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Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology

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From the Hugo Award-winning hosts of the Writing Excuses writing advice show comes a collection of all-new stories of the fantastic, with beautiful illustrations and a behind-the-scenes look at each story’s creation. Brandon Sanderson’s “Sixth of the Dusk,” set in his Cosmere universe shared by the Mistborn books and the #1 New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, sho From the Hugo Award-winning hosts of the Writing Excuses writing advice show comes a collection of all-new stories of the fantastic, with beautiful illustrations and a behind-the-scenes look at each story’s creation. Brandon Sanderson’s “Sixth of the Dusk,” set in his Cosmere universe shared by the Mistborn books and the #1 New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, showcases a society on the brink of technological change. On the deadly island of Patji, where predators can sense the thoughts of their prey, a lone trapper discovers that the island is not the only thing out to kill him. Mary Robinette Kowal’s “A Fire in the Heavens” is a powerful tale of a refugee seeking to the near-mythical homeland her oppressed people left centuries ago. When Katin discovers the role the “eternal moon” occupies in the Center Kingdom, and the nature of the society under its constant light, she may find enemies and friends in unexpected places. Dan Wells’s “I.E.Demon” features an Afghanistan field test of a piece of technology that is supposed to handle improvised explosive devices. Or so the engineers have told the EOD team that will be testing it; exactly what it does and how it does it are need-to-know, and the grunts don’t need to know. Until suddenly the need arises. Howard Tayler’s “An Honest Death” stars the security team for the CEO of a biotech firm about to release the cure for old age. When an intruder appears and then vanishes from the CEO’s office, the bodyguards must discover why he is lying to them about his reason for pressing the panic button. For years the hosts of Writing Excuses have been offering tips on brainstorming, drafting, workshopping, and revision, and now they offer an exhaustive look at the entire process. Not only does Shadows Beneath have four beautifully illustrated fantastic works of fiction, but it also includes transcripts of brainstorming and workshopping sessions, early drafts of the stories, essays about the stories’ creation, and details of all the edits made between the first and final drafts. Come for the stories by award-winning authors; stay for the peek behind the creative curtain.


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From the Hugo Award-winning hosts of the Writing Excuses writing advice show comes a collection of all-new stories of the fantastic, with beautiful illustrations and a behind-the-scenes look at each story’s creation. Brandon Sanderson’s “Sixth of the Dusk,” set in his Cosmere universe shared by the Mistborn books and the #1 New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, sho From the Hugo Award-winning hosts of the Writing Excuses writing advice show comes a collection of all-new stories of the fantastic, with beautiful illustrations and a behind-the-scenes look at each story’s creation. Brandon Sanderson’s “Sixth of the Dusk,” set in his Cosmere universe shared by the Mistborn books and the #1 New York Times bestselling Stormlight Archive, showcases a society on the brink of technological change. On the deadly island of Patji, where predators can sense the thoughts of their prey, a lone trapper discovers that the island is not the only thing out to kill him. Mary Robinette Kowal’s “A Fire in the Heavens” is a powerful tale of a refugee seeking to the near-mythical homeland her oppressed people left centuries ago. When Katin discovers the role the “eternal moon” occupies in the Center Kingdom, and the nature of the society under its constant light, she may find enemies and friends in unexpected places. Dan Wells’s “I.E.Demon” features an Afghanistan field test of a piece of technology that is supposed to handle improvised explosive devices. Or so the engineers have told the EOD team that will be testing it; exactly what it does and how it does it are need-to-know, and the grunts don’t need to know. Until suddenly the need arises. Howard Tayler’s “An Honest Death” stars the security team for the CEO of a biotech firm about to release the cure for old age. When an intruder appears and then vanishes from the CEO’s office, the bodyguards must discover why he is lying to them about his reason for pressing the panic button. For years the hosts of Writing Excuses have been offering tips on brainstorming, drafting, workshopping, and revision, and now they offer an exhaustive look at the entire process. Not only does Shadows Beneath have four beautifully illustrated fantastic works of fiction, but it also includes transcripts of brainstorming and workshopping sessions, early drafts of the stories, essays about the stories’ creation, and details of all the edits made between the first and final drafts. Come for the stories by award-winning authors; stay for the peek behind the creative curtain.

30 review for Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    I think we can consider this experiment a success. I would definitely read more anthologies with insights into the writing and editing process. It's fascinating. Writing Excuses is a podcast hosted normally by writers Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells and Howard Tayler. (Sometimes they have other guests.) It's a pretty cool podcast. They give writing advice, talk about all the different processes of writing, and even workshop stories on air. Some of the excerpts in this book wer I think we can consider this experiment a success. I would definitely read more anthologies with insights into the writing and editing process. It's fascinating. Writing Excuses is a podcast hosted normally by writers Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells and Howard Tayler. (Sometimes they have other guests.) It's a pretty cool podcast. They give writing advice, talk about all the different processes of writing, and even workshop stories on air. Some of the excerpts in this book were podcast segments. I haven't listened to them yet. What's cool about this anthology is that for each of the four stories, we get to see the skeleton of the creative process: the initial brainstorming session, the first draft, maybe the second, workshopping the story, and a version of the story showing what was added and cut to make the final draft. And of course, the final draft as well. The more versions and info and writing notes in there, the better. I know there were only four stories/novellas in this collection, but this is probably the first time I've genuinely enjoyed every story in an anthology. Mary Robinette Kowal's "A Fire in the Heavens" is about a woman on a tidally locked planet* who pays a ship to take her across the ocean to the lands her ancestors came from. Only, once she gets there, she experiences a culture clash of epic proportions. It was really interesting seeing the escalation from fun discovery to horrifying realization. *To be honest, I have no idea what this really means. Dan Wells' "I.E.Demon" was a short story that's better left unspoiled, but it's got supernatural elements and the military thrown together and it was really fun. Howard Tayler's "An Honest Death" was a surprise. I've never heard of him before reading this anthology and it looks like he mainly only writes comics, but I hope he keeps writing other more traditional stories, because he seems really good at it. I'm not going to say anything at all about the plot of the story because the twists are half the fun. Brandon Sanderson's novella "Sixth of the Dusk" was my favorite. It's part of what he calls the cosmere (a large universe where a lot of his books take place, and eventually all of them are going to come together somehow and it is SO COOL), but you don't have to have read any of the other cosmere stories to understand it. It would probably have been my favorite anyway--it's about a trapper who takes place on a dangerous island that produces magical bird companions that grant their owners special powers--but his story also had the most behind-the-scenes stuff. He included brainstorming with his, as well as a first draft, an edited draft, and an afterword noting why he'd made the changes he made. This is a good anthology just for the stories it contains, but if you're a writer (or are just interested in the writing process) this is definitely something you should check out.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Evgeni Kirilov

    I don't know if I can talk about the anthology as a whole (other than to say it was worth the read), so I'll comment on each story individually, Mary's A Fire in the Heavens was really solid. These days I tend to compare authors to Brandon Sanderson, as that's my own measuring stick for perfection, and Mary ranked really high there. The plot was fantastic. Characters - solid. Quality of writing - good. The worldbuilding was not up to my regular standards, but it was a novellette (or novella?), so I don't know if I can talk about the anthology as a whole (other than to say it was worth the read), so I'll comment on each story individually, Mary's A Fire in the Heavens was really solid. These days I tend to compare authors to Brandon Sanderson, as that's my own measuring stick for perfection, and Mary ranked really high there. The plot was fantastic. Characters - solid. Quality of writing - good. The worldbuilding was not up to my regular standards, but it was a novellette (or novella?), so that was okay. Brandon's Sixth of the Dusk was - lo and behold! - far from disappointing. It has all the elements I've grown to love and recognize in his writing: fantastic world, unique characters, page-turning quality of writing, and the Brandon avalanche. Initially I was a little concerned, because the first few pages felt slow, but things picked up adequately perhaps not 10 pages in. Howard's An Honest Death was the unexpected jewel in the anthology. I've never read anything by him, but I guess I didn't expect such a good story from a comic writer. And, boy, was I wrong. This story had perhaps the best plot out of all four, and that's a high praise from the Sanderson fanboy that I am. Finally, Dan's I.E.Demon. I must admit, I was not impressed by this - it's possible that Dan was trapped in a format he is unfamiliar with (the story was only about 15 pages), but I can't say much good about it. The idea was fun. But the writing was... devoid of emotion is how I felt it. I would read an emotional action-packed scene, and it would feel like a description of the environment. It might be a while before I pick another one of his books... :(

  3. 4 out of 5

    Neil Hepworth

    This book is a fantastic and rare look behind the curtain of the writing craft. To many people (even if they are bad at it themselves) writing seems simple. I mean, how hard can it be to pound on a keyboard and make a decent short story of only 3,000 words? Well, as any writer will tell you, it’s damn hard. As other reviewers have pointed out, the four stories to start this book are fun and entertaining, but none of them will knock your socks off. However, after reading each story, and then readi This book is a fantastic and rare look behind the curtain of the writing craft. To many people (even if they are bad at it themselves) writing seems simple. I mean, how hard can it be to pound on a keyboard and make a decent short story of only 3,000 words? Well, as any writer will tell you, it’s damn hard. As other reviewers have pointed out, the four stories to start this book are fun and entertaining, but none of them will knock your socks off. However, after reading each story, and then reading about the process and edits for the selection, I came to appreciate each story, and view each story in a new light that readers are rarely privileged to see. I loved how Kowal fleshed out her new culture and religion. I loved how Wells had to write a very specific type of story because his piece was to be printed in an anthology for American soldiers. I loved how Tayler changed the POV character and the POV itself, thus making for a much more engaging read. And I loved how Sanderson completely rewrote the ending of his story so that the reader left feeling satisfied. Folks, these changes are remarkable because we as readers NEVER SEE THEM! I often tell my students that being a new writer is particularly challenging because you never get to witness a book being made and so you don’t know what to expect. You don’t know if the troubles you’re having are the same troubles someone else is having, too. You can watch the Extras on a DVD to see how movies are made; you can watch Martha Stewart to see how meals are made; you can drive down the street and watch construction workers to see how buildings are made; you can even tour a brewery to see how beer is made - but you never get to see how books are made. Writing is a very mysterious process. This book seeks to demystify the process a bit and takes the reader on a tour of brainstorms, drafts, discussions, revisions, and final stories. For anyone who wants to know what the writing process is like for successful authors, here it is. Personally, I’ll be using this book with my high school Creative Writing class. Writers, teachers, readers who want a peek at the writing mystery, this book is a must read and re-read. Spread the word - more people need to read this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlin

    So I didn’t actually know anything about this book prior to its release as I didn’t know about the Writing Excuses Podcasts (although now that I do know it sounds super interesting). Basically this is an anthology which contains 4 different novellas by the 4 hosts of the Podcast, Brandon Sanderson (the main reason that I purchased the book) with ‘Sixth of the Dusk’, Mary Robinette Kowal with ‘A Fire in the Heavens’, Dan Wells with ‘I.E.Demon’ and finally Howard Tayler with ‘An Honest Death’. Eac So I didn’t actually know anything about this book prior to its release as I didn’t know about the Writing Excuses Podcasts (although now that I do know it sounds super interesting). Basically this is an anthology which contains 4 different novellas by the 4 hosts of the Podcast, Brandon Sanderson (the main reason that I purchased the book) with ‘Sixth of the Dusk’, Mary Robinette Kowal with ‘A Fire in the Heavens’, Dan Wells with ‘I.E.Demon’ and finally Howard Tayler with ‘An Honest Death’. Each story is unique to the style of the author and so they don’t share themes or even genres, however the things which are shared between them are the writing group critiques which are all included at the back of this story. We get to have a peek at the first draft of each story, a transcript from the brainstorming session (which must have been my favourite added extra for the background that it helped to form as a backdrop for the stories) and the edits which were made to each story. I loved the inclusion of the transcribed podcast brainstorming and critiquing episodes for the pure fact that when I initially read some of the stories I felt that they were left too open and too broad, but after reading the transcriptions of the ideas I now see ‘why’ it was left in that way and the decisions which led up to that, and that gives each story a much clearer ending. I think that the publication of edits and brainstorming sessions and also sometimes essays about why each author planned this or that for their own story, really helps to give an insight into the way that a novel or novella is planned and how it evolves over time, and with more and more people giving their opinion. I loved the behind the scenes feeling which I got from reading these sections and the major reason that I gave this anthology 4.5*s was for those sections as without them some of the novellas would have not been to my tastes enough for me to consider the deeper tones and meaning behind them. I would love to see a future version of this book layout done by some other authors as I think it’s so interesting and as Sanderson is one of my favourite authors reading what he said about each story and the reasoning he put behind each point or idea that he gave really showed more of his personality and made me feel a lot more connected as a reader to him as a person rather than just an obscure author. Imagine being able to see the behind the scenes of all of your favourite authors and books? It would be impressive for sure, and this is just the right sort of setting when you have shorter stories which can be analysed in this way. One thing I did love was that in the brainstorming sessions Mary and Howard both gave multiple ideas for different stories that they were considering in a short paragraph and this really interested me as all of the stories which they suggested seemed like they could have been very thought-provoking and intriguing if they had been the chosen one. Another thing I need to mention just before I go into analysing each novella individually is the illustrations which were included as I really do love it when art is put in and each story had it’s own unique feel which I gleaned just from that one painting or drawing at the start of each. I particularly enjoyed the one for Mary and Sanderson’s stories. Mary’s story begins with a silhouetted ship flying many sails and sailing towards the moon which was both enchanting and enticing in one glance. The comic-book feeling of the image for I.E.Demon seemed to fit the crazy story whilst the Death pencil image seemed humorous for the ‘An Honest Death Story’ and was a clear, clean cut image. The image which is before Sanderson’s story really gives a feeling of a deep, dark island with a strong and courageous character about to embark on an adventure. I also love the mystical looking birds which are a key part of the storyline that follows. So, now moving on to the individual novellas. I should point out that prior to reading this I had never heard of, much less read anything by, any of the authors other than Sanderson (whom I admire greatly and have read a lot from). So, starting out I read ‘A Fire in the Heavens’ which was the order that the book went and which Sanderson actually recommended in the same blog post where he announced the book to his readers in the first place. Due to this encouragement and praise of her story I was hoping to go into it and really enjoy it, but although I did like it for some elements there were certain aspects that did irritate me somewhat and thus it was not as wonderful as I had hoped. The story itself is a beautifully realised world where we follow our leading lady on a voyage from one side of the shadowy Earth over to the other side which is constantly lit by the light of the moon. Katin is the main character and she is travelling to the other side of the world in the hopes of finding the sacred homeland which is believed to be there and which is mentioned in her religion as a fervent belief held by all. She has hired a crew to take her there in the hope of learning more about her ancestors and the life that led them to flee their home. I must say that the writing itself was very beautiful when describing the moon and the sailing of the ship. Once they reach this ‘land’ I felt that the descriptions helped me to imagine it well, but I did feel like everything that happened whilst they were there felt a bit too rushed and wasn’t explained as much as I had hoped it would be, therefore leaving what felt like a somewhat unresolved story. I ended up rating the first novella a 3.5*s out of 5*s as it just felt too open and free to really be called resolved and I know that maybe I am just being picky, but I felt like a beautifully written story deserved a little bit more finality and certainty surrounding the ending. I do like the style though and I see why Sanderson recommended her for that alone. Moving on to the next story I then read I.E.Demon by Dan Wells which is a sort of military sci-fi story and is the shortest one in the anthology by far. This is the story of a military man who is fighting against the Taliban with his team when he is suddenly recruited for a machinery test. He is a fairly low down officer so he;s not even given the full details of what the weaponry is or how it works, he’s just told to follow orders and get on with the test. Of course things end up going wrong and when there’s also some supernatural sic-fi thrown in and Demons start appearing it spells a bit of trouble for our main man. Unfortunately I would have to say that this is the one that I just didn’t like out of the whole novella and I think that that is mainly for the fact that I don’t particularly enjoy very short, underdeveloped stories, or military stories so it just wasn’t a good combo for me. I ended up giving this one a 1.5* rating which isn’t very good, but whilst I didn't personally like it, after reading the Transcripts for the brainstorm sessions and so on I felt like I at least understood the story better and that was a good thing, so even though I didn’t like it the background made me enjoy the whole book a lot more than I otherwise would have. The next novella was ‘An Honest Death’ by Howard Tayler which was actually a really good story in my opinion (considering that is was pretty short overall) and I would have to say that following Sanderson’s this was the next best one for me. This story is told from the point of view of a fairly syndical and witty bodyguard who works for a big-shot CEO at a Pharmaceutical company. He is a very engaging and amusing character who plans for all sorts of eventualities and whom we can rely on to engage us in the story, but when Death himself decides to pay the CEO a visit things get a little bit crazy and our main character - Cole - has to rethink and reapply his training in new ways to ensure that the company secrets aren’t just destroyed and lost forever. There is more I could say on this but I don’t want to spoil it as, like I say, I thought that this was a well written and well conceived idea and I am sure that Tayler is a very amusing writer in his other works too. I would say that this one is certainly worth the read and I gave it a 3.5* rating and I felt like it seemed like the start of a promising series (which maybe it could be in the future, who knows). Finally I moved on to the Sanderson novella which was the main reason I even bought this book, and let me just say that for this story alone I am very glad that I did buy it, because I ended up really enjoying it. This is the story of Dusk who is a Trapper. Trappers each have their own island where they work and hunt and trap to earn a living and Dusk has chosen Patji (the biggest, scariest and most risky father island) as his territory. In the world that he is a part of there are magical creatures called Aviar which are like birds with special abilities. These birds are the way that the Trappers can survive the harsh conditions on the island and they help to avoid danger and ensure that close attention is always paid to anything suspicious. These birds are a rare commodity which has recently caught the attention of the mainlanders and they all desire the magical powers that the birds possess so of course they decide to do something about it and they turn up uninvited one day on the island of Patji - Not a good idea! Of course being untrained as they are their arrival causes all sorts of problems for Dusk and the island and from then on it’s up to Dusk to try and help to keep the island sacred and free from these people. As always I loved the writing style which Sanderson displays and I felt like it was a beautiful setting and a beautiful story to fit into that serene (if slightly deathly) setting. I admire the different magics which Sanderson always manages to so convincingly create and I felt like this story was a very entertaining, yet stunningly captivating one. It was a lot longer than the other novellas which allowed more development, and I felt like that was certainly a bonus from my POV, and I am very glad that I bought this book for this story! 4.5*s as the ending was a big open for my liking, but it was hinting at more to maybe one day come, and that’s something at least! On the whole I think it was a really interesting and different experience to be able to read the finished stories and then go back and see how they were made as it gave a much deeper understanding and a better insight into the minds of the authors and the craft of creating a good story. I would certainly recommend Sanderson's and Tayler’s stories the most, but I would say that they’re all worth reading so that you can compare the behind the scenes to them as, let’s be honest, that’s the real gem of this book. Highly recommended if any of this sneaky behind the scenes appeals to you!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Katie.g

    I really enjoyed reading this collection of short stories and seeing how the authors first brainstormed their ideas, write their first drafts and then changed them. It was very insightful for me, as someone who is trying to write a novel myself but even if I wasn’t planning to write one, it is still very interesting. It shows a side of authors’ work that we don’t normally get to see, having only read the finished product. Brandon Sanderson’s Sixth of the Dusk was without doubt my favourite short I really enjoyed reading this collection of short stories and seeing how the authors first brainstormed their ideas, write their first drafts and then changed them. It was very insightful for me, as someone who is trying to write a novel myself but even if I wasn’t planning to write one, it is still very interesting. It shows a side of authors’ work that we don’t normally get to see, having only read the finished product. Brandon Sanderson’s Sixth of the Dusk was without doubt my favourite short story but Mary’s story was also very good and Dan and Howard’s stories were interesting, if not the kind of thing I usually read. They are all brilliant examples of how an idea can shape and some of the snagging points that authors can get stuck on when they have an idea which isn’t quite right in some way and then they have to go back and change stuff. It was interesting to hear the rest of the groups input on these and to see which things the author took on board and which things they did not.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sunil

    The Writing Excuses team have put together the sort of anthology I've always wanted, providing a unique look into the creative process by walking the reader through the creation of four very different stories. For each story, you get a brainstorming session, a first draft, a workshopping session, and then a track-changes version to show everything that changed from the first draft to the final draft. While I generally love Mary Robinette Kowal's stories, I didn't connect with "A Fire in the Heave The Writing Excuses team have put together the sort of anthology I've always wanted, providing a unique look into the creative process by walking the reader through the creation of four very different stories. For each story, you get a brainstorming session, a first draft, a workshopping session, and then a track-changes version to show everything that changed from the first draft to the final draft. While I generally love Mary Robinette Kowal's stories, I didn't connect with "A Fire in the Heavens," set on a tidally locked planet and focusing on a woman who sees the moon for the first time and experiences a huge culture clash on returning to her homeland. I found the worldbuilding interesting, especially the issues with language, but it didn't seem to have a strong plot until near the end, which does have a nice "Oh shit" moment. Funnily enough, during the initial brainstorming session, Mary's problem was that she had the world and setting but couldn't come up with a story for it. It's fascinating to read the session and see how all four of them work together to devise a story that would be compelling with the world she's set up, some suggesting wildly different directions that aren't explored, and together, they come up with that "Oh shit" moment that I loved. Reading the first draft is also instructive, as it's very clear there's a huge chunk missing in the middle, and then with the workshopping session, we see how the story comes to be in its final form. Dan Wells presents "I.E. Demon," a fun military sci-fi story about a gremlin causing trouble on the battlefield. It's cute and clever, though the protagonist is fairly generic. Again, the brainstorming sessions are some of the best bits of the book to read because it's a peek into the imaginations and creative juices of these writers, and an indication to writers that even if you have a lot of ideas relating to your story, it doesn't mean you have to use them all in that story. With Dan's story, we get a first, unfinished draft as well as an interim draft, in addition to a write-up from Dan about how the story changed throughout its iterations. Howard Tayler's "An Honest Death" gives a fresh take on the Grim Reaper set in a pharmaceutical company, told from the perspective of a security agent with a preternatural lie-detector ability. It's a neat perspective, made even better once you discover that Howard originally wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the CEO until he quickly realized it was too boring that way. Again, the brainstorming session is full of ideas, some of which are only hinted at in the final version, which slowly reveals secret after secret regarding whatever Our Heroes are facing. With this story, we don't even get a complete early draft, only an aborted first draft and a second draft without an ending! The workshopping session helps concoct a suitable ending, in addition to fixing other issues, and, as always, comparing the final draft to the early draft is a wonderful way to learn about what goes into revising a story. Brandon Sanderson's "Sixth of the Dusk" is an exciting jungle adventure with an irritating male protagonist who meets a much cooler woman on a dangerous island, and also the seed of this story was PSYCHIC BIRDS. It packs a lot into its length, perhaps too much, but the story does track in the end. In the final draft, at least: the first draft's ending is not satisfying, and Brandon knows it, so the workshopping session is largely focused on how to fix it. Once again, it's interesting to see the large chunks that are added in the final draft to make the story work and be cohesive, in addition to the minor things like wordsmithing and tightening the prose. Plus, he includes additional workshopping notes to illustrate that you don't have to incorporate all feedback. I would love to see more anthologies in this fashion. Shadows Beneath offers a peek behind the curtain of the creative process of four professional writers; it's an invaluable resource for any writer wanting to learn how to brainstorm, workshop, and revise a story into publishable quality.

  7. 5 out of 5

    A.E. Marling

    If there's one thing I can't resist, it's a sea infested with toothy darkness. Not like I had much of a choice anyway when it came to an anthology featuring stories from every author of Writing Excuses. I bought the book to support the podcast. It is a novel dedicated to craft. After the final drafts of each story, we can discover the earlier versions including underlined corrections and brainstorming sessions, the dialog that went into the critique group. Shadows Beneath is both entertainment a If there's one thing I can't resist, it's a sea infested with toothy darkness. Not like I had much of a choice anyway when it came to an anthology featuring stories from every author of Writing Excuses. I bought the book to support the podcast. It is a novel dedicated to craft. After the final drafts of each story, we can discover the earlier versions including underlined corrections and brainstorming sessions, the dialog that went into the critique group. Shadows Beneath is both entertainment and writing enrichment. I came to listen to Writing Excuses because of Brandon Sanderson, and his story Sixth of the Dusk featured everything I hoped for: birds with magical auras, a jungle setting alive with danger, and shrieking terror birds. Except sea monsters. It didn't have nearly enough of those, considering the novel's cover. No bonanza of underwater monstrosities means no fifth star. That's the deal. If Brandon Sanderson's story entertained, Howard Taylor's amazed. In An Honest Death, an ex-military security guard captures Death on camera, prowling the office of the boss. The book has internal illustrations, and the one for this story is superb and true to every nuance of the story. And what a tale! I read gobs of short, speculative fiction, and I believe this one should be nominated for a Nebula, a Hugo---no, for all of them---give it all the awards. Mary Robinette Kowal wrote a story about sea travelers. Their struggle does not involve sea monsters but differences in culture and language in the civilization they meet. In the story, I.E. Demon by Dan Wells, biological warfare is taken to a magical level as the US military tests an imp prototype whose lifeforce is anathema to technology. Many of us may have had similar latent powers, or at least so I believe when handling my home computer.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Carlberg

    What an enjoyable book of short stories and how they came to be. I bought it because I love the style of Brandon Sanderson, but honestly, the best story in the book, in my humble opinion, was by Mary Kowel (A Fire in the Heavens)...just a great short story. The book walks through how the stories came to be, the process of the other writers, and changes to get the final product. It's probably a great resource for writers (of which I am not). What an enjoyable book of short stories and how they came to be. I bought it because I love the style of Brandon Sanderson, but honestly, the best story in the book, in my humble opinion, was by Mary Kowel (A Fire in the Heavens)...just a great short story. The book walks through how the stories came to be, the process of the other writers, and changes to get the final product. It's probably a great resource for writers (of which I am not).

  9. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    One of the most interesting insights into the writing process that I've come across. The short stories were great, the process fascinating, and the inclusion of edits etc enlightening. Well worth the money I paid. For anyone interested in writing and/or a fan of the writing excuses podcast. One of the most interesting insights into the writing process that I've come across. The short stories were great, the process fascinating, and the inclusion of edits etc enlightening. Well worth the money I paid. For anyone interested in writing and/or a fan of the writing excuses podcast.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I loved the short stories. I'm amazed at the creativity of all four of the authors. The best part of this books was the "behind the scenes" part. The transcripts of the brainstorming sessions and the first draft edits and markups were fascinating. I loved the short stories. I'm amazed at the creativity of all four of the authors. The best part of this books was the "behind the scenes" part. The transcripts of the brainstorming sessions and the first draft edits and markups were fascinating.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Cooke

    I find it difficult to praise this book enough, but I will do my best. This anthology is a short one, only four stories, but the quality is of the highest caliber. If all I had gotten were these four stories, then I would have considered myself lucky to have read them. But there's more. Along with each story is the story behind the story -- a brainstorming session, critique notes, multiple drafts marked up with final changes. In short, a treasure trove of information for the inspiring writer. It is I find it difficult to praise this book enough, but I will do my best. This anthology is a short one, only four stories, but the quality is of the highest caliber. If all I had gotten were these four stories, then I would have considered myself lucky to have read them. But there's more. Along with each story is the story behind the story -- a brainstorming session, critique notes, multiple drafts marked up with final changes. In short, a treasure trove of information for the inspiring writer. It is the literary equivalent of one of those step-by-step art books, which show not only the finished painting but all of the steps that it took to get there. By the end, I felt that writing stories of this quality was not a distant dream for me, but something achievable through hard work and careful revision. I already knew Brandon Sanderson's writing, but the other authors sincerely impressed me as well. I look forward to exploring their writing as well.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Dante

