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March 2024 Created Works Round-Up!

A banner that reads "Created Works Round Up: March." In the upper left corner is the Duck Prints Press logo with a rainbow of duck prints around the left and bottom of it. On the right is the Dux mascot, a white duck with an orange beak and orange feet and a pleased expression on their face.

Duck Prints Press’s monthly “created works round-ups” are our opportunity to spotlight some of the amazing work that people working with us have done that ISN’T linked to their work with Duck Prints Press. We include fanworks, outside publications, and anything else that creators feel like sharing with y’all. Inclusion is voluntary and includes anything that they decided “hey, I want to put this on the created work’s round-up!”

Check out what they’ve shared with us this month…


Eliot Rocks the Memory Palace, Chapter Four: Art by EliotQueliot

art || the magicians (tv) || m/m || quentin coldwater/eliot waugh || teen & up || creator choses not to use warnings || complete

summary: After dinner, Monster!Eliot takes Quentin sightseeing in New York City by moonlight.

There’s a lovely view from the 103rd floor of the Empire State Building.

And the Monster set a nice cheery fire blazing in the bay.

Heights are fun.

other tags: falling, heights, possession

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All We Need Is One Good Day (Any Day That You’re Alive), Chapter 1 by EliotQueliot

fiction || the magicians (tv) || m/m || quentin coldwater/eliot waugh || mature || creator choses not to use warnings || 2,097 || work in progress

summary: A fluffy fic mixing the books by Lev Grossman with the show from SyFy, in which Quentin and Eliot do get to spend that summer together, but build on their immediate friendship to get together from day one of Q’s classes.

AO3


Mosaic Haiku, Chapter 10 by EliotQueliot

fiction || the magicians (tv) || m/m || quentin coldwater/eliot waugh || general audiences || creator choses not to use warnings || 124 || ongoing series

summary: I’m writing a series of haiku about Eliot and Quentin’s lives together at the Mosaic (the timeloop lifetime in which they loved each other for 50 years). Just like the patterns they build there, I’ll forever be adding new haiku, but yet the story is also always complete. My hope is to reflect the beauty of all life, just like they did.

AO3


Sailing to Blackspire, Chapter 5 by EliotQueliot

fiction || the magicians (tv) || m/m || quentin coldwater/eliot waugh || explicit || creator choses not to use warnings || 11,539 || work in progress

summary: Quentin says he’s staying with a Monster for all Eternity.

Eliot says, “Hell, no. Not without me.”

In which Eliot and Quentin use their time aboard the Muntjac on the way to Castle Blackspire more wisely.

In this chapter, the friends continue to do their best to find alternate ways to turn magic back on, without Quentin and Eliot getting stuck in Castle Blackspire.

other tags: Canon-typical danger. Also, regarding the fic as a whole, please heed the rating. This is AU, but jumps off from canon at a specific point within 3×13. The characters don’t know what I’m trying to fix because for them it hasn’t happened (and in this fic, it never will). But Eliot (his POV) clearly knows that Quentin’s life is ultimately in danger.

AO3


never a god by ilgaksu

fiction || mysterious lotus casebook || m/m, poly (one gender: male) || li lianhua/fang duobing/di feisheng, di feisheng/fang duobing || teen & up || creator choses not to use warnings || 1,077 || ongoing series

summary: The evening shift at the House of Scarlet Delights starts out just like any other.

other tags: Post Canon, Sex Work, Genderfluid Li Lianhua

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bringing a gun to chekhov’s house by ilgaksu

fiction || dune (2021), dune – frank herbert || f/m || paul atreides/chani kynes || explicit || creator choses not to use warnings || 1,895 || work in progress

summary: Chani sees him first in lectures. This is because he can’t stop staring at her. It’s unsubtle. It’s derivative. It’s the start of every novel written by a white man drowning in his own midlife crisis. Chani is wise to it; to him.

After a while, she realises she’s still looking right back.

other tags: Alternate Universe – College/University, Academia, Postcolonialism, Breakup

AO3


On Writing Combat and Sex Scenes by Tris Lawrence

writing craft blog post || original work || no ships || teen & up || no major warnings apply || 1,523 || complete

summary: This post talks about writing sex and combat (and no, I do not mean combative sex). It is primarily SFW.

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Round Table Discussion: Grammar Pet Peeves

Today, March 4th, is National Grammar Day! Last year, we celebrated with six of our favorite grammar quirks. This year, we’re going to the other end of the spectrum: we had a conversation with our editors and blog contributors about grammar things we hate. They may be technically correct, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make us crazy. Eighteen people, many anonymous, contributed to this discussion.

Dangling Modifiers

boneturtle: Dangling modifiers, hands down. Even when I can decipher what the writer meant based on context, it viscerally hurts me every time. When I am editing I have to stand up and take a lap around my apartment when I hit a dangling modifier. Remind myself that I am here to help. Learn more about dangling modifiers.

Commas

anonymous: Commas are not difficult! Commas end phrases. Full stop. That’s all they do. Is a phrase necessary to the grammatical coherence of the sentence? if the answer is yes, no commas because that phrase hasn’t ended. If the answer is no, commas! comma hug that bish if it’s the middle of a sentence. The difference between grammatical and informational is whether or not the sentence makes sense without the phrase. 

Examples: 

The man who ordered the six double anchovy pizzas claims to have a dolphin in his pool. 

You need “who ordered the six double anchovy pizzas” because you need to identify which man you’re talking about. The world is full of many men. 

The ancient Buick, which Madeleine purchased via Craigslist, belched black smoke whenever she pressed the accelerator. 

We don’t need to know how Madeleine purchased the car for the sentence to make sense. You don’t even meed “Madeleine” for the grammar to make sense. Therefore, hug that phrase! 

(a comma on each side of the phrase) or give it a dramatic send off with a comma and an end punctuation. (i could go into conjunctions, too, but those are a little more complex, and if you were taught them properly, i understand not getting the comma use 😂 ) 

Prepositions at the End of Sentences

Tris Lawrence: There was a dictionary (Merriam-Webster? Oxford? idek) that posted recently on social media about how the rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition came from English scholars trying to make English line up with Latin, and that it’s totally okay to do it… and I’m just wanting to point to it to yell THIS because uhhh trying to rework sentences to not end in a preposition often creates clunky awkward things (my opinion, I recognize this).

D. V. Morse: Ending sentences/clauses with a preposition. Well, not doing that is supposed to be the rule, but depending on the sentence, it can be a convoluted mess to try and avoid it. Winston Churchill famously told someone off after they “caught” him breaking that rule, saying, “This is the type of arrant pedantry up with which I will not put.” (Yes, I had to look that up.)

Pronoun Confusion

anonymous: I hate playing the pronoun game when reading. I hate it in life when someone comes up to me and tells me a story involving 2 people of the same pronouns and stops using names halfway through, and I hate it while reading too. Nothing makes me fall out of scene more if I don’t know who just did/said what. Use names. That’s why we have them.

Nina Waters: epithets. If I know the characters name…why? Also, when people use “you” in third person writing. There are times I’ll allow it as an editor/times when I do think it’s at least acceptable but not gonna lie, I absolutely hate it.

anonymous: My pet peeve … I read hundreds of essays in a given month for work, plus a whole lot of fanfic for fun. A rising issue that I have noticed in both places is incomplete sentences (lacking subjects, typically). I think it’s because people rely on Google’s grammar checker to tell them if something is wrong and…Google doesn’t check for that apparently. I’m increasingly convinced that my high schoolers simply weren’t taught sentence structure, because when I ask them to fix it they almost universally say some variant of “I don’t understand what you’re asking me to do.” Therefore, it might be punching down a little to complain about it. I’m not sure. It does drive me nuts though. Lol

“Would Of”

Neo Scarlett: Not quite sure if that falls under grammar, but I hate hate hate when people use “should of” instead of should’ve. Or “would of.” It just makes my toe nails curl up because it may sound right, but it looks wrong and is wrong.

Semi-Colons

Shea Sullivan: I saw a list punctuated by semicolons recently and that made me froth at the mouth a bit.

anonymous: I think any editor who’s worked with me knows that I have a pet peeve about using colons or semi-colons in dialogue. Or really, any punctuation mark that I don’t think people can actually pronounce. Semicolons can live anywhere that I don’t have to imagine a character actually pronouncing them.

