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Issue 6 is here!

swordThanks to our wonderful printers, First Choice Books, Issue 6 is here ahead of schedule and available for tonight’s Pen & Sword event at the Vancouver Public Library.

Subscribers are invited to come down and pick up their copies early and get them signed by one or more of our authors.  And of course if you haven’t yet subscribed, here’s a chance to thumb through an issue and be seduced by the stories and artwork inside.

Special event pricing will be in effect, which means copies are $12 each or two for $20, including back issues.  That’s up to $5 off per copy!

Swordfighting and stories:  is there a better way to spend the evening?

Pen & Sword: The Author’s Journey in Writing Swordfights
Monday, 23 March 2015,  7:00 – 8:30pm
FREE! (come early)
Alice MacKay Room, Lower Level
VPL Central Library, 350 West Georgia St, Vancouver

Rapier with JM Landels & Gareth Antle

Kris 2

Pen & Sword: The Author’s Journey in Writing Swordfights

CC Humphreys

CC Humphreys

How far would you go for your art?  Would you risk a duel at dawn?  Face an armoured warrior?  Fight an axe-wielding assailant, with only a spoon?  Authors CC Humphreys, Sebastien de Castell, Kris Sayer and JM Landels will discuss their personal journeys studying swordplay (and spoonplay) to enrich their writing, characters and stories.  With live sword fights and show and tell by Academie Duello, fans of fiction, fantasy and history will be entertained and delighted!

Sebastien de Castell

Sebastien de Castell

Monday, 23 March 2015,  7:00 pm
FREE! (come early)
Alice MacKay Room, Lower Level
VPL Central Library, 350 West Georgia St, Vancouver

Pen & Sword Giveaway
Kris Sayer

Kris Sayer

Three out of the four authors in this panel have had works published in Pulp Literature.  Do you know which ones?  The first five people who can name these authors and the stories they have had published in Pulp will receive a free ebook issue of their choice.

JM Landels

JM Landels

Email info(at)pulpliterature.com with the subject line ‘Pen & Sword Giveaway’ to enter.

Issue 6 Sneak Launch

Pulp Literature Issue 6Hot-off-the press copies of Issue 6 will be available at this event!  There will also be a number of other Pulp authors present including Laura Kostur, Susan Pieters, Kimberleigh Roseblade (who will be enacting one of the sword spoon-play scenes from Kris’s work) Melissa Mary Duncan, Kate Austin, Beverley Boissery, and KL Mabbs.  We will have copies of issues 1 through 5 available, and there will be book sales and author signings by the panelists.

CC Humphreys & JM Landels in 2013. Will revenge be involved this year?

CC Humphreys & JM Landels in 2013. Will revenge be involved this year?

It’s going to be a fun night — see you there!

Find out if poet Kimberleigh Roseblade (right) is as wicked with a spoon as she is with an umbrella!

Find out if poet Kimberleigh Roseblade (right) is as wicked with a spoon as she is with an umbrella!



The panel is a prequel to the biennial Vancouver International Swordplay Symposium happening March 27 – 29th.  This event is a great resource for authors, with audit passes and lectures allowing you a glimpse into the history and technique of many western martial arts.


Making the Cow Creamer Matter

UntitledWriting light comic fiction is tricky, because funny won’t carry a full-length novel on its own. Something big needs to be at stake, and I always think it’s cheating to have characters risk death in this genre. Jerome K Jerome in Three Men in a Boat manages an episodic arc that keeps me in stitches every time I read it (Montmorency!). But above all others in my estimation, PG Wodehouse is most skilled at writing comic narratives. He can weave a plot more complex than a Rube Goldberg machine and still have me rolling on the floor on the tenth read. Take The Code of the Woosters, where Bertie Wooster’s goal is to adhere to his family’s traditional code: “Never let a pal down.” All his pals therefore shovel the worst possible duties upon his narrow shoulders, all of which are life and death to them: stealing a cow creamer, saving an engagement, avoiding a beating, swiping a policeman’s helmet, being flung into jail. And this in a “Golden Fleece”-type narrative clearly and hilariously told, all because no matter what, Wooster’s duty to his pal is more important than life itself. Here, a former girlfriend begs Bertie to take the rap for a crime.

‘I can’t have my precious angel Harold doing a stretch.’

‘How about your precious angel Bertram?’

‘But Harold is sensitive.’

‘So am I sensitive.’

‘Not half so sensitive as Harold. Bertie, surely you aren’t going to be difficult about this? You’re much too good a sport. Didn’t you tell me once that the Code of the Woosters was ‘Never let a pal down?’

