My Balticon 2023 Schedule

Balticon is the annual literary science fiction convention that I always try to attend. It’s Memorial Day weekend, and this year, they’re keeping me real busy on panels! If not on a panel, you’ll probably find me at the Fantastic Books table in the dealer’s room.

I’m looking forward to finally meeting John Scalzi there — I have all his books!

Anyway, here’s my schedule:

So you Want to Be a Writer? (Friday 4 pm): Joshua Bilmes (moderator), Monica Louzon, Ian Randal Strock, Michael A. Ventrella. How does a would-be writer become a published author? What are the steps to improve your writing and produce publishable work? Should you start with short stories or a novel? Do you need an agent (and how can you get one). Published writers tell how they broke in and how you can learn from their example.

Reading (Saturday 10 am): Michael A. Ventrella. I’ll probably read my short story from the “Eye of Argon” anthology

They Banned my Book (Saturday 11:30 am): AD Boorman (moderator), Shahid Mahmud, Elektra Hammond, Martin Berman-Gorvine, Michael A. Ventrella. Books are being banned in libraries and schools. Have you had to deal with an attempt to ban or censor a book? What did you do? Why are we seeing more attempts to ban/censor books? Is there ever a good reason to ban/censor?

As You Know, Bob (Saturday 1:00 pm): Michael A. Ventrella (moderator), Ann Chatham, Alan Smale, Aaron M. Roth, David Keener. Science Fiction and Fantasy frequently has an enormous amount of backstory that needs to be conveyed to the reader. How can writers share this backstory without having one character explain to another something they both should already know, with an “As you know, Bob”? How can the writer avoid long paragraphs of background? And how do readers learn to accept things that don’t make sense at first and trust the author to fill it in?

Limits on YA (Saturday 5:30 pm): Michael M. Jones, A. L. Kaplan, Dr. Jim Thorne, Michael A. Ventrella. There is often a problem with defining YA and it often boils down to whatever the publisher declares is YA. But are there limits to YA? Is there anything that cannot be included in YA or whose presence makes the book not YA?

A Little Laughter is a Serious Thing (Sunday 11:30 am): Randee Dawn (moderator), Alex Shvartsman, Michael M. Jones, Mary G. Thompson, Michael A. Ventrella. Many serious books/tv/movies still add some humor, especially in dialogue. How much humor can you include before it looks like you are trying for the next Hitchiker’s Guide? Can humor be distracting? What books/tv/films get it right and what ones don’t?

Do Alternate Histories Still Need Turning Points? (Sunday 5:30 pm): Walt Boyes (moderator), Martin Berman-Gorvine, Jim Beall, Roberta Rogow, Jack Campbell, Michael A. Ventrella. It used to be that authors of alternate history invented a turning point (point of divergence) and everything logically followed from that change. Is this still necessary? Can an author just say what if the Romans discovered America or what if the South won the civil war and just go on with the story? What is gained and lost in such an approach?

Here are some pictures from previous Balticons. Click to enlarge.

Writers! A FREE Conference!

I started the Pocono Writers Conference quite a few years ago, and though we shut down a few years for COVID, we’re back! There are still open slots as I write this!

We’re back! You can now sign up for the 2023 Conference at this link.


9:00: Check in

9:30: MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Introductions

9:45: HILDY SILVERMAN“What Editors Look For”: With so many submissions to sift through, what can a writer do to elevate their work above the rest? Surprisingly, including a few simple things can leapfrog your tale ahead of half your competition immediately. Hildy will share what these are, and provide additional tips to help improve the likelihood of your story making the cut.

11:00: MARIE LAMBA“How to Revise Your Novel for Submission: Self-Editing Techniques that Work”: Finishing the first draft of a novel is a major accomplishment, but that’s just the beginning of a writer’s work. The next step is to do a thorough revision, shaping that novel into its very best form. Top-notch revision skills are an important part of a writer’s toolkit, especially now that agents and editors expect manuscripts to be well-polished. But revising a long work of fiction can be daunting. Where do you begin? How do you decide what’s working and what isn’t? And how, exactly, should you go about fixing things?

12:00: Lunch (not provided, but there are lots of places nearby or you can bring your own)

1:00: LAQUETTE: GMC 360º”: Fiction writers are often trained to use goal, motivation, and conflict to build three-dimensional characters. While this is a great use of GMC that should be encouraged, it’s not the only way to use it. We’ll explore how understanding your characters’ GMC, and strategically using it at key points within the manuscript, can help you create profound emotional arcs full of compelling full-circle moments that heighten tension and increase chemistry between your characters.

2:15: TEEL JAMES GLENN: “Character and Conflict, or How to build a better beating”: Since the first storyteller sat around a campfire spinning tales of gods and heroes, it has been a given that a little action makes a mildly interesting story into a real grabber. Since the fight has to serve the purpose of the story you have to use the same criteria as any journalistic or dramatic story. Ask yourself, ‘is this fight necessary?’ Who, why, how and when to add action to your story. This session will offer insight into when it is the right choice to have a violent scene and what and how the participants would fight. And more importantly—how those choices reveal character to the reader.

3:30: MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Panel Discussion and Question and Answer session with all panelists

Admission is free but seating is limited. Please only sign up if you are sure you will be attending. If you later discover you cannot attend, please delete your reservation so there will be enough room for everyone. Do not reserve space for anyone other than yourself — if there is more than one reservation under your name, the extra ones will be deleted.



Each of the participants are holding smaller sessions during the presentations where you can get individual critiques and comments.

These sessions are $20 each. You can sign up for as many as you want but you must pre-register because space is limited. Please note that by signing up for these personal sessions, you will miss some of the other presentations.

