Category Archives: Writing

Thinking a lot gets very tiring

Seriously. I put in a good week’s work and by the end of every day I feel wiped. Not quite as bad as Sgt. Rock, but still exhausted. But it is, as they say, a good tired. I even got in slightly more hours than I’d planned to, which will make up for whenever my schedule goes south later this month.

I added 4,ooo words to my rewrite of Let No Man Put Asunder. It’s holding together surprisingly well considering I’m really pantsing it — finish one scene, think what comes next, jump on that. It may turn out I’ve plotted myself into an unworkable hole but it’s going A-OK so far. Fun too.

I worked on Mage’s Masquerade which has reached the point I need plotting rather than pantsing. I think I’ve solved the main flaws in the last draft and I got halfway through the next one.

I worked on a werewolf comedy short story, Inherit the Howling Night, but I’m not sure there’s a story there yet. Or maybe ever. But I’ve thought that before and proven myself wrong after a few more drafts. Another (untitled) story — an unusual riff on Jekyll and Hyde — has characters and a message, but no real plot. Hopefully I can find one.

I finished Bleeding Blue and sent it off to F&SF. I admit I’m not hopeful — I’ve never gotten better than “Thanks, try again some time” but why not start off with a prestige market? And hey, even with a no, that’s my first finished short story of 2023, already subbed. Regrettably the market-guide website Ralan.com shut down this week — they were easily the best guide to which markets were open, when new markets started up and so on. There are alternatives but none I like as much.

I looked at Shopify, the online-sales app, and it should be doable to integrate it with this website. By the end of the month I hope to have stuff up for direct sale. Doesn’t mean anyone’ll be buying but as with F&SF, there’s no reason not to try.

And my new plan for managing email — basically devote an hour at the end of the week to going through whatever hasn’t been opened — is working well.The romance anthology Starlit Bridges is now out, with my Wodehouse Murder Case included. You can buy it in ebook or paperback. And I have more Con-Tinual panels available, one on writing in the Roaring Twenties, one on how to write psychic detectives, as in Questionable Minds.

#SFWApro. Covers top-to-bottom by Joe Kubert, unknown (sorry!) and Samantha Collins, all rights remain with current holders.

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Researching some more urban fantasy

HEROINE WORSHIP: Heroine Complex #2 by Sarah Kuhn opens a few months after Heroine Complex with Annie undergoing a slow meltdown for lack of any evil to fight or any chance to show off her heroic prowess. When Nate proposes to Evie, Annie finally has a mission — become the most powerful, most awesome maid of honor San Francisco has ever seen! As usual her bull-in-a-china-shop approach causes problems, but not as many as a rising wave of bridezillas possessed by demonic energy.

Telling this one from Annie’s POV was a good decision. She’s a good character, conscious she’s been a failure as a best friend, determined to make up for it and struggling with her own insecurities and love life. The book does a good job of fleshing that out. I will agree with some reviews that her boyfriend Scott isn’t well developed but he’s no worse than many female love interests — he’s there to love Annie and give her a reality check or two. That said, I never buy characters who calmly and accurately diagnose their emotional issues in conversation and there was way too much of that.

In terms of research for Impossible Takes a Little Longer I think the main takeaway is that it wouldn’t hurt KC to be a little more intense about stuff. It adds to Heroine Worship and I think it’s doable for my book.

One difference is that there’s surprisingly little comics reference (surprising to me, anyway) for a superhero story set in the real world, though I think that’s generally true of the superhero novels I’ve read over the year. My protagonist’s way more comic-book nerdy. But Kuhn does throw in a Clark Kent reference at one point where the leads really need to mention him, so that’s good.

Where Kuhn’s book had a lot of rom-com elements, FAE OF FORTUNE: Seattle Paranormal Police Department Book One by John P. Logsdon and Eric Quinn Knowles feels like a mashup of Justice League of America with the old Police Academy series.Rather than a lone wolf like Harry Dresden, protagonist Savannah Sage has an entire team of paranormals in the Seattle PD to work with her. Like Police Academy they’re all screwups — Savannah being put in charge of them is a demotion — but of course by the end of the book they’ve proved they have the right stuff. The mashup didn’t work for me, though I can see why it might appeal to other readers (and apparently does, as there are multiple sequels and the series is part of a larger, multi-book mythos).

I can’t say I learned anything from this one other than if you’re going to have an exposition-heavy first chapter it’s got to be good, interesting exposition and this wasn’t. The story, involving a scheme by a corrupt Kingpin-type, is okay and the fight scenes are good, but the conversational scenes between fighting not so much. The killer teddy bear is cute, though, even if describing it as a form of golem feels all wrong to me.

#SFWApro. Covers by Jason Chan and Murphy Anderson (bottom), all rights remain with current holders.

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Contrary to “Macbeth,” it’s sometimes good to cry “Hold, enough!”

Which is a way of saying I need to take more breaks. Not the vacation kind, but during the day. It’s less eye-strain if I get up and away from the computer regularly, plus I have non-writing chores that need doing. But when I get caught up it’s easy to forget and only realize it when my brain’s fried and I still have writing to do. So next week, I’ll try setting a timer.

That said, this week went well. I finished the current draft of The Impossible Takes a Little Longer and I’m pleased with it. A long way from publishable but the story has taken on the right shape for what I want and the ending finally works for me. Though admittedly I cheated by having one big battle take place off-stage — I’d love to do that in the finished draft but I doubt I could pull it off. But we’ll see. Now I put it aside for a month, then review.

I rewrote my short story Mage’s Masquerade and it improved considerably. I need to build up the romance more but I think the relationship is on a solid foundation — Cecily shows she has both intelligence and a cool head — and I think I have the plot holes in the previous draft fixed.

I started rewriting another untitled story, an oddball take on Jekyll & Hyde set during the early 1980s. Then I got restless and started (as in at least a couple of paragraphs) for other Jekyll and Hyde versions. The trigger being viewing the 1931 and 1941 adaptations of the novel, which I’ll review in tomorrow’s post.

I’ve started researching Shopify to see about setting up an Internet store to sell some of my stuff directly. Not that I’m going to dump Amazon but they take a lot of the sale price — so why not explore alternatives? You will, obviously, hear when anything is for sale.

I also spent way too much time reviewing my performance for the month and my plans for next month. It’s a very easy way to avoid writing when my brain’s tired and it’s necessary work, so I gave in.

All in all, I should have been more focused, but I’m still pleased with what got done.

I got Shadows Reflected in Darkness back again but I also sold another book. Or maybe two, Amazon announces the sale well before details like what sold and how many become available. It’s annoying, given that if they know the sales took place, they should certainly be able to share the data.

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Doing my research: Heroine Complex

I read Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex four years ago. I recently reread it as research for The Impossible Takes a Little Longer. Given that book is about a woman superhero, I thought reading a book about a woman superhero, written by a woman, might be productive. Plus there’s that criticism from the editor who rejected Southern Discomfort that I should read more urban fantasy. So off I went.

For those who haven’t read Kuhn’s book, it’s set in San Francisco several years after a demonic portal opened. The portal closed but demons keep popping up; Chinese American Annie, going by the name Aveda Jupiter, takes them down with TK-enhanced martial arts skills. Unlike most urban fantasies, this all happens publicly and Annie thrives on the spotlight.

By contrast Annie’s Japanese-American best friend Evie is shy, insecure and happy to stay out of the spotlight as Annie’s support person. She manages everything from Aveda Jupiter’s social calendar to keeping her kickass leather boots clean. And she never, ever thinks about her own pyrotic powers, which she keeps under wraps.

Then Annie gets injured. Evie has to pose as her for a celebrity event but when demons crash the party Evie uses her fire powers to save the day. Suddenly everyone’s over the moon about Aveda Jupiter’s new ability so obviously Evie has to keep up the masquerade until they can figure out some way to transfer them to Annie.

The first thing I noticed — which I was sort of aware of already — is that KC doesn’t think much about clothes. Evie’s quite detailed about what she and Annie, and others in the cast are wearing; clothes aren’t something I think much about so I go light on that stuff. Most women I know think about them more — and clothes can be a good scene-setting detail — so maybe this is something to work on. Sure, KC could be the kind of woman who doesn’t care much, but that feels like a cop-out (by contrast, going light on clothing detail in Southern Discomfort, even in women’s POV sections, felt perfectly natural).