English isn’t Dumb!

theirprofoundbond: As a former linguistics student, it bugs me a lot when people say that English is a dumb or stupid language because it has borrowed from so many languages. What people mean when they say this is, “English can be really difficult (even for native speakers).” But I wish people would say that, instead of “it’s dumb/stupid.” Languages are living things. Like other living things, they adapt and evolve. English is basically a beautiful, delightful platypus. Let it be a platypus.

Dei Walker: I remember seeing somewhere that English has four types of rules (I’m trying to find the citation today) and everyone conflates them. And I guess my pet peeve is that everyone treats them equally when they’re NOT. There are rules but not all of them are the same – there’s a difference between “adjectives precede nouns” (big truck, not *truck big) and “don’t split infinitives” (which is arbitrary).

And, because we couldn’t resist, here are some of our favorite things, because when we asked for pet peeves…some people still shared things they loved instead of things they hated.

Oxford Comma

Terra P. Waters: I really really love the Oxford comma.

boneturtle: me: [in kindergarten, using oxford comma]

teacher: no, we don’t add a comma between the last two objects in a list.

me: that’s illogical and incorrect.

anonymous: I will forever appreciate my second grade teacher’s explanation of Oxford comma use: Some sentences are harder to understand if you don’t use it, but no sentence will ever be harder to understand because you do use it. Preach, Mrs. D

anonymous: I am definitely Team Oxford Comma. I even have a bumper sticker which says so

Other Favorites

Shea Sullivan: I adore the emdash, to every editor’s chagrin.

Shadaras: zeugmas! I think they’re super cool!

Shea Sullivan and Hermit: I use sentence fragments a lot. Fragments my beloved.

English Grammar vs. Grammar in Other Languages

anonymous: so in English my favourite thing is the parallel Latin and Saxon registers because of how that affects grammar, but in Japanese my favourite grammatical thing is the use of an actual sound at the end of the sentence to denote a question, as opposed to how in English we use intonation? Also how in Japanese the sentence structure requires reasoning first and action second in terms of clauses. So rather than go “let’s go to the cinema because it’s raining and I’m cold,” you’d go “because it’s raining and I’m cold, let’s go to the cinema.” (My least favourite thing is the lack of spaces between words in the written form but that’s purely because I find that level of continuous letters intimidating to translate.)

I also love how Japanglish in the foreign communities in Japan starts to develop its own grammatical structure as a way of situating yourself in this space between the two languages. It’s used as a call-sign of belonging to that specific community, because in order to make some of the jokes and consciously break the rules of English or Japanese grammar and/or choose to obey one or the other, you’re basically displaying your control over both/knowledge of them. Like, the foreign community in Japan is often a disparate group of people with multiple different native languages who are relying on their knowledge of at least one non-native language but often two to signify their status in the group as Also An Outsider and I think that’s really interesting.

Nina Waters: Chinese and Japanese both drop subjects, and Chinese doesn’t have like… a/the… Japanese doesn’t have a future tense… Chinese kinda sorta doesn’t have tenses at all… (these are not pet peeves, btw, I love how learning a language with such different ways of approaching these things reshapes my brain). Chinese also doesn’t really have yes or no.

There’s a joke somewhere on Tumblr about that, though I actually think it’s about using “a” versus “the,” like, someone was giving a Russian speaker a hard time after they said “get in car” and they were like “only you English speakers are dumb enough to feel this is essential why would I be talking about getting into any random car of course I mean our car wtf.”

anonymous: on the subject of other languages, epithets are also something that happen differently in other languages. In French repeating a word (names included, and sometimes even pronouns) is considered bad writing. As in, way more than in English. Going by how grating the English translation of the Witcher books was to me when the French one was fine, I’d say it’s the same with Polish, at least. It’s also very interesting how brains adapt to writing styles in other languages.

What are some of your favorite and least favorite grammar quirks, in English or in the language of your choice?

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Created Works Round-Up: January 2024

A banner that reads "Created Works Round Up: January." In the upper left corner is the Duck Prints Press logo with a rainbow of duck prints around the left and bottom of it. On the right is the Dux mascot, a white duck with an orange beak and orange feet and a pleased expression on their face.

Duck Prints Press’s monthly “created works round-ups” are our opportunity to spotlight some of the amazing work that people working with us have done that ISN’T linked to their work with Duck Prints Press. We include fanworks, outside publications, and anything else that creators feel like sharing with y’all. Inclusion is voluntary and includes anything that they decided “hey, I want to put this on the created work’s round-up!”

Check out what they’ve shared with us this month…


cruel forgiveness by Cedar McCafferty-Svec

art || transformers || m/m || idw rodimus prime/armada megatron || teen & up || no major warnings apply || complete

summary: Digital drawing of IDW Rodimus and Armada Megatron based off a scene from a roleplay server on dreamwidth. Megatron is faking his own death and making Rodimus watch.

other tags: self harm, canon mashup, based on roleplay

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Stay by Smehur

art || baldur’s gate 3 || m/m || astarion/tav || mature || no major warnings apply || complete

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Astarion by Smehur

art || baldur’s gate 3 || no ships || general audiences || no major warnings apply || complete

summary: This started as a silly colored pencil doodle and ended up my best drawing so far. Anyway, I love him.

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A Godsdamn Kraken by Smehur

fiction || baldur’s gate 3 || m/m || astarion/tav || mature || no major warnings apply || 7,760 || complete

summary: Astarion and Tav met before the events of the game – and immediately got in trouble.

AO3


Self Help & Writing Advice by Tris Lawrence

blog post || original work || no ships || general audiences || no major warnings apply || 781 || complete

summary: I don’t like self-help books. Which means I often don’t like writing advice books.

Which sucks because I really want to like both of them. I am positive there are things I could learn from them.

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ND Creative: Time, Focus, Organization by Tris Lawrence

blog post, nd creative series || original work || no ships || general audiences || no major warnings apply || 957 || complete

summary: Time, focus, and organization can be complicated things as an ND creative.

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Things I Thought Were Mine by enchantedsleeper

fiction || fence comics || m/m || nicholas cox/seiji katayama || general audiences || no major warnings apply || 9,235 || complete

summary: Nicholas, Seiji, and the King’s Row team are invited by Jesse Coste to join him at an exclusive summer retreat for elite fencers at the Coste residence. Surrounded by reminders of the life he could have had, and with Jesse determined to pick up where he and Seiji left off, can Nicholas survive the week without some closely-held secrets bubbling to the surface?

other tags: Canon divergence AU, hurt/comfort

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a dream or two (away from you) by enchantedsleeper

fiction || fence comics || m/m || aiden kane/harvard lee || teen & up || no major warnings apply || 8,845 || complete

summary: Everyone knows that magic isn’t real. Never mind that Aiden, crown prince of Feldhaven, has been having strange dreams from a young age in which he meets and plays with a young boy from a far-away kingdom.

He can’t explain it, but he isn’t concerned – until years later, when an eighteen-year-old Aiden is suddenly introduced to the new Captain of the Guard: Harvard Lee. The boy from his dreams.

other tags: mediaeval fantasy AU, slightly handwavey dream magic, friends to lovers

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You Make Sense of the Devil by Hermit

fiction || mcu, criminal minds || m/m, f/m, poly (multiple genders) || james “bucky” barnes/emily prentiss, james “bucky” barnes/steve rogers || mature || rape/non-con || 15,772 || complete

summary: A ghost from the BAU past reappears and drags up unfinished business for Aaron Hotchner. The ripples are enough to call back missing team members and spread well beyond the circle of his influence.

other tags: Timeline What Timeline, MCU fusion, Criminal Minds fusion, liberties were taken with the legal system, Case Fic, No One Is Okay, canon typical trauma, Past Rape/Non-con, Flashback, discussion of trauma, Implied Polycule

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Tremble by Tal

fiction || link click || m/m || cheng xiaoshi/lu guang || general audiences || no major warnings apply || 2,096 || complete

summary: Cheng Xiaoshi has a bad time in a photo. Lu Guang is there in the aftermath.