The panelists will contact you by email prior to the session to discuss writing samples and other requirements.

9:45: Laquette

11:00: Teel James Glenn

1:00: Hildy Silverman

2:15: Marie Lamba



Teel James Glenn has traveled the world as a stuntman, fight choreographer, swordmaster, illustrator, storyteller, bodyguard, and actor and puts all of that life experience in his fiction writing. He’s taught writing, acting, art and stage combat for several decades in the states and abroad in Canada and Germany. He has also presented seminars on writing action, weapons and historical combat at Deadly Ink, C3 Conference, Liberty State Fiction Writers, Stoker Con, and dozens of writer and media conventions. His writing has been in over two hundred magazines including Weird Tales, Mad, Space & Time, Black Belt, Sherlock Holmes Mystery, Silver Blade Quarterly, Mystery Weekly and Cirsova. His novel “Cowboy in Carapathia: a Bob Howard Adventure was the winner of the 2021 Pulp Ark Award for Best Novel, and its sequel “The Cowboy and the Conqueror,” is a finalist for the 2023 award. He is also the recipient of the 2013 Pulp Ark Award for Best Author and a Derringer mystery finalist. Website:

Marie Lamba is author of the young adult novels What I Meant… (Random House), Over My Head and Drawn, and of the picture books Green, Green (Farrar Straus Giroux) and A Day So Gray (Clarion). Her articles appear in more than 100 publications and is a frequent contributor to Writer’s Digest. She has worked as an editor, an award-winning public relations writer, and a book publicist, and has taught classes on novel writing and on author promotion. As an agent with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York, Marie is currently looking for young adult and middle grade fiction, along with general and women’s fiction and some memoir. She is also open to submissions from picture book authors or illustrators who are already established, or whose work she has requested through conferences. Marie is also open to non-fiction submissions for all age categories. For more details and her submission guidelines, please visit:

LaQuette writes sexy, stylish, and sensational romance. That means she writes sentimental and steamy stories (like Hallmark movies, but with lots of sex) featuring at least one main character who always keeps it cute. This Brooklyn native writes unapologetically bold, character-driven stories. Her novels feature diverse ensemble casts who are confident in their right to appear on the page. If she’s not writing, she’s probably trying on or looking for her next great makeup find. Contact her at

Hildy Silverman  writes in multiple genres, including science fiction, fantasy, horror and blends thereof. In 2020, she joined the Crazy 8 Press authors collective (, which publishes novels and anthologies by its membership. In 2013, her short story, The Six Million Dollar Mermaid, which appeared in the anthology “Mermaids 13: Tales from the Sea” (French, ed.), was a finalist for the WSFA Small Press Award. In 2005, she became the publisher and editor-in-chief of Space and Time Magazine (, one of the oldest small press genre magazines still in production, and ran it until 2018. She is a past president of the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers and a frequent panelist on the science fiction convention circuit. For more information about Hildy, including a complete list of her published work, please visit

Michael A. Ventrella is a Stroudsburg writer with five novels so far, including Big Stick and Bloodsuckers: A Vampire Runs for President. He’s edited a dozen anthologies, including the Baker Street Irregulars anthologies (co-edited with New York Times Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry); Three Time Travelers Walk Into…, and Release the Virgins. His short stories have appeared in other anthologies and magazines. He’s also written nonfiction books about the US Constitution, The Beatles, and the Monkees. At his web page (, he interviews authors and editors and gives advice for the starting writer. In his spare time, he is a lawyer.

My Heliosphere 2023 schedule

Heliosphere is a nice little convention held in New Jersey every year. I always enjoy attending. This year it is on the weekend of April 28th.

I was originally going to be at Ravencon in Richmond this upcoming weekend (April 21) but my wife’s health is preventing that, sadly. (In case you’re not aware of my award-winning artist wife Heidi Hooper, who makes art out of dryer lint and is nationally famous for it, check out her web page). Heidi was the Artist Guest of Honor at a previous Heliosphere, but I will be attending this one on my own, since it’s not far from home and I can rush home if need be.

The guests of honor this year are all friends of mine! There’s husband-and-wife writing team Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (both of whom I have edited in the anthology RELEASE THE VIRGINS). Then there’s Charles Gannon and David Mattingly!

Anyway, here’s my schedule:

The Biggest Mistakes Made by New Authors (Friday 3:30). With Ef Deal (Moderator), Keith DeCandido, Mike McPhail, Lori Perkins, Ian Strock, and Michael Ventrella.

So You Want to be in an Anthology (Friday 5:00). With Michael Ventrella (Moderator), Keith R.A. DeCandido, Mike McPhail, Darrell Schweitzer, and Ann Stolinsky.

In Conversation with David Mattingly (Saturday 2:30). With Michael Ventrella (Moderator), David Mattingly, Sharon Lee, and Steve Miller.

What are Editors Looking For? (Saturday 4:00) With Ef Deal (Moderator), Neil Clarke, Ian Strock, Ann Stolinsky, and Michael Ventrella.

The Eye of Argon (Saturday 11:00) With Michael Ventrella (Moderator), Keith DeCandido, and Ian Strock.

Through the Door (Sunday 10:00) With Kathryn Sullivan (Moderator), Chuck Gannon, Michael Ventrella, Elektra Hammond, Bjorn Hasseler, and Michael Ventrella.

Cut the Boring Parts (Sunday 2:30) With Elektra Hammond (Moderator), Keith DeCandido, Sharon Lee, Aaron Rosenberg, Ann Stolinsky, and Michael Ventrella.

Here’s a few pictures from previous Heliospheres! (Click on a picture to enlarge it.)

The Beatles on the Charts

My book about The Beatles has been published by McFarland and you can order your copy now!

