Writing, promotion, tips, and opinion. Pour a cuppa your favorite poison and join in.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Birth of a Tagline

It's official. I *finally* came up with a tagline for Wilder Mage. Or at least I made a decision. (how wishy-washy is THAT)

I couldn't do it without the help of the writer community. Thank you Charity, Marcy, and Patchi, who came in at the last. 

Magic. It's in his blood and out of control.

What do you think? Do I need something else? Something added? Maybe the word 'his' in front of control? *dithering*

If you think these tiny decisions are kinda dumb, that they are time sucks to nowhere, remember this quote from Oscar Wilde:

"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again." 

*sigh* Good to know I'm not too awful crazy. 

Thoughts anyone?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Marketing. Are you too busy to do it?

I've heard it all before.

I don’t have time to market my book.
Publicity is not my style.
I’m really shy.
Perhaps you’re all of the above. Maybe you have other excuses. But let me tell you this. From the day you put a The End to your beloved manuscript, marketing is All. You’ll. Do.

No one gives a flying fig about your book. No one cares as much as you do. No one can offer a compelling reason to read your book.

Except for you.

At UnicornBell, we talk about critiquing those first chapters, that important first page, and who to send them to. But nothing gets you published if No One Reads It. Not the best written chapter in the history of literature or most alluring book ever. Nope. Nada. Nothing.

To draw people into your world, you must write a compelling hook. I mean, those fish won’t just leap into the boat, folks. You start with a query, a sentence, a unique idea that brings readers to your ms.

Taglines, queries, synopsis, blurbs; these are your first marketing tools. You must learn them in order to be a part of this writerly world. Establish your platform in social media with blogging, websites, Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Goodreads.

And regarding blogging, informative material is All. If no one follows you, if there are no spectators then you are not marketing yourself well. Alex Cavanaugh is one of the best examples of a well-run, informative, and consistent blog. He comments on nearly all of his followers' blogs, a mighty accomplishment to be sure. It creates loyalty and connects him with his followers.

Some believe the real marketing begins after the contract with bling prizes, bloghops, and book tours. And yes, that will be a big part of your life when it happens. But before all that, marketing yourself is the one and only relevant tool in your mechanics box.

If you think writing the novel was the hard part, I want to give you a heads up. If you don’t market your manuscript, nothing will come of it.

Learn how to market. There is no other way.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

#2 Taglines/Blurbs

Here is the second submission to our Taglines and Blurbs.
If anyone else is feeling brave, I have another opening this week. Send your tagline and/or blurb to:
unicornbellsubmissions at gmail dot com

Jane Austen's Persuasion meets 1984--A love story set on a planet colonized according to Plato’s Republic.
Outstanding! Love this. And anyone who says they don't know what Plato's Republic is needs to Google right now. Then find a copy. 


When David notices the tiny tattoo hidden beneath his girlfriend's hair, he realizes Catrine is next in line for a hereditary throne that should not exist on their planet. Their society is supposed to value merit, not birthright. Loving her will bind him to a deceitful government David is unsure he can change from within. Distance will set him free. But how long can he evade those who are determined to lure him home? Catrine might just be the bait he cannot resist.

With comments/suggestions in red-

When David notices the tiny tattoo hidden beneath his girlfriend's hair, he realizes Catrine is next in line for a hereditary throne that should not exist on their planet. Their society is supposed to value merit, not birthright. Their society values merit not birthright. At least in policy. Loving her will bind him to a deceitful government I’m missing definition of the problem here. Is there something more than just a government’s deceit regarding birthrights and merits? I think you should expand or find something that warrants the term ‘deceitful’. Something in line with conflict and consequences  David is unsure he can change from within. I don’t understand the ‘within’ part. What does he need to change? Distance will set him free. Set him free from what? Love? But how long can he evade those who are determined to lure him home? But others are determined to lure him home using Catrine as bait. Catrine might just be the bait he cannot resist.

I need more consequences and outcomes. David can’t stay with Catrine. Why? What are the consequences if he does? Why would he return? For love? Not good enough. Look for something unique in their relationship to make the blurb pop.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Due to much begging and pleading, the author of Dear Katherine has submitted her tagline and blurb.

My comments are in red.
If only falling in love was as easy as falling off a planet.

OutFreakin’Standing. This tells me the story is about romance, conflict, and sci-fi. Good job! The term "falling off a planet" grabs my eye immediately.

After years falling on and off any planet she chose, Katherine can't imagine settling on a single one. But love's pull is stronger than gravity and it threatens to bind her to a place she's not prepared to call home. The price of freedom is another person's caged life--Katherine just needs to choose who.

A big Wow until the last line. It stopped me completely and I’m still not sure I understand. The price the MC pays for freedom might be judged as a cage to another?

Can you say this better? Since I don’t know the story, the following is a simplistic example:
To some, freedom is another word for cage. For Katherine, if she chooses poorly, the cage is all too real. 

What do you think followers?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pop Travel

Here at UnicornBell, we love success. Published authors are our goal; in our personal lives and as a community.

One of those successes is Tara Tyler, a writer and one of my bestest buddies. Her book, Pop Travel is coming out in July, published by Curiosity Quills.

It takes over seven hours to fly between New York City and Paris.
How would you like to do it in five minutes? Sounds great, right? The newest way to travel is here, teleportation via Pop Travel. Sign up, buy a ticket, and hello, Eiffel Tower.

But you better read the fine print. It’s a killer.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Cry for Help

Let me set the scene:

You are at a family reunion and your Know-It-All uncle sidles up to you.

“So I hear you’re writing a book,” he says around a piece of cake. “What’s it about?”

Quick. What is it about?

Your answer must be concise yet descriptive. Therefore, “Uh...” will not suffice.

On tap for this week, it’s taglines and blurbs.