other tags: Hurt/Comfort

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Phase Shift by Terra P. Waters

fiction || original work || platonic or familial, f/m || teen & up || no major warnings apply || 99,500 || ongoing series

summary: Despite being a self-professed science geek, high school freshman Camilla Mitchell has had a secret imaginary friend for years. It comes as quite a shock when said friend, Emma, accidentally drags her into a dimension full of hostile telepathic creatures. Cam’s friends, her brother, Oliver, and her mother, Kathryn, work furiously to solve her disappearance and bring her home. Other members of their small Minnesota town disappear, one after the other, including Lizzy Becker’s best friend, who is ripped from her arms. Lizzy badgers loner Oliver into working with her to rescue their missing loved ones. They discover a bridge between the two worlds—a bridge that allows the hostile creatures from Cam’s newly-discovered dimension into ours. If there’s a bridge, there’s a way to rescue the people taken. Right?

other tags: Tags: science fiction, alternate dimensions, teen characters, friendship, bisexual main character (minor references), lesbian character, nonbinary character, aliens; Content warnings: disordered eating, emetophobia, child abuse mention, homophobic bullying, teen characters in danger, gun violence, physical violence, abduction

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The Last Drop Cafe by Terra P. Waters

fiction || stranger things || poly (multiple genders) || jonathan byers/chrissy cunningham/steve harrington/nancy wheeler || explicit || creator choses not to use warnings || 77,500 || complete

summary: Nancy Wheeler is in her last year of college, about to graduate with her journalism degree. She’s just working as a barista at The Last Drop Cafe until she can find a real journalism job. She loves her boyfriend, Jonathan, though there’s been some tension lately, and she’s not quite sure how long the relationship is going to last. At least she lives above the coffee shop, which makes rolling out of bed at five in the morning to go to work slightly more tolerable. Her upstairs neighbors, Steve and Chrissy, are newlyweds eager to start their family. When a case of sleep deprivation and mistaken identity ties the two couples together, things quickly get complicated. But maybe complicated is just what Nancy was looking for.

other tags: Coffee Shop AU, College AU, Mistaken Identity, Polyamory, Somnophilia, Accidental Non-con, Unplanned Pregnancy, Birth, Hospitals

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Phase Shift by Terra P. Waters

fiction || original work || platonic or familial, f/m, f/nb || teen & up || no major warnings apply || 99,500 || complete

summary: Despite being a self-professed science geek, high school freshman Camilla Mitchell has had a secret imaginary friend for years. It comes as quite a shock when said friend, Emma, accidentally drags her into a dimension full of hostile telepathic creatures. Cam’s friends, her brother, Oliver, and her mother, Kathryn, work furiously to solve her disappearance and bring her home. Other members of their small Minnesota town disappear, one after the other, including Lizzy Becker’s best friend, who is ripped from her arms. Lizzy badgers loner Oliver into working with her to rescue their missing loved ones. They discover a bridge between the two worlds—a bridge that allows the hostile creatures from Cam’s newly-discovered dimension into ours. If there’s a bridge, there’s a way to rescue the people taken. Right?

other tags: Science Fiction, Horror, Aliens, Teen characters, Alternate dimensions, Friendship, LGBTQ+ characters, Hearing Impaired Character, Eating Disorder, Child Abuse, Gun Violence, Kidnapping, Teenaged Characters in Peril, Minor Character Death

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Prayers of Descent by unforth

fiction || tian guan ci fu || m/m || hua cheng/xie lian || general audiences || no major warnings apply || 1,648 || complete

summary: After 800 years in the Heavenly Court, Xie Lian receives a prayer with a simple request: “can I see you, your highness, just one more time?”

other tags: Canon Divergence, Jun Wu/Xie Lian

AO3

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How to Pitch to Duck Prints Press

A post by Duck Prints Press staff editor Owl Outerbridge.

In the publishing world, the word “pitch” conjures up a certain image. Perhaps you’ve been asked to write an “elevator speech” so you can quickly pitch your story to an interested party at a conference or meeting. Maybe you’ve participated in Twitter pitch-parties where you only have 255 characters to hook an agent. Every publisher and agent has their own expectations, and we are no different at Duck Prints Press. Since submissions are open again, we thought we’d take out some of the guesswork and tell you what we, as a press, are looking for.

For authors who have never worked with us before, the application asks for two  submissions: a writing sample and a pitch. The requirements for the writing sample are listed as part of the rubric for each anthology. We’re often looking for something a little different with each project, so we highly encourage you to look over the rubric and follow it closely when selecting a piece of your writing to share. Otherwise, it’s pretty straightforward. We want to see the best of you—a polished selection of writing that sings to your abilities as an author.

What we’re looking for in a pitch is more subjective and a bit different from other presses. Many presses only accept fully written stories, so a pitch is used as a teaser to drum up interest. We choose authors for their storytelling ability, assessed by their writing samples, and then ask them to write us a new, never-before-seen story. While we don’t expect authors to submit completed stories, we do want to know you have a fully realized story you want to write that interests us and fits within the anthology’s themes and requirements. In essence, what we would like is a cross between a teaser and a summary—something interesting that tells us how the story will unfold and lets us see how it might fit in with the other stories in the anthology.

Here are our suggestions on how you can create dynamic and interesting pitches specifically for Duck Prints Press:

  • Spoil us! No, seriously. We want to know the beginning, the middle, and the end of your story. Or, if not the end, at least give us a clear view of story progression with an intriguing hook. We need to know there is a story in your heart and that you know where it’s going.
  • Fit the brief. Every anthology is unique. Each one has a list of requirements, and your pitch should make it clear how your proposed story fits those requirements. If the anthology asks for a certain genre, a certain type of character, or a certain type of relationship, call those things out. Don’t make us guess.
  • Give your pitch some character. Who are the main players and what are their relationships? How do you want these relationships to resolve? Found family? Tell us! Enemies to lovers? Same! The characters don’t need names yet, but they nonetheless need to live and breath on the page.
  • Plot is everything. What does the main character (MC) want, what is in their way, and how does their life change? What motivates your MC? Who, or what, is the antagonist, and why? How do you want to resolve the plot (even if you leave off on a question?) You won’t convince us you’re ready to tell this story without conveying these aspects of the story.
  • Make us feel. Is there longing in your story? Passion? Anger? Romance? We want to get a feel for the tone as we read your pitch. Please make sure it matches the tone we’ve asked for in the anthology, though. A grimdark horror story for a “happily ever after” anthology won’t make the cut.
  • Take all the space you need. Each pitch has a maximum number of words. We give plenty of room to make sure you can fit everything you need because we’re looking for so much more than an elevator speech. Be aware of the flow, though. You want to be concise and exciting.
  • Edit, edit, edit. Your pitch is as important as your writing sample and should be edited to the best of your ability. It should be formatted well, have good sentence variety, use excellent grammar, and have been spell checked. We don’t expect perfection, but editing is a major part of our process. We like to see that our authors turn in their best work every time. It can often help to have someone else look over your work before you turn it in. We strongly encourage the use of alpha and beta readers for all press work.
  • Tag it. We ask that, in addition to submitting your pitch, you also submit a list of preliminary tags. Think about how you would tag this story if you were to post it on Archive of Our Own. Will your story contain potentially upsetting content like sexual abuse (on screen or off screen?) Character death? Harm to children? Our staff has a variety of life experiences and while we strongly believe in your freedom to write what you want, we believe equally in harm reduction and giving people the tools they need to curate their own experiences. We request more general tags as well. Are you planning a story that you’d call fluffy? Is it angst with a happy ending, or hurt/comfort, or whump? We’d love to see tags similar to those that would go in each section of an AO3 post: major warnings/potential triggers, type of relationship (if any), and “additional tags.” You don’t have to have everything single thing in there, and they can potentially change, but tags help us assess what tone and specific content you’re planning to include in your story, once it’s fletched out from short pitch to full length. Tagging is not optional.
  • Most of all, have fun! If you are in love with your story, we will see that love. You are applying to write with us because you have a passion for writing that you want to share with the world. Don’t get lost in the details and forget. We have authors from around the world who have written for a huge variety of fandoms, people who are native speakers and grammarians, people who speak English as a second (or third) language, people who dabble in every genre. What do we all have in common? A passion for the craft. We love to write, and we want to work with people who also love to write. You—yes you!—can do this, and we can’t wait to see what you have to show.

Looking for more information? We’ve got you covered; this is not the first time we’ve written about pitches!

Who We Are: Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Love what we do? Sign up for our monthly newsletter and get previews, behind-the-scenes information, coupons, and more.