For this nonfiction book, I went through every Billboard magazine album and single chart since 1964 and kept track of which albums and songs appeared where on the charts for The Beatles as well as in their solo careers. I then assigned points: 100 for a song at #1 down to 1 point for a song at #100. The higher a song or album got on the chart and the longer it stayed on the chart, the more points.

I then count them down! Each entry has a picture of the album or single sleeve, details about its release date and highest position, and a short essay on each examining why it was or was not successful (as well as giving some interesting trivia info). There were 162 singles and 164 albums that made the charts, and you may be surprised at where some of your favorites have ended up.

Then there is an introductory chapter, a chapter explaining how the charts work and have changed over the years, a complete discography, and much more that every Beatles fan will want.

Below are some blurbs from prominent Beatles authors (There are more at this link.)

“For the U.S. Beatles narrative since 1964 the group’s Billboard chart performance has served as an instant thumbnail guide to their powerful popular culture presence….Michael A. Ventrella deftly takes the story through multiple iterations of chart rules and statistics to reveal successes deep into the solo years. This is an impressive guidebook to nearly six decades of Beatles music.” ― Walter J. Podrazik, co-author All Together Now: The First Complete Beatles Discography

The Beatles on the Charts is a different and entertaining way of looking at the chart success that the Beatles had and continue to have.” ― Bruce Spizer, Beatles author/historian

“Ventrella’s insights, plus his ranking system give the familiar singles and albums a decidedly unique twist and is a fun read for both novice and expert Beatles fans alike.” ― Mark Arnold, author of Mark Arnold Picks on the Beatles

The Beatles on the Charts checks all the boxes. It’s a fun read, ridiculously well-researched, and presents information―specifically how and why they charted―in a completely new way…this book will rank high on your charts.” ― Charles Rosenay, author of The Book of Beatles Top Ten Lists; Beatles festival producer

The Beatles on the Charts not only provides invaluable information, but is written in an engaging, often humorous tone. Fans and scholars will find this book a vital addition to the growing body of Beatles research.” ― Kit O’TooleSongs We Were Singing: Guided Tours through The Beatles’ Lesser-Known Tracks

Here are some sample pages!

Excellent review from Asimov’s

I had to share this new review of my anthology THREE TIME TRAVELERS WALK INTO… I’m thrilled!

Edited by Michael A. Ventrella
Fantastic Books, $16.99
ISBN: 978-1-5154-4778-8

The title sums up the premise of this entertaining anthology: in each story, a group of time travelers from different eras meet—either on purpose or accidentally—and therein lies the tale. Ventrella has brought together eighteen authors, including Jody Lynn Nye, Allen Steele, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Gail Z. Martin, David Gerrold, Peter David, and Hildy Silverman, among others.

The stories take every imaginable angle on the premise, which—despite sounding like just the setup for a wacky joke—offers plenty of scope for writers who want to take a more serious tack. As one might expect, the time travelers cover almost the entire scope of our history. Ventrella notes, in a witty introduction to the collection, that some of the most popular characters in the submitted stories were Joan of Arc, Cleopatra, Shakespeare, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Austen, and Mark Twain. The finished volume includes none of those, but the roster of those included is distinguished enough.

Some of the stories bring together characters with similar fields of expertise—for example, Gail Martin’s “The Mystic Lamb” assembles Edgar Cayce, Maggie Fox, Harry Houdini, and Nicola Tesla to explore questions related to spiritualism and extrasensory perception. In “A Christmas Prelude,” Peter David goes against the grain to assemble fictional rather than historical characters—Don Quixote, Ali Baba, and Mephistopheles—to deliver a life-altering message to another fictional character who will be familiar to all. In “The Adventure of the Confounded Writer,” Arthur Conan Doyle, H.G. Wells, and Ed McBain are brought together to alter history for the better. And one writer—no spoilers here—gives a younger version of himself a chance to alter history after meeting two of his mentors and the version of himself who has lived through our history—a tour de force of time-travel twists and turns.

All in all, this is a highly entertaining volume based on a classic SF theme. It would have been interesting to see what editor Ventrella—himself a widely published author of short fiction and novels—might have contributed, given the rich possibilities of his premise. Bet it would have been good! He deserves kudos for this thoroughly readable collection. Recommended.

Copyright © 2023 Peter Heck

Interview with Author Brian Trent

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I’m pleased to be interviewing Brian Trent. Brian is the award-winning author of the sci-fi thrillers REDSPACE RISING and TEN THOUSAND THUNDERS. He’s published more than a hundred short stories in the world’s top fiction markets, including in the New York Times’ bestselling Black Tide Rising series, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Galaxy’s Edge, and numerous year’s best anthologies. Trent lives in a tiny mountaintop town in Connecticut. His website and blog are at If you’ve read my anthology RELEASE THE VIRGINS, you’ll be familiar with his work!

Brian, first tell us about your latest work!

BRIAN TRENT: REDSPACE RISING is set in a distant future where people can upload their minds at Save clinics, and download them into new bodies at a whim. Death is a passing inconvenience. Your memories, desires, dreams and fears are stored for easy retrieval.

In that future, Harris Alexander Pope is the man who ended the Partisan War on Mars. All he seeks now is solitude and a return to the life that was stolen from him. Yet when he learns that the worst war criminals are hiding in other bodies, he’s forced into an interplanetary pursuit. Teaming up with other survivors eager for their own brand of vengeance, Harris begins to suspect a darker truth:

Maybe what he remembers about the war isn’t what happened at all.

