Saturday, June 27, 2015

Basics of Traditional Publishing

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Last time I talked about self-publishing, which is considerably easier to carry out. This time I will talk about traditional publishing, which, though easier to wrap your head around, is much harder to accomplish. Either way, success is very difficult, but traditional publishing gives higher chances, which is why it requires more effort to even begin.

     A traditional publisher is one that accepts manuscripts from authors (sometimes through agents or by request), works with them to improve the manuscript, provides a cover, marketing, printing, and distribution, and then pays the author royalties, and occasionally an advance.
     Getting accepted by a publisher is a rather complicated process, and you can expect it to take several years (or decades, if you are unlucky) and dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of rejections. Here are some tips to improve your chances and shorten the process.

Have a good product

     I mentioned this in the last one too, but it is very important. Don't send them the first book you write, and preferably not the second or the third, until you have written several other books as well. Rewrite your book several times. Send it to friends, maybe even an editor, preferably a developmental editor.
     Continue to work on your book as you submit it. A book can always be improved. This becomes especially important if you get something other than a form rejection letter. That is a good sign, it means that you are getting close.

Have a good cover letter

     Hardly an easy thing to accomplish, but this is your first impression. If your cover letter isn't good, your novel won't even get a glance. Keep your cover letter short and informative. Do not use a form letter. You will probably want to use the same synopsis each time, perhaps tweaked for the particular publisher, but the rest of it needs to be made completely new for each one. Use the editor's name, say why you think they are a good fit, name some of the novels that they have published recently that have similarities (but aren't too close!) to your book.

Choose the right publisher

      Please, please, please do your research. There are lots of companies that look great that you should never go near. If they ask you to pay them (aside from, maybe, a reading fee) then they aren't good. That means that they don't have enough confidence in your book to take a risk.
     In the part about cover letters I said to include why you think that your book is a good match for them. Well, you should actually believe that you are a good fit for them. Otherwise, what is the point of submitting to them?

Get an agent

     This is optional. Agents are kind of odd, because they make getting published easier, yet to get an agent requires the same process, just to the agent's company, rather than the publisher's. However, the truly important thing that agents do, is they negotiate the terms of publication. They will get you a better deal by far than you can get yourself. In fact, if you decide to forgo an agent during the hunt for a publisher, once a publisher accepts you, go find an agent. They will jump at the chance to represent an author whose book is already accepted.

Build an author platform

    An author platform is essentially your following. Building a following while you still don't have anything published can be difficult. One of the most commonly recommended methods is to make a blog, though I would say that the most necessary is a website. A website won't really build you a platform, but it is a place for people to look you up at where you can put your contact information.
     I would recommend also using one or two social media websites, like Pinterest, Twitter, or Tumblr. Experiment with different ones and find which you will be able to keep doing. Pinterest tends to be a favorite with authors, and it is the easiest one to advertise with that won't annoy people, but is also the least direct. Don't go overboard with building your author platform, but don't neglect it, either. This is one of the things publishers look at when considering a book.

     Traditional publishing is a hard route, and there is less creative control, however, you have much more assurance that you will end up with a fantastic product, and once a publisher accepts you, your chances of success skyrocket. Don't think that once you're accepted that you can quit your day job, though. Writing for a living is a hard job, no matter what way you go. The publisher will take most of the profits in exchange for the work and money they put into it, so you will need to either because a huge bestseller, or, the more likely, publish a lot of books.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK and on Tumblr here:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Self-Publishing Basics

Post by co-founder, Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley

     I asked some people if they had any questions about publishing, and the answer was "How do you publish?" So I'm going to cover self-publishing this week, and traditional publishing next week. I will also expand on certain points I will touch on at some point.

Have a Good Product

     Pretty obvious and basic, but something that people constantly complain about self-published books lacking. Your book is not good enough. When you have gone through several drafts, edited it, perhaps given it to some friends to read, it is not good enough. If you published this traditionally, at least one editor would work with you on it for at least one more draft, probably more, in order to make it a product that will hopefully sell. So, how do you make it a good product?

Do several rewrites

     An important beginning point, rewrite it several times, and leave space in between them. It is important to look at it with new, critical eyes and to do your best to make it the best book you can make it. It will be hard, it will hurt, but some things will have to go, and some things will have to be added. You will need to make major changes and minor changes. Write the first draft with that in mind.

Find beta readers

     This is very important. Get the feedback of several people. Friends an family will do, but make sure to stress that you need them to tell you the problems. Remind them that if they don't tell you now, it will end up in the finished book, which is hurting you rather than helping you. Listen to their feedback, respond well, consider it, then decide if you want to use it.
     Beta readers who are writers are very helpful as well. You can trade beta reading, as well as pay professional beta readers.

Send it to an editor

     Do NOT publish your book before sending it to an editor. First get over-all, character, plot, and logic editing. Make sure that the base book is good. Be willing to listen to your editor, they know what they are talking about. However, you do not have to do everything that they tell you to do. Next, get an editor to do proofreading. One of the most frequent problems with indie books is grammar and spelling mistakes.

Have a good cover

     Not exactly a part of having a good product, but you should have an eye-catching, fitting cover. You can usually tell the genre of a book at a glace, without the title. I could tell you one of those erotica "romance" books through frosted glass, and I don't even read them. You want your cover to make sense to your genre, but not be so close to others so as to look like a part of the mass.
     Also, don't copy popular books. The main reason that I never read Divergent was because, on top of the similar setting, the cover looked so close to The Hunger Games. Seriously, a bland, dark background with a circular symbol? A bit familiar.

Choose a Good Platform

     One of the most important factors for visibility and profitability is how and where you self-publish. There are two types of platforms, print and electronic, and two forms within them, hosted and self-hosted.


     POD is the easiest, though least profitable, method of selling print books. You find a company such as CreateSpace, upload your document and cover, set your price, and they take care of the rest. Once someone orders your book, they print a single copy of it and ship it. Because of the one-at-a-time printing method, they are more expensive to make, which is why it will be less profitable.  But still, you don't have to take care of it yourself.

En mass printing

     Another option is to pay a printing company to make a large number of your books (the more they print, the cheaper per book) and then sell and ship them yourself. This involves more effort (and storage space) but you will earn more money.

Mini publishing company

     The last printing option is to purchase your own printing equipment and do the whole process yourself. This has a huge start-up cost, but would eventually get you more money, if you sell enough books.

Hosted ebooks

     There are a variety of places that will host your ebook, from Amazon's KDP to Smashwords. These work pretty similarly to POD, in that you just upload everything, and the they sell your book, while taking a cut. The cut is generally smaller than with print books due to there being no printing costs, but the price of ebooks are usually cheaper too.

Self-sold ebooks

     You can make your own ebooks (as PDFs or mobile files) and sell them on your blog or website. This generally has less visibility than when they are hosted and is harder to do, but you get more money per book.

Market Your Book

     Marketing is one of the things that most authors hate doing, but it is extremely important.  There are infinite ways to market your books, so I'll just give some tips on how to go about it.

Begin marketing before your book is ready

     I used to think that I didn't want to market my books until they were released so that people could buy them immediately. However, marketing your book before it is out allows you to build up interest before the big day. Don't market too early, though, or people will forget about it.

Use free methods

     There are lots of ways to advertise your book for free, and many of them are very effective. Pinterest is a great one, if you already have it, as well as Tumblr, Twitter, etc. A blog or website is great too. (You should probably have at least a website, even if you don't pay much attention to it.) They are more natural ways of getting your book out there. People tend to ignore ads, knowing that they are ads, and thus not actually of interest to them.

Don't be obnoxious

     It is easy to fall into the trap of posting a bunch of "Buy my book!" tweets/blog posts/etc., but in the end this will just annoy people. Be nice, think of your customers, and keep promotional posts of any kind down to 50% or less.