Through the month of January, 2023, all new monthly backers on our Patreon and ko-fi can claim a merchandise freebie in addition to all their backer rewards – which, depending on your backer level, could include a free copy of this story! Why not take a peek at what we have to offer?

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Aetherpunk

By a member of the Duck Prints Press staff who has chosen to be anonymous.

Note: Punk genres are diverse and always changing. Duck Prints Press is not trying to give a complete explanation of aetherpunk here but rather a bit of inspiration. Take what you want from it to create your own aetherpunk worlds!

On January 5th, Duck Prints Press will be launching recruitment for our next anthology: Aether Beyond the Binary, a collection of stories featuring main characters outside the gender binary living in modern or near-future aetherpunk Earth! This begs the question: what IS Aetherpunk? Well, read on and learn all about it…

Prologue: From the Aether

Scenes from the Aether #1: Bloomington, Indiana, 2013:

Lin steps into the café down the street from their apartment. The lights of the shop glow a pleasant green, reminiscent of the owner’s own magical aura. Soon, when Del opens the shop for customers, they’ll turn a more standard blue, but for now Del’s shop is cozy and quiet. Lin smiles, looking forward to seeing their friend. 

A shower of blue sparks flies from the kitchen’s open door, and Del scrambles out, cursing. When he sees Lin, he breaks into a wry smile. 

“Breakfast on the house?” he offers, his shorthand for pleading. 

“That’s the third time this week,” Lin chides, barely holding back their smile. They roll up their sleeves to go tinker with Del’s new, “improved” baking oven. “Why not use your old one?”

“The aether this model uses is supposed to be more efficient!” Del exclaims. Then, with a sad smile: “Plus no one trusts my powers. They still think the color’s associated with… you know.”

“Yeah.” Lin knows. They think of Del’s infamous brother, the deadly alchemist. “I’ll help you, but this is the last time.”

“Mhm,” Del says, nudging Lin’s shoulder, and adds telepathically, You say that every time.

You could try not being so smug about it, Lin half scolds, half laughs. 

“Why wouldn’t I be smug? My handsome, brilliant friend, the undisputed genius of the IU School of Aetheric Engineering, is fixing my pipes for free.”

Lin blushes but maintains their chiding tone as they say, their warm face hidden behind the stove where the power supply has once again leaked from its pipes, “Not for free. For breakfast.” 

-anonymous Duck Prints Press staff member

Part One: What’s in a Punk (genre)? 

There’s been an explosion of punk genres since Bruce Bethke’s 1983 story Cyberpunk launched the genre. Though Bethke’s story may have given a name to this phenomenon, in his Etymology of “Cyberpunk” Bethke credits William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) for really defining the core tenets of the genre (Bethke, 2000). He also marvels at how the cyberpunk character trope (“a young, technologically facile, ethically vacuous, computer-adept vandal or criminal”) has stayed remarkably stable over the years since his story was published. In 2022, when I’m writing this, it’s still very similar. The cyberpunks in the cyberpunk genre are the sorts of lone heroes who often arise in the isolating environments fostered by advanced computer technologies.

Why am I rambling on about cyberpunk? Because, dear readers, cyberpunk is the progenitor of all genrepunks. As the most widely explored and utilized punk setting, it has provided the blueprint on which other punk genres are built. In essence, every punk after cyberpunk is a reaction to cyberpunk, either embracing or pushing back against its ethos. After cyberpunk came steampunk: a retro, adventurous answer to cyberpunk’s gritty and dystopian futurism. Then came others: dieselpunk, sandalpunk, biopunk—even the very meta “mythpunk” to which Neil Gaiman’s work is often attributed. These days, even non-punk fantasy is often punk-adjacent. 

So what makes punk stories… punk? For a story to be classified in a punk genre, it typically requires two key elements: a distinctive type of technology (whether social technology like myths and lore or physical technology like steam engines, diesel-powered airships, or nanobots) and a point of view about that technology. 

The technological distinctions can seem fairly obvious: atompunk features tech powered by nuclear energy; nanopunk, tiny robot technology; biopunk, genetic engineering and biotech; dieselpunk, diesel-powered machines. But focusing on only the tech aspects can make people miss the point of having multiple different punk subgenres. 

Take this paraphrased version of a forum conversation, circa 2015: 

[User 1]: Hey, I’ve been hearing more and more about this genre called ‘aetherpunk,’ but I can’t figure out what it is. How is it different from just steampunk but with magic? 

[User 2]: Sorry to tell you, friend, but it’s basically just “steampunk with magic.”

[User 1]: Ah. So, completely useless, then.

This view is common but misses the point. The tech alone does not make punk punk. The second necessary element is the cultural context of the technology: how does it affect the people who use it every day? How dissociated do those people feel from their environment? From their government? From the inevitable march of society, driven at least partially by technological advances using the genre-specific tech? Punk genres live and breathe for their exploration of the intersection between technology and culture. 

Genreunk is a response to the world we live in. Cultural evolution happens when technologies—lore, steam engines, printing presses, atomic bombs—intersect with cultural habits and traditions and shake them loose. We don’t live in the only, or the best, possible world. When we write punk, in some ways, we’re rewriting cultural evolution. We’re asking for a new way of thinking about the past and how that carries forward into the future. How we would be different. How we would be the same.

Punk isn’t just a genre. It’s a tool for understanding humanity. 

Part Two: Clear Air, a History of Aether

In the beginning, gods breathed their essence into the emptiness of space, and aether entered the universe as the material through which the stars and planets moved. Humans in ancient Greece, attuned to this invisible presence, named it “clear air” and declared it the fifth element, along with earth, water, air, and fire. Other cultures gave this energy different names or didn’t name it at all but nonetheless knew it was there. Over a thousand years later, medieval Europeans called it “quintessence” and hypothesized that this element, rare on Earth, could be distilled in order to cure mortal ailments. Aether was a substance that could make rocks burn and lights glow. It became a key ingredient in classic alchemical experiments in the West.

Aether has always been the bringer of light, the unchanging medium through which energy travels in waves from its source to the lenses of our eyes, to the leaves of hungry plants, to everywhere on the planet and throughout the universe. Indeed, it was so recently believed in and well-known that late 19th-century spiritualists took photos of ectoplasm and declared that ghosts could send messages through the aether. 

Then, a mere hundred-odd years ago, we lost faith. 

The idea of aether seems preposterous now, when we know about electron fields and the theory of relativity which states that nothing in the universe is stable or unchanging (and we certainly don’t need a special medium that exists to move light around)—but is it really so much harder to believe in aether than in electron fields? Or in dark matter?

Why shouldn’t we be swimming through aether like a fish swims through water?

Part Three: What is Aether/Punk?

Aetherpunk, the genre, explores what the world would be like if, rather than finding out aether was simply a confused explanation for how energy moves through space, we discovered that it was a real element, something we could both detect and harness. The nature of the aether isn’t what makes aetherpunk what it is. Rather, it’s the exploration of the development of society from the turning point when we discover that the aether is real—how that changes the world, the people, the past, and the future. 

Aether, the invisible force, can be everything and nothing. It can be magic, or it can be material. In some disciplines, like alchemy, it’s both. Aether is made of faith. It’s ephemeral, often immaterial, and only visible once the viewer knows what they’re looking for. It can cause disaster or provide beautiful, clean energy for wondrous technologies. It can be a source of progress or of fear. But in the end, it’s still a thing that must be discovered and cultivated. It can’t be forced into existence.

Aetherpunk as a genre is more naturistic than earlier punk genres like steampunk or cyberpunk. Natural materials find their way into clothing and buildings and weapons and tools, and the shapes of these man-made elements are designed in ways that enhance their ability to harness aetheric power. There might be constructs of stone or finely-honed metal held together by aetheric energy, beautiful steel weapons that cut through stone using atom-thick edges of pure aether, skyships and buildings of gold, or of clear stone, or of glass and crystal. And the technology bathes its surroundings in a luminous glow of aetheric light. 

