Tuesday, October 31, 2017

5 Lessons from the Slush Pile

PulpRev Sampler.jpg

Over the past couple of months, I volunteered as a slush reader for the PulpRev Sampler Anthology. With a submissions window of just seven days, writers had to produce punchy pulpy pieces of 750 to 1500 words. For a project with little fanfare and such a short reading period, the response was phenomenal. With submissions from established writers and newcomers to the field, I believe this anthology provides a well-rounded overview of the PulpRev aesthetic. In this post, I'd like to share some of the writing lessons I learned as a slush reader.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The PulpRev Sampler is HERE! Get Yours NOW!

It's here! The PulpRev Sampler Anthology has gone live, and you can get your copy right now at Amazon.

It's just $1, so you're out the price of a thing on the Dollar Menu- and that's nothing. If this is still a road too far for you, then the anthology itself is available for free for those who sign up for the PulpRev mailing list by sending an email to scoop@pulprev.com with the subject line "Subscribe."

This is as close to risk-free as it gets. You have some published novelists contributing their stories (Morrison, Wright, del Arroz, et. al.) and folks (such as myself) for whom this is their debut publication. Spread the word, leave reviews (We need them!), and help us Make Fiction Great Again!

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Getting Started: Reconsider the Serial

Rawle Nyanzi just finished a serialized story here at PulpRev. The serialized story is a lost art, but it used to be a load-bearing pillar of the entertainment business, not just fiction publishing. Even now, you can go over to YouTube and find playlists of serials from the days before popular adoption of television stole that format for itself and turned it into its current form of episodic television.

The serial is a fantastic format for you beginners out there. Due to the nature of blogging as a medium, you have to learn how to write so that each post hits a story beat that satisfies the reader. You learn to write short, punchy prose that's efficient- all of which serves you well as you start moving to other formats, and that discipline you hone as you work in the serial format lets you avoid Fat Fantasy Syndrome because you learn how to make your plot lean and mean.

The most obvious thing that follows from the serial format is learning how to snag and keep audience attention, which is why the cliffhanger became a thing long before it got that label. If you take the time to read the pulp masters, such as Walter B. Gibson, you can see the serial influence at work on his magazine-length novels; chapters come fast, furiously, and forcefully so that readers get right into the mix and ride the tiger all the way to the end.

As the aforementioned example above shows, the serial format is ideal for beginners because you can do it right on your blog. If you want to class it up, as the pulp magazines did, you want to incorporate artwork; this is a brilliant opportunity to find some artists looking to promote (so beginners like yourself) and throw a few pieces that fit the episode into each post. Again, read the old pulp magazines (The Shadow is in reprint, often two novels to a volume; you'll find other classics similarly reprinted.)

There's no excuse for not getting into the game now. The barriers to entry now exist entirely between your ears. I built up my audience by blogging daily; that's the minimum level of hustle you'll need to get going, and it only gets faster from there- level up your Pulp Speed if you want to be more than a hobbyist. I'll be waiting to see your byline.

Enemy at Blood River ~血の川にいる敵~ [Part V -- Finale]

Previous: Enemy at Blood River (Part IV)

[Part V -- Finale]

Mai and Sana both were led to an encampment on the banks of Blood River. While Mai groaned under Akemi's tortures, Hiroshi and his army encircled Akagawa, their chances helped by Rinié's sagging morale and Sana's powerful wind magic. Victory was at hand.

Night had fallen by the time they arrived. Mai and Sana entered a small tent in the corner; she needed her rest for the coming battle. They would attack at dawn, and Mai resolved to do all she could to help Hiroshi's forces win.

But before she could even think of fighting, she had to speak to Sana.

Both women took a spot on one of the sides, away from the partially open flap. Only bare grass lay beneath them, for luxury had no place in a camp. Mai tensed as Sana sat close.

"Sana, why? Why did you deceive me like that?" Mai asked.

"I wanted you to feel what I felt. When you struck me in the bath..." Sana's eyes watered.

Mai hung her head down. "My emotions got the better of me. Maybe I should've hit the general instead," she said.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Enemy at Blood River ~血の川にいる敵~ [Part IV]

Previous: Enemy at Blood River (Part III)
Next: Enemy at Blood River (Part V)

[Part IV]

Once again, Kikuta Mai arrived at the hidden village as a captive. Only now, she wasn't there to help.

She was there to suffer.

