Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Love Letters From Robots - Published!

It is my most distinct pleasure to announce that my flash piece, Love Letters From Robots is now available to read at Daily Science Fiction!

And with this, I can finally say I am a published author.

Feels good, y'all.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Dear New Novelist: Push Down, Lift Up

I had someone recently ask my thoughts on what to do about a villain. They said it's more believable and socially acceptable for the devious, calculating villain to be a white male, but more progressive to have the racial and gender identity fit the character instead of shoving them into the white male block, even if they're the one facing the fall at the end. Should they be true to their story and character, they asked me, or should they make it fit the easiest hole to fill. This is what I told them.

Dear New Novelist, it's about balancing the scales. If you're going to push down on a type of person that exists in real life, you need to raise up someone of the same type. If you've got a bad orc, you don't need a good orc to counter it. Orcs aren't real. But if you've got a black villain, you sure as hell better have a black hero on an equal level. By equal level, I mean you can't balance out your black Big Bad with the black bartender who overheard an important tip. The villain has considerably more weight to the story. It doesn't balance out equally. You need someone on the level of the hero, the #1 companion, and/or the mentor to balance out how much you're pushing down on the villain.

For example, consider the absolutely amazing Black Panther movie (minor spoilers ahead). There are only two important white characters: Ulysses Klaue and Everett Ross. Imagine, for a moment, if there was only Klaue. A whole movie, and the only white character is a villain. Not THE villain, but A villain. How would that feel? Some white people might not bat an eye, while others would wonder, "Is this a statement about my race as invaders and villains? Do the makers of this think I'm a bad guy just because of my skin?" Probably wouldn't have been, but it would FEEL like it, because that's the only representative of our race in the movie. But he wasn't. There was also Ross. Not the most important character, wasn't much of a good guy in the last movie he was in, but this is his redemption arc. He gets to be a hero. Not THE hero, but A hero. Exactly equal to the other white man. One was pushed down, one was raised up. Perfectly balanced, and it made the movie stronger for it.

Your novel is the exact same. People of many races and genders are going to be reading your book, new novelist, and they'll be looking for themselves in it. If they only see themselves being pushed down, some will wonder, "Is this what the author thinks of me?" Your intent doesn't matter. You can't go to every single person and tell them, "No, I don't think that way, I swear." You have to show it in action in your story. If you're going to push down, balance the scales.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Fear is the Right Direction

The other day, Neil Gaiman made a tweet that I've actually thought for a long time, but it's Neil Gaiman so of course he said it a thousand times better than I could:

It's true. That fear you feel when you're taking the first new step of something, anything, is paralyzing. "What if I'm not good?" "What if I fail?" "What if I can't?" In your mind, you know the answer is, "Then keep going." If you just try, you'll learn that you can, even if it's hard. It may not be good, you may fail a lot, but you'll learn. Keep trying, keep learning, and eventually, you'll stop falling flat. But first, it's gonna scare the crap out of you.

It's like walking through the middle of an endless barfight. You know if you step in there, you're gonna get hit, by fists if you're lucky, bottles and mugs if you're not. You know it's gonna hurt either way. You know in the worst case, you might not even make it through to the drink waiting on the other side. You can stand on the edges and study, watching for patterns to try and stop yourself getting hit, watching other people run the gauntlet, study the experts as they dance through the blows untouched, but study can never be as good a teacher as action.

You have to step in and start taking the punches. Maybe it won't be as bad as you expect, or maybe it'll be worse, but you're in it now. The first step is the hardest. Now you can run. Once you're on the other side, maybe you'll realize it wasn't so bad. You can do it again. You do. At the end, you'll realize you've become the dancer that others are studying. So go on. Write that book. Submit that query you've been starting and restarting. Take that trip. Ask that special someone out. Do that thing that's scaring you.