Like solarpunk and lunarpunk, aetherpunk is a hopeful punk genre. When aether is discovered and harnessed, it brings about flourishing communities and can help to heal the world. Of course there are dark sides—the dangers of a volatile power source that not everyone can control, the frustrations of the people who are unable to use that power for themselves—and anyone is welcome to write a dark aetherpunk story. But aetherpunk doesn’t come with the same inherent baggage as steampunk or cyberpunk. Likewise, people can write utopian steampunk and cyberpunk, but that’s the opposite of the “standard” core of the genre. Aetherpunk wants to explore humanity in a universe where we don’t struggle simply to light our homes. Where the power that runs everything suffuses the universe, and therefore everyone can reap the benefits. A world where our source of power doesn’t send millions of people to an early grave. What sorts of stories would emerge in this sort of world?

Part Four: Steampunk but with Aether?

Now that we’ve described what aetherpunk is, let’s return to that dreadful forum post, and ask for ourselves: what makes aetherpunk more than just “steampunk but with aether”? 

In short, everything.

First is the nature of the energy that powers the technology. Steampunk is a retrofuturistic genre that centers on the era when steam, fueled by wood and coal, was the main power source, around the turn of the 1800s during the Industrial Revolution. It harkens back to the aesthetics of the era, with wood and steel and glass materials, wooden ships that ply the air, clockworks and rivets and tangible, heavy things that work through sheer force. Steam is a thing with weight. It will melt your flesh from your bones, and it’s born not of faith, nor internal strength, nor the careful distillation of spirits down to their quintessence, but instead through fire. Another resource needs to burn to make it. Entire lives are spent feeding coal into the voracious maws of steam engines. 

Aetherpunk, as we’ve described, is born of magic, and thus the technology to use it focuses on cultivation and focusing energy rather than on producing something by force. Even the most cursory look at the nature of the energy source shows us how every aspect of society linked with producing that energy is different between steampunk stories and aetherpunk stories.

There’s also a very important cultural distinction between aetheric stories and steam-powered stories. In steampunk, the adventures of sky pirates and nobility are built on the efforts of a vast lower class who are systematically shut out from steam’s benefits. It may not matter to the story at hand, but the underlying class tension is always there. Like cyberpunk, steampunk takes inequality as a given, and places singular heroes into that world.

Aetherpunk is more utopian and egalitarian. There’s no assumption built in that in order for a person to use their magical flying ship, someone else must suffer to create the energy needed to fuel it. This distinction makes all the difference in how aetherpunk and steampunk stories are told. 

In either case, the power source can be wonderful or terrible, can fuel dystopian nightmares or hopeful solutions to the troubles that ail the world. But the fundamental nature of these technologies affects the way characters think and speak about the world they inhabit. Is it a place of smog or of shimmering lights? Is it a place where magic competes with technology, or is it a place where magic is the technology? The answers to these questions are different in every punk genre, and those differences should have a profound impact on the story’s narrative.

Where will your aetherpunk story take you?

Epilogue: From the Aether

Scenes from the Aether #2: San Francisco, 2043

Shining, multicolored bridges bend but do not break in the powerful earthquake that, in previous eras, would have shaken buildings from their foundations and dropped bridges into the bay. Drivers and pedestrians cling to whatever safety they can as the structures sag and sway and finally, after all is done, snap back to form as though the past minute was only a bad dream. 

Trill breathes a ragged sigh before stepping back onto zir motorcycle and kicking the starter. A blue glow and a warm hum are the only signs that the bike is powering up before Trill finishes crossing the bridge, a little jumpy from the unexpected shaking but no worse for wear. Ze has a long way still to go before ze arrive at Heloise’s house. Ze can’t wait to see zir friend, who is finally home after her long trip to Lima where she was training magicians to harness their power. 

Trill rides north into the mountains while the sun sets to zir west, out above the ocean, and the world glows orange and pink. By the time ze powers down zir bike, the sky is silky black and filled with stars. Trill climbs toward Heloise’s small house, which is built into the slope; the soft blue glow of natural aether in the rocks lights the way. Ze knocks on Heloise’s wooden door;  Heloise answers with a hug around Trill’s waist, her face pressed into Trill’s chest. Trill laughs, something in zir heart finally relaxing.

It’s been a long eight months. 

She pulls Trill inside, into this warm place she’s made in the lonely hills above the bay, and even though ze doesn’t deserve it, Trill revels in her welcome. It feels like coming home.

-anonymous Duck Prints Press staff member

Examples of Aetherpunk

As aetherpunk is a young genre, examples are sparse, and there are many opinions on what “counts” and what doesn’t. For example, some people consider Lord of the Rings to be aetherpunk, due to the way it brings magic and technology together (especially in Mordor and in Sarumon’s plot line) and the way the magic interacts with society. The below list should not be considered exhaustive, just as this post shouldn’t be treated as The Last Word on the nature of aetherpunk.

Books:

Games:

About Duck Prints Press

Duck Prints Press LLC is an independent publisher based in New York State. Our founding vision is to help fanfiction authors navigate the complex process of bringing their original works from first draft to print, culminating in publishing their work under our imprint. We are particularly dedicated to working with queer authors and publishing stories featuring characters from across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

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Sources

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Commonly Confused Words: Saucy Edition THE SECOND

A bit over a year ago, we posted our first Commonly Confused Words: Saucy Edition. Since then, we’ve spotted more very confused word usage, and we had some folks tell us some confusions they’d encountered, and now we’ve compiled those into Commonly Confused Saucy words TWO: Electric Boogaloo.

Often, which of these words an author uses marks the difference between a story being very sexy, and a story being very strange, so to all writers out there – it’s worth learning the differences, asking for help, or Googling if you’re not sure!


fellate vs. filet vs. fillet vs. flay

fellate (verb): to perform fellatio on a person (as in: to perform oral stimulation on a person’s penis). For example: “Parting her lips, she eagerly fellated her boyfriend.”

vs.

filet (noun): a piece of lace, usually with a geometric design; OR, a French word for a cut of meat. For example: “My hobby is filet crochet.” For example: “I’d like to order the filet mignon, please.”

vs.

fillet (noun): the English spelling of the French word “filet,” referring to a cut of meat. For example: “The advert from the grocery store said fillet of fish is on sale.”

vs.

flay (verb): to remove the skin from a creature. For example: “The person screamed as the torturer flayed their skin from their body.”


taut vs. taught

taut (adjective): pulled tight; alternatively, ship-shape. For example: “He pulled the rope taut and the sails unfurled.”

vs.

taught (verb): something an instructor presented to a learner in the past. For example: “She taught him how to pull the rope taut and unfurl the sales.”


baited vs. bated vs. batted

baited (verb): many meanings, such as: to persecute or exasperate (”He baited them into attack by mocking them.”), to harass or attack by biting and tearing (”The dog baited the cat.”), to place bait (”The fisherman baited his hook.”), to entice or lure (”Good deals baited hopeful house hunters.”

vs.

bated (verb): to reduce the force or intensity of something; to take something away. For example: “She waited with bated breath.”

vs.

batted (verb): the act of using a bat against someone or something. For example: “The shortstop batted third in the line-up.”


pore vs. poor vs. pour

pore (verb): to study or gaze at something intensely. For example: “He pored over the document.”

vs.

pore (noun): a small opening in the outer covering of an animal or plant. For example: “The close-up was so intense that you could see every pore on their nose.”

vs.

poor (adjective): to lack material resources. For example: “I can’t afford lunch because I’m too poor.”

vs.

pour (verb): to cause a liquid to flow in a stream, possibly from a container (”The juice pours from the pitcher.”), or can be used figuratively, for example “She poured out her feelings in a rush” or “The tycoon pours money into their investment.”)


wither vs. writh vs. writhe

wither (verb): to lose vitality or freshness. For example: “After the flowers were cut, they withered quickly.”

vs.

writh (???): writh is not a word.

vs.

writhe (verb): to twist into folds, to twist until something distorts, to twist (a part of the body) as though in pain, to suffer keenly. For example: “He tickled my foot, and I writhed in discomfort.”


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Editing Tips for Beginning Editors

This is a guest post written by Adrian Harley.

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet you already have a lot of the skills you need to be an editor. Even among full-time professionals, a lot of editing skill comes from reading a ton—you get an “eye” for when a sentence just doesn’t look right. The more you read professionally edited work, the better you get at it. (Fanfiction is incredible, obviously. But fanfiction has its own quirks, and the grammar and punctuation can vary, so I’m not confident recommending it as a way to brush up your instinctive grasp of when a sentence “looks right.”)

