Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Character Interview: Sitting Down with Fat Bastard

Yes, I know. Today's blog title is interesting. And so is the character I'm interviewing! Once again, we are going to take a station break (so to speak) and chat with a character who is featured in our upcoming anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly. This fun persona comes from the darkly creative mind of Steve Metze and his story Aliens v. Fat Bastard. If the title alone doesn't get your interest up about the story, this interview will definitely make you want to check it out!

Imagine that aliens have descended to our planet with the mission of conquering it. How do they plan to show dominance? On the football field! How freaky Americana is that? Unfortunately, the aliens are killing us (literally) during the game. It appears all hope is lost until--well, let's just say one Fat Bastard takes the field.

Let's begin the interview!

Mary Ann: Could you tell us a little about yourself?

 FB: The name Fat Bastard doesn’t do it for you?

Touche. And yes, it certainly paints a picture. Moving on. It seems like football is a big part of your story. Did you realize when you were younger just how important it would become to your life?

Oh no way.  Couldn’t stand the sport back then, can’t stand it today.  But it did help pad my college resume, so, there’s that. 

Ah, the things we do to get into college. So if you could go back and change one day, what would it be?

The day I had with Victoria, of course.  I mean, I wouldn’t try to change what ended up happening, or what she did to me, none of that.  I would just listen to her in a different way… ask her different questions…  

Victoria being the woman who influenced you to take the field that fateful day. Yeah. Considering what happened to you, I'd probably listen to her a little more carefully, too! So are you a different person now than you were 5 years ago?  In what way/s?
That’s a joke, right?  I mean, you’ve seen the statue, right?  Heard the songs?  Seen the music videos, read the graphic novel, played with the action figures… 

Okay, okay. Just trying to make conversation. By the way, your action figure is a little overrated. I much prefer your trading card. Anyway, we all know that the aliens in your story are jerks. What is your personal take on them? Do they have any hygiene issues?
It’s all sort of a blur to me know, but, Spike and Bruiser both, now that you mention it, did have a certain… special… scent.  That might have been what they smell like when they sweat though.  Didn’t really get a chance to hang out much in a social setting since we were trying to kill each other and all…  

That does put a damper on things. What is the most important lesson you have learned from life so far?
“So far?”  Oh that’s cruel.  Um, sure, well, OK, I would quote something about even the littlest person being able to change the world, but, you know, Fat Bastard.   

Ouch. Sorry. Wasn't thinking. Is there anything you regret doing/not doing?
I think I turned down a few chili dogs I shouldn’t have.  Wouldn’t have, that’s for sure, not if I’d known what I know now.    

What is your favorite past-time?
Did you even read my story?  I think I’m way past time now. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Sure.  Lessee, whenever something is really really important, don’t just sit back and watch.  Wow, that’s lame.  Can I start over?

Ha! You could have had a job writing cheesy sayings for Hallmark Cards. Too bad you're dead, man.

Want to know more about Fat Bastard and his claim to fame? Look for All Things Dark and Dastardly to be released on Oct. 21. And don't forget to enter our All Things Dark Contest! 2000 word entries due on Oct. 1 can be emailed to   

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's All in the Atmosphere

Ah, it's autumn. The crisp, cool air. Beautiful leaves turning and falling. Farmers looking forward to a bountiful harvest. Sweaters in the evening.

Well, that was fun to write. But it's just a myth to those of us in central Texas. Here in Austin it was 105 degrees yesterday. The most chance of rain any forecaster will venture is 30 percent, and that's a 30 percent change of scattered sprinkles, not the actual rain we so desperately need. The trees have given up and gone into early dormancy. We'll see if they leaf out next spring. The farmers have plowed under most of the crops for this year, awhile ago. There were a few anemic cotton harvests, but the corn never got above two feet tall and withered weeks before any ears could form.

I had the great good fortune this month to make a trip to cool, wet Tennessee and take a walk in the Smokies on a foggy day that required a jacket. But, if I hadn't actually taken a plane and arrived there physically, I still could have gone. That's the advantage of being a writer.