On a related note, I'll be starting up that video game streaming I discussed way back in Sept 2016. If you want to watch me make a complete idiot of myself playing classic games, I'll be live Wednesdays at 7 starting tomorrow at And I am scared shitless, so I know I'm heading in the right direction. Come with me?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Guest Post: Donna Migliaccio on WRITER, KNOW THYSELF

If you've been around the comments section here, you may have seen the lovely Donna Migliaccio commenting. Maybe you've seen her on the various writing forums she participates in, from Absolute Write to NaNoWriMo. Or maybe you've seen her on Broadway, because Donna makes art and talent into an art form. Or maybe you haven't have to opportunity to see her at all, in which case buckle up, because today we have a guest post from the most multitalented writer I know. Please give Donna a warm welcome!


There’s a game that writers play on occasion that I’ve never been able to work up any enthusiasm for, and that’s the “Cast the Movie of Your Book” game. The game bugs me for two reasons: 1) I’m superstitious and it feels like a jinx, and 2) I don’t strongly identify any of my characters with any actual person, living or dead.

And I don’t want readers of The Gemeta Stone series to be force-fed any particular “look” for the characters, either, especially the photo-shopped models that appear (often simply as bare torsos) on so many book covers. I want my readers to have the experience of reading the characters’ descriptions and imagining those characters for themselves.

That said, there are certainly elements of family and friends that I’ve incorporated – sometimes deliberately, sometimes unwittingly – in my characters. (A fair number of them have physical characteristics in common with certain of my nieces and nephews, along with similar names.) I think it’s also safe to say that most of my characters have quirks that resemble my own, or traits I wish I had.

For example, my main character, Kristan Gemeta, values kindness above all and has tried his whole life to do what is right. It’s a theme that has always fascinated me, which may be why I find the endings of Babe and Sense & Sensibility to be so moving and satisfying. Both Babe the Pig and Elinor Dashwood struggle to do what’s right, even though “what’s right” may not be easy and actually stands in the way of their own happiness. Kristan’s innate decency is what I like best about him. His female counterpart, Heather Demitt, has a brave, impulsive nature that I envy, and it’s the thing I like best about her. Even my bad guy Daazna has a trait I admire: a ferocious desire to learn and to master new skills.

If I was to pick one character from the series who is most like me, it would probably be Ariphele, Daazna’s mother. She’s a middle-aged magic user of limited skill, a little on the lazy side, but very observant. She’s also sarcastic and has no qualms about goading her son, sometimes to incite him to greater achievements but more often just for the sheer pleasure of getting under his skin. Ariphele not only serves as a stimulus for Daazna, but she also humanizes him. She allows the reader to see him, not simply as the “bad guy” (although he can be very, very bad) but as someone with frustrations, doubts and desires just like the more heroic characters.

And that’s my main job as a writer: to create characters that are not just stock “good guys” and “bad guys,” but who are as fully-fleshed, as contradictory and as intriguing as the people who inhabit our real lives.

Fiskur by Donna Migliaccio
November 7, 2017
The Gemeta Stone Book 2
Fiery Seas Publishing, LLC

With his family's talisman in his possession, Kristan Gemeta is ready to face the Wichelord Daazna – but he has no inkling of the scope of Daazna's power, nor the depths of his hatred.

With the recovery of his family's protective talisman, Kristan Gemeta has found hope, courage – and perhaps even the first stirrings of love. With the aid of Heather Demitt, her band of rebels, a shipload of Northern brigands and the legendary Kentavron, he readies himself to face the Wichelord Daazna. But neither he nor his comrades realize the strength of Daazna's power and hatred. The Wichelord's first blow comes from a direction Kristan least expects, with horrific, lasting consequences.

Buy Links:

 Amazon  ~  Barnes & Noble  ~  Kobo  ~  iBooks

About the Author:

Donna Migliaccio is a professional stage actress with credits that include Broadway, National Tours and prominent regional theatres. She is based in the Washington, DC Metro area, where she co-founded Tony award-winning Signature Theatre and is in demand as an entertainer, teacher and public speaker. Her award-winning short story, "Yaa & The Coffins," was featured in Thinkerbeat's 2015 anthology The Art of Losing.