Second, like a lot of urban fantasy there’s a lot of Tell rather than Show; given the book got published and led to several sequels, it confirms my feeling this writing rules is overrated. Evie tells a lot about her personal history with Annie, her experience as an Asian American, her relationships with the other characters and the history of the city’s demonic incursion.  It works for me except when the villain gives an interminable explanation of her evil plan at the climax. That’s good news, seeing as Impossible has plenty of telling: the world’s alternate history is weird and there’s a lot I need to get across.

Third, one of the things the editor criticized Southern Discomfort for was a lack of urgency and tension. I’ve seen How To writing advice books that warn against casual, chatty scenes because they lack tension and lose the audience — though my writing group’s sometimes told me I should have more scenes with less tension, to let readers catch their breath (I’ll be blogging more about this).

Heroine Complex isn’t big on tension. The demon-slaying opening is played for humor: the demons are possessed cupcakes, Annie’s worst moment is that her zit is caught on camera. Then we get lots of Tell about growing up Asian, which is some of my favorite stuff in the book. This makes me hope that the personal scenes between my KC and her friends aren’t going to kill reader interest, Then again, a lot of Evie’s scenes are tense or awkward which adds to the drama and the interest. KC’s in a much better place a lot of the time.

Plus Heroine Complex‘s urban fantasy aspect is really the B-plot. Evie is the A-plot, a woman miserable in her own skin, blooming into a happy, comfortable person and rebuilding her relationships with the other characters. The heart of my story is the fight against a mystery misogynist wrecking KC’s life so maybe personal stuff needs to be kept down?

Studying other writers’ books isn’t a magic formula for success. “Successful author got away with X, therefore I can do X in my book” does not follow. There are lots of factors that go into making a book successful; it’s quite possible I’ll get the mix wrong. Still, I think rereading the book was helpful.

#SFWApro. Cover art by Jason Chan, all rights remain with current holder.

 

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A “disorder under heaven” week

A line of Mao Zedong I’ve occasionally quoted is that “there is disorder under heaven but the situation is excellent.” That sums up this week. It started off frustrating but turned out much more productive than the shakedown cruise of the first week in January.

Monday I had to deal with Plushie’s puking, plus help TYG out with some stuff. That sucked up much more time than expected and chopped up the day into small bursts of time where I couldn’t accomplish anything. Tuesday TYG and I had more stuff to take care of, plus I had my dental cleaning in the afternoon. Once again the day broke up into periods to small to build any focus.Still, I’m pleased with my work. I got another 4,000 words done on Let No Man Put Asunder, which is harder than I thought. After waffling in December, I’ve committed to keeping protagonists Paul and Mandy in the city of Blue Ivy (which I’ll probably rename) at least for the early part of the book. That means instead of having them on the run, alone, they’re having to deal with Mandy’s family, the city police department, plus the bad guys who are after them. All of that changes things up and my mind keeps suggesting more changes. Plutarch, a psionic boy from an alt.Greece is now Flavia, a Nubian slave from an alt.Rome, still psionic but also blind. She gets to keep Plutarch’s living-metal bodyguard, Talos, however.

I rewrote Paying the Ferryman and I think I’ve fixed the problems. I’m going to have my writing group beta-read the second half, however (it’s 8,000 words) to see if it holds up as well as I think, and what to do if it isn’t. I rewrote Bleeding Blue and I think that definitely works: I’ll wait until the end of the month, then make a final proof in hard copy.

The one where those missing two days hurt me most was Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I did get some work done on the book but nowhere near as much as I’d have liked.

On the downside, Adventures of the Red Leech came back from the Sherlock Holmes/Lovecraft anthology I submitted it to. I may send it out again, or save it for Magic in History, the historical fantasy collection of my own stories I plan to put out (needs a better name, though). More disappointingly, Gollancz sent back Southern Discomfort. I’m not shocked — a big publisher announces a window for unagented submissions, the competition’s bound to be tough — but it’s frustrating. I’ve hit almost all the specfic publishers who accept books without an agent and the remaining ones are currently closed to subs. Perhaps it’s time to self-publish again?

