Winter Semester Starts Soon!

Winter is in full swing – actually, I take that back… it really isn’t. I have to admit, as Canadian winters go this one has been rather mild, which doesn’t exactly break my heart. It’s still pretty chilly out there, but at least for the time being we’re not eyeballs-deep in snow. I’m speaking solely from my Maritime perspective though, so depending on where you’re reading this from your mileage may vary. If your locale isn’t getting off as lightly as we are here, my condolences.

Nevertheless, the onset of winter does mean the beginning of a new semester of online classes at UNB. And as always, it means Crafting the Short Story (which has moved from Mondays to Thursdays and now run for eight weeks) along with the latest addition to the lineup, Writing Horror: The Dark Side which takes over the long-standing Monday time slot. And the hour is nearly upon us! Classes begin next week, so if you’ve been on the fence about signing up, there’s no time like the present. There’s still room in both classes, so if you or someone you know is interested in learning/improving their writing skills – and filling some of those wintry COVID lockdown hours – you can kill two birds with one stone and come hang out in my virtual classroom.

Lastly, as I frequently do here, I would like to remind you that reviews for Terror in High Water are always welcome on any and all platforms it’s available on. Reviews are always welcome but they’re especially helpful now with not one but two new titles coming soon, to generate and draw interest in anticipation of the forthcoming Old Bones and Seventeen Skulls. Teasers, blurbs, and cover art when available can be seen on my World Castle Publishing author page, here. Also, for updates on new posts and news check out my contact page, fill out a few boxes, and voila! Emailed updates sent right to your inbox.

That’s all for now. Thank you as always for dropping in to see the latest goings-on, or catch up on some of the history around here. Whether you’re a first-timer or daily visitor, I’m always pleased you’ve taken some of your time to spend here with me. Until next time,

Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Course Correction

Just a quick update to my (currently online, hopefully not forever) courses: An Introduction to Publishing is no longer being offered as a standalone class. We’ve now consolidated this as part of Crafting the Short Story, which will now have an extra two classes added. This makes more sense than forcing you guys to sign up for a second course to get information you really should have included as part of the main course. So for anyone who signed up for the February 2021 session (and I don’t think there was anyone yet), you should be aware of the change and contact the office to get that sorted.

Also, it’s official: the first run of Writing Horror: The Dark Side is a go for the winter session, beginning on January 25th. The class had already begun to fill up within days of the announcement, which is really cool. I’m really looking forward to seeing some old friends mixed in with the new faces. It should be a fun class.

I realized, as I was looking back at some recent posts, that it seems my writing classes are almost all I talk about lately in this space. I did mention recently the new anthologies with my stories in them, I guess. I’m also currently shopping my second novel, Seventeen Skulls, as well as a collection of my shorts called Old Bones. Hopefully we’ll see one or both of those available not too far down the road.

In a bit of writing/writing class crossover news: in the latest installment of CTSS I decided I would try something new. For the first time since we introduced the course many moons ago, I would write the weekly assignments along with the class. There were a few reasons for doing this, but a large part of it was that I wanted to show everyone that it was indeed possible, even by my own unorthodox methods. So I did write alongside my fellow writers, and shared my work with them as they did with me. It was interesting to see the process from the other side of the glass, so to speak. But in a plot twist even I didn’t see coming, my budding short story grew legs of its own and morphed from standalone story to what I’m tentatively calling ‘chapter one’. Yeah, I did it to myself – took something quick and easy, and turned it into a lengthy project for myself. I already have a few irons in the fire that need tending to, and I’ll get to them for sure. But this is just interesting enough to intrigue me, so I owe it to myself to see what (if anything) can be done with it. I’ll let you know what I find out!