 Wodehouse’s themes are lofty and literary, involving loyalty, true love winning out, and apotheosis after sacrifice, each of which resonates grandly with readers’ hearts while we belly-laugh over individual scenes. (And I didn’t even mention Bertie’s valet Jeeves yet.) There is none like you, Wodehouse. None.

PG Wodehouse. The Code of the Woosters. Herbert Jenkins, London. 1938.


Spring is here!

Pulp Literature Issue 6

Pulp Literature Issue 6

Or at least the print proof of our Spring 2015 issue is.  We never get tired of that first glimpse of the book in its ink and paper glory, even if it’s an unbound proof.

Sadly for the rest of you, it will be a few weeks more before bound copies are ready to ship to your doorsteps.  However, to tide you over until then, here’s a snippet of the cover story, ‘The Inner Light’ by Raven Contest winner Krista Wallace, based on the cover painting by Dutch artist Tais Teng.

And if you haven’t ordered a copy yet, be sure to subscribe here to make sure yours will be in the mail.

The Inner Light

by Krista Wallace

“I’m trying my best,” Matilda said.

“Yes, of course I hear you.” Matilda stared into the shiny blackness.

“I know.” Matilda stroked the glossy surface.

“I’m sorry.” Matilda’s pitch rose as anxiety crept up her throat. “There is more coming, I promise.”

“No, please. Please don’t.” Fear scratched at her chest. “Please. I promise there’s more. Lots more. Just please leave Andrew alone.”

Matilda backed away, her fingertips kissing the cold sphere before finally disconnecting. Then she turned and hastened out of the lobby and into the theatre, where the cast was waiting. The stage manager had handed out scripts, and they were all seated around the table on the stage. Waiting for her. Ah. There was Andrew, at the head of the table, of course. She strode down the stairs through the seating in the house.

“Right, ladies and gentlemen.” She articulated the next word distinctly. “Macbeth!”

Predictably, the theatre erupted in the hysterical shrieks of high-strung, superstitious actors. Matilda went up the stage-right steps two at a time, while Lady Macbeth dashed down the stage-left steps and ran through the house into the lobby, likely to turn around three times and yell, “Shit!” Banquo and Duncan fled into the back hall, probably to do the same. Macduff spun around on the spot and spat on the floor to his left, while the three witches clung to each other and recited some piece of verse to chase away the evil spirits Matilda had summoned by not referring to the work as ‘The Scottish Play’ within the theatre. The rest of the actors made all sorts of noises and protestations, complaining that Matilda should have known better. The stage manager had to go and invite Lady Mac, Duncan, and Banquo back into the theatre.

“And it must follow, as the night the day / Thou canst not then be false to any man.” Lady Mac intoned the line from Hamlet to nobody in particular, thereby completing her antidote to the curse. Only Andrew — Macbeth himself — remained completely calm; he had stayed seated at the table, patiently awaiting the read-through, with only a glance and an eye roll to indicate he was aware of the panicked bustle surrounding him. Andrew’s calm was an important element of his character.

Matilda smiled to herself at the minor chaos. Fear. Anxiety. Irritation. Anger. If only she could see the sphere from here.

Read the rest in Pulp Literature Issue 6, available soon!


Magpies on Cherry Trees

magpiesmallerIt’s the season for spring flowers in Vancouver, and the birds outside our window are singing their poetry to the beat of the wind in the trees.  (Our apologies to the rest of Canada.)   At Pulp Literature, it’s the season again for poets to submit their best works to our Magpie Award for Poetry, with final recognition given by Vancouver’s first poet laureate, George McWhirter.  Last year’s entries were inspiring, and the winner received $500 in addition to publication. Our contest is open until April 15th, and we challenge you — no, we double dare you — to make us cry, laugh, or revel in the awful beauty of this temporary condition called life.

Earlybird entry fees are in effect till March 15th.  Submission guidelines here.


A Great Exchange

swordAn exchange of power between characters is a fantastic way to get a tight rhythm going, whether in dialogue or with a physical struggle.  In Shakespeare’s Rebel, watch how author CC Humphreys handles an exchange of power between his hero John Lawley and John’s friend Will Shakespeare.

At first, John seems stronger than Will:

It was John now who took his friend’s arm. “You have been careful, William?” he asked softly.

“Regarding what?”

“This play.  Its themes.  The times are tender yet and it is only a month since you were called before the Privy Council to answer for Richard the Second.”  He lowered his voice still further.  “They let you off with a warning, I heard. You do not want to test that now.”

“This is different.”

“Indeed?  As I recall the piece, it still features regicide, rebellion, usurpation…”

“All themes well established in Hamlet,”  Shakespeare looked at the activity around him.  “I do but rework an old piece, truly.”

John looked into his friend’s eyes.  “And ghosts, Will?”

“They have always been in the story, too.”

