Off the Grid ... How it works

I will put a link to this post in the sidebar for future reference. This FAQ may change given the popularity (or lack thereof) of this series, my life, my writing commitments, etc.

The series will officially kick off in March 2016. A few people have already expressed an interest in writing for Off the Grid, or have pitched an idea to me. This is great, and I'm glad I've got so much excitement about the series.

I'm doing this because I know a lot of super authors who have received very little recognition for some really great series and stories. I've heard our online chatter called a feedback loop, and I can't think of a more appropriate description. When an author's work doesn't make it into that loop, then s/he is washed under the tide.

In order to combat the feedback loop, I'm giving authors, reviewers, and fans some space on my blog.

If you have a question that is not covered below, drop it in the comments, and I will incorporate it into the FAQ.


What is Off the Grid? Generally speaking in any given year, the SFF/horror community is filled with publications. As time goes on, the community tends to get into a feedback loop where only six or seven books are discussed. Off the Grid is my attempt to level the playing field a bit, but also to give folks a chance to discuss other forms of fiction such as novellas, novelettes, short stories, and poems.

When will it run? Off the Grid will run every Wednesday for as long as I have a post for that Wednesday slot, until I run out of time to manage it, or people lose interest, whichever of these things comes first.

What kind of works can we talk about? Stories should be traditionally published. If the story/poem is online (ie, Lightspeed, etc.), then provide the link and I will post the link along with your review. I will allocate one Wednesday a month to a self-published work. Since everything is shiny-new right now, we'll see how that goes.

What if I know the person whose story I'm writing about? Feedback loops online are usually perpetrated by big name authors who know one another and recommend one another's works to others. There is really nothing wrong with this as long you're talking about a quality story. With social media and the tight circles online, it's inevitable that we'll sometimes want to talk about a friend's book, or someone who is published by the same publisher. I suggest full disclosure in these circumstances.

Do I have to be an author or reviewer? For now, I'm going to say no. (Remember: shiny-new.) This is a community project, so I would like to invite the genre community to be involved. However, any submissions should use proper grammar should be pitched like any other submission.

Wait. I have to pitch my idea? Yes. This prevents overlap of two or three people writing about the same book, and also gives me time to look at the book in order to decide whether it's a good fit for the series. I have final say on all pitches, because it's my blog.

What kinds of stories can I talk about? The series will encompass: novels, novellas, novelettes, short stories, or poems. Keep it genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, magical realism, etc.

Does the story have to be published in the current year? No. The item should be something that is getting very little online discussion and/or promotion; however if you've just discovered a previously published author and want to gush about one of their work(s) that garnered very little attention, then come and gush.

Does it have to be written in a specific format? Guest posts can be a formal review or a more lighthearted post about what you liked/disliked about the item, or why we should check out this particular author. I will ask that the post be at least 500 words.

If you want to contribute a guest post to Off the Grid, contact me. Tell me the name of the story and a little about yourself (if you have a blog, if you don't, if you are either traditionally published or self-published, because this will enable me to link back to your blog). In other words, pitch your idea to me, and I'll let you know if I have an opening.

the characters seal the deal

When people ask me what I read, I tell them everything. I read non-fiction, literary fiction, genre fiction, graphic novels--all of these things are expressions of who and what we are. The characters within our stories are reflections of us. Sometimes we don't want to see our prejudices mirrored back to us, but if we pause and examine what the authors are saying to us, we might just learn a little bit about being a better person.

Read More

Review Roundup for The Broken Road (#SFWApro)

October is the time for scary stories, and I do prefer writing creepy stories so I scheduled The Broken Road to publish in October for that reason. Lynn summed the effect up very nicely when she said The Broken Road contains "Nothing bloodthirsty or dripping in gore – just plain goosebump-invoking chilling."

I've also been kind of pleasantly surprised that several folks have tagged the novella as science fiction as well. So if you're still on the fence about whether or not you would like to read The Broken Road, here is a quick review round-up for you so you can see what others are saying:

Read More

Writing other cultures -- Diversity in SFF

Or writing outside of your comfort zone, as I like to call it.

I'm not talking about sprinkling people with different colored skin throughout my novel, or even about adding a gay person here or there to show diversity. I'm talking about taking the time and energy to immerse myself in another person's skin. It's not an easy thing to do, but writing about other cultures has broadened my world view and raised my awareness; it has made me more empathic to other people who live differently than me.

