99 Cents for a Filched Fish

My sixth grade teacher once asked the class what grade we thought he should give each of us for a particular assignment. I was a straight-A pupil at the time, but trying to be humble, I responded that my assignment deserved a C. When the teacher gave me my first B, my dad rushed into school to find out what went wrong. The teacher told him, “Look what she wrote. She thought she deserved a C. I gave her better than that.”

My dad then sat me down for my first lesson in self-promotion: When a teacher asks you what grade you deserve, you tell them you deserve an A. Always say that. No matter what. If the teacher asks you for reasons why you deserve an A, don’t be humble. Explain how great your work is and say you deserve an A.

So I did that for the rest of my schooling and it worked.

Many years later, I interviewed for a promotion at my government job. I had always received praise for my work, and I thought my work would speak for me.

It didn’t. I did not get the promotion, and I was devastated.

The next time that promotional examination occurred, my supervisor gave me another lesson in self-advocacy: When you go into that interview, you’ve got to tell them all the great things you’ve done for the office. Do NOT be humble.

So I did. It was extremely difficult. Judging from the interviewers’ expressions, I may have been a little too over-the-top in my enthusiasm for the greatness of my contributions to the office, but it worked. I got the promotion.

Now I am an Indy author with the daunting task of trying to self-promote my own fiction. For successful Indy authors that process comes naturally, but not for me. I would love to have my work speak for itself, but that will never happen unless people actually read it, and people will never read it unless I self-promote it. Blargh!!!!

So, here is my shameless plug…err…clever and witty attempt at self-promotion: Emerald Cove is currently running a sale on the Stolen! anthology. Between now and September 17, 2020, you can get the book for $ 0.99. Yes, for less than a dollar, you too can read Lord Larrin’s Trophy, the adventures of a hapless security chief trying to find a stolen fish to avert an international crisis. It’s funny. It’s fishy. It’s a breath of fresh air in the midst of all the bad news of the real world.

But wait! There’s more! The anthology also includes some great fiction by the other Emerald Cove authors. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/Stolen-Scoundrels-Heists-Cons-Pilfered-ebook (Note: This is my first attempt at adding a link, so if it doesn’t work, please let me know. Thanks!)

(*Drawing in a deep breath*) Ok. Shameless plug over for today. Next week, we return to our regularly scheduled blogpost.

By the way, if you do read the story, please send me an email and let me know what you think: susanruff@emeraldcovepress.com I would love to hear from you!

-Susan 9/11/20

Our Next Exclamation Mark Anthology

When Emerald Cove decided to try its first themed anthology (Kidnapped!), I expected all our stories to be similar. After all, we were writing on the same theme. To my mind, kidnapping stories followed a standard structure: a person is abducted, often for ransom, and the story revolves around what happens after that. Furthermore, we were all science-fiction/fantasy fans, so it was likely (although not required) that our stories would fall somewhere within that genre.

The stories did indeed fall within the realm of speculative fiction, but beyond that, all similarities ended. Danny opted for modern day superheroes. Sue Dawe, who is one of the kindest and most joyful people I know, surprised us all by writing a frightening, alien-abduction story. Stephanie gave us an amusing look at the twisted psychology of an author. John and I came up with a light-hearted take on medieval highwaymen (and yes, John was involved — see my earlier blog post about what is missing from Lord Larrin’s Daughter.) Jefferson…well, there is only one Jefferson Putnam Swycaffer in the entire universe, and his stories are as unique and interesting as he is. (Just teasing, Jefferson! He and I have been friends for over 40 years, and he is a great guy and an amazing writer.)

Emerald Cove’s second exclamation mark anthology was Stolen!

In case you are wondering, we don’t really call them that. “Exclamation mark anthology” is way too long to say in casual conversation. We originally added the exclamation mark to the end of Kidnapped! because we hoped it would differentiate the book from other works with that same name. We foolishly forgot that internet search engines ignore punctuation. By the time Stolen! came out, the exclamation mark had become our “thing” so we decided to keep using it.

When we started working on Stolen!, I was expecting variation in our stories, and that was exactly what happened. Not only were there stylistic differences within the science-fiction/fantasy genre, but there were also variations on the types of things that could be stolen. The stories involved the theft of things as diverse as gender identity, artistic creativity, and souls.

And a fish. One mustn’t forget the pilfered fish.

So now Emerald Cove is working on its third exclamation mark anthology: Haunted! As I mentioned in a prior blog post, all of us at the Cove had been in a writing slump since the pandemic’s shelter-in-place started. Now, thanks to the wonders of Zoom critique meetings, we are back to writing. In anticipation of our next Zoom critique meeting on August 12, we are already starting to place full and partial manuscripts into OneDrive for review. I can’t wait to see what variations on the theme we all come up with this time.

Susan 7/31/20

Zooming Around the Cove

Logo Design and Artwork by Sue Dawe

We did it! We held our first Zoom meeting of the Emerald Cove Press writer’s critique group this week. The meeting lasted much longer than expected (about three hours), but a lot of the discussion involved logistics for the best way to conduct our reviews and provide written comments going forward. After considering email, Dropbox, and other methods, we settled on Microsoft One Drive to use for manuscript exchange and commentary.

We plan to continue with Zoom meetings in the future. Those meetings are valuable for several reasons. First, they give us a chance to discuss each of our critiques and allow individual authors to ask questions regarding the comments. Second, they provide us time to talk about our shared projects and to encourage one another to continue writing. Third, and most important, they create a deadline to force…ahem…inspire us to write!

There was an additional benefit from this week’s meeting that I had not expected. It was great to see each other again. Email and telephone calls are just not the same as looking at your friends and colleagues as they talk to you. Of course, a Zoom meeting will never take the place of a real life gathering, but it’s still pretty good. And, at least, you don’t have to worry about what shoes you are wearing to the meeting!

-Susan 7/17/20

Writing Critiques During a Lockdown

What do you get when you put five authors and the latest drafts of their fiction works in their local Denny’s restaurant?

Nothing. Denny’s is closed for dine-in service in Southern California due to the pandemic.

What you used to get was the monthly Emerald Cove writer’s critique group meeting. Every month we would have dinner, exchange manuscripts, and comment on each other’s writing from the month before. We tended to be a little loud, so we always asked for a back corner booth. I admit that Denny’s is not exactly as close and personal as meeting in your local pub, but then we’re not exactly the Inklings either. Denny’s worked perfectly for us, and most of the evening staff who worked there recognized us, even if they didn’t know us by name.

Then came March 2020. Although we could no longer meet, we suddenly had tons of time for writing. Writing is solo activity, both easy and safe to do during a pandemic. In the middle of April, about a month after the lockdowns started, we all exchanged emails about our writing and discovered that our intrepid band of eclectic authors had one thing in common: Not one of us was writing anything.

The reasons for the lack of productivity differed from person to person, but the result was the same. Writing may be a solo activity, but we needed those group meetings, the critiques and encouragement they provided, and the deadlines they imposed, in order to write. It’s hard to look your fellow authors in the face and say, “I didn’t get any writing done last month.” It’s a lot easier to say that in email.

I’ve fared a bit better with my writing since I started this blog in May. Writing about writing has made me want to write. (Who would have guessed?) And having actual people read my posts, follow my blog, and “like” the things I write each week, is really encouraging. All you readers out there are my heroes! I am now 10,000 words into the short story for the Haunted! anthology because of all of you. Thank you!

But I digress. About a week ago, Emerald Cove decided to try Zoom critique meetings. We’re still working out the details for how and when to exchange manuscripts, but our first Zoom meeting is set for next week. I’ll let you know how it goes.

-Susan 7/10/20

p.s. I think Denny’s may have reopened for dine-in service, but I’m not sure. Circumstances in Southern California keep changing day-to-day. However, even if it has, it is highly unlikely that Emerald Cove will be meeting in person any time soon. Several of our members are either in the age-range danger zone for COVID or are closely connected with people in that age-range. We’re not taking any chances.

Can a Book be too Timely?

My new novel is a problem. It’s a fantasy novel. The first draft was pretty much finished by March, but it needs a major rewrite before it can see the light of day. I also need to do some historical research because one of the characters has a connection to the real world.

All of that should not be a problem, right? That’s what authors do all the time. A few months of solid work should do the trick.

So why is it a problem?

The story involves a plague. Blargh!! Could my timing be any worse?? I just spent three years writing a novel that no one will want to read. Even I don’t want to read it — the last thing I want to read right now is a fantasy novel about a pandemic.

And frankly, it’s also the last thing I want to write at the moment. I read and write fantasy to escape, but the novel hits too close to home. Just rereading it feels like a burden.

For now, I’ll stick with writing the Haunted anthology short story. Once John and I finish that…well, to quote Professor Tolkien, “Then we shall see what we shall see.” If this year has taught me nothing else, it has taught me not to get too locked into my future plans.

Talk to you next Friday. -Susan 6/26/20

When is an Hour Not an Hour?

A large part of 60th Hour involves time. The driving force behind the narrative is the countdown to the calendar’s end. In addition, much of daily life in the Kingdom of Kenarin involves time or timekeeping.

At some point during the worldbuilding for the story, the Kenarin day became 60 hours long. I cannot remember specifically when or why that happened, but it undoubtedly involved the symmetry with the other units of time. With 6 days in a week, 60 weeks in a year, 60 years in a cycle, and 60 cycles in the calendar, the number 24 just didn’t fit.

Of course, once the fantasy world has 60 hours in a day, that leads to next question: how does a 60-hour Kenarin day compare to one of ours in the real world? Is their day really long or are their hours really short?

Fortunately, 60th Hour was a fantasy novel, not science fiction. I didn’t have to worry about any of those pesky humans from Earth landing on my planet and comparing it to their home world. Therefore there was no need to determine the exact length of the Kenarin hour down to the micro-nanosecond. I just needed a general idea of an hour for timing the action of the story.

After consideration of the issue, I decided to keep the Kenarin day roughly the same length as ours. That meant each of those corresponding 60 hours had to be approximately 24 minutes in real world time. Likewise, each minute in Kenarin is roughly eqivalent to 24 seconds in our world.

So why, you might ask, did John and I decide to use the words “hours” and “minutes” for units of time that did not correspond to those same units in the real world? Why not just make up fantasy names for those units of time?

Two reasons. First, the story already had a lot of long and easily mixed up fantasy names and did not need additional ones, especially not about the critical timekeeping story element.

Second, do you remember the original Battlestar Galactica TV series? How long was a micron past a centon? Maybe you know. I don’t. At this point, I can’t even remember if the two terms measured time or distance.

And just how many parsecs does it take for the average smuggler to do the Kessel Run?

-Susan 6/19/2020

How the Countdown Began

El Castillo at Chichen Itza, Mexico


That’s what the bid poster on the convention wall announced. The year was 1995, and John and I were on our honeymoon attending “Intersection,” the World Science Fiction Convention held in Glasgow, Scotland.

What? You didn’t plan your wedding date around Worldcon? Well, we did. We even went back to Scotland for our 10th anniversary in 2005.

But I digress. Back to the main topic of this week’s post. 1995 was an interesting year. When I grew up, the year 2000 was far ahead in the future. Back in the 1970’s, I remember my parents saying, “I don’t know if we’ll live to see the year 2000, but you kids probably will.”

Then suddenly it was 1995, and that upcoming year with a triple zero was looming practically right in front of us. In Ye Olde Times, the superstitious amongst us might have gone up to a hilltop to await the end of the world. However, we were sophisticated Twentieth Century people, completely unaffected by any fears that came with significant date changes.

Except for Y2K. Remember Y2K? It was that pesky little concern with double-digits that threatened to crash our planes and empty our bank accounts at the stroke of midnight on January 1, 2000. Looking back after 20 years, the whole thing seems rather amusing, but at the time, it added to our instinctive uneasiness about the upcoming new millenium. (And yes, I remember the debates about whether the new millennium started in 2000 or 2001.)