With only a moth-eaten gray robe to wear, Mai had been stuffed in a cramped cage in the corner of the village. The punishment house sat lower than the other buildings so that it would partially flood if it rained hard enough. Prisoners deserved pain, after all.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Robert E. Howard Stories You May Not Have Read Yet (But Should)

While many of us here are hard at work making new material, hoping to entertain our audiences, it's worth taking a moment to look back at our predecessors. Many of us known, and love, Robert E. Howard. We've read his Conan tales, his Kull of Atlantis stories, and even his Bran Mac Morn and Solomon Kane yarns. That is not all he's done in the realm of pulp adventures, and there's a pair of books--the last two collections--that you ought to pick up and read when you can:

El Borak and Other Desert AdventuresSword Woman and Other Historical Adventures

These aren't as widely talked about as Howard's other heroes, so it's important to do the digging and read this stuff. The man's output was prolific, and his heroes--no matter the milieu--always had the same core to them that made them endearing across the generations. El Borak and Dark Agnes (the heroes on the covers) are no different. Snatch up a copy in print if you can, or if it's at your local library, because this is one reading experience that isn't quite the same in electronic format.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

INVINCIBLE Part Seven: Zhang Wudi

Zhang ran.

Arms pumping, chest heaving, he propelled himself down the road that led to Sujiang’s northern gate. Fire and smoke erupted in the city, rising above the walls. Bodies lay piled by the road by the dozens. Civilians streamed past him, carrying children and valuables in their arms. He kept running, brushing past everyone in his path.


Zhang halted. Five Shenwujun stood at the gate, guiding civilians through. Sergeant Ouyang waved at him. Zhang doubled over, gasping for breath.

“Ensign, you look terrible.”

Pain pulsed through his feet. His legs trembled. He breathed hard and deep, forcing fresh air into blazing lungs.

“Been worse,” Zhang muttered. “Got any water?”

Ouyang tossed him a calabash. Zhang drained it. It wasn’t much, but it helped.

“Thank you,” Zhang said. “What’s the situation?”

Enemy at Blood River ~血の川にいる敵~ [Part III]

Previous: Enemy at Blood River (Part II)
Next: Enemy at Blood River (Part IV)

[Part III]

With Mai and Sana on the battlefield, Hanoba turned the tide of the war. Foot soldiers fell to Mai's forceful thrusts. Cavalry crumbled before Sana's gusts of wind. Enemy generals lost their lives to Hiroshi in the dead of night. What remained of Hanoba's army braved storms of arrows to carve out victory after victory.

Yet however many Rinié invaders Mai and Sana sent to the next world, Hiroshi did not trust them to assault the enemy stronghold at Akagawa.

Mai and Sana relaxed in a hot spring; mere days ago, the town had been under firm Rinié control. The two women basked in the warm waters as steam floated around them.

"What's wrong with the general? Doesn't he want to win?" Mai asked, referring to Hiroshi.

"Remember that we're from Bai-an and we wield magic. He suspects Bai-an's hand in this -- I'm sure of it," Sana answered.

"And he's not sure which side Bai-an is on."

"That's it."

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Getting Started: Writing Your Antagonist

It's no secret that actors love playing the villain. Many state that the villain is the most interesting character in the story, so they get to use most of their acting skills in delivering the performance. They're not wrong.

Of the two characters that are load-bearing pillars in narrative construction, the antagonist has to be consistently engaging and interesting while being repellent to all people of good character. If you don't have this in your antagonist, you have a simple deuteragonist instead. (This is not a bad thing; it merely requires that you take the time to reconsider your story's narrative and revise it to fit your goals.)

Put simply, a good antagonist is both charismatic and wrong. He has to be charismatic because he needs to capture the attention of the audience and hold it firmly- that's charisma. He has to be wrong--morally most of all--because otherwise why is the protagonist opposing him? (We'll get into Protagonist-v-Deuteragonist narratives another time; this is "Getting Started" not "Refining Your Craft")

Put a good deal of thought into your antagonist's plan. Most old-school adventure tales where an antagonist is the source of conflict revolves around the protagonist seeking to stop the antagonist from getting what he wants. The reason is that what the antagonist wants is wrong--immoral--somehow.

Go figure out what that is, and the odds of your narrative falling into place goes up dramatically. From that point, it's down to figuring out when and how the protagonist intervenes; that's your inciting incident, most of the time, and if that turns out to not work, then you can walk your story via revision to where that point actually is incrementally.

Then remember that your antagonist needs to be present throughout the story's narrative, literally or by proxy, so that your protagonist has good reason to be the hero in your story. Even when neither Vader nor Palpatine are on the scene, their presence is felt in the Original Trilogy. Even when the protagonist has to deal with secondary villains, that presence is felt. ("We've got deal with this now so we can get back to dealing with the real threat!")

