admin on December 28th, 2013

Rustycon31, The First SciFi and Fantasy Convention of the New Year in the Puget SoundThe first Science fiction and Fantasy convention of the New Year in the greater Seattle area has announced panelists.

Rustycon is held at the Seattle Airport Marriott Hotel January 17-19 2014. Here’s a list of the panels I’m on, and you can find the full schedule on the Rustycon website. Hope to see you there!

Sat Jan 18 10:00:am Sat Jan 18 11:00:am Art of Editing
Spokane What drives an editor to drink…or simply pass by…your submission.
Chad Brink Heather Roulo Katie Cord Rebecca Birch Tim Nightengale
Sat Jan 18 1:00:pm Sat Jan 18 2:00:pm The Undead Have Attacked, Now What?
Snoqualmie 2 Lets talk about the things that go “Braaaaiiiinsss” in the night and many ways to combat them along with your fears. Drawing from readings, movies, games, and general knowledge on how to defeat the undead.
Alaina Ewing Heather Roulo Katie Cord Richard Gilmore Steve Perry Todd Tepper
Sat Jan 18 4:00:pm Sat Jan 18 5:00:pm Joss Whedon & His Universes
Everett Come discuss the Universes of Joss Whedon and listen to our panelists give their views on him (and his universes).
Heather Roulo Katie Cord Michael Montoure Shoshana Glick
Sun Jan 19 11:00:am Sun Jan 19 12:00:pm Activism through science fiction
Salon F Ways in which science fiction has helped to tear down societal and cultural barriers
Heather Roulo Justice McCartney Mike Birch Richard Gilmore Sarah Steever

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admin on November 7th, 2013

Have you ever worn a Fitbit, Nike+ Fuelband, or pedometer? Ever jogged along to Zombies, Run!, the immersive running game that motivates exercise with an imaginary band of zombies? How about participating in an ARG (Alternate Reality Game)?

Experts and procrastinators agree that motivation is hard to come by. Many times people need to take action, but the consequences aren’t close enough or obvious enough. We have tunnel vision about what’s needed, but it’s possible to move rewards and consequences “into our tunnel.” The book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal suggests that games are more thrilling, rewarding, and adept at tricking the human psyche into taking action and deriving satisfaction than the real world around us.

Social changes start small and grow. My flash piece “Immeasurable”, now available in Nature, explores the possibility of motivating ourselves to be better and the costs that come when people assign point values to life. It’s free online.

Think about it– we’re already being manipulated by advertisers and campaigners, so why not manipulate ourselves with points, rewards, and feedback?

If I were a real marketer, I’d motivate you with promises or offers to encourage the action I want. Leave a comment below.

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My new science-fiction and horror story “Better for Burning” published in the Blood Type anthology.

Editor Robert S. Wilson has released the Kindle edition of Blood Type: An Anthology of Vampire SF on the Cutting Edge.

As Robert said on the book’s Facebook fan page:

“The KINDLE version is now available on Amazon! 130,000+ words for $4.99! All net proceeds go to The Cystic Fibrosis Trust.  Paperback soon to follow!”

Book Description–

Blood Type: An Anthology of Vampire SF on the Cutting Edge is predominately a collection of stories that represent the most cutting edge science fiction-based vampire fiction. Think SF-based vampire fiction like I Am Legend and Necroscope and how they affected the vampire genre when they were first released. Dark Vampire SF that goes where the genre hasn’t before.

It is not just an anthology of hard science fiction, however. This book also contains examples of science fantasy as well as some classic vampire stories including an updated reprint from William F. Nolan. Also includes brand new stories from Peter Watts (from the Blindsight/Echopraxia universe), Laird Barron, Tim Waggoner, Bram Stoker Award-winning author Benjamin Kane Ethridge, John Palisano, Jason V Brock, Peter Giglio, Jonathan Templar, Taylor Grant, and many more!