Social Media:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dear New Novelist: How to be a Better Beta Writer

This is, unfortunately, a topic that many eager new writers need to be sat down and told. Settle in, newbies, cause this is a long one.

Just to get some definitions out there before we start:

Beta reader - A person who has agreed to read and give detailed commentary on a draft that is as clean as the writer can get it. Often solo.

Alpha reader - A person who has agreed to read and give detailed commentary on a rough draft. Often solo.

Critic/critter - A person who volunteers their time to comment, as detailed or vague as they like, on an excerpt. Often a member of a group.

Dear New Novelist, a good beta reader and trove of critics is something to treasure. They're people you can trust to be honest with you about what needs fixing in your novel, people who are willing to dedicate their time to helping you improve it. A good critter can become a good beta. A good beta can become a good friend. The thing is, a beta reader is a business relationship. A good one will not be gentle. They will be honest, and honest can hurt. And just as they can hurt you, you can hurt them. The thing is, you asked for the pain. They didn't, and if you keep it up, you risk losing their good will, their experience, and worst, their friendship.

So, how do you avoid this?

1. Don't send more than one draft without prior agreement

This one's more for beta readers than critics and critique groups. Critique groups have an understanding that you bring what you bring and you crit what there is to crit. Beta readers, though, are different than a critique group and shouldn't be treated like one.

When people volunteer to be your beta readers, unless discussed otherwise in advance, they're only expecting to do one draft. Even if you're best friends, there is no assumed "I will beta every version" or "I'll read the next draft." There's not even an "I'll reread chapter 1." It is "I will read and help with this draft." Once they've done that, the metaphorical beta contract is done. If you want them to have another go, you have to ask first. If you don't ask...

Let's flip places. You're going about your day. You have work to do for, well, life. Your job, homework, cleaning the house, whatever. You know what's on your to-do list and you know what to expect coming down the line: an essay for English class, that project your boss talked about, the kitchen needs a good scrub and laundry needs attention, you have edits for your own novel, and you finally received that novel you offered to beta to Writer B. You finished Writer A's beta last week and are glad to have it off your ever-growing plate. You got the wonderful feeling from marking something off your to-do list. And then your email chimes. It's from Writer A.

Thanks for your help! it says. Here's the next draft!

This was not on your plate. You DID this already. You put your work in, whether it was hours or minutes, and it was done. But now, Writer A has dropped it back on top of your plate without asking if you would take it. They just assumed you would. Maybe they say what they want from you in more detail late in the email ("Can you get it back to me within a month?") or maybe there's nothing more, no explanation of what they expect from you. Whatever the case, you suddenly have more work that you never agreed to on top of everything else you did. That thing you felt so good getting off your plate is back on it. How do you feel?



Taken advantage of?

Yeah, probably all of those. They're not asking if you'll volunteer your time; they're expecting it, and putting it on your shoulders to either accept it and do it or say "no" and come off like a jerk. You know they don't mean to be rude. They're just eager. They trust you. But all the same, they've done it, and there's no taking it back now.

For this reason, some beta readers outright say, "I will only do one draft," but that's not everybody. Some of us enjoy seeing stories progress and improve with our input. The ONLY thing you have to do first is say one little sentence before dropping the manuscript in our inbox.

Would you mind taking another look? 

A please helps too. Just show us that you remember your beta has limited disposable time, just like you. Asking first is just a sign of respect.

2. Don't send rough drafts

Let's trade places again, now as a critter. Someone posted a chapter on a forum that's attracted your attention. It has a good title and it's your favorite genre. Let's give it a look.

First paragraph: they used their instead of they're. As you go, there are too many commas, the dialogue tags are off, a lot of saidisms, a few more homophones, a character changes names halfway through, and there's a plothole at the end of the excerpt.

Okay, you go ahead and point out all the issues. It takes you time to write it all up. Fifteen minutes to half an hour for one excerpt's line-by-line.

You go back a little later to see a response from the author.