Taglines are short, quick little bits of info.
  • An adventure 65 million years in the making. - Jurassic Park
  • There can be only one. – Highlander
  • A romantic comedy. With zombies. – Shaun of the Dead
  • A lively comedy about a guy who isn't. – Weekend at Bernie’s

Blurbs are usually a little longer, more like the first paragraph in a query letter. Here is the blurb for my book Wilder Mage:
Iowa is a perfect hideout for a wilder mage like Justus Aubre. The living is great, not a lot of earthquakes and no other wizards to bring him back to the Guild. A mage on the run spoils his idyllic zone. And she’s not alone.
Now here is where I need help. I need a tagline for it.  Here is what I have:

Magic. It’s in his blood.

But it needs a hooky thing at the end, something that pops but isn't more than two to four words extra. 

Assignment for this week
#1. Send me your taglines or blurbs and we’ll crit them. (I especially want to see Dear Katherine)
#2. Help supply a tagline for Wilder Mage.

Okay. Let's roll up our sleeves and make some magic. Posts go up on Tuesday.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Dear Katherine - part 4

And here is the final installment of Patricia's first chapter of DEAR KATHERINE. My comments are in purple and I'd be thrilled if you'd add yours.

I smiled. “I figured I should warn you in case you wanted to talk in private.”
“Don’t go anywhere,” Derek said to me. “I’ll go get dressed.”
“Do you want me to come up?” Rick asked, but Derek was already out of sight.
“No. Stay with her and don’t let her leave,” he yelled from somewhere up the stairs.
“Is he always like this?” I asked. Is he always like what?
Rick just shook his head. “What would you like for breakfast?”
“What do you have?”
He listed everything a person could probably want, and by the time Derek returned to the kitchen I was eating fried eggs and toast.
Derek sat next to me. “That smells delicious. I’ll have the same.”
“I figured,” Rick mumbled under his breath as he handed Derek the plate he had ready.
Derek took one bite then set it down and turned towards me. “No beach for a week. What else is there to do on this planet?”
Rick placed a mug of coffee in front of Derek. “Katherine needs to find a job. We can go to the beach.”
“Why do you need a job?”
“To pay for living expenses,” I answered.
“But if you stay here you won’t have any.”
I didn’t want to question his generosity or his motives. (why not?) “I’ll still need money to travel to another planet.”
His brow furrowed. “Where are you going?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“When do you need to leave?”
“I don’t need to leave anytime soon.” And I hoped he didn’t give me any reason to cut short my stay on Millanos before I got to spend enough time at the beach. I hadn't been to a beachside colony in over a year and there were no other ones on the list of planets I hadn’t visited.
“Good! So you don’t need to worry about money until you need to leave. What do you want to do today?”
His grin was contagious and I couldn't help but smile back. “I hadn’t thought about it. I assumed I’d work this week so I could enjoy the beach the next one.”
“Weren’t we going on that tour of the coast today?” Rick asked from the other side of the table.
“Yes! Do you want to go with us, Katherine?”
“Not if it’s one of those automated guides. I can do much better on my own.”
Derek’s eyes gleamed brighter than the sunshine refracting through the glass window. “That’s a great idea. You can be our tour guide and that will be your job this week. Then you won’t need to worry about work anymore. We’ll pay you a gem a day.”
Rick choked on his coffee. “Dear Derek!”
I could tell one of those stones would probably take me to the other end of the galaxy and back, so I tried to appease them both. “I’ll be happy with the value of one gem for the whole week, and you get to sell it. But I think you’ll be sick of me by the end of the week if we stick together all day long every day.”
I noticed both men’s eyes brightened, but I had the feeling they were reacting to different parts of what I just said.

Since this an adult novel I'm not going to complain too much about too little happening. But while the beginning drew me in with its talk of space travel and wormholes, our narrator's stop on Millanos has lessened my curiosity. The story doesn't seem to to be advancing much and I still don't know anything about Katherine except that she's educated and has been traveling for many years. I don't know if she's married, divorced, childless, orphaned or what. I don't know what she likes or hates and the only thing she seems to be interested in is planet hopping. I need more to connect me to her and make me want to turn the page. I want to feel something for Katherine. One thought I had was to maybe hint more at Rick and Derek's story. They're a bit of a mystery with their gems and generosity and hinting at what they're up to could increase the curiosity factor, and make us worry about Katherine. Of course this depends on how big of a part these two play and what in fact they're up to but regardless, I need more to care. Mind you, if this was a book I bought, I'd continue reading, but if you're going to get an agent to request your entire manuscript, the first chapter really needs to draw them in and make them want to know what happens next. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dear Katherine - part 3

Today we have another installment of DEAR KATHERINE. My comments will be in purple and I'd love if you'd add yours...