Table of Contents–

The Undying by William F. Nolan**
Taxing Youth by Rebecca Brown
The Souls of Stars by Amelia Mangan
Evergreen by Peter Giglio
Reptile House by Stephen Graham Jones*
Accommodation by Michael R. Collings*
A Little Night Music by Mike Resnick*
Predators of Tomorrow by Michael Kamp
Mountains of Ice by Jilly Paddock
Occupation by James Ninness
Orientation Day by Peter Watts
The Pilot by Jason Duke
Unperished by S.R. Algernon
Eudora by James S. Dorr
A River of Blood, Carried into the Abyss by John Palisano
Better for Burning by H.E. Roulo
I Was There… by Tarl Hoch
Strays by Robert S. Wilson
Damned to Life by Essel Pratt
Happy Hour by GN Braun
Temporary Measures by Jay Wilburn
I, Vampire by David N. Smith & Violet Addison
Slave Arm by Laird Barron
Gods and Devils by Taylor Grant
17 by Jonathan Templar
Chrysalis by Jason V. Brock
Data Suck by Benjamin Kane Ethridge
Sun Hungry by Tim Waggoner
Wet Heavens by Brian Fatah Steele

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admin on September 7th, 2013

My fantastic summer kept me from blogging, but hopefully everyone else was equally awesome and busy and didn’t notice. You didn’t did you?

The fourth annual Wicked Woman Writers contest is currently underway. As a past winner and long-time evaluator (like Simon Cowell but nicer) I’m always thrilled to listen to the stories created by clever female horror writers based off the current challenge. This year, each story is only ten minutes long. There are thirteen tales of terror. Check it out at You may recognize my voice after each of the even numbered stories, as well as in the promo as one of three ghastly Norns. Norns of gods and men, comparable to the Fates in Greek mythology.

The Masters of the Macabre contest is also sponsored by for the guy writers.

I recently sold a short piece of near-future speculative fiction to Nature, the weekly journal of science. Naturally, I’ll let you know when that is scheduled, as well as the confirmed date for Blood Type. Unfortunately, the story I sold to Insatiable may never appear, since they have become unresponsive. I’ll keep trying a bit longer, but may have to start submitting the piece elsewhere.

I’m gearing up for great things this year, including some collaborations.

I love hearing from you. Contact me with your thoughts and ideas. Thanks!

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admin on June 7th, 2013

Feedback from qualified writers leads to a more polished product than a writers get from well-meaning but untrained friends and family. However, surprisingly little instruction is provided in most critique groups. Given a handful of manuscripts and eager writers, a critiquer needs to read without bias (ignoring favorite genre leanings, for example), and provide judgment in a way that a sensitive writer can accept, internalize, and act on. It’s as tricky as plotting a 7-book George R.R. Martin series.

When I began critiquing, I did everything at the line level with ‘track changes’ enabled. This led me to feel useful (I get to show off my understanding of grammar!) but ultimately buried important observations in a flood of red comments.

Like me, many new critiquers tend to focus on small-picture items, but a sentence level approach is nearly meaningless without context.

BE A GOOD CRITIQUER: Ask the big questions first

1) Author’s Purpose for seeking a critique: Ask yourself whether the author is seeking to improve this particular piece, or general writing skills. Usually, you can quickly get a sense of the skill level of the writer. If it’s someone young or starting out, provide a different level of critique than you would give to someone seeking to finish polishing a dog-eared piece they’ve taken to every conference for the last 5 years. (Free advice: Write something new.)

2) Author’s Purpose for the piece: The intent of the author (whether they want to seek paid publication, explore an idea, or seek catharsis for a personal issue) is absolutely integral when you address the piece, but is rarely stated prior to the critique. Be certain a story is intended humorously, for example, or your comments can come off as mocking to a sincere writer. If the work is art or exploratory, then judge it at that level, but if it’s intended commercially you’ll know how to measure it.

3) Format: I’ve marveled at critiques that offer advice at odds with the format the author has chosen. Don’t ask for more back story in a Flash piece, you should expect a quick start to a short story, and don’t wonder why a novel section isn’t resolved. At the same time, I beg all submitters to mark on their submission whether the piece is complete. The critique will be so much more valuable this way! It’s frustrating to watch reviewers comment on a short story only to discover it was a novel chapter all along.