Which brings me back to the “bid” poster for Chichen Itza in 2012. For those of you unfamiliar with Worldcon, the location of the convention changes every year. Each year, different locations submit bids to hold a future convention. Because the selection between competing bids is made by vote, the bidding locations campaign with posters, room parties, give aways, etc.

Chichen Itza in 2012, of course, was a joke, playing on the end of the ancient Mayan calendar. With the year 2000 looming just ahead, the “End-of-the-Worldcon” at Chichen Itza in 2012 was especially funny.

I laughed when I saw the poster on the wall and then moved on to other parts of the convention, but the idea stayed in my mind. I began to speculate on what it might be like to live in a world where the calendar was ending, and you really didn’t know what was going to happen.

Those of you who have read 60th Hour probably know where I am going with this blog post. The idea sparked by that bid poster eventually led John and me to write a fantasy novel about a group of people who go up on a hilltop to await the end of the world. True, the novel contains a lot of other elements — magic, political intrigue, personal confrontation, etc. — but, at its heart, it began with that instinctive fear of the unknown future. What happens when the countdown toward the end of time begins, but no one knows how it ends?

So, that is the secret origin story for 60th Hour.

Susan 6/12/20

(As a footnote, I should mention that not only did my parents live to see the year 2000, but they are both still alive in 2020.)

When Lario Met Martha

Lord Larrin’s Daughter was originally intended as a one-shot story, a light-hearted piece about medieval highwaymen kidnapping the wrong girl: Robinhood meets The Ransom of Red Chief with a little twist at the end. Even though John and I are primarily fantasy authors, it was not really a fantasy story. It contains no magic or monsters, and the setting was a generic forest.

Then along came the Stolen! anthology. From the beginning, I knew the fish story would be light-hearted. How can you write a solemn story about a stolen fish? Given the similar tone of both anthology stories, I thought it would be fun to connect them. That, however, required an actual fantasy setting. An author can get away with a generic setting once, but not in a sequel.

But guess what? I already had a ready-made fantasy setting. Many years ago…many, many years ago…back in the early 1990’s, I wrote a fantasy novel called the “Feast of Five Crowns.” No, you’ve never heard of it, and don’t bother Googling it. You won’t find it. (At least I hope not!) After polite rejection letters from various publishers, I moved on to other writing projects. At the moment, it exists nowhere except my computer and a few paper copies.

I realized that Lord Larrin’s Daughter could take place within the Kingdom of Leathen, one of the five lands of the novel. (Five Crowns = five lands.) From there, it was easy to set the fish story in Marris, the seacoast land bordering Leathen. So the second story became Lord Larrin’s Trophy.

Then I got a really wild idea. What if I dusted off the old manuscript for Feast of Five Crowns and plugged in Lario and Martha from the Lord Larrin stories? Viola! Instant new novel.

So I trotted out the prologue and the first few chapters of Feast for my friends at Emerald Cove to review…and got soundly (but politely) trashed. Apparently my writing has improved considerably over the past 25 years. Who knew? I didn’t.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to do with Feast of Five Crowns at this point. Emerald Cove is planning a third themed anthology called Haunted! to come out sometime later this year or next year (after the shared-world anthology I mentioned last week). John and I have already started writing our new short story for Haunted! Like the two Lord Larrin stories, it will be light-hearted in tone and set in the Feast of Five Crowns universe.

It seems a shame to write all those short stories and never publish the novel. Perhaps I can work with John to revise the plot for Feast and rewrite it in the same light-hearted tone as the short stories. At the time I originally wrote the novel, I was young and serious and it was a serious fantasy story because I wanted to be a serious fantasy author. Now I am old and frivolous, so maybe a little whimsy wouldn’t hurt.

Susan – 6/5/2020

What’s Next?

It’s traditional for authors to blog about upcoming projects, so here’s the latest news. After publishing two themed anthologies (Kidnapped! and Stolen!), Emerald Cove decided to try something more ambitious: a shared universe anthology.