Any old time I want, I can sit down and conjure up weather. That's part of my setting, after all. If I get thoroughly into what I'm doing, I can write a blizzard and start shivering. My bare toes will turn cold. I'll want a cup of hot tea. Then I'll leave the keyboard and come to. It will shock me that it's over 100 degrees and the AC is valiantly trying to cool the house. I love being a writer!

If you're feeling the need for something with a dark and juicy atmosphere to sink your teeth into, with touches of black humor sprinkled about, remind yourself that our anthology is coming out next month. We here in Austin sure hope it's cooler by then!

Oil on canvas "Autumn Leaves" by John Buxton Knight, public domain

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Judging a Book by its Cover

OK, let’s not pretend that when you look at the artwork on the front of a book it doesn’t influenced your buying preferences. It does. So I wanted to talk about designing a book cover from a semi-professional point of view. The two obvious things to worry about are the aesthetic aspect, and the technical aspect. Let’s start with the aesthetics since that will interest you far more than the technical.

I’ve read up on advice on how to create an amazing book cover, and a lot of it says that you have to design the cover in some unbelievably unique way that no one has ever thought of before.

Eh, I’m not buying it.

In the USA alone, we publish 200,000 to 300,000 new books a year. I find it hard to believe that they are all wrapped in brilliantly original designs. Hey, if there are no original stories any more, why would there be original book covers? I’m not saying copy book covers, but I’m sort of saying copy other books’ covers. You’ve got probably many options in your home, and probably many of the genre you’re interested it. Take a look at them and break them down into their core elements. For example, take a quick count of how many of your paperbacks on your shelf follow this format.

* Quote by famous person at the top
* Title in a bigger font
* Striking picture in the middle
* Subtitle that explains what it is about
* Name of the Author, Editor, or genius who wrote the introduction at the bottom.

Now for Option Two, put the name of the Author, Editor, or genius who wrote the introduction just under the title, skip the subtitle, and leave the picture in the bottom 2/3s.

Those two examples don’t cover every book cover - that would be too easy - but they do cover a lot of them. My point, and I did have one, is that layout shouldn’t be something you struggle with. Copy someone else’s layout, and do it proudly. They spent many hours studying how to copy someone else’s in school, which means if you copy it, you’ll probably be pretty close too. If you want to check your layout, then when you finish it, put it aside, let it sit, go look at several other books, and then glance at your right after looking at a few others. If there is something that seems not right to you about the font, it will probably feel that way to other people too. That’s when you notice the tiny details. The other book probably has that title in all caps, and the author’s name in small caps, and the font probably looks a little thinner than the average words you see on a page. Bad layout, bad fonts, and bad artwork will make your book stick out in a bad way, and will give everyone the impression it was self-published. You’ve looked at a lot of book covers. If something about yours seems off, look deeper until you figure out what it is.

Quick sidenote – don’t try to get really crazy and put the author’s name above the title, unless the author is famous enough to sell the book regardless of what it is about.

At this point you’ve released yourself of the burden of thinking you need a design degree to get the format right, so focus on the fun stuff. What striking picture will really draw the eye? What colors capture the mood of the interior? If the picture or illustration looks professional, you’re 80%-90% there.

The back cover is harder, as you have a lot more interpretations of what should go on the other side of the book. Again I recommend using other works as guides, but the trend is to devote at least a third of it to more praise blurbs, and at least a third of it to a pitch to the potential reader. If you don’t have that many praise blurbs, toss in another image or illustration, or your picture and a bio.

Now let’s shift to some technical aspects. First, you’re probably going to sell your book either as an e-book, or on Amazon. That means people will be looking at your book cover at a fraction of the normal scale. If it is too crowded or detailed, then in miniature, it will look like a blob of color. Shrink it down to a few inches on your screen and ask yourself if it still captivates you.