Over at Atomic Junk Shop I’ve published a late MLK Day piece and a look at the new generation of comics writers — Roy Thomas, Cary Bates, Denny O’Neil, Jim Shooter — who debuted at DC or Marvel in 1965 and ’66.

I’ll close with a look at Trixie and Snow Drop nuzzling. I wouldn’t say our cats and dogs are friends but they get along okay.#SFWApro. Cover by Gil Kane, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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A smoother cruise this week than last

I wrote a week ago that the first week of 2023 felt like a shakedown cruise. This week the ship seemed to stabilize. We still had a lot of distractions but the work went well despite that.

The big distractions came Tuesday. Snowdrop had peed on the couch the night TYG kept him indoors and she could still smell it. We had someone come in to clean the couch off, after which we and the dogs had to stay off it for several hours while it dried.

Unfortunately that resulted in me and the pups sitting on the other couch for most of the afternoon. It’s much harder to work on my computer around them — the couch arms are too high to rest the computer there for instance — so I wound up doing some research reading instead.

We also had someone come in to check out the chimney as well. It has some damage which make it unwise to use the fireplace so TYG wanted a price estimate on repairs. Suffice to say, repairs would cost more than we want to spend, given that we didn’t use the chimney much even when it was in good shape. However if either of us gets a big payday down the road we might reconsider.

Thursday I’d planned to run out to the library and pick up the new Elric book I’d reserved, otherwise the reservation would have expired. That turned into a much larger expedition as I also wound up getting Trixie’s prescription food from the vet, plus food shopping done, plus picking up a prescription. TYG is away this weekend at an alumni event out of town — she left mid-morning — so I’ll be sticking home with the dogs and not going out. That saves me having to crate Plushie — he gets up to mischief otherwise – or the slight possibility something happens to me while driving and then there’s no-one here for the dogs until Monday.

Anyway, that bulked up the trip until I had no focus left for work by the time I got home. Still, I did get quite a bit done this week:

I redrafted a story I last worked on a couple of years ago, before Undead Sexist Cliches, Aliens Are Here and Questionable Minds sucked up so much time. It’s a long way from good yet, but I see more potential in the tale of a ruthless, objectivist businessman and his mysterious nemesis. Currently untitled.

I got several thousand words further in Impossible Takes A Little Longer, getting a lot of Reveals out of the way before things move into the climax (Hitchcock recommended that, so nobody’s distracted from the action by waiting for exposition). I stopped when it became time to move against the bad guys because I’ve no idea what they’re going to do. Hopefully it’ll come to me when I resume.

My research reading involved a couple of urban fantasies I’ll be reviewing soon, Fae of Fortune by John P. Logsdon and Eric Quinn Knowles and rereading Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn. I prefer doing that kind of reading outside of writing hours but with so many to-do things distracting me, I compromised.

I got about 3,000 words further into Let No Man Put Asunder. I also read the first two or three thousand words to the writing group who gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up plus some feedback I’ll be discussing soon.

So go me! Let’s hope next week is as productive.

#SFWApro. Cover by Kemp Ward, all rights remain with current holder.

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No, I don’t think AI will make writers obsolete

Last month Mark Chadbourne, a British journalist, posted on FB (I have no idea if it’s public or not0 to announce “the latest AI is on the brink of making writers obsolete.” It can already “produce passable non-fiction books, blog posts and journalism. It’s very close – perhaps only months away – from making the more formulaic genres – thrillers, romance, some others.” Sure, the fiction won’t be very good but most readers don’t give two figs for quality: as publishers can cut out the middleman and sell AI fiction super-cheap, the computers will inevitably push writers into the trash-heap of history along with the buggy-whip makers.

As I said in the comments on FB, I have an automatic suspicion about Amazing New Breakthroughs in tech because they so often become vaporware. Even assuming it happens, Chadbourne packs a lot of bullshit into his statements. If software (not really AI as I understand it) can write “passable” journalistic prose — well, Chadbourne, as a journalist himself, should know that’s only half the battle. Is the AI going to sit in government meetings and sift out the stuff that needs to be written up? Will it go to an accident site or a crime scene and describe the setting or the ruins left by the fire? No, readers may not care if the prose isn’t Tom Wolfe class, but they will want descriptions, not just a short police report (trust me. If it bleeds, people read).