REDSPACE RISING is a futuristic thriller that explores questions of memory and identity. It’s set on a Mars that has come under control of a fanatical political regime which has dialed up the worst traits of nationalism to a planetary scale, and which uses propaganda in truly insidious ways. I was inspired to write it after hearing my grandfather’s stories of how, after World War II, British agents pursued Nazi war criminals who’d escaped the Nuremberg trials and went into hiding under new identities.

Locus Magazine was kind enough to say of my book: “Once begun, Redspace Rising will grip you by the throat–like its soldier protagonist grips his many enemies–and compel you to read it all the way to its jubilant, battered conclusion. And you’ll be very grateful.”

VENTRELLA: What kinds of readers do you think would be interested in your book?  In other words, whose work do you think your book is comparable to?

TRENT: I think anyone who likes a combination of action and thoughtful drama would enjoy REDSPACE RISING. I really love world-building—it’s one of my passion as a writer—and I think the future depicted in the book is fairly unique. It’s set a thousand years from now. There’s a lot of room to be creative, and to play around with unusual technologies, when you’re operating that far into the future.

Generally speaking, I think there’s some thematic alignment with Philip K. Dick, Neal Stephenson, and William Gibson. Some reviewers have favorably compared it to The Expanse. I should say that readers who are familiar with my short fiction in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction will recognize some of the characters, but no familiarity with those stories is required to enjoy REDSPACE RISING. It stands on its own.

Also, anyone who is a history and mythology fan might enjoy this. I’m an unabashed geek for all things ancient and mythical.

VENTRELLA: Let me say to any who have not read RELEASE THE VIRGINS that Brian’s final sentence in his story is one of my favorite final sentences ever. Where did the idea for your VIRGINS story come from?

TRENT: Thank you for the compliment! Given the anthology’s theme, I figured you’d be getting lots of stories of chaste maidens and unicorns, so I wanted an idea that would stand out from the pack. One morning, I was at my local grocery store. I overheard a guy on his cellphone telling someone—in excruciating detail—all about his daily workout routine. I swiftly imagined a velociraptor slamming into him, sending him sprawling down the pasta aisle. (I generally imagine various demises for people who talk too loud on their phones in public).

On my drive home, it occurred to me that this might be the very idea I was looking for. As to how I’d justify a dinosaur being in a grocery store… well, I decided to make it the ghost of a dinosaur. We’ve had stories of Victorian ghosts and pirate ghosts. Why not a Cretaceous-era poltergeist?

I pitched the idea, and you advised me that no one else was doing a story like that. So the store, the guy, and some 65-million-year-old virgins all went into “Old Spirits.”

VENTRELLA: You’ve been fairly prolific, with quite a few stories published every year. How do you find the right markets for your stories?

TRENT: I write a lot of stories. Just by law of averages, some are hard SF, some are fantasy, some alternate history, some lurid horror. It helps to have a body of work—the more lines you cast, the likelier it is to get a bite. At any given moment, I have a half-dozen stories or so under consideration.

I strongly encourage new writers to study the markets. It’s not an exact science, but it helps you get a read on what each editor likes. I rarely write with a specific magazine in mind; it’s only later that I sort the submission schedule according to what story I think would be best received by which venue. People will often say that nuts-and-bolts sci-fi is ideally suited for Analog, for example, and there’s certainly some truth in that. But it ultimately comes down to the story and editorial preference. Study the markets. Read lots of fiction. And never dismiss editorial feedback out of hand—you’ll know when you’re getting closer to making a sale when the feedback becomes more personal and tailored. It’s always disheartening when we receive the dreaded standardized rejection letter—even now, I automatically scan for the word “Unfortunately”. It’s always a pleasure to see the word “Congratulations” instead. The better you get to know the genre and the industry, the better your odds of success are.

But sometimes there’s no way to anticipate how a story is received. I’ve been published several time at Daily Science Fiction (one of my favorite venues, which regrettably closed its doors to submissions last year) and I never had any clue which stories of mine they would buy and which ones they’d reject.

VENTRELLA: Let’s separate writing from storytelling for a minute. Writing skills can be taught, but do you think it’s possible to teach how to tell a good story, or is that just some kind of talent that not everyone has?

TRENT: That’s a really good question. The human brain is a wonder of neuroplasticity and adaptability. We’re capable of extraordinary feats of learning, and I have to believe that if you stretch your imaginative muscles neurons, most people can learn to become better storytellers.

On the other hand, I was writing stories from the moment I could get my hands on a crayon (and I know this is the case for lots of writers), so I think a case can easily be made that some of our creative natures comes genetically preloaded.

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

TRENT: Eliminate your distractions. We live in an unparalleled age of things vying for our attention. It isn’t enough to say that you should stay off your smartphone—I encourage writers to hide their phones in another room when they’re ready to sit down and write. It may gnaw at your thoughts like the One Ring, but having it literally out of reach is a big step towards being productive. I know writers who incessantly grieve how they never have time to write, while they make twenty Facebook updates daily and engage in yet another online flame war. No one will remember our hashtags a hundred years from now, but people still read Sophocles and Sappho.

The trick is to make writing a habit. You don’t have to write 11 hours a day. You don’t even need to write every day. Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? There’s a line in THE TWO TOWERS (the book) from an unusually eloquent Gimli. The dwarf catches sight of the caverns beneath Helm’s Deep, and he explains to Legolas how the children of Durin would “tend these flowering glades of stone.” As he explains: “With cautious skill, tap by tap–a small chip of work and no more, perhaps, in a whole anxious day–so we could work…”

In the same way, if you only manage to write a few hundred words, that’s okay! It’s a few hundred words closer to completion. That’s the tap of the dwarven hammer, methodically opening up new passageways. 

