History That Never Was

Home of Dawn Vogel: Writer, Historian, Geek

Fun for Friday: Images as Inspiration

Posted By on February 15, 2019

Skeleton flowersI’m a very visual person, so it’s not entirely surprising that I get a lot of mileage out of images of unusual things. It might be something as simple as these glass-like flowers. The description I found for them says “A flower whose petals turn clear as glass when wet… Diphylleia Grayi otherwise known as the Skeleton flower is the stuff of fairy tales. (Grows in the northern part of Japan.)”

Because I like using images to inspire my writing, I use Pinterest a lot when I’m trying to pull together an idea. I’ve also got one Pinterest board for interesting faces, places, or things, which may someday find their way into my stories. A couple of the images on this board already have made their way into my writing, in fact, though they may not always be easy to spot!

The Marsh Sisters and Family

Posted By on February 14, 2019

Cover art for The Trouble with the Tick-Tock TabbyThe very first short story I had published was “The Recondite Riddle of the Rose Rogue,” featuring the Marsh sisters, back in 2010. This came up recently because I have a second Marsh sisters short story, “The Marvelous Matter of the Mischievous Monkey,” in the latest volume of the Young Explorer’s Adventure Guide. Recently, the editors of that anthology asked the authors included within to write up something about the inspiration for their stories. This is what I sent them.
The first story I ever published was “The Recondite Riddle of the Rose Rogue,” in 2010, which was the first appearance of the Marsh sisters (which also appeared in the 2017 YEAG). I got the good news that it had been accepted on the day that I met up with one of my cousins for coffee, so she was one of the first people I got to tell. In 2013, she was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer and passed away later that same year. I decided to include her in one of my Marsh sisters stories as a memorial, and she became Eileen Davenport (Eileen was my cousin’s middle name), the architect in “The Magnificent Matter of the Mischievous Monkey”!

The Marsh sisters don’t entirely draw upon my own family for everything, but one of my nieces also appears in “The Magnificent Matter of the Mischievous Monkey” in a bit part. And the relationship between the sisters reflects a little bit of my own family dynamic, with siblings that fight but still really love each other in the end.

The Trouble with the Tick-Tock Tabby is a middle-grade oriented novel that features these plucky girl detectives, so there are three things you can read at the moment if you are interested in their steampunk detective adventures. There’s more to come, though–I’m planning on a second novel (which won’t be out until 2020 at the earliest) and maybe another short story or two in the nearer future!

Movie Recommendation: Legend (2015)

Posted By on February 13, 2019

Movie poster for LegendNo, not the one from the 80s with Tom Cruise and Tim Curry. The one from 2015 with Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy. Yeah, you read that right. Tom Hardy plays twin brother mobsters, Ron and Reggie Kray. And a nice chunk of the British actors I love are right there alongside him.

As a warning, this is a violent movie. There’s a lot of people getting shot and punched and stabbed. It’s graphic but not gratuitous.

But the thing that was most interesting to me is the way that they frame the story. I can’t say much more about it than that without giving away a spoiler. But it’s a narrative device that has to be done just right for it to work, and I think they nailed it with this movie.

So, short version: come to see Tom Hardy and Tom Hardy (and a bunch of other awesome Brits), stay for the interesting narrative device (and then ponder how to apply that to writing).

I Didn’t Break the Lamp Story Thoughts

Posted By on February 12, 2019

Cover art for I Didn't Break the LampAs the Kickstarter for I Didn’t Break the Lamp: Historical Accounts of Imaginary Acquaintances continues, I’ve started thinking about the kinds of stories that we may see in the slush pile. Because our authors always end up surprising us with their imaginative takes on our anthology themes, it’s a little difficult to pin down our expectations, especially when it comes to a topic as broad as imaginary acquaintances. There are levels of what is real and what is not real when it comes to “imaginary.”

I dug through some of my old stories to see if I had anything that might sort of fit the theme, and I came up with a couple that are close, but not quite right.

The first is “Terpsichore,” which was podcast at Manawaker Studio. It’s a flash piece about summoning a muse that turns out to be not quite as helpful as the mythology surrounding muses might suggest.

The other, which is more of a stretch, is “Parcel Post,” which was published in the August 2018 issue of Frostfire Words. In this story, the main character follows her younger sister into a hidden fantasy world, where they interact with a number of unreal characters.

