Thank you for being a friend, PBW turns eight

Long-time readers probably knew this was coming. Today is the eighth anniversary of my writing weekly posts for this little corner of the internet we call Paper Beats World.

I just read through the last six anniversary posts, and I don’t want this post to be just another thank you and I don’t know how the hell we got here post. 

I mean, thank you for sure. While I would keep writing stories no matter the response, I for sure wouldn’t be posting here every week unless someone was out there consuming it. Every time you read my work and like it, it feels like a virtual hug. 

At this point, it seems pretty clear that I’m going to keep showing up here. So let’s not waste any time today talking about how amazing it is that my Gemini brain didn’t get bored yet. I’m here to stay. So let’s talk about something worth our time.

How have you leveled up in the past year? 

Remember last year, when I challenged all of us to level up together? Well, here’s how I did. 

I went to Nebula Con, and have been participating in weekly writing dates with other con attendees. 

I’ve published another book, maybe my favorite so far. It was also my first horror novel, which means I finally made the Speculative Fiction hat trick. 

I’ve been focusing on writing better. I’m doing more writing exercises and working on upping the literary merit of my work.

I was included in a wonderfully creepy podcast

I published a review of every single episode of American Horror Story on Haunted MTL. It was a massive project that was incredibly important to me.

I co-hosted a new podcast

I’ve tried my best to write posts that would help you level up your writing. I hope it’s helped.

And I’m not done leveling up. Over the next year, I’ve got big plans. I’m working to find an agent, of course. And I’m trying to join SFWA. While I’m doing that, I’m going to be bringing some self-published to you.

Here’s what you can expect from me between now and the next PBW anniversary.

1. Season two of AA is on its way. In case you haven’t heard season one yet, it’s available here

2. The very last Station 86 book will be coming out within the next twelve months. Don’t know when yet, but it’s coming. (You can get the first book for free on Smashwords right now.) 

3. The good news for Station 86 fans doesn’t stop there. I’m currently working to convert the books into audiobooks and relaunch the whole series.

There will be other goodies coming your way. Short stories exclusive to PBW. New content to make you a better writer or just live a better life. Reviews of speculative fiction content. Next month, of course, we’re going to be celebrating Banned Books Week. 

Writing for this blog continues to be one of the most uplifting projects in my week. Thank you for being a friend, and showing up with me every week.

I’ll keep showing up as long as you do. 

Why This Is How You Lose The Time War Works

This book might as well have been titled This is How You Win All The Awards. In 2020, This Is How You Lose The Time War won the Hugo and Nebula award for best novella. I finished it in one day, laying in bed crying.

Needless to say, everyone should read this book. And every writer can learn something from it. 

Just in case you haven’t read it, the book is set up as letters between time travelers, on opposite sides of a war. Red and Blue are manipulating the future so that their side will have an advantage. Their letters to each other are at first mocking, then playful. Then, they become love letters scrawled out over trees and mountains. 

This is a story that took chances. I don’t read a lot of books that are just letters back and forth. This is an example of two authors (Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone) knowing their craft well enough to do something like this. To write a whole novella in letter form, you have to understand what you’re doing. You don’t have dialog. You don’t have a third-party description. You have a limited point of view. With all of these restrictions, you’ve got to know how to use what you’ve got left. (This is something I’m learning as I write the second season of my audio drama, AA.)

This book is also an example of trusting the story enough to tell it the way it needed to be told. Not every story could be told in a letter format. Not every story could be told in a journal format, like so many of my favorite books from childhood. 

But some stories can. Some stories won’t work any other way.

Don’t be afraid of writing your story the way the story wants to be written. Be it a series of letters, or even tweets. If you have a story that isn’t working, this might be a great way to fix it.

Another thing that was striking about this book was its literary flow. The words are beautiful, they flow like a poem. And that’s something I wish more speculative fiction authors would embrace.

