How to get your story rejected

I am currently editing the 5th Tales of Fortannis collection, and sadly am sending out more rejection letters than I’d like.Gaston

I say “sadly” for two reasons: First, I hate disappointing people and rejecting their stories (I’ve been on the receiving end of that as well, after all); and second, I need more stories (but am unwilling to lower my standards).

There are many reasons stories may get rejected. Here are the reasons I most commonly have rejected stories for this collection:

  • The author has clearly never read the guidelines, and has submitted a story that does not fit into the shared world of Fortannis. There are gods (even though I clearly say “no religion” in the guidelines); there is magic that cannot possibly exist (even though the magic system is also described in the guidelines); or there are plot matters that do not fit the already-established world. Please. Don’t waste both of our times. Read the guidelines.
  • The characters are boring. They all talk alike, they have no personality, and I don’t care that they are in trouble because they are so one-dimensional. They are the same at the end of the story as they are at the beginning, having learned nothing. Remember: stories aren’t about what you may think they’re about — they’re about the characters.
  • The bad guys have no reason for being bad guys. They’re just evil, they want to take over the world, blah blah blah, yet they have a hundred minions and soldiers who are fiercely loyal for no apparent reason. Give your bad guys motives that are just as strong as the motives your good guys have.
  • The story itself is boring and predictable. I receive too many stories that read like someone has just transcribed their Dungeons & Dragons session. Not every story has to be an adventure about fighting monsters (as I say very clearly in the guidelines).
  • There are scenes that add nothing to the story. Heading into the tavern and having dinner before the big adventure is only interesting if something happens. You should examine every scene to make sure it’s needed — if you can remove it and the story still works, then you don’t need it. And often the character development or other information given in that scene can be worked into another scene and be much more effective. This is especially true when there is no conflict or tension in that scene. Keep the action moving!
  • The story starts too late. We need to care about the story from the start, not ten pages in. Or grand, exciting things will happen early in the story but they don’t happen to the main character so they really don’t matter. Especially in a short story, you need to tell that person’s story.
  • It’s full of misspellings, grammatical errors, and just plain old bad writing. When I get a story like that, I rarely read past the first page or so.
  • The author hasn’t read my blog. Okay, maybe not mine in particular, but you will note that almost everything I listed above links to an article I’ve already written on this blog, and what I have said you’ll find as well in a hundred other blogs about writing.

And finally, there is one more reason a story may be rejected — I already have another story with the same theme. You could have written a great story but if I have two that are very similar, I really have to choose just one. For one of the Fortannis collections, I received three separate stories in which a princess was in love with the court jester. The underlying plot in each one was completely different, but that love was an integral part of the story. There was no way I could accept all three. (As it turned out, they were all rejected for other reasons, based on the criteria above, but what if they had all been really great stories? I would have had to pick one and rejected the other two.)

The first draft is supposed to suck

Here are two examples of unsuccessful writers I’ve met:

The first unsuccessful writer has been working on the book for years. They’ve never finished it, of course, because they have spent all of their time polishing and re-writing the first few chapters. Those first few chapters are great, and the writer shows real potential. But no editor or publisher is interested in looking at a book that isn’t finished.

The urge for perfection at every stage is standing in their way.first draft

First drafts are supposed to suck. You’re just getting words down as fast as you can so you can get through the story. Once the book is finished, you can step back and take a look to determine how you can make it perfect. Maybe a character needs to be removed; maybe scenes should be rearranged; maybe you can delete whole sections to speed the plot along.

And of course, you’ll need to clean up the writing. (Where did all those adverbs come from?)

My artist wife Heidi Hooper is working on a new piece as I write this. Did she pencil in the corner and then immediately start working on that corner until it was perfect? No, she drew the whole thing out, using the entire canvas, and then stared at it to make sure it’s exactly what she wants. She erases sections and redraws them. And only when she’s sure it’s right will she start to do the real work.

Your writing should be the same. Don’t worry if your pencil sketch is not what you ultimately want. You need to see the whole thing first.

When I’m writing, I use this as an incentive to finish the first draft. The re-writing part is the fun part for me — I like polishing up the dialog, inserting foreshadowing, fleshing out characters. So in order to get to the fun part, I torture myself: “You’re not allowed to do any of that until you finish!”

The reason the first unsuccessful writer is unsuccessful is because they have never finished. So stop worrying about your crappy first draft. No one has to see it, and in fact, no one wants to see it.  Finish the damn thing.

The second unsuccessful writer has finished the crappy first draft and has stopped. They don’t realize the first draft always sucks. “There, it’s done!” They self-publish said crappy first draft (because no publisher will take it) and then wonder why no one likes it.

Don’t be either of these people.

Interview with Gray Rinehart

MICHAEL A. VENTRELLA: Today I’m pleased to be interviewing Gray Rinehart, who is the only person to have commanded an Air Force satellite tracking station, written speeches for Presidential appointees, and had science-fiction-related music on The Dr. Demento Show. GR_closeup_ERose_10In his rather odd USAF career he fought rocket propellant fires, refurbished space launch facilities, “flew” satellites, drove trucks, processed nuclear command and control orders, and did other unusual things. Today, he is a contributing editor for Baen Books and the author of WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS (WordFire Press). His short fiction has appeared in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies, and as a singer/songwriter he has two albums of mostly science-fiction-and-fantasy-inspired songs. His alter ego is the “Gray Man,” one of several famed ghosts of South Carolina’s Grand Strand, and his web site is

Tell us about the plot of WALKING ON THE SEA OF CLOUDS!

GRAY RINEHART: In the near future, commercial space activities have expanded to include the first asteroid mines, and the multinational Asteroid Consortium is establishing a lunar colony on the southern edge of Mare Nubium (the “Sea of Clouds”) as something of a “mining camp.” Environmental engineers Stormie and Frank Pastorelli and engineering “grunts” Barbara and Van Richards are some of the earliest inhabitants, with the aim of getting the colony systems up and running. They and their fellow colonists struggle against balky equipment, deadly accidents, and the unforgiving lunar environment in a common quest to see the colony survive and thrive. In the end, one will leave, one will stay, one will teeter on the edge of indecision, and one will sacrifice their life so another can live.

VENTRELLA: How did you decide on that title?

RINEHART: I originally called the novel Mare Nubium, since that’s the lunar formation where the colony is located — the “Sea of Clouds.” But my beta readers and my wife convinced me that the Latin title might resonate with people who already knew about the lunar “seas” but could fall flat for other potential readers. I struggled for quite some time to find an alternative. Eventually I settled on the current title because at one point in the novel one of the supporting characters, upon first arriving at the colony, remarks about “walking on the Sea of Clouds” and I thought that was evocative enough that it could apply to the whole novel.

VENTRELLA: What is it in your background that interested you in writing this kind of book?

RINEHART: My first assignment in the Air Force was as a bioenvironmental engineer at what was then the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (and for someone with a deep love of all things space-related that was a dream job!). My routine duties included industrial hygiene and environmental protection — essentially, making sure our test operations didn’t make our workers sick or harm the environment. book_WotSoC_FrontCoverScreenshot_smallAt one point I reviewed a research proposal for scrubbing aromatic hydrocarbons from spacecraft atmospheres, and it got me thinking about the difficulty of maintaining a closed environmental system over a long period of time. I decided that the people who would have to do that job might have stories to tell.

In addition, one of my additional duties was as the chief of the lab’s Disaster Response Force. In that role I directed the responses to a couple of real-world emergencies, so I had the opportunity to apply what I’d learned about the hazards associated with rocket tests and rocket propellants. That got me thinking about various accident scenarios that would make life in a lunar colony even harder. I hope I was able to convey some of the emotions and confusion that are part of dealing with difficult and potentially deadly situations.

VENTRELLA: What kind of research was required and how did you do it?

RINEHART: Remember that the first inklings of the story came to me during my very first USAF assignment, which was about 20 years before I actually started writing it! In the interim, I had several additional space-related assignments: building and maintaining facilities for processing launch vehicles, controlling spacecraft from ground stations, and so forth. During each assignment, I collected and filed away little tidbits of information about new research or new inventions, about the relationships between prime contractors and their subcontractors, and in the case of my remote tour in Greenland about the stresses that people undergo in geographically separated environments. All of that became “grist for the mill,” as the saying goes.

Besides collecting a variety of different materials, only some of which made it into the novel, I needed to get some sense of the geography my characters would be traversing during the story. So I spent a good deal of time poring over NASA photographs of lunar formations. The nice thing is that NASA has a wonderful online repository of photographs from the Apollo-era up to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. I was also able to glean useful tidbits from various science panels at conventions!

VENTRELLA: How did you go about finding an agent?

RINEHART: Ha! If I had one, I’d be able to tell you.

