JM Williams

A home for all things fantasy and sci-fi.

Updates, and Going AWOL (Again!)


Hello Everyone,

I might be AWOL for a long while. I will be heading off for about six weeks of legal and leadership training tomorrow. At this point, I am not sure what sort of internet connection I will have at my destination, nor how much free time I will have. As such, it could be some time before I have a chance to post again, so I’d like to put out some info before I depart.

First, I have finished the final edits for my novella The NightingaleNightingale - Frontwhich I will be publishing with Fantasia Divinity. The book is scheduled to release in late April, but the publisher plans to open up preorders around a month or so in advance.

What is The Nightingale, you ask? It is a traditional fantasy retelling of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the same name. My story follows a young woman named Kari, who is struggling to make sense of her life when a fateful encounter with the titular bird changes everything.


On the other side of things, I have finished the drafts of my first season of Call of the Guardian, which is being published by a Fiction Vortex. You can think of this as finishing the draft of the first novel in a two-part series. Somebody told me it was an accomplishment worth celebrating, and I agree! Now that the drafts are complete, I will soon go back and do revisions on the 10 episodes that are included in the season. When I finish the revisions, the episodes will start to go live on the publisher’s digital platform Fictionite. Shortly after, the entire season will be available as a novel, both digital and in print. I expect this all to start around May.

What is Call of the Guardian? High fantasy featuring dragons and unicorns! Here’s a short synopsis:

Draven is the last of the Guardians, that order of magical warriors created long ago by a small group of dissenting dragons who opposed the dark yearnings of their kin. As the feudal dragon lords dive further into perpetual war, the dissenters, and the humans they once guided, fall victim to their wrath. When his village is attacked by a new race of draconic slaves, Draven and his dragon mentor are forced to fight back. A tale of fellowship and struggle as true as any of the ancient legends of Soria.

* * *

On a totally different tangent, my blog was nominated for another award by the wonderful Richie Billing. For those of you who don’t know, he is a fantasy author and blogger with whom I interact with on a regular basis. He routinely writes on medieval history and key concepts, which are very useful for a certain type of fantasy writer. I would strongly suggest you visit his site, as there is a lot of good information there.


The award in question is the Liebster Award, the rules for which can be found HERE. Since I recently posted another award, I will limit this one to responding to Richie’s questions, as I feel I owe him that much for nominating me. I will not, however, offer my own nominations this time.

1. Desert Island: You can pick 3 books to read on your desert island. What would you pick and why?

I’m going to cheat on this one and pick The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as my first book, since you can get it in one volume. I think my reasons for picking this one would be obvious, as it is one of the deepest and yet most engaging fantasy tales ever told. The second book would be a survival guide of some sort, maybe The Ranger Handbook. Last would be an empty journal, so I can keep track of the days and the crazy voices that I meet in my isolation.

2. Come Dine With Me: Which three characters from novels/stories would you choose to spend a night of dining with?

The first would be a hobbit, not sure which one, probably doesn’t matter. This is because they know how to eat. Second breakfast? Yes, please! Second would be Samuel Vimes, from my beloved Discworld series. Last, and again I will cheat a bit, would be my own Storm Hamilton. Though I’ve created the man, I still feel like there so much I don’t know about him. If you’d like to meet him, one of his stories will be published by Bards and Sages in July.

3. What advice would you give to any new blogger?

Interaction is the key to building a following, and to finding new friends. I am not as active as I should be, preferring to focus on my writing, and my following has suffered. Blogging requires a lot more time and effort than I first imagined.

4. Where’s your favourite place to write?

I don’t have a favorite place to write. I typically write sitting on my living room sofa, with my laptop on a TV tray. It is not very comfortable. But the room that used to be the computer room is now the cats’ main bathroom, so that’s out. Going to coffee shops can be fun from time to time, but I find the music and noise to be distracting.

5. An easy, or maybe a hard one to end with. Describe your current work in progress in three words.

Too many WIPs.

* * *

In other writing news, I am currently awaiting the results of the 1st quarter of the 2018 Writers of the Future Contest. In my humble opinion, I think the story I sent this time was one of my best and has a decent chance of getting some recognition. I’ve also got another story doing the rounds which got a personal response from the editor of Abyss & Apex, a near-pro SF mag, suggesting the story had almost made the cut. After some revisions, I sent it out again to another pub. Like the one currently with Writers of the Future, I find this story to be one of my best and most compelling. And speaking of Storm Hamilton, I recently wrote two new stories, one for a specific anthology theme. I’d love to break into the general mystery market with my hard-boiled SF detective.