Rick intervened before I could say anything. “That wouldn't be proper.” This seems like a very formal thing to say.
“Of course it would. We have a spare room with its own bathroom and a lock on the door. Improper would be letting Katherine go around looking for vacancy signs at this late hour.”
Rick pursed his lips, but the lock lessened my discomfort. I'm curious about his concern regarding Katherine. Does he think she's honing in on his guy?
“I don’t want to intrude,” I said.
“Nonsense,” Derek said. “Try it for the night. If you’re not happy with our house then you can find something else in the morning.
“How much do you want for the room?”
“You mean rent? Don’t worry about it. The house is paid for the month. If you decide to stay we’ll split the rent differently next month.”
This was a deal I just couldn’t refuse, but I told Derek I'd see how the night went. I didn’t want to commit without seeing the place. What if the house was a bungalows by chicken coups next to the cornfields? A day's work at one of those on Li had been more than I could take. I'm not sure what had bothered me the most: the crowing roosters or the pungent smell. Neither was something I wanted to get used to. I'm also surprised she'd agree to go home with two guys she doesn't know. Are things different in the future? Can people be trusted?
It turned out Derek and Rick had rented one of the elegant houses right on the sand of the main beach and there were three bedrooms I could choose from. I picked a small one with a view of the beach and locked myself in for the night just in case there was more to the offer than what was spoken.
The next morning I found Rick in the kitchen washing dishes by himself. He didn’t look at me when I greeted him, so my smile was wasted on the back of his head.
“Would you like something to eat?” he asked.
“Breakfast sounds good, but shouldn’t we wait for Derek?” This seems a little forced. Plus, for all she knows he could be on his way down.
“He won’t wake up for another couple hours. You’re welcome to wait, but I already ate.”
“I can’t wait two hours. I need to look for work and the good jobs get taken early.” I said to the exposed neck.
He turned. “What do you do?”
“Mostly menial jobs (be specific - it will help with the world-building) that pay by the hour, then I don’t need to commit to anything long term.”
“They probably don’t pay much either.”
“True, but the money is enough that a day of work will last me two or three days. And it only takes me about a month to save enough to travel somewhere else.” Is this what she does? Works a little to travel? I'd like to see this conversation moved to dinner last night and maybe add to it with at least one personal revelation.
He looked skeptical, but I just shrugged. “It works for me. I’ve been living this way for fourteen years--ever since I graduated.” So that makes her around 36? (Assuming she graduated at 18 and 4 years university)
His eyebrows shot towards the low ceiling. “Graduated in what?”
“Geography, which is why I’m exploring the galaxy.” I pulled out the notebook from the bag that never left my side. “There's more in here than drawings of tattoos. I take notes wherever I go.”
Rick walked over to the stove and poured mugs of coffee for us both. He handed me one and sat down across the table. I took a sip--strong and sweet. My face scrunched before I noticed.
“You can add to your notes that coffee here isn't good,” he said.
“Coffee is hard to grow. You need the right climate and soil type, which some planets just don’t have near the settlement.”
His eye got wider.
“One of my day jobs on Sambuco was at a coffee plantation,” I said. “I could give you a lecture, but I won’t.”
“Kavadash has great coffee.”
“What else is Kavadash known for?”
“Any particular kind?”
He pulled a tiny bright blue stone from his pocket and placed it on the table in front of me. “These.”
“You mean gems!”
My gaze met his and he nodded. I made no motion to touch the stone. “Are they scattered in the soil or do you need to mine for them?”
“Both. Anyone can collect what is dispersed in the riverbeds, but the larger deposits lie in the royal mines.”
“Who works in the mines? That’s dangerous.”
“True. But those who want to make a fortune will venture in. They get to keep two thirds of what they harvest.” That seems like a lot!
“That’s quite generous. I should try my hand at it. I’m sure one day of work might go a long way.”
“It does, even if one spends half to get them cut. This gem here can pay for all our expenses on Millanos for a whole month. But women aren't allowed to mine. It’s too dangerous.”
“That's unfortunate.”
“It’s for their own protection.” That sounds condescending.
“Do women in Kavadash need to be protected?”
“Why don’t you keep this gem instead of worrying about the mines?”
“I can’t.”
“Why not?” He was watching me closely, which prevented him from sounding as casual as he probably wanted.
I couldn’t tell what his intention had been when he offered me the stone, but I wasn’t going to risk getting caught in a trap. “You just said women aren't allowed to mine. Nobody would believe I acquired it legally. I could be arrested for theft or prostitution if I tried to sell it.”
Just then we heard footsteps on the stairs. Rick pocketed the gem before Derek, wrapped in a bathrobe, walked into the kitchen.
“I had this most amazing dream,” he said in his own tongue.
Rick stood. “Dear Derek, there’s a lady in the house, remember? You should get dressed.”
The robe covered Derek from head to toe and I could see pajama pants peeking out from under the hem. I doubted he could wear clothes that covered him more, but I kept quiet. They still didn’t know I understood their language.
Derek froze when he noticed me, eyes wide as if facing an apparition. “She’s real?”
“Yes,” Rick said.
“And she understands your language,” I added in the western tongue I used to speak at school.
            They both stared at me with slacked jaws.

My first impression here is that I want to know more about Katherine. I want to connect with her on a more emotional level. What does she want? Why is she doing what she's doing? Is she running from something? You don't have to answer those questions but I wonder if we can't get some hints about who Katherine is. And I'm really curious about Derek and Rick. Who are they? Why doesn't Rick like Katherine? What was all that bit with the gems? I'm feeling a lot more suspicious about them than I did...

But what do you guys think? Anyone care to offer their opinion?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dear Katherine - part 2

Today we have part two of  Dear Katherine. My comments will be in purple and I hope you'll add yours. When we left off yesterday, Katherine was talking to a tattoo artist...