"Yeah, I knew about the homophones and the grammar. I didn't read it over yet so thanks for catching the name change, and thank you pointing out the plot hole!"

They posted it without looking it over themselves, without trying to find basic issues. They gave you a rough draft that they couldn't even read first because they were so eager for feedback. And what does that mean?

It means you just wasted your time telling them things they already knew and could have fixed themselves.

It means that deeper problems with the manuscript were missed because your focus was on the obvious ones that should have been fixed already.

You wasted your time, and the author didn't get as good feedback as they could have because they didn't fix the problems they were capable of fixing.

Now imagine if it had been the entire manuscript and a beta reader.

"Well, they're just an alpha reader then, right?" Except being an alpha reader, like betaing more than one draft, is something that needs to be agreed upon beforehand. Unless stated otherwise, the expectation is that the reader is going to be a beta, reading something you've done your best on. That's hours and hours of work telling the author to fix things they already know how to fix. When a beta reader receives a manuscript, the unspoken expectation is, "This is as good as the author is capable of doing on their own and now they need the beta reader's help." As the author, you're doing yourself a disservice by not sending your best, making a bad impression regarding your own abilities, and you're doing your beta reader a disservice by making them spend those hours fixing basic problems. If you're using beta readers, you need to have cleaned every issue you can find yourself. Then and only then should it be up to the beta to help you the rest of the way. Otherwise, arrange for an alpha.

3. Don't make too many changes too fast

As a beta writer, it is not your job to make the changes your betas and critters tell you to.

"But Maxwell, isn't that what we're supposed to do?"

Nah. Even when you get a publishing deal and an editor tears into your novel, it's not your job to make all the changes they say. Your job, beta writer, is to assess the RECOMMENDED changes, understand WHY the changes are recommended, decide which to apply and which to ignore, and apply changes as needed. Not every beta is a good match for your work. Everyone who's been betaed or edited has received comments that don't work for their image of their novel.

"You need to make your MC a man. Women don't act like that," someone will say of your MC who acts very much like your female best friend.

"No one knows what a five-and-dime is. Change it," someone will say of your 40s historical.

"You'll never sell this with a POC MC," is a sadly common complaint from editors, evidently.

All of those comments? They are not good comments. Your 1940s black woman does not need to be a 2017 white man, and you do not need to change her because a few people said so, no matter how much you trust them. If you just take every comment at face value and rush through, you're going to make changes your manuscript doesn't need.

You're also going to miss making the changes it does need because you're rushing. Say someone recommends you remove a week where nothing happens. It's a good idea. You apply it. But do you realize that the part you cut will affect the timeline after? You need to go through and remove references to "last week," changing them to "yesterday." If all you do is make the changes the beta tells you to, you won't catch these sort of things. You need to take time after a beta comes back to think about the beta's comments, apply them, and reread the entire thing, making sure the changes flow smoothly and are applied through the entire manuscript.

How does this apply to beta readers? Well, beta fatigue is a thing. The reason you as a writer need a beta reader is because you get too close to your story. It gets hard to find the problems because something you may not have explained to the reader is obvious to you the writer. The stuff in your head doesn't always make its way to the page. If your beta reader has agreed to look at multiple drafts and you send them two or three in a week's time, they're going to get worn on your story and start to become too familiar to see the problems.

A common issue we see in the critique section of Absolute Write, especially for query letters, is people popping up edits after an hour or two and only one or two critiques, to the tune of three to four versions in 24 hours. Usually, these don't actually fix the issues because the writer isn't taking the time to slow down and consider what's actually being explained by the critters. The same core issues will be in the query or excerpt from draft to draft, just with slightly different words. This isn't a race and you're not on a time limit (well, unless you have a deadline that you've put off until the last minute. Don't do that.) Slow down, absorb what betas and critters have to tell you, and don't overload them with drafts until you're certain you've fixed the real problems.