Need to do research? Not while you’re writing, you don’t. Research is imperative to a story’s construction but there are times to do it and times not to, and when you’re sitting at your computer facing the glacial whiteness of a blank document, that’s exactly the wrong time. “Doing research” too often becomes synonymous with procrastination. I research my stories during my off-hours, or while riding a train, or on weekends, or at libraries. When I sit down to write, I’m writing.

VENTRELLA: What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve heard people give?

TRENT: “Wait until you’re inspired.”

Waiting around for Godot or the Great Pumpkin is an incredibly self-defeating tactic. Instead, go to a museum. Hike a trail. Talk to people—especially those outside your social circle and who’ve had jobs/experiences you haven’t. Play a new game. Learn to cook a new meal. Try horseback riding or haiku. Inspiration can arrive like a thunderbolt, sure, but more often it needs to be tracked down. Even Emily Dickinson found inspiration when she interacted with the world, whether it was watching a narrow snake in the grass or watching a train lap the miles on the horizon.

I met an archaeologist at a party once. She was kind enough to indulge my questions on her profession, on what it was really like to work at a dig-site, what her average day in the field entailed. I didn’t have a story in mind at the time, but man… my imagination was crackling after talking with her. The result was my most recent story in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (“The Song of Lost Voices” in the July/August 2022 issue).New experiences, new knowledge, new places, new ideas… this is all spectacular fuel for our creative engines. If I waited around inspiration, I’d never get anything done. I’d be Jack Nicholson at the typewriter in The Shining.

VENTRELLA: What writing projects are you working on now?

TRENT: I’m working on an exciting alternate history series of books. I adore alternate history—it feels like a natural fit.

I’m also hard at work on the sequel to REDSPACE RISING, and I’ve been commissioned to write for a couple anthologies. Beyond that, I’m working on some random projects.

Readers interested in my latest news, updates and publications can check out my website and blog at

VENTRELLA: With a time machine and a universal translator, who would you invite to your dinner party?

TRENT: Thanks for including the universal translator! I’d have an eclectic soirée. Livy, Archimedes, Herodotus, and Hypatia would be guests of honor. I also have a number of democracy-related questions for Pericles, so I’d be sure he got an invitation and came prepared to debate. And it would be outstanding to hear the life story of Xenophon from Xenophon himself (in REDSPACE RISING, I named an AI after him).

The ancient navigator Zheng He would be there, too. I’d love to hear of his maritime adventures, and to get details on his extraordinary ships.

I wouldn’t need the translator for H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley, but they’d have to attend.

Lastly, I’d have Otzi the Iceman, if only to learn who murdered him and why.

And everyone would be required to bring a book that’s been lost to history. Except Otzi. He’s been through enough.

The Eye of Argon!

“The Eye of Argon,” by all rights, should have languished, a forgotten or ignored piece of amateur fantasy fiction published in a fanzine half a century ago. But it didn’t. Somehow, it was detached from those ignoble beginnings, and gained an underground cult following at science fiction conventions.

And then it grew. And the rituals involved in sharing the story grew. And now it has attained near-legendary status, sort of like the favored uncle you always seek out at family gatherings, but would be embarrassed if your real-world associates knew was related to you. Well, we’re not embarrassed, though perhaps we should be….

This book contains the original story by Jim Theis, and then adds new, hilarious contributions to the mythos from Keith R.A. DeCandido, Genevieve Iseult Eldredge, Daniel M. Kimmel, Peter Prellwitz, Hildy Silverman, Ian Randal Strock, Jean Marie Ward, and me! Jody Lynn Nye wrote the introduction, and Monica Marier did the cover and inside art.

Check it out!

Interview with Nancy Springer, award-winning author of the Enola Holmes series

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: I’m pleased to be interviewing award-winning author Nancy Springer, a lifelong professional fiction writer who has published sixty novels in genres including mythic fantasy, contemporary fiction, magical realism, and mystery — but her most popular works, no contest, are a series of short novels about Enola Holmes, Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister. The movie “Enola Holmes,” released by Netflix in 2020, has become a blockbuster, and its recently released sequel, “Enola Holmes 2” promises to be the same.

Nancy, you’ve been writing mysteries and adventures for a while before the Enola Holmes series began. What inspired the series?

NANCY SPRINGER: The answer is disappointingly mundane: an editor I worked with phoned me and suggested that, for our next project, he would like something set in “darkest London at the time of Jack the Ripper.” I thought he was bonkers, but I knew where my bread and butter came from. So I thought, and thought, and eventually it occurred to me that Sherlock Holmes lived, fictitiously, at about that time. After doing some research to confirm that my sense of date was correct, gotcha! I would write a series much like my Rowan Hood books, except Enola would be the hero’s little sister, not his daughter. I knew her name, Enola, instantly. It just sounded and felt right.

VENTRELLA: As a co-editor (with Jonathan Maberry) of two anthologies of alternate Sherlock stories, I am clearly a Sherlock fan. What was it about Sherlock that got you interested? Have you heard from other Sherlock fans who are either pleased or upset with your version?

SPRINGER: Please say hi to Jonathan Maberry for me!

I have been reading Sherlock Holmes since I was a little kid: my mother had a complete set of Conan Doyle, and I cherish it still. I have heard from many, many people who love my version, although I have no idea whether they were Sherlock fans. I did hear from one grumpy man who accused me of succeeding as a writer by riding on Conan Doyle’s coattails. Well, I’d respond to that by reminding him I was a successful writer long before I wrote Enola Holmes.

VENTRELLA: I’ve read all eight Enola books, and I notice how well researched they are concerning life in England at the time, and specifically the rules and morals young ladies are forced to follow. How did you do your research and did you vary from the actual era at any time for the plot to work?