I hadn’t realized he [Derek, a customer] was standing next to me. When I looked up, he stepped back. “Sorry. I got curious.”
His smile looked so innocent; I gave him one of my own. “No worries.”
“I don’t think you want the regular glow-in-the-dark ink,” the artist said. “You won’t be able to differentiate the colors very well. I have my own blends that show normal color in daylight, but will gleam in faint light. I call it moon glow.”
I bounced on the balls of my feet. “That sounds perfect!”
“I hope you’re getting it somewhere visible,” Derek said. “I’d love to see the finished piece.”
Rick cleared his throat rather loudly.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “Everyone will be able to see it at the beach.”
“But it can’t get any sun for a week,” the tattoo man said. "The colors need some time to stick."
“I know,” I said to him, then turned back to Derek. “Can you wait a week?”
His smile matched mine teeth for teeth. “Even longer, if necessary.”
I could see Rick shaking his head in the corner of my eye. Maybe I should stop flirting. So Derek and Rick aren't partners? Didn't someone call someone else dear in our first installment? That tells me they're partners.
“Where do you want it?” the tattoo artist asked, demanding my attention.
“Lower back.”
“How big?”
“I drew it to scale.”
“That’s big. Is this your first?”
“Not at all.” I lifted my hair and let him inspect the pearls and the orchid. “I got this one in Maiorca and this one in Carmel. I also have one on my ankle,” I said pointing down.
“Did you draw them all?”
“Not the horseshoe.”
“I could have guessed that,” Derek said.
The tattoo artist gave Derek a glare that should have shoved him out the door. When that didn’t work, the man opened the passageway in the counter. He looked straight at Derek when he spoke. “Why don’t we go to the back room, Katherine, so you can take off your clothes and show me where you want it. This will take hours. Can you guys come back tomorrow?”
Derek’s smile suggested he was willing to wait, but Rick took his arm and dragged him towards the door. “We’ll come back when he decides what he wants.”
I waved. “See you at the beach in a week.”
Caio, the artist, was right: it did take several hours. Halfway through, I wished I had eaten lunch. First, he massaged some coconut scented numbing lotion on my back, which was a whole different experience compared to the solutions the tattoo robots brushed on before the needles attacked. Caio outlined the four whorls and filled in the planets and stars. He had asked me to pin my hair up, to make sure the colors he was using didn’t clash with the yellow orchid on my shoulder. The man was meticulous. Once in a while he narrated what he was doing or asked me a question if he wasn’t sure of something I drew. But most of the time he worked in silence, concentrating on the image that was coming to life on my back. None of my other tattoos had been done by a person, so I had no idea how faithful to the drawing this one would be. I had to trust him--and there was no way I could see what he was doing most of the time.
He bandaged the site after he finished, (is that normal to bandage the site?) before I even got a peek. “If you want me to fix anything when you unwrap it, just let me know. But come show me how it turned out even if you think it’s perfect.”
“Of course! And I’ll make sure I let everyone know where I got it.”
My back felt a little sore, mostly from lying still for so long after six hours speeding through a wormhole, but my excitement hadn't diminished at all. While Caio cleaned his equipment, I put on a loose dress instead of my travel clothes and let down my hair.
"So, how much do I owe you?" I asked.
"Five hours, six colors. Thirty four farm tickets."
I should have asked that question earlier.
I placed one of the gold coins in front of him. "How many of these? I traded one for ten tickets, but being local you’ll probably get more."
I forced a smile and handed the last of my coins to him. It had taken me a week to earn each of them. When I walked out into the late afternoon sun, I wondered if I could still afford a room for the night or just food. Maybe I could find a job for the evening at one of these restaurants.
“You looked worried. Did it not turn out like you expected?”
I spun towards the voice and found Derek leaning against the wall that separated the tattoo parlor from the restaurant next door. “Don’t tell me you've been waiting out here since noon?”
“Not at all. I just happened to walk by and saw you settling the bill.” His boyish grin seemed to contradict his words. “How does it look?”
“I won’t know for a week.”
“Neither will I. Would you like to join us for dinner? We have a table on the patio.” He pointed behind him to the back of Rick’s head.
A waiter was removing a pile of plates and an empty jug, but there were two more jugs and four plates of nibbles left behind. Just the spiced smell coming from the tables close to me made my mouth water.
“I couldn’t say no after you've waited so long.”
I hadn’t had a chance to look at prices and I had no idea how many tickets I would spend at the restaurant. There was no way I would be able to afford a bed without a night job, but I needed to eat.
We talked into the night. I found out they were from a forth whorl planet called Kavadash, which I still hadn’t visited. Both men were impressed with all my travels and I spent a lot of time telling them about Maiorca and Carmel, my favorite places.
When we realized the restaurant staff wanted to close, Derek paid the entire bill. (she doesn't protest? Just lets this guy she just met pay?) "Can we walk you to you lodgings?"
“If only I knew where they were...” I said.
“You didn’t book a room?” Rick asked.
“I arrived this morning. I was supposed to look for something this evening, but I’ve been talking to you instead.”
“Then the least we could do is offer you a room at our house,” Derek said.
My smile faltered. The last time I followed a guy home was eight years ago. I woke up to only half of my belongings and a bill for the room that I washed three weeks of dishes to pay. (so even in the future we still have to wash dishes by hand? Bummer.) I promised myself not to do that again.

I'm curious about the tattoo. Is it important? If it is, great, if not, then I might do some serious cutting here and move things along. I also found it odd that she doesn't seem to have much money with her to pay for her travels. Is it easy to find work as you're traveling? And why didn't she bring enough? These are little questions but every time a reader pauses to wonder about something they don't need to makes them aware of the fact that they're reading. Better that the only questions the reader has are the mysteries associated with the story, like why is she traveling. Just to do it? Lastly, it seemed obvious to me in the first part that Derek and Rick are gay but then Katherine flirts with Derek and it sort of seems like he flirts back which doesn't make sense. Being friendly is fine but flirting with someone else's honey, definitely not cool. 

Now, I'm still interested, but the action has slowed to a crawl with this getting of the tattoo and there's been next to no character development in this part. If I'm going to care enough about Katherine to follow her then I need to know more about her. Maybe more could be revealed in the conversation she has with Derek and Rick over dinner?

But what do you guys think? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Dear Katherine

A big thank you to Patricia who offered her first chapter up for critique. I will do a portion each day through Saturday. As always my comments will be in purple and I hope you'll add yours. Here is the first chapter of DEAR KATHERINE.