Find the good paid services

     There are certain paid things that are completely worth it. Whether this is a book tour, an ad in a big magazine, or paying to get an awesome website, is dependent on your book, platform, and who is offering the service. Be careful with this, you don't want to go overboard, but do keep it in mind. A few good paid services can really help to launch your books.

Bonus tip: Paying for followers, likes, subscribers, etc. is never a good expense.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK and on Tumblr here:

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Write What You Need to Learn

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

We've all heard the phrase "Write what you know." It's a bit of a controversial topic in writing circles. I agree with it to an extent--writing something you know about is definitely easier than writing something you've never experienced.

But what if it's something you want to experience?

That's a tricky phrase. I deleted it a few times before I decided that it's what I really mean. Because, really, who wants to experience Nazi Germany? Or losing both of your parents? Or being governed by a cruel, dystopian government?

(If you're like me, you might almost be able to risk it, just for the adventure of the story.)

As always, I'm focusing a little more on the characters-and-emotions side of the coin with this post. Because, really, isn't the difference between a good book and an okay book how it made you feel?

Even on this side of the phrase, it's a little tricky. We don't want to feel heartbreak, or grief, or betrayal, or go through all of the problems you put your poor main character through. (Or do we? There's a reason we read, after all...)

What we do want to feel, though, is the joy, the strength, the unnameable-feeling when the hero wins. When she survives despite the odds. When the theme is proved true after all.

We want the hope of knowing that, even though life is dark and times are hard, we can still win.

Sometimes, we forget about that. I know I do. I get lost inside my cynical, pessimistic mind, and I lose sight of hope, lose sight of joy. I'm so caught up in my own problems that I don't see the way through them.

This is where my writing comes in for me. When my main character (who, oddly enough, tends to reflect myself at the time of writing) makes it to the end of the story and finally figures out who he is and why he's been chosen, and then decides that it's been worth it all along, I decide that it's worth it for me, too.

Life is hard. But I'll get through it.

I write a combination of what I know--the problems--and what I need to learn--the hope at the end. And somewhere between "once upon a time" and "the end," I end up a little stronger than I was before.

Do you write what you know, or what you want to learn?

Saturday, May 30, 2015

5 Tips for Co-Authoring a Novel

Post by co-founder, Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley

     Co-authoring a novel is a very interesting experience for a writer (especially for an indie author) because the writing process is traditionally solo. I've personally found that it is a lot easier to keep motivation on a collective novel. They allow you to meld your skills with those of another author, making for a product neither of you could have created alone. Also, being exposed to another author's skills and viewpoints so thoroughly can teach you a lot. Here at a few things to keep in mind when partaking in such an adventure.

1. Don't Trample the Other Author

     It is very important that you allow the other author to express their thoughts, ideas, and sentiments. If you don't, why write a collective novel at all? Why not just write a normal novel? This is a co-operative endeavor, so listen to your partner. You will learn from them if you do, as well as end up with a superior product. Also, how do you think it would feel to be trampled? It wouldn't be pleasant, so respect your fellow writer and listen to them.

2. Don't Let the Other Author Trample You

     This works the other way around as well. Don't let yourself be trampled, as it will make the whole experience a nightmare. Make your voice heard, don't just be silent. Compromising is great, and important, but make sure that you are not the only one compromising. The next point ties in with this one.

3. Choose the Right Partner

     This may seem obvious, but you need to choose someone who can work well with you. If you are a hardcore sci-fi author and your partner does Amish romance, you aren't likely to get very far, unless you are somehow combining the two into something you both will like. But also temperaments are important. If you are a meek person, choosing someone who is more on the pushy side may be a mistake, unless you are sure that they can keep their shortcomings in mind. Also, the other way around. If you tend to be more pushy, either choose a person similar to you, or make a point to ask the other what you think.
     A good way to choose a partner you can work with is to each critique the others work first. This will allow you to understand them better (both from their writing and their critique) as well as build trust. And remember, opposites aren't always bad. If you tend to be character-based and your partner tends to be plot-based, your novel will likely be strong in both.

4. Make Sure Your Goals Align

     Writing a novel is a long process. Make sure that your co-author is committed to finishing the project, and also that you agree on just what the project should be. Many conflicts can arise later on in the process, such as late rough draft or even redrafting and editing, because of differing assumptions. Maybe you both agree on the plot, cast, and theme, but how a particular character thinks, or the meaning behind a certain event, might be completely different in your minds.

5. Be Ready for Compromise

     This may seem like a repeating chant, but it's really the most important point. You WILL have differing opinions on different aspects of your story. It is impossible to prevent that, because you can't talk over every single detail, and a lot of times there is no "better", just "preferred". In these cases, you will have to compromise. This may mean you give up your idea, they give up theirs, or you both give yours up and look for a completely new solution.  But it does mean that the novel will not turn out how you envisioned. This is true for any novel, but much more so with a collective novel. You need to be ready for this, and relinquish that expectation. It is a lot easier to deal with when you have prepared for it.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have a short story contest right now, where your submission must contain a dangling participle. See the guidelines here.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

3 Ways to Make Unintentional Foreshadowing Happen

Post by Catsi Eceer, co-founder

One of my favorite experiences in writing is when unintentional foreshadowing happens. I know several other writers who agree with me.

In case you're not quite sure what unintentional foreshadowing is, allow me to explain. Foreshadowing is, according to the dictionary definition, "a warning or indication of a future event." In writing terms, it means a hint at a bigger plot point.

Say that the main plot twist in your story is when it is revealed that the previously-thought antagonist turns out to actually be on your Hero's side. To foreshadow this, you might have the antagonist appearing briefly confused in the one scene he is in when Hero attacks him. You could have him say something that doesn't line up with the mantra the bad guys believe. Any little hint that he isn't quite as evil as we all are led to believe is foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is a tricky thing, though. If it's too obvious, you'll spoil the surprise of the plot twist. (Ever watch a poorly done movie, hear a line and go, "Okay, now I know how the movie is going to end"?) If it's too subtle, the reader won't notice it at all.

This is where unintentional foreshadowing saves the day.

So what exactly is unintentional foreshadowing? It's when you're re-reading your rough draft, and there in the second chapter is a line that hints at your climax...and you didn't even think twice when you wrote it. Only now does the importance stand out to you.

In my opinion, unintentional foreshadowing is the best foreshadowing. Why? Because since you didn't notice anything unusual when you wrote it, the reader isn't going to notice anything unusual. They won't suspect the plot twist because of the line, but once the plot twist happens, they'll remember that part and be like, "OH."

The tricky thing about unintentional foreshadowing happen, though, is that it's unintentional. When you try to put it in, it becomes intentional.
So how can you make sure unintentional foreshadowing happens?

  1. Know about your plot twists while you're writing.
    I'm the sort of person who plots out every little thing before I even put down the first sentence. I know what the plot twists are before I'm anywhere near them. Even if you're not the outlining type, taking the time to figure out what all of the surprises in your story will be can be a great help. Your subconscious, since it knows about your plot twists, will affect the sentences you write and you'll end up putting in more hints than you realize.
  2. Don't overthink things.
    Don't stress about putting in unintentional foreshadowing. Remember, it's unintentional. Just let yourself think maybe-just-a-little-too-much about your story, and it'll come naturally.
  3. Let your characters be themselves.
    The best foreshadowing lines come straight from the mouths of characters. More than anything else, I've found that when I just let my characters talk as they would naturally talk, unintentional foreshadowing comes out. And more than that, foreshadowing of character change becomes visible.

Have you ever found some unintentional foreshadowing in your writing?