That’s all for today. Just a few quick notes to keep everyone up to speed. As always, feel free to pop over to my contact page and sign up for email updates whenever new posts drop. Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

The Dark Side of Writing

It’s November – early days, but November nonetheless – and it feels like spring out there. Sixteen degrees today, and a reported 20 tomorrow. High teens the rest of the week (That’s mid to high 60s, for my American friends). It’s as if I accidentally slipped into hibernation during last week’s sub-zero temperatures and arose from my slumber to happily discover I’d skipped ahead to April. I suspect these temperate days are destined to be short-lived, but considering what November usually feels like around here, we’ll take it.

On to more writerly matters: as of about two hours ago we wrapped up another successful run of Crafting the Short Story. It was a great group and we had a lot of fun, and everyone really impressed me with the cool stuff they came up with for the finale. It seems like a good time to plug the next offering, which moves to Thursday evenings for the winter session and beyond. The next round kicks off on January 28th and runs through March 25th (no class March 4th).

Why have we shifted to Thursdays after such a long run in the Monday slot? Oh, I’ll still be grinding away on Monday, fear not. But now, I’m pleased to introduce the debut of Writing Horror: The Dark Side. It’s an all-new course which, I’m told, was heavily requested by former and prospective students alike. So the good folks at the CEL asked if I’d be interested in offering such a course, to which I quickly agreed. This will occupy my Mondays beginning January 25th through March 15th (no class Feb. 15th and March 1st). I’m excited for this one – as much as I love teaching CTSS this is right up my alley, more in my wheelhouse, whatever tired cliche works for you.

Just before I go, I wanted to remind you that Scary Snippets – Campfire Edition is now available in Kindle and paperback. It’s my second time working with these publishers, along with Mother Ghost’s Grimm Vol. 2. Unlike MGG, which was written primarily for the little ones, Scary Snippets is aimed at a more mature audience. It’s filled with spooky stories that are on the shorter side (hence the ‘snippets’ thing) in there, including two of mine that are both loosely based on real events.

There, I think we’re mostly up to date now. If you’d like to have the latest blog posts delivered directly to your inbox, drop by my contact page and let me know, and we’ll make it happen. Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

Step Right Up!

I want to take a slightly different approach with today’s post. It’s a little on the long side, but I think it’s a worthwhile read, especially if you’re a writer or potential author, regardless of skill level or advancement. Think of this as a public service announcement.

Some of you may not be aware that besides being my first line of defense and primary editor my wife, Sheryl, is an accomplished writer in her own right. She’s got a few publishing credits under her belt and sends her stuff out just like most of us, in the hopes that a publisher she’s identified as a potentially good fit will like what they see. This week she received an acceptance email from one such publisher. To avoid any potential legal ramifications I won’t name the UK-based publisher in question. Let me just say that they’re named after a winged horse that rhymes with “Megasus”.

While it’s always exciting to receive an acceptance, this one caused Sheryl’s antennae to twitch. Something didn’t seem quite right, and she showed it to me. I read it over, and was delighted to see that they’d offered to send a contract. I glanced over at her and said “Please have them send you a contract.” I really wanted to have a copy of it to avoid any heresay or slander accusations. Once I had it in hand I chuckled and told her to reply with a ‘thanks but no thanks’. She did reply, in her own inimitable, colorful style.

Why, you might be wondering, would anyone do such a thing? Isn’t a publishing contract the goal here? Well, as it turns out, “Megasus Publishing” is what is known as a hybrid publisher. That’s a fancy way of saying they’re a vanity publisher. Essentially, the author pays the publisher for the privilege of having them publish his or her work. In this case, the asking price was a cool 1,900 GBP (or roughly $3,200 CDN). Just send us this money, the acquisitions editor said, and we’ll take care of everything. Hell, we’ll even pay you royalties on any books we sell!

Now, the difference between a hybrid publisher and a true vanity is that the hybrid claims to be a legitimate publisher that also offers what they call “inclusive contracts”. In other words, even though we offer real, legit contracts that guarantee actual payment to some authors, in your case we’d rather you pay us to “help defray some of the costs”. The difference, of course, is that there is no difference. In neither case do these hucksters operate in any legitimate manner, it’s all a ruse. Just smoke and mirrors, designed to ensnare starry-eyed would-be authors with the idea of seeing their name in print. Sadly, many still fall for these scams, which is how they manage to stay in business.