Chapter 1—Millanos

My life began the day I left school and fell off a planet for the first time. Up until then, I hadn't lived--I just existed. I like this, it seems like an expression of the times and it tells us these times are not like ours.
By the time I landed on Millanos, I was thirty two. I had fallen on and off most of the colonized planets in the Tetracoil Galaxy. But even after fourteen years, I still felt exhilarated every time the synchrotron was powered down and gravity took hold of the spacecraft. The adrenalin rush from those seven minutes of free-fall, not knowing if the hover jets would engage in time, lasted me days. Love this description.
My heart was still racing when the hatch opened and fresh air rushed into the dehydrated passenger cabin. I smelled brine in the air--my first greeting from Millanos. I unfastened the straps holding me to the seat and stretched my back. Through the internal passageway, I could see the three pilots moving around the cockpit. One of these days, I would learn to fly just to be able to ride in the front seats. But first I had nine more planets to visit and Millanos was just a few steps away.
I collected the single duffle that contained all my possessions and shouted a “thank you” toward the cockpit. I had paid them in advance, so there was no point in disturbing their crosscheck protocol. And after six and a half hours in the confined cabin, I was more than ready to be outside. That wormhole was a long one. Interesting expression to use for a wormhole...
At the edge of the landing pads I found someone who exchanged one of the four gold coins I had brought with me from Linnay for ten farm tickets, the local currency. All I knew about Millanos was that it was a beach colony with subsistent subsistence (subsistent isn't a word but I'm not 100% sure you want this one) agriculture and a population of about ten thousand. It wasn’t one of the planets we had spent much time studying at the Academy. My instructors obviously had never been to the settlement or they would have painted a much warmer picture. The sun that greeted me honey-coated the teal colored sea. (I love the picture this presents in my mind)  The star was high in the sky, suggesting midday. As on most other planets I had visited, those who colonized Millanos two hundred years ago had decided to settle close to the equator.
The town rimmed the ragged coast. Houses, interspaced with coconut palms, bordered the white sand. Restaurants and shops had been built further inland. Millanos was not much different than the ten other beach colonies I had visited. Sounds like some place I'd like to live.
My instructor's advice from all those years ago came back to haunt me. Make sure you find food and a safe bed for the night as soon as you land. I had ignored her advice only once and I still regretted it. After that I always made sure I had enough money to last at least two days, just in case. I glanced at the tables dispersed in front of the few restaurants close by, noting the dishes others were eating. Breads were popular and vegetables were served raw. Then my eyes met the sign for a tattoo parlor and I forgot about food.
I had left school set on exploring all one hundred and fifty colonized planet in the galaxy and I was very close to achieving that goal. Even though all planets I had visited were unique in their own way, I didn't think anything could really surprise me anymore. I was ready to show off that I understood the galaxy better than anyone who lived in it. I was ready to display that expertise with an eye-catching tattoo. I don't follow her logic here.
I walked into the shop and noticed two men browsing some of the designs posted on the back wall. They looked younger than me, probably in their late twenties. As I waited for someone to show up at the front counter, I examined the drawings on the opposite wall while my well-travelled duffle rested by my feet. It was impossible not to overhear the guys' conversation in the small reception area.
"I’m certain I can get it somewhere that won’t show,” the taller one said in the Western language I spoke at school. His accent was common to the fourth whorl and his wavy hair had a sun-kissed shine, with copper streaks outlining his curls.
The other man had straight hair in a darker shade, which swept in front of his eyes as he shook his head. “I don’t think it’s a good idea, dear—“
“It won’t be visible. Nobody will notice.”
“We haven’t been here long enough for you to decide on something so... permanent.”
“I thought about it long enough to want one. It’s just a question of which one.”
“But dear—“
“Derek. Why can’t you just call me Derek over here? I have no trouble calling you Rick,” the curly one said in a voice not quite low enough that I couldn't hear him.
“I promised I'd try.”
Their conversation and my eavesdropping were interrupted by the well-tanned man who walked out of the private room in the back of the shop. I was standing closer to the counter, so he smiled at me.
“And who are you?" The Southern dialect of Millanos had a sing-song melody that I hadn't heard anywhere else. I thought she hadn't been here before. This implies she has. I think you need to reword.
I matched his smile and language. "Katherine, but they were here first.” I pointed at the other two.
“Go ahead,” Derek said in the classic Southern language I learned in school. I detected no accent.
“Please. He hasn’t made up his mind,” Rick added, a little too harsh on the vowels.
I moved towards the counter. “Are you sure? Mine will take a while…”
“Even better,” Rick said.
I took my notebook out of the bag and opened it on the wood surface. "I want the whole galaxy."
The guy behind the counter glanced at my drawing and shook his head. "That's way beyond anything I can do. You'd need a robot for that."
"And you don't have one?"
"I couldn't call myself an artist if I did. If that's what you want, you'll need to go somewhere else. There are no robots on this planet."
I gnawed on my lower lip. There were only eight planets I hadn't visited and I didn't know if body art was popular in any of them. They hadn't taught that kind of stuff in school and I had failed to find a tattooing station in the last three planets already. (this tells me a tattoo was something she was already thinking about before she arrived on planet) If as a geography graduate I could draw it, the guy should be able to reproduce it if he was a true artist. I wasn't asking for a hologram on my back.
"How about if we make it not so colorful? The colonized planets in color and their suns in white. Then you can sprinkle some other celestial bodies in black to fill in the four whorls of the galaxy.”
He studied the drawing for a few minutes and traced the intertwining spirals of each of the whorls with his thumb. “I can do six colors--black, white and a different color for each of the four whorls. Do you want it to glow?”
            “In the dark?” Derek and I asked at the same time. Lol.

First impression? I like it. I'm not wholly invested in our mc, Katherine (yet), but this set up of an interesting future with space travel and wormholes intrigues me (it should; I just finished my own scifi wip). I would read on. What about you? Would you turn the page? Have any suggestions or comments for Patricia? You know we love comments around here :)

Monday, June 17, 2013

Taking Time

The future of humanity must be decided in Next Phase. Winning the Planetary Lottery is not as lucky as it first seems in Schrodinger's Gamble. An apocalypse and its aftermath threaten to tear one couple apart in Daiker's Children. In Life As I Know It a reclusive man finds both his heart and home invaded during an alien harvest. In Taking Time a demon seeking shelter on a distant planet finds himself facing a very different kind of demon, after answering a frontier settlement's plea for help.

Stories range from flash fiction to novelette in length. Taking Time will be available July 15th.

About Ellie Garratt

A life-long addiction to reading science fiction and horror, meant writing was the logical outlet for Ellie Garratt’s passions. She is a reader, writer, blogger, Trekkie, and would happily die to be an extra in The Walking Dead. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and online. Passing Time: Nine Short Tales of the Strange and Macabre was published in March 2013 and contains nine previously published stories. Her first nine-part science fiction serial will start in September 2013.

Author Links

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Your first chapter here...

This week we'll repeat my last stint here at UB with another first chapter critique by yours truly. That means that someone has to send me their first chapter to crit (you, perhaps?) and the rest of you will hopefully come back and offer your opinions for the author. This can be anonymous, if the author chooses, or not. Please send your submission to: unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com.

