Know Your Tools

Imagine you’ve hired a carpenter who holds up a screwdriver and says it’s a wrench. How much confidence would you have in his abilities?

Recently, a self-published friend posted an ad he had made for his book which misspelled “you’re” as “your.” I pointed this out and to his credit, he fixed it and thanked me, but really — how much confidence would you have in this writer’s abilities after seeing that?

Words are your tools.  As a writer, you need to know how to use them. tools

I’ve also seen writers post things on Facebook that were terribly written, contained spelling mistakes, and did not impress me with eloquence or insight. Come on folks, why should I check out your book if your posts don’t impress me?

If you’re going to use social media to promote yourself, the best way to do it is not to constantly say “Buy my book!” in various ways, but to make people think, “This person writes well. They say interesting things and have interesting views. I’ll bet their books are good, too.”

Be insightful with your posts. Write things no one else is writing. Be humorous if that’s your thing. Make people want to read what you have to say. And, most importantly, say it well, showing your skill with words, phrases, grammar and spelling.

You know — your tools.

Open submission for 5th Tales of Fortannis anthology

I’m looking for stories for the 5th TALES OF FORTANNIS anthology. BardInHand-510

About the collection: The TALES OF FORTANNIS series is published by Double Dragon and is available in paperback, ebook, kindle, ibook, and nook. Double Dragon is perhaps the largest science fiction and fantasy e-book publisher out there, and has been around for about fifteen years. They have a good reputation, pay royalties on time, and make sure the book is available everywhere (Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, all e-book distributors).

Previously unpublished authors are encouraged to submit, but should be aware that we ask for at least two years of exclusivity which can limit your ability to resell or republish the story later. (You can negotiate the exact terms of exclusivity with Double Dragon.) Once your story appears in TALES OF FORTANNIS, it will severely limit its future possibilities, including a future pay rate.

Note as well that while the book will be promoted in a number of ways, sales will not be huge. Don’t give up your day job. You should be submitting mostly for the exposure. As a standard warning that applies in all similar cases, you need to decide if publishing your work in e-formats and/or on the web, giving up your First Publishing Right for a token payment, is really what you want to do.

About Fortannis: Fortannis is the fantasy land where my novels ARCH ENEMIES and THE AXES OF EVIL take place as well as Derek Beebe’s recent novel IT’S A WONDERFUL DEATH. Your story does not have to take place in the same kingdom as these stories, and you can create your own kingdom and characters; however, the more you can tie your story in with previous stories, the better.

Fortannis is a high fantasy world with elves, dwarves, the mysterious biata, gryphons, goblins, and more.

Magic comes from the orderly progression of nature, and mages can learn to tap into that power to do basic spells that manipulate the earth, air, fire or water. Healing magics exist, as they speed up the body’s own healing process and tap into that power. Death magic also exists, because death is part of the orderly path of nature.

There is another source of power, and that is chaos magic, sometimes known as necromancy. This magic runs counter to the orderly progression and is used to harm and to do unnatural things like raise zombies and undead. This kind of magic is much easier to use and thus very tempting to those trying to learn the magical arts. Every spell has its chaotic counterpart which is stronger — you can either heal someone a little or hurt someone a lot. Chaos magic eventually corrupts the land and the mind of the user, and is illegal and frowned upon in decent society.

There are no gods, churches, or religions.

Keep in mind that although these are fantasy stories, you are not limited to telling tales of adventure, with knights fighting dragons and wizards casting powerful spells. abbey-bard-510The world is merely the setting for the stories. I am looking for a variety of tales, as you can see from the previous books. There is one story about someone trying to steal the recipe for his favorite pie. Another concerns three goblin children spying on the curious humans. A third involves a con artist trying to mislead a nobleman. The theme of the Tales of Fortannis series is the fantasy world, not the type of story.

If you want to submit a story, I first suggest that you read one of the Fortannis novels or one of the collections. It will help, and may give you some story ideas … and it should help prevent you from submitting a story idea that has already been done.

Submissions: Submissions are open for short stories of under 10,000 words with no minimum. (A good story should take exactly as many words as needed.) Unpublished authors are encouraged to submit, but will still face the same standards for submissions as the published authors. And of course, the less editing that your story needs, the more likely I am to accept it.

All stories should be double-spaced in rtf format with 12 point Times Roman font. There should be no spacing after the paragraphs. The first page must contain the name of the story, the word count, and your name, address, email, and phone number. Your cover letter should list any previous publications.