Well that about covers it for now. I hope you all are being productive. At least the cold is gone! Wish me luck as I study military law in Virginia!

Thanks for reading.


Eternal Segregation–3LineTales


photo by Jeremy Bishop

No matter how hard she strained, she could not reach the green trees beyond the beach; the sea always pulled her back into his ancient embrace. She had seem them grow from saplings to giants, tall and beautiful, close but untouchable friends. The ultimate curse of being a water elemental was separation.

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales Week 109 photo prompt.

Thanks for reading!


The Lies of Locke Lamora — Initial Impressions



So I’ve finally started digging into some modern fantasy. All cards on the table, though, this came only after I gave up on “A Princess of Mars”, which is supposed to be science fiction, but really isn’t. I would probably count that book as fantasy as well, but it’s far from modern.

“The Lies of Locke Lamora” has come up in many lists on many blogs and fantasy sites. In fact, I’ve had it on my phone, waiting to be heard, for some time. That time came yesterday, when I was on a long drive and in need of a book, after the previously mentioned deadlock with Burroughs.

So far the book is proving to be a mixed bag. I noticed several problems from the start, most significantly the sheer overload of exposition and info-dumping. Ever new scene, it seems, starts with an info dump. Maybe things have changed in the last decade, but I’ve always felt, from my learning and experience, that scenes should start with action and that world-building should be done, as much as possible, with action and dialogue rather than exposition. It seems Lynch didn’t get that memo. There’s simply too much world-building in the opening pages, rather than character and action, you know, the stuff that draws a reader (or in this case listener) in emotionally. It also gets to the point where it seems the author is gloating about how fine a world he has crafted, rather than telling us the story. Much of it seems unnecessary at the time of delivery.

The book also doesn’t do a great job of distancing itself from common tropes, particularly the child-thieves (or thieves in general) concept, or from its generic (if well-designed) fantasy setting. I imagine that is going to come later with the plot and the character.

I wonder if being a writer myself has made me too critical of storytelling in many forms, not just fiction but also film.

It is those two things, plot and character, that have managed to secure my interest thus far. I found the humorous backstory of Locke’s exploits as a new thief to be highly entertaining, enough to want to see where his character goes.

So, I’m going to keep listening to this one, for a while at least. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Must Every SF/F Work be a Series?


Asking for a friend.


Actually, I’ve just started listening to the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast–yes, I know I am a bit late to that game–and the first episode I chose dealt primarily with writing series.

Here’s my thing: I generally find the idea of planned series to be morally objectionable. More often than not today, works are developed into series solely for marketing and profit concerns, not because the story requires it. This often leads to stories that could be completed in one volume being broken up and expanded for the sake of serialization and increased sales. This isn’t just a book thing; look at how taken Hollywood is with series, sequels and reboots. Hollywood even took the last book of already a long, repetitive series and split it into two films (Mockingjay). It has always struck me as a dishonest way to treat customers.

The author interviewed during the podcast episode in question, and one of the hosts even, discussed planning works as a series from the outset, and going from one series into a new series.

Of course, there are may benefits for a author writing series. Among those discussed on the podcast were expanding the author’s presence, being able to promote book 2 when you do launch and release events for book 1, and having intersecting works to keep readers engaged (read: strung along).

But what are the benefits of series for the reader? I’m a consumerist by ideology, and I think the needs and rights of customers should have primary emphasis. Yeah, I might be in the wrong business. Also, as a writer and storyteller, I think the story should take primacy over marketing concerns. But this is probably an easy way to not be successful in the current market.

Speaking of consumerism, the second episode I listened to dealt with an equally troubling problem in my mind: preorders.

As with series, there are benefits to authors doing preorders–the ability to promote unreleased works at the launch events of earlier volumes being, again, a primary one. But the current preorder, early access culture of entertainment is ripe for abuse.

One such issue was brought up during the discussion that represents precisely why preordes are problematic, and both the hosts and the person being interviewed (the founder of SmashWords) were far on the wrong side, as far as I am concerned. The problem of missing released dates was mentioned, and the SmashWords founder criticized Amazon for punishing authors who missed their prerelease deadlines, while staing his platform would never do so. He even went as far to suggest it was okay for authors to be late by weeks. No mention was made on how this would affect readers.

Why shouldn’t authors who miss their deadlines face repercussions? How is it acceptable for an author to break their promise to consumers, ones who have already given up their money in return for nothing but such promises? How can that be acceptable behavior?