I would also like to say something about critting.

It is entirely subjective.

What does that mean? It means that my crit (or any single crit you get) is only one person's opinion in a sea of opinions. In order to get a true sense of what's working and what's not, you need more than a single opinion. Think of it like the endless quest to find the right agent or publisher or audience for our books. Whoever that person or entity is they have to get what the story is about and preferably be a fan of the genre. For example, if I were to crit a mystery I would not be doing the author any favors since I generally don't read mysteries and therefore don't know what sort of devices are typical or expected. Therefore it's best to get someone who's familiar with the genre you write to crit your story - imho. That said, take any crit I give with a grain of salt because I am certainly not an 'expert' critter. I do, however, know good writing and great characters when I see them.

So, who's game?

Update: I have a chapter to crit - thank you!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Shorty--Earth 4

Today I'll share my short story with you. I started a piece using the first picture, but liked David's Ishtar, Planet of Hope much better. Then I remembered a piece I started a year ago and never finished. It goes really well with another of the pictures, so here is Earth 4.

And I'm taking the liberty to cheat a bit on the word count. I managed to cut it down from 1,700 words to just a bit over 1000. Help me streamline it more, please?

Earth 4  

The ship’s engines pitched lower as it dropped out of hyper drive and powered up the reverse thrusters. Overhead lights dimmed then brightened signaling a ship wide message. Thousands of people paused mid-stride and waited.

“Attention all passengers, we are now approaching our destination. Earth 4 will be within view of the forward and starboard viewing halls in thirty minutes time. Debarkation will begin in two hours. Remember, you may carry your own luggage or recycle it. If you choose to recycle, you will be issued a class two mandate for your stay on Earth 4. Gold members will receive an automatic upgrade.

“Thank you for traveling on the Galaxy Gala. It’s been our pleasure to serve you and we hope you enjoy your new life.” The voice fell silent.

Tensati hobbled forward on his arthritic legs. He needed to find Lyria. They had waited a long time to get passage on a cruise liner destined for a young earth. He wanted to enjoy his first sight of it with her.

He found her in their room curled up on the bed crying, “What’s wrong? We’re almost there. If we hurry we can get a good spot on the forward viewing deck.”

She sobbed harder and buried her head under the pillow muffling her voice.

“My ears are old, remember?” Tensati pulled the pillow away from her face and sat on the edge of the bed.

Lyria’s tear streaked countenance looked up. Blue eyes as clear as the day he married her seventy years earlier. The little lines around them reminded him of all the years they had shared laughing. It made the tears all the more unusual.

“Come on, what’s wrong?” He rubbed her shoulder.

“I can’t go to Earth 4.” She sucked in a ragged breath.

“Sure you can. We’re all paid up.”
“No, there’s something I haven’t told you.” She sat up and pulled her knees into her chest. Even at ninety-four she moved like a dancer.

“Well, tell me now and then we can go look at our new home.”

“Ten, they’ll never let me set foot on that planet. I don’t meet the requirements. I should have told you years ago, but I was too afraid.”

“Afraid of what? This isn’t another of your theatrics is it?”

She scowled at him, “Do you remember when I was sick?”

“Sick? You haven’t been sick since,” he ran through the years in his head, surprised at how far back he had to go, “your lung implants?”

“Yes. Do you remember that time?”

“Vaguely. That must have been thirty years ago. What’s that got to do with you going to E4?”

Lyria gave him her Come On look, “I can’t believe you’re going to make me spell it out for you.” She got up from the bed and pressed the button to open the viewport in their room. E4 loomed larger than life. “They didn’t just replace my lungs.”

“Oh. What else?” Immigration stipulated you must be fifty percent human in order to relocate. How much could she have changed during such a short hospital visit?

“Everything. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think it would matter. And then they opened E3 and you started planning. I was so happy when they capped immigration.” She kicked the wall, “Damn them for opening E4!”

She dropped her head to her hands and sobbed. Tensati stood, but didn’t reach for his wife.

“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

She turned to face him, shoulders slumped and lip quivering. “I’m a bloody construct.”

“But you aged—” His brow furrowed. “How is this possible?”

“I was part of a trial for the TrueLife series of constructs. All I wanted was a few more years with you. I didn’t care about the immigration restrictions because there was nowhere to go.”

“TrueLife? Dammit, why didn’t you tell me? Asked me if it was the right thing to do?” Tensati balled his hands into a fist and stalked to the far end of the room. His heart raced and he feared he would die of a heart attack orbiting his destination.

He listened to Lyria breathing behind him. Remembered how warm and soft she felt as he held her just hours before. He never would have guessed she was a construct. Every moment of the last thirty years had been a lie. A beautiful, happy lie.

“Ten? I’m sorry. I really am. If you choose E4 I’ll understand.” Her pain seeped through her voice. "The crew hired me for the return trip, so you don't have to worry about me."

The door slid open, but Tensati didn’t turn around until it closed. He sat on the edge of the bed and stared at the clouds revolving on a dream.


“Final call for all passengers debarking at Earth 4. Please report to the main lounge on deck 34 to clear customs. Your new organs have been cloned and will be waiting for you on the other side. Thank you again and enjoy your new life.”

Tensati picked up his bag and walked to the door. It slid open, but he didn’t walk through. He had tried four times already.  The door closed when he took a step back.

As he stared, it opened on its own and Lyria stood before him. She had shed sixty years. Her hair was jet black instead of white. Her whole body toned and firm like the day he met her outside the dance studio. For the first time in decades his body responded on its own at the sight of her. He let the bag fall to the floor.

“Lyria?” He breathed it like a prayer.

“Ten? Why haven’t you left?”

“I, I wanted to—” Tensati swallowed and willed his hands to stay by his side. “I don’t know that I can go without you. I’ve tried.”

The tears welled up in her eyes again and a slow smile spread across her face. She stepped in until the door closed and walked slowly around Tensati to sit on the bed. Earth 4 gleamed in the window behind her head.

