senses, describing smells and sounds, temperature and weather.

But don’t go into great detail. No one wants too much detail. A single sentence can do this. All you want to do is set a basic picture.

The character. Ideally, this should be your main character, since it’s their story you’re telling. We need someone to identify with. Once more, we don’t need a huge amount of detail, but enough so we know the basics. Unless there is a reason to hide the fact, we should know if this is a male or female, young or old, and perhaps even what their emotions are at the moment. Maybe it’s a woman walking those cobblestone streets, anxious and nervous…

An action. Something has to be happening, and it should be something that captures our interest. Too many stories start with a scene and a character and the action is waking up and making coffee. Boring! That’s not where the story begins. What is the action that starts the actual plot? Once more, we don’t need an explosion. The action can be simple. Perhaps she bumps into a man who drops a piece of paper…

A question. This is key. As I’ve said before, every story is a mystery. There should be something on every page to make people want to keep reading. There needs to be a question that can only be answered by continuing to read. That’s the hook. Maybe she reads the paper the man dropped, and it has an address and a strange message written in code. She suddenly gets excited and calls for a hansom cab…

Now go and grab any random book off the shelf and see for yourself if all four of these elements can be found on the first page. If you want your book to be on someone else’s shelf, then perhaps you should do the same.

Release the Virgins!

It was a dark and stormy night at the Balticon science fiction convention in May of 2016. Most everyone had gone to bed, but a number of writers, editors and publishers were doing what writers, editors and publishers do at conventions in the early hours: hanging out at the bar.

During the conversation, the phrase “Release the virgins” was heard.

“That would be a great theme for an anthology,” I said. “Every story would have to contain that phrase.”

“I’ll write a story for it!” said Gail Z. Martin and Hildy Silverman.

“I’ll publish it!” said Ian Randal Strock.

“I’ll edit it!” I said.

We gathered some of the top science fiction and fantasy writers, organized a kickstarter, and now, a year and a half later, it’s here!

Look at this great lineup!:

Foreword by Ian Randal Strock
Introduction by Michael A. Ventrella
“Valedictory” by Lawrence Watt-Evans
“Sidekicked” by Hildy Silverman
“Command Decision” by Steve Miller
“Are You There, Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” by Beth W. Patterson
“Innocence Lost” by Gail Z. Martin
“How Mose Saved the Virgins of Old New York” by Allen M. Steele
“The Fires of Rome” by Jody Lynn Nye
“Salvage” by Shariann Lewitt
“The Midwinter of Our Discontent” by Keith R.A. DeCandido
“Coming Attractions” by Daniel M. Kimmel
“Cracking the Vault” by Matt Bechtel
“The Coffee Corps” by Alex Shvartsman
“The Vestals of Midnight” by Sharon Lee
“Paradisiacal Protocols” by Gordon Linzner
“Brass Tacks” by Cecilia Tan
“Old Spirits” by Brian Trent
“The Running of the Drones” by Patrick Thomas
“Dangerous Virgins” by David Gerrold
Afterword by Thomas Nackid

It’s available in hard cover, paperback, kindle or nook versions!  As I write this, it’s already in the top 20 for “science fiction anthologies” on Amazon.

So grab a copy yourself and release the virgins!

virgins cover jpg

Big Stick

In 1897, Beverly Haddad is well aware that her sex and race will keep her from investigating the deadly and mysterious lightning strikes that have plagued New York. She seeks help from Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt, and soon the two find themselves hunted by a vast conspiracy known as Gideon’s Trumpet which has access to amazing new scientific devices never before seen. With the help of Mark Twain and others, they launch an attack, aided by Teddy’s new massive lightning gun, which he lovingly calls BIG STICK.

BIG STICK is now available from Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press! Click here to read the first few chapters, and here to order your copy!

Big Stick cover

“Full steam ahead! With Big Stick, Michael Ventrella gives us a wild and thoroughly entertaining steampunk adventure featuring an improbable cast of historical figures, plenty of action, and lots of fun! Highly recommended!” – Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Deep Silence and V-Wars

“Memorable characters, snappy dialogue and plenty of action and adventure. Big Stick has it all. One of the best books I’ve read in a long while!” – Gail Z. Martin, author of Vengeance: A Novel of Darkhurst

“Full of the best kind of steampunk adventure with one of the biggest personalities in American history. A great fun ride!” – Philippa Ballantine, co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series

“Big Stick doesn’t have everything. It has more than everything! A dynamic PoC secret agent! Teddy Roosevelt! Steampunk inventions! Real dirty politics in a fantastic might-have-been world! Rayguns! Airships! Assassinations! Teddy Roosevelt with a raygun! And a cover by Phil Foglio! What the heck are you doing looking at this stupid blurb? Buy this book and read it!” – Ryk Spoor, author of Grand Central Arena and Princess Holy Aura

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