Friday, August 16, 2019

Ten Tips on How to Write Short Stories that Sell

I’ve written well over a hundred original short stories, most of which have sold to paying markets and some of which have also sold as reprints. One of my latest original short stories was published last month in THE BLEND INTERNATIONAL.

Tip One:

There are two ways to go about writing a short story that you can sell to a fiction market. You may write for a specific publication following their guidelines and requirements or you can write the story you want to write and then look for a market that is appropriate. I suggest the latter choice--unless you are specifically invited to submit your work by an editor for a themed anthology or magazine issue. Of course, if you aren’t certain what to write about, then publications requiring a particular theme might be answer for you. It’s also one way of dealing with writer’s block.

Tip Two:

You are unlikely to sell short stories unless you’ve read a great many of them. This will give you an instinctive grasp of the genre. If you don’t enjoy reading short stories, you shouldn’t bother writing them. It will show.

Tip Three:

 Don’t assume that because short stories are brief in length that they are easy to write. In reality, it takes discipline to write a good short story and sheer brilliance to write a great one. Short stories are focused works of fiction, just as Poe explained.

Tip Four:

You need to decide the type of short fiction you intend to write. Do you love literary short stories? Try then to write one of your own. Are you into speculative fiction? Do you enjoy science fiction, horror, or fantasy? Are you a mystery writer? Read some of the best both past and present before you attempt your own.  However, be aware that each genre has its own type of content and style. Mashups are acceptable, but first know the rules of each genre before you attempt to mix them. Do the research before you start to write. Read a lot of what you intend to write.

Tip Five:

Whether writing short fiction or a novel, you need to consider the basics: plot, setting, characters, and theme. Analyze how they fit together in your story. One hint: limit the number of characters to just a few so you can develop each one properly. Again, you need to focus.

Tip Six:

Also consider point of view. For instance, who is telling the story? Will this story work best in first or third person? Why? Is the narrator sophisticated, jaded, innocent, naïve? The style and choice of language need to reflect these considerations.

Tip Seven:

When you finish writing your story, put it away for a while and go on to another project. Wait at least one month, then reread and revise as needed. You are now the editor and must view your work with a critical eye. You will see the need for changes and improvements.

Tip Eight:

When you are ready to submit your story for publication, carefully read the submission guidelines. You have to follow them exactly. Each market has its own unique requirements.

Tip Nine:

Avoid writing only for “exposure” if possible. There are paying markets that encourage beginners who are without publishing credits.

Tip Ten:

Don’t be afraid to try writing in more than one genre or style. The great thing about short story writing is that you can be experimental. It’s not as constrained as novel writing. I have gotten stories published in a variety of genres: literary, mystery, romance, science fiction, fantasy and even horror—although I admit my horror stories are more psychological than gory. You really don’t know what you are capable of doing best until you’ve tried many styles of writing.

Your thoughts and comments welcome here!

Friday, August 9, 2019

Interview with Publisher/Editor/Author Roger Nokes

Roger Nokes is the Editor in Chief at Rock and a Hard Place Magazine and writes fiction under the pseudonym Stanton McCaffery.
He has published short fiction in Out of the Gutter Online’s Flash Fiction Offensive, Heater Magazine, Between World’s Magazine, and has an upcoming piece that will be published by Shotgun Honey later this month. His novel, Into the Ocean, is available from New Pulp Press.
He was born and raised in New Jersey where he lives with his wife and son. He works for a United Nations agency and spends most of his time commuting. 

Question: What is the genre of your magazine?  Why did you select it?

Answer: At Rock and a Hard Place Magazine we feature stories about protagonists who are somehow at the bottom of society – whether by their own doing or not. The characters have to be between a rock and a hard place.

We publish stories about people stuck in poverty, in the criminal justice system. People battling disease. People trapped in abusive relationships. People struggling with addiction. People held down by racism or any other form of discrimination. The characters need to be desperate.

Given our own interests, we have a heavy leaning towards crime fiction, but we aren’t limited to the genre. Pieces slated for our first issue have literary leanings--one that’s a bit horror. We haven’t yet received any high fantasy or sci-fi pieces that were ready for publication with us, but that doesn’t mean we won’t find something in the future that works.