I don’t plan to begin writing series after series. While I have some works that have the potential for sequels, I did not write them with that in mind, and I don’t plan on writing my future novels and novellas that way either. I am all for writing multiple stories in the same setting, with the same characters (such as my Storm Hamilton stories), I write each to stand alone. The exception being my fantasy series Call of the Guardian, but that was written for a serial publisher. Even so, I only have two seasons of that series planned, not three or six or ten. If I write more in that setting, I plan them to be independent spin-offs.

So my question for all of you is: does everything have to be a series? Must we use exploitative marketing techniques like serial planning, preorders, and other things that are not in the best interest of our customers?

I am really torn by this. I want to be successful and make money, but I also want to follow my moral views as well. Is that even possible?

I’d love to hear what you have to think about this.

Thanks for reading.



My First Promo Video


If you missed the video (because you haven’t signed up for my newsletter), here it is for the rest of you.

Tell me what you think and feel free to leave comments here or on the YouTube page.


My Review of “I Shall Wear Midnight” by Terry Pratchett


I Shall Wear Midnight (Discworld, #38; Tiffany Aching, #4)I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t really like this book as much as some of the other Discworld novels. Of course, dislike is a relative thing–not liking a Discworld book is very different from not liking, say, a Stephen King book.

This novel has a very straightforward, linear plot. The easiness of this book is certainly due to its younger target audience. I found the climax to be rather anti-climatic, an event that just sort of happens as other things happen. Tiffany manages to defeat the threat that follows her through the entire book a bit too easily. This devalues the prior tension quite a bit. The relationship “twist” at the end is rather expected, but I was delighted to see it happen nonetheless. I would have been rather mad if Pratchett turned away from the implied romance, though was happy it wasn’t stuffed into the core narrative.

I find Pratchett is at his best when the plots are complex, the story is scattered and even a bit confusing at the start. The best books start out with you wondering for a bit what exactly is going on, but at the end all the threads come together. The Watch novels are probably the best example. This book lacks in such complexity.

Even so, the book does have some interesting things to say. Pratchett always uses his books to examine and satirize the real world. This is one of the things that makes his work so enduring. In that case of I Shall Wear Midnight, Pratchett digs at power relationships, hierarchy, and the concept of duty. At its center is the question of what it means to be a witch, and where such a person (or any person) falls into the established order. This question takes up most of Tiffany’s time, and results in the most relevant satire in the work.

In general, a decent book but more appropriate for the clear young adult target audience than for someone like myself. Not in my top ten of the Discworld novels, but a good effort.

View all my reviews

Sun-shaded Self — 3LineTales


photo by Daniel Garcia

Yellow was the color of the fiery sun; it was his color–or her color. He was no longer clear on which it should be. He was Apollo, god(ess) of the sun and charioteer(ess?) of the sky, after all; what did it matter the form she took?

*Written as a response to the Three Line Tales Week 108 photo prompt.

Author’s Note: I had not planned to do something gender-norm subversive, it just came to me. The brilliant yellow in the photo screamed “Apollo” to me, but those legs were clearly, at least to me, female. The rest simply followed that train of thought. As I understand, Apollo was not the original sun-charioteer. That was Helios, a titan rather than Olympian god. But the later poets eventually blended the two. That’s good enough for my purposes here.

In Memoriam–3LineTales


The display was a secret code, a hidden lamentation right there at the corner of his desk. Two books representing two camps, three roses for three like-hearted comrades. And the spools of thread…those were for the prisoners he had failed to save.

*Written as a response to the Three Lines Tales Week 107 photo prompt.

Quotes from Discworld 38, Part 2



I haven’t made a whole lot of progress on the book since the last post. Other things have been taking up all my time. There was the Lunar New Year, which is big here in the East, though not as much for my wife’s family. Still we had to go out to meet people and eat too much food. Not that I can complain about the latter part.

I also worked on the drafts for two new Storm Hamilton stories, which I plan to send out at the end of the month. The stories actually came to mind when I stumbled on a couple new publishers.

But I did make some progress on I Shall Wear Midnight. Pratchett’s skill at description,  both of characters and situations, stood out to me this time. Sir Terry always had the uncanny ability to write something completely ridiculous and yet perfectly clear and appropriate. At times his crazy way of approaching descriptions works even better that a straight-forward method would.