    A book for writers that shows you the finished short story (and novella from Sanderson), then the authors take a step back and show you the brainstorming they did for this story, then the first draft, critique each other's story and then write a second version. Tons of funny to watch the story grow, knowing what the end goal is. If you really wanna see the story from birth to the finished product, skip the first 250ish pages and dive straight into the brainstorming of Mary Robinette Kowal for her A book for writers that shows you the finished short story (and novella from Sanderson), then the authors take a step back and show you the brainstorming they did for this story, then the first draft, critique each other's story and then write a second version. Tons of funny to watch the story grow, knowing what the end goal is. If you really wanna see the story from birth to the finished product, skip the first 250ish pages and dive straight into the brainstorming of Mary Robinette Kowal for her short story. If you're not a writer. This anthology of four sci fi and fantasy inspired stories from four different authors is top notch.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Megan Bigg

    i had fun reading through this and seeing where people edited first drafts to final copies.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    I picked this up due to the Brandon Sanderson novella, but was excited to read all 4 stories. “A Fire in the Heavens” (Mary Robinette Kowal): This is technically considered a long novelette, although it is almost as long as Sanderson’s novella. Apparently she usually writes Jane Austin style novels where the women are magic users. This story centers on a female priest (Katin) who commissions a ship to take her across the world to find the land of her ancestors. The first half is fairly academic w I picked this up due to the Brandon Sanderson novella, but was excited to read all 4 stories. “A Fire in the Heavens” (Mary Robinette Kowal): This is technically considered a long novelette, although it is almost as long as Sanderson’s novella. Apparently she usually writes Jane Austin style novels where the women are magic users. This story centers on a female priest (Katin) who commissions a ship to take her across the world to find the land of her ancestors. The first half is fairly academic with a focus on culture, but then it turns into a fairly tense action-adventure romp as she realizes that there was a reason her ancestors left this land. 4 stars. “I.E.Demon” (Dan Wells): Short story by an author who writes young adult sci-fi and thrillers. This is a fast-paced and amusing military sci-fi story about testing a new “device” that destroys hidden explosives. That device is actually a demon, which escapes during the test drive and starts wreaking havoc. Enjoyable but maybe a little too lightweight, both in length and tone. 3.5 stars. “An Honest Death” (Howard Taylor): Short story by an author who writes comedic sci-fi, and wow this was fantastic. More dry humor than outright funny, but the tone was perfect. I don’t want to go into details too much other than to say that it stars the bodyguard of the CEO of a pharmaceutical corporation. Potential health improvements that the company is researching may be grabbing the attention of Death. Short stories don’t get much better even if this story was a tease. 5 stars. “Sixth of the Dusk” (Brandon Sanderson): This is barely long enough to be considered a novella. Once again, I don’t want to go into details, but it involves a world of archipelagos and birds that bestow psychic-like abilities on their handlers. I do want to point out that Brandon Sanderson has stated that he thrives with long novels and that shorter works are harder for him. This baffles me as this story, Shadows for Silence, The Emperor’s Soul, Defending Elysium, and even the Infinity Blade stories to a certain extent, prove that he is a master at writing novellas. 4.5 stars. The entire collection averages out at 4.25 stars, which is not a rating I would typically give. However, whether I consider it 4 stars or 4.5 stars, I will still mark it as 4 stars on Goodreads since only whole stars are allowed. So whatever… 4.25 stars.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Liam Harvey

    What a whirlwind couple of days! I was completely blindsided by the announcement of SHADOWS BENEATH in an episode of the (quite brilliant) Writing Excuses podcast. Much to my delight, this is a follow up to the Brainstorming episodes from last year; each of the Writing Excuses team pitched a story idea and together discussed possible characters, plot, world-building etc. The result was really illuminating, but I had no idea an anthology was in the works! The format of Shadows Beneath is pretty n What a whirlwind couple of days! I was completely blindsided by the announcement of SHADOWS BENEATH in an episode of the (quite brilliant) Writing Excuses podcast. Much to my delight, this is a follow up to the Brainstorming episodes from last year; each of the Writing Excuses team pitched a story idea and together discussed possible characters, plot, world-building etc. The result was really illuminating, but I had no idea an anthology was in the works! The format of Shadows Beneath is pretty neat; four authors, four stories. With each you get the transcript of the initial brainstorming, a first draft, a critique workshop, then a final draft. In a nice touch, all the edits made are there to see side by side- often with annotations and lines crossed out. It's a refreshingly honest look at the writing process, and shows the graft needed to get tiny germs of a story to a fully fleshed out tale. The stories themselves are all fun and well-written. As with any anthology you tend to gravitate towards some more than others. I'm probably most familiar with Dan Wells outside of SHADOWS BENEATH- having devoured the John Cleaver series in a single, GLORIOUS day. With I.E.DEMON here though, it's short and sweet, but the modern military trappings weren't totally to my taste. The big draw for me personally was Howard Tayler's AN HONEST DEATH, whose original pitch got me really excited. I really thought I'd never see his take on the concept, but here it is! A brave change of pace from the also brilliant Schlock Mercenary- Howard nailed it! Mary and Brandon's stories just convinced me that I need to catch up on literally everything else they've written, period. All the Glamourist Histories and Mistborn books are all on my bookshelf already waiting, with cheeky come-hither eyes. I bought the e-Book version, so missed out on some apparently super nice illustrations in the hardback. Will be ordering one though, I want to see more anthologies in the future. SHADOWS BENEATH is both the best kind of fan-service, and a wicked primer for the Writing Excuses uninitiated.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nathanael

    Prior to reading this anthology, I wasn't familiar with three of the four contributing authors or the podcast that inspired the book. I was intrigued by the premise and I'm also a fan of Brandon Sanderson, so I decided to give it a try. Plus I'm a sucker for anthologies. While I greatly preferred the first and last stories in the anthology, the information about the actual nuts and bolts of writing was fascinating enough to make the entire volume a great read. Sanderson's "Sixth of the Dusk" was Prior to reading this anthology, I wasn't familiar with three of the four contributing authors or the podcast that inspired the book. I was intrigued by the premise and I'm also a fan of Brandon Sanderson, so I decided to give it a try. Plus I'm a sucker for anthologies. While I greatly preferred the first and last stories in the anthology, the information about the actual nuts and bolts of writing was fascinating enough to make the entire volume a great read. Sanderson's "Sixth of the Dusk" was my favorite of the four stories and I thought the best fleshed-out. The world was incredibly compelling and I'd really like another story or novel set in this particular world. Kowal's "A Fire in the Heavens" was my next favorite and also had really excellent worldbuilding. I especially enjoyed the fact that so much of the conflict in the story was derived from the drastic changes in the main character's ancestral tongue after her people left her homeland. Fantasy novels are so full of static languages that stay the same over thousands of years that it's nice to come across an author who actually acknowledges how language works. Wells' "I.E. Demon" was amusing and a bit cute, but fairly thin. I enjoyed the concept, but I feel like it could have been fleshed out a bit more. Tayler's "An Honest Death" was my least favorite, though not actually a bad story. It just felt a bit too much like a Doctor Who episode that ended without an actual ending. The bulk of the volume is devoted to transcripts of brainstorming and critique sessions, and multiple drafts of each story. For anyone who fancies themselves an author or is interested in the mechanics of story creation, this is the really appealing part of the volume. If you don't fall into either one of those categories, you'll probably find it a bit dull. I'm really glad to have read this and I'm hoping that there might be another volume coming sometime in the future. In the meantime, I've got some podcast archives to binge through.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Adam Collings