4) Genre: If the genre isn’t clear, that’s a problem with the piece. If the genre isn’t one you are familiar with, then acknowledge it and judge its other merits. I dislike it when someone bashes a paranormal romance and calls it “Twighlight-like” then admits to never having read Twilight and not knowing anything about the genre. I, too, have preferred genre (sci-fi pieces get more comments from me), but I won’t knock a high-fantasy piece for being what it is.

It’s the stories I like the most that I have the harshest critiques for, because I want them to achieve the greatness they’re so close to. I can see what they’re striving to deliver. The stories where I’m not certain of their intended message, or what idea prompted enough enthusiasm to generate the story, get fewer comments.
But I know how easy it is to feel discouraged, and I try to restrain my enthusiastic red pen. I look forward to the day someone takes me up when I offer to discuss their story in-depth. There never seems to be time in any of my formal critique groups.
I’ve virtually given up giving line edits, since that isn’t what will help most writers grow. In a nutshell– Basics: Use active verbs, eliminate unnecessary words, choose pronounceable names, adhere to proper mechanics. Advanced: Open with an intriguing beginning; swiftly provide who, when and where; smooth transitions;

5) Story/Plot Elements: Address what elements of the story work and don’t. Authors are notoriously bad at identifying plot holes in their own stories. Don’t offer a solution, and if you can’t help yourself then offer it without the expectation that the writer will accept that suggestion.

6) All that other stuff you thought was important: If the other items are addressed, you’re finally permitted to point out words used incorrectly, bad grammar, and all the nit-picky basics. Choose only one or two items to mention, since it’s pointless to focus on these items if the other elements need work. If the story is poor, who cares whether the person knows how to use a semicolon or write great dialogue?

I’ve virtually given up giving line edits, since that isn’t what will help most writers grow. You want to hear the same thing we say a million times per critique session?  Here’s my 30 second overview on the tips you need at each level–

  • Basic: Format properly to be taken seriously; use active verbs; eliminate unnecessary words; choose pronounceable names; adhere to proper mechanics; avoid clichés. (i.e., don’t open with weather, the character doesn’t awaken in an unfamiliar room, it’s not a dream, name your characters)
  • Advanced: Open with an intriguing beginning; swiftly provide who, when and where; smooth transitions; stop relying on adjectives and adverbs, especially around dialogue; adhere to POV.
  • Master: Identify the theme and seek to reinforce it; suggest a market (if they plan to sell the piece); strong characterizations; is the goal and what’s at stake consistently clear?

The irony of critiques: It’s the stories I like the most that I critique most harshly, because I want them to achieve the greatness they’re so close to. I can see what they’re striving to deliver. The stories where I’m not certain of their intended message, or what idea prompted enough enthusiasm to generate the story, get fewer comments.

If you’ve ever gotten a particularly useful or useless critique, let me know about it. If you’ve ever gotten a critique from me, let me know if it was helpful, if you made changes, and how I can improve.

If you’d like me to expand on any of these points, let me know. I didn’t mean for this post to be as long as it is, actually. But I have lots to say when it comes to the art of writing, and the particularly sensitive topic of critiques.

About the Author:
Heather has critiqued in the annual Horror Addicts Writers Workshop (2012, 2013), Baycon Writers Workshop (2012, 2013), Cascade Writers Workshop (2012), Norwescon (2013), Marlene’s Writers Critique group (ongoing), and Cloudcity Wordslingers as well as online forums such as Book Country.


admin on May 23rd, 2013

I’m packed and fly out early for this year’s Baycon 2013 Science-Fiction convention. It’s my third year attending, and second as a panelist.

The year’s theme is Triskaidekaphobicon, and there’s an emphasis on a new horror track that I’ll be assisting with this year.

I’ll also be bringing my family, so I’ve volunteered to help with some of the kids events, though I imagine my kids will spend part of their time across the street at Great America.

The tentative schedule has me very busy, though times may shift when I get there and see the final schedule. Here’s where I think I need to be–so say hello if you see me!