Note: You may want to send a proposal first to make sure your story won’t contradict another story and to make sure your idea fits within the world of Fortannis. If you’re an unpublished author, it may also be a really good idea to read all the advice columns here before submitting.

Proposals and inquiries must be emailed to DEADLINE: SEPTEMBER 1, 2017.

Interview with NY Times Bestselling Author Raymond Feist

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I’m pleased to be interviewing Raymond E. Feist!

His first novel was published in 1982, and recently he finished his massive Riftwar Cycle of thirty novels and is now embarking on a completely new series in a new RaymondFeistuniverse. His works have appeared on numerous Best Seller Lists, including the New York Times, the Times (London), and Publishers Weekly.  His books have been translated into more than twenty five additional languages and published around the world in more than a hundred countries.

Raymond, What books were your favorites when you were young, and how do you think they influenced what you are writing now?

RAYMOND E. FEIST:  I remember Mom reading to me as a small child and the usual stuff in school from Dick & Jane.  The first book I remember Mom reading was Doctor Suess’s first book,  AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET.  The first adult book I can remember reading was TOM SAWYER, followed the day after I finished by HUCKLEBERRY FINN.  I fell in love with story telling.   I read “Boys Adventure Fiction,” a category that no longer exists, but besides Tom Swift and the Hardy Boys, and lesser known works.  I migrated into more adult story telling, people like Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan-Doyle (the Challenger Books more than Sherlock, and The White Company), Anthony Hope, Howard Pile, and the pulp writers, A. Merritt, H. Ridder Haggard, E. R. Boroughs, etc. and then into historical fiction, Mary Renault, Samuel Shellenbarger, Rosemary Sutcliff, and my favorite, Thomas Costain.  All of had one thing in common, other places and times, great heroic adventure.

Then when I was in about the 8th grade, I discovered Science Fiction.  My first taste was Hall Clement’s CYCLE OF FIRE, followed by Eric Frank Russell’s WASP, and I was hooked.  Joined the SF Book Club and grabbed anything off the spinner at the drug store.

Fantasy I didn’t really get into until college when Tolkien first took off around ’65 or so.   Fell in love with Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorecock’s work, the former for the great character driven shorts and novels, and the latter for the sheer brilliance of scope and the complex interweaving of the Eternal Champion myth.  Since then anything good.

VENTRELLA: What is it about fantasy that attracts you and makes you want to write in that genre?str2_ttraymond_covers_ma_3

FEIST:  Simple.  There was no market for “Boys Adventure Fiction” when I decided to write, and I had a ready-to-go fantasy world I’d help build, Midkemia.  It was a no-brainer for me.

VENTRELLA: One thing many fantasy writers don’t pay enough attention to is creating a realistic and logical magic system. How did you go about making sure yours worked with the plots you wanted to explore?

FEIST:  That’s a tough one. It’s a bit intuitive, and a bit logical. You can’t have a guy who can rip down a mountain unable to blow a door off its hinges, unless there’s a compelling reasons, i.e. “I can tear down a mountain, but if I open this door, it will tear down the entire castle!” Also, some sense of the individual and social consequences need to be shown, else you’ve got a potential Superman and then everyone else gets to stand there and watch Superman solve every problem.

VENTRELLA: Do you usually start off with a basic idea or a character? How do your plots develop?

FEIST:  Ideas always come first, often with zero story attached.  My current book started with a question, one of those weird half-asleep just waking up thoughts, “Who is the King of Ashes?”  I had no flipping idea, but I loved the question. As I craft story, characters emerge and as they do, they shape the narrative, often taking it in unexpected directions. I know the end of a story—one has to, in my opinion—else you can wander though the wilderness for forty years like Moses, but you have to know where you’re going to end up. The fun is figuring out how to get there.

VENTRELLA: There is no correct way to write – I tend to outline fairly heavily before I delve in, but I also go way off that outline if inspiration strikes, for instance. How do you organize your writing?

FEIST: “Organize?” What is this word? Seriously, I’m about as unorganized as you can get and still get words on paper. I just sit down and make stuff up.

VENTRELLA: Is there any one character of yours that you identify with the best, who really has your personality?raymondefeist-silverthorn

FEIST: Common myth promulgated by generations of Lit professors. I wish I was as clever as Jimmy The Hand, as competent as Prince Arutha, as charming with the ladies as Laurie of Tyr-Sog, as certain of what’s right as Pug, etc. But none of them is “me,” in any meaningful way.

VENTRELLA: Who do you like to read these days?

FEIST: Not much. It’s partially an age thing; at 71 my vision isn’t what it used to be, so after a long day in front of the computer, I’ll watch sports or politics on TV so I’m looking at something across the room. Eye fatigue is a myth when you’re 20, or even 50, but now . . . ? It’s why I moved up to the 12” iPad from the 9”. When I do read, it’s while I’m traveling, of if I take a day off and just sit in my home and read something for a few hours. I tend to prefer history and biography.

VENTRELLA: Like many authors (myself included), you started off as a gamer. How do you think that influenced your writing style and the way you structure your plots?

FEIST: Not at all. Two entirely different entertainment constructs, with different narrative requirements. Perhaps the backstory of the environment, insofar as you need to know how the bloody dungeon got there in the first place, and maybe the lore over some of the mythic loot, but the only thing gaming gave me was a rich physical environment in which to work. Game plots are pretty repetitive and boring, “kick down the door, kill the monsters, loot, heal, next door; rinse and repeat.” The part that did influence me wasn’t the gaming but the postmortems. “Remember, that time, when we went down into the desert and ran into that bunch of outlaws, who chased us into the ruins where we found the entrance to . . . ”  over many beers.  Some of that stuck, but most of it is just learning how to tell a story and write a coherent English sentence.

VENTRELLA: Do you think it is important for your books to be read in any specific order – for instance, should one start with the Magician series and then go on to another?

FEIST: Ya, it’s sort of a 30 volume trilogy, as we joke around here. However, it is broken up into five “riftwars,” Riftwar, Serpentwar, Darkwar, Demonwar, and Chaoswar, and each has its own “jumping in’ book. 8664327 So you can start with A KINGDOM BESIEGED, the first book of the Chaoswar, and it’s a complete arc, though a lot of characters and their backstories may be less than they would be had your read the earlier series.

Some of the books, like the Jimmy The Hand/Krondor titles, can be skipped or read at any time, as can the Legends of the Riftwar, the three books I collaborated with Joel Rosenberg, S.M Stirling, and William Forstchen.  The Empire Series I cowrote with Janny Wurts comes in half-way through MAGICIAN and ends after A DARKNESS AT SETHANON, but also can be read at any point.

VENTRELLA: Your books inspired the Krondor video games that I remember playing way back when – were you happy with the results?

FEIST: For the most part. Nothing is ever as you imaged it would be, and there were serious corporate problems during Return to Krondor that make me glad it finally saw the light of day. Betray was for its time a massive hit with players, and I still get complements about it.

VENTRELLA: Will we ever see any other computer games based on your books?

FEIST:  All someone has to do is make an offer.

VENTRELLA: Do you like to play computer games, and if so, which ones do you prefer?krondor-the-betrayal

FEIST: My one black hole for time is World of Warcraft, which I play long distance with my kids, one in Northern California, and the other in Massachusetts. I play it alone to say at the computer until I feel guilty then go back to work, because if I get up and turn on the TV or pick up the book, there’s a high probability I’m done working for the day.

VENTRELLA: You’ve also inspired some tabletop and on-line RPGs. Tell us about them! Are you happy with those results?

FEIST: Not really. We had a long running texted base Mud/Mux type online game. As for the RPG stuff, it came first. Midkemia Press was publishing our system and supplements while I was writing MAGICIAN.  I’m  happy that people enjoyed them.

VENTRELLA: You haven’t avoided politics on your Facebook page – do you worry about how your readers may react?

FEIST: Not any more. I got scolded back when I first joined because of a remark I made about something Bush did, when someone felt it his job to take me to task and warn me I might lose some readers. Then I realized I have a max of 5,000 “friends” and maybe 20,000 followers, only some of whom might be annoyed by my opinion. I’ve got 15 million books sold over 30+ years, so if I lost all of my Facebook folks, I’d survive. While I don’t thing a stand-up comic and former-Playmate should be giving medical advice to people, I do think just because someone is a musician or an actor they’re supposed to pretend they have zero interest in larger issues. Same for writers.

VENTRELLA: Do you think new writers who are trying to gain a following should avoid discussing controversial issues?

