Writers of the Future, Volume 32 is on Sale!

Recall the short story prequel I wrote for The Jack of Souls?

It won a place in this year’s Writers of the Future anthology, and that anthology is on sale for a buck in the Kindle store!

Original stories and original art for a buck. Sweet! 

Special Midnight Free Book Offer!

Buy a copy of this year’s Writers of the Future before Midnight tonight and I’ll joyfully ship you a first-edition paper, hardback,* eBook or audiobook of The Jack of Souls!


*First come first served on the paper and hardbacks (I think I have a dozen of each). No limit (except midnight) on The Jack of Souls eBooks and audio.
How Does This Work? 
Simple! Just send me a receipt/photo of you and your WOTF to stephenmerlino@hotmail.com, along with your preference of paper, hard, ebook or audio, plus your address, and I’ll put it in the mail.  Thank you!
Buy at a local book store or online. Here are the links:
Amazon US (paperback | Kindle)         < $11.52 paperback, $6.99 Kindle
Barnes & Noble (paperback | Nook)    < $ 11.63 paperback, $6.49 Nook


This is the week to get WRITERS OF THE FUTURE for Summer Reading!

THIS IS THE BEST WEEK TO BUY Writers of the Future!

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If you’ve been waiting to get yours, this is the week that helps us most — our Bestseller Week.” 
(Little-known fact: Bestseller lists measure velocity of sales over one week, Sun-Sat. So this is our week to urge sales that fund next year’s contest and maybe give it Bestseller status.)
So, please buy before Sunday! At any book store or online:
Thanks again for your support!

Days 2 & 3 – Writers of the Future Workshop

off the grid for 24 hours

When last I posted, we’d all been assigned the task of writing a short story in 24 hours. I was given a random object (a 38 Special shell casing) and told to go interview someone on the street, and then use these things to inspire and craft a story.

And that’s what we did for the last day. I didn’t come up for air for basically fourteen hours (in two 7 hour chunks), which is why I didn’t post the schedule for yesterday

A first

But I did it! I wrote a 5K story in a day, and it has all the bones of a decent story. It’s a rough draft, sure, but it has all the bones. There were valuable lessons in that for me. Perhaps the most valuable lesson of this exercise was to see that I could in fact do this from scratch, with random inspirations; the other was that I could do that in a 24-hour window. That makes me feel good.

So here’s what we’ve been doing: 


You’ll notice the right-hand column is the schedule of the Illustrator’s track.

the illustrators arrived today

The Illustrators got here yesterday, and we just met them today and saw for the first time the illustrations they did for the stories that will appear in the anthology. I’ll get a close-up of the illustration for my story. The artist (as you can see in the picture) is a young woman; her name is Maricella, and she is from Mexico.


Day 1 Program – WOTF Workshop

This program was a closely guarded secret until we arrived

In fact, before we came, I searched the internet for one of these from previous years, to no avail. Now that we’ve all got a copy and permission to share, I can post mine. I’ll post one every day this week.


And yes, you see that right: 8 hours today with David Farland and Tim Powers, talking plot construction, characters, theme, conflict, etc., and hearing stories about bar-hopping with Phillip K. Dick. Fantastic. Such a wonderful opportunity.

Below, David and Tim, after they distributed story props to all of us. In the foreground is the prop that is to inspire a story I write tomorrow. In case you’re not familiar, that’s a 9 mm shell casing, which makes my job easy.There are lots of those in fantasy.

THE JACK OF SOULS is up for preorder on Audible!

The audiobook for The Jack of Souls is up for preorder on Audible, and it’s freaking fantastic!  I am so pleased!

Here’s an audio file of the opening pages. The actor, Alex Wyndham, went with an English accent—probably because of the lofty material, 😉 –and he rocks it! Turns out he’s a great character actor.

JOS - Audiobook

Even in the first minute I love what he did with the barman. II can’t wait to hear how he did Caris and Willard and Brolli and Bannus’s voices.

I shall have to subject my kids to it on the road trip to the mountains this weekend. Mwa-hahaha!


This year it’s “Steampunk Formal”

Steampunk Formal – to Goggle or Not to Goggle

Building on the steampunk theme of this year’s Writer of the Future cover, the gala in April is “steam punk formal.” That means instead of renting a regular tux I can wear some kind of hybrid Victorian dinner jacket top-hat thingy with sword-cane and gyro-boots.

I’m excited. It’s like Halloween in April.

Anyone have accessories I can borrow?vict_mens_02_full


A Wonderful Opening Passage – from Douglas Adams

Here’s a humorous treat for you: the opening passage to an essay by Douglas Adams, titled “DNA / Riding the Rays.”

Riding the Rays, by Douglas Adams

Every country is like a particular type of person. America is like a belligerent, adolescent boy, Canada is like an intelligent, 35 year old woman. Australia is like Jack Nicholson. It comes right up to you and laughs very hard in your face in a highly threatening and engaging manner. In fact it’s not so much a country as such, more a sort of thin crust of semi-demented civilisation caked around the edge of a vast, raw wilderness, full of heat and dust and hopping things.

Tell most Australians that you like their country and they will give a dry laugh and say ‘Well, it’s the last place left now isn’t it?’, which is the sort of worrying thing that Australians say. You don’t quite know what they mean but it worries you in case they’re right.

Just knowing that the place is lurking there on the other side of the world where we can’t see it is oddly unsettling, and I’m always looking for excuses to go even if only to keep an eye on it.

For the whole article:  http://www.douglasadams.com/dna/980707-08-a.html



And You Think Sagging Pants are Ridiculous…

Weirder than Fiction

Fops Together

Building Believable (and Fantastic!) Fantasy Worlds

Reality is often truly stranger than anything you could make up, so it pays to research.

