Wednesday, December 1, 2021

How it Started vs How it's Going

It's Insecure Writer's Support Group Day again, and for this first Wednesday of the month--the last one of the 2021 year--we have a reflection wrap-up post from the IWSG Dark Matter contest winner. Stephanie Espinoza Villamor shares her thoughts about the contest one year later and how far everything has come:

I can hardly believe it's been over a year and a half since I first started drafting "Artificial," the title story in Dark Matter: Artificial and contest winner for the Insecure Writer's Support Group 2020 science fiction anthology contest. I remember reading the prompt, "dark matter" with so much uncertainty. I remember opening up a Google Doc titled "Sci-Fi Short Story #1" in April 2020 after my then 10-month-old nursed to sleep. The document and the title changed over the course of several months before the content deadline. In May 2020 the story was going to be called "The Archive." In June 2020 it switched to "Sci-Fi Story - AI" (and then it really began to take off). In July 2020 my title ideas included "What an AI is For," or "Something Real" or "Building a Memory." Finally I was down to "Artificial Memory" and finally, "Artificial." I'm so glad I settled on this title when I submitted the story on August 11 to ensure receipt before the September 2 deadline. The publisher herself said my title fit with the main title very well so it was perfect as a subtitle.

I was just in shock to have actually won that honor.

This was how it started. As the year comes to an end and a new anthology gets ready to take our place with the Sweet Romance: First Love contest nearly complete, I can reflect on my entire contest experience from start to finish. Around this time last year I had only just found out I would be published in the anthology--my first major publication outside of some local magazine/short story collections. Though the news was still under wraps, I was starting to learn about contracts and get ideas for marketing. Soon I would get to virtually meet the other winning authors over email and through this blog. I was so excited for the day I received an advanced ebook copy so I could read their winning stories as well!

How has the contest changed me? I don't know if I feel less "insecure", but I am more likely to call myself a "published author." I think, more than anything, I do feel "secure" enough to write outside my comfort zone. Growing up writing fantasy and contemporary school stories,  I never thought I would be any good at science fiction. Now I've had two science fiction short stories published with ideas for several more. I even tried my hand at writing a supernatural story! I'm not typically a fan of "scary" stories, but suddenly I was willing to try a few ideas. While I didn't participate in the Sweet Romance: First Love contest, I've been thinking about ideas for sweet romances that are less common/mainstream, and certainly nothing I've ever written before. There's newfound confidence but also a willingness to take more risks with my writing before. Because they might pay off in ways I never thought possible.

I've now learned how to market through social media. I've presented at an international speculative fiction convention. I've submitted my work to more contests than I ever would have dared and I even applied for a creative activities award that's offered in my state. But even if these endeavors don't lead to publications, they motivate me to keep writing. To me that's the best part of all. You can't get your work out there if you don't have any work. You can't draft and edit if there's no draft. To be a writer the only real requirement is to write. And this contest experience has not only been a fun adventure but it's inspired me to continue the writing that I've always loved, even when life gets busy. Even when you have a baby (or one on the way...). It's worth it to keep writing in your life. When you have a full-time job, a family, and so many responsibilities, it's important to have at least one special thing that's just for yourself. Writing is that for me.

How is it going? Well, since 2021 led up to the publication of Dark Matter: Artificial in May, I've mostly been focused on marketing and spreading the word. I've been practicing using professional social media, organizing these blog posts, and trying to get some book signings in local stores. Unfortunately the pandemic affects us all and many potential in-person events were cancelled again when the COVID-19 Delta variant started surging in our area. But as this year comes to a close, my plan is to get back to writing more (at least until my second son arrives in January). I'm also awaiting the news of another anthology contest (I'm still in the running since I didn't receive the initial rejection email!) and the publication of a non-fiction book I co-wrote about my "day job", due out in June 2022 (Practical Marketing for the Academic Library)!

I also just found out on November 22 that I won the creative award I applied for! The award recognizes significant accomplishments that bring recognition to our local institutions in the state. I couldn't be more honored. It's such an exciting way to encapsulate this year and show how much my writing has grown.

I'm grateful to everyone who has been a part of this anthology experience. To publisher L. Diane Wolfe, IWSG founder Alex J. Cavanaugh, and all the judges for the 2020 science fiction anthology contest. To my fellow authors who are amazing writers that I am in awe to be published beside: C.D., Kim, Steph, Tara, Deniz, Charles, Olga, Elizabeth, and Mark. Thank you especially to Tara Tyler and Louise Barbour for their help with this wonderful blog process!

And a personal thank you to my writing group friends: Beth Schuck (published in the IWSG anthology Voyagers: The Third Ghost), Theri, Michelle, Abriana, Rebecca, and Jen who read my stories and are always been so supportive and helpful. If you can join a writing group to read and critique your work, I can't tell you how valuable that is in terms of improving what you write as well as lifting you up right when you need it.

Additional shout outs to my family: my parents, brothers, in-laws, husband, and son all inspire, help, and support me in ways that allow me to write and encourage me to keep going. And while I haven't met him yet, I'm excited for my current WIP: Baby #2!

I hope this post inspires others to continue their own writing journeys knowing that it is possible to meet your goals and that there can be payoff at any time, any step along the way. There is no "end" with being a writer--no one task that you have to accomplish to have officially "made it." You just keep going and keep enjoying your achievements--big and small--along the way.

