small writer

Do, Don’t Think

I have “Do, don’t think,” written on a post-it perched by my computer screen.  My note has two applications.  When I’m trying to get through a first draft, it reminds me that I shouldn’t try and overthink while I compose.  It’s meant to encourage my fingers to keep typing my draft rather than pausing to consider what comes next … a long pause that requires me to fill up my tea cup … where was I?

My post-it applies to my second draft and editing process as well. The crux of most MFA programs is, “Show, don’t tell.” This mantra used to confuse me, because all storytelling is, by definition, telling.  It makes more sense to me to say, “Describe, don’t explain.”   When you describe details, you enter the realm of the physical, and we all know that action speaks louder than interior monologue.  My post-it says, “Do, don’t think,” because that’s how I need my characters to behave.  When my novel’s protagonist offers a drink to an alcoholic king, tension ensues.  To have her explain or think during this exchange would be to ruin the moment, and would insult the reader’s intelligence.  It would also mean I didn’t set up the situation properly in the preceding chapters, through physical descriptions and earlier conflicts.

Is there an exception to this writing rule?  As Bob Mayer says, one should always understand the rules before breaking them.  There are writers who command such a forceful voice that they can carry off a reversal, carrying us through a long passage of thoughtful narrative, reflecting on important backstory or analysis of other characters.  These narrators successfully “Think, don’t do,” because their situation calls out — screams out — for them to act.  In The Remains of the Day, when a butler called Stevens describes Darlington Hall in great detail, he is missing the crucial details which prevent his correct action.  When a justice-seeking Hamlet pauses his sword,  and reckons that a delay in his uncle’s execution will ensure his uncle goes to hell, the audience should be drawing in breath waiting for the inevitable result.  When Nick Carraway observes the parties at Gatsby’s, when the second Mrs de Winter thinks through her decision to wear Rebecca’s gown, when Elizabeth Bennett wrestles with her scruples and then holds her tongue about Mr Wickham … You get the idea.  Only think, only hold back on the action, if it creates tension and builds conflict.

And now, fellow scribblers, it’s time for me to stop thinking so I can go do the writing.



Brenda Carre to Judge 2015 Raven Short Story Contest

We’re delighted to announce that Brenda Carre will be the final judge for the Raven Short Story Contest.

Brenda has been writing fiction for many years, and completed five fantasy novels to land a New York agent while raising two sons and working as head visual arts teacher in Vancouver at the Lord Byng Mini-School of the Arts.  In 2008 she parted with her agent to write short fiction.  She firmly believes this ‘risk’ was the right one for her as it gave her the freedom to move into multiple genres and to tighten her plots.  Best of all, both success and failure come more swiftly writing short fiction, and Brenda regards the informative editorial rejection as a valuable part of writing progress.  Since 2010, Brenda’s short fiction has appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Fiction River Anthologies, SkyWarrior Books, and the Blacklist Anthology from Ragnarok Publishing to name a few.  She writes mystery, grimdark, science fiction, steampunk, fantasy, historical and YA.

Brenda also writes spicy historical romance as Tess Cornwall.  Her novella, Drake’s Daughter, is available from Forbidden Fiction and on Amazon.  Her novelette Finnraziel will be included in The Edge of Never, a boxed set of nine paranormal romance e-books to be released this month.

This diverse background in a variety of genres and formats makes Brenda an ideal judge for the diversity of stories we hope to see in the Raven contest.

Brenda CarreYou can follow Brenda on Twitter @brenda_carre or at  She is honoured to be the judge this year for the Raven Story competition.


The Raven Short Story Contest is now open!  Send us your best short fiction from 500 – 5000 words and you’ll receive a digital subscription and the chance to win $500!  From now until September 15th you save $5 with the earlybird entry fee.  Don’t delay — enter today!

The Ideas on the Train

Your characters are most obliging about bringing you the best story ideas.  JK Rowling once said that she was sitting on the train one day and Harry Potter walked right into the carriage, lightning scar and all, and that was where it all began.

Stellacolourcoverpic450I got some help that way in a very different setting. I was hanging about in a lowish rent care home corridor, waiting to help move an enormous television into an elderly acquaintance’s new bedroom.  I liked the staff and the friendly women who sat in the corridor chatting, just as if it were a park.  Corridor Park.

I asked myself, What if I lived here?  What on earth would I do with myself?  How do you wake up every morning knowing that people are responsible for you, but you are responsible for nothing but agreeable behaviour towards those around you (there seemed to be some possibilities for rebellion here).  We all need a good reason for getting out of bed in the morning.  What would that be?

Just then Mrs Stella Ryman entered Corridor Park.  I wondered, could watching television get a person through the day?  Heavens, no.  Complaining about the food?  Possibly.  But by this point Stella had a better idea.  And so she became… (tag line approaching)… an amateur sleuth, trapped a down-at-heel care home.Issue 7 cover

Stella Ryman. You’d be cranky too.

Stella Ryman and the Case of the Vanishing Resident can be found in Pulp Literature
Issue 7.

Thank you to all the wonderful writers who have been sending in stories over the last two weeks.  Our inbox is now bursting!  It will take at least two months to sift through these stories and choose content for 2016 so please be patient.  However, if you haven’t heard a yea or nay from us by November feel free to send an inquiring email to see if your story has slipped down a rabbit hole.

While you wait, consider entering the Raven Short Story contest that opens September 1st.  This contest is for fiction from 500 – 5000 words and offers a $500 first prize. Earlybird rates are on until September 15th, so don’t delay!

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A Branch and a Turning Point

poorthingnogreyI love the story “Poor Thing” by KM Vaghela. Fellow editor Jen Landels suggested that I draw the branch that the story turns on. I hoped to show the turning by pointing branches towards each possible outcome: up or down. A detail from a Filippo Lippi painting was most helpful.

You can read ‘Poor Thing’ in Issue 2 of Pulp Literature, along with gripping tales and poetry, beautifully written by JJ Lee, Mary H Auerbach Rykov, Milo James Fowler, Sarah Pinsker, Kris Sayer and other terrific storytellers and artists.

Issue 2, Spring 2014

Issue 2, Spring 2014

We think you will love this issue so much that we are making it the first milestone reward on our Patreon page. When we reach $200 a month we’ll give Issue 2 to all our patrons for free! 


Keep Your Eye on the Ball

My brother played Little League baseball, and his position was catcher.  I loved his extra-large glove, a padded catcher’s mitt that had could receive fast-balls without bouncing out or bruising his hands.  As a player, my brother was like most catchers: undervalued.  He was just the place where good pitches ended.  He was merely the guy hanging around to toss the ball back to the pitcher.  The pitcher was the star in the middle of the field, where the action was.

How wrong that concept is.  The catcher is the heart of the team, the guy who keeps the ball in play.  The catcher is the guy who, more than any other player, has his eye on the ball.  Not only on the ball, but on the batter, to figure out how the opposing team is trying hit.  Catchers see it all.  My brother was especially picked for this position because he was constantly on the alert, using his ADHD hyper-focus to stay on top of each pitch, each play, to prevent each runner from reaching home base.

As writers, we often think the glory of a story resides in the action.  We often get excited in the first draft stage, in love with the movement of the plot.  But as writers, we shouldn’t think like pitchers, we should think like catchers.  We need to hold our ground and keep our eyes on the ball, at all times.  We need to be the person who captures the bullet-sped ball and hurls it back where it belongs, instinctively.  We need see the big picture played out as we watch the field from the privileged spot right under the umpire’s eyes.  We are the only player looking out from the point of view of the crowds, who knows what the audience witnesses.  Like the catcher, it is the writer who puts the whole story together, knows where each play can be made, is able to tag out the opposition out before they can slide into home.

Write like a catcher.  Keep your eye on the ball.sue 3

Sue is Pulp Literature’s Acquisition editor.  You can hear her interviewed by Kathrin Lake of the Vancouver School of Writing on Vancouver Co-op Radio, 100.5 FM at 2pm today.

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Storytelling and the Writer’s Mind

It seems as if our writers’ minds are working all the time.

Take your third act, for example. Everything you’ve outlined and drafted from the start results in shifts in your story, and your subconscious writer’s mind is keeping track of it all, each interwoven strand, keeping the sense of the whole story. This way you take some small but important aspect of the beginning and with it affect something vital at the end, which will resonate throughout your tale.

One great example you’ll remember from Lord of the Rings.  Bilbo’s kindness in not killing Gollum, who would have killed him, is echoed repeatedly in Frodo’s less certain relationship with the wicked creature, and at last forces the outcome of the third act showdown.

Do you remember the posy of unusual flowers Allaigna received from a stranger in Verse 4 of Allaigna’s Song (Pulp Literature Issue 2), which comforted her when she was alone in the woods in Verse 13 (PL #5)?  Without too many spoilers I can let you know you’ll see it again in Issue 8 and further down the road, its significance growing each time it appears.

Isn’t it grand how much our writing minds know? We learn these things instinctively as readers, but grow even more as writers as we employ our craft over and over on scales as small as a clever word choice and large as the whole world we created.

We are open for short fiction only from now, August 10th, until the 24th.  Please see our submission guidelines before sending in your stories.

We strongly suggest reading an issue or two before submitting.  You can purchase sample issues on our sidebar, or receive free access to the digital files of Issue 1 for a minimum contribution of $1 on our Patreon page.


Are You a Patron?

MuseWhat do Marie de France, the Medici family, and the Earl of Southampton have in common?  They we all great patrons of the arts.  Without their support the world would not have had the romans of Chrétien de Troyes, the art of Michelangelo, or the plays of Shakespeare.

The arts have always required patronage, whether in the form of deep-pocketed individuals or government subsidies.  Here at Pulp Literature Press we receive no government funding, and subscriptions alone do not cover all our costs.  We have funded the first eight issues of the magazine through two Kickstarter campaigns supported by you, our loyal readers, supplemented with bridging loans at the end of the year when things get lean.

However, this feast and famine model requires a huge annual effort that sucks away the time and energy we would rather put into selecting, editing, illustrating, and publishing the wonderful stories that arrive in our submissions inbox.  This year we have switched our crowdfunding model to Patreon, where we can generate a steady stream of income.  This will guarantee our bank account always has the money to pay professional fees to the writers, artists and, eventually, the editors who contribute to the magazine.

How does Patreon work?

Patreon allows you, the individual, to become a patron of Pulp Literature by pledging a monthly amount to help fund the magazine.  You can pledge as little as $1 to show your support, or as much as your heart and budget allow.  Thank-you rewards at ascending pledge levels include ebooks, print subscriptions, and the keys to our digital library.  In addition, as we reach funding milestones we will release free ebooks, new material and extra perks.

If you enjoy our magazine, the writing tips on this website, or our monthly newsletter, please consider leaving a tip in the jar. Just $1 a month will help set up a stable budget to keep these stories alive.  Join the ranks of Marie, the Medicis, and the Earl, and become a patron on

Thank you, and happy reading, dear patrons!

Jen, Sue, and Mel

bedside reading