Failing, To Begin With.

Carrie Cuinn is a writer, editor, small press publisher, computer geek, and amiable raconteur. In her spare time she reads, makes things, takes other things apart, and sometimes gets a new tattoo. She has an impressive collection of published fiction and non fiction and has been a guest on SF Signal podcasts multiple times. Her website is and you can follow her on twitter @CarrieCuinn.

When I was asked to write for BookLife, my immediate reaction was to wonder what I could possibly have to offer. I am a published author, and editor, and own a small press publishing company, but I spent most of 2011 (and the beginning of 2012) dealing with personal issues that kept me from accomplishing many of my professional goals. I’d started off with the production and publication of a great anthology, Cthulhurotica, which was very well received, but what did I do after that?

To put it simply, I failed.

People fail all of the time. We make plans based on exciting new ideas that we actually don’t know how to accomplish. We have family emergencies, or relationship issues, or illnesses, that take up our time and energy. We have financial troubles. We face job losses and sudden moves and starting over in a new town. We fear turning down new opportunities, even when we’re overburdened, because we’re not sure that we’ll get those chances again. When these things happen, our goals and dreams become unfulfilled hopes, unmet deadlines, and disappointments.

In my case it was a combination of almost everything I mentioned above. While different obstacles rose up, and were met with revised plans and a determination not to fail, it was the emotional aspect of failing that threw me the most. I was afraid of letting down the people that were rooting for me, of losing my friends’ respect, and of disappointing the people who were beginning to consider themselves my fans. I should have stopped trying to manage everything all at once, cut back on my production schedule, a long time before I actually did. Eventually I didn’t have a choice; my life got so complicated it ground to a halt.

I felt as if I’d ruined everything. My one chance to be an author and to make books and to become part of the writing community was gone, because I’d screwed it up.

It turns out that doesn’t really happen.

I got my feet under me again and focused on my immediate needs first: I took care of my son and myself. I kept the power on, I kept us fed. Over time, I began to add in the things I felt I could handle: organizing my finances, sorting out school, and getting rid of a lot of things that I didn’t need (both household objects and sources of stress). I started writing again, and sold a few things. I got over my fear of my own contributors and began to let people know just how badly I had failed.

No one hated me. No one thought I’d missed out on my “one chance”. I got support, I got advice, I got offers of help.

“It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to put a book out,” I was told. “It matters how good the book is once it’s out.”

I started to look at my company from the perspective of making the business work, instead of focusing mainly on how exciting it was to work with great authors and artists, or how many ideas I had. I realized that for me, publishing will be about making the best book that I can, not about producing the largest number in the shortest amount of time. I slowed down our schedule, let people know I was sorry but there would be delays.

Now my 2012 books are coming together, and they’re beautiful. It may another year before I’m completely caught up with where I want to be, but I can see now that I’ll get there. In the end, I didn’t lose anything except my own expectations, and I learned a lot about the reasons we fail. I can’t say that I won’t make any mistakes from here on out, but I know now that I’ll learn from them, and that no amount of failure is permanent. There’s no reason to quit trying.

Five things to remember when it seems like everything is falling apart:

1. Know the rewards: each thing you do has a cost and a payout. This can be financial, it can be an amount of time, it can be personal or social. Part of getting your life back on track is knowing how much it’s going to cost you to get the life you want, and whether you can live with what you end up with. This means knowing, for example, that you’ll need to spend 30 hours of work to write a story which will net you $80, but that publication will get you into the SFWA, a goal you think is worthy of the time spent. It’s knowing when a certain deadline or event will mean that you can’t see your significant
other next weekend, or that you’ll need to order takeout for dinner on Friday because you won’t have time to cook (which means, of course, that you’ll be paying for your lack of time now with having to spend more time making money to cover the cost of that take-out).

2. Prioritize your life: there are always more tasks than hours in the day, but some of them are more important than others. Make a list of your deadlines, write to-do lists. If you know what has to get done vs. what you’d like to get done, you know where to start cutting when you only have time or resources to accomplish some of your goals.

3. Learn to say no: One of the biggest problems I had was that I would accept every bit of volunteering that was requested of me, whether it was critiquing stories, doing line edits, or writing guest blog posts. It meant that I wrote fiction for token or non-paying markets. It meant that I helped other companies with their publication projects. As much as I’d love to keep doing all of these things, it contributed to my inability to get everything done, which led to me failing. I still do help out as much as I can, but I have a much better idea of when I can say “yes” and when I have to say “sorry, I can’t right now.”