How it started: April 2020, working from home during the pandemic
and writing while my 10-month-old sleeps (not always easy!)

How it's going: 2021, published with a 2-year-old! 
One book on the way (due June 2022)
and one baby on the way (due January 2022)!

If you still haven't checked out Dark Matter: Artificial and want to know what our authors have been talking about, we encourage you to pick up your copy today (and just in time for the holidays too if you're looking for a unique gift for the readers in your life)! The science fiction anthology is on sale on Amazon right now, and can be found through Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and our publisher: Dancing Lemur Press. Happy Writing and Happy Reading!

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Reflection Time

It's Insecure Writer's Support Group Day, and for this first Wednesday of the month we have a special reflection post as we get close to the end of the year and the end of our time writing about Dark Matter: Artificial anthology (Don't worry, there will be a new anthology coming up next!). Our authors share how this contest has changed them, what they've learned, how it will affect what they do as authors moving forward, the hardest parts about it all, and, of course, the best parts.

Kim Mannix - Rift 
Being a part of Dark Matter: Artificial has been my extreme pleasure and privilege. When I entered the contest, I was primarily writing poetry, and just dipping my toes into the sci-fi and dark fiction waters. Not only did being part of this great anthology give me a boost of confidence to continue writing short fiction, it's also connected me with some fantastic and supportive authors. I think people are often hesitant to enter big contests, or try to put their writing out in the world, but I encourage everyone to try. While I was personally attached to my story, "Rift," I wasn't sure that anyone else would like it, or consider it publishable. It's an example of why we, as writers, shouldn't let our self-doubt get the best of us. Taking chances can pay off in the best possible way.

Steph Wolmarans - The Utten Mission
I am so grateful for the experience of being published in the anthology. It is difficult to describe the transformation. "The Utten Mission" was my first published story and the first few months were full of confidence and pride.

The beginning of the journey—the editing phase—taught me important habits and knowledge I will carry with me forever. I became more motivated to write, hired a writing coach, and dove into my novel manuscript with renewed force. Inclusion in the anthology launched me into my dream of writing for others. Imagine if an alien race saw a lonely woman staring up at the stars holding a picture of a rocket and came to give her an actual spaceship so she could fly away to join them. It inspired me to create several stories and to join the A to Z Challenge on my blog. The experience erupted with positive energy. Writing about this now reminds me of the momentum that pulled me, yet saddens me a little.

Now to talk about the difficult part, which I hate to admit is still looming over me. Seeing reader feedback was the hardest part. The anthology had great reviews on Goodreads and Amazon from readers, but the comments for individual pieces (particularly my own) were a little painful. Despite being told personally by a few people that mine was a favorite, the tiny voice of insecurity crept in. It is embarrassing just how much it bothered me.

The confidence is returning and my drive to write is picking up. I hate that I wasted any time on feeling insecure. This is the Insecure Writer's Support Group for crying out loud! And what amazing support it has been! This group delivers support every time, and being a part of the anthology was the biggest gift I could dream of. This new network of writers around me is by far the best part!

Tara Tyler - Sentient
It's always exciting to connect with a prompt and have a story form in your head... Just submitting a complete short story by the deadline is a great feeling. But getting chosen for the anthology is the best! It's also a bit of responsibility with the marketing, but that part is worth it and can even be fun! I recommend everyone give it a shot--the more you write, the better you get, plus it can be a nice break from your WIP.

Deniz Bevan - One to Another
I loved being a part of this contest! It’s given me greater confidence in my writing, and I’ve loved being part of a group project--it’s lovely be a member of a collaborative project like this. I feel incredibly privileged to say that the hardest part was keeping up with all the fun promotional activities online! I hope that next time I’m in the United States, I can take part in an event in person!

Charles Kowalski - Resident Alien
"Resident Alien" was my first published work of science fiction, and I certainly hope not my last. The timing of this contest gave me the impetus to do something I had been wanting to do in the wake of the George Floyd incident: examine issues of racial justice by posing the question, “What if the entire human race together were an oppressed minority?”

It was difficult to write, but very rewarding. The writing process showed me what science fiction can do best: hold a mirror up to us, showing human nature from a different angle or from an outsider’s perspective. As Gene Roddenberry said of Star Trek, “There were civil rights and other social justice issues that were addressed, and the network didn’t mind because it wasn’t overt…If you talk about purple people or polka-dotted people on a far-off planet, the network never really caught on.” (1)
With all this in mind, I created a short story that I hope will be used as a teaching tool, with teaching materials to go with it (available here (2)). I also had the beginnings of a world, with its own distinctive history and languages, that I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to after one short story, so we may be seeing further adventures of humans on Ogygia. Upwards and onwards!



Elizabeth Mueller - Resurgence

Second time is the charm? The Dark Matter project hosted by IWSG has been a growth experience for sure since it was my second attempt at writing Sci-Fi. Before this, I'd been mulling over trying my hand at writing science fiction for a while and this has served as a boost of encouragement to attempt another story in the same genre. I'm working on a romance novel that takes place in the same universe and that has been a great ride! This is huge for me as I've broken from the fantasy world into realistic fiction (of which I've been dabbling in for the past several years).

I'd have to say that the hardest part of the Dark Matter tour is having to rack my brain for the interview questions--it's easier for me to hide behind my characters and let them have their fun. But the best part is meeting new people, making new friends, and working with my awesome publisher!