FEIST: There’s no one size fits all answer, I guess. Controversy might actually sell some books; I do not know. I do know that I’m a dinosaur in publishing, that how I broke in is impossible to duplicate today. Over 30% of my first sales were through independent bookstores, and we had no Amazon, on-line blogs that reviewed books, etc. It’s a different world.magician_apprentice

VENTRELLA: How much of writing do you believe is innate? In other words, do you believe there are just some people who are born storytellers but simply need to learn technique? Or can anyone become a good writer?

FEIST: There are two skills. One, writing, can be taught. Most people who got out of college can write a coherent English sentence, a report to their boss, a love-letter, a contract proposal, or any number of things that communicate clearly.

Telling a story is a whole other thing. I can maybe help a young writer learn how to tell a story, but I can’t teach them if that makes sense. You either have the knack or you don’t.  If you have even the tiniest bit of the knack, then you can learn to improve on it. If you have no knack, then it’s hopeless. It’s like that guy everyone knows who just can not tell a joke, no matter how he tries.

VENTRELLA: Do you think it is important to start by trying to sell short stories or should a beginning author jump right in with a novel?

FEIST: Is there even a short story market today? Back in the pulp days you could pay the rent at a penny a word, which is why so many writers from the 1930s to 1960s did both. But short fiction and novels are two different critters with entirely different structure rules. at-the-gates-of-darknessSome of us can’t do one or the other. Me, I can do both, but I’m far more comfortable with novels. Short stories are much harder for me to do.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on self-publishing, especially for a beginning writer?

FEIST: I have none. I am 100% ignorant of the self-publishing reality now. When I broke in there were vanity presses, people who would print your book and send them to you and a lot of unhappy wannabe writers had garages full of books no one would buy. Today, I really know nothing about self-publishing, because I’ve never not been published by a traditional house. As of two years ago, I am HarperCollins’ senior writer.  They have books in print before MAGICIAN, but none by a currently published author.  I’ve never had a book go out of print in English, so I’ve never been interested in spending time learning about self-publishing.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best advice you would give to a starting writer that they probably haven’t already heard?

FEIST: Butt in seat, fingers on the keyboard, or pen in hand, or pencil and yellow legal tablet, whatever. Write. Keep writing until you get good. If you stop, you’re not a writer.


My 2017 Balticon Schedule

I’ll be at Balticon soon (Memorial Day weekend) along with some great authors including Eric Flint,  Catherine Asaro, Charles Gannon, Mark Van Name —  not to mention three authors who are in the Baker Streets Irregulars book: Keith R.A. DeCandido,  Gail Z. Martin, and Hildy Silverman! (The full list is here).

Here’s a picture of me being hit over the head by George R.R. Martin at last year’s Balticon.  (If you want to know why, click here).


Anyway, here’s my schedule (always subject to change):

Opening Ceremonies (Friday 8:00): Meet the Guests of Honor and hang out with the pros!

Freelancing in the Publishing Industry (Saturday 11:00): what kinds of opportunities are available for authors looking to publish? With Mike VanHelder

Harry Potter and the World of Fan Communities (Saturday 12:00): The universe of Harry Potter has one of the largest and most robust online fan communities ever – writing fiction, engaging in online roleplaying, blogging and sharing quizzes and media.  Was it just in the right place at the right time, or are there traits it has that inspire fans (and can be appropriated by other authors & worldbuilders)? With Oni Hartstein, Holli Mintzer, and L.G. Ransom. 

Autograph Session (Saturday 3:00): I’ll sign anything! Anything, I tell you!

Social Media Promotion Without Being Obnoxious (Sunday 12:00): Promoting yourself these days is a requirement for any writer. How can you do so without alienating everyone? With Melissa Hayden, Nathan Lowell, Hildy Silverman, and Jean Marie Ward.

Reading (Sunday 1:00): Come hear me read stuff.

Pacing the Novel (Sunday 6:00): How to make sure the pacing of your novel works. With Paul E. Cooley, Gail Z. Martin, Ken Schrader, and Fran Wilde.