For example, there is this passage where he is describing Letitia, the mean duchess’s wishy-washy daughter (and Tiffany’s rival for the attention of the young baron Roland):

Her hobby, and quite possibly one activity in life, was painting in watercolours, and although Tiffany was trying, against the worst of her instincts, to be generous to the girl, there was no denying that she looked like a watercolour – and not just a watercolour, but a watercolour painted by someone who had not much colour but large supplies of water, giving her the impression of not only being colourless but also rather damp. You could add, too, that there was so little of her that in a storm it might be quite possible that she would snap. Unseen as she was, Tiffany felt just the tiniest pang of guilt and stopped inventing other nasty things to think. Besides, compassion was setting in, blast it!

This description is so dense; there is so much here. When we first meet Letitia, she is portrayed as bland and emotionless–in other words, colorless. She is also see as weak, being pushed around by her mother and others (“there was so little of her”). But this passage marks a turning point in how Tiffany, and the reader, views the girl. Letitia begins to deepen and even shine as a character. Over the stretch of the entire story, her development is masterfully done.

Another thing that Pratchett does well is dialogue and character interaction. He has great pacing and the humorous descriptive bits in between what is said serve to amplify the tone of the dialogue.

This is my favorite exchange (in part because the duchess had it coming for a while):

‘You there! Yes! You there in the shadows! Are you lollygagging?’ [the Duchess said].

This time she [Tiffany] paid attention. All that thinking had meant that she hadn’t paid enough attention to her little don’t-see-me trick. She stepped out of the shadows, which meant that the pointy black hat was not just a shadow. The Duchess glared at it.

It was time for Tiffany to break the ice, even though it was so thick as to require an axe. She said politely, ‘I don’t know how to lollygag, madam, but I will do my best.’

‘What? What! What did you call me?’

The people in the hall were learning fast and they were scuttling as quickly as they could to get out of the place, because the Duchess’s tone of voice was a storm warning, and nobody likes to be out in a storm.

The sudden rage overtook Tiffany. It wasn’t as if she had done anything to deserve being shouted at like that. She said, ‘I’m sorry, madam; I did not call you anything, to the best of my belief.’

This did not do anything to help; the Duchess’s eyes narrowed. ‘Oh, I know you. The witch – the witch girl who followed us to the city on who knows what dark errand? Oh, we know about witches where I’m from! Meddlers, sowers of doubt, breeders of discontent, lacking all morality, and charlatans into the bargain!’

The Duchess pulled herself right up and glowered at Tiffany as if she had just won a decisive victory. She tapped her cane on the ground.

Tiffany said nothing, but nothing was hard to say. She could sense the watching servants behind curtains and pillars, or peering around doors. The woman was smirking, and really needed that smirk removed, because Tiffany owed it to all witches to show the world that a witch could not be treated like this. On the other hand, if Tiffany spoke her mind it would certainly be taken out on the servants. This needed some delicate wording. It did not get it, because the old bat gave a nasty little snigger and said, ‘Well, child? Aren’t you going to try to turn me into some kind of unspeakable creature?’

Tiffany tried. She really tried. But there are times when things are just too much. She took a deep breath.

‘I don’t think I shall bother, madam, seeing as you are making such a good job of it yourself!’

I don’t know what else can be said about this passage. It’s like a perfect joke. There’s the setup, and then, with perfect timing, the punchline. I was enjoying the work in audiobook format.  Stephen Briggs has been the primary Discworld narrator for some time, and his delivery is just perfect. 

It’s rather funny that this bit of conflict begins with a miscommunication and a differing understanding of the meaning of words. More humorous is the choice to use a word like “lollygagging” which is almost out of place in this setting. As a mid-19th century word, it is a bit recent, even for the industrialized Discworld. I don’t know if Pratchett is trying to suggest that the duchess is a person who tries to be on the top of fashion and culture trends. It does exemplify the cultural distance between her and Tiffany very well–not only in class and rank (at least in the duchess’s mind), but also in culture, urban versus rural.

But mostly, this is a great example of Pratchett giving us his usual morally-strong characters. Unlike the colorless Leticia, Tiffany is not willing to stand around and take the duchess’s abuse. For good or bad, Pratchett’s leads are typically morally straight and as this passage shows, morality is often an important aspect of the conflicts in his work.

I hope you enjoyed these two quotes. As I mentioned in the last post, if you haven’t read a Discworld novel before, I strongly urge you to give one a try. The best place to start, in my mind, would be with Small Gods or Monstrous Regiment, which are two of my favorites and are both stand-alone stories.

Thanks for reading!