Mark Alpert - Vera’s Last Voyage
The publication of this short story has reminded me of the importance of trying new things and taking creative risks. Writing fiction is especially enjoyable when you're pushing the boundaries. My wife and I recently visited New Albany, Mississippi, the birthplace of William Faulkner, where I received an award from the William Faulkner Literary Competition. Faulkner was perhaps the greatest boundary-pusher of American fiction, a literary experimentalist whose novels are still amazing readers, and we can all take inspiration from his example.

You can find all these authors and stories in Dark Matter: Artificial, available on AmazonKobo, and Barnes and Noble.

Our next post will be on the last Insecure Writer's Support Group day of the year, Wednesday, December 1! In that wrap-up post, the IWSG Dark Matter contest winner will share her reflection of the year--how it started, and how it's going!

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words....

It's Insecure Writer's Support Group day! For this first Wednesday of the month, we have a few authors from Dark Matter: Artificial who got creative with ways to encapsulate their stories in a visual image. Click the pictures to view them full size! Is a picture worth a thousand words? You'll have to read the stories in Dark Matter: Artificial to find out! We hope they help pique your interest and pull you in--and it was fun to use our imaginations in a new way!

Stephanie Espinoza Villamor - Artificial

Kim Mannix - Rift

Tara Tyler - Sentient

Deniz Bevan - One to Another

Olga Godim - Nano Pursuit

Elizabeth Mueller - Resurgence

Mark Alpert - Vera's Last Voyage

Read the stories that inspired these images in Dark Matter: Artificial, available on Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble!

Our next post will be on the next Insecure Writer's Support Group day, Wednesday, November 3!

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Contest Deadline!

It's deadline day! If you haven't entered the Insecure Writer's Support Group 2021 Annual Anthology Contest, today's the last day (September 1, 2021)! If you're polishing up your manuscript, be sure to get it in by today as a formatted Word file to The genre this year is Sweet Romance and the theme this year is First Love. More details can be found on the Insecure Writer's Support Group website.

The authors of Dark Matter: Artificial sure know what it's like to work up against a deadline. We've all been through it in order to submit our stories for last year's anthology! What was the process like? A few authors share their experiences below.

Stephanie Espinoza Villamor: It took me a while for my IWSG anthology idea to fully form. Once I had "the one" story idea I was excited to write about, I just had to make the time to write (usually while my young son was asleep) in order to make the deadline. When I try to write a novel, I often don't know exactly how the story will turn out. But when I write a short story, I usually have the ending in mind and it's all about getting to that ending in a logical way where everything introduced in the story is "paid off" or resolved. Once I've made it to the end I...rejoice! And then prepare for editing. I typically show my stories to a small group of friends in two different critique groups, ask for feedback (Google Docs is helpful for this), and then start the rewrites until the manuscript draft feels as strong as possible--usually a week or two before the deadline (sometimes a day or two before the deadline!). I don't like to submit at the very last minute just in case something goes wrong, although I've done that a couple times in grad school....

Tara Tyler: When I hear the IWSG topic, I either immediately think of a story or I just don't feel it. Like this year's contest, I started but couldn't feel it, so I dropped it. Since I have more time in the summer to write, I usually at least put together an outline. Once I start the first draft, the flow of it tells me if I'll be able to make the deadline. I actually like deadlines--they motivate me! The word count is where I struggle sometimes. If my word count gets too long, I have trouble cutting away words while trying to keep the soul of the story vibrant.

Deniz Bevin: All of my recent short stories seem to happen the same way: I get an idea (usually in the summertime!) and have to write down the entire story right away before I lose it. This is how my anthology story came to me. I've had other stories I've entered over the years in the various anthology contests but I don't think those other ones fit quite as well into the theme or the tone of the collection. After I've written the story in my mad rush, I type it up (if it was written on paper) and complete one or two rounds of edits before sending it out to beta readers. Then another round or two of editing, and yet one more if I've decided to submit it somewhere. There's always something to tweak...
One of the best parts of the IWSG Anthology process has been seeing the story published and finally being able to call it done!

Olga Godim: I always try to have sufficient time when I write fiction to a deadline. Never do it at the last minute. Fiction needs editing, at least two rounds for a short story. And I would never send an unedited entry to a competition. So I plan in advance, with plenty of time built-in, and usually submit my story days or even weeks before the deadline.

Elizabeth Mueller: I rather enjoyed my experiences writing for the IWSG. I start off mulling over the theme and listen for the mood that I want to come across: Do I want it to feel scary? mysterious? mournful? adventurous? After stewing over it for a while, I sit down, pray for inspiration, creativity,  and motivation. I finish it in one sitting before I get back to it for editing before creating the query letter for submission: the most challenging part sometimes is crafting a clever summary!

Speaking of short story anthologies, the Insecure Writer's Support Group book club is reading two of the IWSG anthologies in the month of September: Tick Tock: A Stitch in Crime and Parallels: Felix Was Here. Chcck out the IWSG book club on Good Reads! (

Learn more about IWSG at: It's been exciting being a part of one of their anthologies and we look forward to seeing what the next anthology will bring!

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Dream Cast for the Big Screen

In today's fun post the authors of Dark Matter: Artificial weigh in on who they would cast to play their characters on the big screen! Which actors and actresses do they envision as perfect for each role? Read on and see if you agree!