How about interviews? This might be doable: I have a list of standardized questions when interviewing local musicians or artists, and I’ve done some interviews by email, even though that’s not ideal. But can an AI follow-up if the interview goes in an unexpected direction (“I play the trumpet because my grandmother was a groupie for the Tijuana Brass.”)? And some interviews simply have to be in person or at least by phone: is a computer going to handle those? Will a grieving spouse (I’ve interviewed a couple) want to talk to a machine. Chadbourne really should know better.

The assumption that readers don’t care about quality does a lot of work too. If Chadbourne means that most readers do not care about award-winning literary fiction or beautifully polished prose, yeah, he’s probably right. But that’s not the same as saying they have no standards. My tastes as a teenager were mass-market — Perry Mason novels, Conan — but I could tell that Lin Carter and L Sprague deCamp did much worse Conan stories than Robert E. Howard. Bad enough they convinced me Conan was boring.Likewise, while readers may not think much about writing quality when reading the newspaper, that’s not to say it doesn’t influence them to keep reading where a dull story might not. With a sensational murder sure, you might get away with dull prose because everyone’s curious; city government needs to be written as well as possible to grab eyeballs (how well did it work? I don’t know).

My friend Gail Z. Martin had another excellent point on FB (I couldn’t find it to link to it): the market Chadbourne is prophesying (which Fritz Leiber foresaw in his excellent Silver Eggheads) already exists. Kindle Unlimited has unleashed tons of cheap fiction on the world, and yes, some of it is formulaic. Gail’s readers haven’t gone away and even new writers such as my friend Tracy Deonn can find an audience. I’ve bought a number of books from the Kindle store because they were cheap or free; that doesn’t stop me buying others at higher price. So Chadbourne’s theory has already been tested and found wanting.

That’s not to say all that free stuff doesn’t have an effect, particularly on minor writers such as myself. But Gail’s right, it’s hardly going to shove us onto the dust-heap of history.

I also wonder about the extensive evidence AI often duplicates the biases of its creators or learns from what’s already online. What if a journalism AI notices that black-on-white crime draws the biggest hits and concludes it should prioritize those stories over black-on-black or white-on-anyone crimes? It could easily fuel the stereotypes of black violence so common in our society. Or what if studying tons of fiction leads the software to conclude men should be the characters, women should orbit around men and POC should be sidekicks or supporting characters? That’s not going to work out well.

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I shall think of this week as a shakedown cruise for 2023

My work weeks often make me think of that phrase of Chairman Mao, “there is disorder under heaven but the situation is excellent.” This was a messy, disorganized week; I did get my hours of work in, but I wasn’t focusing as well as I should. By today, all I could manage was research reading. Even my pleasure reading slowed down, a sure sign my head is not in the game.

The problem may have been Monday night: TYG had an IT crisis to deal with which woke me up after barely a couple of hours’ sleep; when I went downstairs the cats wanted in and demanded attention, making it impossible to sleep, or to get some early work done. On the plus side, Snowdrop did something we’ve wanted for years, accepting a place in my lap.This is a big step for him, though I still had to keep the back door open to keep him happy. And I do wish it had been TYG’s lap because she loves Snowdrop so much. Still, it’s very cool. But not conducive to sleep.

Later in the week I had appointments (minor car repair), errands (pick up doggy drugs) and other matters to distract me. So maybe that’s all there was to it. Or perhaps it’s the return to the mean I keep blogging about: sooner or later, sheer chance dictates I’m going to have an off week. I had an above average month in December so perhaps this is a return to the mean. The two explanations are not incompatible of course. Either way, the week is done so hopefully I can rise back to bettter-than-average next week.

The biggest accomplishment of the week wast that I redrafted Bleeding Blue and I’m really pleased with it. I expanded on the scenes without padding, fixed several problems my writing group pointed out and much improved the climactic scene. I’m still not entirely satisfied with it so I’m putting the story aside for a week, then I can look at it with fresh eyes.