“Ten? Thirty years ago I bought and paid for your body construct. It's in the cargo hold. The staff can have you in it in less than an hour.” Looking up through her lashes in that way that used to drive him wild she patted the spot beside her. “Be young again with me Ten.”

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Shorty--Forever Gone

This lovely little piece comes from our fearless leader, CD Coffelt, AKA Huntress.


She picked the picture that I picked because it made me think of her!

Forever Gone 
I had no other choice.

Under my gloved hand, the claws imbedded in the leather screeched on the stone as I made a fist. Blood pooled and muted the sound. Behind me...no. Not yet. I couldn’t face it.
I rose from my kneeling position, shoved my bloodied sword into the sheath on my back, and pulled my hood closer. The first step took me one stride from...


The lingering heat was uncomfortable but no more than standing by a bonfire of dry wood and oil. The flames lit my path. A rattling gasp from behind made me pause but I didn’t turn. After a moment, I continued to walk. The smell of burnt stone, of sulfur and scorched ground trailed after me.

I gained the edge of the woods where the flames from the middle of the saucer-shaped meadow made the trees dance in the shadows as if they could walk away. But even now, the heat-curled leaves had no life in them. It was their last spring, their final rebirth.

I stopped there, one hand on the trunk of the fire-blasted tree. Under my glove, the rough texture crumbled and rained to the bare ground by the trunk.

Another exhalation from the center of the conflagration finally pulled me around to witness what I had done.
Flames still licked all around it. Boiling greasy clouds hid it from my view. My chest hurt when I realized it was still alive, if only barely. Its one good eye roved blindly as it sought its killer.

With a scream I jerked my sword from the sheath, drew back, and threw it, end over end. As if preternatural, the sharpened point found its goal and buried itself deep into the eye of the beast.

Of the dragon. That took my wife and killed her. And now lay dead surrounded in a bier of its own making. Justice? Maybe. At the end, mercy. Not to end its suffering but to end mine.

It was the last of its kind and now, it lay still. If only my heart and soul did not want to join it.

I love all of your imagery. The heat, the smells, the sights. It's all in here. You still like your fragments! We can feel the MC's pain and even the death of his nemesis doesn't ease it. My only thought is the last sentence could be stronger, but I'm not sure how. Maybe it's the reference to joining the dragon when in reality he probably would rather join his wife?

What are your thoughts?

Shorty--Ishtar, Planet of Hope

Today's flash fiction comes to us from David Jace. It's another really good one in my opinion. Here is a bit of speculative fiction for you.

Ishtar, Planet of Hope

Lars waved goodbye as the transport shuttle abandoned them to the harsh environs of their new world. Krista gave it not a glance. She looked out across her new home and bit back the tears. They were useless to her. She’d already tried.

Lars had convinced her to give the world a chance. He’d painted a vista of opportunity and filled his words with the excitement of uncharted explorations, unconceived discoveries on this recently discovered planet.They had been chosen by the Exploratory Council as one of three couples who would lead initial explorations on the nearest planets that might support life. She never could get them to explain why they didn’t send more people. The temperature was right; the air was breathable; there was water available; so the planet was survivable, but was it liveable?

Lars hugged her and began to unpack the equipment and setup their base. Krista knew she should be helping. She had been trained on all of it, trained to be his assistant. Lars was kind enough to let her continue to look at their new world. Or perhaps he thought she was keeping guard. Guarding against what, they didn’t know yet.The plateau the Council had chosen for them was covered in a short, blue grass. The eastern edge sloped down into a dark forest. Mountains rose up behind her, but they were dark, evil-looking mountains to her eye, reaching up and out in strange, seemingly impossible arches and spires. They were more like the tentacles of some gargantuan rock-octopus that was merely sleeping until hungry. She shuddered and tried to shake off the thought. A shadow caught her attention. Lars was walking towards her.

“Lars, I can’t do this.”

He smiled at her, and she wanted to curse him for it. “Of course you can, my dear. We’re here together. A big adventure, just the two of us on this whole planet for the next two years! Don’t you think it’s romantic?”

“I think it’s dreadful,” she snuggled into his protective arm, “and frightening. We are not alone out here.
Can’t you call them? Tell them to come back and get us?”

“He squeezed her reassuringly. “Don’t be silly. There’s no reason to do that. We just got here. Besides, the only way they come back now is if one of us dies.” He leaned down to kiss her forehead. “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure nothing happens to you.”

They stood for a few minutes, staring out at the horizon, he with a smile, she with a grimace. They watched the first sun set and Krista saw nothing but her life fading away.

“We only have a couple of hours before second sun set. We’d better get the rest of base set up before then.”

She watched as he walked back to the gear packs to continue working. She fingered her weapon and murmured to herself. “They come back if someone dies...”

My only comment is I LOVE the ending! This is a great look deep into what motivates. Is it love or is it fear? Plus, I'm a sucker for binary planets. ;)

Remember, you can still submit your flash fiction for comments.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Shorty--Art Class

Our first bit of flash fiction comes to us from Liza. Thanks for playing with us! If you want you can check out her blog after commenting on her flash fiction.

I'm still working on my story, and if you are too, send it in when you're ready. Send it to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com with Shorty in the subject.

Art Class

The scissors dug into her back pocket.  Natasha pulled at the hem of her tunic to cover the bulge.  There would be no time for fumbling.  When the moment arrived, she’d have to make one fluid movement, a subtle flick incorporating a stab and a twist like the one she’d practiced for two weeks in front of her bedroom mirror.  She’d rehearsed it with her eyes closed—reaching back for the handle. Whipping the shears out she’d parried like a fencer, assaulting the imaginary canvas, jerking the point down, before sliding the weapon into her front pocket. She’d planned her exit too. Hands behind her back, she’d stroll the length of the hall pondering each of her classmate’s paintings. Then she’d move on to the sculpture exhibit.  That would be the hard part, remaining in the art center after defacing Abigail’s blue-ribbon winner.