Second, you need to understand what “bleed” is. The term is used to talk about the edges of the book, with the understanding that no matter how advanced our technology gets, when you send a file to the printer, there is a chance what your set up and what they print will be off a little bit. Most printers require that you leave a ring of blank space on all four sides of the cover, usually about .17 of an inch (1/6th of an inch) or so. The printer should tell you. Most will even give you a template that says “keep all images in this square” or something similar. The color of the book cover should still go to the edge or past it, but no part of the title, the witty praise blurbs, the actual striking image, the price, the barcode, the press logo, none of that should venture into this mystical “bleed” area. In some cases, if you do it, they will print it, and then something goes terribly wrong and you end up with the edges of your letters cut off on the side of the page. With places like Create Space, if it doesn’t fit into their template, they will just reject your design and tell you to do it again.

Third, the spine of your book is also important. The printer should tell you how to calculate the width of your spine based on the number of pages, whether the pages are white or cream, and whether the interior is black and white or color. If your book is less than 150 pages, most printers recommend you not have any words on your spine at all because – you guessed it – spines also have a “bleed,” and if you’ve got to have .17” of blank space on either side, that means a third of an inch of the spine has to be empty. You’ll notice many book spines follow a format too: Book title, author, publisher’s name and logo.

Which brings up point four, publisher’s name and logo. If you have a real publisher, they are probably designing your book cover and you have no say in it. If you don’t, you might consider starting your own publishing company, at least on paper. I don’t want to get too far into ISBNs and barcodes right now, but if you use the ISBN provided by a print on demand company, then when that code is scanned, and several smart phones have apps that will scan them, then that print on demand company (like Create Space) will show up as your publisher. If you don’t want to advertise a book is self-published, you’ll have to buy your own ISBN and create a publishing company. That requires a mildly interesting name and a professional looking logo.

Bottom line, we look at books all the time, and while most of what goes on the cover gets filed away as white noise, some part of our brains register what is there. We notice if the picture on the cover seems good, but not professional. We notice if the font isn’t in all caps, or it is Times New Roman, although we might not catch on exactly why right away. You don’t want a potential reader to get any sort of “this is homemade” vibe from your cover. Copy formats and layouts, and concentrate on the little details that make it look professional, and that one image that will draw the eye.

Oh, and also, write some brilliant story to go on the inside.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Character Interview: Sitting Down with Nathan Ink

Today I'm going to be interviewing a character from the upcoming anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly. He's also a main character in my book, Nephilim. Please welcome the one, the only Mr. Nathan Ink!

MA: Hi! Thanks for joining us on the All Things Writing blog. We really appreciate your time!

Nathan: Like I had choice.

True. Why don't we get started?

It's your interview, doll.

What is your occupation?

I’m an angel and a tattoo artist in a shop over on Sixth Street called Hell’s Leak.

An angel, huh? Does that pay well? Good employee benefits?

(Nathan gives Mary Ann a surly stare)

Okay, moving on then. Let’s talk about your work at Hell's Leak.  Whenever you tattoo someone it seems like bad stuff happens to them. Why is that exactly?

Because their bad people.

C’mon. They can’t all be bad.

Trust me. They aren’t the kind of people you want babysitting your kids or even your dogs. I can actually hear the hum of their sin. It floats in the air around these people like a metallic halo, giving off the worst sound imaginable. That’s how I know when it's time to do my job.  When I hear that hum driting in to my shop, the person it belongs to is mine. Body and soul. But mostly soul.

I heard you once tattooed a mermaid on a girl and then an hour later she turned into a real one. That true?

Yes. Her sin was vanity and like the mermaids the sailors used to talk about, she spent half her time admiring herself.

But didn't she end up drowning? I think that’s a pretty harsh way to punish someone for being vain.

Tough. What do I care what you think? When God gives you super powers, then you can pass judgment on me.

Sorry. So in the two stories featuring you in the All Things Dark and Dastardly anthology, you’re stirring up trouble for an elementary teacher who likes to gossip and a lazy college kid who can't be depended on. Which one was more fun to mess with?

The kid. I gave him goat tattoo that sounds like George Carlin when it talks. That's pretty damn cool.

Um...that tattoo convinced the kid to cut off his hand...

Pretty wicked, right?

Hmmm….for an angel, you sure have a dark side. I thought angels were supposed to be sweet and kind with big white wings.