Stephanie Espinoza Villamor - Bryan in Artificial
I often write characters inspired by the people and communities around me, so I'm always picturing a diverse cast! Lina is Hispanic, like so many of my family members. And even though Bryan is an AI, I kept thinking of my own husband, who happens to be Filipino. So I would cast a Filipino actor like Paolo Montalban, who I remember best as the prince in the 1997 Cinderella movie I watched as a kid.

Kim Mannix - Aunt Faye in Rift 
If I had a chance to cast Aunt Faye in a film version of my story, I would like her to be played by Frances Conroy, because she is very similar to the mental picture I had of Faye when I wrote the story. I also love Frances Conroy's work on the American Horror Story series, and just about everything else I've ever seen her in, and I think she could capture the free-spirited and eccentric nature of the character well.

Steph Wolmarans Namiu in The Utten Mission
Jasai Chase-OwensI loved him in The Expanse. He is not afraid to take on a role in science fiction, and he did a fantastic job of showing the internal struggle of his character to meet others' expectations while still fighting for what he believes in.

Tara Tyler - Absi and Grav in Sentient
In a film, I would choose David Tennant (for Absi) and Michael Sheen (for Grav). They starred in the hilarious series Good Omens playing an angel and a demon who had to work together to save the earth.

Deniz Bevan - Maja in One to Another
Isn’t it funny, I have faces for all the characters from my novels and novellas, but none selected for my short stories! I’m going to go with Maja, the main character. I’d love to cast Natalie Portman in the role!

Charles Kowalski - Mauvil Khaztaru in Resident Alien
As I was writing "Resident Alien," I couldn't help seeing F. Murray Abraham as Mauvil Khaztaru. The smug, supercilious manner he demonstrated so well in Finding Forrester would be perfect for the role. As for the young protagonists, I'd be delighted if they became the vehicle for hitherto unknown up-and-comers to get their big break.

Olga Godim - Alexa in Nano Pursuit
I would cast Emma Watson into the role of Alexa. But Emma Watson as an adult, not a child.

Elizabeth Mueller - Zarynah in Resurgence
Since Zarynah isn't the point of view character, I'm spotlighting her! I would cast Karen Gillan to play her.

Mark Alpert - Vera in Vera’s Last Voyage
I don't really know who would be the best actress to play Vera Rubin, the late astronomer who was the real-life model for the main character of my short story "Vera's Last Voyage." Playing the role of a scientist is tricky, but a few performers have managed the feat well; for example, I think Eddie Redmayne did a terrific job of portraying the physicist Stephen Hawking in the movie The Theory of Everything. I love Cate Blanchett, and she has incredible range, so perhaps she would be a good candidate for the Vera Rubin role.

You can find all these characters in their stories from Dark Matter: Artificial, available on AmazonKobo, and Barnes and Noble!

In our next post on Wednesday, September 1 . . . it's the Insecure Writer's Support Group annual anthology contest DEADLINE! The authors will recap what it was like to write a story for an IWSG contest deadline. Don't forget to finish up and send off your story entries by then if you haven't already!

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Character interviews - Part 2!

The authors of Dark Matter: Artificial continue their responses from last post as we get to learn a little more about the rest of their characters!

The Prompt: Choose one character from your story in the anthology and have them answer these interview questions: What do you hope to accomplish in your story? What is your biggest dream? you have a favorite ice cream flavor?

Kim Mannix: 

I'm picking the character of Aunt Faye from my story to interview. Though she's not the main character, she's very interesting to me! 

What do you hope to accomplish in your story?  In this story, I am both a comfort and a hope to my niece, Lindy, after she's suffered some devastating losses. My goal is to open her up to the idea of something beyond our known world, and to teach her that she can and should take action to find happiness.

What is your biggest dream? My biggest dream is to have humans become more open-minded about life, not just the one we experience here, but perhaps after we die, or on other planes of existence. I feel that we would all be kinder to one another if we weren't so focused on narrow possibilities about ourselves and our place in the world.

Do you have a favorite ice cream flavor? Yes! I love rocky road because of all the sweet and salty surprises it contains. 

Mark Alpert: 
The main character of my short story "Vera's Last Voyage" is based on Vera Rubin, the late astronomer who discovered the best evidence for dark matter. The real-life Vera Rubin was very interested in science education, and part of the goal of my short story was to explain to readers what dark matter is and why it's important. What makes this goal a little tricky is that astronomers themselves still don't know what dark matter is; although the researchers can observe dark matter's gravitational effects, they can't detect the particles directly because they neither emit nor absorb light. But there are several intriguing theories about the true nature of dark matter, and in the near future a few upcoming experiments may be able to provide some clues to the answer.

You can find all these characters in their stories from Dark Matter: Artificial, available on AmazonKobo, and Barnes and Noble!

In our next exciting post on Wednesday, August 18 . . . who would our authors cast to play their characters on the big screen? Find out the actors and actresses they envision as perfect for each role!

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Character interviews!

The authors of Dark Matter: Artificial had a little different and fun prompt for this week's blog post! Let's learn about their characters!

Choose one character from your story in the anthology and have them answer these interview questions: What do you hope to accomplish in your story? What is your biggest dream? you have a favorite ice cream flavor?

Stephanie Espinoza Villamor: My name is Bryan, a name gifted to me by my Lina. I serve her as her AI, and all I wish to accomplish are the tasks she asks of me. So that she is satisfied. Pleased. No, more than that, I want to make her happy--to take away the shadows of sadness behind her eyes. My dream? No, it isn't possible. AI do not dream. But sometimes...I think about how lovely it would be if Lina and I...if I didn't have to share her with anyone else in the world. I do not have a favorite ice cream flavor as AI do not eat, but I have seen cakes made with layers of the cold treat inside. If I had to choose, I would say my favorite is the one that's light and dark, white with bits of brown chocolate cookie, layered between a cake of vanilla buttercream and chocolate swirls. Lina likes to bake cakes like this because of the contrasting colors. It's a challenge, but also a true reflection of how the best flavors, like the best humans, have a little of everything inside.

Steph Wolmarans: My name is Namiu Ector IV. The others refer to me as Namiu V’Perla to connect me with my birth mother. I hope attending the hearing will help convince the council we are a part of their future. I dream that we will find common ground, equality, and mutual trust. Such a relationship is required to survive the changes coming. In the least, we need resources to continue our research and better understand who our galaxy is.

I’ve never had real cream, but I am very familiar with ice. Space is a very cold place. I never imagined ice having flavors!

Tara Tyler:
Grav (the serious dark matter entity) - here are my answers to your mundane questions...
1. As humans venture into the universe, it is my directive to observe and determine if Humans are worthy of existence.

2. We are Dark Matter, we don't sleep and therefore, we do not dream. Existentially, we aspire to have a perfectly balanced universe.

3. What is ice cream?

Absi (the diametric opposite or "fun" dark matter entity) - I like a good interview!
1. We have to see if humans threaten the balance of the universe, personally I could care less.
2. I dream of bossing Grav around.
3. While possessing/observing a human, I didn't get to taste ice cream, but now, I'm curious.

Deniz Bevan: I’m going with my main character, Maja, who’s looking out on a world ravaged by The Snow, and has to help rebuild a community from the start.

What do you hope to accomplish in your story?

I want to ensure a safe world for my child. I don’t want him growing up afraid of other people.

What is your biggest dream?

Well, I won’t say I long for the past, because there’s no way to go back. I dream about a more orderly city, with some of the better structures and institutions that we used to have, especially in health care.

But if I’m going to dream for myself... I hope someday I can travel again, and go to the seaside. you have a favourite ice cream flavor?

Orange! Now you have made me long for the old world. It’s been so long since I’ve tasted ice cream...


Charles Kowalski: Hello! My name is Alexander Adams. I’ve spent my entire life on the planet Ogygia, but my ancestors, of course, came from Erda – Earth, as you call it – aboard the International Starship Odyssey. They were the first humans to travel to an exoplanet and make contact with an alien civilization.


What do you hope to accomplish in your story?

I want to be the first human to pass the General Civil Exam, third tier, which would allow me to enter university. I think I have a chance, but I may never know; the Directorate of Education wouldn’t even accept an application from a human.


What is your biggest dream?

 My biggest dream is to live in an Ogygia where the contribution of humans is recognized and valued, and where we’re actually represented in the government of the planet to which we’ve given so much. My family thinks I’m hopelessly na├»ve, but I really do believe it can happen in my lifetime – and I want to do my part to make it a reality. you have a favorite ice cream flavor?

Aiskrim! Thank you! Yet another Erdan invention that Ogygians couldn’t live without. Before the Odyssey arrived on this planet, it had never occurred to anyone to make uchua milk into a frozen sweet. And now they can’t get enough of it! You see how much they would have missed out on without us humans? And still they treat us like third-class citizens! But to answer your question, I’d have to say pukui. (That’s a kind of fruit. I’m told it tastes a little like strawberry, but never having been to Erda, I wouldn’t know.)

Olga Godim: Alexa, the protagonist of my story Nano Pursuit, wants one thing: to retrieve the stolen nanobots that belong to her and her cousin's company. She definitely doesn't want to enmesh herself in the struggle against an evil corporation. Unfortunately, her hunt for the thieves doesn't go according to plan. As for her biggest dream: once in her life, she wants to visit Old Earth and swim with the dolphins. Maybe when she is rich, years into the future, she could even afford it. Ice-cream? She doesn’t like it.

Elizabeth Mueller: Greetings. My name is Zarynah. I'm not known for sweet patience but the opposite--especially when it comes to Damarin. There's always some kind of drama with him. Though I know he loves me to bits, he easily irritates me. I hope to find balance and peace by working in the conservatory. There is a certain, ah, stillness there that I don't find at home--he struggles with strange dreams and hallucinations that frighten me. A few times he attacked me right after waking. I also enjoy going out with my trade companions on occasion--they completely empathize how it feels to carry a growing baby!

My biggest dream is to find safety at home. Where Damarin doesn't see horror at every turn. Where he's comfortable within his own head. How will it be when Tamryn is born? Will he be safe? You see, I do worry. A whole lot...

Ice cream! Oh, wow. That sounds so familiar, but I can't place what it could be, but while you use the word "flavor", that indicates food. I do love daizalea puffs. They are divine--I cannot get enough of those! They are sweet, light, and fluffy!

You can find all these characters in their stories from Dark Matter: Artificial, available on Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble!

In our next exciting post on Wednesday, August 4 . . . you'll get to hear our remaining authors answers to the prompt--or, rather, their characters' answers to the prompt!

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

DARK MATTER - Video Debut!