I tallied it up the other day, and I queried over 60 agents over a period of several years, a handful of whom actually looked at the full manuscript before deciding not to represent me. I’m not sure whether it was that I never got the hang of writing a compelling enough query letter, or that this novel didn’t fit an easy category like “space opera,” but very few agents asked to see even a partial manuscript. All told, I got replies from just over two-thirds of the agents and never heard back at all from the remainder.

VENTRELLA: You’ve been involved in the publishing industry for a while now. Did that help you? 

RINEHART: I think it did, primarily in terms of recognizing that publishing is a slow game, especially in the “shopping around” stage. I know how many submissions we get at Baen Books, and that we pay a lot of attention to the ones that are interesting to us, so I didn’t mind giving publishers a good deal of time to make a decision.CD_distortedVision_cover

VENTRELLA: What did you learn from your years working in the industry?

RINEHART: Lots of things! How not to approach a publisher, for one thing; it doesn’t make a good impression, for instance, when you address your letter to one publisher but send it to a different one.

But one of the main things I’ve learned, that was harder to fathom when I was just on the writing side trying to break in, is that sometimes a story just isn’t right for a particular publisher. A story rejected in one place can get accepted in another place, not because there was anything in particular wrong with the story itself but because it didn’t fit what that one publisher needed at the time.

VENTRELLA: Let’s talk about writing. 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?

RINEHART: Wow, that’s an excellent question! We could almost put together an entire convention panel, or even a curriculum, based on it.

My first thought is that storytelling and writing are two different but complementary skills.

We all learn to tell stories, whether they’re true accounts of how we rescued a lost animal (and please can’t we keep it, mommy?) or made-up tales of how someone else ate all the cookies. Some of us learn to tell those stories better than others. Some of us are very matter-of-fact: here’s what happened, and that’s all. Some of us learn to add details to make the story come alive, and to insert complications and conflicts to increase the dramatic tension — or to relieve tension with a touch of comedy. And maybe the fact that some of us struggle with storytelling indicates that it does come more naturally to others.

Likewise, in this modern society most of us learn to write, even if all we write are grocery lists and the occasional message (whether electronic, as texts or e-mails, or actual letters). But written language is an artificiality; as a result, learning it is a much more mechanical process: subjects, verbs, modifiers; spelling, punctuation, grammar. As such, learning how to write is less “natural” than learning how to tell a story: most of us tell our first stories, after all, before we know how to write them down. And because we don’t all take to schoolwork and lessons with the same gusto, some of us learn the mechanics better than others.

When it comes to techniques, then, the techniques of storytelling are certainly different from the techniques of writing — but each can be studied, practiced, and improved. A hesitant storyteller can become better: smoother and more confident. GR_TLMB_angle_squareAn inarticulate wordsmith can become better: more skilled and comfortable with language. But whether either becomes “good” will be for their audiences to decide.

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

RINEHART: Whenever self-publishing takes the form of companies preying on unsuspecting writers, taking their money and producing shoddy copies of questionable content while making promises of fame and glory, I’m against it. But current self-publishing practice offers something more in terms of authors taking control of their own content and finding audiences receptive to their work, and that is quite marvelous. Some authors have succeeded very well, and others have not; but in every case, whether a book is published by a big house, a small press, or independently, the venture involves taking a risk and the possibility of failure.

One of the great things about self-publishing is that it allows us to serve niche audiences that traditional publishing cannot. For a non-literary example, most “filk” music recordings — primarily science-fiction-and-fantasy-related music — are self-produced because the audience for nerdy music is fairly small; thus, I self-published (so to speak) my two music CDs (Truths and Lies and Make-Believe; and, Distorted Vision). I also took advantage of another feature of self-publishing, the ability to reach different audiences, when I put out a completely revised edition of my nonfiction book, QUALITY EDUCATION. The book had only been available in hard copy when it was first published, so after the rights reverted to me I decided it was worth making it available in e-book form.

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

RINEHART: Another terrific question! I’m going to answer it by referring first to Robert A. Heinlein’s “rules” for writing, which I would hope a starting writer (especially a starting science fiction or fantasy writer) might have heard of. Heinlein’s rules are pretty simple. The first one, for example, is “You must write,” which seems pretty obvious. The second one is “You must finish what you start.”

My advice stems from recognizing that “finish” has two possible meanings. (I blogged at length about this a couple of years ago, in a post called “Heinlein Was Right: A New Look at His Rules for Writing.”) “Finishing” what you write doesn’t just mean getting to “THE END” and calling it good; “finishing” can also take on the aspect of the additional effort required to turn something rough into something final. It’s the glaze and firing applied to the newly-turned clay pot. It’s the sanding and the paint or varnish or shellac applied to the newly-built piece of furniture. The draft you complete is fine for what it is, like the unfired clay pot or the raw wood furniture; but it is not fit for its intended purpose until it is edited, until it is put through the final stages of the process. Only then is it “finished.”

I will add that this is often a difficult thing to do, and I have at times failed miserably at it (quite recently, even). But that doesn’t negate its value as advice.book_qualityEducation_front_small

VENTRELLA: Do you think readers want to read about “believable” characters or do they really want characters that are “larger than life” in some way?

RINEHART: I hope they want to read about believable characters, because I worked hard to make my characters believable — even the ones who are a little bit “larger than life”!

In all seriousness, this question may be one of the things that differentiate genre readers — especially science fiction or fantasy readers — from readers of mainstream or literary fiction. In genre fiction, we expect to find characters to be placed in situations that require special talent or cleverness or strength or something beyond what we might encounter in normal, daily life. In much of my science fiction, and particularly in Walking on the Sea of Clouds, it’s a high degree of technical competence and problem-solving skill, coupled with professional discipline and a strong will to survive. Those are all qualities we can find in ourselves or people we know, but what makes them larger-than-life in my story is where they have to be applied: one of the most inhospitable places in the Solar System.

But even when a character is “larger than life,” by having some extraordinary ability or determination or inventiveness in difficult circumstances, we have to make that aspect (or those aspects) of the character believable enough. By that I mean that the character has to fit the story in such a way that the reader finds them believable. We have to structure the story, and the universe in which the story takes place, such that the character’s abilities and persona make sense and are important to the story’s outcome.

For instance, sometimes we’ll know right away that a character has superpowers, and by that we’ll know what kind of story we’re reading. Sometimes we’ll know that a character is special for some other reason — tremendous drive, or ambition, or a particular ability, or heart, or whatever quality it is that sets them apart from “normal” or “average” people. How we portray the character, the goals the character wants to achieve, and the obstacles the character must overcome to reach those goals, will determine whether our readers think of the character as believable.

And it may be that the more believable we make those larger-than-life characters, the more readers will admire and want to read about them.

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

RINEHART: “Write what you know.” I don’t mean that it’s always bad advice, but that it’s easy to take badly.

“Write what you know” does not (and I mean not) mean “write only what you know,” but it’s easy to take that way. I took it that way when I was about twelve or so: I wrote to a fairly famous author — not a genre author, I should point out — who replied with a nice enough note but said the space-related subject matter I was working with was too much for my young self to handle. He said I should write about things closer to home because then I’d be writing what I knew. That was not as encouraging as it might have been, and not too long thereafter I gave up writing fiction because I took it to mean I should only write what I knew.

Obviously I got over that attitude … a decade or two later.

Instead of “Write what you know,” I prefer what Orson Scott Card told us at his Literary Boot Camp: “Know what you write.” In terms of subject matter, if it takes research to know enough in order to write what you want to write, then do the research and learn what you need to know in order to make your story coherent and realistic. Beyond just subject matter, think clearly and carefully about your worldbuilding, about the motivations and emotions driving your characters, about the ramifications of their actions, and so forth, so that you know your world and know your characters and know the story you want to tell.

VENTRELLA: We’ve both been guests at various conventions over time. How important are these for networking for a new writer?

RINEHART: I’ve found conventions most valuable in terms of building friendships in the industry; i.e., making personal connections more than business connections. I need, and I think many of us need, the reassurance that there are like-minded souls out in the world, toiling in similar fields and experiencing similar joys — and even similar disappointments.

That’s not to say that business connections never get made; they certainly do, and we can be open to those possibilities, but I find it more satisfying to think of “all my friends in fandom” (a phrase I use in the chorus of my song, “Dead Dog Party”) rather than my associates or collaborators or whatever else we might call one another.

VENTRELLA: What’s your next project?

RINEHART: At present, I’m struggling with a fantasy novel. It’s grown in scope since I first imagined it, and is now larger and more complex than I wanted it to be, and my progress has slowed considerably as the scope has grown. Either it’s going to overwhelm me or I’m going to be able to rise to the challenge, but at this stage it feels pretty doggone overwhelming! Wish me luck.


Gray and me hamming it up at a convention, acting out “The Eye of Argon” with an unknown victim



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

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 





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