Fantasy Authors Unplugged: A Visit From Poet/Editor John Mannone

Today’s edition of Fantasy Authors Unplugged is a real treat as I host award-winning poet and poetry editor, John Mannone. John composes a wide spectrum of speculative poetry as well as editing for several magazines. Thanks to John for agreeing to write a guest post on his favorite subject and how he both develops and edits it. I hope all the poets out there find John’s words informative and inspiring:

John C. Mannone, winner of the 2017 Horror Writers Association Scholarship, has work in Poetry South, Artemis, Blue Fifth Review, New England Journal of Medicine, Peacock Journal, Gyroscope ReviewBaltimore Review, Pedestal, Pirene’s Fountain, Event Horizon, Eye To The Telescope and others. He’s the winner of the 2017 Jean Ritchie Fellowship in Appalachian literature and the recipient of two Weymouth writing residencies. He has three poetry collections: Apocalypse (Alban Lake Publishing) won 3rd place for the 2017 Elgin Book Award; Disabled Monsters (The Linnet’s Wings Press) featured at the 2016 Southern Festival of Books; Flux Lines (Celtic Cat Publishing)—love-related poems using science metaphors—forthcoming in spring 2018; he won two Joy Margrave Awards in literary nonfiction; and nominated for several Pushcart, Rhysling, and Best of the Net awards. He’s a professor of physics near Knoxville, TN. http://jcmannone.wordpress.com

Hearing the Literary Voice in Speculative Poetry

There is this unfortunate contention between genre writing and literary writing: Typically, GENRE encompasses Romance, Western, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Action-Adventure, etc. It is often entertaining, action-filled, plot-driven, sometimes cute, clever, imaginative, and accused by the literati of being full of poor writing (clichés, cheesy dialog with a plethora of adverbial tags, gratuitous language/sex/gore, etc.). On the other hand, LITERARY is often considered more serious writing, with character development more important than plot. It is often existential and explores the human condition. There is usually a masterful use of literary devices.

I do not make such distinctions. I firmly believe that one can have the best of both writing worlds. My philosophy toward writing is whether it’s good or not, not whether it falls into one (artificial) category or another, “bookstore shelvers” be damned.

What is Speculative Poetry? After Hollywood promoted its brand of science fiction, fantasy and horror, this new term was coined to give more respect to the genre. Science fiction writers no longer wanted their work to be called Sci-Fi, but rather SF. However, the stigma of the “sci-fi ghetto” prevails.

For my purposes, I consider science fiction, fantasy, surrealism, and all their subgenres, as well as the much broader speculation, “what if,” as speculative fiction and poetry. (I consider horror and humor as styles that are applicable to all genres, including literary. More discussion on this below.)

Modern Speculative Poetry consists of hard and soft science fiction and its subgenres  (like alien worlds, space/time travel, alternate history, apocalyptic, utopia/dystopia, cyberpunk/steampunk and others); high and low fantasy and its subgenres (like magic, sword and sorcery, mythical creatures, weird, etc.); horror (as a genre), which often includes gothic, paranormal, supernatural, and psychological elements, but may be simply monstrous (monsters of any kind); and surrealism, where a dream world trumps logic, is deeply symbolic, and where truth resides in the subconscious.

Lifting Speculative Fiction poetry into the Literary realm is not accomplished with just poetic words. To be a poem, it must transcend those words. Chopping up prose and arranging it to look like poetry is even worse—structure complements the content, not the other way around. Ted Kooser, a former US Poet Laureate, said in his book, “The Poetry Home Repair Manual,” that you need more than story to lift anecdote into poetry. Literary poetry uses more than descriptive language, that’s generally relegated to prose; poetry usually does it much better. Note: the use of poetic words to describe nature does not make a nature poem, but it does make a piece of creative non fiction; the same thing happens when describing science with colorful words or didactic metaphors.