I discuss vanity publishers and other such scams more in-depth in my Introduction to Publishing course, but here are a few of the highlights of this particular contract. For starters, of course, is the matter of shelling out over three grand under a clause they’ve sneakily called “advances”. Advances, for the uninitiated, are monies paid TO authors in advance of sales BY publishers, against future royalties earned. For this price they will perform edits, cover art (all at the publisher’s discretion, with them having final say in all matters), and a bunch of other stuff that any reputable publisher pays for. They lay claim to subsidiary rights and draconian percentages. They will send you also 25 complimentary copies of your book, “completely free of charge” as the contract makes a point to specifically note – which, for your $3,200, comes out to about $130 per “complimentary” copy. The duration of these contracts is often ridiculous, too. There is literally no part of it that benefits the author in any way.

Oh, and in case you become disgruntled at your handling by your hybrid publisher, there’s also a clause that prevents you from saying, writing, or doing anything disparaging or that “may adversely affect the production, promotion, and sales of the work.” Unbelievable. And just for fun, they’d like first refusal on your future works. You know, just in case you happen to have another few thousand dollars left.

What the contract won’t tell you about vanity publishers is stuff like: horrible editing (often worse than it was in the first place), poor formatting, shoddy book quality, and maybe best of all, unrealistic cover prices to ensure few if any copies are ever sold. They’ll do zero marketing, nor will they make any attempt whatsoever to sell your book – they’ve already made their money from it, from you. So now it’s up to the poor author to sell as many copies as they can on their own (purchased from the publisher, of course) to try and make back as much of their sunk investment as possible.

I mentioned before that people still fall for these types of scams. Additionally there are still people who, for whatever reason, will defend their decision to publish with these slimy operations. I happen to suspect that in many cases they’re just too embarrassed over being scammed to admit what a bad experience it was for them. For the record, $3,200 isn’t anywhere near the top of the scale of what these scam artists will try and charge. The highest I’ve heard of was north of $15,000. Just incredible, the temerity it takes to run this kind of con with a straight face.

The long and the short of it is this: never pay anyone to publish you. Ever. If you plan to self publish, pay an editor, sure. Pay an artist for cover art, absolutely. These are part of the cost of doing business, which are generally covered by a legitimate publisher. But under no circumstances should you ever pay a publisher. The money always flows from the publisher to the author, not the other way around. Anyone who tells you different is wrong. And possibly a vanity publisher.

In case it isn’t obvious at this point, Sheryl did not sign and return the contract. She will not be working with Megasus Publishing on this or any future project, a fact she made abundantly clear in her final correspondence.

The next installment of An Introduction to Publishing runs on November 7th. For more stories about scams like this one and how to avoid them plus a host of other fun topics, click the link and drop on in.

Until next time, be safe, talk soon!

-JP

(Even More) Online Learning

The unseasonable weather continues here in my little corner of the world, which I find delightful. I’ve heard it said we’re in for a mild winter this year. I freely admit this doesn’t upset me.

Weather-related happiness aside, I wanted to take a minute to let you know about another course I’ll be offering starting this winter. At the request of the college, I’m pleased to announce that “Writing Horror: The Dark Side” will debut in January. It will run simultaneously with Crafting the Short Story, and there will be a few overlapping topics since a big part of the focus is on structure and developing good writing practices. But we’ll also delve deeper into the horror genre specifically. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to offer this class, which along with An Introduction to Publishing brings us to three in total. I’ll fill you in on all the details in the near future.

You know, this writing thing has a lot of ups and downs. But despite the highlights that always end too soon, and the lulls that always seem to go on forever, on the whole there’s never a dull moment. It’s a rewarding experience that continually teaches me as much as I, hopefully, pass on to my students.

