Monday, November 26, 2012


In my opinion, there is entirely too much CSI on television. New York, Miami, LA, East Podunk. I get the picture--crime is everywhere. And the investigators are smart, sexy people with great educations and devastating logic. 

My beef is not with the stories or the actors. What I object to is the way writers have picked up on the noun “exit” used as a verb. 

English is always turning nouns into verbs. Look at tasked or gifting. As a further example, until about the 1960s, jet was strictly a noun. Then people started flying in jets. They started jetting. That was cool; jet as a verb is exciting. It implies speed, high fashion, importance. It has an emotional content and descriptive power. 

Not so exit. Police investigators are specifically trained to write emotion-free, neutral text to avoid prejudicing any possible prosecutions. Their reports are dry as dust: “The subject exited the area.” It may be accurate, but it certainly doesn’t carry the same impact as “The perp ran away,” does it?  

I see exit so often in the submissions I edit that it has become like a no-see-um, the ubiquitous New England pest. They’re barely visible, but their bite will jolt me right out of whatever I’m doing. And the last thing you want to do is jolt your readers out of your story.  

Fiction writing is all about emotion. Every time you can choose an emotive word over a non-emotive word, do so. Exit is flat. It shows the reader nothing about the character or the action. It’s an easy choice when you’re writing fast, but in your rewrites you should leave it for police and military reports, stage directions, and computer instructions. Find verbs that play multiple roles—leave, emerge, step out, run away, saunter, take off, veer, sidle, slink, stride. A horse can exit a barn, or it can bolt, skitter, trot, slip, meander, or plod. See how each verb creates a different picture in your mind? 

So barricade the exits. Do a search in your manuscript and examine each use of the word. Replace it ninety-nine times out of a hundred, and watch your writing come alive.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Speculative Fiction--What is it?

Today I'm pleased to offer a blog from Linda Swift, whose lovely Civil War novel,  This Time Forever, I can highly recommend. (Full disclosure: I edited it for Champagne Book Group.) This post was originally posted at Between The Pages: and is reposted here with the kind permission of Lynda Coker. Take it away, Linda!



Speculative Fiction—What is it? 

I am an author of published contemporary and historical romance, women’s fiction, short stories and poetry. As if that isn’t enough to keep my readers in a state of confusion, I have recently added speculative fiction to my publishing credits. Only I didn’t know this was what my short stories were until they were given that label by my publisher. In fact, I wasn’t aware this genre existed and I’m betting some who are reading this aren’t either. 

Since I now have five speculative fiction stories available online, and a just-released anthology of these five stories in print, I thought I really ought to find out a little more about what this means. My first step was to check my faithful Webster’s New World Dictionary. (Yes, I still love to look up words in my hard copy reference which tells you more than I probably want you to know about my age.) None of the definitions of the word “speculative” seemed to fit the situation at all. I finally settled on “uncertain or risky” as a possible meaning. At least, I know it is always uncertain and risky to publish anything one writes. 

Next, I Googled “Speculative Fiction” online. And wow! Was I impressed. The term was defined by Wikipedia as “ancient works to cutting-edge, paradigm-changing, and nontraditional intentions of the 21st century.” And the names associated with this genre? They read like a who’s who in literature. There were Greek dramatists to William Shakespeare to J.R.R.Tolkien and many more. 

I won’t bore you with the long explanation that I doggedly plowed my way through in order to become more enlightened on the subject. But I will offer one further quote which I think shows the big picture.
“In its broadest sense it (speculative fiction) captures both a conscious and unconscious aspect of human psychology in making sense of the world, reacting to it, and creating imaginary, inventive and artistic expression.” 

Armed with this new information I turned my attention to my stories in an effort to see if they would fit the definition. I looked first at Winner Take All, my first-written story of this genre. It is a tale of man against nature and a life-and-death struggle between the two. Billy Ray Warren is a good ole southern boy who went up North to make money and comes home to fight the kudzu that is taking over the place. Yes, he is trying to make sense of his world and reacting to it in a positive way. 

Nathan, the Buttercups are Blooming is a story about growing old and sick; about the helplessness of losing control of our lives. But Nathan is a fighter, especially when it comes to his beloved wife and his insensitive children. And boy, does he react to the situation he is in. He does not “go gentle into that goodnight” to quote a famous poet.  

The disease of epilepsy is at the center of Give It All You’ve Got. This is a tender love story set in a rural mountain school with three main characters who are as mismatched as people can be but their lives become entwined by circumstances beyond their control.  They each react to their narrow world in the only way that makes sense to them. And in so doing, a villain becomes a hero.

Three to Make Ready is a story that deals with the busing issue as it was in the early days of the mandate for US public schools. It takes a look at the situation from both black and white perspectives and further examines it from two social classes of white families. This story looks at the big picture from the author’s point of view based on personal experience and believe me, the story contains reaction in spades.  

Last, I examined The Good News. Defining it is difficult even for me as author.  I think it addresses the possibility of a random occurrence that no one can foresee and the way the people involved react to it. The story deals with a mother’s worst nightmare and her valiant efforts to prevent it.  

Have you noticed that my brief blurbs of each of these stories contain the work “react” in them? I think we can assume that my speculative fiction involves reaction of some sort in all the plots.  But rather than dissect them in this manner, I like to think of them as stories that reflect ordinary people living their lives in the best way they can, given their circumstances. Even though you most likely have not experienced what the characters have, I think you can relate to their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows. And it is this connection that makes a story real to you.  All of them contain a measure of suspense and uncertainty and some unexpected outcomes.  In the past, I have heard this type story referred to as “slice of life” fiction. 

Frankly, I don’t care what they are called.  I only care that they are read and that my characters touch the hearts of those who read them. They are available at Amazon and Smashwords for 99cents each.


And if you’d like a complete collection in print, Take Five: Stories of Speculative Fiction was released the last week in September through Publishing by Rebecca J. Vickery and is now available in ebook and print at the above links. The price is $9.95 for print and $2.99 for ebook at this link: