My Ravencon 2022 Schedule

from a previous Ravencon

I’ll be back to my original home town Richmond for Ravencon on the weekend of April 29th through May 1st. The Guest of Honor is Terry Brooks.

 Here’s my schedule:

Panels From Hell (Friday 6 pm): Okay, you’re on a panel and the person next to you does –(?), an audience member says –(?), the room starts shrinking, or a three-headed demonic creature starts a tap dancing routine while you’re doing a reading—so what do you do? Come and hear real life horror stories that will curl your toes. Panelists: R.S. Belcher, Wayland Smith (M), Bud Sparhawk, Michael A. Ventrella

The Best Animated Movies Ever (Friday 10 pm): Everybody has their favorites. Maybe it’s a Disney classic,
maybe it’s something by Ralph Bakshi, but we know it’s probably a Studio Ghibli movie. Panelists: Roger Carden, James Deeley, Michael A. Ventrella (M)

Getting the Law Right in Fiction (Saturday noon): Getting the law right in fiction is tricky. Our panel of law experts will answer any questions you have about fictional interactions with the legal system. Panelists: Jim Stratton, Michael A. Ventrella (M), Steve White

Reading (Saturday 2 pm): Panelist: Michael A. Ventrella

What are Sensitivity Readers (Saturday 4 pm):  Sensitivity readers are a subset of beta readers who review unpublished manuscripts with the express purpose of spotting cultural inaccuracies, representation issues, bias, stereotypes, or problematic language. We’ll discuss their importance as well as how best to work with them. Panelists: Dr. J. “Cal” Baldari, Sandra Baldari, C. McDonnell, Michael A. Ventrella (M)

How Will Future Generations View Harry Potter? (Saturday 8 pm): Will Harry Potter be a classic tale for future generations or has it just been a product of the media and promotional circus surrounding it? (And, y’know, the other stuff…) Panelists: Alexander G.R. Gideon, Peter Prellwitz (M), Michael A. Ventrella

135 Years of Sherlock Holmes (Sunday 10 am): Yes, there’s been an uptick in Holmes reworkings since most of the original stories entered the public domain but that hasn’t diminished our interest in a 135-year-old character. Why do we still enjoy seeing the same stories over and over again? What about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective makes him so re-readable? Panelists: Flynnstress (M), Jim Stratton, Michael A. Ventrella

Activism: Inside and Outside of Fandom (Sunday noon): Many fans and con attendees are very involved in current social movements. Some have extended that work into the fandom and con community. Let’s discuss this work both in fandom and in the greater society, and how that impacts us as fans and creators in this genre. Panelists: Cass Morris, Maya Preisler (M), Stormraven, Michael A. Ventrella

The difference between fantasy and steampunk


“O Great Wizard, what is that in your hand?”

“This? This is my Wand of Wonder. It shoots lightning!”

“How does it work?”



“Professor, what is that in your hand?”

“This? This is my Transmognifying Eludicator. It shoots lightning!”

“How does it work?”


My upcoming books

Three Time Travelers Walk Into… (edited by me) has been sent for reviews and we’re doing final proofreading and cover design. Due out in late June. (Fantastic Books)

The Beatles on the Charts is being proofread as well, and I have a deadline of March 31 to turn it into the publisher. No publication date yet. (McFarland & Company)

The Top Ten Animated Films is behind schedule and on hold because I need more people in animation to respond … so please pass the word. (BearManor Media)

Terin Ostler and the Zombie King (and Other Stories) is at the publisher and is waiting for publication! Next in line is the collection of short stories in that world, Tales of Fortannis, that I am editing, featuring my favorite stories from the five Tales of Fortannis collections that are now out-of-print. (Fantastic Books)

Bully! (the sequel to my Teddy Roosevelt steampunk novel Big Stick) is still being written because I keep doing these other books instead (and, you know, I have a job). (Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press)

Another fun anthology project is in the works but I can’t announce it yet.

Making it up as you go along

Lots of my author friends are posting this meme, thinking it’s a silly criticism.

But it isn’t.

I’ve read books that felt like the author had no point. Scenes were unneeded, plotlines rambled, and it was like a kid playing with toys making it up as they went along with no idea how it would end.

It’s a valid criticism.

The “just making it up” applies to all fiction. It’s the “as they went along” part that is a valid critique.