Our loose theme can be approached from multiple different angles. No genre has a monopoly on accurately portraying human suffering.
Question:   What inspired this publication? How did it come about?

Answer: In terms of fiction influences, we’re fans of other publications, some of which aren’t around anymore, such as Thuglit. We wanted to put our own spin on it.

As for inspiration outside the world of fiction--well, look at the state of the world. There’s a lot of suffering going on. There are a few people that have a whole lot, but a whole lot of people that have very little.

I always found comfort in sad stories, sad songs, sad movies, and I thought that maybe there’d be some comfort for other people in a publication like this. It kind of makes you feel like you’re a little less alone in the world. That you’re not the only one trying to dig out of mountains of debt, or figuring out how to put a troubled past behind you, or coping with a rough diagnosis.

I do a lot of reading and what I love best is when I’m reading a story or a novel and think, ‘damn, this is a writer who at least can imagine what it’s been like for me.’ I want our readers to feel that when they read the stories published in Rock and a Hard Place.

There’s just something about fiction that I can’t quite put my finger on that oddly exercises the empathy muscle better than non-fiction.

Question:   Is this your first publication? If not, can you tell us about some of your other publications?

Answer:  This is our first publication. The first issue should be out in the late summer of 2019.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  We are working on copy-editing the 15+ pieces we have accepted into the first issue of the magazine. We’re also raising funds to help pay our writers.

You can contribute to the fundraiser at

Question:   What made you start publishing?

Answer: I was at a point where I felt like I had plateaued with my own writing. I wanted to stay in the sphere of fiction writers, but had reached a point of exhaustion with little to show for it.

I felt like there were a lot of people talking about how blending genres was a good thing, but that there were few, if any, venues that actively encouraged submissions from different genres.

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing?

Answer: A lot of the advice I have at this early stage is advice you can hear almost anywhere. I’ve got so much to learn myself.

But here is some of what I have:

Keep at it. Just because you get rejected from one venue says very little about the overall value of the piece or about your writing. We received some great pieces that just weren’t what we were looking for.

All it says is that for whatever reason, the editors of that particular magazine didn’t think it was a fit. That could be for a million different reasons. There could be an editor who just doesn’t want to read anymore mafia stories, or serial killer stories, or whatever. They could feel like your ending was too dark, or in our case, not dark enough.

With so few fiction magazines out there and so many writers, it’s unfortunately impossible for editors to give feedback on every piece, so please don’t read a rejection as anything other than a rejection. It’s not a statement about your writing.

Also, if the editors tell you they want to see more from you, send them more. If we said it, we meant it, and I assume the same goes for other magazines.

Now, perhaps most importantly, you have to read the submissions requirements. Maybe they all seem the same, but still, you have to. Few things are more frustrating than investing time in reading a piece only to get halfway through and start to get the feeling that the writer just fired off a piece when they saw an open call for submissions without actually reading the requirements.

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your magazine?

Answer:  When it’s complete, it will be available through Amazon in print and for Kindle. You can stay updated by visiting our website,, or by following us on Facebook or Twitter. We hope to publish issue one later this summer.

Also, we would love to have a presence in brick and mortar stores. If anyone that owns a store or has connection with a store is reading this and is interested, please contact us at

Questions and or comments for Roger are welcome here!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Interview with Author Katie Marshall

Katie Marshall received her BFA in creative writing and English from The University of Maine at Farmington. During her time there she also interned and later freelanced for a local newspaper as a journalist. Katie has had poems and short stories published in several collections. Katie is a member of the International Thriller Writers and several social media author groups as well. When she isn’t writing, she is a veracious reader and prides herself on her private library she has gathered over the years. She still lives and works in her beloved home state of Maine.

Question: What is the title and genre of your novel?  Why did you select them?

Answer: My novel is The Blackbird’s Song and it’s a psychological thriller. I didn’t really set out to write a thriller novel but I’ve always been interested in the genre so I guess it found me. The title came out of a creative writing course I took in college. I submitted part of this novel for critique by my peers and every person in the class highlighted the same line as something they liked. It later developed into a metaphor for both of my main characters.