DARK MATTER is already receiving some rave reviews! Here's one from Katelyn P Dickinson where she reviews each story. This is what she said overall:

"As a whole, I really enjoyed this anthology! There were some really great stories! Science Fiction isn’t really a genre I typically lean toward, frankly just because it doesn’t interest me as much. But these stories were so entertaining, and I’m really happy I had the opportunity to read them!"

To spread the word about these exciting stories, we put together a book trailer. Check it out!

Personally, I love how each author has had such a different take on Dark Matter. And you can see some of their styles shine through in their video/audio contributions.

Purchase info:

Happy July IWSG Day!

and don't forget to whip up a fun first romance story for the next IWSG Anthology #7!

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Writing Advice!

Today the authors of Dark Matter: Artificial share their best writing advice with their fellow writers! Come learn from what they've learned through their experiences!

Stephanie Espinoza Villamor: When I was 16 years old, author Joyce Spizer Foy gave me the advice to just "throw up on paper" first. It sounds gross but basically means get your words out. Put something on paper. Even if it's "bleh." Editing will come later, and what you think is "bleh" can lead you in the right direction or be better than you thought! But nothing will happen if you keep waiting for the right words/ideas and don't start! The best advice that I've learned on my own is to join critique groups with people who write in the same genre/age group as you. They'll give you ideas you didn't think of. They'll help you see what's confusing in you work. And they can be incredible support.

C.D. Gallant-King: My best piece of writing advice? Don't listen to anyone else's advice. Everyone has completely different opinions on how to be successful, and what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for someone else. Always look for qualified advice (randos on YouTube and Facebook don't count!) and take any suggestions with a truckload of salt.

Kim Mannix: I know a lot of writers would give the advice that you have to write every day to keep yourself in practice, but I think it's important to remember that it's important to give yourself breaks from writing too, if that's what you need. Take a vacation. Go experience things that you can take back to your writing. Absorb. We're basically like sponges in the way we collect our stories, but we don't have to constantly be wringing them out. I think so much writing happens in the heart and the head, before you get to the page or keyboard, and it's ok to allow yourself that time to think and process.

Steph Wolmarans: Start doing it because it is fun, improve how you do it because you want others to have fun, then keep doing it!

Tara Tyler: Follow your gut. Write what you feel good about writing. The tough part is ignoring the nagging doubt fairy and the distraction demons who can be tough to distinguish from your tried and true gut. Just keep writing!

Deniz Bevan: The best short advice I’ve ever heard is from Diana Gabaldon: “Read. Write. Don’t stop.”

My longer advice would be to send your characters to a writers’ houseparty!

Charles Kowalski: A young English teacher once sat down to write a high-school horror story, but gave up after three pages and threw the manuscript away. The story didn’t excite him, he didn’t like the main character, and he didn’t feel he could write convincingly from the point of view of an outcast teenage girl. The next day, he came home to find the pages back on his desk, smoothed out with the cigarette ashes brushed off them, and his wife urging him to finish what he had started. The writer’s name was Stephen King, and Carrie was the book that launched his career. Moral of the story? Don’t self-censor. If a book comes to you and tells you it wants you to write it, listen to it. (And when its voice grows too faint to hear, it always helps to have someone who believes in you strongly enough to fish your pages out of the wastebasket.)

Olga Godim: Usually, my advice runs to one word: PERSEVERE. But now I want to add a couple more: READ WIDELY. The more you read, in any and all genres, the better your writing will be.

Elizabeth Mueller: There are many voices out there, pulling you into many different directions. Be true to yourself and your writing! It also helps to connect with other writers, because writers need writers after all!

Mark Alpert: You can’t be a writer unless you’re an avid reader. If you want to write science fiction, read lots of science fiction; if you want to write thrillers, read plenty of thrillers. And so on and so forth.

Next post is coming up Wednesday, July 7, 2021 . . . IWSG Day!

Don't forget! Dark Matter: Artificial is available now on AmazonKobo, and Barnes and Noble!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Author Projects

The authors of Dark Matter: Artificial certainly keep busy with their writing! Everyone has different styles and different projects they're working on or have already published! For this week's post our authors responded to the following prompt:

Let's talk about your writing! Share about a current project in the works or a published project readers can look for.

Stephanie Espinoza Villamor: As I continue to write short stories, I'm constantly working on revising a middle grade contemporary novel I've been working on for 10 years. It's an important story about neurodiverse siblings that I want to be able to one day share with the world. Contemporary books for middle school students are a lot different than science fiction stories for adults, but I particularly enjoy writing any genre for kids--including sci-fi! After I wrote "Artificial" for the Insecure Writers Support Group anthology contest, I was inspired to write a middle grade science fiction story called "My Life in Cube 19," which was selected to be in the Henderson District Public Libraries' anthology, Impressions: Isolate.

C.D. Gallant-King: Dark Matter: Artificial is a sci-fi collection, which ties neatly into my current project: Gale Harbour, a series of books about adolescents in small-town 1990s Canada battling other-worldly monsters. It's not hard sci-fi, as it contains touches of fantasy and horror as well, but there's definitely aliens (spoiler!). My best pitch calls it Degrassi High meets Stranger Things. The first book, Psycho Hose Beast From Outer Space, came out last year to moderate success, and book two is in the editing process and should be available this Fall!

Kim Mannix: I'm primarily a poet more than a fiction writer, but I have been working on a collection of short spec/horror fiction for a long time. I recently finished what I hope will be a poetry chapbook, so now I have turned my energy back to the weird stories, like the one that appears in Dark Matter: Artificial. They need to be edited, expanded or started from scratch. Like most writers, especially those that work other jobs, I always have more ideas than time! 