Apocalypse (Alban Lake Publishing) won 3rd place for the 2017 Elgin Book Award

Some examples of how I have done this is seen in the following poems:

Nature Poem: The Physical World:
Starwashed (Seven CirclePress)

Nature Poem: The Biological World:
Blue Crab (Radius: From the Center to the Edge) http://www.radiuslit.org/2011/08/03/poem-by-john-c-mannone/)

Science Poem:
Eulogy for a Voyager (Red Fez)

Science Fiction Poem:
Extinction Level Event (Abyss & Apex Magazine of Speculative Fiction) http://www.abyssapexzine.com/archives/abyss-and-apex2010/abyss-apex-fourth-quarter-2010-extinction-level-event/

Fantasy Horror Poem:
Influx (2016 Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association Halloween Podcast)

Surreal Poem:
Subterranean Poetics (Subprimal Poetry Art)

[Additional dark poems are linked in an article about the HWA at Altered Reality Magazine (see “a special announcement from John,” as well as the rest of the “Meet John C. Mannone” page http://www.alteredrealitymag.com/poets/meet-john-c-mannone/)]


As a poet-scientist, I recognize that there’s an intimate connection between poetry and physics. Physics always asks the big questions, even the ones we cannot answer, but Poetry tries to answer them anyway—poetry attempts to express the inexpressible.

When I first started writing poetry seriously (May 2004), I asked the more experienced poets around me what exactly is poetry. Among the unsatisfying answers I often got was that poetry has emotional impact. Well, duh, so does any good creative writing. So I examined, as a scientist would, what distinguishes poetry from another kind of crearive writing. I deduced that it might be easier to say what poetry is not and to identify some of its salient features:

Poetry is much more than prose. It’s special and I believe it is the most effective vehicle for emotional delivery and impact. A poem is often charged with emotion and reveals something very important about us or the world we live in. It is layered with different meanings, uses poetic devices (especially sensory details) and expresses, in a few words, what you need to say (not merely want to say). Words should be fresh and arranged with a re-enforcing structure; they must flow smoothly and with rhythm.

Ultimately, I concluded that the most basic elements of poetry can be distilled to LIMS, which is my acronym for Language, Image, Music, Structure. Interestingly enough, they seem to equally utilize both parts of the brain, the logical left-brain and the creative right-brain. Actuality, both sides of the brain are used for every element:

Disabled Monsters (The Linnet’s Wings Press) featured at the 2016 Southern Festival of Books

Language     left-brain

Image           right-brain

Music           right-brain

Structure      left-brain


Some characteristics of these poetic elements are as follows:

Language: compressed, fresh, sensory, textured, layered

Image: symbolism, proxy for abstractions, enriched detail, metaphor, surrealism

Music: rhythm and flow, meter, aural devices such as assonance, consonance, rhyme (internal/end), onomatopoeia

Structure: Traditional forms, free verse, line breaks, verse breaks, white space, concrete verse, syntax

In a successful poem, these elements interconnect and re-enforce each other:

Structure/Form should serve function (not the other way around)

Music may set mood/tone

Image resolves abstraction (also personification, pathetic fallacy, etc.)

Language works hand-in-hand with the other elements

Flux Lines (Celtic Cat Publishing)—love-related poems using science metaphors—forthcoming in spring 2018;

I offer my Workmanship Metaphor without apology: poetry magic happens when we mix (those four aformentioned) elements together, but exactly how the organic evolution happens remains a mystery, at least to me. This mixing alone might give rise to potentially good genre poetry. However, if we now infuse it with layers of meaning, we give it literary depth. Are we not all made up of elements of matter that come together in a beautiful and complex way? Yes, but that isn’t enough to make who we are. What about the heart, the soul, the intellect? It takes a Creator to inspire those things—“we are His workmanship” (the Greek word is transliterated as poiema, from which the word poem is derived!) We too are creators of poetry.

In analyzing my more than 700 publications in creative writing, three significant plateaus are disclosed that correlate with my advancing the crafting of a poem—clarity*, rhythm, literary depth—which is why these have become the minimum requirements for any poem I offer to publish in the various journals or judge in poetry contests.** (Note: none of the tallied works were self-published. See data table and graph below.)

  • Clarity was not listed as an element above (unless one wants to include it under language) because it is implied for all writing, whether business, scientific/ technical, nonfiction, let alone creative writing. If nothing else, this is what I learned in college: Good writing should posses the following hierarchal elements: unity, harmony, coherence. These are impossible to achieve without clarity and clarity is essential for effective communication, even at the emotional level.