Of course, this is not to say that we’re looking for stories precisely like these for I Didn’t Break the Lamp: Historical Accounts of Imaginary Acquaintances, but perhaps these might give you your own ideas on how to interpret our theme! And if you’re interested in reading more stories of this sort, check out our Kickstarter!

The World is Soft and Quiet

Posted By on February 11, 2019

Snowy tree and parking lotWe’re in the midst of some of the heaviest snow I’ve seen since I moved to Seattle, and because the temperatures are barely climbing above freezing each day, it’s sticking around for a while, too. It basically shuts down the city because we don’t have a good infrastructure for dealing with snow, since we normally don’t get this kind of winter weather. (For a given definition of “normally.” In the twelve years I’ve lived here, we’ve had at least four winters when we’ve had a significant snow event.)

But there’s something nice about the snow, too. Soon after the snow has fallen, before it starts melting, it makes the whole world seem soft and quiet. There are few cars out, and the snow muffles a lot of their noise. You can stand outside and just revel in the silence, at least for a little while. (Then you discover your rain boots have very little insulation, as they’re not actual snow boots.)

It’s also nice to look at through the window with the white coating the nearby trees, like the one in the photo. For me, it’s a peaceful, calming effect, that lets me forget about some of my larger worries and focus on my writing for a while.

If you can find a similar sort of scenery that puts your mind at ease, it might allow you to increase your focus for a while. And if it’s not the sort of scenery you have in your locale on a regular basis, finding photos of that sort of scenery for times when you need to focus can be a wonderful trick!

Fun for Friday: Writing Inspiration

Posted By on February 8, 2019

A blank pageSome days, the words just aren’t there, the well has run dry, or one of several other metaphors about not knowing what to write. When you’ve reached that point, this list of 31 ways to find inspiration for your writing might be helpful! While not all of these techniques work for everyone, odds are that you can find at least one that might help you get out of a rut and start the words flowing again!


Patreon Reminder!

Posted By on February 7, 2019

Link to my PatreonIf you haven’t already checked out my Patreon, it’s a great time to do so! I’m close to reaching my goal of filming myself reading a story each month! And since I’ve written a lot of flash pieces in the past year, I’ve got a great backlog of stories to read!

There may also be cats who are no longer kittens, as an added bonus. They have become unpredictable wild beasts who are just as inclined to vault over the couch as they are to snuggle, but they do like to get in the way of me doing things, so perhaps they’ll grace my patrons with their fuzzy presence.

New Mad Scientist Journal Kickstarter: I Didn’t Break the Lamp!

Posted By on February 6, 2019

Cover art for I Didn't Break the LampMad Scientist Journal (where I’m a co-editor) is currently running the Kickstarter for our sixth anthology! I Didn’t Break the Lamp: Historical Accounts of Imaginary Acquaintances, will be an anthology of stories about imaginary friends, things that go bump in the night, monsters under the bed, and other figments of an imagination. We’re hoping for a creepy and cute collection of stories told from the perspective of people who have interacted with an imaginary acquaintance, whether that’s a friend, an enemy, or somewhere in between.

The Kickstarter runs until February 28th, and in addition to the book, it’s a way to get your hands on a custom made crocheted monster, crafted by yours truly! So check it out!


January 2019 Recap

Posted By on February 5, 2019

My beautiful girl cat, sleeping like an angel

By the numbers:
Stories out at the beginning of the month: 51
Acceptances received: 2
Rejections received: 44
Stories withdrawn: 0
Resubmissions: 51
New Submissions: 1
Stories out at the end of the month: 56

January has been a busy month for submissions, as I’ve been keeping a lot of stories out at all times, and my number of available stories is always growing! I only finished one to the point of submitting it this month, but I’ve been working on a lot of other stories and a novel!

My two acceptances this month were ones I announced here, “Brick Red Love” in The Arcanist and “Earworm” in Space Opera Libretti. I’m also waiting to hear on a handful of shortlisted stories, so hopefully I will have some really great announcements to make in February!