Assist with the table
Meet the Guest (assist with the prep)
HorrorAddicts Tea on the Party Floor

Family Friendly Spooky Cartoons and Cereal
Writing Workshop Pro (private session)
Character Slam Book [I may be double booked here with the writing workshop, in which case Emerian Rich will run the show on her own.]
Trick or Treat Carnival

Wicked Women Writers BOF
Podcast Live! Recording of Poe’s The Raven
LIVE Podcast/Skype Interview
Self-Publishing Tips & Traps
Reading from Horrible Disasters
Horror Addicts BOF

I can also be found occasionally manning the table and even delivering a TerrorGram if necessary.

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When tragedy strikes I see social media take off. People send thoughts, and I always wonder who they’re hoping will see it? And I wonder, is posting to Twitter filling the slot once held by saying a prayer to God? Is this a new way of putting it out there, to the universe, as if 140 characters can somehow help? And I marvel at it, because my first impulse is to say nothing, to go blank, to not give the satisfaction to whatever person engineered the tragedy. I don’t want to add to their infamy, or inspire a copycat.

But today, as I watched my feed, it occurred to me that yes, people are asking for things to be made better, but it isn’t just crying out into the darkness and expecting no reply. They were commiserating, something people have always done. They’re saying, “Hey, this is terrible. We must stop this from ever happening again.” Because by acknowledging the tragedy, they aren’t alone, and maybe they can reach someone who really can do something. By adding to the noise, we might alert someone with the power to help.

So much in life seems superfluous, that it’s easy to miss what is significant. On a weekly basis, I wonder if I watch too much television, read too many books, write as escapism. And tragedies remind me that the world is a terrible place. I thought my children would grow up privileged, never knowing the terror of the cold war, but there are new terrors. Of course we want to escape! We all want a team like the Avengers to swoop in and save the day—and bring justice to the bad guys. Stories let us explore those dreams and concoct unlikely scenarios.

When we write on social media, “My thoughts are with Boston today,” it acknowledges that we wish we were there to help, and our hopes for the heroes who are out there, saving people. The medics, and firemen, policemen, and courageous bystanders who rise to the occasion stand in for us truer and stronger than any Avenger. Maybe they were inspired by a hero they read about and, in this moment of tragedy, became the ones we dreamed up in film, movies, and books.

And if we can stand together, to make a loud enough roar, then things like this won’t happen, and we’ll respond better, or faster, and make the world a little less terrible.

My thoughts are with Boston today.

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admin on March 7th, 2013

While I was at Rainforest Writers, the Horrible Disaster Anthology was released by proudly presents Horrible Disasters. Thirteen authors from around the globe share their visions of terror set during real natural disasters throughout history. Travel back in time to earth shattering events like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and the Winter of Terror avalanches, 1950. What supernatural events went unnoticed? What creatures caused such destruction without remorse? Stock your emergency kit, hunker in your bunker, and prepare for… Horrible Disasters. Proceeds go to help disaster relief globally by way of the Rescue Task Force

My short story is set during the Winter of Terror in 1950. A vagabond ex-soldier is swept up in an alpine avalanche. Injured but alive, he encounters a hermit, a boy, and the fabled barbegazi. Trapped on the mountain beneath the looming weight of another snowy avalanche, he risks his life to free the child and defeat the monster before an unsuspecting village is buried.

The Winter of Terror is famous for the series of avalanches which killed over 265 people.

Not familiar with the Barbegazi? Here’s a copy of the Wikipedia entry and a picture of a barbegazi that I particularly like:

Barbegazi by Melanie Dellas

Barbegazi by Melanie Dellas:

Barbegazi are mythical creatures from Swiss and French mythology. A variety of dwarf or gnome, a barbegazi resembles a small white-furred man with a long beard and enormous feet. They travel in the mountains that are their home by skiing with their massive feet, or using them as snowshoes. In the summer they aestivate in caves and tunnels and do not come out until the first snowfall. The word barbegazi comes from the French barbe-glacée, meaning “frozen beard”. Because of their penchant for high altitudes and low temperatures, they are rarely sighted by humans, but sometimes help shepherds round up lost sheep. Their greatest known excitement is surfing on avalanches with their remarkably large feet, but they are said to give low whistling cries to warn humans of the danger above, sometimes they will give their best effort to dig humans out from the snow.[1]

Considering how completely adorable these creatures are, you’d think my story would be cheerful. But what fun is that?