Fiction Writing for Gamemasters (Monday 12:00): How to turn your ideas into books, games, and both. With Phil Kahn, Chris Lester, Mike McPhail, and Robert Waters 





My 2017 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 Mercedes Lackey! Other guests include Chuck Gannon, Philippa Ballantine, Tee Morris, Jack McDevitt, Bud Sparhawk, and me (among many others!)  Here’s where you can find me:


Opening Ceremony (Friday 7 pm) Wherein guests are introduced and Mike Pederson tells some bad jokes

What Rules to Break and Which Don’t Apply (Friday 9 pm): Many new authors have heard the rules: One POV per scene, don’t use adverbs, limit the POVs to no more than three per story. These “rules” have been taught for over a hundred years, but who came up with them and do they still apply to the modern reader? With Nicole Givens Kurtz, Kelly Lockhart, and Melissa McArthur

The Dystopia is Already Here; It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed (Friday 10 pm): Unable to change abortion laws that have already been decided upon by the Supreme Court at the federal level, many state legislatures have gotten laws approved that effectively ban abortions by curtailing various freedoms for “medical” reasons. Protections for voting rights have eroded in a similar manner, at the state level. While dystopian literature has all but taken over the field of Young Adult SF, the resolutions offered by these narratives are often violent. How could SF/F predict more realistic/more feminist ways to combat local hostile governments? With Nancy Northcott, Carolyn O’Neal, and Gray Rinehart 

Time Travel in Literature (Saturday 1 pm): Many books include time travel, some more successfully than others. How does time travel affect plot lines and history in different ways in different books? What are some of the more creative uses of time travel and ways around the paradoxes? With Lou Antonelli, Darin Kennedy, and Steve White 

Ethics Behind the Story: Moral Dilemmas In SFF (Saturday 2 pm): Science fiction as a genre is rife with future ethical issues. Fantasy is all about the moral choices of heroes and villains. Learn about ethical dilemma, receive a brief overview of Western ethical philosophy including the diverse approaches to resolving moral dilemmas, and discuss what important moral issues we will face in the future. With Charity Ayres and Fabian Rush

Pre-Judging for the Masquerade (Saturday 6 pm): In which I give a pep talk and advise the masquerade participants in how to present themselves for the judges and the audience.

Reading (Saturday 9:25 pm):  I’ll be reading something (audience choice)!

Signing (Sunday 10 am) I’ll be signing anything anyone wants me to sign (preferably my books)


Zombiepalooza radio recently did a five-hour show (!) dedicated to my latest anthology BAKER STREET IRREGULARS. It was great fun, and we took in questions from viewers and had a lot of laughs.

I was the main guest for the first hour, but I stuck around for the entire thing since I was the co-editor of the book. Every hour would be another guest author: First there was Jim Avelli, then Keith DeCandido, Jody Lynn Nye, and Ryk Spoor.

We discussed Sherlock, writing, talent, and many other things, with lots of advice for writers (based on what the authors interviewed said they did to prepare a story).

Please check it out!

My Lunacon 2017 Schedule

Another convention, a week after the last. It’s been a busy month — and now it’s time for Lunacon, featuring Guests of Honor Ben Bova and Bob Eggleton.logo_lunacon

Here’s my schedule:

What Makes it Go, Besides Steam? (Friday 8:30): How do you effectively develop the historical setting for a steam-billowing plot? Research? Reading? Imagination? Exploration? Steampunk writers discuss their methods for determining the time, the place, and the brass to make it all work. With Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Russell J. Handelman.

Writing Social Change in SF (Saturday 2:00): This panel explores how speculative fiction can present the social, environmental and political challenges of our society. What is the best way to discuss these challenges without alienating readers? Is it our responsibility as artists to incorporate these issues in our work, whether overtly or covertly? How can we avoid prejudices and stereotypes in our work? With Marcy Arlin, Richard Herr, and Matthew Kressel.

Sherlock Holmes, From Page to Stage to Screen (Saturday 5:00): A discussion of Sherlock Holmes in all the myriad forms that have come from the works of one man. From stage to screen to games to LARPs and beyond. With Ef Deal, Russell J. Handelman, Debra Lieven, and Terence Taylor.

Masquerade (Saturday 8:00): The annual costume competition, in which I will be hosting (again)! Judges will be Bob Eggleton, Marianne Plumridge, Roberta Rogow, and Carol Salemi. Here’s a video of last year’s Masquerade:

Reading (Sunday 12:30): I’ll be reading from either Bloodsuckers or the short story “Remembering the Future” from Tales of Fortannis: A Bard Act to Follow (audience choice).

Edit Me (Sunday 1:00): Editors chat about today’s and tomorrows challenges in editing genre works. With Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Neil Clarke, Elektra Hammond, Gordon Linzner, and Ian Randal Strock.

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