And finally, this one may feel obvious, but you'd be surprised how many beta readers have reported encountering this:

4. Don't be ungrateful.

So many beta readers and critters have the same story. "I did all the work, gave so much advice, and they never even said thank you." Yes, as a beta writer, your beta reader has probably hurt you, but like I said earlier, that's something to be expected when you ask for a beta. You've put a full-time job's worth of effort into your novel, a final exam's worth into your query or synopsis, and now people are telling you, "Not good enough yet. Fix it." Ouch. But you know it was coming. You know it needed work. You don't get beta readers or critics expecting them to tell you, "This is perfect." Or you shouldn't. That's not their job. If that's what you want, tell them at the start and save everyone involved the time.

It doesn't matter if they've put in five minutes or five weeks of work. It doesn't matter if they've read a page or a thousand pages. It doesn't matter if every single word of the commentary is golden or useless. You say, "Thank you so much." It's okay to wait a few days while the sting goes down. It's okay to do it immediately, before even opening the file. It's okay to do it in private for every individual critter or publicly as a group. Just say it. Because I guarantee, if you don't, that person will never read for you again, and they'll make sure all their beta friends know not to help you either. This is the fastest, easiest way to sever a beta relationship... well, next to complaining about their comments online. If they go to your blog or a thread and find you shittalking their hard work behind their back, no matter how bad or good it really was, well, that's over and done. If you have to complain to someone, do it in text messages or a private chat or even face-to-face. If you go public with it, just know that if they find it, whatever relationship you had with them is over. The only thing your beta should see from you is gratitude, even if you don't feel it.


These are the stories that every beta reader and critic has. These are the stories that set their boundaries and wear them down. These are the war stories they tell their friends who are in the beta trenches with them. I have them. All my beta friends have them. All my own betas probably have them. Don't become someone else's war story. Be a good beta writer.

And readers, if you have any of your own beta war stories, feel free to share them in the comments!

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Dear New Novelist: Do Your Research

It's a big publishing world out there. When you have your finished novel edited and ready to go, the question becomes "What do I do with it?" We live in an age where the options are more and more every week. You could self publish, and you'll have a dozen choices for platforms and formats: Amazon-exclusive, wide-net (Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, etc), ebook only, Print-on-Demand (POD), both? You could submit to one of hundreds of small indie publishers who have open submissions. Or you could aim high for one of the big publishers who can get you into physical bookstores, but then you usually have to start with an agent, and there are hundreds more to choose from there.

It's a daunting, overwhelming selection no matter which path you take, and that's why today's lesson is important.

Dear new novelist,


It's a big publishing world out there, and in any big world, you're going to find people taking advantage of the newbies. Anyone can hang out an agent or publisher sign and tell a newcomer anything they want, and without doing research, who's to tell them otherwise? It can be so exciting to get that first "yes" that you'll miss or ignore all the red flags, and the worst scammers will tell you "this is how it is." Vanity publishers, places that take your money to print your book for upwards of ten thousand dollars, will tell you that paying to publish is totally normal (it's not. There's a writing law about it.) Lazy publishers will tell you, "Even the Big Five expect you to do all your own advertising and marketing" (they don't.) Scam agents will tell you that you need to have your book edited first (probably true), and they know this editor who will edit your book to perfection for a few thousand from your own pocket (probably their spouse,sibling, or shady business partner. Expect your money to be pocketed and your book never sold.) Even honest publishers with good intentions but little experience can fail, taking your novel and your money to bankruptcy with them.

What I'm trying to say is, not all agents, publishers, and publishing options are equal, even on the same level. Some small presses are more stable than others. Some larger companies can have issues behind the scenes that are leading then on a quick ride to closure. Even some vanity presses are more legitimate and better values (because there are cases where vanity publishing is acceptable or beneficial, often things like coffee table books with lots of pictures or books by public speakers who sell at their speaking engagements). The only way to learn all this is to do your research: before, during, and after.