There’s still a disconnect between genre writers and literary writers. While one focuses on pure storytelling, the other wants the writing itself to be pleasurable. Both of those things can work together, but you’ve got to put the work in to make it happen. 

Now, a warning. The story should always come first. I’ve read some truly bad writing because of a damn good story. I’ve yet to sit through a boring story because the paragraphs were just so beautiful. 

Finally, This Is How You Lose The Time War was an achievement in co-writing. Each of the authors wrote for one of the characters. This worked wonderfully because it allowed both authors to bring their own voices and style to the story. In an episode of Writing Excuses, Amal El-Mohtar talked about writing in a gazebo with Gladstone, sending chapters back and forth to each other. This sounds like a blast. This is probably part of why the book was so fun to read. 

This could only be done because each writer trusted the other. They respected each other enough to follow along where the other one lead. Clearly, it worked out very well for them. 

To wrap things up, here is what you can learn from This is How You Lose The Time War. 

– Trust your craft enough to try something different.

-Trust your story to tell you what format it needs to be told in.

-Don’t be afraid of literary writing, even in speculative fiction.

-When you’re working with others, let both of your styles and voices shine. 

Want to support Paper Beats World? You can do so on Ko-fi

You can follow us on Twitter, Goodreads, Bookbub, Instagram, Amazon and Pinterest


Why The Travelling Cat Chronicles Works

Spoiler warning! I’m going to ruin the ending of this book for you. Proceed with caution.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is not a speculative fiction novel. (By the way, that is the correct spelling of the title. It’s the UK version of travelling. My spellcheck is not happy with me right now.)

It is from the point of view of a cat. But it’s not a magical cat. It’s just a regular cat, traveling around Japan with his regular person. 

As someone who usually reads only speculative fiction, with the occasional dive into historical fiction, this was a step out of the norm. 

And I’m honestly glad I did. It was a great story. By the end of the book, I was crying on a public bus. Just, you know, as a warning.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles cover

As writers, we should never restrict ourselves to reading our genre. We should read as widely as we can. If a book catches your attention, read it. There’s always something we can learn from a story, no matter the genre.

One of the things that kept me turning the pages was the vivid descriptions of Japan. This is a country I’ve long been fascinated with. I loved hearing about Nana, the cat, and Satoru, his person, exploring the country. I was fascinated by the stories of Satoru’s childhood, his school tales, and descriptions of trips with friends. They had such rich detail. I loved every single second of it.

If your work takes place in a fantasy world, then it’s easy to talk up the details. But if you’ve got a story set somewhere real, it can seem less important. But it’s still just as crucial. Your hometown is probably boring to you because you see it all the time. But for someone who’s never visited, it’s fascinating. 

It didn’t take me long to realize that this story wasn’t going to have a happy ending. I’m willing to bet you can guess what happens. I guessed around page four. 

But that didn’t stop me from bursting out into tears when it was happening. Because by that time, I was connected to the characters. There’s only so much you can brace yourself. 

Your ending doesn’t have to be a shock for a reader to enjoy it. Yes, there should be questions. Yes, it’s better if someone can’t guess the ending by reading the blurb, which I’ve done on multiple occasions. But the main ending doesn’t have to be a huge surprise. 

I knew pretty soon that Satoru was going to die. (I did warn you that I was going to spoil the ending.) But I didn’t know what would become of Nana. And I desperately needed to know.

That I won’t ruin for you, by the way. Trust me, the book is worth reading to find out. 

I will tell you that the book has a happy ending. It wasn’t all syrup and perfection. It was great, though. Satoru doesn’t live, but he does touch the lives of the people he cares about for the better. He leaves the world a brighter place. And that’s a realistic happy ending. And a fully satisfying one at that. 

Some other good examples of this can be found in Pixar movies. This has been pointed out before, and by lots of fans. The toys in Toy Story go to a new home, so they’re not with Andy anymore but they’re still happy. Sully from Monster’s Inc doesn’t get to keep Bo, but he can visit her. There are lots of ways to have a happy ending. I love that we have so many that go beyond our expectations. 