We have a short story contest right now, where your submission must contain a dangling participle. See the guidelines here.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Pixel Art: Dithering

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Pixel art is the oldest form of digital art. You know those old Mario games? They used pixel art. Pixel art is basically any art that is manipulated on the pixel level. This is still used in many games, such as Pokémon. (The little tiny figures are definitely pixel art, I'm not so sure about the larger ones.) Because of the smallness of pixel art, it requires some different skills that make it work better for certain people than other art forms. The fact that you don't need even average motor control is a huge plus for me, as my finders don't seem to respond to my brain very well.
     For pixel art, the most important things are patience, an eye for detail, and creative use of color. You see, you don't get the gentle gradients that other art forms get. While technically you can use as many colors as you want, usually the style limits it. Ever heard of a 16-bit color scheme? That's very common in pixel art, and it means you only get 16 colors to work with. If you have white, grey, black, blue, red, yellow, green, purple, orange, brown, cyan, pink, and skin color, you only have three colors left. Even harder is an 8-bit, and the easier on is 32-bit. But I've found that sometimes you end up using less colors than you have available, especially if you don't count "transparent" as a color.
     Anyway, because of the limited colors available, a shading technique used in pixel art is dithering, which in appearance is similar to crosshatching.

     See the parts where the pixels are arranged next to the corner of a pixel of the same color? That's dithering. It can be hard to make that look good, but it works better when the image is smaller.

     It's not as blocky-looking now, huh? It's still kinda sandy, but I was actually working in 4-pixel clumps, so if I had done this pixel-by-pixel, it would look a lot smoother. Anyways, you use dithering just as you would shading, or to make a new color if you're working with a limited number. For example, with an 8-bit color scheme, you can dither black and blue to get dark blue. As long as the image is small enough, the colors will blend to the human eye, rather than looking sandy like the image above.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have a short story contest right now, where your submission must contain a dangling participle. See the guidelines here.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

3 Tips for Writing a Prologue That Works

Post by co-founder Catsi Eceer

Hi guys! I know it's been a while since I've posted anything on here, and I've missed you all a ton. But now I'm back (hopefully for a while this time), and I've got lots of post ideas for you.

Today I want to talk about prologues. I know a lot of people who are completely against them, and some who absolutely adore them. My views aren't on either extreme, but I'd like to explore the aspects of what makes a prologue work or fail in a novel.

So many people skip prologues, if they're boring. They might put up with a slow first chapter, but they won't stick around for the prologue if it's dull. Lots of people skip prologues without even glancing at them. (I once accidentally skipped a prologue because I didn't realize it was there... I don't think that was the prologue's fault, though.)

However, there are some very good prologues I can think of. Ones that definitely help the story, rather than detract from it. What makes those prologues work? I've come up with a few ideas.

  1. Make your prologue interesting.
    This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it goes a little deeper than you might think at first. There needs to be some kind of action, some kind of conflict, just as if it were a chapter on its own. Do not, and I repeat, do not spend the entire prologue rambling about the history of your fantasy world. If your reader really needs to know all of that, put it in the actual story. They won't stick around for the prologue.
  2. Make your prologue relevant to the story.
    Another seemingly no-brainer, that's often ignored in prologues. Make sure that what your telling us about in the prologue is actually important to the story. If you took the prologue out, how would it affect the rest of the novel? If it doesn't affect the story, chances are, it shouldn't be there at all.
    Maybe you need to write out the history of your country, or the details of an old war. That's fine--write it for yourself. But don't put it in the prologue.
  3. Give your reader someone to care about in the prologue too.
    If it's relevant, and it's interesting, that's great. But make sure we have a protagonist to follow in this scene, a main character of sorts. If we don't know who we're supposed to be paying attention to, we might not be paying attention at all.
    And this is where a tricky part of writing successful prologues comes in. If you manage to get the reader attached to the main character of the prologue, they're going to be disappointed when they get to the actual novel and find a completely different character waiting for them. So if it's at all possible, use the main character of the actual story as the prologue main character too.
Do you have a prologue? Does it match up to the 3 Tips I've come up with? Do you have another idea of what makes a good prologue? I'd love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Dangling Participle Contest

     I know, this sounds very odd. But for a long time I've liked the idea of a contest based on a dangling participle, so we're going to do one. It's going to be fun.
     So, remember in your old grammar book that talked about dangling participles that made sentences not make any sense, and which were actually pretty funny if you thought about it long enough? If you can't remember what they are, they're something like, "Hanging from a nail in the closet, he found his tie." Now, technically, this sentence is saying that a guy found his tie while he was hanging from a nail in the closet. So, when you submit your story for this contest, you must have in the body of the email a sentence containing a dangling participle. It needs to be clear that it's actually a dangling participle, something that doesn't normally make sense. Then you need to use that sentence in your story, and it must make sense.

     Include "Dangling Participle Contest" in the subject line.

     Submit to

     The story must be 500-5000 words in length, not including the title.

     Submissions must be attached in doc., docx., or txt format.

     You may include a short, 200 word bio, plus a picture.

     You may also include links, either in your bio or separate from them.

     Submissions must be PG-13 or cleaner.

     ALL rights remain with the creator, we only ask that we be allowed to display your poem and bio on the website and newsletter, but if you would rather we didn't, let us know in the email. It will not impact your chances of winning.

     Please do not include your name in the attached document, only in the body of the email.

     You must be the sole creator of your story, or have the permission of all the other creators and have been an integral part of making it.

     Previous and simultaneous submissions are welcome.

     The deadline is June 20th.

     Results will be posted July 1st.

     Send any questions to I can't wait to see your entries. This is going to be awesome. And hilarious.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

How to Write a Villanelle Poem

By Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley

     Here's an interesting poem type. It uses a type of stanza we haven't talked about before: the tercet. A tercet is simply a stanza with three lines, but they are used so little that Spell Check thinks it isn't a word at all.
     A villanelle has five tercets and then a quatrain, totaling 19 lines. The rhyme scheme is ABA ABA ABA ABA ABA ABAA. So you basically have to accept the fact that you're going to be repeating words. Instead of one of my hastily-written example poems, we're going to use a poem old enough that we don't have to worry about copyright.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
By Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

     Well, I guess you could probably repeat words a little less than this one does. Anyway, because of the way the rhyme works, this is a very lyrical poetry form, and it sounds very traditional. Personally, I think it's really fun, and will likely attempt my own soon.
     Thank you for reading!

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

How to Write a Ballade

 Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     First of all, I'm teaching you how to write a ballade, not a ballad. A ballad has much fewer rules and is much more well-known, though they are both known for their use of refrains. Ballade is pronounced "baa (like the sound a sheep makes) laid". So, on to how to write one of these things.
     A ballade is make up of four stanzas. The first four are long, with seven, eight, or ten lines (but apparently never nine) and the last one is short, four or five lines. Each stanza ends with the same line, or refrain. Now, keep in mind that though the first three stanzas can be seven, eight, or ten lines long, they all must be the same length. Now for my example.

Hot Chocolate

I never had much care for coffee shops
My brother and I, we hated the smell
Of those ground dark beans everyone adores
Some people every day make their stops
At these legal addiction stores, and shell
Out money galore, at which I laugh, except
When sitting at Starbucks, with a cup of hot chocolate

It was a long time before I liked the idea
Of going into any coffee shop, despite
How much my elders loved these stores
Why chose a drink shop over a pizzeria?
Even into my teen years, I had a child's appetite
Which disliked anything of coffee, though I loved
Sitting at Starbucks, with a cup of hot chocolate

More recently I have found the tranquility
Of a coffee shop, is quite nice, though still
I am not so fond of the scent behind the doors
But in them I find there is an odd sincerity
Of musty darkness, and the people who fill
My cup, and so now a new place that I dream
Is sitting at Starbucks, with a cup of hot chocolate

It is another place where I know what to expect
A place to regroup when the world has shoved
And this place I now like is, it would seem,
Sitting at Starbucks, with a  cup of hot chocolate

     Okay, to be clear, you don't have to use the wacky rhyme scheme I used. (If you're confused, I used ABCACD(Ref)  EFCEFG(Ref) HICHIJ(Ref) DGJ(Ref)) (If you're even more confused now, I don't blame you.) Anyways, the only important part of the rhyme scheme was the refrain. Seriously, the rest of it can just not rhyme, as long as you've got the refrain. And normally, you wouldn't mess with the refrain like I did with the added "When" and "Is", but I sort of wrote myself into a corner. Honestly, that's why the rhyme scheme is so weird. I had planned on ABCABC(Ref) DEFDEF(Ref) GHIGHI(Ref), but I couldn't get the third and sixth lines to rhyme and still make sense with the refrain. There's a tip to be learned here. When your rhyme scheme fails: complicate!
     Anyway, I hope I have left you informed rather than confused, and once again, I hope to see the cool poetry you guys come up with.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Post by Dee Aethelwyne: Drawing Process

Hi, guys! I'm Dee, and I like drawing.

I blog at, although I'm not very good at doing it regularly. I have been posting more often recently, though.

This post isn't really a tutorial. It's more along the lines of let-me-show-you-how-I-draw. I apologize for the horrible pictures--the only camera I had on hand was my iPod, and the lighting was awful.

Sketch out the basic pose.
 This is a really rough sketch, just for me to kind of envision what I'm drawing before I start putting in the specifics. I like playing with the lines of the body and legs, and seeing how the pose showcases a certain emotion.

Add in body shapes.
 I'm still learning proportions, so please forgive the horrible figure. ;)

Clothing and hair details.
 This is my favorite part. It's where the personality of the character really starts to come out, and I love being able to design whatever outfit I feel like them wearing.

Dark the lines you want to keep.
 Pretty straightforward. Don't darken the guidelines from earlier, just the outline.

I like inking drawings so the side opposite the light source has a thicker line than the other side. It's just a stylistic thing--you don't have to do it if you don't like it.

Flat colors.
I used Copic markers to color this, but you can use whatever you have on hand. It's all just the flat base color for now. 

AFTERNOTE: I don't like the color scheme I used for this. I should have done her hair in pink and her dress a pale blue. 

Add shading according to your own style, put on the finishing touches, and you're done!

Anyways, that was a really quick tutorial. Once again, sorry for the poor quality! I'll put together a better one for you all someday to make up for this. :)

Anyone have any questions? I'd love to answer them.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

How to Write a Pantoum

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     A rare and interesting type of poetry is the pantoum. It is made up of a series of quatrains (four-line stanzas) with the second and fourth lines of each stanza being the first and third lines of the next. Sort of like poetry juggling. Because of the repetitive style, this style of poem is very good for themes of nostalgia, memories, and the like. Here's another one of my on-the-spot poems for an example:

I let out a sigh
I don't want to leave
My homeland behind
What can a child do?

I don't want to leave
Sadly, in the end
What can a child do
When the time has come?

Sadly, in the end
Nothing can be done
When the time has come
And I have left

Nothing can be done
I let out a sigh
For I have left
My homeland behind

     Obviously very rough, and my repeated lines aren't always exactly the same, but you get the idea. It has kind of a cool feel, huh? Obviously, though, you have to be careful with this one. Partly, this is because it is easy to make it boring. Partly it's because it's really easy to get yourself stuck when you're trying to get the second-to-last stanza to actually make a final stanza that makes some sort of sense.
     But doesn't this seem like the sort of poem that would be fun to make really long? And, once again, I've found another poem type that I'd like to do a contest with.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Building a Language Part 4: Words

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Yes, we've reached that part. The planning is finished. You have decided what sounds you will use for the words, the symbols that will represent them, and even how they will be arranged in a sentence. All that is left is creating the words themselves. So, is there any way more interesting than just going through the dictionary?
     Well, an automatic response might be "Try translating something!" But the problem with that, is that languages are never directly translatable. The Spanish phrase "Me encanta" may literally translate to "It enchants me", but the meaning is far closer to "I love it". Ironically, the people of Pompeii had no word for "volcano". Your language much have the same sort of things. It is not an extension of your language, it is an extension of the people who speak it.

     My advice would be to start with the things that are necessary for speech, such as pronouns, articles (the, a, an), conjunctions, etc. Once you are done with that, you can move on to the more interesting parts.
     A good place to go from there is the subjects that would commonly be discussed by these people. There are bound to be farmers, right? Start with some of those things. Is religion common? If so, explore the words that would commonly be used in that area. What terms do they use relating to war? What are things that merchants would commonly talk about? Hunters? Royalty? Children? What are common, every-day items and activities that everyone would know? Foods? Pet animals? Whatever they use for transportation? Keep searching for areas like these, and try considering them apart from your own world. Look purely at what these people see and live in, and what they think of those things.
     Another thing to consider, is descriptive words. Nouns and verbs are obviously important, but adverbs and adjectives, as well as how they are used, help define, or show, a culture. Like English, do they have many words that basically mean "great"? Or "very"? Do they have a lot of ones referring to color? Do they have very few? What words would they use to describe someone they were in love with? Someone they hated? Their home?

     After going through all of these several times, you will have both the basic framework, as well as plenty of verbs, nouns, and descriptive words. What do you do now? Obviously you won't have gotten everything. Well, I'd say now is the time to crack open a dictionary and see what words you have "missed". Keep track of which words the dictionary had that you didn't, and which ones you had that the dictionary didn't, and be proud of every word you have already made that they don't have.
     You now have a working language. It isn't done, you will probably never stop adding to it, but it works,  it is full, and you can now you can teach others it to others. Once you have reached this point, writing a novel must seem positively easy, right?

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have a poetry contest open, which you can find here.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Building a Language Part 3: Grammar

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Having decided on which sounds to use and assigned those sounds to letters, we are now going to look at the grammar. More than anything, this post will try to show you some of the things we take for granted in our language, some of the things so natural that we don't question them, so that you can make your language differ from English. Studying other languages can also help you to find ways to construct your language differently. Of course, if you want, you can simply use the English grammar, but it's so much cooler to have your very own.


     Pronouns are generally considered essential, though not necessarily by those who speak your language, as they allow you to refer to something without using its proper name. Look back at that sentence and notice how many pronouns I used. So, if your language has pronouns, how many? How specific? Do they have one pronoun that is universal? That would result in "I", "it", "she", "we", and "you" being the same word. It might seem confusing to us, but in Hebrew there is only one word for "but", "and", "yet", etc.
     Or do they have dozens of pronouns that are far more specific than English? (For example, that differentiates between "you" singular and "you" plural?)


     In English, conjugation is pretty simple. The verb changes based on tense, as well as number of people referred to. In some languages it is simpler, for example, Mandarin doesn't differentiate between past, present, and future. Others are more complicated, such as Spanish. Spanish has a different set of verbs for nearly ever pronoun, and for the different tenses. How will your language conjugate? Remember that the complexity of the language reflects and is shaped by the culture.

Number of words:

     Do we really need so many words to express a concept? Or, do we need more? In Spanish, "I run." is literally translated "Yo corro." but because the pronoun is reflected in the verb, you can also just say "Corro." Maybe your language can do the same thing. Or, maybe it uses more words. Perhaps they always accompany a name with the pronoun. For example, my language, New Orcish, has each noun prefaced with an article/pronoun, for example "The/him shopkeeper that sells a/it grapes is more honest than other a/they shopkeepers."
     Try to find things like this, things that truly separate your language from any of the languages you know. Changing the base framework in this way makes it so truly unique; a language, not a code. And it adds a realism and depth to the language, and the world.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have a poetry contest open, which you can find here.

For the next post in this series, click here.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Building a Language Part 2: Symbols

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley

     Last time we talked about selecting the sounds for your language, and this time I'll be showing you how to make letters for them. I've divided it into three steps: choosing a style, designing the letters, and assigning the letters.

     1. Style:

     First is choosing the style of your alphabet. For example, do you want letters with the level of complexity of a Chinese word? A Latin (what's used in English and Spanish) character? Greek? This would obviously affect the time it would take to write, so keep in mind the practicality of the nation, as well as who uses the written language. If only the rich, who have time anyway, can read, then it could be very complex. If everyone uses it, it will probably be simpler for convenience.
     Of course, just like English, there could be different versions, some more complex, some more simplified. A wonderful example would be the Forerunner language found in Halo. Though it wasn't actually invented, the books give fairly good descriptions. Cortana explains that they tend to embellish on their base symbols, making it look like they have way more letters than they really have. It is also show that the Forerunners had a 3-D version of their letters. Wouldn't that be cool, letter sculptures? But I can imagine that only aliens with the ability to construct worlds would have the leisure time to make such a complex writing system.
     Another part of style is the type of shapes and lines used. Would it be flowing, like Arabic? Geometric like Russian? A mix of simple shapes like Latin? This can change the feel of your language quite a lot, and helps to define the culture that uses it. For example, my language, New Orcish, is similar in style to English, but a bit more complicated, and with more flowing shapes.
     Another question to ask yourself is, how is the punctuation (if it exists) differ from the letters? Punctuation tends to be smaller, and in English it's mostly just small dots, and dots with tails. Is yours similar? Is it a part of the letter? Does it go directly under the letters? Etc. Also, do they have number symbols, or are their numbers always written out?

     2. Design:

     These last two can actually be switched around in a way, as you can make a letter specifically for a sound, or you can make all of the letters, and then assign them. Obviously these steps are a lot more straight-forward, as well. Basically, for this step, all that you do is implement the design elements you decided on in the last step. This maybe be harder than you expected, so don't worry if it takes a long time. Also, make lots of different letters. Don't erase the ones you make, just make more next to them. Take on base letter and make different versions, make lots of completely different ones too. This will help you to explore what you want better, as well as give you lots of options to chose from. Once you have enough, proceed to the next step.

     3. Assign:

     Now you just decide which symbol applies to which letter, and which punctuation mark, and which number. This is basically just personal preference, so I can't really instruct you here.

     One extra tip I have for you is a website called FontStruct. It allows you to build your own font, so you can just input your letters instead of the English letters, and then you'll be able to type in your language. And other people will be able to type in your language too! A wonderful thing to have when your books become bestsellers, huh?

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have a poetry contest open, which you can find here.

For the next post in this series, click here.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Building a Language Part 1: Sounds

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     Recently I've begun making a language for one of my worlds, and I can say, it's a pretty interesting process. I started by deciding on the sounds, so that's what I'll be talking about today. If you're going to make a completely new language starting from scratch, it's important to figure out which sounds your language will and will not use. One of the most helpful things for this is the IPA, or International Phonetic Alphabet. It has all of the sounds used in any language. I had some trouble finding something that actually showed me how to pronounce the IPA symbols, but I did eventually find this, which showed how to pronounce all of the ones used in English.
     You can choose to use sounds that don't exist in English, like how New Orcish (my language) uses the Spanish rolled R, or you can cut out sounds that are actually used in English, just like how New Orcish doesn't use the W sound. One of the cool effects of this, is that you begin to automatically create an accent, which you can continue to develop later. Another example from my language, would be that an orc wouldn't be able to tell the difference between "was" and "oo-uh-z".
     New is also a nice time to decide how different sounds are pronounced, exactly, and also which sounds are more common. Does your language have the curled-tongue vowels used in India? Is it tonal? Which vowels are most common? Do they use more burst-like sounds, (B, P, D, T) or more continuing sounds (M, L, S, R)? Do they tend for sharp sounds, (S, T, H, K) or warm sounds (M, N, R)? Are there any dialects? Which sounds would be dropped in sloppy speech? These all work to make your language unique and give it the depth of a real language, and you haven't even translated anything yet! Many of these things will help to make the accent more pronounced (pun unintended) so that even if the people who speak this language could speak English, it would be very obvious that they are not native speakers. Cool right?
     Though this may seem like one of the more boring parts of making a language (If you think this is boring, though, just wait until you're paging through the dictionary trying to find new words to translate.) it is the most basic and fundamental part. This allows you to make your language, at its foundation, unique from your own, or any other one on the planet. Also, even in the process itself is not all that exciting (really, no part of making a language is) the results certainly are. Starting to hear the accent, creating a particular sound to the language through use of more common sounds, and other similar mini-epiphany moments make it a really cool process. Just like writing a novel, it takes time and dedication.
     Once you have decided on which sounds to use for your language, you can make your own alphabet, or go straight to translating if you want.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have a poetry contest open, which you can find here.

For the next post in this series, click here.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Some of the Most Annoying Mistakes in Romantic Subplots

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

     In honor of Valentine's Day, I decided to compile a list of things that people find most annoying in a romantic subplot. I've gathered these responses from the One Year Adventure Novel forum, so that would be why there are such odd names attached to them.


     The girl who doesn't think she's pretty, but in reality she's smoking hot.

     The guy who says, "You're not like the other girls."

     Love triangles. But a love octagon would be interesting.

     One person always needs to be rescued by the other.


     When they don't belong.

     I hate it when a romantic sub-plot is not relevant to the characters outside of the actual's existing for itself. Plenty of character dev. results from it...but only in relation to romance. In other does nothing to actually do anything to the there's no reason for it. Why should I care?

     Or, when it's the flip. When it becomes all you're supposed to care about. Like...I don't care about if you get the girl or not dude, go stop the Dark Lord...seriously.


     A disregard for what people would actually have time for in the story. Romance will probably not work when you're on a massive all-consuming mission to save humanity and the whole galaxy from a near-unstoppable force. If you have the time and energy to engage in romance, why on earth are you not focusing more on the mission instead?


     Love triangles are demons kill it with fire please.

     I hate when a guy/girl chases someone who doesn't feel the same way for a long time and then suddenly they're like madly in love. That annoys me so much i can't even express it properly.

     Also it annoys me when people fall in love basically at first sight. a week, maybe even a month goes by and suddenly they will do anything for each other and can't keep their eyes off each other.


     Physical expression always being portrayed as the epitome of a romantic relationship, no matter the situation.  This is perhaps more of a moral issue with me, but is that REALLY the only way you can show the recently-widowed Ally's relationship to Ally II (for a random example)? 

     The guy and girl who hate each other and can't stand each other, only to come to love each other desperately by the end of the story.  This annoys me so much, and I've developed a pretty good ability to call it, occasionally even at the INTRODUCTION of Character II.  It can be a good plotline, I suppose, but I've seen far too much of it.

     Turning the Ally into the Love in the second book because the opposite-gender friends are older now, so, of course, that's just how it must work.

     Romantic relationships = best possible kind between any two characters.  Even when they've been firmly established otherwise/ it's forced/ etc.

     Characters in a relationship who nonetheless communicate as well as if they spoke totally different languages, leading to all the conflict.


     Characters that claim they 'need' the other person, and when they would literally let the entire world end just to save that person, and then they do it and it becomes an actual thing that happens in the plot. 


     Number one problem: They're all about The Kiss. Okay, I'm a hopeless romantic and a sucker for cuteness, but love is about more than your first kiss. It's commitment and sacrifice, something that a lot of romance plots and subplots completely disregard. Tangled vs Cinderella, anyone? If you can convince me (by showing me) that these people will stick together through whatever is thrown at them, support and protect each other no matter what, than yes, sure, I'll believe that they're meant to be together. If all you can show me is them making googly eyes and mooning over each other, you can forget it.

     So, there you have it. What a variety of readers/authors think about common mistakes in romantic subplots. Hopefully your readers will be shipping your fictional Valentine's like crazy.

When either person in the romance has no definition outside the other. I.e., they're only there for the other one. They have no thoughts, ambitions, hopes, behaviors, dreams, etc. Ex: Girl is there so the guy has someone to save, but has no purpose. (Not that having to have the guy save her is bad, but it's a negative thing when that's literally all the girl is there for.) Basically the love interest doesn't even have a character outside "the love interest".

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have an art contest open for submissions, see the guidelines here. We also have a poetry contest open, which you can find here. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

3 Things You Can Learn About Villains from J. K. Rowling's Mistakes

Post by Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley, co-founder

      Hated Villains

     Fact is, you probably did hate Umbridge more than you hated Voldemort. Why? Because Umbridge was an awesome villain. She's so wonderfully hateable. It's kind of fun to hate her, and it's really fun to see her punished. However, doesn't this show a little problem? Why do we hate the lady who was mean, cruel, and unfair over the guy who probably murdered hundreds personally, and maybe thousands through his followers?
     One of the reasons, is because she's there. You watch her do these things, and you see the immediate emotional reactions of the characters. Voldemort, well, you only really hear about what he does. This makes it much easier to simply shrug aside his actions and jump onto the sympathy that Rowling presents.
     Possibly worse is the way that Umbridge acts and appears. The simper, the ridiculous clothes, the kittens, the little cough. These things makes everything she does even more infuriating.
     Remember when Harry found out that Umbridge was still employed by the Ministry of Magic? Yup, that's the other thing. She gets away with it for so long. And it's not like Al Capone who everyone knew was bad, because people still thought she was good. People like Fudge condoning her actions was adding insult to injury. But, this wasn't a bad thing, was it? It's a part of why we kept reading; we couldn't stop until we had seen her punished.

     Realistic Power for Villains

     Another sub-villain who has the "up-and-close" advantage is Draco Malfoy. However, there's a problem with him as well. Think of the things he does. He reschedules the Quidditch match. He makes Ron do all the preparing of his ingredients when he's "injured". He takes over the practicing period. And so on. But seriously, would he be able to do all this? I suppose all the stuff pertaining to Buckbeak he could accomplish, because that all relied on his father and Snape. Within Snape's classroom, he had free reign, and that makes sense. But how could he possibly reschedule a Quidditch match? While he may have been Snape's favorite, he wasn't Dumbledore's. This lack of realism takes away from the effect that the injustices should have.
     So, just as you shouldn't let your hero be overly powerful, you shouldn't let your villains be unreasonably powerful. Being evil does not give you perfect acting skills, unlimited knowledge, or a massive wallet. They can have these individually, but they have to have them because they gained it themselves (or inherited it, if you're talking about the wallet) rather than because it makes things harder for the hero.

     Descriptions of Villains

     What does Umbridge look like? A toad. If you've read the books, you understood that. If you only watched the movies, you're going "Huh?" And that's the problem. J. K. Rowling had a love of using animals, or other odd things, to describe people. As a result, when I read her books I find them to be full of talking toads, pugs, and piles of dirty rags. This is extremely annoying, but no matter how hard I try, it's pretty much impossible to erase that first impression from my head. And thus, Pansy Parkinson looks like a pug and Mundungus looks like a pile of dirty rags.
     This is especially problematic with Dung, because a pile of rags simply cannot fit the shape of a human, so I have trouble imagining him as something with even vaguely normal proportions. But is wasn't all bad. Describing Pettigrew as rat-like worked quite well for me. So, a word of caution, don't go over-board with the creative descriptions, though they can sometimes work well.

Elisabeth TenBrink Kelley is an aspiring author and poet. To learn more about her, see our About Us page. You can follow her on Twitter here: @ElisabethGTK.

We have an art contest open for submissions, see the guidelines here. We also have a poetry contest open, which you can find here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Acrostic Poem Contest

     We're back to a poetry contest, so we thought it would be cool to do an acrostic poem contest. No theme, you can write about anything you want (that's appropriate) as long as it's an acrostic.

     Include "acrostic contest" in the subject line.

     Submit to

      Submissions must be attached in doc., docx., or txt format.

     You may include a short, 200 word bio, plus a picture.

     You may also include links, either in your bio or separate from them.

     Submissions must be PG-13 or cleaner.

     ALL rights remain with the creator, we only ask that we be allowed to display your poem and bio on the website and newsletter, but if you would rather we didn't, let us know in the email. It will not impact your chances of winning.

      Please do not include your name in the attached document, only in the body of the email.

     You must be the sole creator of your poem, or have the permission of all the other creators and have been an integral part of making it.

     Previous and simultaneous submissions are welcome.

     You may submit as many pieces as you'd like.

     The deadline is March 20th.

     Results will be published April 1st.

     Send any questions to I hope to see lots of submissions, we love reading your work, and even if you don't win, you have put yourself out there, which takes bravery. Trust me, I know how terrifying the submission process can be.

We have one other contest open, an art contest, which you can find here.

Sacrifice Contest Winner

     Sorry for the lateness, guys, life sure does like to get in the way, doesn't it? Anyway, our first contest with a prize has concluded, and we would like to thank those who submitted. Now, who has won Leah Good's Counted Worthy?
     Daniel Kemmits! Conratulations, Daniel, you have won a digital copy of Leah Good's debut novel! And now, for Daniel's story:

Human Sacrifice


     The two armed men in lab coats stood from behind their desks and saluted as I approached the blast doors. I returned the salute, my ungloved right hand brushing against the fresh scars on my forehead. I dropped my hand and pressed it against the biometric sensor beside the desk, flashing the two guards my ID badge as I did so.

     “You’re clear for entrance, ma’am,” one of them said into the mike on his desk. The triple-layer security was cumbersome, but necessary for what was imprisoned behind these doors.

     The access opened with a hiss of hydraulics, and I strode between the half-meter-thick steel and concrete doors into the containment cell beyond. A brisk wind accompanied me as negative air pressure took over, ensuring nothing kept in containment would leak out into the rest of the base.

     “Gentlemen,” I said, acknowledging the two scientists who stood before a cell wall made of transparent polymer. They nodded at me, barely registering my approach. I reached them and stood for a few moments, tapping my boot toe against the ground. When neither of them looked up I cleared my throat.

     “Gentlemen,” I said again. “The General wants me to assess your progress.” Finally one of them—a scrawny, bearded man with glasses named Finley Cowper—looked up and met my stare.

     “You can take this to the General,” he said, handing me a hard-copy printout. “We got nothing.”

     “Nothing new,” his taller, clean-shaven associate—Sorenson, if I read his name badge right—amended. “It just keeps saying the same things. Over and over and over and over and—“

     “Fine, just let me see it,” I interrupted. Sorenson looked miffed but the two men stood aside. I took their place and stared into the cell.

     I’d seen it before, but the thing still made my skin crawl.

     It was made completely of black metal, coated in a matte oxide finish that reflected almost no light. Human in shape and height, it was skeletal and functioned via gears, hydraulics, and servomotors. Its body was covered in—or consisted of—a segmented armored carapace that allowed complete humanlike movement.

     Most unnerving was its head. An egg-shaped metal case, it had only three angular plates where a face should be, a crest of metal like a deranged Mohawk, and a rounded skull atop a segmented neck. The only feature on the dull surface was a pair of glassy black sensor clusters, roughly where eyes should be.

     It looked like something out of a nightmare, and seeing it sit here, before me, head on one hand like a bored man who’d fallen asleep in his chair, just made it all the more uncanny.

     “What has he been saying?” I asked. Cowper raised an eyebrow.

     “He? Why would you call it that?”

     “I don’t know. It just looked so much like a person—never mind. What do you have for me?”

     “He just keeps saying: ‘What do you want me to do? How can I prove I’m human?’ That’s it. Over and over and over.”

     “Interspersed with the occasional expletive and the opinion that maybe it made the ‘wrong choice’ to ‘defect’ to our side.”

     “Turn on the intercom,” I said, gesturing to the mike by the cell. Cowper shrugged and walked over, flicking a switch and activating a green light.

     “You’re good,” he said. I stepped up to the mike and asked,

     “Can you hear me?”

     The thing’s ‘head’ came up, the lens-eyes focusing on me.

     “I can hear you.” The voice was grating, mechanical, made even worse by the distortion of the intercom system.

     “Are you the one they’ve finally sent to destroy me?” The head seemed to shift, the lenses tracing an invisible line to the Calmsworth-Thompson M49 grenade pistol strapped to my thigh.

     “No, not unless you give me reason to,” I replied, brushing a lock of my fiery orange hair out of my face. “I’ve come to evaluate you, see if you’re as big a security risk as these techs say you are.”

     “Oh, trust me, if I were let out of this cell, I’d kill twenty-five percent of the people in this base before anyone could put me down.” I thought I detected a note of grim humor in the distorted voice.

     “Keep saying things like that, and we’re not very likely to let you out,” I responded. The thing stood up, folding its arms across its chest like a man ready to debate his position.

     “Exactly. But if I’d been programmed to infiltrate this base, saying things like that would be the last thing you’d expect me to do. I’d be saying everything I could to get out. No, like I’ve told these two lab coats here, I’m not a threat. I want to fight for your side. I don’t look it, but I’m human.”

     “No, you are most definitely a machine,” I said. “That is a physically confirmed fact.”

     “That’s not what I meant,” it snarled, unfolding its arms and clenching its fists. A very, very human gesture.

     “I’ve told these two over-educated squints and I’ll tell you: I am the consciousness of a wounded soldier, copied moments before death, into a robotic body.”

    “Prove it,” I said. I heard a little gasp behind me and muted the intercom.

     “Please tell me you already told it that,” I said, without looking over my shoulder. Both men stammered for a moment, then Sorenson said,

     “I thought proving it human was our job.”

     I growled under my breath. The thing had kept asking them the question, how to prove it was human, and the two idiots had completely ignored it.

     Well, good thing I was here. I turned the mike back on.

     “Is there a problem?” the machine in the cell asked. “I was just asking how you want me to fulfill your request.”

     I thought for a moment, thinking back over everything my mother taught me, everything I learned in Sunday school and Church, everything I thought the war had burned out of me…


     “What?” I asked. Though distorted, the tone was not of incredulity but simple incomprehension.

     “Sacrifice something,” I replied.

     “Alright, give me a weapon and assign me your most dangerous missions.”

     “Not good enough,” I said. “As a soldier for the other side, you performed many dangerous and daring tasks. That’s no sacrifice, that’s what you were created for. Regardless of how that creation came about. No, I mean for you to sacrifice what matters most to you. What you want. Assuming, of course, you have any wants at all.”

     The machine stepped closer to the cell wall, arms crossed again.

     “I want to be human again. I want to feel. I want to be able to touch someone and feel with my skin. Not just the rough facsimile I get through these.” It held its fingers in the air and waved them back and forth in front of me.

     “But you’ll die. You said you were injured.”

     “I believe, if they were not looking for candidates to this program, I could have been saved. Besides, who would want to outlive everyone they ever knew? Who would want that, even if it came with being able to shrug off bullets or fall from ten stories and walk away unhurt? No, I’d rather die and feel my death, than go on in this touchless prison."

     “But if you want me to prove I’m human, I’ll destroy the facility that created me. Make sure that nobody else goes through what I have. And in so doing destroy my only hope of escaping this living Hell.”




     “I think he’s telling the truth.”

     I leaned forward on crossed arms, resting my elbows on the cool wood of the conference room table. Around me, other officers sat, their somber blue and green uniforms blending well with the muted light reflected from the dark wood paneling of the room. From beneath the tattered Old Glory hanging at the head of the room, Army General Archer Fleming cocked his head.

     “Excuse me, Major?” he asked. “You actually believe that thing?”

     “Yes, General, I do,” I replied. “I think it—he—is telling the truth, and will do what he says. I request authorization to release him and accompany him to this facility.”

     “Has he told you where it is?”

     “Yes, sir, he has.” I reached out and inserted a card into the projector at the center of the table. It flashed a map up onto the blank white wall at the far end of the room. Twisting in my chair, I pulled out a laser pointer and aimed it at points on the projection.

     “Here, as you can see, is the facility. It’s located in the center of Rochester, Minnesota. My guess is that the Rebels took over the old Mayo Clinic surgical facilities there and started using them. They used to have a lot of computer and manufacturing business there, so it’s not a bad choice, really, to create a mechanical soldier like this. The infrastructure is in place or could be easily rebuilt.”

     “That’s assuming this thing is telling the truth.” That comment came from Major General Harriet Oswald, representing the Air Force. She raised a delicate grey eyebrow, her smooth skin and sophisticatedly salt-and-pepper hair at odds with the tough fighter I knew her to be.

     “I don’t understand, General,” I said.

     “We are talking about a Spartan X3 Combat Drone here. They’re the nastiest piece of hardware the Rebels have come up with yet, and there’s no reason to believe they couldn’t have programmed some basic lying into its survival coding.”

     “There’s no reason to believe they did, either,” I replied. “And to be honest, General, what the drone in the holding cell came up with is far from basic. I mean, it’s highly improbable, on the face of it. Requiring far more creativity than the average combat drone, or even an above-average one, should be able to display. No, I think he’s telling the truth. We know these facilities exist in Rochester, and we know the Rebels hold the city. It’s not out of the question for them to be manufacturing these things there.”

     “We’re all busy, General, so how about we cut to the point where Major Tymon tells us her actual proposal.” I looked to my right, locking stares for a moment with Colonel Anton Alens, the Marine Corps representative. “It’s always interesting to hear what you Army types cook up.” Though his words were mocking, I heard the grudging respect in them as well. Though our branches were bitter rivals, the dark-skinned Colonel and I had worked together too often not to develop a rapport of sorts. Though he was only a Colonel, he acted in the capacity of General since the death or defection of his superior officers. His opinion carried a lot of weight with the Armed Forces Council, and if I could get him to agree to my plan, I was almost assured a green light.

     “Thank you, Colonel,” I said. “I propose a strike on the facility, to knock it out if it’s a simple manufacturing operation, or to reunite these men with their bodies and then destroy the facility if it is indeed a transfer site for human consciousness. We’ve known for some time the Rebels were working towards a goal of Transhumanism of some sort, so if this is true it wouldn’t be a complete surprise.”

     “And who do you propose to participate in this strike?” General Fleming asked.

     “Myself and the drone. No more.”

     “What?” General Oswald tried to turn the exclamation into a courteous question halfway through, but failed. “You intend to accompany that thing into enemy territory? On questionable intelligence and for questionable gain?”

     “Yes, General, I do. My reasons are thus: If he is telling the truth, a small strike force will be more likely to succeed than a large one. If he is lying, we will lose only one person rather than an entire squad or company.”

“There’s another reason, isn’t there?” Alens asked. He knew me too well.

     “Yes, sir, there is. He—the machine—proposed that, to prove his humanity, he be allowed to destroy the facility that made him what he is. He also offered to destroy his human body, effectively trapping himself in a world he referred to as a ‘living Hell.’ If he is willing to do this, it will prove that he is human. All combat drones are programmed to preserve the facility that created them. That’s why we can’t get hijacked drones to fly into factories. It’s hard-wired into them. If he’s telling the truth, it’ll prove he’s human.”

     “And if it’s lying?” Oswald pressed. I shrugged.

     “Then I’m standing next to him with a grenade pistol to blow his head off. Any sign of false motives on his part, I’ll blast him and make my way back to enemy lines. It’s not like I’ve never done that before.” Even Oswald smiled a bit at my wry humor. I’d become known as the “Cat-soldier” for my seemingly inexhaustible amount of “lives” I possessed. Presumed dead more than once, I always came back alive.

     “When would you propose leaving?” Fleming asked.

     “Yesterday,” I said. “I’d need minimal time to prepare weapons and gear, then arrange transport into enemy territory. I think, actually, that our drone could be of great help in that regard.”




     “Keep moving. No stopping.” The drone behind me—whom I’d taken to calling Razor after his head ridge, prodded me with his rifle. “Prisoners are not allowed to cease moving until they reach the processing area.”

     Razor kept pushing me forward, occasionally with his hand, sometimes with his gun. We advanced quickly, but not so fast that I couldn’t see what was around me.

     It had changed quite a lot since I came here before the war.

     The glass-and-marble buildings of the clinic complex, some of the soaring to over twenty stories that made a Kansas flatlands girl like me feel tiny and hemmed in, were now mostly repaired. I marveled at how quickly the Rebels had fixed the damage their takeover of the city had caused.

     Razor pushed me down a street between the largest of the buildings—and edifice of shining glass and forbidding grey marble—and a garrison building that I think started life as a parking garage. We meshed in with the other prisoners crowding the street, some being herded into the building to my right, some into the barracks to the left. Everyone shrank away from Razor as the menacing black machine pushed me onwards. As he shoved me through the throng of disheveled, dispirited souls, I picked out the tattered remains of some Federal uniforms. I didn’t recognize them, but then even with half the population of the old country the Federal States still fielded a massive army.

     We arrived at what had once been an expansive glass-fronted entrance. Now, instead of the gently undulating transparent panels and revolving door, it was a simple slab of concrete straight across, with a single metal door that retracted upwards as we approached. The two human guards didn’t even bat an eye as we passed.

     Razor took me inside the building, across the atrium. Once it had glittered with marble and blown glass sculptures. Now it glowered dull and concrete grey, with no hint of the former splendor. Razor turned left, took me down a high, arch-ceilinged hallway, and stopped at a set of elevators. He punched a button, summoning a car. The door opened to the steel-walled interior, and he stepped in after me. The door closed and we began ascending.

     “Do you trust me?” he asked, not looking at me. I glanced down at his rifle barrel, with almost brushed my stomach as I stood beside him. One twitch of his finger and he could open me up like a sack of rotten fruit.

     “You haven’t given me reason not to.”

     “What a lovely, evasive, answer.” Razor reached into the combat chest rig he wore and pulled out my grenade pistol.

     “I am trusting you.” He handed it to me, along with a magazine of grenades. The variable-munitions pistol was capable of blowing the drone’s head off from twenty yards. In the confines of this building, if I wanted him dead, he’d have no chance.

     The door opened on the third floor and we stepped out.

     “Follow me,” Razor said, turning right and coming up against a walled-off hallway and a trio of guards watching over the door.

     “Hold it there, drone,” One of them said, putting out a hand to forestall Razor’s progress. “You’re not allowed in here. Humans only.”

    “I am human,” he intoned, his inflectionless voice somehow growing more menacing. He took a blindingly fast step, grabbed the guard in a wrist lock, and hurled him to the side. He crashed into the wall with a sickening thud and lay limp.

     The other two guards tried to bring their weapons to bear but were too slow. Not using his rifle at all, Razor moved like a kung-fu master. He leapt into the air and scythed out a leg, catching one man on the temple and sending him crashing back into the door. As he completed his midair spin he snapped out a fist, catching the final guard in the sternum and flinging him over his shoulder and past us to land in a heap in the hallway behind us.

     I hadn’t even chambered a round in my pistol.

      “The cameras will have seen that,” Razor said, gesturing to the recording devices in the corners above the door. As he finished speaking, an alarm began blaring around us. I guessed the delay was due to the fact they hadn’t expected a rogue drone in their facility.

     “Open the door,” Razor said, gesturing to the lock panel. I took aim and fired. One of the miniature rocket-propelled grenades streaked out, its shaped-charge warhead detonating against the lock plate and burning through it and the door. Razor stepped up and kicked the door inward, then rushed through.

     The light inside was all in the red spectrum, throwing shadows into deeper darkness and casting the reflective points into high relief. All along the walls were tanks or pods—I wasn’t sure what to call them. Inside were bodies. Human bodies.

     All of them were male, most of them young, and all bore the scars of grievous injuries. They were being kept alive by breathing apparatuses, their flesh surrounded by some kind of preservative fluid. The sight of it, scores if not hundreds lining the hallway and the ones branching off from it, made my flesh crawl.

     “My God, you really were telling the truth,” I breathed.

     “Now do you trust me?” Razor asked.


     “Good. Then let’s get started.”

     I followed him at a dead run down the hallway. Halfway down a guard came barreling around a corner and slammed into us. Razor used his rifle like a club to smash the man out of the way. Behind us I heard shouts, a shot cracking though the sterile, chilled air, and a near-miss sparked off a pod divider. I turned and fired a round, blasting a crater in the ceiling and showering our pursuers with tile fragments.

     Razor raced around a corner and yanked me into a control room. He slammed the door behind us and locked it.

     “This room is triple-secure. They will need to bring in a cutter to get at us.” He brought the lights up to workable level, and I looked around.

     It was a small control room. There was a large bank of computers on the left wall, and a variety of surgical equipment on the right hand side of the room. Across from me was one of the pods. Inside was a handsome man of middle height, with the rakish look of a Mexican bandit prince. His good looks were only marred by the horrible burn on the left side of his face that continued down onto his shoulder and emanated from a terrific slash wound scar across his collarbone.

     “Say hello to me,” Razor said, gesturing at the pod while he began rattling away at the keys on the computers.

     “This is your body?” I asked. He swiveled his head, and his eyeless face seemed to glare at me.

     “No, that is me. Now let me work.” I held my tongue, focusing on the door to the outside. I could hear angry voices shouting and boots banging against the metal surface, but so far nothing seemed to be getting in.

     “What are you doing?” I asked. Razor didn’t look at me.

     “I’m turning on the fire suppression system…now.” He hit a button, and from outside I heard a hiss coupled with shouts of alarm and panic. I heard a mad scramble as feet beat a hasty retreat from the door.

     “That should clear the hallways,” he said. He tapped at a few more keys, then cursed.

     “What?” I asked, coming to stand next to him. A great red lockout icon flashed on the screen.

     “I tried to download the consciousnesses of the drones back into their bodies. I can’t get into the system.” He handed me his rifle, then continued tapping away at the keys.

     “Do you think you can get out of this building alive?” he asked, not looking at me.

     “Probably. This is my specialty. Why?” A sneaking suspicion began to coil in my gut like an icy snake.

     “Because I can’t get into the download function, but I have gained access to the killswitch protocols. I am going to destroy every drone on the battlefield.

     “But you’ve exempted yourself, right?” I asked, trying to keep the worry from my voice. I failed.

     “No, it is a looser-take-all system. We all go at once.” He twitched his head to take in the body he’d never use again.

     “I have initiated an overload of the floor’s independent power plant. They designed me too well. I was meant for infiltration and assassination; now they have to live with the consequences.” He turned to look at me at last.

     “You have twenty minutes to make it out of the building.”

     “You don’t have to do this,” I whispered, placing my hand on his metal cheek. He lifted his own cold steel digits to cover mine.

    “Even Oswald will believe you now. Come with me, we can bring something back to prove this place is what you say.”

     “No. I gave my word I would sacrifice myself. This is the only way.” He pulled my hand away from his faceplate and folded it in both of his.

     “Thank you, Major Tymon.”

     “Call me Ember,” I said, forcing the words past the lump in my throat. He nodded once.

     “Thank you, Ember.” He let go of my hand and poised his finger over a key. You had better start running.”

     I swallowed, a single tear running down my face. I barely knew this man, trapped in his mechanical body, but he was willing to give his life for me.

     “The hall should have cleared of gas. Go while you have time.” He shrugged off his combat rig and handed it to me.

     “God bless you,” I said, not knowing what else to say. Was it my imagination, or did the light reflect off his face like a smile?

     “He already has. I’ll see you again, Ember. Now go.”

     He pressed the button and collapsed into a heap of parts on the floor. Biting back a sob I opened the door and raced out.

     I made it down and through two blocks before the lab floor detonated.

About Daniel Kemmits: I am a 20-year-old Christian writer, homeschool graduate, and art student. I enjoy time with family, reading, history, shooting sports, the outdoors, art, and of course writing. I scored semi-finalist in an international novel competition with my first and second novels and have been published in the outdoors journal Backwoodsman Magazine. 

We have an art contest, which you can find here, and a poetry contest, which you can find here.