Until next time, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

A Necessary Detour

This week I had to take a short break from working on my novel. I didn’t want to, necessarily, it just worked out that way. Something I hadn’t seen much of in a while wandered across my path and drew my attention.

Ideas for stories come to me – to most writers, I suspect – in the oddest ways, unannounced and when least expected. In this case I was taking my dog, Daphne, for a late-night stroll around the property. I often talk to her as we walk, and on this occasion something I said sparked a little idea in my head. Just an innocent little phrase, but my mind took it and ran with it into darker places. By the time we came up the stairs and back inside for the night, the basis for a short story had been born.

I came inside, and once everyone else in the house was bedded down for the night I sat down at the computer and decided I needed to get the basic idea down before it got away. I sent a message to a friend that outlined the story in a few lines. I wanted an outside opinion – sometimes ideas that sound cool at first, in my head, make less sense once they go from concept to execution. In this case I got the thumbs up and forged ahead.

It isn’t finished yet, but it’s outlined. In my own vernacular, the skeleton has been assembled, now it just needs meat on the bones. I’ll pick and putter with it for a while until I’m happy with it, put it through my usual routine, and call it done. It’s nice, because after hammering away at novels almost exclusively for the last three-plus years, writing a short story is a recent rarity for me.

So, why was it a “necessary detour”, as the title implies? While I often stress the need to finish projects and not leave them lying around in various stages of disarray and disassembly, sometimes when something you’re working on feels like a struggle a step back can be a blessing. It’s not a long term thing – I’ll go back to the grindstone soon enough. I feel I may have needed a little pause, without pausing. In this case it came in the form of a new project. Just a brief side road to renew my enthusiasm, and maybe a little reminder that I’m still capable of pulling out a short story once in a while.

On a related note, Crafting the Short Story  kicked off this week. I always look forward to working with a new group, and so far this one has a fun dynamic. It should be a good run.

Time to get back to it. Stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

Friday Tidbits

As another week winds down I wanted to send out another reminder that the next session of Crafting the Short Story kicks off this Monday, May 4th. For me, it’s the first online edition of the class – although I have done online sessions with individuals in the past. So it should be an interesting experience.

I was pleased to learn the platform we’ll be using is Zoom, as opposed to the far inferior option that was initially floated. This allows for everyone to appear on screen simultaneously instead of just a few at a time. My classes tend to be interactive with a lot of class participation so it’s important for everyone to be as involved as possible.

I’m looking forward to the experience, though I’d be lying if I said I’m not eager to get back into the actual classroom. However, until such time as that’s an option it’s great to have an alternative such as this.

In other writing news, my novel is slowly but surely approaching completion. I had initially planned to wrap it up by the end of April, which obviously didn’t happen, but I’m optimistic I’ll be finished a draft that satisfies me sometime in May. I’ll discuss it further in a later post, this is just a little note to let everyone know I’m still plugging away at producing the finished product. Until then, stay safe, talk soon!

-JP

The Launch of the Virtual Classroom

At various times over the last few posts I’ve alluded to the imminent switch to online learning. As of today everything has begun to fall into place and the inaugural online classes will begin next month.

It’s exciting new territory for all of us at the CEL, a whole different approach from the classroom experience. As I understand it we’ll be going with the Zoom platform, a free download that costs attendees nothing to use. Obviously a microphone and speakers are needed, and a headset is ideal.

The coolest part of this is that it opens the door, for the first time, to those who don’t live close to the campus. As an added bonus, given the circumstances surrounding this entire process the spring sessions are being offered at discounted prices.

Here are the links to my two classes:

Crafting the Short Story

An Introduction to Publishing

The new session of Crafting the Short Story is a six week course that begins on May 4th. An Introduction to Publishing is a one day workshop that runs on Saturday, June 20th.

Of course, mine are not the only courses running this spring. There are a number of other excellent classes on a variety of topics. Here’s the link to the complete list so far. Have a look, maybe there’s something here that might pique your interest. Let me know if you have any questions, or you can contact the CEL office directly. I hope to see some of you joining me (from a safe distance!) in a couple of weeks.

-JP

The Distance Learning Experiment

Just a quick couple of notes from the comfort of my couch on this dreary, rainy April evening. First, a novel update: thanks to a small but dedicated burst of activity this past weekend the word count is hovering in the 40,000 range. I don’t know just yet how much more will be added, but as I roll along it’s become apparent just how rough the rough draft really was. It clearly needed more, and the more I do with it the more complete it feels.

I don’t recall whether or not I’ve actually given any specific information about this project beyond referring to it as “the novel”. The working title (which will probably also be the title that eventually graces the cover) is Putting Down Roots. As you would expect from me, it’s a horror novel – a creature feature of sorts this time around. It’s gone through a few incarnations already, from its humble beginnings as a short story to a longer, more developed novella, and now a full-length novel. It’s an awkward approach to writing, and not something I would normally do, except in this case the story lent itself to a longer format.

In other news, I just got out of a meeting via Microsoft Teams with the folks at the university regarding distance learning. As I’ve alluded to previously, in the face of virus-related isolation we’re forced to explore alternative approaches to classroom teaching. The online route might not be ideal – personally, I much prefer the in-person group approach – but for the time being it’s the lone option at our disposal. So this coming week they’ll release the specifics on dates and times and such, with an eye toward getting up and running by sometime next month. I, of course, will pass the info on to you here as soon as the I’s are dotted and the T’s crossed.

I’ll be honest, I have mixed feelings about this approach. I’m not a fan of the platform we’re supposed to use, so I may go rogue and use a different method. The meeting wasn’t a total loss by any means, though. It was nice putting faces to the names of many of my fellow instructors, and a lot of good info and advice was shared. On the plus side, the online classroom is open to more than just those who live within driving distance. So, silver lining there.

One final note: the increased number of people staying at home in recent weeks may be partly responsible for the uptick in traffic this site has seen lately, which is cool. The bump in readers, that is, not the fact that so many are stuck at home (although for some of the folks I know, being stuck at home and isolated from society isn’t exactly a punishment). In any event, whatever brought you to my little corner of the internet, you have my appreciation and thanks. Feel free to drop by any time.

As always, be well and stay safe!

-JP

Listen to Your Characters

Even though my life hasn’t been altered to the degree that many others have experienced over the past month, I’m certainly not immune to the effects. As a result I’ve tried to make it a priority to spend more time working on writing projects.

At the top of my to-do list is the draft of my current novel, a project that sat on the shelf for some time but which I’ve decided to revisit. I took a little break from working on it, during which time I mulled it over in my head looking for what was missing. I’d been fighting it for a while and growing frustrated at my inability to get past the point at which I was hung up, until I finally decided to take some of my own advice.

In my writing classes I talk a lot about characters – specifically, how they drive a story. A good character can drive a weak story much easier than the other way around. The key is to listen to them. If they’re well developed, they’ll lead you wherever they want to go. Often we try to force them into the narratives we create, and sometimes they’ll go along with it for a while. But you can’t force them into places they don’t want to be, not for long. I realized I was asking for something that my main character just wasn’t interested in giving me. It’s not my story, after all. It’s his.

With that in mind I handed over the reins and let him run with things. Without going into the specifics of the story I have to say, so far he’s doing a much better job of figuring things out than I was. Ultimately I still have the final say on what goes on. But I’ll be paying attention to what he (and some of the other characters) want from here on out.

You could say the moral of this little tale is to practice what you preach. All I needed to do was to take a bit of my own advice. When you’ve painted yourself into a corner in your story, don’t be afraid to rely on the characters you’ve developed. They oughta know what’s best – it’s their story, after all.

-JP