The Problems with Quirky Dialogue Tags


This is just bad advice. Said will never be dead, because said is better writing.

I saw this image come across my Facebook feed the other day and felt it would make a good little writing post. There were a lot of comments on the post, and even the ones that argued against fancy dialogue tags didn’t seem to understand why that was an important rule.

While it is important to know the rules of writing (or any other activity), it is equally important to know why the rules are important. If you don’t understand the why, you might get duped into following a bad rule (such as “said is dead”). Also if you don’t understand the rule, you won’t know when it is appropriate to break the rule.

I have worked with writers and editors who have learned the rules, but did not understand them. One editor called me out for my use of adverbs in a flash story (there were only 7 in the whole piece!) without considering and recognizing that there was no alternative language to be used in their stead (how else would you describe an animal “slowly rising to its feet”?). In order to use our words at their best, we have to understand the reasoning behind the writing rules we follow.

In this case, some of the commenters mentioned one of the reasons why complex dialogue tags should be avoided: it can be jarring, can draw the reader out of the POV. Often times the use of “said” becomes invisible, the reader only noticing the who and not the how.

But there is a more fundamental problem with these dialogue tags, one that I have often seen in writing I have edited and reviews. It is the same fundamental problem with adverbs behind the rule to avoid them as well, especially -ly adverbs and especially in conjunction with dialogue tags. The problem is they are usually unnecessary.

Good writing is that which examines each and every word, forcing each to earn its place in the prose. Redundancy and over explanation should be avoided when at all possible. There are two ways that dialogue tags become unnecessary and unwanted: 1) they are redundant, 2) they tell rather than show.

In the first case, complex dialogue tags are often unnecessary, or should be unnecessary. There is no need to use the word “shouted” if the dialogue is “Get off my lawn!”–the exclamation point and what is being said tells the reader this is being shouted. So any extra dialogue tag is unwarranted. The best way to convey a sense of how something is being said, is to write the dialogue in a manner that will show this. Instead of “stuttered,” you can write it into the dialogue–“I-I D-don’t n-n-know.” Same with things like “huffed” or “stammered”–try “I…didn’t…see…where he went,” she said, struggling to catch her breath. Good writing should convey the meaning inherent in the tag in the dialogue itself, rendering it redundant.

Which leads to the second issue, telling instead of showing. Telling the reader that the character “fumed” doesn’t actually show anything. You are telling the reader, “this character feels angry,” and generally speaking, it is better to show emotion. Instead of “I hate this!” he fumed, try “I hate this!” he said, throwing the book hard into the ground. Give your reader a tangible action to witness, if it is important to call any attention to emotions or  behavior. (It typically isn’t, as the dialogue should carry the tone mostly without actions. Nothing is worse than having an action after every line of dialogue.)

Lastly, some of these are simply not dialogue tags. A person cannot physically laugh, giggle, or grunt out words. That is contrary to what these words mean.  If you want to show a character laughing in conjunction with a statement, that requires a separate sentence. Not “You look like you’ve been having quite a day,” he laughed–but rather “You look like you’ve been having quite a day.” He laughed. That is the only logical way to use such verbs, based on their very definitions. Also, thinking tags such as thought, wondered, or pondered are not speaking and thus cannot replace said, as this chart seems to suggest. That’s just silly.

I think there are a lot of writers out there who are hell-bent on doing things their way, rules be damned. Indeed some of the comments on the Facebook post were along the lines of “Even famous writers break the rules, so what do they matter, and who are these academics to tell me what to do.” That’s a fine attitude to have, if you don’t care whether you’ll be published or not.

Yes, established writers do break the rules. But often it is because they know how to break the rules because they understand the reasoning behind the rules. And of course, any writer or editor cannot catch every mistake. This is not the same as it not being a mistake. And this does not mean an amateur writer can get away with the same behavior.

A new writer is under much greater scrutiny than a veteran. All you are doing, by using flamboyant dialogue tags in your writing, is throwing up red flags and giving editors an excuse to reject you. Don’t do it.

Of course, like any rule, there are times when this one should be broken. Maybe you’re short on space, or the dialogue just can’t convey the exact meaning you want. There are times when a more meaningful alternative might be appropriate (but never quaked, belted, requested, or numerous other bad examples in this list). Like with adverbs, you should consider carefully each and every violation of the rule, ensuring it is justified (you should, in fact, be doing this with every single word in your prose, but we are all only human).

Well, those are my thoughts. I hope they help you improve your writing. I know thinking about these sorts of things helps mine!

Thanks for reading.