4. Communication keeps people informed: Tell your coworkers and your family and your friends what’s going on. No one likes it when you just drop out of their lives, and sometimes we take that personally – it can feel like we’re not important if you’re suddenly blowing off deadlines and become impossible to find. Letting people know why your life is upside down may feel like you’re complaining or you’re weak, but in reality, it lets them know that they were on your mind. It tells people that the way you’re treating them and their projects isn’t personal. It’s much easier to work out a new deadline when you’re keeping people informed than it is to try to rebuild those relationships later.

5. Take it one step at a time: when you have a dozen missed deadlines and a handful of future projects, the moment you start as if you can peek your head up again, you’re buried under work. It’s impossible to fix everything all at once, so don’t. Pick the most important thing, based on your analysis of cost and payout and priorities, and do that. It can be reestablishing your social network, it can be quietly finishing a short story or editing job before anyone knows you’re back in the saddle. Whatever it is, do that one thing. Then do the next thing. After that, you do one more thing. It will all get done, and by learning to work as much as you can but not more, you’re learning how to make sure that you don’t overload yourself again in the future.

After all, everyone fails, but the goal is try to only fail in the beginning.

Stalking the Wild Sentence

Peter Brandvold has written over seventy fast-action western novels under his own name and his penname, Frank Leslie.   Follow of his blog here.

Finding that first sentence of the day can be as bracing to the writer as that first up of coffee, but it’s sometimes as hard to find as the strike zone for the aging fast-ball pitcher or as elusive as wild asparagus for the natural foods forager.

Sitting down to the soft, menacing whine of his machine, the career-scribe stares at the blank screen and sees nothing but his own bewildered eyes staring back at him.  Two lone eyes in a vast sea of white.

Gradually, the eyes get wider.

And wider.

They are suddenly no longer the wordsmith’s own eyes but the eyes of the moron he suddenly fears he’s become.  “Eee-gads!” he cries, fists clamped to his temples.  “My career is over and I have only a few chapters left on this oater I’m writing!  No delivery check for me, and they’re probably going to force me to return the advance money I’ve already frittered away, as well!”

The scribbler’s heart pounds like musket fire in a Civil War reenactment battle as he wonders if they’re hiring down at Target.

Where are those slippery devils, those glistening little hand-cut and polished jewels, those sentences, hiding?

Sometimes, at this point, the writer must become the Euell Gibbons of his trade, don his metaphorical hiking boots and walking stick, and light out for parts known.  Yes, into the wild he’s explored before.  Into the woods where he’s found those toothy little word-lions roaming free in the past and managed to throw a loop around them and haul them home to the cheers of his relieved family and the yips of his happy curs.

My version of this primeval forest is usually as close as my own office bookshelves or sometimes even my bedside night table.

At either place I can usually find all the books I’m in the half-conscious habit of returning to on those frustrating mornings I find that I need my pump primed.  Sometimes, all I have to do is flip through one or two of these tomes, reading a few of the sentences in each–usually by writers who have struck major chords with something deep inside my writer’s ear before, firing the spark of creativity inside my desperate soul–and suddenly I become a cat pouncing on a mouse.

I’m Hemingway in Africa.

Paris Hilton on Rodeo Drive.

It’s weird, the books I find myself returning to.  These are the books I’ve read and reread so many times I know them almost by heart, but they’re not at all what anyone who knows I’m a fast-action, blood-‘n’-guts western writer would expect.  Most days, there’s not a single oater among them.

Today I found three books at the top of the stash I return to most often and thumb through repeatedly, searching for the sounds that are going to ring my own bell.  And one or all of these almost always rings it.

Here are the titles:

Red Smith on Baseball.

Lights on a Ground of Darkness by Ted Kooser.

One Man’s Garden by Henry Mitchell.

Yeah, that last one’s a freakin’ gardening book.  And aside from throwing a few shrubs in the dirt now and then, I don’t even garden!  The thing is, I’m not reading for content but for the sound of the writer’s words arranged with such seeming effortlessness into graceful sentences.

I’m needing to hear the writer’s voice and see the images that that voice paints in my head.  For some reason and almost all the time, hearing and seeing those sentences written by folks I consider masters of the trade helps me use my own voice and my own images to write this essay, for instance, as well as the scenes in my own western novels.

Here are two sentences by sportswriter Red Smith from his essay, “A Man Who Knew the Crowds,” that got me going yesterday:

When the iceman cometh, it doesn’t make a great deal of difference which route he takes, for the ultimate result is the same in any case.  Nevertheless, there was something especially tragic in the way death came to Tony Lazzeri, finding him and leaving him all alone in a dark and silent house–a house which must, in that last moment, have seemed frighteningly silent to a man whose ears remembered the roar of the crowd, as Tony’s did.