SPRINGER: I don’t think I ever committed anachronism, or if I did, it was by mistake. I depicted the late Victorian era in London as exactly as I could.

I did my research in all the conventional ways: reading, computer searches, watching classic movies about Sherlock Holmes, visiting antique shops — at one of which I was fortunate enough to examine a whalebone corset – but also in some unconventional ways.  I ordered very grown-up coloring books about Victorian costume, Victorian houses, horse-drawn carriages, that sort of thing, and I colored them. In detail. For me, there is no better way to internalize information than by coloring. I photocopied from a costume book and colored those images, too. I ordered paper dolls of a Victorian family, and played with them. I found a venerable ledger to be my Enola Holmes “bible,” but I also used it to scrapbook my research – notes, stickers, pictures.  I immersed myself in research for months before starting the first novel, then alongside writing the books for years – I don’t know how many years, because I don’t keep track of how long I work on anything.

VENTRELLA: So let’s talk about the films. How did that arrangement come about?

SPRINGER: Mysteriously, and mostly beyond my ken. My literary agent says that it started when she got a phone call from Millie Bobby Brown’s father, although she didn’t tell me this until years later. Apparently, Millie had read the Enola Holmes books and wanted to make a movie based on them. This would have been when she was in her early teens. I have no idea of how the arrangements were managed after that, but when I found out that I had a contract, and about MBB’s part in it, I just glowed, because most of my writing had been for teens, and now a teen had given back to me in a big way. This still amazes me.

VENTRELLA: Did you have any say in the filmmaking process?

SPRINGER: I played a minor part as a consultant. I saw the scripts and made suggestions that were not always listened to, but sometimes were.

VENTRELLA: So many authors are upset with the film versions of their books, but I know you’re pleased with these (after all, they’re done wonderfully). Any complaints?

SPRINGER: Just comments, not complaints. I wish they hadn’t dressed Enola as a boy; that is such a cliché. I wish they had dressed her as a lady with weapons concealed in her corset. And in the second movie, I think Enola’s mother gives her clues that Enola could have and should have figured out on her own; she’s quite bright, you know.

VENTRELLA: Not counting your Sherlock, who is your favorite filmed Sherlock?

SPRINGER: Jeremy Brett! No contest.

VENTRELLA: What is your writing process?  Do you outline heavily or just jump right in, for instance?

SPRINGER: Neither. I don’t outline; I tried it once, and found I couldn’t write the book; all my energy had gone into the outline. So I often begin to write without knowing where the book is going. But I don’t just jump in. I wait until I have a very clear idea of the exact right way to start the book, in what place and what scene, with what words.  For me, getting this right, starting in the right place with the right scene, the right words, is critical to how the book turns out. Those first few pages generate the energy that the rest of the work depends on.

VENTRELLA: Do you find yourself creating a plot first, a character first, or a setting first?  What gets your story idea going?

SPRINGER: I suppose setting has to come first, because I need to know where my characters live. But setting is not a big deal to me; it’s just the matrix, like the canvas beneath a painting. From page one, it’s all about characters. The plot develops from what the characters do.

VENTRELLA: How did you get started?  What was your first story or book published?

SPRINGER: I started writing in 1972, because the daydreams crowding my head needed to be let out, and I wrote a 500-page novel. After a whole lot of shortening, editing, and revision, THE BOOK OF SUNS was published in 1977, but don’t go looking for it to buy it. It’s so amateur that it embarrasses me. However, after a huge overhaul, it was eventually published again in 1980, retitled THE SILVER SUN. That book I can be proud of.

VENTRELLA: What makes your fiction unique? In other words, what is it about your stories that makes them stand out against all the other similar stories out there?

SPRINGER: I think it’s that “voice” thing.  A friend of mine told me that, when they listened to my books on audio during their commute, it was as if I were sitting in the passenger seat talking to them. My erstwhile husband told me he read my books when I was away, because it made him feel I was there. Other readers have told me similar things, that reading my work makes them feel as if they know me. I am a quirky, peculiar person, with slantwise views of things, a strong voice, and good writing skills; I think the combination is what makes my fiction unique.

VENTRELLA: Any other news you can share?  Will there be a 3rd film? A 9th book? A TV series? Any of your other books being considered?

SPRINGER: If any of these things were happening, I wouldn’t be aware of it.  Negotiations might be going on, but if deals fell through, I would never know.

VENTRELLA: How much of writing 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?

SPRINGER: I’m going to answer this question obliquely by telling about something that happens when I teach classes on writing: students are usually anxious to “find their voice.” I tell them that voice is just personality on paper. I tell them to let their personality flow out of their head, down their arms, and out through their fingers, onto the paper – or, I guess, the keypad? Anyway, some are able to do this, so they could become terrific writers, right?

Nope. Sometimes students who have really and truly found their voice are just plain dull, because that’s the way they are, personally.

But if a writer doesn’t find their voice, then how can readers relate?

So, no, I don’t think everyone can become a good writer.

VENTRELLA: What’s your opinion on self-publishing?

SPRINGER: I think it could be disastrous to the future of literature. A half century ago, when I started writing, the editors were strict and the literary agents picky; these were the gatekeepers . The average “apprenticeship” between when a person began writing fiction and when they finally earned substantial money was ten years. You had to be good to get published.  Yes, some bad books slipped through, but overall a high standard was upheld. Many, if not most, published writers aspired to literary greatness.

Compare that to now, when many, if not most, seem to aspire only to quick, sloppy publication. 

I have read self-published fiction that was dreadful. And I have read self-published fiction that would have been good if it were not for novice mistakes that made it barely readable, but would have been caught during a corrective process of learning the craft.  Nothing that I have read makes me respect self-publishing.