“Not your own.”

Here, John has pushed too far, and now the tables begin to turn as Will shows by his body language as well as his words.

The playwright looked sharply up. “I do not know what you mean.”

Will here takes back his power and now begins to block John at every point. CC Humphreys is a swordsman as well as an author and writer, and he’s skilled at these turnings.  Note that exchanges of power are not limited to struggles between enemies; allies must have them too.

If characters are trading information or threats, if they’re setting up for a trial of strength or a big reveal, writing their meeting with an eye to exchange of power is a mark of exceptional storytelling.

 Shakespeare’s Rebel by CC Humphreys.  Orion Books, London. 2013.



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Writer’s Block: Resources, and Strategies

This week I promised to write up some ways to bypass writer’s block.  If you have more I’d love to hear them. Like sleep mnemonics, it’s wise to change up strategies to keep them effective.

  1. Often “writer’s block” occurs at about a third of the way into the story.  What’s stopping you might well be your own excellent professional intuition, your feel for story.  Because this is where any weaknesses begin to show up and the storytelling energy flags.  Thank your intuition — disguised as “writer’s block” —  because this is the time to address any structural flaws in the first act of your story.  What if you weren’t blocked?  You would have to make changes through the whole thing instead of just the first third or so.  Whew.  Thanks, writer’s block!  To sharpen your first third, here are some strategies and resources:
    • The best way I have found to strengthen Act 1 of a short story or novel is to visit the masters of story structure:  screenwriters.  Visit scriptlab.com and listen to the superb five minute talks on Act 1.  Read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.  Take out your favourite films and examine the first 8 of 24 chapters.
    • Re-outline your first act, and use the screenwriter’s rule of 15:  make a list of 15 different ways you could have opened the story, could have established tone, setting, saved Blake Snyder’s Cat, etc.  That’s 15 each.  You’ll be digging so deep you’ll be sweating.  It’s worth the effort.
    • Cut your story from the beginning, page by page or chapter by chapter, saving all for possible use as backstory later.  Do this until you reach a moment when the energy seems fantastic and your character is making a strong choice, preferably a sacrifice.  This is the point that no matter how irascible, misguided or irresponsible, your protagonist is a hero.  When you and the reader desire what your hero desires it’s easy to write what the hero will do next.
    • Use Donald Maass’s brilliant advice: think what your character would never do, and have her do it — believably.  This is possibly the best recipe for character development ever devised.   And buy his books and attend his talks if you possibly can.book &Pen small
  2. Trust your craft and story prompts.  Record yourself reading story prompts (I record Dale Adams Segal‘s Hour Stories for my own use) and set yourself in your best writing spot with a timer and the knowledge that your talent never has and never will fail you.  The story prompts set your inner writer on autopilot. If you try this and nothing happens, do return to point 1 in this article and try one of the preparations again.
  3. You love writing. Remember what that feels like.  As often as you may, for a few moments imagine yourself where you want to be.  Picture yourself in your best writing spot.  See your hand moving your pen across paper, your fingers tapping at your keyboard.  Feel the smile on your face.  Think, I love writing.  Think, And I’m very good.  And my characters rock.

In a writers’ life as in a writer’s work, pacing is everything, and there have to be times of rest and beauty.  Writer’s block is the eye of the storm.  It’s a moment of reflection, a pause to gather strength.  Don’t worry, because your work has been, will be, and is, wonderful.

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50 Shades of Fan Fiction

I’ll admit I only made it through a quarter of 50 Shades of Grey.  It needed an editor, but more importantly, it needed to be free.  It needed to be free of the patriarchal misogynistic stereotypes that are so easily embraced and overdone by romance fiction writers, but also, it needed to become its own book.  Writing fan fiction is like writing a Hollywood script and labelling the characters as famous actors, or in this case, as “played by Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson.”  It steals backstory from other films, and leaves a void of storytelling so that new audiences are lost and feel something is missing.

I’ve read the Twilight series and enjoyed it.  As a romance reader, I appreciated the uniquely insurmountable barrier between the two lovers.  It was a well designed difficulty: if you kiss, you die.  Nice problem.   Romance is all about love overcoming obstacles, and romance readers want to see that love conquers all, even vampires.  But 50 Shades of Grey is fan fiction that tries to stand on its own feet and fails.  Granted, it has been a huge commercial success because sex sells; but behind the titillation there’s no substance.

Because 50 Shades lost the vampire problem it has much weaker obstacles than Twilight.  It has a less interesting barrier with a messed-up male protagonist/antagonist (I’m not sure which he really is).  After a few more tinkers down the road, the weakened plot and weakened characters have become so watered down that they are fifty shades lighter than the original.