Nathan Explosion, not
Nathan Ink.
That’s what you get for thinkin’. I don’t have wings. I sure don't look like that dude on the cover of Nephilim. My chest is much cooler, and I have an awesome tattoo running down my body. In fact, I don't know any angels that look like that guy! I look more like Nathan Exposion from Dethklok.
Is that normal for angels? To worry over how they look on book covers? Sounds like you have some personal issues... 
Watch it, Loesch.

Okay, the following questions are just for fun so feel free to answer honestly. Which do you prefer: beer or wine?


Best place to eat in Austin?

Hut’s Hamburgers.

Red and naughty or black and sexy?

Red and naughty.

Do angels have sex?

Not in public.

Well, on that note, let’s wrap it up! Thanks for being here today, Nathan. I’m sure we all look forward to reading your exploits in the upcoming anthology, All Things Dark and Dastardly!


All Things Dark and Dastardly comes out Oct. 21, 2011. Don't forget to enter our writing contest to win a free copy of the book! Send your 2000 word dark story to by Oct. 1!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cross Genres

This is becoming, more and more, a common practice. Charlaine Harris wrote mysteries, but when she decided to add werewolves and other paranormal beings, she became shelved in both romance and mystery. Go figure! Dean Koontz, best known as a horror writer, includes elements of suspense, thriller, and throws in some science fiction.

Other writers keep the genres separate, but write in several. Beth Groundwater writers mystery and science fiction, keeping both forms pure.

Some cross genre works have acquired their own names, dark fantasy for fantasy and horror, science fiction westerns and even space westerns. Science fiction western has given birth to the more current steampunk, a quickly growing genre all its own.

Steve Metze, Mary Ann Loesch, and I are three writers who write in different genre, but decided to put our stories together anyway and get an anthology published. So we did! All Things Dark and Dastardly contains elements of mystery, horror, paranormal, fantasy, science fiction, and maybe some others. Sometimes I'm not sure where a genre begins and ends. I, myself, contributed mystery and paranormal here, but have recently branched out into horror and even wrote a zombie story that's being submitted. I can detect mystery in most of my stories, but it may be hard for some readers.

As Mary Ann pointed out on a recent guest blog for Rasana Atreya, our common thread is darkness. The three of us seem to have twisted little minds and like it that way. If you like your stories dark and dastardly, keep watch here for our release in October.

We're excited about this volume and hope you will be, too!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Learn more about All Things Dark and Dastardly

Want to learn more about our new anthology? Come check out Rasana Atreya's awesome blog. She allowed me to be a guest blogger this week!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Are Characters Born Wicked?

"Are people born wicked or do they have wickedness thrust upon them?"

That's a line from a popular Broadway musical called, Wicked. It tells the story of Elphaba, later known as the Wicked Witch of the West, and Galinda, aka, the Good Witch of the North. The musical chronicles their unlikely friendship and explains how the Elphaba comes to be known as the most wicked creature around. It's a fun story, and you'll never look at the Wizard of Oz the same way again!

I like the question the best. Are people born wicked? Or is it their particular circumstance that causes their actions? I guess I like to think that no one is born wicked, that we are all victims of our opportunities in life. However, do the same rules apply when creating characters?

I think so. Most readers want to know why a character does the things he or she does. They need a reason to understand that person's actions--whether they are good or bad. And yet, some characters are so truly evil that the reader becomes fascinated and doesn't need their back story. For instance, take eveyone's favorite cannibal, Hannibal Lector. Hmmm...what exactly did his momma do to him in childhood that turned him into such a connoisseur of human flesh? Author Thomas Harris chooses not to go into details about that, and it's really  not important to the story, but still, it does make you wonder...

Did Mr. Harris have that background information when he began writing the character of Hannibal Lector? Was it something he used as a tool to craft and mold this larger than life person who evokes such terror in readers and even movie goers? (Thank you, Anthony Hopkins.) Or was Hannibal just born wicked?

As a writer who dabbles in urban fantasy, I often ask myself that question about any new evil character I'm creating. I like to know what it is that drives a person to do the their bad deeds. Sometimes I include that info in a story and sometimes, I just hint at it. This is all part of knowing when and how much of the back story to include--a tricky thing for writers. Too much of it and your audience tunes out. Too little and they get frustrated enough to stop reading.