Question:   What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer: My inspiration came from a dream I had about a girl and her sister in a dining room where plates, food, and other items in the room had been scattered all over the floor but the candles on the table were still lit. It felt like something was ending, something important, so I started to work backwards to figure out why it had happened. That’s how I came to know one of my main characters, Lizzie. I wrote about her for most of my senior year in high and the beginning of college but something was always missing. Even after I had completed her journey in my mind, it felt like half a story. Then I realized that it was  half of the story. So then I met Brian, my other main character, and it all fell into place.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Answer:  My heroine, Lizzie is a teenage girl that survived a horrific run in with a serial killer called The Bogeyman who terrorized coastal California. When Lizzie is found dying under her sister’s bed, she discovers that the police have targeted her adopted brother, James as the mass murderer behind these atrocities but Lizzie knows it can’t be true. Despite multiple therapists and her sister’s insistent they move to Maine for a fresh start, Lizzie is determined to hold on to this idea until she is able to uncover the truth.  

My second main character, Brian is more of an anti-hero. After the death of his mother and physical abuse from an alcoholic father, Brian is taken down a path of dissociative experiences that he is barely aware of. The “others” that emerge from these dissociations take over the mind, leading Brian into a series of events that transform him into The Bogeyman, a serial killer with bloodthirsty habits and the broken remnants of a mind that continuously justifies its self.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Answer:  The Blackbird’s Song is my first full length novel. I also have to collections of poetry and a collection of short stories, all of which I wrote in college. My collections of poetry, Tears Against the Windowpane and The Writer delve into my own personal journal of love, family, and finding my self worth. My collection of short stories, A System of the Chaotic Mind shows shorts glimpses of the lives of people who encounter extraordinary circumstances and battle disorders that can distort the mind’s perspective.  My most recent piece is a novella, The Other Half of the Moon, which is a romantic comedy about Aphrodite Miller’s misadventures in romance.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  I’m a multi-genre, multi-work kind of writer. I work on whatever piece I feel like at the time. I’m currently in the process of editing a young adult coming of age story as well as writing a fantasy piece about a coven on sisters. My largest piece currently is another thriller about a woman named Letitia who becomes a modern Elizabeth Bathory, bathing in women’s blood for their youth and beauty. In this piece, the reader will get a glimpse into Letitia’s past and journey with her into the future as she discovers there is more to life than her own vanity.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer: I always liked story telling when I was a little girl. My aunt helped me make my first book when I was six years old. I did the illustrations and I must say I’m a better writer than an artist. Writing became this thing that followed me throughout my life. When the time came for me to pick a major for college, I couldn’t think of anything else I would rather be doing.

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer: Let the writing breathe. It’s easy to get hung up on deadlines, word counts, and the feeling that everything has to be perfect right at that moment. Sometimes my best work comes from not meeting a deadline or not having the story go in the direction I had planned for it. I believe a good story will speak to the writer in a way that will let them know what it is meant to be.

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer: The Blackbird’s Song is now available on the Black Opal Books website, Amazon, and any other location that Black Opal Books are sold. Readers can also check out my author’s website for direct links to all of my works.

Questions and comments for Katie are appreciated.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Are Editors Important to Writers?

How important are editors to writers? I’m considering this question because I’m currently working with an editor on my latest historical novel. In fact, we just finished the second edit back and forth.

Are editors necessary? For those of us who are traditionally published, it is editors who decide what will be published. So obviously, we writers should be paying attention to what they have to say. Yet I have heard some writers claim that self-published authors can do away with editors. These writers feel they should be able to write and then edit their own work without interference.

Nevertheless, a good editor can help a writer gain a clearer perspective, distill the most significant elements of a piece of writing, organize content in a way that's comprehensible to a reader, offer advice on how to solidify story elements that are causing problems and then proof or copy-edit in a way that preserves the integrity, voice, and tone of a given work. A good editor can point out plot flaws or information inconsistencies, proofread for typos, grammar, and spelling, check references, and format your work properly.

Given all of that, should you hire an editor? That depends. I’ve never done so. However, I was an English major as both an undergrad and a grad student. I taught English at all levels. I likely could have worked as an editor myself. That doesn’t change the fact that when I put on my editor’s hat to examine my own work I still find errors that need to be fixed. So I truly value input from editors because they present a fresh set of eyes. They can also be objective about our work in ways we cannot be. But my work with professional editors occurs only after my work is contracted with a publisher.

After my work is contracted, be it a novel or a short story, I value what the editor brings to it. With a novel such as the long historical I am working on now, I particularly appreciate the editorial suggestions and corrections I have received. They make my writing much stronger. Of course, I don’t always agree with all editorial changes, but I keep an open mind to them. I truly appreciate the benefits good editors provide.

What’s your opinion on this topic? What have you experienced working with editors? Frustration, positive experience or a little of both?

Friday, July 19, 2019

In the Spotlight: Author Pamela S. Thibodeaux

Today it’s my privilege to host a fellow writer I’ve known for quite a long time via shared publisher, Five Star/Cengage.

Award-winning author, Pamela S. Thibodeaux is the Co-Founder and a lifetime member of Bayou Writers Group in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Multi-published in romantic fiction as well as creative non-fiction, her writing has been tagged as, “Inspirational with an Edge!” ™ and reviewed as “steamier and grittier than the typical Christian novel without decreasing the message.”

Pam is sharing information about her romance novel TEMPERED HEARTS now available on audio.

Blurb: Rancher Craig Harris and veterinarian Tamera Collins clash from the moment they meet.  Innocence is pitted against arrogance as tempers rise and passions ignite to form a love as pure as the finest gold, fresh from the crucible and as strong as steel.  Thrown together amid tragedy and unsated passion, Tamera and Craig share a strong attraction that neither accepts as the first stages of love.  Torn between desire and dislike, they must make peace with their pasts and God in order to open up to the love blossoming between them.  It is a love that nothing can destroy when they come to understand that only when hearts are tempered, minds are opened and wills are softened can man discern the will of God for his life.

Taking advantage of the luxurious facilities, Tamera stood a long time in the shower washing away the grit and grime from traveling, as well as her other activities, then settled in the tub for a hot bath. She saturated her thick locks with conditioner, wrapped a moist, hot towel around her head and relaxed in scented, frothy water. Her vision blurred as exhaustion numbed her senses and she sank lower in the tub. She awoke with a start an hour later, shivering. She rose, drained the water from the tub and rinsed the conditioner out of her hair. Patting herself dry with a thick, soft towel, she reached for the robe that hung on the door.
Wrapped in the warm terry cloth, she sat at the vanity and combed the tangles out of her mass of blonde hair. She retrieved the blow dryer from her overnight bag, and ran her fingers through the thick tresses while applying heat. When the chore was nearly complete, she sprayed her hair with leave-in conditioner and brushed it. Tamera closed her eyes and mentally counted the strokes as a memory emerged in her mind…he in his favorite chair, she sitting at her father’s feet while he brushed and counted one hundred strokes. She heard his voice in her mind as she completed the task.
An everyday routine she once thought of as soothing, a time of bonding, she now considered a chore. Tamera blinked back tears, swallowed the lump in her throat, put down the brush, and seriously considered getting it all cut off.

Purchase Links:

Amazon Print:

You can sign up to receive Pam’s newsletter and get a FREE short story.


Amazon Author Page:

Comments for Pam appreciated.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Interview with Mystery Author Kathy McIntosh

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing author Kathy McIntosh. Kathy loves the way words sound and the way they look on a page. In addition to creating offbeat adventures for the zany characters in her novels, she is an editor who helps others make their words the best possible. Kathy’s first novel was chosen as one of Idaho’s Top Ten Fiction books and she was named one of the top three emerging writers for that year.

