SF Mind Meld: Favorite SciFi Futures

Sean Williams and four us 2016 Writers of the Future writers explain our very different picks in this special valedictory SF Mind Meld. 

In Memoriam

(If you havent heard, our beloved SF Signal, which used to host SF Mind Meld, recently went defunct. Happily, James Aquilone re-functed it on his website, and invited me to be part of its last glorious funct.)

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!

Cover - 400pixel width

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!

Win a free eBook of THE JACK OF SOULS!

eBook-Slot-Machine GIVEAWAY!

Click the image for a chance to win an ebook copy of The Jack of Souls on Amazon!

eBook Slot Machine blue

Give it a whirl, and share this link with friends! Good luck!


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.


2016 Writers of the Future Workshop – Fri & Sat Schedule

3 Days left! Larry niven, Mike resnick, nancy kress…

Fri & Sat

NANCY KRESS: “Develop writing rituals to train the ‘Little Man in the Basement.'”

LARRY NIVEN: “If Lucifer’s Hammer gets humanity to do something about this threat, I’ll feel my life was justified.” 🙂

MIKE RESNICK: “You sell your first 3 books on promise. You sell your 4th on record.”

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!


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.


Leper Life

Leper Party Sleigh

Leper Party Sleigh

You might think lepers had it rough in the old days.

But you would be wrong. If you were a leper, most of the time you were forbidden to enter the city, but once a year they put you in a wooden sled and dragged it through the city.

Leper Party Sled

You got to hold out a plate for donations and they gave you these wooden party clappers to make noise with!

Good times.

Would You Let Your Kids?

Medieval Bladder Toy

Medieval Bladder Toy

Before there were balloons, there were pig-bladders! Ask nicely, kids, and the butcher will grab one from the offal bin! Hours of fun!

Midwest Book Review Reads THE JACK OF SOULS!

Click here to see the review on MBR.

Click here to see the review on MBR.

Months ago I sent two paperbacks, a cover letter, and a press release to Midwest Book Review, in hope that they would review The Jack of Souls. They get around 50 submissions a day, for 1500/month, and since they are non-profit, they don’t have time to reply to everyone; basically, if they don’t like what your wrote, you don’t hear from them. So I really had my fingers crossed for this one.

Who is Midwest Book Review?

MBR is probably the biggest non-profit small press reviewer that accepts indie books. It has a wide professional readership including book stores and librarians.

Unfamiliar Sender

Today, while at a gas station in Winthrop, Washington (the first reliable cell reception on our week in the North Cascades), I saw an unfamiliar email in my inbox: MWREVW@aol.com.


It took a few seconds to recognize it. When I did, my breath stopped.


Good News Comes from Unfamiliar Senders

“Dear Mr. Merlino:
I’m very pleased to announce that the April 2015 issue of our online book review magazine “Small Press Bookwatch” features a review of The Jack of Souls.
The Jack of Souls
Stephen C. Merlino
Tortoise Rampant Press
9780986267413, $12.95 PB, 350pp, www.amazon.com
Critique: The first volume in Stephen Merlino’s ‘The Unseen Moon’ series, “The Jack of Souls” is a terrific read from beginning to end and clearly establishes Merlino as a master of the fantasy action/adventure genre. Highly recommended for community library Science Fiction & Fantasy collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that “The Jack of Souls” is also available in a hardcover edition (9780986267406, $29.99) and a Kindle edition ($3.99).
I look forward to your next new title.
James A. Cox
Midwest Book Review
278 Orchard Drive
Oregon, WI, 53575

Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. Holy crap. 

They liked it!

I know I’m not supposed to care. That I’m supposed to write no matter what anyone says good or bad. And I will. But seriously, I am so thrilled and stunned and so grateful for this review. It is so nice to see my stories aren’t just sung into a void–that sometimes someone actually shouts back, Hey, that’s pretty good! and the solitary act of writing becomes for a moment a dialogue between like-minded people. 

Thanks for shouting back, MBR.



The War on Obscurity

What did I do for the month after I sent out all the Kickstarter rewards? I launched what I’m calling


For an indie author, obscurity is public enemy #1. Of course, the more reviews a book has, the easier it is for readers to make a decision about it, but there’s more:  to be taken seriously by the best publicity engines out there, a book needs at least 25 reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.

So, January’s Target was to Acquire Book Blog Reviews 

What the Heck is a Book Blog?

I didn’t know, either. But it turns out there are thousands of book bloggers–book lovers who’ve taken to posting their own reviews of books in a blog. They don’t get paid, and they don’t HAVE to review anyone. Authors contact them with an attractive pitch and request, and the bloggers accept or decline.

If they accept, the book goes in their To Be Read pile, and months later a review appears on the their blog, Amazon, and Goodreads.

In January, I Queried 127 Book Bloggers

Tiny BRYPThese I found in The Book Reviewer Yellow Pages (exactly what it sounds like, in heft and content) and Indieview. I started with a base pitch email, but each had to be individualized to fit each bloggers requirement policy, preferred genres and formats, and flavor/tone of their blog site.


I Heard Back from 22!

Believe it or not, that’s really good results! The marketer who coached me submitted a book recently to 200 reviewers, landed 20 reviews, and was happy with that. She says 10% is standard, so I’m very pleased with my 17%!

Here’s a Sample Line from my Spreadsheet

Website             Blogger     Date Queried     JOS Sent     Est.Post

 SFBook.com    Vanessa    Dec28/Jan28     (Pbk 1/13)    Mar 15  

You can see too that I queried Vanessa twice—that was b/c she didn’t respond to the first query. I figure, why not send again after a month? Reviewers get busy. Maybe she didn’t reply because she was over whelmed with requests and had to delete a bunch, unread; or maybe my pitch didn’t catch her attention and she deleted it. Who knows? In any case, I re-queried and made sure to re-target my pitch, and it worked! I’ll do the same for the other 100 who haven’t replied.

 Reveiwer SpreadsheetHere is a look at the full spreadsheet:




Kickstarter Before & After Photos

I have officially sent off all 100+ mailers to 17 different countries and as many states! Here is what our dining room table looked like at the height of mailing frenzy in December. Now it’s online and Amazon does the shipping! (Whew!)

Here’s what it looks like now. We can use our table for dinner again!  🙂 🙂 🙂