It’s possible to write a good book as you go along but it should never read like you did that.

I outline my books very sparingly, setting things up so that the plot follows logically and everything fits like it should. But when I start writing, sometimes I find the plot veering off in different directions and if it feels like that’s what it should do, I go along. But I always end up at my destination and hit the points inbetween.

But really, how the book gets completed isn’t important. You can write it out of order; you can have an outline; you can make it up as you go along. All that matters is the final version.

But if the final version feels like the story is going nowhere and is just rambling, then you’ve failed. If it ends without a satisfying conclusion because it wasn’t going anywhere, if the characters are the same at the end as they were at the beginning without having changed based on what happened, if no problem was solved or plotline resolved … then yeah, it’s going to be an unsatisfying book.

With good editing, you can make it work. The process isn’t important. The story is. If the story makes the reader go “Yeah? So? It just rambled all over the place,” it’s a failure even if you had outlined it that way!

Table of Contents reveal for “Three Time Travelers Walk Into…”

My next anthology is coming soon, and today I can announce the Table of Contents:

“At the Chocolate Bar” by Jody Lynn Nye (George Washington Carver, Julia Child, Im-Hotep)
“The Jurors” by Lawrence Watt-Evans (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, William Tecumseh Sherman)
“Star Rat’s Tale” by Allen Steele (Marlon Brando, Jesus Christ, Caesar Romero)
“A Vampire, an Astrophysicist, and a Mother Superior Walk into a Basilica” by Henry Herz (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Vlad Tepes, Mother Teresa)
“The Greatest Trick” by Louise Piper (Charles Baudelaire, Cassie Chadwick, Martin Luther King Jr.)
“The Mystic Lamb” by Gail Z. Martin (Edgar Cayce, Maggie Fox, Harry Houdini, Nicola Tesla)
“Episode in Liminal State Technical Support, or Mr. Grant in the Bardo” by Gregory Frost
(Ambrose Bierce, Cary Grant, Ameila Earhart)
“The Eternal Library” by L. Penelope (Zora Neale Hurston, the Queen of Sheba, Tituba)
“Unfolding Time” by David Gerrold (Harlan Ellison, Dorothy Fontana, David Gerrold)
“Punching Muses” by S.W. Sondheimer (Frida Kahlo, Kusama Yayoi, Sappho, Oscar Wilde)
“Wednesday Night at The End Times Tavern” by James A. Moore (Cotton Mather, Robert E. Howard, Prince Radu of Wallachia)
“A Christmas Prelude” by Peter David (Ali Baba, Don Quixote, Mephistopheles)
“Cornwallis’ Gift” by Heather McKinney (Elizabeth Bathory, Michael Jackson, George Washington)
“What You Can Become Tomorrow” by Keith R.A. DeCandido (Josh Gibson, Katherine Johnson, Mary Shelley)
“Nostradamus’ Angels” by Hildy Silverman 
(Marie Antoinette, Marie Curie, Mary Todd Lincoln)
“The Last Act at the Time Cabaret” by Adam-Troy Castro (Lansford Hastings, Joseph Pujol, Billie Ritchie)
“Never Meet Your Heroes” by Eric Avedissian (Blackbeard, John Dillinger, Jesse James)
“The Adventure of the Confounded Writer” by Jonathan Maberry (Arthur Conan Doyle, Ed McBain, H.G. Wells)

How not to accept a rejection

I’m currently working on editing my next anthology, THREE TIME TRAVELERS WALK INTO…  

I have stories from some great Big Name authors: David Gerrold, Jonathan Maberry, Jody Lynn Nye, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Peter David, Allen Steele, Adam-Troy Castro, Gail Z. Martin, Keith DeCandido, James Moore, and L. Penelope!

Then I sent out word that I was looking for more stories and received more than 100 submissions for what may only be 5 or 6 spots left in the book.

Some stories made it to my “maybe” folder but clearly there is no way I can put every single story there. I have to narrow down the selection somehow. So some stories were rejected after the first read-through.

That’s how it works. It’s part of the business and you can’t take it personally. I have had stories rejected by friends and I have had to reject friends, and we all understand it.

But not everyone is like that.

Thought you might like to see an example of how not to deal with rejection. This one author did not handle it well, and insulted me by basically saying that clearly, the only reason his magnificent story was rejected was because I was just plain wrong.