There's plenty more, and more specific, advice on just that sort of thing around. We're not a shy bunch here, so I am certain that those of my friends and allies who already have articles and posts on writing an entertaining and believable antagonist will post the links in the comments below for your benefit. In the meantime, go review your favorite antagonists and see how they work in their stories; you can't go wrong by stealing what works and making it your own.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

INVINCIBLE Part Six: Yaomo

Leaving the monks at the temple, Zhang donned his arms and set off again. Again he marched at a man-killing pace, consuming qi to keep himself going. But this time, every so often, he paused to massage his callused feet and check for injuries. He hadn’t healed completely from his last march, and if he pushed himself too hard he could fracture the long bones of his feet. During mealtimes, he stopped completely, making simple meals of boiled rice porridge, salted pork and nearby fruits. Even Shenwujun had their limits.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Pulp Tabletop: Mage: The Ascension

I don't write much about my tabletop adventures, but this is worth sharing.

I'm currently in a Mage: The Ascension campaign set in 1934 San Francisco. Vampire gangsters, speakeasies, ethnic stereotype Irish cops, the works.

The group is a Wu Lung (Chinese mystic tradition) bouncer from Chinatown, a crazy Verbena (earthy, folk magic) cat lady who talks to ghosts, a Cult of Ecstasy (wizards that seek sensation) nightclub singer/alcoholic, an Akashic (another Eastern tradition) ninja exile, a Hermetic (European rite wizards) bartender, and my guy: Harry Vincent, Wealthy Man About Town. And Euthanatos vigilante.The Euthanatoi are death mages, insofar as the cycle of entropy and rebirth is concerned.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

INVINCIBLE Part Five: Ritual

Lee beheld Zhang with eyes aflame, and when he spoke he struggled to keep the anger leaking from his voice.

“Ensign Zhang, you dueled a martial artist on the street, killing him. This provoked his friends, who attacked you, forcing you to kill them all. Is that correct?”

“It was an assassination attempt. Mojian Han himself was on the scene.”

Saturday, October 7, 2017

INVINCIBLE Part Four: Beat the Grass to Scare the Snake

Zhang spent the rest of the night cleaning up. After retrieving his weapons, Zhang inspected his chest. The armor had absorbed the brunt of the blow, leaving only a painful bruise. He grabbed a bottle of medicinal oil from his ring and rubbed the oil into the bruise. The battered muscle warmed up rapidly; a few more applications and it would heal completely.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Kobold Knight: Introduction to Plot-finding

In this fourteenth chapter of "A Guide to Fiction-Writing," Mr. Knight discusses plagiarism, writer's block, finding ideas, and how he keeps up his work ethic.

WE have discussed, in detail, the essentials of a dramatic plot for a conventional short story (Problem, Crisis, Climax—the whole based on a Theme, and sometimes strengthened with a Motif.) That constitutes, really, a kind of formula.
Beyond that rough formula there can be no adequate recipe for a conventional short story. We may add Complications—relevant, please, always—we may include sub-crises and a love interest, perhaps, but whatever we do we will never arrive at a formula that will cover all printed stones of approximately the same length. Certain formulae there are, and they will hold good each for its own type of story only—and we will touch on them in good time. But at present remember that the plot-embryo Formula I have now several times given, is as far as we can go along the way towards producing a rude formula that will hold good for most conventional stories.

 There are no new plots—except from geniuses. (Noel Coward’s Design For Living is a startling example of a new idea—as new as those behind Bitter Sweet and Cavalcade were old. In the two last plays he ran the whole gamut of the emotions by using almost every “ trick " known in Drama.)

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Getting Started: Put That Blogroll to Work!

If you're reading this, then chances are good that you're already reading others who are--at the least--sympathetic to we at #PulpRev and what we stand for. Be you an artist, writer, designer, or just another fan it's a good idea to turn your blogroll into a well-curated feed of information that you can readily resort to on a day-to-day basis.

That means finding friendly folks and putting them into the Blogroll. At this point, a lot of those people are working writers and publishers with some bloggers and podcasters mixed in: Razorfist, Brian Niemeier, Jon del Arroz, Declann Finn, Vox Day, John C. Wright, Geek Gab (especially On The Books), Jim Fear, and all of us here (and that's just what I recall off the top of my head).

I only post here once a week. I post every day at my main blog. It's going to be something similar for other contributors here, so even if there's a post here daily--which is a good thing in its own right--you are best served by going to the sites of the people you like most, or find most useful, and throwing them into your Blogroll so that you get notifications as soon as posts come up.

In addition to seeing our newest offerings as soon as they go live, they remind you to look into our archives. Maybe we already hit upon some question or other curiosity of yours, and in our past postings we can satisfy that interest you have. Curious about if you should read that dog-eared copy of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress? One of us, or our friends, has you covered. Want a take on Gundam Unicorn that isn't the usual weeb bullshit? We've got you. Want some interesting opinions on unusual writing prompts? Stick around; it'll come up again soon enough.