I finished winter and jack as planned, and started working on revisions for winter. I started stone a few times, but it just wouldn’t take, so I put that one aside and started working on completing a different story (“soul”) instead. I’ve finished my flash fiction pieces for each week of the contest (including the fifth one one this past weekend), but I’ve only gotten one of those out into circulation so far (the above-mentioned one new submission). I’ve reached the roughly halfway point on briar, and it’s been a lot of fun to write. And I’ve finished up my couple of book reviews. So a really productive month of getting all the things done!

This month, I need to:

  • Revise winter, jack, and three flash pieces.
  • Finish writing soul and cryptid.
  • Continue working on briar.
  • Review a book.

Not too bad, and I should end the month with five new submittable pieces!


Guest Post: Catherine Schaff-Stump on Acceptable Anachronism

Posted By on February 4, 2019

Cover art for Pawn of IsisAcceptable Anachronism

By Catherine Schaff-Stump

Sometimes when you look at visions of the future, you cannot help but see the past. The two examples that come immediately to my mind, child of the 1970s that I am, are The Jetsons and EPCOT’s Spaceship Earth. The future comes in flavors of mod miniskirts, polyester jumpsuits, and Blade Runner’s giant 1980s shoulder pads. I could go on about what the future gets right and what it gets absolutely wrong, but this is not an article about the future. It is an article about the past, just as tricky an undiscovered country for the writer.

If the future is really our past, or at least a time forward extrapolated from a particular point, the past is a marriage of reasonable research and what is acceptable in the now. There are branches of fiction where accuracy is vital and paramount (a particular brand of Regency romance never fudges), but for the most part, we authors have to use what we find, and at the same time find ways to keep that from being objectionable to the reader who lives in our time.

What do I mean by this? Well, let me bring up a particularly objectionable problem from the past as an example. If you’ve read any of the original Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers, you know there are delightful depictions of everyone’s favorite Disney-ized nanny Mary Poppins. There are richly imagined fantasy characters for the Banks children to interact with, and there is … an incredible streak of racism so bad that I quit reading instantly when I stumbled upon it. I’ve had similar encounters in the work of P. G. Wodehouse (black face anyone?) and in Roald Dahl (don’t even get me started on the origins of the Oompa Loompas.)

As a modern reader, I couldn’t stomach any of this. It was unacceptable to me to read it. I know these sorts of problems pop up in representations of the past in modern writing. How do you represent a pseudo-Victorian society in your steampunk novel if you don’t address the repressed roles of women, and racist ideas that permeated society? Are you doomed to use your characters as mouth pieces for ideas that you find offensive? Will you fall prey to the stereotype of the one exceptional, say, woman, who isn’t like all the other repressed women? How do you handle it?

I contend there are acceptable anachronisms in historical fantasy, things we are going to do because a modern reader won’t like our work otherwise. While we are writing about the past, we must also write in the now to our audience of now. Take a look at a show like Downtown Abbey or the 1995 Pride and Prejudice if you want to see creators grapple with issues of repression well, if not perfectly.

In my series, The Klaereon Scroll, the magical families of the world operate with full knowledge that while individuals can be intolerant of each other, as magicians, they must band together to their mutual benefit. Women keep their own family names. Magic is available to all, in spite of its initial appearance of being a classist construct. I have no hope of recreating the past. I am trying to write a fantasy flavored by the past, which will also appeal to a modern reader.

As fantasists, we have the added bonus of reinventing our societies because we are not entirely re-creating the past. Nisi Shawl’s Everfair begins with heinous history, but extends from that history a pluralism, which amazes and excites the reader. Stephanie Burgis’ series The Harwood Spellbook explores gender in a reversed society where women are considered strong and serious, and men are the more emotional sex. We do not have to recreate an imperfect past. Recreating the past is probably impossible anyway. We can only approximate it, and as speculative fiction writers, we can improve upon it.


Cath Schaff-Stump writes speculative fiction for children and adults, everything from humor to horror. She is the author of the Klaereon Scroll series, the most recent of which is The Pawn of Isis, coming in March 2019. Cath lives and works in Iowa with her husband. During the day, she teaches English to non-native speakers at a local community college. Other recent fiction has been published by Paper Golem Press, Daydreams Dandelion Press, and in The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Cath is a co-host on the writing and geek-life fan podcast Unreliable Narrators. You can find her online at Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, @cathschaffstump, cathschaffstump.com, and unreliablenarrators.net.