What happens when you ask an eclectic group of writers to come up with a premise for a shared universe? Well, first you get an argument. And then later you get another argument. (We are, in addition to being creative and diverse, rather opinionated authors.) But once the dust settles, you end up with a group of short stories set in modern day San Diego with a fantasy twist. Each story is unique, but will feature some recurring background characters and a shared underlying premise. I’ll blog more about that premise once the book gets closer to publication.

As I write this, most of the stories are complete or being finalized, and Sue Dawe is preparing some great artwork for the cover. The book’s release is set for…drum roll…

Comicon 2020!

Hmmm, yeah, there’s a problem with that, isn’t there? No Comicon this year. Remember that old saying? “Hindsight is always 20-20.” For me, 2020 is definitely the Year of Hindsight. (If only I had known then, what I know now…)

Anyway, Emerald Cove is muddling through this time of pandemic, just like everyone else. There is talk of a video Comicon this summer, but it won’t be the same as having 100,000+ fans walk through Artist’s Alley to view Sue Dawe’s magnificent cover art. So, at this point, the book’s release date is uncertain, but I’ll keep you posted as soon as I hear anything definite.

And, by the way, John and I are currently writing the short story for Emerald Cove’s third themed anthology, but more on that in a future blog. Talk to you next Friday!

-Susan 5/29/2020

Here’s a Secret About 60th Hour

The secret is: 60th Hour was not the original title of the book. The working title was “Final Night.” Because the main focus of the book involved the events leading up to the end of the calendar on Final Night and what happened to the main characters on that night, the title made sense.

So why change the title? The reason involves what happened when Emerald Cove published its first themed anthology Kidnapped! back in 2018. I had contributed the short story Lord Larrin’s Daughter. That story was my first published piece of fiction, and I was very excited. When the ebook went live in April 2018, I couldn’t wait to see it on Amazon. I went to the Amazon book section, typed in Kidnapped!…

…and got Robert Louis Stevenson.

Yep, that Robert Louis Stevenson. Mr. Treasure Island himself. I probably had heard once that he also wrote a book called Kidnapped, but I had not read the book. Not only was his book the lead novel on Amazon’s list of books with that name, there were pages full of different editions of his book to buy. If Emerald Cove’s anthology was listed among them, I did not see it.

So I next did a search for my own name on Amazon. Still no success — there are too many other Ruffs out there and lots of them apparently wrote books. I finally found the right ebook by typing in Jefferson Swycaffer’s name. (As far as I know, there has only ever been one Jefferson Putnam Swycaffer in the entire universe.)

Then last year, Emerald Cove published its next themed anthology: Stolen! The anthology included my second short story Lord Larrin’s Trophy. This time Emerald Cove’s book title was not competing with Robert Louis Stevenson, so I had high hopes for finding it. Once again, I hurried to Amazon after the ebook went live and typed in the title. I can’t remember how many pages of books I saw with the title Stolen or some variation of that word. I don’t even remember if the new Emerald Cove anthology was one of those many books or if I had to search for Swycaffer again.

So when John and I decided to self-publish our first full-length novel, I did not want to complete with anyone else on Amazon. If people searched for our novel by title, I wanted them to find our novel. The manuscript was complete and ready to go, but before we published, I looked up the name Final Night on Amazon and on Google. Not only were there already existing books with that title, there had also apparently been a major comic book plotline with that title a few years ago.

Not again! I thought. So I wracked my brain to develop a title that would represent the “countdown” nature of the book, but still be original. I came up with 59th Hour, which I liked, because it had that “11th hour” feel to it. When I suggested it to John, he pointed out that the 60th hour was actually the last hour of each day in Kenarin, not the 59th hour. The 60th hour was therefore the final hour of the calendar, when all the plotlines in the novel converged.

With trembling fingers, I checked 60th Hour on Amazon and Google. Nothing! Just a few greeting cards for 60th birthdays and similar items. Finally, we had a title that was entirely ours!

And that was how the book became 60th Hour.

-Susan 5/8/2020