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I’ve just returned from the Rainforest Writers Village Retreat 2013. There are numerous blog posts after a writer’s retreat. If you want to hear about the general experience, check those out. This one is more personal.

At the retreat, panelists explained the difference between literary and commercial fiction—boiling it down to resonance and resolution. My week had a theme that stretched back to the first Rainforest I’d attended, last year.

Both years, I spent the week before Rainforest visiting my brother, his new baby, and his inoperable brain tumor. Surgery removed most, but not all, of the tumor. If they’d continued he would have lost language. They dominated my thoughts at Rainforest. I went for a walk and in a moment of unlikely coincidence, met another writer attending for the first time. We made friends on the path and walked back, agreeing that it’s easy to feel like an outsider. After Rainforest he thanked me in his blog for cheering him up. Only later did I find out his mother had a brain tumor. Can you imagine the conversation we could have had, if we had known? I’m glad we didn’t.

But I knew he shared my feelings of alienation. They should label the nametags of newbies at all writer’s conventions and retreats. Just attending is a huge act of bravery, and most of us aren’t the types to introduce ourselves around.

This year I knew the schedule and expectations, but still sensed people testing each other, trying to find where they ranked in the pantheon of writers. J.A. Pitts gave a lecture on the “Imposter Syndrome” which rang true for many people. It’s hard to see your own accomplishments because you know how you got there and aren’t sure you can add to your successes. I don’t think I’m insecure, until someone asks about my writing, which I’m proud of but don’t like discussing in real life (IRL). It’s a bit like first-time podcasters editing their own recordings. They’re shocked to hear their own voices, but eventually don’t notice it anymore. I’m still hearing the sound of my own voice when I talk about writing IRL, and no matter how relevant it is, it sounds inane to my ear. John Pitts argues that you need to take a stand and say what you have to say. James Van Pelt agreed, saying that writers need three things. The third of which is something worth saying.

I consciously started attending conventions and the retreat in order to step outside the insular bubble of indie authors I’d accumulated on the internet. It’s wonderful, and comfortable, but limiting. At this retreat something that should have been shop-talk, “What agents are you querying?” threw me. This isn’t the sort of thing my circle of indie authors discusses, for obvious reasons.

One person who was confident, and rightly so, was Robert J. Sawyer. Plainly successful in his career, he spoke about turning prose into scripts. Late one night, I saw him sitting on the couch with James Van Pelt on his right hand, neophytes sitting on the floor in a ring at his knee, making an imaginary director somewhere happy at the symbolic postures.

As it got later, we covered many interesting topics. If you want to realize how far you have to go, listen to insiders discuss the minutia of writer’s sartorial choices and who has a shtick to make them memorable. I didn’t know most of the people they referred to by first name.

I left thinking about all the advice given by the pros, and grateful for the new people I’d met. Next year, I’m resolved to seek out anyone new and introduce myself. Bob does a great job of that. Perhaps I can make someone’s time more comfortable. Because these annual events are starting to become milestones by which I measure my progress. And I can see the changes in other people’s lives, a year at a time.

My brother’s son is a year old and saying his first words. My brother’s tumor isn’t growing, according to MRIs. But I couldn’t help thinking of my friend from the last year. His mother died a few weeks before Rainforest and he had to give up his spot.

I hope he’ll be back next year.

My theme was progress. What will yours be?

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admin on February 26th, 2013

Last year I attended the Rainforest Writers Village and enjoyed it so much I signed up as soon as registration opened for this year. I will be attending session #1 at the end of February on the Olympic Peninsula in the beautiful rainforest. And I have a plan.

In the month of February, I joined members of the Cloudcity Wordslingers in a wordcount writing contest. Each day we’ve reported our wordcount. In order to improve our consistency, in addition to word count, our speadsheet’s formula includes the chain of consecutive days in the calculated points. This has made me feel incredibly productive. By mid-month, I’d written roughly 22,000 words, so I’m looking forward to spending time editing and submitting.

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