** I edit poetry for Abyss & ApexSilver Blade, and Liquid Imagination. And I’ve been a guest editor for Inkspill, Eye To The Telescope, and Subprimal Poetry Art, as well as a poetry judge for local writers’ guilds, Poetry Society Tennessee and the 2018 celebrity judge for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies.


Increases in publication rate are concomitant with the significant improvement in crafting: first, clarity (2005); second, rhythm (2009); and third, literary depth (2014) together with expanding my literary voice (from lyrical to conversational), as well as writing longer poems (at least doubling the average length from around 100 words to about 250 words).

In conclusion, how do you hear the literary voice in speculative poetry? First, speak to your speculative poems as they’re being born or soon thereafter; they will learn, just as the baby birds learn by imprinting when mother bird “speaks” to them. So too your poems will sing, and they will know your voice.


Adapted from a workshop I led at the 2015 Alabama Writers Conclave (University South Alabama Fairhope) as well as other workshops and sources.

Thanks to John for sharing his approach to poetry and be sure to visit his website where you can find out more about his publications. As he mentioned, John also edits for several magazines so check out some of the issues and his poetry choices as editor. Come back tomorrow for a big announcement!

Fantasy Authors Unplugged: Shane Hall on Authors & Video Games

Hello everyone! Today, author Shane Hall is pays a visit to the site with his insight regarding the connection between video games and fiction. Take it away, Shane!

What Can Authors Learn From Video Games? Interactivity and Fiction

You’re wrapped up in a story. You weren’t too sure about where it was going at first, but now you’re hooked. It must have happened somewhere around the two stunning plot twists that make you want to start all over again once you’re done. You’ve been regularly making progress on the story every day, like you are now. But then it’s time to stop. Maybe your lunch break is over, or it’s time to go out shopping, or the bus ride is finished. But you don’t pick up a book marker or close up a binding. Instead, you hit “save”, or tab out from the browser you were using, step away from your desktop, or set your device aside.

Is this the future of enjoying fiction? Well, partly. What has shocked me recently is a discovery, one I made after enjoying a lot of traditional fiction books and a lot of games or interactive stories. That discovery is that these two mediums are not so different. They are linked, in fact, by a particular element that until now has only really been associated with games: interactivity.

Video games are obviously interactive, but how are books and other common formats for storytelling interactive as well, and in what ways could they be made more so? What can an author, who wants to make their readers more engaged, learn from this?

Defining Interactivity

Interactivity is the chief source of differentiation between games and similar media, but when most people hear such a term, they immediately think of two things: input, i.e. controls, and choices. If it doesn’t have clearly marked choices that require the user’s active participation, then it must not be interactive. This leads most people to only imagine non-game interactive fiction as something like a choose-your-own adventure novel. You read a little, you make a choice for how the story proceeds, you move to a place in the story you can only reach by making that choice, and eventually reach an end and go back to try other choices until you’ve read everything.

Digital books have made this sort of thing a lot more user-friendly, using clickable links to snap readers around to different parts of the text instantly. I even experimented with such a project in the past. However, all of that, while great, is not the full meaning of interactivity in fiction.

In reality, interactivity has been a factor of books since their very origin, without blossoming it into some kind of gimmick. A reader must “interact” by opening the book, turning pages, holding the book open, and adding a marker to save their place. Meta-horror works like House of Leaves take this to the extreme, turning a physical book into a kind of puzzle game that has you holding it upside down, comparing statements to margin notes, etc. but it really doesn’t have to be that complicated or detailed.

Conducting The Reader Experience

Now, if you’re an author, ask yourself: what sort of interactivity do you want for certain parts of your story? You could decide, for instance, that an action scene should be more quickly readable, using more white space and concise descriptions so that the reader will be flipping through pages.

How about deep, intense revelations in the plot? Larger paragraphs that overwhelm the reader with the whole truth might be more appropriate. Shifts in word choice and complexity of language could also condition the reader to subtly absorb the meaning or tone of a certain passage. References to other works you’ve written could create a fun cross-book experience where your most passionate readers have reason to return from one book to another.

