The Best Writing Resource I’ve Ever Found

Hi all,

Whenever I talk to someone who has either just started, or is considering writing, I always point them toward the website that has helped me more than anything else, The Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror or simply, OWW.  Now, of course, the budding author needs to be working in one of those three genres, but that’s usually the case with the circles I run in. OWW

I’ll go ahead and state that I am not paid or profiting in any way by pimping this site.  I’m just a very satisfied customer.

I stumbled across this website right when I was first starting out, and I’ve been a huge fan of it ever since.
How it works:

  • You post a short story/chapter/etc. of 7,500 words or less.
  • Other authors from across the globe will read your submission, and critique it.
  • In order to post more submissions and receive more critiques, you must critique other authors to “earn” the points to post.

It’s a simple formula, but it works. Here’s why:

  • The reviewers are not friends. I love my friends.  My best friend reads everything I write before anyone else in the world gets to.  But most people can’t give true feedback to a friend.  They love you, and their personal bias allows much more forgiveness for weak writing.  Now some reviewers might become your friends.  I have several crit-buddies that I’ve met there, but whatever friendship we now have is founded on our ability at brutal and blunt creative honesty.
  • The reviewers are writers. A writer can look at a story and see it differently than a non-writer can.  They can identify clunky phrasing, word-abuse, and overall flow much better because they’ve trained themselves to see it in their own writing.
  • The reviewers, like your eventual readers, have only the work to go on. The biggest disadvantage my wife or my friends have when reading my drafts is that they already know part of the story.  I’ve told it to them, and bounced ideas.  Their judgment of how I set up a scene or plot-point is now based off of those conversations and not exclusively on the written work.  The reviewers on the workshop have been spared from those spoilers and their impressions are more valuable for it.
  • The impersonality of the Internet allows for honesty. I’ve been to face-to-face workshops or writing groups and the average person is simply a lot more honest with delivering criticism if they don’t have to look you in the eye when they give it.  Furthermore, the inability for the person receiving the criticism to interrupt, defend, or react, allows for more brutal truth.
  • Learning to review other writers teaches you how to review yourself. When I first started the workshop, I’d have writers point out flaws that I just didn’t believe I had.  Then, after reviewing other authors, and honing my skills, I started to make those exact same comments to others.  Then it hit me.  “Damn, I’m guilty of it, too.  I see it now.”
  • The variance of reviewers allows you access to their experience. This is one of those hard-to-identify benefits, so I’ll give you a few examples.  I’ve read stories by people that clearly have limited or zero experience with shooting a gun.  It’s not that they say anything wrong in their writing, but that it lacks anything above what you find in movies (particularly how loud they really are, or how far white-hot brass can fly and the fun places that it can fly into.)   Having a reviewer suggest little details that can add to the realism not only makes it read better, but can give a lot of credibility.  Personally, when writing DÄMOREN, I was fortunate enough that out of my small circle of reviewers I happened to have a Filipino author that could verify if I’d used an Aswang correctly.  I also had a British author. She helped me with Allan’s dialogue.  Another reviewer grew up in Tuscany, and they were able to help with the little details an actual resident would know over my short experiences there as a tourist.  That’s a much larger diversity pool than I’d likely find at any local writing group.

With any critique, you’ll need to learn what to follow and what to ignore.  That’s just a fact of writing.  I don’t always follow the advice of my reviewers, but I do note it.  If more than one person mentions the same issue, it might be something that does need correcting.  Honestly, I’d rather have 100 scathing peer reviews of an unpolished piece over an editor’s rejection of a finished one.  Most editors won’t tell you why they reject a submission, and having other authors tear it up first can greatly improve the chances of having a story accepted.

Now, not every review is a “good” review.  Occasionally you get one that is just useless.  Every once in a while I’ve had a writer show up that gives crits that are either pointless, or insane rantings.  But those are the minority.  Honestly, in the hundreds of reviews of gotten there, I’ve had less than 15 completely useless ones. Some might be 99% bad, but then they find a typo or make a style/story suggestion that no one else saw.  That’s still a “good” review.