All of our email exchanges below are absolutely true. I am not naming the person, but I am certainly telling other editors out there, because no one is going to want to deal with him. He posted nasty comments about this on my Facebook page so he outed himself anyway (in case you feel like searching for it). 

Typos are in the original.

We’ll start with the standard form rejection letter I send out, which he received along with many others.  My emails are in italics.

Dear Fellow Author:

As a writer with my own collection of rejection letters, I am well aware of how disappointing it is to get one.

I hate sending them as much as I hate receiving them.

I’m afraid your story didn’t make the cut.

Sometimes the story is good but the reason I have to reject it is because I already have a story with a similar theme or similar characters. Sometimes it’s because I may have liked your story but saw that it needed some substantive editing, and I would rather pick another good story that did not need it. Sometimes I like the story but I just have too many stories I like and I just can’t accept them all. Sometimes, honestly, it’s just not that well-written.

Some of the stories I have rejected so far are because there just wasn’t a story there. There would be three people from history, and they’d talk, and some stuff happened, but there wasn’t an adventure. There wasn’t a conflict that needed to be resolved. The characters were the same at the end of the story as they were at the start of the story. It may have had an interesting concept, but that was it. The setting is just the start of the story, and isn’t a story itself.

And sometimes it’s just a matter of taste, after all. I literally had way over a hundred submissions for maybe ten spots, so I can be picky. Another editor with the same stories may have made completely different choices.

Thank you again for sending me your story.

What a delightfully thorough brush-off. However, you neglected the most important variable of all: human fallibility. You might want to read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan with particular attention to the section on Experts and “Empty Suits.”

My, you certainly handle rejection well.  I shall remember that for any future submissions.

Touched a nerve did I?  I would think an attorney woiuld have thicker skin.

heh!  No nerve was touched. I am just happy to know who to avoid in the future, as clearly you would not be a writer that would be accommodating or easy to work with.  Thank you for letting me know.

I am sorry I offended your fragile ego. A little bit of snark and you turn tail and run, Clearly, you are no litigator. Most likely a limp-wristed creature of privilege that leads a sheltered existence. You need to grow a set. And maybe wise up and stop taking the bait I keep dangling in front of you. You take yourself far too seriously for someone who purveys nothing more than empty entertainment. Or am I to believe your stories are life-changing?

You are so amusing!  I have enjoyed sharing your exchanges with fellow editors.  Good luck in breaking into the business.
You are punching above your weight little man. I have already found a home for my story.  So thanks for the blessing, but I didn’t need it.  Please give my warm regards to all your little friends, and feel free to share whatever you like. if you think my e-mails are newsworthy, then you have achieved a level of pettiness that would make Donald Trump proud. What you don’t get is that for your watery barbs to have any impact, I have to respect you. And I don’t. Maybe because I served my country in time of war, while you hid under your mother’s skirts. But by all means, keep trying to have the last word. By all means try to bully me with “Good luck trying to break into the business.”  My advice is for you to stick with shuffling deeds or chasing ambulances or whatever low level legal functions you perform, and continue to play the role of the little man who wants to be bigger. And for the record, Indie publishwers are a dime a dozen, so “breaking into the business” is not exactly a Herculean task. After all, if you can be a publisher, then anyone can. God bless KDP.
With warmest regards for a Happy New Year
I appreciate your comments — they will make a great blog post.  I especially love how you were rejected and are trying to make it seem like you rejected me.  Just lovely.  Thanks again.  Be sure to check my blog to see your work.
Well, this has certainly been fun. But this lop-sided exchange with a jellyfish who thinks he is a shark has run its course. I’m not sure how I made it seem like I rejected you. All I did was point out that you omitted a significant variable in your assessment of why stories get rejected. I provided you a citation that explored how experts are fallible, nothing more. You subsequently took umbrage and threw a hissy fit. I take it that as an attorney you never impeached an expert witness or appealed a judge’s ruling based on an error of law.
     If posting my e-mails makes you believe that you have bested me, then I am okay with that. I am nothing if not charitable to the weak.  Anyone with half brain knows I have owned you in these exchanges. You’re like Trump after he lost the election: a sore loser.I get that you are desperate to have the last word. So, by all means,  blog away and make yourself look pettier than you do now.  Odd, I who you claim is so disturbed by being rejected, feels no such obligation to redeem myself by trashing you on social media. I guess that’s the difference between being a man and a querlous adolescent schoolgirl. Blog away Mary, blog away, and make yourself look like a bigger jackass than you already do.
     As for me,there’s only so much fun to be had pulling the wings off a fly. So, this will be my last e-mail. You no doubt will want to get in the last word. But alas, I will delete it without reading it. And I have no interest in your blog. I have too much self-respect to debase myself with the rants of a delusional fool.
Your buddy forever and ever
(name removed)
P.S. I can send you tampons if you like, Consider them a parting gift to repay you for the fun I’ve had at your expense. It’s the least I can do since I was paid to yank your chain.
So, in conclusion, Since this is my blog for giving advice, here’s my advice.