Looking beyond text, how about the pacing and the way the story is broken up? Ending the last scene of a chapter at the peak of tension and leaving certain things to the imagination is an easy but powerful trick that gets readers interested in continuing the next chapter (not that it should be abused). This is subtly teaching the reader that interacting further, and getting toward the end of a chapter, is a good way of reaching an especially exciting point in the plot.

Visuals are like a rare treat in books, and can have a big impact just based on how they’re used. If you want a picture to be shocking, you could place it on a left page, so it hits people as soon as they turn the page. Conversely, you could place a more mood-setting image on a right-side page. The Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark series is an intense example of this. Images can also contain information that might be missed at first glance, and later revelations in the story can send readers flipping back to the picture’s page to look at it more closely.

The important thing is that just because reading involves the eyes and is controlled by the hands does not mean that it’s synonymous with sitting in front of the TV with a remote in your lap.

If you don’t believe what I’m saying, then consider this: when was the last time a movie or TV show did something that intentionally drove you to control the experience with the remote? The best example I could think of would be visual background gags and other small, easily-missed details, but this sort of thing usually just invites another passive viewing.

The average book is something people take with them to places. People hold books in their hands at all times while using them, and most of all, they’re complete packages. You don’t plug books, or even e-readers, into an expensive piece of equipment, or third party hardware, and there is nothing to tie down the experience.  There is no sitting back and letting a book run while you eat ice cream, so why not take advantage of that? There are even audio-books today made to add narrative engagement to routine physical activities, such as a zombie apocalypse audio-book that integrates the fact that the reader is going for a run.

Just be sure of one thing: whatever you do to make the reader interact on a deeper or more interesting level, have a point to your tactics. This all boils down to looking at your writing, your story, and your objective from the reader’s perspective, and finding a new lens with which to judge your work and seek out improvements.

E-books and The Interactive Appeal

As an example in my own work, one of my major projects, The Veminox Saga, uses interactivity to control how the story is consumed. Veminox is a linear dark fantasy story delivered through a personal email subscription. This makes it a sort of serial to be enjoyed in the same fashion as checking up with the daily newspaper comic. What’s more, the emails only deliver the next entry after the reader has clicked to read the last one, meaning they must interact to continue the story and can also choose not to in order to pause for a little while, never getting overwhelmed with emails they aren’t ready for.

Thanks to modern technology, you can use interactivity to shape how readers experience your work or add a little interesting polish to that experience. But what about more direct, daring approaches, where you actually make an interactive story? This is where things get really intriguing.

The Crossing of Games and Stories

If you’re at all interested in seeing the potential of interactive fiction, all I can say is buckle up, because what’s already been done shows just how much amazing potential is out there. Since this is a massive new world growing out of other mediums and really deserves its own separate discussion, I won’t go too deep into it here.

If you’re at all interested in mild, slow-burning horror or atmospheric fiction, and are not familiar with gaming at all, I’ll leave you with one brief recommendation, a free appetizer: “my father’s long long legs” by Michael Lutz. I think after reading this, anyone can get a sense of what modern technology has gifted to authors with an urge to experiment.

I hope this was eye-opening or interesting to you, and that it informs your writing or reading choices in the near future. I’d like to give a big thank you to P.H. Solomon for letting me be a guest writer!

About the Author

Shane Hall is an author of experimental fantasy and science fiction, with a focus on complex, intense stories told in exciting new ways. His main projects are the Feedback Serial: a series of episodic dystopian novellas set in a world with severe noise limits, as well as Veminox: a free dark fantasy series delivered through email.

Connect with Shane:

Website is http://shanehallauthor.com/

Books by Shane Hall

My first book in my dystopian serial is here https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00YBLK4W8  that one is free, and it’s called Impulse, Episode One of the Feedback Serial.
I also have a one-off flash fiction book for 99 cents for people who don’t want to start a series: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00W2ZBC30  that one’s called Rooted and Four Other Disturbing Stories.
Thanks to Shane for appearing on Fantasy Authors Unplugged with the his post today. Please take a few minutes to look over Shane’s books and connect with him on social media.