The specifics of what you do as an editor can vary a lot depending on what you’re editing and who you’re editing for, so in this post, I’ll be covering some of the basic principles that I think will be helpful no matter what type of editing you do. Broadly, I’ll be going over language-related tips and profession-related tips. 

Language

I won’t be going over the nuts and bolts of grammar here, as a zillion good guides to it already exist online. Grammar Girl is my go-to free resource, and a lot of grammar and punctuation questions can be easily answered online or in a style guide from your library. I looked up the rules for commas a LOT in my first years of editing, and I still have to double-check them sometimes. A lot of the fiddly details differ between guides (how to write a.m. and p.m.; serial comma), but the nuts and bolts of grammar and punctuation stay the same across guides. 

Professionally, those fiddly details are a big chunk of editing. Do you write out numbers less than 20? Less than 10? Do you capitalize titles like “President” all the time or only in certain situations? There’s no one right answer, which is one of the many reasons there’s no “right guide” to editing. A style guide will decide many of these questions for you. If you pick up editing as a profession, your employer will most likely have a style guide in mind. You may want to pick one for yourself if you do freelance editing. That way, you won’t have to re-decide on every job, and if you get repeat clients, you’ll be sure their text is consistent across all their documents. A “series bible” for fiction works on similar principles. 

Whether you’re looking at those fiddly details or at the big picture, one principle of editing is to never take anything for granted. Someone says there’s five ancient orbs needed to defeat the dragon? You’d better count the orbs. Make sure every proper noun in the story (names of people, places, things) is spelled the same every single time. This is the kind of thing you’ll get quizzed on if you ever apply for a professional editing gig. Every editing job I’ve ever applied to has an “editing test” of at least a page, and it usually has at least one of those errors (if not both).

Another major thing to watch out for is colloquialisms, especially ones that mean multiple things. A short list of common errors I see:

“Since” should only relate to the passage of time; it does not mean “because.”

“While,” again, should only refer to time—two things happening simultaneously. “But,” “although,” “whereas,” and others are good substitutes for the other sense.

“Due to” does not mean “because of,” it means “caused by” (and I’ve seen some editors argue to not even use it for “caused by” and to only use it for when something is owed to someone).

“If” will often need to be replaced with “whether.”

Obviously with dialogue, that’s a whole nother story, but be careful about these in narration, even with a colloquial narrative. They can introduce unintentional double meanings.

When you’re moving from basic accuracy to style, you’ll often need to “tighten up” the language. This might be something you’re used to doing in your own writing. This doesn’t mean all prose should be sparse! But as an editor, part of your job is making sure that every word is contributing something, no matter whether the sentence is flowery or stark. One exercise is to go through and see if you can cut one word from every sentence. Depending on what type of editing you do, you’ll have different “filler words” to look out for. My personal demon is “just,” so I always do a search for that when I’m revising my own work. In my day job, the word “provide” often signals a clunky phrase that could be condensed into a single, better verb (e.g., “provides assistance” vs. “helps”). 

You’ll look for a lot as you edit, so don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. A simple search can make sure you’ve caught issues like “while” and “since.” Other issues are best solved in their own read-through. For me, I try to do a read-through specifically for passive voice. I often skip over passive voice on my all-purpose read because, well, the sentence makes sense, doesn’t it? So my eye simply doesn’t catch it if I’m not on the lookout. As you edit, you’ll figure out what process works best for you.

And to wrap up the language section—checklists are your friend! I used to have a post-it of all the things I knew I struggled with, and I’d systematically search the document for those trip-ups after I did my first read. You can customize your own checklist with whatever snags give you trouble.

Professionalism

A huge part of editing as a professional is in how you interact with other people. Your whole job is telling people they’re wrong, after all, and you often have no control over whether they’ll listen to you. Everything you can do to make the criticism easier for them helps!

My favorite “one weird trick” that my first boss taught me is to turn every criticism into a question. If you’re suggesting a significant revision, “How about…?” is one of my favorite leads. If you have no idea what’s going on, do your best to figure out what might be causing the issue, then form a question around that. “Are there missing words here?” is kinder and more useful than “Huh?”

Essentially, your role as an editor is to advocate for the reader. This “reader stand-in” role can help frame critique as well. Will the reader understand this? If you’re in one of the more-technical editing jobs, that question may be completely necessary. As an editor for scientific research, I’m often editing documents meant for people who know way more about the subject matter than I do. The framing of “the reader” is also a useful tool in your toolbox for fiction. You may be editing something that you are not the target audience for. Or, on the other end of the scale, you may know without question that you’re reading something incomprehensible. The polite device of “the reader” helps add a level of depersonalization to the critique.

Unsurprisingly, for editing, communication is key before you even start work. “Editing” covers a huge range of possibilities. Make sure you and the author are on the same page. Do they want a proofread—only correcting glaring errors? Do they want you to improve the phrasing of sentences? It can go all the way up to practically rewriting the thing, if you’re working at a corporation and the authors aren’t professionals. This conversation beforehand will let you know whether you should make “artistic” suggestions as you read, whether you need to stick with nuts and bolts, or something in between.

If the author says they only need a proofread and you discover the whole thing is terrible, that’s when some tactful emails come into play. Never start doing a higher-level edit unless you’ve talked about it with the author first. You have much better odds of an affirmative if they feel like they’re collaborating with you–that you’re both in it together to make the best document possible. As far as the tactful emails go, be kind and be specific. If you have examples of what you’d like to correct, throw those in. It helps the author know what to expect and make an informed decision.

And sometimes the author says no, and that’s okay! You must wash your hands of it. It’s not your name on the thing, and if you don’t put it in your resume, it never will be (fresh out of college, I worked on a couple truly awful novels that nobody will ever know I worked on). Perfectionism is HARD to overcome, I know, but accepting the errors gets easier with practice.

And finally, if you’re still wondering, “Am I cut out to be an editor?” I would recommend the words of Neil Gaiman. In his excellent “Make Good Art” speech, he says that as a freelance artist, you need to do good work, do it on time, and be pleasant to work with. And then, he adds, “You don’t even need all three! Two out of three is fine.” I recommend the whole thing if you ever want to battle imposter syndrome, because the same tenets apply to editing. At least I think they do. You don’t need to be the perfect editor—nobody is. But I guarantee that you have most of what you need already, and I hope this has helped.

Biography

Adrian Harley, one of Duck Prints Press’s editors, has been a full-time professional editor of scientific research for 10 years. Their freelance and ad-hoc editing has run the gamut from books to blog posts to family members’ cover letters. They’ve been published in Duck Prints Press’ And Seek (Not) to Alter Me and the forthcoming She Wears the Midnight Crown, as well as OFIC Magazine. 

Want to learn more?

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Received Asks: How Did You Pick the Name You Create Under and What Influenced that Decision?

A collaboratively written post by multiple members of Duck Prints Press. The input of every individual author has been used and lightly edited with permission and credited in the way they’ve requested.

Two days ago, a member of Duck Prints Press posed the following questions to our blogging team:

  • Whether you publish under a pen name or your given name, what factored into your decision to use one or the other?
  • Was personal safety the primary reason behind deciding to use a pen name, or were there other reasons? 
  • If you use your given name, do you feel safe? 
  • What’s your advice for [creators] who are thinking about publishing original [work]? 

A number of us replied, and we all felt that the compiled responses would make a good post to share, as “whether or not to use a pen name” is a recurring question we often get in-server, and is likely one many of y’all out there thinking of publishing your original work have pondered as well. 

Do you publish under a pen name or use your given name, and what factors influenced your decision to use one or the other?

@arialerendeair: I publish under a pseudonym and always will! I decided to go with names that riff off my fanfic name (Aria Lerendeair) – Aria L. Deair (for non-erotica) and Aria D. Leren (for erotica) because I’ve built a community and wanted it to be a bit of an in-joke when they find/buy my content. If someone were to find the story organically – they might get the name reference, they might not. It’s a fun way to create not-separation between the names and have one for the different genres! 

boneturtle: I (try to) stay anonymous aside from necessary contracts because of personal safety as regards certain family members. I honestly don’t worry about strangers knowing who I am, but if I am aiming for anonymity I have to commit.