VENTRELLA: What’s the worst piece of writing advice you ever got?

SPRINGER: My former literary agent told me I should keep on writing fantasy if I wanted to succeed.

VENTRELLA: What’s the best piece of writing advice you ever got?

SPRINGER: I can’t think of any good advice about the business, but there’s this: you know how the music swells at the emotional moments in a movie? My first editor coached me to do something like that in my novel by polishing and lengthening the best parts, giving the reader more time to savor while reading them.

VENTRELLA: What advice would you give to a starting writer that you wish someone had given to you?

SPRINGER: Don’t piss off an editor. Remember, they might serve on an awards committee.

VENTRELLA: What are the pros and cons of being a full-time professional fiction writer?

SPRINGER: Cons: you are lonely, with no co-workers or workaday social contacts. You find that only a very few people in your life understand or care about what you do. You make little money, you have no health insurance so you have to pay full price for doctor visits and prescription medicine.  Your income tax payment is even more ridiculous than most people’s, because you don’t have an employer to pay part of your social security.

Pros: you don’t have to punch a time card or dress in work clothes. You can stay in your pajamas all day if you want to. You have a perfect excuse for getting out of anything you don’t want to do: “Must write, the deadline’s tomorrow.” Moreover, you actually love your work. You have the pleasure of perfecting your craft. You get to live in dreamland much of the time. You have the marvelous job of turning trauma into beauty.

My Philcon 2022 Schedule

It’s time for Philcon, Philadelphia’s oldest literary convention. It’s in New Jersey.  (Look, it was cheaper, okay?)

This year’s Guest of Honor is my good friend Keith DeCandido! Keith even asked me to write his introduction for the program book, and let’s hope he’ll still be my friend after he reads it! (Joke! That’s a joke!)

I’ve been a guest at Philcon for years, and it’s always great to go back there and see so many of my friends. This year’s event will be on the weekend of November 18-20.

Here’s my schedule:

The Lure of Secret History (Friday 8 pm) with Darrell SchweitzerElektra HammondChuck RothmanMichael A. VentrellaJean Marie Ward: We all love to be in on the secret, and sometimes magical explanation of what really happened, and why. We’ll talk about secret histories such as Tim Powers’s The Anubis Gates and Tom Doyle’s American Craftsmen series.

The Eye of Argon: The Play! (Friday 9 pm) with Michael A. Ventrella (moderator)Ian Randal StrockKeith R.A. DeCandidoGregory FrostPeter PrellwitzHildy SilvermanJean Marie Ward: This performance of the adventures of Grignr the Barbarian is drawn from The Eye of Argon by Jim Theis. It’s the world’s worst fantasy story, acted out by a bunch of non-actors who haven’t practiced. Should be hilarious!

Magic Systems and How to Use Them (Saturday noon) with Michael A. Ventrella (moderator)Dee CarterElektra HammondAaron RosenbergMichelle D. Sonnier: Brandon Sanderson’s concept of Hard vs. Soft Magic Systems is one way to look at how magic works in fantasy fiction. Others look at the source of the magic, from supernatural beings to rituals to the elements.  When should details be included and when can the author handwave?

My First Time (Getting Published) (Saturday 3 pm) with Michael A. Ventrella (moderator)Christine NorrisJennifer PoveyAnn StolinskyEric Blair: Your name! In print! Next to a story you wrote! OK, you might not have gotten paid much (if at all), but every writer has a story of how they managed to get their first story published (or first novel), and what it was like to see their words shared with the universe. Let’s get some authors together to talk about that process, what advice they have for up-and-comers, and what outlets are friendliest to the new (and often unagented) writer.

Separating the Art from the Artist (Saturday 5 pm) with Lisa HertelMichael A. VentrellaJeffWarnerCharles Urbach: Is it OK to like an artist’s work while finding the maker objectionable or even worse? Wil Wheaton posted a lively defense of doing so — in part, as he notes, because the work may be made up of so many other creatives aside from the problematic maker. Is this theory put to the test when the artist is an author? 

Foundations of Worldbuilding: Past Political Tensions and Turmoil (Saturday 8 pm) with Michael A. Ventrella (moderator)Dee CarterIan Randal StrockStorm HumbertSimone Zelitch: How does the history between the countries in your story shape the present of your world? When was the last time anyone declared war, and why? Are those old conflicts truly healed, or do the wounds still fester?

Autographs (Sunday 10 am) with Kathryn SullivanMichael A. Ventrella: Signing anything you want to put in front of us (except contracts in blood).

Reading (Sunday 11 am) with Michael A. Ventrella: Reading a short story probably

Meet the Editors! (Sunday noon) with Michael A. Ventrella (moderator)Ian Randal StrockNeil ClarkeMargaret RileyAnn Stolinsky: Magazine and small press editors discuss what goes into creating their publications, from the economics of staying viable in the electronic age to getting appropriate submissions.


Interview with author and editor Alex Shvartsman

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I’m pleased to be interviewing Alex Shvartsman. Alex is a writer, translator, and anthologist from Brooklyn, NY. Over 120 of his short stories have appeared in Analog, Nature, Strange Horizons, and many other venues. His website is If you’ve read my anthology RELEASE THE VIRGINS, you’ll be familiar with his work!

Alex, how did you get your start in the writing business?

ALEX SHVARTSMAN: I’ve been an avid reader since early childhood, but my family emigrated from Ukraine to the United States when I was a teenager and I never believed my English would be good enough to write books. So I didn’t start until I was well into my thirties. I didn’t know a single writer, or anything about the business side of things, so I decided to just write short stories and see if any magazine will buy them as the means of figuring out whether I could write publishable fiction. I was both surprised and elated when those stories began selling, and I never looked back!