Take this picture from a late 17th century fashion mag displayed in the Rijks Museum, Amsterdam. Look close.

Look how hard these guys are working! That hair! Those stockings! Those accessories! They look like 80s glam rockers!

Accessory Detail 4

Accessor Detail 1




Accessor Detail 2
Accessory Detail 3










The Inredibles

Turns out, there was a name for this Captain Jack Sparrow style of dress back then. Here is what the Rijks Musuem had to say about them in their Fashion Magazines exhibit: They were called, “The Incredibles.” Not kidding.

Fop Explanation

 So This was Actually Satire of the High Fashions of the Rich!

Still, I am not sure they succeeded in making it more ridiculous than the actual fashions. How could they? Here is one of the men they mocked, also from a fashion mag of the time:

Noble Absurdity 2

Dude. You’re wearing pink and white candy-cane-striped tails with yellow pantaloons. Nailed it.











Extremities of Female High Fashion

I wish I had more pictures of ridiculous wealthy men’s attire from the time, but most of the extreme examples are of women’s fashion.

Like these insane hairstyles for women.

Retouched Fashion Hair




The Ship one is my favorite:

Hairstyles 2



Here is the Timeless Message of High Fashion:

1)  Since no one could possibly do work in such attire, I am clearly wealthy.

2) Since the time it takes to design and execute such confections of hair/clothing makes it impossible to do any actual work during the day, I am clearly wealthy.

3) Since the cost of my fashion–not just in time but in money–is astronomical, I am clearly wealthy.

Building This Principle Into Fantasy A World

A good illustration of this in fantasy is in Martin’s A Game of Thrones (the books, anyway) where the fashion of the noble women of the slave city of Meereen is a dress that is essentially a mummy wrap from neck to ankles, making it impossible for the women to walk in anything but tiny little steps. Clearly, those women are NOT doing any work!

Here’s a dress from modern day high fashion that might have been from Meereen:

Meereen Dress

I apologize I don’t know where this image came from originally, or I would cite it. I found it via google on a Pinterest page. Anna D made a comment connecting it to Daenerys in Meereen.

Finally, a Note on the Timelessness of Junk Grabbing

Okay, pant-sagging may not have been around in the old days, but the Incredibles did, apparently, grab junk. They were straight up Gs.


Short Story Award

I just learned that my short story, “Outside the Game,” won first place in the Southwest Writers International Writing Competition!  SWW-Contest-Header

Many thanks to David Levine and Fairwood Writers, who helped me develop it.

“Outside the Game” is an alternative first chapter to The Jack of Souls, set in the same place the novel begins, but an hour before the events that start the novel.

I wrote it as a tool to gain attention for the novel (and because Harric is so much fun to write about!).

Here’s the link, if you want to check it out:


Falcon Chicks Hate Prologues

The Sucker Punch of Speculative Fiction Novels

I think the falcon-chick affect (see preceding post for explanation of this syndrome) is why a writer’s first novel generally doesn’t have a prologue. For a falcon chick reader, the prologue is the ultimate sucker punch.  It’s like saying, “Here, read this prologue, bond with the prologue protagonist, then learn in the first chapter that she died ten centuries before the main story begins.”

This may be why agents and editors don’t like to put them in a debut novelist’s first novel. Established writers can get away with using prologues, because they already have an audience that trusts them, and because they are less likely to use a prologue as an expository crutch.

Sampling a few debut novels from the last couple years seems to bear this out:

  • Thunderer, by Felix Gilman: no prologue.
  • The Windup Girl, by Paulo Baccigalupi: no prologue.
  • Low Town, by Daniel Polansky: no prologue.
  • The Girl of Fire and Thorns: no prologue.
  • The Desert of Souls, by Howard Jones: no prologue.

Notably, Gilman’s sequel, City of Gears, has a prologue. He proved himself.

Still, being an established author does not override my falcon-chick complex.  I can think of a few established authors I put down after I bonded with a prologue character who never reappears in the novel. Saberhagen’s The Book of Swords was one. Tigana, by Guy Gabriel Kay, was another. The only exception that comes to mind is the prologue to Martin’s A Game of Thrones, where the character relationships were so gorgeously crafted that (ironically) I forgave him when they died.

Kristin Nelson’s “Agent Reads the Slushpile” Workshop

I also noticed yesterday that when Kristin Nelson held a recent “first-pages” workshop she instructs participants to send the first couple pages of their manuscript: “It needs to be the actual, opening first 2 pages of your manuscript. If you have a prologue, skip it and grab page 1 and 2 from your chapter one.” That may be a coded form of Vonnegut’s advice to “throw away the first couple pages, because that’s where you explain everything” (see earlier posting on Vonnegut’s Writing Advice).

So the message to new writers of fantasy is clear: ditch the prologue till you’ve published. Of course, I had to be told this myself. In the fist draft of my first novel I had one. And it was hard to let it go: prologues are a nice crutch for exposition, and losing it made me work harder.

World Building: Flashlights & Story Questions

Game Designer Insight

I heard a game designer describe world building in a way that is also relevant to fantasy writers. He said, “You the designer have a floodlight, but the gamer only gets a flashlight.” What he meant by that is that as the designer or writer you know the world inside out–its history, its background, its mythology and genealogies–but the gamer or reader will never experience the vast majority of that. It’s for you, the designer to know, so you can steer the story.

It’s the same basic message as the iceberg metaphor: your world’s background would make great reading for an encyclopedia fetishist, but lousy slogging for story readers.

Another Reason to be Stingy with Exposition

As it turns out, readers are as motivated by unanswered questions about your world as they are the cool things you reveal. It’s those unanswered “story questions” that keep the reader turning the pages to find out the answers.

(For more on the idea of not revealing to much to your readers, see entries below.)