Writing fan fiction can be a fun chance to play in someone else’s universe.  It can also be excellent practice for honing your craft.  And like any craft, writing takes practice.  After all, most composers learn to play other people’s songs before they create their own masterpieces.  However, make sure your borrowed characters face obstacles that are at least as interesting and challenging as those created by their own author.  Otherwise you’ll just be writing fifty shades of bland.




The Love Offices

As a Valentine’s day treat we have an excerpt of the whimisical story ‘The Love Offices, Josephine, and Valentino’s’ by emerging UK author Kirsty Favell.  Kirsty’s first novel, The Magical Adventures of the Oldest Rockers in Town, will be published later this year, and you’ll be able to read all of Amoredo, Josephine and Vinnie’s story very soon in Pulp Literature issue 6.

The Love Offices

You don’t necessarily need a business mind to understand it but it can help.  Amoredo was a long-time employee of Cupid.  It had been suggested that he try for promotion many times over the long years but it had never interested him.  He’d seen the Love Offices tied up in red tape.  People had become so nervous about breaking hearts.  According to the Research Department there was a better chance of success if you let people fall in love gradually over an extended period.  Well, Amoredo thought, you can’t make an omelette without breaking hearts.  Research wasn’t why he had got into this game.  He was an old, experienced angel and they pretty much left him to get on with things.

He could tell Cupid was just toeing the line.  He was always in strategic meetings these days.  His eyes had lost some of their sparkle and the job had lost something important.


Down on earth, Vinnie worked at Valentino’s Bowling Alley, Dance, and Diner, next to the barber shop.  He polished the chrome and attended to the customers very well, but the part of the job he loved most was the Lost and Found shelf.  This was his responsibility.  You would be surprised at the many and varied things the patrons of Valentino’s left behind:   a broken toilet seat, a suitcase full of miniature Statues of Liberty, a photograph album stuffed with pictures of a lady in her underwear.  (Vinnie especially liked his job on that particular shift.)   

The official system was that Vinnie catalogued the date an item was lost and attached a code to it, like a little toe tag.  To ensure that Valentino’s didn’t begin to resemble a junk yard, Vinnie was ordered to throw items out with the garbage when they reached their one-month anniversary on the shelf.  But Vinnie always felt this was a heartless waste, so he had devised a system of his own.  He studied the Items Wanted section of the newspaper.  If an item had reached its lost-by date he saw no harm in selling it on (at a very reasonable price).  He was an honest man and saw this not as a dishonest act but more as a service.  


Josephine liked to collect things.  She’d shuffle around crowded thrift stores, pushing past hand-me-down smells, and pick up objects, imagining their past lives and their new home within her home.  Each new piece was another new friend, with a collection of memories and a surface that felt nice to touch.

Today on her lunch break she had found an orange teapot that had probably been used by the Queen of England in the Swinging Sixties, and a heart-shaped brooch which reminded her of some words her daddy, God rest his sweet soul, said to her.  

“Jo-Jo,” he said (because that is what he called her and that is how his voice sounded, real deep and low, like Elvis), “never try to hold onto anything except your heart.  Don’t lose it, little darlin’, and don’t give it away.  But don’t be afraid to let it go”.

She pinned that sparkling heart to her western lapel, and the bell on the door signalled her grand exit into the dust and sun like she was the town sheriff.

Read the rest of ‘The Love Offices’ in the Spring issue of Pulp Literature, due out in April.

Writer’s Block, Logic, and Trust

The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘writer’s block’ as the condition of being unable to think of what to write or how to proceed with writing.

“I haven’t written in a week. It’s like holding your breath under water. You feel an awful constriction and then the instinct to propel yourself.”
-D. A. Botta

“I have found repeatedly hitting my head with a mallet doesn’t help at all, so I am open to suggestions.”
-Steve Merrick

Every successful author is expected to answer interview questions about Writer’s Block.

Read enough of the answers and it’s clear that consensus among writers is that Writer’s Block arises from a crisis of trust in our own writing talent.  And there are useful strategies we can bring to it.  We can deal with the the block on the inside — by acknowledging the talent for writing that has carried us thus far — and on the outside — by working on our WIP outlines.

First, the outer writer:  if you have written an outline, then the difficulty is no longer what you’re going to write but if you’re going to write.

Second, the inner writer:  trust your talent.  You’re a writer because your talent drives you.  It always has and it always will.  Therefore, it’s no longer if you’re going to write but when you’re going to write.

In our ridiculously busy lives, when is not so easy.  Still, time management for writers, as opposed to bugaboo writer’s block (see how I removed the capitals there?) is a much more positive and enterprising problem to think about.

Next time, a couple of tricks for using outlines, story cards, and writing prompts to help stride boldly past the block back into your WIP.