Thanks, Red.  And Henry and Ted.

You’ve helped me more times that you could ever know turn that moon-like desert of the white page into a flowing field green with wild asparagus!

The Adulterous Life of the Writer

Jay Faulkner resides in Northern Ireland with his wife, Carole, and their two boys, Mackenzie and Nathaniel. He says that while he is a writer, martial artist, sketcher, and dreamer he’s mostly just a husband and father. His work has been published widely, both online and in print anthologies, and was short-listed in the 2010 Penguin Ireland Short Story Competition. He is currently working on his first novel. Jay founded, and edits With Painted Words, a creative writing site with inspiration from monthly image prompts, and The WiFiles, an online speculative fiction magazine, published weekly. He can also be found as a regular co-host and contributor on the Following The Nerd radio show. For more information, check out or follow him on Twitter at @thejayfaulkner.

Clocks slay time … time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life. ~ William Faulkner

Hi there, my name is Jay and I’m a writer. I thought that it would be best to start this guest blog off with a simple introduction and that seemed quite apt. Except that isn’t quite true. You see if I was to tell you what I am – and being honest – ‘writer’ would come some way down the list of things. First and foremost I am a husband, to the beautiful Carole, and father, to my two wonderful boys: Mackenzie and Nathaniel. After that I am a worker, for which I travel about 90 miles a day and put in about 45 hours a week. I teach two martial art classes a week. I’m a regular co-host and contributor on a weekly radio show. I’m part of the Northern Ireland Rare Disease Partnership, where I do social media work and try to raise awareness of issues facing people with rare diseases. Oh yes, and I write.

I occasionally like to sleep as well.

There are the lucky few who are able to put the ‘writer’ tag at the top of the parts that make their sum, so to speak. The ones who have worked hard, and caught a break or two, and now write full-time, for a living. Then there are the others – the ones like me – who are writers after everything else has been taken care off. The ones who grab whatever time they can to sit down in front of the keyboard and knock out the words that have been swimming in their heads whilst everything else is going on.

You see I might put everything else that I do, that I am, before the ‘writer’ part but I can honestly say that I go to sleep thinking about words, plots and characters; I wake up thinking about protagonists, antagonists and even tritagonists … though, admittedly, when it gets that far I have to do something as my mind gets far too crowded! I have notepads in my workbag, in my martial arts bag, in my jacket pockets even. I have electronic notes on my phone, on my email, on my laptop and on my PC. I have notes that never make it out of my head to anywhere else.

Because, even when I don’t have time to write – when I am busy being a husband, a father, an employee, a teacher, an advocate or any of the other things that fill my life – I am thinking about the words that are yet to come.

I used to think that the adage of a writer having to write each and every day, to set a word count and hit it no matter what, was the right thing to do; that without doing so you weren’t a writer. I used to feel frustrated if I couldn’t meet the word counts I had set myself, or wasn’t able to sit down for a solid couple of hours each and every day, and write. I used to feel guilty when I did take those hours, each and every day, because I could hear my children playing outside, or missed a social engagement with my friends. It got to the point where I was making excuses about what I was doing:

“Do you want to come to the cinema tonight, Jay?”

“No thanks, I’ve got a meeting in the morning to prepare for.”

“Did you get a chance to read that report last night, Jay?”

“No, actually, I went to the cinema with some friends.”

I’d actually done some research into men who go to any lengths when having an affair. They lie to everyone around them in order to fill whatever part of them it was that wanted to be with someone else. Eventually they even began to lie to themselves about what was going on, perhaps believing their own untruths.

And, just like a mistress, writing became my own guilty secret. Rendezvous with the laptop at 1am in the morning when everyone else was asleep; the notepad taken out, discreetly, and words fumbled between the tedium of project updates; a text message, or email, sent to myself in the middle of the night, hoping that my wife wouldn’t wake up with the glare of the phone as I sent my other love another furtive ‘quickie’.

To meet the spurious targets I had set myself, in order to satisfy myself that I was still a writer; I entered into an illicit affair with my Muse.

And then I caught myself on. I realised that it wasn’t something real, something tangible, I had with my Muse anymore but, instead, furtive moments in the dead of the night where neither of us were ever truly satisfied. I wasn’t living up to Her expectations at all: I wasn’t going the distance for her, in terms of time or words.

… yeah, I know, it happens to everyone and She was quite understanding about it really but one’s masculine ego does take a bashing the first time, in the middle of the night with the sheets wrapped around you, you can’t finish what you started.*

Something had to give and, finally, it did.

My ego.