When writing your short story submission for our All Things Dark and Dastardly competition, remember that we like characters who are wicked, but not so wicked that we can't identify with them at all. The characters that seem to get under our skin are the complex ones, the ones who are more than what they seem.

Don't forget you have until Oct. 1 to submit your dark story to Winners win a free copy of All Things Dark and Dastardly and are published on All Things Writing. See our story submission link to get more details.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

All Things Dark and Dastardly Writing Contest--Deadline Oct. 1 2011

When it comes to creating characters, I like them to be realistic with just a dash of darkness. I think that's how most people really are anyway. We all have quirks and oddities which make us our strange, but loveable selves. We have secrets, hidden desires, and "crazy" buttons just waiting to be pushed. Ah, we are delightfully dark!

Writing dark stories is definitely fun. As many of our faithful readers know, we here at All Things Writing have created an anthology called All Things Dark and Dastardly. It's scheduled for release in October and being full of delicious dastardly tales, has something for everyone.

We'd like to be able to give away a copy of it, but Dark and Dastardly giveaways don't come for free...No. We challenge you to submit your own 2,000 word dark tale to us in order to win a copy of the book. The submission with the darkest tale will be published on our site and will receive a free copy of All Things Dark and Dastardly.

Here are the rules:
1. Stories can't be longer than 2000 words.
2. Must have a dark theme.
3. Should be submitted in the body of an email to
4. Due by Oct. 1, 2011.

We look to receiving your dark works of art!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Self Publishing: Just a fad or is it changing the written word?

Today is Kaye's usual day to blog but unfortunately, she is very under the weather right now! So I decided to steal her blog spot just because I can. (Insert Wicked Laugh here.)

Actually, I'm kind of stealing my blog topic for today, too: Self Publishing. It seems like that is the hot topic right now for writers everywhere. And why not? It's easy to do, one way to side step the big publishing houses, and it doesn't require an agent. I look back on the last seven years of my writing career and have to laugh, though. When I first started getting serious about writing, the words "self publishing" were a dirty phrase that could only be whispered in dark rooms where serious writers weren't allowed. It wasn't considered the best option, and if you did it, you'd have zero chance of getting an agent. Ever.

My how times have changed! Watching the shift in thinking about this subject has been remarkable. Self publishing is no longer considered a dirty word with the advent of POD houses and the popularity of eReaders. Technology continues to change our lives, and finally, it's touched the stuffy world of publishing. I've noticed a lot of blogs and articles in magazines about how much easier it is to get your book out there with self publishing. Of course, you still have to do the promotions for it, but even if you get published by a big house or a small press, you're still going to have do most of the book's promotions yourself anyway. I recently read one blog where the author had been given back her release rights by a small house. Unhappy with the sales she'd made through that house in the first place, she decided to self publish it with a new cover. Sales skyrocketed for her, and she made more in a month doing it on her own than with the time she'd been with the small press.

Personally, I think the stigma attached to self publishing is slipping away, and it even has agents scrambling for ideas on what to do in the future. In addition to the popularity of self publishing articles, I've seen many sights touting the importance of an agent. Writer's Digest even did a big feature on agents this past issue which makes me think some of them are concerned about the latest trend of self published authors. I follow several agents on Twitter and keep seeing their tweets about everything they can do for writers. Yes, I think agents can do much for a writer, and if you have the chance to work with one, do it! On the other hand, many writers can be successful and sell books without one and this is largely due to self publishing and self promotion.

All Things Dark and Dastardly will be published by a small press this October. We've worked with an editor in order to get the book in awesome shape, and I think that's the most important thing you can do as a self published author. If you are going to put your work out there, hire an editor! Writers who made the mistake of publishing their first draft of a manuscript are the reason self publishing had a bad rep in the first place!

We will be releasing excerpts and unveiling the Dark and Dastardly website in a few weeks, and we look forward to your feed back! In the mean time, what are your thoughts on self publishing? Writing trend or publishing world changer?