VENTRELLA: You began the “UFO” series to feature humorous science fiction and fantasy stories and it’s been quite successful. Tell us about that. What kinds of stories are you looking for? What advice can you give someone who may want to submit?

SHVARTSMAN: I wanted to create a pro-paying market for humorous SF/F. There’s never enough of it being published, and most other humorous anthologies are themed. UFO was meant to feature all kinds of humor, and to give new writers an opportunity to have their work showcased alongside the genre’s greats. About half of each volume’s contents is purchased through slush and I often publish newer authors, sometimes UFO is even their first-ever sale!

we’re specifically a humor publication, it’s important that your story’s voice stands out. Make me smile and hold my attention with your first couple of paragraphs to get me to keep reading!

VENTRELLA: Your latest novel has received excellent reviews. Tell us about it (and why we want to read it!) What was the inspiration for the story?

SHVARTSMAN: THE MIDDLING AFFLICTION is the first book in the Conradverse Chronicles urban fantasy series. My elevator pitch for these books is “The Dresden Files meets American Gods in Brooklyn” and the story follows Conrad Brent, who is part of an organization that protects the people of NYC from monsters and malevolent magic users, except he has a secret he keeps even from his friends and allies: he has no magic of his own, relying on artifacts and his wits to keep up with the arcane practitioners. To quote my own book, in the world of magical superheroes and supervillains, he’s Batman. Except he has no batcave, billions of dollars, or even a butler.

You can read the first chapter here to see if you might like it.

VENTRELLA: What kinds of readers do you think would be interested in your book?  In other words, whose work do you think your book is comparable to?

SHVARTSMAN: When my first Conrad Brent short stories were published, so many people rushed to make the comparison between him and Harry Dresden, and I often stick to that comparison as shorthand. Except, I’d never read any Jim Butcher when I wrote those stories, and have only read the first Dresden novel since then. Rather, I was inspired by Simon R. Green’s Nightside books and Mike Resnick’s urban fantasy titles. It was a huge honor for me that Simon wrote a cover blurb for The Middling Affliction. I’d like to think that any fans of Green or Resnick would dig my writing as well.

VENTRELLA: One thing writers sometimes fail to understand is how important connections matter in getting into the business. Can you give examples of how that has worked with you?

SHVARTSMAN: When I started out, I had none, so you can absolutely make it without connections if your writing is good. Especially today, when you can submit stories and novels digitally from anywhere in the world. However, I’d be naïve not to recognize that connections matter and can greatly help you. I’ve had editors I met at conventions solicit short stories from me. My current novel series is being published by Caezik SF&F, and I met the publisher and his staff at events and became friends with them there. I’ve been on many panels with my current agent Joshua Bilmes so he knew me and I pitched him an idea at a convention, so I never went through the soul-crushing querying process to land an agent. If you can go to conventions and interact with industry folks in person, do it. But if you can’t, don’t assume the gates are closed to you. I never even met a real-life science fiction writer, let alone editor, until after I’ve had numerous short stories published.

VENTRELLA: We’ve discussed putting humor into fiction before. What is the best way to use humor in a fictional story? And is that the same thing as writing comedy?

SHVARTSMAN: Humor is a great way to release tension, and you can use it in any story or book, not just an outright comedy. Writing comedy is hard, but certainly not impossible. Are you funny in real life? Ever crack a joke that made a bunch of friends you were hanging out with laugh? Steal from yourself! Write this down and have your character (or narrator) use that line! I once wrote a guide for introducing humor into your writing, and although it was written years ago, it’s still valid. Check it out here.

VENTRELLA: Which authors do you think best handle writing humor?

SHVARTSMAN: The easy answer is, just look at the table of contents of any UFO volume! I try to get the really funny writers into my anthologies, though it’s not always possible. Some of the funniest authors I’d love to include in UFO someday are John Scalzi, Gail Carriger, and Connie Willis.

VENTRELLA: Did you have any training to be a writer and do you think that is necessary?

SHVARTSMAN: I don’t — and I don’t. I’m an award-winning writer, an editor of well over a dozen anthologies, and a professional translator. All of those roles are self-taught. I have no MFA, no framed piece of paper permitting me to engage in any of those endeavors. Which is not to say that one doesn’t have to learn. I’m still learning. I’m getting better at it with every page I write or edit or translate. There are great many ways to improve as a writer. I suggest attending a workshop such as Clarion or Viable Paradise if your schedule and finances permit this. Otherwise, join an online or an in-person writing group, find other writers who are on the same stage in their journey as you are, and level up together.

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

SHVARTSMAN: Start out by writing short stories. It’s a great way to train your writing “muscles” and you get to try out different voices, tones, and methods of storytelling. And if your story doesn’t sell, at least it’s not a novel you may have poured months or even years of effort into. Short form will also teach you to write concise prose, which is a valuable skill.

VENTRELLA: What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve heard people give?

SHVARTSMAN: “Never open a story with a line of dialog.” This bit of nonsense is actual “advice” I got from a self-styled “expert” on an internet-based critique forum when I was just starting out.

There are a lot of people out there handing out advice or even trying to sell it who really don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s always a good idea to check the bona fides of anyone offering writing advice, to see if they ever managed to leverage their own wisdom into a sort of career you might like to emulate.

VENTRELLA: What writing projects are you working on now?

KAKISTOCRACY, book 2 of the Conradverse Chronicles, is with the publisher. I have a few short stories I need to write for anthologies; I still love doing those because themed anthologies generate fresh ideas for me, and nothing focuses quite like a deadline! After that, I will move on to writing book 3, tentatively titled Kings and Queens.

Click here to read an earlier interview with Alex

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