Kathy shares space with a part Lab, part Catahoula Leopard hound known as the neighborhood Welcome Waggin’. She and her husband travel the world as often as they can, in search of adventure and great meals. (Although they find plenty of great food in Tucson, named the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the U.S.) More about Kathy, her writing, and a chance to sign up for her very occasional newsletter and a free short story, are at

Question: What is the title and genre of your new novel?  Why did you select them?

Answer: My novel is titled Murder, Sonoran Style, An Adventure Calls Mystery. It is an amateur sleuth mystery. I chose the title because the titles of my first two novels didn’t reveal that they were mysteries. I chose the genre because I like putting regular people in difficult situations and forcing them to solve the mystery. I also think it’s easier to add humor to amateur sleuth mysteries.

Question:  What inspired this novel? How did it come about?

Answer: When I moved to Arizona, I knew I wanted to set my next novel here. I happened to stay in the town of Benson, AZ, and read about a proposed development that would potentially affect the San Pedro River National Conservation Area, because of its size and its proximity to that area’s water table. Even after the several years it took for my novel to be published, the controversy remains.

Question:  Could you tell us a little bit about the heroine and/or hero of your novel?

Answer:  My hero is Gabe Ramsay, a former science professor who left his tenure track post in disgrace, falsely accused by a very wealthy donor of attacking the donor’s wife. He buys into Adventure Calls, an eco-tour company, as another way to teach people about nature and ecology and to prove he can succeed in business. Of course his hopes are challenged when he finds the dead body of someone he’d recently fought with, stabbed with Gabe’s skinning knife. He gets help solving the murder from the tour company’s spirited chef, Madrone Hunter.

Question:   Can you tell us about some of your other published novels or work?

Answer:  My first two novels are part of the Havoc in Hancock humorous suspense series. Mustard’s Last Stand and Foul Wind are set in north Idaho, where the wackiest characters live. (I lived in the south part of the state.) I’ve also had a few short stories published.

Question:   What are you working on now?

Answer:  I’m working on the second Adventure Calls mystery, in which Madrone, the chef, will take the lead.

Question:   What made you start writing?

Answer:  I’ve always loved reading and words and love to make people laugh. In my business career, I wrote scads of marketing documents, so I already knew how to spin fiction.

Question:   What advice would you offer to those who are currently writing novels?

Answer: Trust in yourself, and keep going, with a goal of getting better with every novel, every story you write. Listen to critique partners but don’t lose your own unique voice.

Question:  Where and when will readers be able to obtain your novel?

Answer: Murder, Sonoran Style, is available in ebook and paperback on It’s also sold through IngramSpark and in two local Tucson bookstores.

Kathy welcomes comments and questions. 

Friday, July 5, 2019

Summer Reading 2019

It’s that time of year again when every magazine, newspaper and newsletter offers suggestions on summer reading. So why should this blog be any different?

Summer is the perfect time to spend some time vacationing or just relaxing. Sit in the sun, lie on a chaise poolside, rest by the ocean or a lake, or under the shade of a tree, sip a cool drink, and read a book—hard cover, soft cover, audio or digital.

Mysteries remain one of the most popular genres for summer reading. Why? Because they entertain us. They also engage our intellect in a satisfying manner. Romances provide us with a happy ever after ending. If you like reading for enjoyment, it’s the way to go.

I just finished the last two novels by Jayne Ann Krentz, one of my favorite authors. The latest one, TIGHTROPE, is published under her Amanda Quick nom de plume. It’s a fine romantic suspense novel perfect for summer reading.

Lots of good summer reading on the bestseller list. But what about some of the excellent authors who write for small independent presses and provide us with quality fiction but don’t get as much publicity because they are not with the big publishers?

For adult readers, I suggest my mystery novel
Death Promise, a romantic mystery thriller published by Encircle and available on Amazon and from other booksellers in both print and ebook editions.

For readers of young adult fiction I suggest WITCH WISH from Black Opal Press, also available from most booksellers.

Intrigue Publishing is offering my adult romantic mystery THE INHERITANCE as a free read on Audible.

There are many fine writers who can be added here. As a reader and/or writer are there any authors and/or books you would like to recommend for summer reading? You are most welcome to mention your own books.