Category Archives: Writing Advice

More Fun Time Wasters (I Mean Great Research Stuff)

Recently I posted about fun writers’ tools (Cool Tools).  Here are two potential research tools.  Or just fun ways to procrastinate a bit!

Stellarium

This is awesome – free software that lets you research what the sky looks like from your current location, or Paris, or the Moon, or Pluto – yup, I had fun zipping around the solar system.  I zoomed in on the Earth from Venus, watched Saturn from one of its moons, saw the stars that are visible from Pluto.

The research part? Well, say you’re writing a story set on one of Jupiter’s moons.  When does Jupiter rise and set?  Is it daylight when Jupiter is visible?  You can think up lots of questions or just have fun zooming around!

Pinterest

Online bulletin boards to collect photos (which retain their link – so in a way, you are collecting websites too).  You can have multiple bulletin boards.  They are public.  Other people can see what you pin, and follow you – that’s the social media part of it – it can be used to generate fans/followers/buzz for your books.

It could not be easier.  Once you sign up, you get a button on your browser that lets you “pin” photographs onto virtual bulletin boards.  And if you are a visual person, your bulletin boards can be quite inspirational.  This would be the research part – pin photos of art that inspires you on a board for your WIP.  Pin pictures of people who might look like your character.  Pin logos for websites with music you love.  Pin covers of books you want to read, or have read and loved.

Just remember it is public.  You are encouraged to sign in via Facebook or Twitter – so consider whether you want to have each pin announced on Facebook/Twitter – if not, go to “settings” and turn off the link.

Invite-only at this point – let me know if you need an invite. (Here’s my small collection: http://pinterest.com/leehallison/)

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Guest Blogger: Beth Cato

I’m pleased to host a guest blogger today – Beth Cato, a writer I admire immensely.  She writes mostly speculative fiction, and has a long bibliography of published short stories, most recently one in Flash Fiction Online, “213 Myrtle Street.”  In this post, she shares a little background concerning a story that she believed in but had to work hard to get published.  “Red Dust and Dancing Horses”(published in Stupefying Stories)  is terrific – so glad it got out into the world.

Beth Cato Dreams, Horses, and the Little Story That Could


There’s something I’ve learned during the past few years. If you want to succeed as a writer, it’s not all about talent. It’s not about developing a thick skin. Rejections make you cry? Scream? Those are valid reactions sometimes. But what enables you to succeed is sheer stubbornness. You send the story out again.

Case in point: my story “Red Dust and Dancing Horses.”

From the time I wrote the rough draft, I knew this story was special. It hit me on a personal level. The tale is a horse story set on Mars, where horses can’t exist. It’s about a young Martian girl who has to accept that her deepest desire–to know horses–will likely never come true.

I was completely horse obsessed from the time I could walk and talk. I adored Rainbow Brite from age 3, but my biggest love was her horse, Starlite. I collected Breyer horses from age 4 (I wasn’t into My Little Ponies as much because they weren’t realistic enough). I read every horse book in the children’s section of the library, and if a new book came in the librarians told me. I knew the difference between a Shire and a Paso Fino, a forelock and a fetlock. My parents owned two acres of property, and I knew exactly where we could build a stable and corral. I took riding lessons. I knew exactly what my dream horse would look like and how his mane swayed in the breeze.

And at age 11, I finally had to accept that I would never have a horse.

I was mature enough to realize we were too poor. Money was tight. My riding lessons stopped as we couldn’t even afford the $10 for my riding lessons every two weeks. How could we afford a horse, or hay, or tack?

The dream died, but my love for horses didn’t.

That was the emotion I put into the story, only using a grittier Martian backdrop instead of a central Californian one. I posted the story on OWW. I revised heavily. I started sending it out to magazines. And this story I loved passionately was soundly rejected by almost every pro science fiction market.

Really, I could see why. It’s a horse story, on Mars. People don’t usually pair horses and sci fi, much less horses from old westerns. But it still hurt. This was a story that I felt was not only one of the best things I had written, but it was also a story I loved.

But I loved it so much, I kept gritting my teeth and sending it out again. It had some close calls. It won an honorable mention in Writers of the Future for the 4th quarter of 2011. But it still didn’t have a home, so I sent it out yet again.

You know what? It has a home now, an amazing one. This is what the editor of Stupefying Stories, Bruce Bethke, said in the forward for this March issue:

I’m about out of space now, but would be remiss if I did not call special attention… especially to my personal favorite in this entire collection, “Red Dust and Dancing Horses” by Beth Cato. If this story doesn’t wind up on several Best of 2012 lists and on the short list for at least one major award, I will be disappointed.

While querying agents, the big mantra is, ‘It only takes one yes.’ That’s true for short stories, too. “Red Dust and Dancing Horses” finally found its YES, and whatever happens from here, I’m happy, because the story finally found some other folks who love it just as much as I do.

The dream lives on.

“Red Dust and Dancing Horses” can be found in Stupefying Stories 1.5, on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.