To wrap it up, here’s what you can learn from the Travelling Cat Chronicles. 

  • Read outside of your genre. Read anything that sparks the slightest bit of interest.
  • The description of your story’s location can and should be a selling point. 
  • Your ending doesn’t have to be a shock to be satisfying.
  • You don’t have to have a traditional happy ending for it to be a happy ending.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Bookbub, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you can, please consider supporting me on Ko-fi.

Announcing a new podcast starting tomorrow!

I have a surprise for all of you today. 2022 has been a bit of a slow year for me, publishing wise. I mean, I did launch an awesome horror novel, but that’s been about it. 

Until tomorrow, that is, when a new podcast launches on Haunted MTL. 

It’s called Bite Sized Horror, and it’s the newest Haunted MTL podcast to join the family. And it’s the first to be for younger listeners. 

Here’s what you can expect from Bite Sized Horror. You’ll get three short stories read by myself and my co-host, a rather hard to handle little one (little what I don’t know) named Mick. Some are written by me, some by Mick, and some by listeners. You’ll also hear about a scary book that is perfect for younger horror fans. 

Some of the books we’re covering this season include Coraline, Ms. Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, and The Witches. 

I had so much fun with this podcast. And if you have a little horror fan, I know you’ll love it. Check it out tomorrow, when the first episode premieres. 

(By the way, I have two other podcasts on Haunted MTL. One is Off The Bone, a true crime podcast. The second is my science fiction/horror audio drama, AA.)

Why Practical Magic Works

As a witch, Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman is required reading. I’ve of course seen the movie countless times. But I only recently cracked into the novel.

It was a far different journey than the one I was expecting. I’m not the only person to mention this, but the movie is far different than the book. Normally when this happens, one or the other is more enjoyable. Most of the time, like with the Giver or Hunger Games, the book is better. On rare occasions, like with Forrest Gump, the movie is better. But in the case of Practical Magic, both are great. Just in very, very different ways.

First, let’s discuss what the two have in common. Both are about two women, sisters named Sally and Gillian Owens. After their parents die, they’re raised by their aunts. Gillian, the wild child, runs off as soon as she’s old enough. Sally finds a good man, has two baby girls and is widowed when the girls are still little. Then Gillian brings back trouble, in the form of an abusive boyfriend she accidentally poisoned. When a detective named Hallet arrives, Sally and Gillian try to hide their homicide. But soon Sally finds herself falling in love with him.

The movie, on the off chance you’re one of three women in the world who hasn’t seen it, is a feel-good film about sisterhood. The townswomen have hated the Owens family for generations. But in their time of need, they come together. 

The book isn’t that sort. Sally Owens, after being ostracized her entire life, decides to leave. This is after her husband died, and she spent a year in a depressive fog. 

The book is a bit more episodic. Yes, Gillian does bring her troubles and her abusive boyfriend to her big sister for help. But then the two bury him in the backyard and go about their lives.

Their lives revolve largely around raising Sally’s daughters. 

And this is where the book shines.

Sally and Gillian fight over how to live their lives and, by an extent, how to raise the children. Gillian undermines Sally’s parenting, and Sally in return blows up at her.

The girls bicker like teenagers, fall in love with boys, and are threatened by drunks. It all feels real. It all feels like the lives of girls all over the world right now.

The same can be said for Sally and Gillian. They’re both struggling with the fact that, despite The Aunt’s best intentions, they never felt wanted. Sally handled that by growing up to fast. Gillian handled it by not growing up at all. 

In the end, though, The Aunts prove that they love the sisters more than they ever realized. They come to their aid, after years of neglect by both girls, might I add. 

I know I keep saying this, but it all feels so real. And through it all, we see notes of magic that feel attainable. It feels, in short, practical. 

In short, here’s why Practical Magic works.

It’s honest. That’s it. The book talks honestly about depression. It talks honestly about a woman’s relationship with her parents, her sister, and her daughters. It talks honestly about romantic relationships, both good and bad. It talks about loss, and it doesn’t sugarcoat a damn thing. Sometimes Sally and Gillian are just fucking mean to each other. Sometimes they do stupid things. Sometimes Sally isn’t a good mother. Sometimes the girls are also fucking mean to each other. And I love that none of them are right all the time, none of them are wrong all the time. They are, only and entirely, family.

I loved this book, and I’ll be reading it again soon. I hope that if you haven’t read Practical Magic, you do soon. Because it works. 

Paper Beats World is a labor of love. If you’d like to support this blog, you can do so on Ko-fi.

You can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Goodreads, Amazon and Bookbub.


Here to go, writing characters you plan to kill

Note: I’m going to be going into one big spoiler for the latest season of Stranger Things in this post. If you haven’t seen it yet and you plan to, maybe click away and read this later.

This title is inspired by an issue of Transmetropolitan. In it, the main character was talking about a boy his assistant was dating. He said the boy wasn’t planning to stick around. He was here to go.

There are times when writing that we’ve got to kill someone. Not for real, hopefully, but on the page. Maybe this doesn’t have to happen in all books, but it happens in all my books. 

In speculative fiction, not everyone’s getting out alive. 

In some cases, you might want to write a character that you know you’re going to kill off. Maybe to bring the team together, like in Avengers. Maybe to clear the way to a throne, like in Tamora Pierce’s Tricker’s Queen. Maybe just to make sure that the battle costs something, like in the latest season of Stranger Things. 

Joseph Quinn in Stranger Things.

Knowing that you’re writing someone that isn’t going to make it to the last page is kind of a bummer. So if you’re going to do it, wring everything out of that death that you can. 

What a here-to-go character isn’t

When I talk about a here-to-go character, I’m not talking about people like Snape. These are not characters who have been a part of the main cast and die in the last book. We expect to lose some of the main cast at the end of a series. I’m talking more about characters like Eddie or Bob.

I’m also not talking about red shirts. A red shirt is a nameless extra character, usually, one who goes along with some of our beloved main characters on a dangerous mission. They might also be considered cannon fodder for a writer. Someone’s gotta die when we’re facing a rock demon, and it’s not gonna be this MC that I spent three months writing journal entries for to get into their head. 

What we’re looking for is something in between. Someone who has a name, a background. This should be a fully fleshed-out character. You want your readers to have an attachment to this person. You want them to feel like this person has been around since the start, even though they haven’t. 

You want this character to fit right into the group. You want them to feel like they could be an addition to the long-lasting cast. 

There are several ways to do this, depending on what sort of story you’re writing. In our example, Stranger Things, they involved Eddie in the main cast’s favorite pastime, D&D. Bob was a friend of Joyce’s in school. They fit right in. 

Have two (or more) characters in this role

In season three of Stranger Things, two characters felt like here-to-go characters. There was Bob, who did eventually go. But there was also Robin. And Robin could have gone as well. She was new, but we were able to form an attachment to her right away. 

Sean Aston and Winona Ryder in Stranger Things.

By having two new characters, one to stay and one to go, your audience isn’t sure which is which. And that builds up the tension. 

It’s never a good idea for your audience to know who’s going to die. If you’re writing speculative fiction, they have to assume someone’s going to die. But they shouldn’t be able to tell who. 

If we don’t care that this character died, he might as well not have been there.

This is probably the most painful part. When you write a here-to-go character, you have to write them with as much care as you would the main character. Remember, you want to write every character as though they’re the MC of their own story.

You want your audience to care about the characters. I liked Eddie. I liked Bob. They were good friends. They were brave. They were funny. 

Their lives and deaths changed our main cast. And that’s the point of these here-to-go characters. They aren’t here for a long time, but they’re here for an influential time.

Otherwise, you’re just wasting everyone’s time. 

If you liked this post, you can buy me a cup of coffee on Ko-fi.

A Website.

Up ↑