I realised that I don’t have to write one thousand words a day, each and every day. I realised that I don’t have to try to ‘fit in’ my writing amongst everything else and try to keep up the pretence that I am a writer above everything else. As long as I write, to the best of my ability, each and every time that I can, then that is all that truly matters because, after all, a satisfying fifteen minutes is better than a wasted hour.

So, at the end of the day I am a husband, a father, a worker, a teacher and many other things too. Amongst them all – the parts of my sum – I am a writer. My family accepts that, and supports it, as do I.

My Muse is still happy to tease me, to call me at all hours of the night and day but, ultimately, knows that I will always be Hers, no matter how much time I get to spend with Her; She no longer watches the clock.

As long as I continue to write for Her, of course.

And I will.

– Jay

*I was talking about a short story, you filthy minded people! ;)

Tie-In Novels as Historical Fiction

Dave Gross is the author of Prince of Wolves, Master of Devils, and the upcoming Queen of Thorns. His other recent work appears in the anthologies Tales of the Far West and Shotguns v. Cthulhu. You can read some of his stories for free at or follow him on Twitter @frabjousdave or

After a couple of decades editing and writing for shared-world settings, I still enjoy playing in someone else’s sandbox. The advantages of building your sand castle in a popular setting make up for those occasions when you scoop up a cat turd. You can avoid those unpleasant surprises, or make the most of them, by approaching tie-in fiction as an archaeologist and historian.

Do Your Research

When approaching a tie-in project, you’ll start with either a wealth of source material—as in a big property like Star Wars—or with only a few pages of concepts—as in a brand-new setting like Far West. Each situation offers a different advantage. If your strengths lie in research and interpolation, you’ll love poring over dozens of volumes in search of details to bring your story to life. If the material is well organized, with a wiki for instance, it’ll be a breeze. With smaller settings, you’ll enjoy the freedom to invent within an established atmosphere. I’ve written novels for which my research filled a banker’s box and some for which my research fit on two pages.  Each method has its pleasures.

Obey the Canon

Whether you’re developing from existing elements or creating new ones, it’s crucial not to break with the established “physics” of the world. When pitching a story for a steampunk/wuxia/Wild West setting, I assumed incorrectly that magic was a part of the world. Thankfully that happened at the pitch stage, so the editor gently pointed out my mistake, and I moved on to a different pitch.  When I write for Pathfinder Tales, the editor asks me to footnote any mentions of spells or monsters from the game—or to point out where I’m inventing something new—to help him make sure my story jibes with the source material. As with any writing, the better your communication with the editor, the less pain you’ll endure in revision.

Resolve Existing Conflicts

Just like the real world, large settings like the Forgotten Realms occasionally produce conflicting references to a single location, time period, or character. Sometimes these vagaries are intentional, as with multiple interpretations of a religious prophecy. But discrepancies can slip through, just as archaeologists unearth contrary evidence or historians disagree in their interpretations of that evidence. If your editor can’t resolve the question and it’s left to you to make the call, make the most of it. Pick the interpretation that best serves your story, or the one that best reflects the “truth” of the setting. At the same time, trust your editor to make sure that writers working at the same time each have their own corners of the sandbox, minimizing conflicts.

Beware of Apocrypha

Fans love to add to their favorite tie-in settings, as do third-party-publishers (3PP). Take care to avoid both fan-created and 3PP content. Not only is that extra material unofficial, it’s also legally off-limits. This situation is especially dangerous to writers who have read widely from a setting’s source material.  Recently I discovered some fan-created material in a big folder of official source material, reminding me of this danger.

Extrapolate the Small Stuff

Even the most comprehensive setting won’t provide you with all the details you need for a rich story, and that’s where the real fun begins. You may know everything else about the goddess of death, but when you need the equivalent of the sign of the cross for a frightened character, it’s your moment to add a new detail. Some of my favorite additions to established settings have been the smallest: rituals, courtesies, and curses. The key is not to throw in something just because it’s cool by itself; it should make sense within the existing setting, so find a way to link the small to the big. For example, in a country where the authorities impale criminals on giant forks, “shooting the tines” might be the most offensive gesture. Do it well, and other authors will use your invention as their source material in the next book.


Writing tie-in fiction isn’t for everyone. Some precious souls look down on the work, despite its appreciative audience and many excellent examples of the form. And maybe you just don’t enjoy research; I know at least one brilliant writer who has done excellent tie-in work in the past but who avoids it now because it’s too much like studying for an exam. Still, if you’re a fan of a setting or its genre, if you play well with others, and if you do your research, you can have a lot of fun in the sandbox and uncover far more treasure than turds.