And having all of that in your Blogroll, where you--and no one else--decides whom to follow (nevermind why), is the best approach to keeping track of all of these fascinating and interesting people and groups you're now discovering and getting familiar with. It's right there, so make good use of this tool; spend less time aimlessly seeking info from the folks you like, and more time actually enjoying what you like.

INVINCIBLE Part Three: The Destroyer of Evil

Zhang marched overland, timing himself to arrive at the forest after dark. When he arrived, he donned his suit of black paper armor and drew his crossbow. Short of an enemy army, he was ready for anything.

Enemy at Blood River ~血の川にいる敵~ [Part II]

Previous: Enemy at Blood River (Part I)
Next: Enemy at Blood River (Part III)

[Part II]

When Mai and Sana finally regained consciousness, they found themselves in a small shinobi village nestled within a mountain range. Since full sunlight only occurred at noontime when the sun shone directly over the mountains, nothing grew here; the village subsisted on small game hunted in the surrounding forests and grasslands, as well as any fruits or vegetables they could forage. Since the village flooded often, every house sat on tall stilts, with wooden stairways leading to each door. A narrow, winding dirt road led into the village, and that path emanated from a cavern in one of the mountains. The enemy forces would have a difficult time locating where these shinobi lived.

The leader of the shinobi, who went by the name Hiroshi, set Mai and Sana to work after they awakened. The two young women had to exchange their fancy dando for simple brown kimono not only to keep Mai from betraying the village with her incredible strength, but also to show the women that they held no special favor.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Introducing Kobold Knight: A Guide To Story-Writing

The pulp mindset is more than lurid action, more than writing extremely fast or eschewing subtlety; what it *is* we haven't nailed down yet (not for lack of trying), but whatever it is involves a mindset that's become exotic to our jaded, modern eyes. I found a gem written in that mindset, mentioned offhand in some essay (I think it was Le Guin but I can't track it down) as an example of the worst kind of writing advice: advice on how to make money writing.

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce Kobold Knight.


I actually can't find a photograph of him. He was a prolific pulp author, as they all were when they wanted to make a living at it, publishing in Windsor, Argosy, Story Teller, Pearson’s, Royal, Red, 20-Story, Chambers’s Journal, Cassell's Magazine, New, Corner, Hutchinson’s, Nash’s Pall Mall, and many more, and he was experienced with the system and how it worked. He published A Guide To Fiction-Writing in 1937, and it's both a picture of a lost era and a practical guide to writing stories.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

INVINCIBLE Part Two: Sujiang

The Shenwujun labored through most of the night, picking through the remains of the rebel camp. In the fullness of time, the internal troops regrouped and returned, but by then there was nothing more for them to do. The Shenwujun made camp upriver of the rebel camp, and bedded down for the few hours to dawn.

After breakfast, Captain Cao gathered the men around him. It was a small group, only thirty of them, but Shenwujun rarely gathered in larger numbers.

“Gentlemen, good work last night. You took on a rebel group three times your number and won. Impressive work, even by our standards. Well done.”

Regular soldiers might have cheered. The Shenwujun simply smiled and nodded approvingly. They were still in the field. Still at war.

“Now the bad news,” Cao said. “Our target, Mojian Han, was not among the dead. We found no trace of him or his infamous sword.”

Monday, October 2, 2017

Cursed City - Book Review

As I prepared to publish and market my latest novel, War Demons, I set out in search of other, similar novels. Cursed City by William Massa quickly rose quickly to the top of my list. It turns out that male leads represent an endangered species in urban fantasy novels. Many of the books sold in the genre should actually sit in the paranormal romance category. I hold nothing against that, but War Demons doesn't fit with that crowd at all.

Neither does Cursed City. Book one of Massa's Shadow Detective series, this book packed in the fun. It's pulp as hell, and I mean that in the best possible way. Mike Raven, the hero, provides a welcome breath of masculinity in an estrogen dominated genre. Furthermore, he lives up to the primary duty of a protagonist: he's interesting.

The writing is simple and straightforward. At first, that worried me. But a few chapters in it became clear that the simple writing is intentional, in the tradition of the old school pulp writers. This kind of deliberate simple writing is actually a challenge to accomplish, and it makes the book very accessible. And if I hadn't already overcome that objection, the twists in the final act more than compensated.

A quick, thrilling read, this book started in the middle of the action and only paused for a few breaths along the way. I give it four stars out of five, and I look forward to finishing the rest of the series. I highly recommend it to fans of male led urban fantasy. It's available right now on Amazon for only $0.99, or you can pick it up for free on Kindle Unlimited like I did.

[Cross posted on my own blog.]

Sunday, October 1, 2017

INVINCIBLE Part One: Blood and Fire

Zhang Tianyou hated working with internal troops. The Shenwujun did all the hard work, while they claimed all the glory.

Shenwujun like him.