Annabeth Lynch: I use a pen name, but I plan on taking at least the first name as my legal name when possible. I won’t share that or my pen name with my family because 1) they don’t know I write, and I’m not content to share that with them at all, and 2) I don’t want them to know I’m queer. They likely wouldn’t be hellish about it but I would certainly be mocked. Also, now I live in the south and while I live in a liberal section because of the nearby colleges, the place I want to move after my husband’s schooling is ~liberal~ in a vague way but definitely not as good as where I am now. It’s one reason why I’m hesitant to try and get my books in bookstores that might want in-person events.

Dei Walker: I went with a pen name for the erotica I wrote for DPP (and I’ll keep with that), but the first name holds a link with my real name in some ways. My husband’s a teacher at a fairly prestigious private school, and there’s a degree of “yeah my wife writes smut” that’s okay with colleagues but isn’t okay if the parents find out about it if they use search engines to learn more about me.

Willa Blythe: I chose to use a pen name. One, my real name is kind of weirdly spelled and I don’t actually even use my first name because it is a very popular name from the 80s that my parents left a letter out of… I go by my middle name but I spell it differently than what’s on my birth certificate, and I’ve gone by this name since I was 18. Everyone in my life knows me as (NAME) save my family, and they know I go by that. It’s not a nickname, it’s my name, and that’s fine. 

Anonymous: I decided to use a pen name for two reasons: 1) my name is incomprehensible to English speakers – not only is it hard to pronounce, but it also uses special characters; 2) I’m a primary teacher in a small town where gossip goes wild (for example, when I decided to go part-time so I have more time for writing it was going around that I was pregnant ) so I don’t want anyone to find out that I’m queer and write queer romance. There are idiots out there who wouldn’t want me to teach their kids because of that. I eventually came up with a pen name that is a word play on my legal name so it still feels like me, and the people I want to know would recognize it as me but strangers are unlikely to make the connection.

Nina Waters ( @unforth ): I publish under a pen name because people always mispronounce my last name and my understanding is that it’s better to make a pen name people can pronounce. Back when I was still considering trad pub, I was planning to use multiple pen names so I could write across genres. Nina Waters was gonna be spec fic and romance, but I love historical drama type stuff too and like. Those sell better with a male name on them? So I was gonna use either C. P. Houck (so, my actual initials and last name) or Charles (or maybe Chuck) P. Houck, since Charles is a family name (my uncle, my grandfather, and my great grandfather on my dad’s side are all Charles’s). That all said, when I decided to go the small Press creation route instead, there was basically no way to keep my real name out of things since as the owner I have to put it on all official paperwork, which means it’s filed with the government and a matter of public record. Since anyone could access it, there didn’t seem to be much point in keeping it a secret/separate. 

Was personal safety the primary reason behind deciding to use a pen name? What other reasons influenced your decisions?

(some authors included their answers to this in their replies above)

Nina Waters: Not really, though I did originally concoct the Nina Waters name for a really silly version of personal safety? I was writing a thing based on my unrequited feelings for someone and I obviously couldn’t put that under my real name without risking them figuring it out, so I needed a pen name. I never did finish that project lmao and now I would never bother but the pen name stuck. 

arialerendeair: Part of [why I use a pen name] is because I was doxxed (and received threats) from a non-writing community almost a decade ago. I’m not afraid of attaching my real name to my works – I’m proud of them! But with the very real possibility of that happening again at some point in the future, I didn’t want to risk it!

Willa Blythe: There was an additional reason that using a pen name was important to me, though. When I wrote fan fiction, I was the victim of a targeted hate campaign aimed at people who wrote fanfiction about a certain character. I wrote fic that I loved and I stayed in my corner, but I got aggressive and hateful messages constantly about not only myself but also my young son, for the crime of choosing to write about a young man of color instead of the overwhelmingly popular white m/m ship in that fandom. It was alarming, especially when people I didn’t know sent me messages about my workplace and my movements there. Prior to that, I’d been pretty open online. I’m not now. I take doxxing very seriously. My son’s safety, but also my own and my roommate’s, are of huge importance. I write about things people don’t love: complicated queer relationships, critiques of capitalism and white supremacy, critiques of religion and spiritual practices, etc. I have to do what is necessary to create distance between my real life, my fandom life, and my writing life. That said… I’ve done more to separate my fandom and writing identities than my real and writing identities, for a variety of reasons. It’s complicated, but as much as I love fandom, it does breed a certain kind of entitlement that my personal friends and family just don’t have.

If you use your given name, do you feel safe?

@owlishintergalactic: My wife and I had a huge conversation about the implications of me writing under my wallet name. I am quite politically involved in the Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education sectors in my county and state. This is a sector where being openly LGBTQ can cause problems with a particular subset of parents and voters. Yet, we don’t believe we should have to hide who we are and that we are LGBTQ – like many other parents in our state. We decided, in the end, that since I don’t write anything more racy than “mature,” it makes sense to build my platform using my real name. My writing is a part of me. It is a part of my advocacy. It’s my profession. But it is a risk, and it’s mitigated some because I live in one of the most open and inclusive communities in the US. For the most part, though, I do almost all of my online work under a variation of Owlish because it creates a layer of protection between me and the internet masses who don’t always have the best intentions.

Nina Waters: I. uh. Mostly? I definitely worry about it. I’ve been thinking about getting a P. O. Box for the business so I at least don’t have to use my real address all the time too. I worry that if someone took offense to the kind of work I do, they could go after my children, and that scares the crap out of me. In retrospect I wish I’d worked a little harder to keep my identities separate, but they were already mostly merged by the time I had kids and I’d have had to completely restart with new screen names and everything, so it felt like it was already too late by the time the business became public.

What’s your advice for [creators] who are thinking about publishing original [work]?

Nina Waters: The advice I give to people in the Press is if they’re even a LITTLE unsure, they should use a pen name. At any time when they decide they’re comfortable they can always switch to using their real name, but once the genie’s out of the bottle there’s no putting it back.

arialerendeair: There are a great many reasons to choose to use a pseud! For your own personal reasons, for reasons involving your spouse, your family, your activism work, because the internet is a scary place sometimes and many grew up in the web safety diligence era. If you are picking up a pseud for any reason at all – great! They can be fun, they can be punny, (is it a coincidence that D is the middle initial for my pseud that I write erotica under? Nope!) and they can be a chance to reinvent yourself for an audience that doesn’t know you yet. There’s a power in being able to shape a persona – and sometimes it’s fun to grab that and see where it leads!

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Do you – yes, you, the person reading this! – use a pen name for publishing your art, fiction, or other types of creations? Have you kept your fandom, creation, and meatspace selves separate? We’d love to hear your answers to the above questions, so feel free to comment and weigh in!

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Planning Using the Three-Act Structure: Dystopian Novels

This is the third in a series of posts about the Three-Act structure, written by guest blogger Annabeth Lynch. Part 1: Romance Novels. Part 2: Mystery Novels.

It’s time for another crash course in writing! This time, we’ll be discussing the outline of a dystopian book. Ernest Hemingway gave my favorite description of being an author: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” So set up that typewriter and let’s start bleeding.

Before we begin breaking down this structure as it applies specifically to dystopian stories, a little background on the three-act structure. I’ve written about this structure as it applies to romance and mystery. Most Western novels are written with this structure, which is separated into three sections. First, the beginning, aptly named the Setup, is the first 25% of the story. The second act is called the Confrontation, taking up half the story, 25%-75%. The last quarter of the story, from 75% to 100%, is the Resolution. This is the novel in its most basic form. It’s a good measure of how the story needs to progress, but there’s a lot of wiggle room in such a broad system. Also, what should happen in each of these sections varies by genre, hence this series of posts. This time, we’re going to break down the acts into plot points and show approximately which events should go in each section when you’re writing a dystopian story.

Dystopian novels usually clock in at 60,000 to 120,000 words, so we’ll base the word count on the average, which is 90,000. Though dystopian novels are often turned into series, for simplicity’s sake we’ll work with the idea that this novel is a stand-alone. This same structure can be used on a larger scale for a series if desired, though – just recalculate the word counts appropriately.

The Setup

This act is about laying the foundation of the novel. This is where your hook should be, right at the beginning. Additionally, the reader should get a glimpse of the main character(s) in their average life and develop a baseline understanding of how the world works. In a dystopian novel, some aspect of society or the world is exaggerated and therefore causing problems for the characters. The main two causes of a dystopia are a man-made disaster or a natural disaster or descent of society. Readers will want to know what caused your specific dystopia to come about and how these events have affected the populous.