Before submitting anywhere, look them up. The Absolute Write Bewares, Recommendations, and Background Check forum has hundreds of publishers and agents, along with peoples' input on them based on personal experience or website evaluation. Sometimes the company or agent being evaluated will give their own input, which can also be eye-opening to their public behavior (and door-closing if they're behaving badly.) The Writer Beware blog (supported by the SFWA) also keeps up with the publishing world and reports on trouble brewing. Other things to look up at this stage:
  • How publishing works on all levels, from start to finish
  • What agents and publishers do for you to earn their share of the cover price, and how much their share typically is
  • The pros and cons of a big publisher, a small publisher, a new publisher, an old publisher, an old agent, a new agent, and self-publishing. 
  • The difference between net and gross in contracts and how not knowing this can screw you over
  • The difference between being able to order a book in bookstores and finding it on the shelves
  • The difference between an agent and a contract lawyer or literary attorney
  • The difference between a new publisher/agent with previous publishing/agenting experience and a new publisher/agent with no previous experience or only experience being published
  • The difference between Print-on-Demand and print runs 
  • The red flags to look for while vetting agents and publishers
  • Anything and everything that anyone tells you is normal or typical in the publishing business
During submission, it's easy to miss some of those aforementioned red flags and submit to someone who may not be as on the up-and-up as they seemed. When you get that "we'd like to publish you" email or "I want to represent you" call, it's not too late to do some in-depth research. Dig around the internet, or at least Google "[Publisher] scam." If you find out that this isn't who you want, you can always say "no." You should also be allowed to reach out to the people who will be your fellows with the company or agent and ask some questions. Do so. You may find out some things going on behind the scenes that aren't public yet, like withheld payments, illness causing delays (a major issue with small, one-man companies), or just slow response rates. There have been people who've signed contracts with companies in the middle of collapsing who hadn't paid their writers in months just because that failing company said, "Yes". Don't let that happen to you.

After you've signed the contract, it's still good to keep an eye out for what's going on and act appropriately to preserve your stories and ask questions. Publishers going under can be quick, or a slow crawl, and if you don't act in a timely manner, you might lose any books with that publisher for years. Agents can get sick, retire, quit, or move agencies with little notice, and you want to know what will happen to you under those circumstances so you can plan accordingly.

Basically, the more you know, the safer you, your novel, and your wallet will be. And trust me, in this business, you want to be safe. How many potential shining stars have died out unnoticed because they went with a bad publisher? Answer: lots. Don't let yourself be one of them. Do your research. It's for your own good.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Good News, Everyone! The Dream Is Real

Good morning, dear readers, and a happy Monday to you! How was your weekend? Good, I hope. Relaxing. Fun. Full of adventure and happiness and good news.

Speaking of good news, I'm getting published.

That's pretty much been my life the past two days. The high is real, y'all. Call me the Wicked Witch because I am defying gravity, and nothing's gonna bring me down.

My short story "Like I Need a Hole in the Head" has been picked for the Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good anthology for release in early 2019. I am unbelievably honored and thrilled to be a part of this anthology, and I can't wait to be able to share more information as the table of contents and release dates come out.

My OTHER short story, "Tuna for Bast", is coming out in the STRAEON 2 anthology edited by my friend and critique group leader M. David Blake. Currently there is no set release date, but I can say I am sharing the anthology with several other great talents I've had the pleasure to hear on a regular basis at the group.

So, yeah, this is happening. This is my life now. Sometimes I kinda forget how to breathe when I think about it. The best thing, though, the greatest feeling ever, is the every-so-often pop-up thought of, "I'm good enough. I'm actually good enough." Y'all, it feels really, really good.

Now that I actually have things to announce, I've set up a mailing list for anyone who might be interested in keeping up with occasional updates as I get them and as they pertain to you getting access to what's coming from me. If that sounds good to you, then all you have to do is enter your email in the box on the upper right and click Subscribe. And of course, thank you to those of you who have already signed up. Whether you're signed up, not yet, or never will, I'm grateful to all of you readers for sticking with me and giving me the encouragement to keep trying. I hope this is just the first of many announcements to come, and I hope you'll all come along with me for the ride. 

Comments have been turned off due to spambots