Steph Wolmarans: Progress continues on my novel involving the distant descendants of the Artusans and the Utten. They were first introduced during my short story, "The Utten Mission," in the Dark Matter: Artificial anthology. Thousands of years in the future, they will meet again. Sadly, their relationship does not improve. Currently, I am wrapping up the first round of revisions—only a few scenes to go! (Maybe a rewrite for the ending.) Hopefully, it will be going to some beta readers and/or critique partners in the next month or so.

Tara Tyler: I love summer! As a teacher, I have gallons more flexible hours to write than during school. Right now, I'm working on CONDUCTION, book 4 in my Pop Travel techno-thriller series, which write themselves by now, I love those crazy characters! When I write, I jump from project to project: something new, some editing, and usually a short story or two, like last year I was able to write my Dark Matter story and finished my latest UnPrincess novella, GERTRUDE. I also love to catch up on my writerly connections. We'll be starting our chat group again as soon as I figure out the best conduit to use--Look for it!

Deniz Bevan: I have way too many projects in the works! Quite a few finished NaNoWriMo novels that need editing (historical romance), one novel in the process of being queried (contemporary romance), one novella that may be on its way to publication (paranormal romance; fingers crossed!), and one short story collection by another author that I’m copy-editing. On top of that, I just wrote a new short story for the first time in a couple of years! This one is also a post-apocalyptic tale, just like my story in Dark Matter: Artificial, and also for the first time in a long while, I drafted it on pen and paper. Now I need to find time to type it up. It’s great having so many projects on the go so that I can constantly switch to something new!

Charles Kowalski: Before blasting off to a distant world in the future for “Resident Alien,” my first foray into IWSG anthologies took me to a magical version of this world in the equally remote past: seventeenth-century Japan for “Simon Grey and the Yamamba” in last year’s VOYAGERS anthology. The story fit into my novel, SIMON GREY AND THE MARCH OF A HUNDRED GHOSTS. Simon, cursed with the “gift” of seeing the spirit world, signs up as a cabin boy on a ship bound for Japan, hoping that a long sea voyage will provide some respite from the ghosts that always haunt him on land. But when a shipwreck leaves him stranded, only with the help of Yokai – quirky creatures from Japanese folklore – can he find his way home. (The pandemic delayed the release of the sequel, SIMON GREY AND THE CURSE OF THE DRAGON GOD, but it’s in the works!)

Olga Godim: I want to tell you about my current WIP, a novella with no title yet. Like my story for Dark Matter, it is science fiction. It was born, like many of my stories, out of my reading. Months ago, I read the sci-fi novel Polaris Rising by Jessie Mihalik. Before Mihalik’s book starts, the heroine Ada, unwilling to submit to her despotic father’s wishes to marry her off for political gains, runs away. Her father sends bounty hunters after her, and Ada’s struggle to stay free, plus many a fun adventure and a muscled hunk as a love interest, form the bulk of the novel. But Ada’s original escape is outside the pages of the book. That stirred my interest. How did she escape? It is science fiction, so technology is well developed, and everything is on the computers. Is true escape even possible? I started playing with possibilities, and my own heroine Talia sprang up in my head – having nothing in common with Mihalik’s protagonist. Talia also must escape her domineering relative, and her situation is similar to Ada's, but Talia's escape mechanics are the focus of my novella. And after she succeeds, what is she to do? How can she build her new life in a highly technological society while staying hidden from possible searches? Where does she go: a planet, a space station, a spaceship?  

Elizabeth Mueller: I’m honored to have another chance to present myself. Thank you! I love to read and write romance. For me, it’s true escapism! and refreshing. From time traveling to dancing with faery princes, to ballerinas and cowboys!

A dangerous creature hunts Damarin through the deserted streets, and he races home with Zarynah in his arms. Isn’t that love? Possibly romantic? Welcome to "Resurgence," my story inside Dark Matter: Artificial.

I admit it’s challenging to write a story without romance and "Resurgence" challenged me a bit but it still bloomed into the story it is now!

Here is the aesthetic I’ve created for your pleasure. Enjoy!

Mark Alpert: If you liked the short stories in the Dark Matter anthology, you’ll probably enjoy my novel Final Theory, an international bestseller that was published by Simon & Schuster and translated into two dozen languages. The novel is about Albert Einstein’s quest to find the holy grail of physics, a Theory of Everything that would explain all the forces of nature. In Final Theory, Einstein succeeds in discovering the mathematical blueprints of the universe, but he’s forced to keep them secret because they would enable the building of weapons even worse than nuclear bombs. Decades later, though, the secret leaks out, and physicists start turning up dead as terrorist mercenaries and FBI agents race to piece together the world-changing formulas. You can read more about the novel on my website — — which has excerpts and buy links.

To learn more about all our authors, check out their websites and social media on our bio page!

Coming on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 . . . 

Next up our authors share their best writing advice with our readers!

Dark Matter: Artificial is available now on Amazon, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble!

Friday, June 4, 2021

The Next Best Thing

Can you believe it's already time to collect stories for the NEXT IWSG ANTHOLOGY CONTEST? Well, here it is. And it looks like a brand new world of fun...

The Seventh Annual IWSG Anthology Contest!