At the 12% mark (approximately 10,800 words in), the inciting incident should occur. After the world is established in the reader’s head, it’s time to introduce the crux of the plot. In dystopian books, because this subgenre can be used in multiple larger genres (like sci-fi or fantasy) there’s a lot of room to work with different types of stories you can tell. Regardless of which direction you choose to write in, the inciting incident should affect all the main characters and function as a call to action that they will undoubtedly rise to –  whether because they want to incite change or because there’s no other option left to them.

By 20% (18,000 words) of the way in, all the important characters should have been introduced. This goal is a little flexible because worldbuilding takes a little longer in dystopian novels, but you shouldn’t take much longer than this. The other characters will need the remaining word count to really make an impact on the plot! You don’t want to run the risk of a seeming deus-ex-machina solution by waiting to introduce a crucial character only at the critical moment.

The Setup ends at 25% (22,500 words), when the first major plot point should occur. This is where the story starts to pick up and the heroes’ journey begins. They embark on their mission or escape their bonds, or they’ve learned some hint about how to fix the world, or they or someone they know comes down with the illness plaguing the world – whatever needs to happen to move them into the next stage of the story.

The Confrontation

This is the meat of the story. It makes up roughly half of the whole novel and includes most of the build-up. Now is the time to ratchet up the tension and help the reader get their bearings in the developing story situation. This part will contain most of the important plot points except the three C’s (more on those later) since, in dystopian stories, the first act is will usually be focused on world- and character-building.

At about 37% (33,300 words) is the first pinch point, and is also usually a good excuse to give a little more backstory. Anything that connects the main character(s) to the main “problem” of the story should be brought up. Were they present when the military rolled through to institute a police state? Was their mother instrumental in the creation of the disease? What does the state of the world now mean to them, and what do they plan to do about it? Clear up some of the past for the readers!

50% (45,000 words) is the midpoint. As in most genres, this is the time for a false high or a false low. A false high would be a point in the story when it looks as though the journey is coming to end, when the characters appear on the verge of being victorious and winning the day only to be crushed under the weight of finding out they’re only halfway done. On the flip side, a false low would be when all looks hopeless until they find something or someone that will help them rise up and take their victory.

Around 62% (55,800 words) comes the second pinch point. This can take a few different forms. It could be another chance for you to reveal the backstory, like a flashback, or, if – for example – you’re writing a romantic subplot, this could be a moment that brings the couple together and increases intimacy. This pinch point should mainly further the secondary plot, whatever thing(s) your character(s) is struggling with beyond the main conflict.

The end of act two comes with the second plot point at 75% (67,500 words). This is when the stakes are raised to an all-time high. We’re approaching the end now and the characters should feel the pressure. Unfortunately for them, this is also when things should go sideways. The worst possible thing happens, but it doesn’t deter them (at least, not for long).

The Resolution

We’re almost done, and you’ve reached the action-packed, fast-paced part of the book. This is where the three C’s I mentioned earlier come in. The C’s stand for Crisis, Climax, and Conclusion.

The Crisis kicks off at roughly the 87% point (78,300 words) of the story. Having overcome the problems from the second plot point that ended the Confrontation, the characters are thrust once again into danger, whether by circumstance or by their own actions. This is also when they often learn a life lesson that will be important to overcoming their adversaries.

The turnaround from the Crisis to the Climax is quick, coming in at 90% (81,000 words). The big showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist, who is usually the perpetrator of the problem(s) plaguing the world. A large chunk of the book should be taken up by this fight, with guns blazing and all the new technology introduced in this world brought out to play.

When reading the Conclusion (the final few thousand words), readers will want to know how the world is after the perpetrator of the suffering has been removed from the picture. This can also be an epilogue if you prefer a more in-depth look at where the characters are now.

And that’s the whole book! The three-act structure outline for a dystopian story has more room for interpretation/changes because it can be applied across multiple genres and scenarios, but that just makes it more fun! Remember that while this is a general guide, you are who makes your book. No one can write the same thing the exact same way you would, and that’s what makes it special. Until next time, happy bleeding!

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How the Disney Method Can Help Your Writing Process

A guest blog post by Mitchan!

Do you have problems beginning that new story percolating in your head? Are you feeling afflicted with writer’s block? Are you stuck on a scene with no idea how to move forward? Do you feel that your current ideas are stale and trite? Perhaps the Disney method can help you!

If you work in business or design, you might have heard of it before. The Walt Disney method is a creative strategy designed to find and develop unconventional ideas. While inspired by the way Walt Disney worked, the method itself was proposed by Robert Dilts in 1994.

In the Walt Disney method, the creator divides thmself into three separate roles: the Dreamer, the Realist, and the Critic. These three roles must work separately in three stages: 

First, the Dreamer brainstorms ideas in a focused way. The more the better. No limits or restraint. There are no “bad”, “stupid”, or “impossible” ideas; you can embrace the crazy and the stupid as much as you want. It’s still a focused brainstorm: you’re dreaming for an objective, say, a new amusement park attraction, ways to get your characters out of a pinch, the funniest and/or most character-focused problems you can add to your story… anything you need ideas for. 

  • Instead of sitting down and writing or typing your ideas, walk around and record yourself saying your ideas out loud. Speak without pause for 5 or 10 minutes. Look above the horizon to stimulate your creative brain. Some business websites recommend setting up different rooms for each stage of the process, so why not try a change of space? Go outside or to a room different from the one you usually work in. 

Once you’ve got loads of ideas, it’s the Realist’s turn. The job of the Realist is to look at the Dreamer’s ideas and think: How do we make them possible? The Realist doesn’t say “No”. It’s not the Realist’s job to say whether an idea is bad or won’t work. In this role, you must assume anything is possible and limit yourself to asking: How can I execute this? For our amusement park example, the Realist would select and bring in specialists who could make plans to turn a crazy idea into a real ride. 

  • Listen to the recording you made in the previous step. Without discarding any ideas, start with the most interesting or promising ones, and develop them. Write a rough draft or the details of what would happen in a scene. Do the necessary research. Reorganize scenes as needed. Try working on a whiteboard with markers and post-its: a place where you can stand up and look at your ideas in front of you. 

Once you have a solid proposal, or in a writer’s case, a complete first draft, the Critic comes in. The Critic’s job is to detect and correct flaws, mistakes, and risks (something crucial if you’re making an amusement park ride!). This is the moment to evaluate what works and what doesn’t work, what stays and what goes. 

  • Sit down with the printed-out draft on the desk, where you can look down at it, and use a red pen to mark places that need re-working or any contradictions in the narrative. Tighten the phrasing and clear up confusing details. Clean up the draft.

The stages then repeat as needed: for more ideas, go back to the Dreamer, then develop them, then edit again. 

The changes in position help to change your own perspective on the work, to dream or execute or evaluate more objectively. 

You probably already do something similar in your writing process: you have an idea, make an outline, write a first draft, then a second, a third and fourth and so on. You have alpha and beta readers who help brainstorm ideas, develop them, and correct the draft.  

Personally, the most helpful takeaway of this model is the neat separation of the roles. The Dreamer and the Critic cannot work in the same stage: criticism stifles creativity. When I’m outlining, brainstorming, or writing a rough draft, it helps me to keep this in mind. If I find myself getting judgmental about my story, I take a deep breath and tell the Critic to shut the fuck up. Whenever I’m blocked, I’ve found it often comes from me being too critical in a stage of the process when I need to be dreaming or just executing. 

Of course, the three roles are equally important in the creative process. Without the Dreamer we wouldn’t have new ideas; without the realist we would never do anything with them; without the Critic the work wouldn’t be as clean and clear as it can be. 

I have used this method before to write a stand-up comedy routine, which requires a lot of crazy ideas and well-developed set-ups and punchlines, but it can work for any creative needs. I have also applied the brainstorming method to develop the heist in my upcoming story in She Wears the Midnight Crown, as well as to think up character-based conflicts for previous fanfiction and original stories.

As with any other strategy or method, it’s up to you to try it, use what works for you and discard what doesn’t. I hope this can help you if you’re stuck, or at least inspires you to try something different! 

Have you ever used the Walt Disney method? How was your experience? Would you do anything differently? Are there any other methods that work better for you that you’d like to recommend? Let us know!