My next accomplishment was to collect the short stories for Magic In History — title is very tentative — which is a collection I hope to self-publish later this year. I also gathered all my Doc Savage posts with an eye to reworking them into a book, the same way I worked my James Bond posts into Sex for Dinner, Death for Breakfast.

I got some good work done in Impossible Takes a Little Longer, especially considering it’s new material rather than reworking my previous draft. I didn’t get as far as I would have if my focus had been stronger though. The same is true of Let No Man Put Asunder.

Oh, and Draft2Digital notified me I sold three books last month, ebook versions of Atlas Shagged, Questionable Minds and Undead Sexist Cliches. Thanks, unknown purchasers!

And now the weekend. I shall chill, re-energize (I hope) and rebound next week.

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Well everyone else is blogging about their 2022 stats, so …

While I check to see how many visitors I get day to day, I don’t think much about yearly performance. But a couple of other bloggers were discussing Most Popular 2022 posts, so why not?

The number one stat in 2022 is people just arriving on my home page rather than looking for a specific post. I don’t know if you’re here because you read something of mine or you’re just bouncing around the Internet and landed here, but welcome!

As for specific pages and posts, the Hellboy Chronology is still top dog, 900 hits more than the second place winner. As a Hellboy fan, I created for my own use but I love other people have found it handy too. I’m a little behind with the new TPBs coming out, but I’ll read and enter them all over the next month or so. By which point I think something else will be out, darn it!

The number two post in 2022 was about Alexandra Erin’s Shirley exception — “Well yes I support an abortion ban with no rape exception but surely they’ll make an exception if it’s a ten-year-old raped by her father.” Thus allowing them to support draconian laws while pretending they don’t support the consequences (I think state politician Neal Collins may fall in this category.

This one wasn’t anywhere in the top 10 in 2021. I presume it’s the relevance in the post-Dobbs world and some Republicans enthusiasm for abortion bans that don’t even allow mother’s life exceptions that got people checking it out.

My Sherlock Holmes quotes applying to writing have been popular — I really should do another of those — and “there is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact” came in at number three. “Any truth is better than indefinite doubt” was at eight; “insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories rather than theories to suit facts” was nine (or ten if you count my home page as one).

Fourth was my About Me page. Fifth was my discussion of Alan Moore’s clunky effort to rehabilitate golliwogs. After #6 on misogynist Matt Walsh, we got a general discussion of racist tropes in LXG.

I would draw some conclusion from this, but I don’t have one to draw, sorry.

Cover by Mike Mignola, all rights remain with current holder.

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Story Behind the Story: Happiest Place on Earth

My short story The Happiest Place on Earth is now available for purchase in the LOLcraft anthology of Lovecraftian humor (yes, I know that’s almost a contradiction in terms). So here’s the story of how I came to write it, reprinted from first publication back in 2014:

Many, many years back, I was joking with my friend Ross about the classic Disney TV show, the Mickey Mi-Go Club and it’s heartwarming ending song:

“Now it’s time to say goodbye and face infinity
“H-A-S-T-U-R, he’s our destiny!
“H-A-S—” “He’s our god!”
“T-U-R—” “Don’t say his name!”
“Forever we will raise our banned books high, high, high!
“Now it’s time to say goodbye to our humanity.
“H-A-S-T-U-R—he’s our destiny!”
(Sung, obviously, to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club theme song).
So a couple of years back, I started thinking about the joke, and it struck me a a Lovecraftian Disney show would make the basis for a good story.
Unusually for me, the concept was on point pretty much from the first. Mickey Mi-Go, iconic, beloved star of TV and movies, learns Walt Alhazred is about to cancel his show. Outraged, he flies into Walt’s office to confront him … but of course it doesn’t go as planned.
After a relatively few rewrites, I presented it to one of my writing groups. They liked it a lot but suggested several changes (Ryan Jones, a dedicated Lovecraftian, suggested several details I could draw on from Lovecraft’s stories, which much improved things). I finished it soon after and sold it to New Myths — and now to Dragon’s Roost, which previously published my Signs and Hortense in Eldritch Embraces.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder. Cover by Don England.

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