So for any new writers needing a place to hone their craft, you should check it out.  There are other online workshops out there, and some of them are reportedly pretty good.  But this is the only one I’ve ever used, and I can honestly say that it’s where I learned to write.


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Book in a Drawer

Back when I first started writing, I penned an amazing dark-fantasy called Dreams of Lost Souls.  It was the first of four in my Empire of Deceit series.  Coming in at 114,000 words, it took me just over two years to write.  Once finished, I immediately started on its sequel, Divine Liberation, while simultaneously trying to pitch the first book.

I attended a writer’s conference in Austin Texas, and learned how to query and pitch my masterpiece.  While there, I heard several authors and editors all lovingly discuss their books in a drawer.  For those who don’t know the term, a Book in a Drawer is an unsellable manuscript that never sees print and spends eternity living in a drawer (or in today’s case, on a hard drive).  Evidently, most authors have a cherished work that they keep hidden away (some authors have several).  They’re considered “practice novels.”

“Fools,” I thought.  “I’m not going to have an entire book that never gets published.  I’m going to sell this baby, and then I’m going to sell its sequels, spin-offs, movie rights, and have to buy a new house just to hold all the awards they’re going to earn.”<insert evil laugh>

No one bought it.  No one even asked for a full manuscript.  I wish I could tell you how many rejections I got, but I can’t.  I just stopped counting.

rejectedI found it to be a lot easier if I just stamped them myself.

But that didn’t stop me.  I kept writing.  I kept editing. I kept writing short stories that all took place in the same fantasy world I had written.  (The concept was to create a living world that has many stories and adventures going on, not just the one epic tale)

After several more years, I found myself at the FenCon 2011 Writer’s Workshop.  It was chaired by Editor Lou Anders, who had just won a Hugo.  It was going to be 3 days of peer reviews and one-on-one with one of the industry’s rock-stars.  I knew that once he read the first 10 pages, he’d be sold.

He wasn’t.  In fact, he tore it to Hell.  I was over 200,000 words into my series, and spent three days having Lou (who is a terribly awesome guy, by the way) patiently, but brutally explain that it was sheer crap.

Some of the other authors were understandably upset having their works shredded.  Strangely enough, I wasn’t upset at all.  I was relieved.  It felt like a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders.  I not only knew my book was bad, I knew why it was bad.  I knew why theirs were bad.  And most importantly, I knew what an editor was looking for.

The final morning of the convention, I saw Lou quietly having breakfast.  I stopped by to thank him for all his help and tell him that he’d given me the courage to put my manuscript away and finally start on a story idea that I’d been bouncing around for the past few years.  Not wanting to be a bother, I tried to make it a real quick conversation.  Lou (I can’t stress enough what a nice guy he is) asked me to sit and we then just B.S.’d for half an hour.

When I told my wife that I’d finally given up on ever selling Empire of Deceit, she was horrified.  She thought I’d be crushed.  I simply told her that it was my practice novel, and it had taught me how to write.

The next week, I started Dämoren.

I met Lou again at an Agent/Editor Conference in 2013 while hocking a freshly-finished Dämoren.  I thanked him again for giving me the courage to start this new project.  We talked shop for a bit, then snuck off, grabbed a coffee, and discussed important matters like Batman and Sci-Fi TV shows.

My name is Seth Skorkowsky and I have a book in a drawer.  No you can’t read it.  But my novel Dämoren is about to be released by Ragnarok.  You can read that, instead.

Oh, and as far as those short-stories that took place in the same fantasy world as my never-to-be-released novel: You can check out The Mist of Lichthafen, Relàmpago, or my soon to be released Black Raven Series.

So for any aspiring novelists reading this: Good luck.  I hope you sell your first novel and fill a money bin with all the fortune you deserve.  I really mean that.  I’ll also hate you with jealousy, but it will be a loving hate.  However, if you don’t sell that first novel, don’t worry, you’re in good company.

ducktales-money-binI hope this is you.


Adventure of the Week TV

Hi All,

One thing that’s been bothering me with television the past few years is that the old, “adventure-of-the-week” shows are just about gone.  What I mean, is those fun shows that rarely required you to see the previous episode in order to understand/enjoy them.  Instead, TV has become full of soap-operas where each season, or the entire series, is one linear story, forcing the viewers to watch every single installment, fearing that missing one will cause chaos and confusion forever.

Lost-season1The title reflects how you’ll feel if you miss a single episode.

The adventure shows I’m referring to are shows like, MacGyver, Magnum P.I., Quantum Leap, Highlander, and, of course, Star Trek.

These were shows that you could catch a random episode, having little to no experience with the show, and quickly understand what’s going on.  The heroes are not necessarily law-enforcers, they’re usually good guys that operate outside the law (The Equilizer, The A-Team, Firefly), agents of a secret government program (X-Files, Mission Impossible), or maybe explorers or lawmen out on the dangerous frontier (Star Trek, 85% of all Westerns).

These days, most shows that follow the adventure-of-the-week theme are Cop Shows, usually police procedurals, or Sitcoms.  No one needs know what shenanigans happened last week on Two and a Half Men in order to enjoy this week’s episode.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me some Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and Battlestar Galactica.  There’s nothing wrong with a series.  I just miss when TV had short stories, too.  Personally, I blame Lost.  Lost taught the networks that you could literally throw anything up on screen with the most convoluted plot ever, and as long as you hooked them with drama, and mystery, and a glimmer of hope that it would eventually make sense, the addict viewer would come back for more every week.

Quantum Leap had a great gag to hook their viewers.  Every episode would end with a little stinger for the next one.  Usually awkward.  Sam would leap into his next body, and suddenly figure out that he’s a teenage girl, or Elvis, or holding a bloody knife above a corpse.  You’d see his “oh no” face, then cue credits.

What-Price-Gloria_Quantum LeapThey just don’t make TV like this anymore.

Sometimes, an adventure-of-the-week show becomes a series.  Those also disappoint me.  Burn Notice was a great pulp show, sort of like The Fugitive meets, MacGuyver.  Then it became a linear story.  Supernatural was the same way.  At first, our two roguish monster-hunters killed a new baddie every week, deliver some clever banter, then drive off in their muscle car blaring some rock and roll, headed toward next week’s adventure.  Then it became an elaborate storyline involving Badger from Firefly and Booger from Revenge of the Nerds.  A good indicator that your show is becoming a series is if the opening regularly includes a narrator/character saying “Previously On,” followed by a montage.

Castle was a great adventure of the week show.   I loved it.  It was like Murder She Wrote meets… meets Nathan Fillion.  I’ve missed the last season or so, but have been informed that its weekly antics have switched to a longer story-line.

Now the purest of the short-story shows were the ones that were individual stories (Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Amazing Stories).  Those shows were wonderful (OK, Amazing Stories was actually pretty damn cheesy).   They tried rebooting Twilight Zone a few years back, but not even the power of Forest Whitaker could save it.

I suspect the reason for the shift in formats comes down to two big factors.

  1. Viewers that aren’t hooked might stray.  There’s just so many shows out there, and unless a show holds the plot resolution captive, viewers might not tune in next week.
  2. Crappy Writing.  Writing a new story can be hard.  It’s especially difficult to pump out 13-15 new stories every season (remember back when a season was 20+ episodes?). So let’s just take one story and stretch it out.  Problem solved.  Now, instead of needing to have a beginning, middle, and end like every other story written since the beginning of time, TV writers just have to come up with enough to keep you interested (see Lost).

Hopefully, one day an adventure of the week show will appear that will blow everyone away.  Then maybe studios will begin swinging back toward that format. Until then, we’re all pretty much stuck with soap operas pretending that they aren’t soap operas.


Story Inspirations – The Doge’s Palace

Every writer can name specific things they’ve seen, or read, that eventually appeared in one of their stories, either as a central plot-point or just atmosphere.  For me, the one place that held the most kernels of inspiration was the Doge’s Palace in Venice Italy.

I first visited it during my Honeymoon in 2006.  My wife and I were to take an all-day walking tour of the city.  It started extremely early one cold February morning, and we were on time in getting to the starting point.  Then, half-way there, we realized we’d left the tickets back at our hotel.  In a frenzy, we rushed back, grabbed the tickets, then ran across town to where the tour was (not an easy task, since there are no direct paths anywhere in Venice).  We missed the tour by five minutes.

Since we were up, we decided to make the most of it, and wandered into the Doge’s Palace.  We figured it would be two, maybe three hours, then we’d explore somewhere else.

We spent nearly the whole day there.

Later, many of the things I saw ended up in my fantasy stories.   Most I hadn’t taken pictures of at the time, but when we returned again in 2012, I made sure to snag some shots of the things that directly inspired me.

Mouth of TruthMouth of Truth:  Once upon a time, Venetians could denounce criminals by writing the lawbreaker’s name and crime on a note, then slipping it through the open mouth of this carved face.  Think of it as the original ‘Police Tip Line’.  I used a similar device in my story, ‘The Porvov Switch‘.  In it, I referred to the Mouth of Truth by a much less romantic name:  The Rat Hole.






Trapped BoxTrapped Box:  This nasty little box appears like any other casket for money or treasure.  However, the treasure this box holds is DEATH.  When opened, it fires 4 bullets simultaneously, two out the front, one out of the left and right sides.  I used a similar device in my story, ‘Race of the Night Ruby‘.




Trapped KeyTrapped Key:  The picture really doesn’t capture the mechanism involved, but the idea is quite devious.  The key is a trap.  When used, a button at the tip fires a spring-loaded spike out through the shaft and into the user’s hand.  Not enough to kill anyone, but definitely enough to ruin someone’s day and to identify who stole your key ring.  I used a similar device in ‘The Ferrymaster’s Toll‘.





Prison HallPrison Window:  There is a prison linked to the Doge’s Palace (which is a lot like having Gitmo being a wing of the White House), and while touring it, I saw these windows along the halls that peered into the different cells.  Normally, in TV and movies, cell windows are either set into the door, or look outside (where our hero inevitably befriends a bird or stares up at the moon).  These windows allow guards to easily observe what was going on inside the cells (useful for determining if the prisoner is hiding beside the door with a shank, waiting for you to open it).  In ‘The Raven’s Cage‘ I used a cell window like these as a central point.


 Prison Graffiti 2 Prison Graffiti 1Prison Graffiti:  With nothing much to do , prisoners would carve very elaborate graffiti in their cell walls.  Some of it is actually quite impressive.  Like most graffiti today, there are quite a lot of penises.  I made mention of the abundant graffiti in ‘The Raven’s Cage‘ as a way to add atmosphere.



  There were of course many other things that caught my interest at the palace, several of which will appear in future stories.  But as of now, a single missed tour led me to a place that I can identify four different stories that benefited from our forgetfulness.


Making Headway

Hi all,

Well 2014 is off to a great start, so-far.

The website is looking better (still need to acquire some more pictures).

The wonderful, Hugo Award winning, Elizabeth Bear has agreed to let me use little a quote of hers for DÄMOREN.  That being said, check this out!Damoren Cover
I really can’t describe how nice that is to look at. When Ragnarok sent it to me, I just stared at it for… a while.

Moving on.

I’m over 12,000 words into HOUNACIER, my DÄMOREN sequel, and have now sent the first chapter off for Round 1 of peer-reviews (technically I’ve finished the first 3 chapters, but I like to let them sit a while before letting others tear them apart). The bulk of the story takes place in New Orleans.  I’d written a bunch of ideas, and descriptions when I was there last Spring, it’s becoming more and more clear that I need to go back. Not for more research (which is always handy) but because I miss it.

I’ve started going over MOUNTAIN OF DAGGERS covers with the artist. We’re still trying to get a good glyph for the Tyenee symbol. Hopefully I’ll be able to post some images soon. Right now, the pictures are still in the ‘super-rough concept’ stage.

Not too shabby for four days in to the year.

With nothing more to say, I leave you with this:Damoren Cover
Damn, that’s pretty.