Don’t do this.

Thank you.

Avoiding the omniscient POV

I am currently reading through the slush pile of stories for my next anthology: THREE TIME TRAVELERS WALK INTO…

And I’m noticing a commonality among some of the submissions from unpublished authors. Too many stories are told from the omniscient point of view.

That can work, of course. Dickens used it all the time, as did many authors long ago. Douglas Adams uses it in THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (one of my favorite novels of all time). But you don’t see it in use hardly at all these days in fiction.

And there’s a reason.

We want to get inside our characters’ heads and we want to know what they’re thinking. A close third-person POV is usually best if you’re not doing a first person story.

But more importantly, when you use the omniscient POV, you are the character. Your voice in the narration becomes the character.

You want a good example? Read Lemony Snicket. It’s wonderful. Or William Goldman’s THE PRINCESS BRIDE. The voice of the narrator has a personality. And, of course, Adams.

Writing in the omniscient voice is very easy, which is why so many inexperienced writers use it. Writing it well is very hard, which is why so many experienced writers do not.

Too often, writers will use that POV and jump around from one characters’ head to another and let us know what they’re thinking (or worse, not let us know when we should) which can reduce tension and suspense. (Tension and suspense, in case you don’t realize, are good things in fiction.)

Part of the reason it doesn’t work as well is because that POV reminds us that we’re reading a story, especially when I get submissions like this: “The story of how these three people met is exciting…” Yeah? According to who? Or “Time Travel works this way…” No, I want a story, not a science lesson. If you have to explain how it works in the story, find a way for a character to explain it, not the narrator.

Sometimes I wonder if the people who submit these kinds of stories read stories themselves. I find that the best way to learn how to write is to read constantly. Advice books are fine, but you need to read novels and short stories to see how it’s done — and then you need to write and write and write until your work can compare.

It’s like reading a book about how basketball works and thinking that therefore you can now play as well as the professionals. No, you need to watch actual games, notice how the players use the ball and interact with each other, and then you need to get on the court and do it yourself, over and over again, until it becomes easy.

My Worldcon schedule

The World Science Fiction convention is finally in the US and on the East Coast again, so that’s where you’ll find me from December 16th through the 19th.  Lots of great guests and panels, and I’ll be mostly at the Fantastic Books table in the Dealer’s Room, but also on these three panels:

The Small Press Takeover of Short Fiction (Friday 4 pm):  There was a time, long ago, when short fiction had to be published in one of the “big three” magazines to get popular attention and critical acclaim. The rise of magazines like ClarkesworldUncanny, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among many others, make markets of today a much more level playing field. We’ll talk about what’s changed and why, and what it means for the state of speculative fiction.

Keeping White Supremacy Out of Fandom (Friday 5:30 pm):  White supremacists are infiltrating and laying claims to many aspects of fan culture, from Tolkien to Norse mythology, military speculative fiction, and the SCA. What does this mean for authors, publishers, and fans? How do we keep them from co-opting our work and poisoning our spaces?      

Zoom In. Enhance!  (Saturday 10 am):  Television and film make detectives and forensic scientists into superheroes. But how much can you really tell from a grainy video, fingerbone, or scrap of fabric? How accurate are the super-science labs portrayed in shows like Bones and CSI? Panelists separate the science from the fiction in film, TV, and video game crime procedurals.

The complete schedule for the convention is here.

Guests include lots of my friends! A complete list is here.


Terin Ostler book #3 released!