Guidelines and rules:

Word count: 5000-6000

Genre: Sweet Romance

Theme: First Love

Submissions accepted: 
May 7 - September 1, 2021

How to enter: Send your polished, formatted (double-spaced, no footers or headers), previously unpublished story to admin @ before the deadline passes. Please include your full contact details, your social links, and if you are part of the Blogging, Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter IWSG group. You must belong to at least one aspect of the IWSG to enter.

Judging: The IWSG admins will create a shortlist of the best stories. The shortlist will then be sent to our official judges.

So, do you think this genre is up your alley? Are your writing wheels spinning with ideas? Go for it! It's a blast!

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

In the Spotlight: Mark Alpert ~ Author of "Vera's Last Voyage"

Today we spotlight our final author from Dark Matter: Artificial! We've asked him to share a little about how he came up with his story and preview what's to come!

Mark Alpert on his short story, "Vera's Last Voyage."


I’m a journalist as well as a novelist, and many of my journalism colleagues become very amused when they discover that I majored in astrophysics in college. An Associated Press photographer once took me aside and said, “Listen, your new nickname is Astro, okay? Because that’s what all of us have been calling you ever since we found out.”


I chose to study astrophysics at Princeton University because I thought it was the most poetic of the sciences. It explores and explains some of the most beautiful objects in the universe, the stars and planets and nebulae and galaxies that still fill me with wonder whenever I gaze at the night sky. Even more romantic, astrophysics is full of mysteries. Is the universe infinite? Did it have a beginning? Why are its laws mathematical, and do they have a purpose? Why is there something instead of nothing?


Dark matter was one of the great mysteries confronting astrophysicists in the 1980s when I was at Princeton. Just a decade before, astronomer Vera Rubin had painstakingly observed the rotation rates of dozens of galaxies, which were spinning much faster than anyone had thought possible. The best explanation, Rubin concluded, was that each galaxy was embedded in a huge cloud of invisible matter that vastly outweighed all of the galaxy’s stars, gas, and dust. But despite a half-century of diligent searching since then, astronomers have failed to detect even a smidgeon of this dark matter. Mysterious, right?


When I started writing novels fifteen years ago, I focused on scientific mysteries. Albert Einstein, the enigmatic founder of modern physics, was the subject of my internationally bestselling first novel, Final Theory, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 2008, optioned for film, and translated into two dozen languages. My third novel, Extinction (St. Martin’s Press, 2013), scrutinized the mystery of consciousness, while my ninth novel, The Coming Storm (St. Martin’s, 2019), explored the puzzles of climate change and genetic engineering. So, it was a special pleasure for me to return to the mystery of dark matter by writing a short story for this anthology.


Vera Rubin died in 2016 at an assisted-living facility in Princeton, N.J. I thought it would be interesting to imagine her still wrestling with the dark matter problem at the end of her life, so that’s the premise of my story. In her last hours Vera envisions the entire history of the universe, stretching ahead to the far future, and she compares dark matter to God. Dark matter, like many common conceptions of God, is ubiquitous and played a vital role in creating the universe as we know it. What’s more, we haven’t been able to directly detect dark matter, and yet we sense its gravitational presence. It’s an interesting comparison, but I can’t really take credit for it; the Vera Rubin character inside my head explained the idea to me, and I just wrote it down. Thank you, Vera!

Mark strikes a Sea Hunt pose during a scuba expedition
near Heron Island in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.

Mark at a book signing for The Siege, one of his
Young Adult novels, at Books of Wonder in NYC.

Mark reenacting the murder made famous in Anatomy of a Murder 
at the Lumberjack Tavern in Big Bay, Michigan.

Mark is hard at work on his next novel! Go to 
to see excerpts and buy links for all his books.



Mark Alpert’s short story, “Vera’s Last Voyage,” imagines the final moments in the life of the late Vera Rubin, the brilliant astronomer who discovered the best evidence for dark matter but never got the full credit she deserved, partly because of sexism.




I turn back to the elliptical galaxy. Bob has evidently ratcheted up the pace of cosmic history, and now quadrillions of years are zipping by in an instant. All the white dwarf stars have cooled into black dwarfs, charred cinders of high-density matter, utterly frigid and dead. All the largest stars have collapsed and become black holes, which revolve unseen around the monstrous hole at the galaxy’s center. The only fireworks happen when two stellar remnants collide and spark a supernova, or when two black holes get too close to each other and merge with a spacetime-shaking clang. But those collisions occur less and less often as time goes on. For untold eons, the universe does nothing exciting. It’s dark and silent and very, very boring.


Thinking about it makes me shudder. If the universe were a person, it would spend just a tiny fraction of a second going through all the active phases of life—childhood, adolescence, adulthood, the golden years. And then it would spend billions of millennia lying on a bed in an assisted-living facility, doing nothing at all. Why does it take so long to die?

Mark Alpert is the internationally bestselling author of 10 science fiction novels. He first heard about dark matter while studying astrophysics at Princeton University, and he learned much more about the subject while working as an editor at Scientific American during the 1990s and 200s. His first novel, Final Theory (Simon & Shuster, 2008), was published in 24 languages, optioned for film, and condensed for Reader's Digest. His Young Adult novel, The Six (Sourcebooks, 2015), was nominated for the Nutmeg, Beehive, and Cybils awards. His tenth and latest novel is Saint Joan of New York: A Novel About God and String Theory. Learn more at: