Act II: Impossible Choices

I’ve read successful stories that skimped on the darkest hour and the showdown. I’ve enjoyed books that were slow to offer Act I’s promise. But, ask a reader to miss out on the enjoyment of Act II character-developing adventures? Never.

Impossible choices

The hard and often impossible choices characters make in Act II and throughout the story, keep us reading. We are invested in characters that grow inwardly as well as outwardly.

So, here’s a question for Act II: are the skills and allies your hero is gaining a result of simply struggling against obstacles? Or are they achieved after making difficult choices in that struggle? The former makes for a great synopsis, but the latter creates an unforgettable read.

Check for difficult choices in Act II

Often acquisitions editors stop reading at the beginning of Act II. If they have the time to write and tell you why, they’ll offer something like “the inner voice failed” or “the momentum slowed.” That often means that character development needs strengthening, and checking for hard choices is a reliable way to master that.

Act I  gives us the promise of genre. Act II fulfills that promise, as the hero struggles through to the darkest hour at the end of Act Two, and on to Act III’s final showdown.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.

Cheers, Mel

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is Acquisitions Editor with Pulp Literature Press.


Act 1 Checklist: Writing Tips from Pulp Literature Press

What Billy Wilder said of screenwriting works as well for novelists. “If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”

A Checklist For Your Act 1

  • An opening paragraph or page that communicates time, place, tone, promise of genre, and a hint at the central conflict.
  • A harbinger of change in the hero’s life.
  • The theme of the whole tale early on, possibly stated by a supporting character.
  • Character development in the hero (and other characters), possibly while attempting to preserve the status quo.
  • A catalyst that will propel the hero into the adventures of Act 2.
  • As well, it can help to do a page count to see that Act 1 is not longer than the current plans for Act 2 or 3.

And, on to the adventures of Act 2.

I hope you’ll have another brilliant week in your writing career.
Cheers to you,

Mel Anastasiou writes The Fairmount Manor Mysteries series, starring Mrs Stella Ryman, The Hertfordshire Pub Mysteries series, starring Spencer Stevens, and is a founding editor with Pulp Literature Press.

If you enjoy reading Mel Anastasiou’s writing tips, get The Writer’s Friend and Confidante: Thirty Days of Narrative Achievement.  Only available for the month of November.

Other books by Mel Anastasiou from Pulp Literature Press
Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries



The Writers’ Boon Companion



The Winner of the 2018 Raven Short Story Contest is …

Cheryl Wollner of Boca Raton, Florida for

Girls Who Dance in the Flames

Judge CC Humphreys, had this to say

The competition standard was very high. There wasn’t a bad story amongst them, and they were varied, with several in different styles pushing this one close.

I liked many things about ‘Girls’. The language was completely believable, with dynamic metaphors drawn from the narrator’s crazed imagination and steeped in the Southern Gothic world from which she comes. ‘come back home stained with his child’; ‘but I’ve cut my lifeline real long, long and round my hand like a ribbon ‘cross a Christmas present.’; ‘she talked all sand’. So many others. Yet the elegance of the writing never detracted from the flow of the story just swept me into another, so different world. The construction was good too, a steady development to the fiery climax.

The narrator’s voice was strong, clear, twisted, disturbing. Very well realized, and completely believable. I kept thinking that she might back away from her extremity, but she kept upping it.  A lot to cram into a five page story. Yet it held me throughout, had a clear arc, and left a disturbing aftertaste.

So well done. It will stay with me and I have no hesitation, despite other strong contenders, of awarding it this year’s Raven.

– CC Humphreys

Congratulations to Cheryl Wollner, who wins the $300 prize, and whose story will be published in Pulp Literature Issue 22, Spring 2018.   Many thanks to CC Humphreys for his careful reading and for returning to judge this year’s Raven Contest.  And as well, thank you to all the entrants who provided such excellent stories and made our job and Chris’s so much harder …. and yet so enjoyable!

CC (Chris) Humphreys has written more than a dozen novel for adults and young adults, including the Arthur Ellis winner, Plague.  His latest book, Chasing the Wind, is available here.

Slushpile Confidential: 3 ways to get your submissions right

The Pulp Literature submissions window is open until November 15th. Last week we revealed three reasons slush pile readers pass on submissions. Now we’ll reveal three things that make slush readers swipe right.

  1. Do your research. We don’t expect you to know everything, but good writers do their homework. Whether it’s creating realistic fight scenes, composing diverse characters, or following our submission guidelines, we appreciate when authors put in the effort to get the details right.
  2. Tension and suspense. Readers are curious creatures, and they want conflict! Writers who know how to arouse the reader’s curiosity and manipulate the tension of the story will win points with slush readers as well.
  3. Originality. This should be no surprise:  readers want something fresh. That can seem daunting, but trust us, everyone has at least one original story waiting to be read.  Be sure to read a few issues of the magazine to make sure you’re not submitting something too similar to what we’ve already published.

Of course, each slush reader is going to bring personal preferences to the mix, and there are plenty of nuanced reasons even good stories are rejected. Just remember it’s nothing personal and perseverance is key! And be sure to read our article, Slushpile Confidential: 3 Mistakes That Will Sink your Submission.

Submissions Guidelines


2018 Raven Short Story Contest Shortlist

November 15th draws near, and soon the winner of the 2018 Raven Short Story Contest will be announced! As the days grow shorter, so to does the list of contenders. Below, listed alphabetically by author first name, are the authors whose stories have made the shortlist.

Cheryl Wollner for ‘Girls Who Dance in the Flames’

Colin Thornton for ‘Ten Minutes in Maine’

Erin MacNair for ‘Camping with Narwhals’

Jody Hadlock for ‘She Walks Alone’

KW George for ‘Shadows’

Kate Felix for ‘Fingered’

Kim Clark for ‘Pissing in the Pocket of the Lone Arbutus Estates’

Margot Spronk for ‘The Web’

Shanon Sinn for ‘The Proposition’

Stephanie Vernier for ‘Cashew Milk’

The big reveal from judge CC Humphreys is just around the corner.  Sign up for the Pulp Literature newsletter to receive updates on our submission windows or future contests.


Slushpile Confidential: 3 Mistakes That Will Sink your Submission

Pulp Literature is opening its submissions window from November 1st to 15th. To help your story succeed, our slushpile readers are sharing a few of the things that make them swipe left on stories.  Be sure your submission avoids these pitfalls.

  1. Author didn’t follow guidelines. It’s easy to skim over this information, especially if you are submitting the story to multiple publishers, but it’s an automatic disqualifier for Pulp Literature. We get around a thousand submissions every time we open the submissions window, and we don’t have time to read stories from authors who haven’t bothered to read the submission guidelines.
  2. Too much exposition. Hate to break it to you, but exposition is boring, and short stories don’t have room to be boring. Think about working the backstory into the action of the narrative, and don’t be afraid to cut.
  3. Inappropriate subject matter. Werewolf incest child porn. It’s a real thing, and you know who you are. That’s an extreme example, but being aware of the market you are submitting to is important.  Be sure to read a few issues to know what stories will hit the mark, and which ones are off by a country mile.

Thankfully, most of the authors who submit to us don’t fall into these traps, and we truly appreciate the time and effort you put into presenting a polished and considered story.

Of course, each slush reader is going to bring personal preferences to the mix, and there are plenty of nuanced reasons even good stories are rejected. Just remember it’s nothing personal and perseverance is key!

Submissions Guidelines


2018 Raven Short Story Contest Longlist

What a fantastic turnout for the Raven Short Story Contest! After long hours of reading and debating, we’re ready to release the longlist. Below in alphabetical order by author first name is the 2018 Raven Short Story Contest longlist!  Authors listed more than once have multiple stories under consideration.

The Longlist

Anneliese Schultz
Cheryl Wollner
Cindy Phan
Colin Thornton
David Roberts
Erin MacNair
Helen Richardson
Jeanine Manji
Jody Hadlock
K W George
Kate Felix
Kate Felix
Kim Clark
Kim Martins
KT Wagner
Leslie Wibberley
Margot Spronk
Mitchell Toews
Richard Arbib
Shanon Sinn
Stephanie Vernier

This was the biggest batch of raven submissions yet, and we wish to thank all authors who submitted. Good luck to the longlisted authors in the coming week as we prepare to release the shortlist!

Upcoming Contests and Openings

While you wait, why not polish up some more short stories for submissions?  We will be opening for short fiction from November 1st – 15th, and the Bumblebee Flash Fiction contest opens on New Year’s Day 2019!

And if you are busying yourself with NaNoWriMo this coming month, The Writer’s Friend and Confidante is just the supportive and companionable guide to keep you on track all month long … and beyond.

Only $10, and only available during NaNoWriMo!



Nanowrimo: 3 good reasons to take the plunge

Nanowrimo says, go ahead, dare to write a book that might even make you a lot of money, help others along with ourselves to get pages under our belts, and have writerly fun doing it. It makes a lot of sense to go Nanowrimo.

1. Write that book and have fun doing it.

For some of us, the fun lies in scoring high in wordcounts: there’s nothing like seeing those manuscript pages stack up.  The friendly competition between like-minded authors, as well as rewards you can give yourself at the end of the day (beer, chocolate, kitten gifs … ) turns writing into a game that’s fun to play.  And if it turns into a bestseller some day, those are the ultimate bonus points!

2. Hone your skill.

Like any skill, such as playing an instrument, drawing a portrait, or throwing a baseball, writing needs to be practised over and over again.  Even if you’re not at the stage in your career where you have a winning novel just waiting to be born, your writing chops will sharpen simply by churning out 2000 words a day.  Guaranteed, you’ll be a better writer at the end of it.

3. Help other writers live their dream.

As well, our Nanowrimo participation encourages and helps others who need some support to take steps towards writing the novel that’s been a dream for years. They love knowing that  they’re not alone in what sometimes seems like a lonely profession.

Get the help you want

It makes good sense to get tailor-made support for the days ahead.  Our contribution to the cause is making The Writer’s Friend and Confidante: Thirty Days of Narrative Achievement pdf version available now.  Get your copy while it’s hot, because this 30-day guide is available only till the end of Nanowrimo.

The Writer’s Friend and Confidante, like any good pal, cheers you when you’re low, motivates you to write your best work yet, helps you develop a map of narrative clarity, and believes in you with every fibre of her being.

In our Confidante you’ll find thirty days of inspiration, tips and exercises, timely advice for each act of your story, and images to feed your eye and make you smile when you approach every lily-pale page.

Nanowrimers, you’ll love the 30 days to keep you inspired to make it to the end.  This guide is your assistant, reminding you of the dreams that set you off on your narrative journey, and offering hints, tips, exercises, and inspiration to see you through to your goal.

Only $10 gets you our printable, illustrated, re-usable PDF workbook during Nanowrimo.

Are you a hard-copy purist?  Prefer the printed page?  In that case, The Writer’s Boon Companion: Thirty Days Towards an Extraordinary Volume is the friend for you.  A daily writing guide to help you through a month of your work in progress.  Perfect for NaNoWriMo … or any month of the year.

Poetry Review: Trailer Park Elegy

Trailer Park Elegy, by Cornelia Hoogland

Image result for trailer park elegyReview by Emily Osborne

The last words of William Grootendorst, spoken to the stranger who came to his aid after his truck slipped on black ice, were “thank you.” William’s sister, poet Cornelia Hoogland, weaves these last words into Trailer Park Elegy (Harbour Publishing, 2017), a long-form verse meditation on the panorama of grief experienced in William’s absence. “Thank you” becomes one of many verbal leitmotifs that furbish Hoogland’s dynamic and deeply-moving verse, which reminds its readers with recurring sharpness that:

What is spoken

is spoken on the exiting

breath. Our meanings,

an entire life’s meaning,

Thank you,

can ride the exhale.

These lines manifest traits characteristic of Hoogland’s verse: powers of observation about the quotidian, empathy, generosity, and the interplay of conflicting realities. Throughout this long poem, grief is seen in the tension between sound and silence, motion and stasis, and in the existence or permeability of membranes between the living and the dead. These membranes can be as treacherous as black ice, or as impassive as the framed picture through which a mother converses with her dead son.

Trailer Park Elegy is Hoogland’s seventh full-length collection of poetry, and was shortlisted for the Raymond Souster Award. As a long-poem elegy, it reflects a tradition of notable works such as Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H, Peter Sacks’ Natal Command, Douglas Dunn’s Elegiesand Mary Jo Bang’s Elegy. Elegy is difficult to define as a genre, encompassing registers of content, style and tone. Where elegy is concerned with death or loss, it often pits the personal against the cosmic, and shows a speaker or protagonist grappling with manifold concepts in search of “consolation.” Trailer Park Elegyobserves such generic expectations, connecting the personal grief experienced by William’s family to a range of impersonal phenomena, including geology, dark matter, chaos theory, atmospheric conditions, and noise pollution. The narrative is nonlinear, tracking William’s and Cornelia’s lives from childhood onwards, and creating a book that repeatedly asks us to look again, to reread in light of new discoveries.