One barbarian tribe has a prophecy saying the legendary hero Bishortu will unite the three warring tribes. Another has a prophecy that directly contradicts this, and they want Bishortu dead. And a third, which may or may not be comprised of werewolves, refuses to let anyone know what their prophecy says. Meanwhile, the Duke on whose land the barbarians live wants them all gone.

In the middle of all of this is squire Terin Ostler, who has been mistakenly identified as the great Bishortu. Under the Duke’s orders to get rid of the barbarians, he heads to their lands without the slightest idea of what to do.

Along the way, he has to avoid assassins, werewolves, lovesick barbarian princesses, and confused goblins, while attempting to figure out the meaning of the magical and mysterious Wretched Axes.

Nobody said being a hero would be easy.

“Terin Ostler and the Axes of Evil” has been reissued from Fantastic Books with a fantastic new cover and a few minor changes. Click here to read reviews or to order your copy! (The ebook versions are coming soon!)

My Philcon 2021 schedule


I’m ready to once again step out to a convention, but it’s because they’re requiring everyone to be vaccinated and wear a mask. It’s Philcon, Philadelphia’s oldest literary convention. It’s in New Jersey.  (Look, it was cheaper, okay?)

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 19-21. Pictures from previous Philcons are below!

Here’s my schedule:

Perils and Pitfalls of Near-Future Scenarios (Friday 6pm): The problem with writing near-future science fiction in our fast-moving time is that often the present overtakes the predictions. What are some cautionary tales, and how do authors deal with this sword of Damocles?  If the storytelling is good enough, will the present catching up to the imagined future matter to readers? With Ian Randal Strock, Jennifer Povey, Margaret Riley, and Joan Wendland

What’s So Funny? (Friday 7 pm): Many authors, including John Scalzi, T. Kingfisher and Rudy Rucker, have written humorous SF. Can a story combine humor and serious speculation? What are the pitfalls? With Randee Dawn, Dina Leacock, Chuck Rothman, and Hildy Silverman

Reading: Michael A. Ventrella (Saturday 12:30 pm): I’ll be reading from one of my books, with the attendees choosing which one

A Beginner’s Guide to Time Travel Paradoxes (Saturday 2 pm): You know not to remove a major historical figure, hand Thomas Edison a cell phone, or kill your grandfather. But is it even possible to travel into the past without changing anything?  So you go back to Chicago in 1920, and eat a hamburger in a diner. But, unbeknownst to you, that hamburger was destined to sit for six hours, spoil, and sicken someone else, who misses an important appointment, and… there goes the timestream. Would nature have a way of correcting this? With John Ashmead, Russell J. Handelman, and George W. Young

Reimagining Babylon 5 (Saturday 4 pm): Babylon 5’s creator J. Michael Straczynski has confirmed that he is writing the pilot for a reboot and will be the showrunner if it is given the green light.  Will his involvement be enough for fans to embrace the new show?  Which storylines from the original could use more time to be fully realized, and which should be allowed a graceful retirement?  Should the reboot be called Babylon 6, or Babylon 5.1? With Matt Black, Lawrence Kramer, Andre Lieven, and Jennifer Povey

From Gaming Into Fiction (Saturday 5 pm): Many current writers grew up playing role-playing games online and in person. Some writers are moving into fiction after writing for interactive games, and others are going back and forth. How are these two approaches influencing each other? How can an author successfully transform their work to succeed in another format? With Eric Avedissian, Stephanie Burke, Keith R.A. DeCandido, and Victoria Rogers

Masquerade  (Saturday 8 pm): The annual cosplay competition! I’ll be hosting the event, so I’m bringing my top hat.

Signing: Michael A. Ventrella (Sunday 11 am): Just in case you didn’t get a chance to see me at the convention otherwise, I’ll be at a table in the main hall where you can bug me.

Post-Colonial Steampunk (Sunday 1 pm): Steampunk’s original DNA is rife with Victorian Imperialism, but some authors are creating steampunk worlds that hint at decolonized alternate-history timelines, including  P. Djèlí Clark’s Master of Djinn, set in a technologically advanced and magically infiltrated Cairo; Nisi Shawl’s Everfair, where a multicultural group in Congo fights for freedom with steampunk innovations; and Maurice Broaddus’s Buffalo Soldier, set in Jamaica and a post-US America.  What other possibilities are available? With Stephanie Burke and Fran Wilde

And now… pictures from previous Philcons! (Click on a picture to enlarge)

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