I try to follow three rules when writing outside my comfort zone: 

  1. Talk to people from the culture or who live the lifestyle that I'm trying to represent, and if possible, ask someone from that culture to beta read the story for me. That is the best way possible to prevent stereotypical errors that I might be blind to but that someone from that culture would be highly sensitive about.
  2. Read and watch documentaries about the people and/or time period that I want to portray. I try really hard to immerse myself in someone else's world before I put the first word down.
  3. Be respectful.

When I first started Garden in Umber, I had one character who I knew was gay. He was a very minor character, not one who I saw as rising up to take over the story, but he did. In the beginning, Diago was almost an afterthought, a side-character and a very stereotypical gay man. I'm almost ashamed to admit that now, but if I don't tell you where I began, you won't truly understand how I learned the lessons that I did.

While I worked on my character sketches, I happened upon some blog posts about the lack of competently rendered gay characters in novels, especially in SFF. The more I read, the more I realized that my character was exactly what people hated to see, and they very clearly articulated why they found a lot of the gay characters offensive.

Sometime around this same period, Dark Scribe magazine did an interview with several gay horror authors (The Fear of Gay Men: A Roundtable Discussion on the New Queer), one of whom I had met online and whose work I greatly admire. I emailed Robert Dunbar, explained the situation, and Rob set up a place for me to ask questions. Then he did the most generous thing of all and asked some of the fine gentlemen who participated in the Dark Scribe interview to answer my questions.

Other members of the online gay community showed up and were very generous with both their time and their honesty. One thing they said, over and over, was that they were tired of seeing gay characters being all about sex. They said (and rightly so) that gay people are whole, complex people with many passions and many loves--that there was more to being gay than sex.

In short, they taught me many things and directed me to some wonderful resources. My character Diago went from being a frivolous stereotype to being a much darker character, but he has reason to be dark.

I don't know anything about being a gay man in the 14th century, but I do understand what it means to have people treat you badly because of who and what you are. I know what it means to be shut out of "polite" society, and all I can do is translate those feelings of loss to Diago and Miquel.

To honor all those people who took the time to answer my questions, Garden in Umber is about love, not sex, because sex is not always about love. Love is about acceptance and thinking beyond yourself, and those are the themes of Garden in Umber.

Writing Garden in Umber took me far outside my comfort zone, but it was a worthwhile journey. I learned to understand love from an entirely different viewpoint. Hopefully, I've translated all these things accurately, and if I haven't, I hope people will at least appreciate the fact that I tried.

Of course, if I hadn't read those posts on gay characters a few years ago, I never would have undertaken my journey the way I have. If I hadn't asked questions or reached out, I would have written another stereotypical gay character from a heterosexual viewpoint.

Having learned my lesson with Garden, I decided to use the same approach when I wrote my short story "La Santisima." The story initially began as a story about the drug war, but I was at a loss for a supernatural element for the story. I contacted Sabrina Vourvoulias, who kindly answered my questions and pointed me toward some valuable resources. Through those resources, my story opened up to shift completely away from drugs to immigration. The story became less of a cliche and more realistic than I imagined.

Sabrina kindly read the story for me and she advised removing and rewriting portions that were stereotypical and might be offensive to people. Neither of the things that Sabrina picked up on were intentionally introduced to be racist, but they reflected my ignorance about the culture. So I tweaked the trouble spots again, and now I'm very pleased with the story.

Writing diversity into stories takes the author (and the reader if the author has done his or her job properly) outside of the confinements and comfort of commonly perceived notions. It's not easy writing, but that is why I call it writing outside of my comfort zone.

Nor will I lie to you, it is harder to get these stories published, at least for now. Publishers are hesitant to try new things, but to their credit, publishers are giving us works by Nnedi Okorafor, NK Jemisin, Saladin Ahmed and more. Authors like Sabrina are utilizing small publishers like Crossed Genres to get their important works and voices heard. Maybe if we write more and more stories with people of different lifestyles and cultures, these works will become easier to sell. I'm willing to take that chance. I hope you'll take the chance and read a book by someone from a culture different from your own.

If you have a moment, recommend a novel or story that has changed the way you think about a certain culture or lifestyle. Name an author whose work put you outside of your comfort zone.