Daughter of a master, Abigail had more aptitude in a fingernail than Natasha would experience in her lifetime.  Could anyone understand the agony of always finishing second to an artist whose gift came unbidden—whose talent wasn’t driven by anything related to hunger or desire? How many times she’d heard someone compliment her rival, only to watch the girl shrug and roll her eyes.  “Sure. Whatever,” she’d say.  “Who wants to go rollerblading?  Wait.  I’ve got a better idea.  A friend’s going skydiving today.  Let’s watch.”  She’d wink. “If he’s got a harness maybe I’ll see if he'll tandem.”

Natasha always opted out, preferring to mash burnt umber into white, teal into sienna, striving to mirror the hue of the golden trees outside the window as they passed from summer to fall.  This time, a scholarship hung in the balance.  With her mother’s wealth, Abigail didn’t need it.  Yet, the picture she’d painted stunned everyone. A girl, sitting on a cloth-draped sofa, the light on her face ethereal, wisps of hair highlighted in the afternoon sun. Natasha’s abstract landscape earned kudos too, but she had no illusions.  Abigail would win the prize and Natasha’s time in art school would come to an end. Flat broke, she’d have to find a job.  She swallowed unfairness like bile.
Now, sweat coated her back as she stood absorbing the unplumbed depths of Abigail’s painting, the subject’s eyes, hard, pained, waiting and clearly wanting.  It was a shame really.  Quashing a pang of regret, she glanced over one shoulder, then the other.  Inhaling she reached for the scissors.  Plunging them into the canvas, she withdrew her arm, stuck the tool into her front pocket, counted to fifteen and moved on, just the way she’d practiced.

Twenty minutes later she stared sightless at Turner Elliot’s bronze sculpture.  A soft arm slid around her waist.  Natasha froze.  “I took myself out of the running for the scholarship,” Abby said, pointing behind her.  “I adored painting this one, though.  It bled through me.  Oh Tash, how I envy you. Finally, I understand your passion.”

I loved the emotion in this story, the desperation. The story gives us glimpses of the history between the two characters, shows us what's at stake, shows us the choice Natasha made and carried out and then a great ending. 

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Day of Exercising Short Story Muscles

Let's stretch the short story muscles we located this morning. I'm going to post a few images to jump start your imagination. You can use one of them to start your story or go out on your own. I've got scifi, fantasy, and tried for some non-genre images as well. All found on google images. (Can I complain about how hard it is to find fully clothed people in the first two genres?)

Decide who your character is and what choice they have to make. What will be the consequences?

Write a short story for us--500 word MAXIMUM--and send it to unicornbellsubmissions@gmail.com with Shorty as the subject line.

I'll post them the rest of the week for comments.

Short Story Structure--And How It Can Make Your Novel Better

Many times (and many different places) I've heard that writing short stories can help you become a better novelist. For that reason and that reason alone, I've tried to write short stories. Some have been 500 words, most around 1000, and one was up to 3000 words. Every one has received the same response.

"This feels like the beginning of a much larger story."


Although that could be seen as a good thing, it means I haven't quite nailed the short story. In an effort to improve I continued my internet search for tips. Let's start by building on yesterday's post on Story Structure.

Philip Brewer

So how does the short story relate to a complete story?
With short stories, the writer doesn’t have room to “show” the entire journey. It’s okay to just mention/tell/imply that parts happened so you can focus on the story you’re currently sharing. For instance, maybe your short story is simply the inciting incident, but the reader must finish knowing the road of trial and error and final resolution will come.


Maybe your short story is simply the dark moment in the hero’s journey. There needs to be just enough for the reader to know that he has been through lots of challenge and failure to bring him to this point even though we don’t get to experience all of it. Here the ending needs to give the reader a sense that the hero has reached some conclusion or epiphany that will help him be successful in the next encounter with evil—even though the reader doesn’t get to see it.

The essential core of a short story needs to:
  1. Require the character to make a choice,
  2. show that choice by actions,
  3. and those actions must have consequences.
Larry Brooks from (Storyfix.com)
"Only the short story writer has to approach the task from a different perspective. While those elements need to be there, they don’t always need to be on the page. 
Conflict. Stakes. Need. Journey. Opposition. Characterization. Setting. Arena. Sub-text. Voice.
They all need to be there.
Even if they’re not." 
In order to do all of this, the short story writer has to focus on the plot/theme/reason/purpose of the story. Why does this story have to be written? What’s the point in telling it? There must be one and the writer must take conscious and careful effort to always be working toward that goal. There’s no time to get sidetracked.
“When you do choose a sub-set of the larger story paradigm, the part you isolate should be written from an unspoken context of the entire architecture.
Which means, your character came from somewhere… something changes… they respond to that change… something else changes… they attack their problem or goal… something else changes yet again… and then things resolve.
Where you jump into that sequence is your choice as a short story writer. One that the novelist doesn’t have.” 
So that's how writing short stories can help me as a novelist.

Every word MUST do something for the story. There is no space for extra words that have no purpose. And I have to know what that purpose is from the very beginning.

Let's Practice:
Choose/make up/whatever a character and write a three sentence synopsis of his/her story based on the central core points. This is the beginning and focus to your short story.
  1. Require the character to make a choice,
  2. show that choice by actions,
  3. and those actions must have consequences.
Share by posting them in the comments! 

Examples from my shorts:

Gareth must choose between accepting a mission to the planet’s surface alone or staying on the ship. He states he’s capable of killing the other candidates if necessary to be chosen, and after he’s chosen he steals extra supplies hoping they will help him survive on the planet. Gareth finds the earth habitable but his mission objective is waiting to deal death if he can’t answer one question correctly. (The Sleeper)

Linda must decide between continuation or dying a slow death by age. She leaves everything behind and goes to the continuation facility. Once she’s a part of the collection of human minds she learns it was never a choice and there are dark forces at work on earth. (Continuation)

Come back this afternoon to find our photo prompts and practice some flash fiction.