Our introduction to William’s own voice occurs when he calls from rehab, at a moment suggestive of both triumph and tragedy. He begins with “Hey”, and ends with “No, wait, it gets better.” Dramatic irony is here used artfully: while readers know of the tragedy to come, we are drawn in to learn about William’s life and experience the cathartic beauty of knowing him. The monosyllabic negation “No” becomes another sonic leitmotif in Trailer Park Elegy, resisting the search for consolation. “No” is the sound that “erupts from my tea thermos/ when I loosen the stopper.” At funerals the author witnessed as a child, there is a “weighty/ silence of black limousines,” tires on puddles say “shhhh”, and the sound of mourners is “seismic,” falling into the “No River.” Hoogland brings the suspension that “no” implies closer to the reader in an unforgettable image of rain: “O it’s quiet. Even the rain/ is hyphens.”

This book brims with memorable and surprising sonic effects, from poems rich with Anglo-Saxon alliterative and syllabic influences to lovely assonance and internal rhyme during descriptions of the seemingly mundane, such as the trailer park with its “sodium moon over a public washroom.” Sounds morph and shift in significance, reworked in later sections and contexts. In the first pages, “Rusty leaves fly at vinyl siding,/ rattle at RV windows” in the trailer park. Vinyl’s potential to create or contain sound is reworked in a later image:

Did musicians regret the end of vinyl, and the halfway pause plotted

into their albums for turning the record,

starting the second side?

My brother’s second side, three sober years.

Rereading this long poem is extremely rewarding; we become involved in a form of echolocation, making connections between allusive words and symbols, even as the poet and her brother are compared to whales using echolocation to find each other.

Symbol and sound are often presented through framing devices, encouraging us to dig deeper, and blurring our assurance of what can be heard from the deceased. Within those frames, sounds meaningfully directed at us become difficult to distinguish from noise pollution, as orcas strain to hear each other above the underwater acoustics of container ships. Black ice, for example, comes to us as a newly-minted term through newscasters on TV, in a scene when William is only four years old: it is a filtered warning, memory and prophecy at once.

Occasionally, themes and tropes recurred more often than seem to me necessary or preferable. The result of these surplus repetitions was an occasional sense of artificiality. As a mediaevalist, I was particularly troubled by three separate allusions made to a well-known scene of a bird’s short-lived flight through a mead-hall as a symbol for the transience of human life, which Hoogland places in the poem Beowulf or refers to as “Beowulf’s sparrow.” In fact, this symbol of the sparrow appears, not in Beowulf, but in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, where it is used to illustrate the necessity of religious conversion. Repeated misattributions are disconcerting in any published work.

The best elegiac writing invites readers into a loss that is both communal and personal, and journeys among divergent circumstances in its search for consolation or meaning. Trailer Park Elegy achieves these effects as it voyages through time, place, method of travel, and memory, leaving us to question what kind of progress is possible after a great loss. The speaker finds herself as a ‘Still Life with Airbag‘ in her car, searching for a route and unable to refold a map. Readers too are drawn into the exits and entries of this compelling work, retracing the routes it has mapped out, finding ourselves brought forward and stopped short. We are grateful to Hoogland for bringing us to the trailer park: the location where William once lived, and a symbol of the migrant graveyard where memory rests.

Emily Osborne is a Poetry Editor for Pulp Literature. She is the author of ‘Devonian’ (Pulp Literature Issue 17, Winter 2018), and was an honorable mention in Contemporary Verse 2’s 2017 Young Buck Poetry Contest. Her chapbook Biometrical was recently released by Anstruther Press. In addition to being a poet, Dr. Osborne is also a researcher and translator. She has taught mediaeval literature and poetics at Cambridge and UBC, and published several scholarly articles.


2018 Raven Short Story Contest Closes Soon

Channel your inner raven and bring us your cleverest short stories! The Raven Short Story Contest is open until October 15th, and we want to see what inventive short stories you have hidden in your nests.

Our Judge

CC Humphreys, prolific author of The Jack Absolute Series, Shakespeare’s Rebel, Plague, and Fire, along with the newly released Chasing the Wind, returns to judge the 2018 Raven Short Story Contest. Past winners include ‘The Tape’ by Elaine McDivitt (Issue 18), ‘The Handler’ by Pat Flewwelling (Issue 14), ‘Black Blizzard’ by Emily Linstrom (Issue 10), and ‘The Inner Light’ by Krista Wallace (Issue 6).

Enter Now

First prize in the Raven Short Story Contest is $300 and print and e-publication to a loyal international readership. The 2018 winner will be announced November 15th! Previously unpublished short stories of up to 2500 words will be considered–enter before midnight, October 15th!