    Watch a video version of this review at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6r3J... Shadows beneath is an anthology of speculative short stories by the crew behind the Writing Excuses podcast, with a bunch of impressive special features for writers. I've been listening to the podcast for a couple of years now. I heard them brainstorm the ideas behind these stories. I remember thinking how much I'd like to read the final products of each. Well now we all can. The stories themselves are creative and hi Watch a video version of this review at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6r3J... Shadows beneath is an anthology of speculative short stories by the crew behind the Writing Excuses podcast, with a bunch of impressive special features for writers. I've been listening to the podcast for a couple of years now. I heard them brainstorm the ideas behind these stories. I remember thinking how much I'd like to read the final products of each. Well now we all can. The stories themselves are creative and highly entertaining. Even if you're not a writer, this collection is worth buying just for that. If you're a writer, the special features is where this book really becomes a treasure. The book includes transcripts of the brainstorming sessions, first drafts, critique transcripts, edits (showing what was removed, and added from first draft to final) and essays on the writing of the stories. I highly recommend this collection, firstly to enjoy some awesome speculative stories, and secondly for a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into the work of some of today's great storytellers.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Chris Cutler

    This is absolutely worth getting for the stories, even if you have no interest in the bonus content. If you are not already a Writing Excuses listener, I suggest diving straight into the stories without reference to the brainstorming podcasts that inspired them. My favorite of the bunch is Howard Tayler's entry, An Honest Death. The story is fun and imaginative, the side characters are great, and the POV character is a thoroughly competent and entertaining bodyguard. The conclusion of the story i This is absolutely worth getting for the stories, even if you have no interest in the bonus content. If you are not already a Writing Excuses listener, I suggest diving straight into the stories without reference to the brainstorming podcasts that inspired them. My favorite of the bunch is Howard Tayler's entry, An Honest Death. The story is fun and imaginative, the side characters are great, and the POV character is a thoroughly competent and entertaining bodyguard. The conclusion of the story is perfect, and not at all what I expected from the outset. Mary's story is a wonderful depiction of cultures meeting, and I really liked the way language and other disconnects were handled. Brandon's is imaginative and introduces a great world (and inspired the incredible cover art). Dan's is an entertaining mil-fic fantasy that I probably would have enjoyed more if I hadn't heard the brainstorming session, since almost everything was as discussed there.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Terra

    This was 4.5 stars for me but only because I am a writer. The value of this book and seeing the behind the scenes process of a story growing from a brainstorming session through the many layers of editing and revision was nothing short of amazing. Interestingly, I really loved one author's story much more than the others and it wasn't Brandon's which is whose I was so looking forward to reading. If you want a taste of what it is like to be a writer, this is a great read. If you're looking for en This was 4.5 stars for me but only because I am a writer. The value of this book and seeing the behind the scenes process of a story growing from a brainstorming session through the many layers of editing and revision was nothing short of amazing. Interestingly, I really loved one author's story much more than the others and it wasn't Brandon's which is whose I was so looking forward to reading. If you want a taste of what it is like to be a writer, this is a great read. If you're looking for entertainment value, all you're really getting are four short stories from established and talented authors. Either way, hard to go wrong!

  20. 4 out of 5

    A.M.

    This is one for the writers. These four authors do a podcast together called ‘writing excuses’. It’s always worth a listen. http://www.writingexcuses.com/ Quite a while ago an idea was floated that they share their writing process as a demonstration for readers. Brandon writes epic fantasy, Mary regency magic, Dan horror, and Howard does a daily web-comic called Schlock Mercenary. [I introduced kid 1 to it and he devoured all 16 years of it in days.] https://www.schlockmercenary.com/ Mary is the most This is one for the writers. These four authors do a podcast together called ‘writing excuses’. It’s always worth a listen. http://www.writingexcuses.com/ Quite a while ago an idea was floated that they share their writing process as a demonstration for readers. Brandon writes epic fantasy, Mary regency magic, Dan horror, and Howard does a daily web-comic called Schlock Mercenary. [I introduced kid 1 to it and he devoured all 16 years of it in days.] https://www.schlockmercenary.com/ Mary is the most experienced with short stories. Brandon can’t write a single book without turning it into a trilogy, or three. But it was Brandon’s idea to show the writing process. So each had one idea, or more, for a short story. They brainstormed it together, went off and wrote a first draft, came back to the same group to talk over the draft, got comments and feedback and then polished it to a final publishable story. Here, you are given each part of the process including edits with strike-throughs, and it’s really interesting. Plus, the author’s comments on how it all worked (or didn’t). A fire in the heavens by Mary Robinette Kowal. Mary had three story ideas. They picked the first: a tidally locked world with a near moon. This sparked much debate about how that would influence religion and technology. Howard: Yeah, and that could be one of the reasons why nobody’s left the dark side via an ocean voyage in a long time, because there are things happening in the water. It occurred to me that— you mentioned Marco Polo; a possible conflict is that this guy has staked the family fortune on building a trade route and he gets to the other side and realizes: one, I have nothing to offer, and two, I have just led the conquistadors back to my house. (Kindle Locations 2621-2624). And they have better tech than me. Mary is a big proponent of the MICE quotient [milieu, idea, character, event] and likes her stories to have callbacks to that. if the story starts with him sailing toward this land, then structurally speaking it should end with him either deciding to stay there or returning.(Kindle Locations 2659-2660) How does that change her religion, her beliefs, and what does it set up to follow? She basically steals gunpowder and takes it home, knowing they will follow her and perhaps start a war. An honest death by Howard Tayler Howard has a couple of ideas that together would make a whole book rather than a short story. And he gets stymied and asks for help. [don’t we all, honey…] The process I’ve described here seems like the sort of thing that should have taken about a week for 7,500 words. Thanks to the despair inherent in the realization that a story is broken forever and cannot be saved but my friends need it for the anthology and maybe I could write something else but that’s cheating and this is so haaaaard . . . thanks to that, An Honest Death took about eighteen months to go from idea to finished product. The writing sessions where I broke through the blocks and fixed things? Those lasted about four hours each. (Kindle Locations 6887-6891) His story is from the pov of a security guy for a company whose CEO gets threatened by Death after they invent a way to stop ageing. Much of the early brainstorming was about death, what is it, how does it work, and is there an energy to it that another race (ie Deaths) could feed on. How annoyed would they be if we found a way to circumvent them? i.e.demon by Dan Wells Dan didn’t even finish his first draft. He threw it out and started again. Howard gave Dan his title. It’s a riff on an IED (improvised explosive device). Howard: An alternative to that is the demon is being provided by Halliburton as armor. It’s under the Humvee. There are demons riding under the Humvees whose job it is to absorb the killing blow of the explosive. Howard: Portraying Halliburton as demon mongering is just funny. (Kindle Locations 4555-4556) Yeah, it is. I reckon they’d totally do it, too. Howard also suggests that RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) could stand for RP Gremlin. [Howard is the wittiest of the four.] Dan uses his own seven point story structure. Totally worth watching his YouTube videos of this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kcmiq... He was writing for a military charity anthology, so put in lots of jargon and stuff soldiers know and understand. Eventually, they fire the escaped demon at the Taliban to keep it busy. Sixth of the Dusk by Brandon Sanderson. One thing I was flabbergasted by was the time Brandon took to get his right. He is so prolific. It took well over eighteen months to get this one story right, but I’m supremely satisfied at having stuck to it and wiggled out the answers.(Kindle Locations 9942-9943) Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology Eighteen months… he had three endings in the same short story. His world building is of course, deep. Each island has a particular fauna and flora - like the different Galapagos islands. The trapper Dusk, knows it very well and is irritated to discover that others with a company are on ‘his’ island, trying to collect things they can sell. The island is deadly, though. This, like a lot of Brandon’s stories, fits in his Cosmere world. *** An interesting glimpse into how real writers work. 4 stars I ADORE the cover from Julie Dillon.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Todd Wood

    A pretty cool little book. The short stories were fun, though not surprisingly, I enjoyed Brandon's the best... I didn't get a ton out of the rough drafts (ha I mean they were just worse versions of the final stories...), but it was interesting to read the transcripts of the writing process behind a couple of the stories. I especially enjoyed the brainstorming around "A fire in the heavens", as it was cool to see how an idea morphed into a full blown novelette. A pretty cool little book. The short stories were fun, though not surprisingly, I enjoyed Brandon's the best... I didn't get a ton out of the rough drafts (ha I mean they were just worse versions of the final stories...), but it was interesting to read the transcripts of the writing process behind a couple of the stories. I especially enjoyed the brainstorming around "A fire in the heavens", as it was cool to see how an idea morphed into a full blown novelette.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I'm giving this five stars not necessarily for the stories it contains but for the content. This was a really neat look at the process of putting a story together. All of the steps from brainstorming, drafting, editing and final draft are included for each story. I love all of the authors so it was neat to have an inside look at how they do things. I'm giving this five stars not necessarily for the stories it contains but for the content. This was a really neat look at the process of putting a story together. All of the steps from brainstorming, drafting, editing and final draft are included for each story. I love all of the authors so it was neat to have an inside look at how they do things.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Adam Mangum

    Four excellent stories. All of them had me wanting more. Even if you don't listen to the Writing Excuses podcast and aren't interested in the 'behind the scenes' aspects of this book, the four speculative fiction stories are worth it. Four excellent stories. All of them had me wanting more. Even if you don't listen to the Writing Excuses podcast and aren't interested in the 'behind the scenes' aspects of this book, the four speculative fiction stories are worth it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    Four great stories and I love that cover. But the most interesting thing is how the book contains the brainstorming, critique sessions, and early drafts of the stories so you get to see the stories develop. Fair warning, if you listen to the Writing Excuses podcast, you've already heard some of it. Four great stories and I love that cover. But the most interesting thing is how the book contains the brainstorming, critique sessions, and early drafts of the stories so you get to see the stories develop. Fair warning, if you listen to the Writing Excuses podcast, you've already heard some of it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sorcered

    The stories are nice - Mary and Brandon's stories are even really good :) - but the true selling point of this anthology is the glimpse into the writers' creative process. That being said, I had fun reading all of them, and they're all above average, so you can't go wrong with this collection. The stories are nice - Mary and Brandon's stories are even really good :) - but the true selling point of this anthology is the glimpse into the writers' creative process. That being said, I had fun reading all of them, and they're all above average, so you can't go wrong with this collection.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Brent Mair

    123 pages of original stories, over 200 pages of commentary. Enjoyed what I have read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sovotchka

    It is very hard to rate this book. If you only wish to read the short stories it contains - there's four of them, see the particular ratings below. I don't know if I would be interested enough just for that. If you're interested in the writing process, it is incredibly valuable to see other authors sharing their craft, and to understand what went into it. The brainstorming sessions, first drafts, and critiques are a window into the world of four authors who each have slightly different approaches It is very hard to rate this book. If you only wish to read the short stories it contains - there's four of them, see the particular ratings below. I don't know if I would be interested enough just for that. If you're interested in the writing process, it is incredibly valuable to see other authors sharing their craft, and to understand what went into it. The brainstorming sessions, first drafts, and critiques are a window into the world of four authors who each have slightly different approaches. Not everyone shares an equal amount of input, and some final thoughts on the project would have been nice; that's really all the critique I have. If you have the physical copy, it comes with original artwork for each story, which is a very cool thing to do. (If you've never heard of the podcast this came out of, and enjoy writing, go especially genre fiction, listen to Writing Excuses.) Stories: Mary Robinette Kowal - A Fire In The Heavens ★★★★☆ Mary is the most prolific short story writer in this group, and it shows. The amount of ideas she is able to pack into this, the characters she is able to build, and the plot structure all work really well for me. The idea she starts from is fascinating to me, and she builds some really nice images. The reason this is not my favourite story is just that I did not enjoy the way it resolved at all, and I wish this was a book instead. This does not mean it is not well-crafted, or that I didn't enjoy reading 90% of it. And those 90% will stay with me a long time. But I will dream of a different resolution. Dan Wells - I.E. Demon ★★★★★ This is a war story with supernatural elements. For the first page, I was *very* worried about all the technical jargon, but that quickly cleared up. It is action-packed, has some humour in it, shows the images well, provides a nice resolution, and leaves a lot of things to the imagination, or as potential for later exploration. Overall, this is my favourite, and a reminder that I need to pick up some of Dan's books. Howard Tayler - An Honest Death ★★★☆☆ Story-wise, this was interesting, and a nice change from the very "fantastical" elements in the other stories. What I did not enjoy - and never have, ever - is a first-person present narrative. I had to force myself to read it. But that is just a personal issue. Contrary to Dan Wells' story, this one also almost suffers from explaining too many things. Technically it feels a bit dated to maybe the early 2000s. But I enjoyed the turns and reveals, and would recommend the story overall. Brandon Sanderson - Sixth of the Dusk ★★★★☆ (4.5/5) This is another favourite, but gets half a point deducted for a less satisfying conclusion. I liked the ending, but Brandon somehow manages to pull off a satisfying ending and a ton of open threads at the same time. The world building is fantastic, full of imagery that is not (yet) typical for a fantasy setting, and the ecological aspect is something I enjoyed a lot. I will say, one learns more about the world than about the characters, but their adventures and the mystery make up for that.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Christine

    I was intrigued by the idea of Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology as soon as it was announced. Being a huge fan of Writing Excuses, a podcast about writing, I knew the anthology would be a great writing resource. Due to the general craziness of life, I delayed reading the anthology until now, but I’m glad I finally picked it up. Shadows Beneath is a collection of short stories written by the hosts of Writing Excuses, all respected authors and creators. Each host contributed a new pie I was intrigued by the idea of Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology as soon as it was announced. Being a huge fan of Writing Excuses, a podcast about writing, I knew the anthology would be a great writing resource. Due to the general craziness of life, I delayed reading the anthology until now, but I’m glad I finally picked it up. Shadows Beneath is a collection of short stories written by the hosts of Writing Excuses, all respected authors and creators. Each host contributed a new piece of fiction to this anthology: “A Fire in the Heavens,” a novella by Mary Robinette Kowal about exploration and belonging; “I. E. Demon,” a military story with a supernatural twist by Dan Wells; “An Honest Death,” a corporate thriller by Howard Tayler; and “Sixth of the Dusk,” a novella by Brandon Sanderson that explores the effects of change on people and their environment. But from this point on, Shadows Beneath ceases to be a typical anthology. In addition to the short stories, the book contains transcripts of the podcast’s brainstorming sessions, first drafts, essays about the writing process, and edited drafts highlighting all changes between the initial and final versions. Described as one of Brandon’s “Crazy Ideas,” Shadows Beneath does what few other works do: It shows all steps of the writing process, both the ugly and pretty, to dispel the myth that writing is a mysterious event that arises out of divine inspiration. This in-depth look at the writing process is the anthology’s strongest aspect. That’s not to say the stories were a disappointment—far from it. Having read other pieces from these authors, I expected excellence, and these short stories did not disappoint. They were engaging and well-written, but the supplementary materials were the main reason why I picked up the anthology. Going through the writing process with the authors, listening to them explain their problem-solving methods, and witnessing their struggles to create something cohesive and good resonated to me; it was refreshing and invaluable to see professional writers produce imperfect first drafts, figure out the main issues, and then problem solve and brainstorm solutions. This is the type of insight you can witness in a good writing group but don’t often receive from books about writing, which by nature have to be more general and explanatory. Each of the stories highlighted a different but common issue that many writers face. Mary’s story lacked a main focus because she tried to include too many ideas without a strong-enough connection between them. Dan’s major problem had to do with pace—he initially wrote too many unnecessary details and dialogue, which slowed down the story. Brandon and Howard had trouble with their endings: Brandon struggled to rewrite his ending to one that was cohesive and flowed naturally with the story he was telling. In contrast, Howard couldn’t think of any ending that would be suitable. The most poignant part of the anthology was Howard admitting his despair and belief that his story was forever broken caused him to waste a lot of time. Out of the eighteen months it took for him to write “An Honest Death,” the writing sessions that allowed him to break through the issues he was having with the story took about four hours each. Even though these authors are professionals who have been writing for a long time, they still struggle with their writing and their confidence. But they persevere, because they love to write and they have the tools to fix any problems that arise. As you read through the workshopping sessions, the essays, and the edited drafts, it becomes clear that the four authors see writing as an ongoing process that requires both creativity and logic. As Brandon states in his essay about writing “Sixth of the Dusk,” writing consists of art and craft working together, and both should be given time to allow the story to grow without interference from the other. In his case, he outlines as a craftsperson but writes on instinct, in artist mode, which can yield unexpected results. Once he begins revising, he becomes a craftsperson to figure out the issues and the tools he could try to fix them. Then he’s back to being an artist, trying each solution until one fits. Writing thus becomes a cyclical process in which the artistic and logical sides promote creativity rather than hinder it—the artist experiments based on the advice of the craftsperson, and the craftsperson relies on the artist’s creativity in order to shape the material. What a change from what I learned in school, where I was taught how to free-write and edit but never shown how to bridge these two practices. Instead, I was told to make detailed outlines, to follow a hamburger method of writing that constrained my creativity by forcing the craftsperson to be present at every moment of the process. Add in time restraints and a heavy course load, and I always attempted to get it right the first time, which made my writing dull. It’s somewhat ironic that Shadows Beneath is considered such a crazy idea. Our society is now focused on continued learning and figuring things out, of seeing what’s behind the curtain. Thanks to the Internet and all that comes with it—YouTube, Twitch Creative, podcasts, blogs, online courses, and so on—you can discover the process behind anything you’re interested in and learn how to do it. Few things remain a mystery, but somehow writing (especially fiction writing) still stubbornly refuses to give up its cloak and move from the mystical to the realistic realm. Maybe that’s not a completely fair statement: authors teach how to create compelling characters and conflict, podcasts like Writing Excuses and books explain concepts like point of view and narrative techniques, and editors like me give advice on how to self-edit your work. But there are few examples that show exactly how a piece of writing goes from a first draft to its publishable form. It’s easy to listen to advice, but it’s hard for new writers to understand if they haven’t experienced it themselves, whether in their own writing or in others. The various drafts in Shadows Beneath, and the Writing Excuses podcast, argue for the idea of improvement. It is possible to write well, no matter what others may argue. Like many of you, in school I learned about writers like James Joyce and William Shakespeare who had the God-given talent to produce life-changing works out of nothing—or so it seemed, because we only studied the final product and never the process. Of course, both writers used their keen eyes and artistic senses to shape their stories into the masterpieces we know them to be today: an early draft of Ulysses that was published shows major revisions, while early quartos of Shakespeare’s plays differ from the First Folio and later editions. But this focus on the published book and lack of concrete examples of the process itself make writing seem inaccessible, like something that has to be inherited and can’t be learned or improved upon. It makes potential writers feel doubtful about their skills, shrivels their words in their heads or on the page, and stunts their writing growth. Shadows Beneath is an incredibly honest book for its authors to release. By publishing all stages of their stories, the authors humanize the writing process and show how creativity and logic come together to move a story from an idea to a tangible product. Good, publishable writing does not occur in one creative burst, and not even in two or three drafts. To write well, you don’t just need a room with a view and five hundred a year. Shadows Beneath shows that great writing takes time and requires the freedom of an open mind, the creativity of a problem-solver, and the careful eye of a craftsperson. www.alberteditorial.com/free-resources

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Thoroughly enjoyed this anthology from the creators of my favorite podcast. I did think some stories were stronger than others, though - and was a bit surprised at which ones I ended up enjoying. Mary Robinette Kowal’s “A Fire in the Heavens” - 3 stars I've read a handful of Kowal's short stories before and enjoyed them, but to me this meandered about a bit in the middle (literally - (view spoiler)[after the characters leave the library and head back to the ship (hide spoiler)] ) when I felt she s Thoroughly enjoyed this anthology from the creators of my favorite podcast. I did think some stories were stronger than others, though - and was a bit surprised at which ones I ended up enjoying. Mary Robinette Kowal’s “A Fire in the Heavens” - 3 stars I've read a handful of Kowal's short stories before and enjoyed them, but to me this meandered about a bit in the middle (literally - (view spoiler)[after the characters leave the library and head back to the ship (hide spoiler)] ) when I felt she should have been raising the tension. As a result, the ending fell flat for me, lacking any real emotional punch. I also never really felt immersed in the world, which is too bad. Dan Wells’s “I.E.Demon” - 4 stars I've read most of Wells's books at this point, and I really enjoyed the snappy action sequences peppered with bits of humor in this offering. That being said, neither the story nor characters were particularly memorable (sorry!), so I'm knocking off a star. Howard Tayler’s “An Honest Death” - 5 stars I have never read anything by Tayler, but this was hands down my favorite work in the collection. Initially I was curious to see how he would do considering his medium is usually comic strips/graphic novels, but he knocked it out of the park. The tension was high throughout the piece, the action scenes kept me on the edge of my seat, I loved the mental chess that was being played (Tayler's characters are all much smarter than I am), and the whole concept of Death was out-of-the-park original. Loved it. I'm going to have to check out his comics now. Brandon Sanderson’s “Sixth of the Dusk” - 4 stars I haven't read anything by Sanderson either, but I can see why he is such a successful fantasy author. The world he created in this was both beautiful and deadly, which is perfect. My only complaints are that I didn't fully understand the main character's motivations for wanting to stay on an island that is, by all accounts, a death trap, and that it seemed too long (that one might be on me - this was much longer than the other pieces of the book so I was expecting the pacing to be similar to the others that I had already read). Otherwise, I was entertained and intrigued.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This book is excellent for the aspiring writer. The Writing Excuses podcast team (Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Brandon Sanderson) show their creative writing process from brainstorming ideas to the final short story. They show their editing process with a draft marked with their revisions. I have to admit, I couldn't get through Mr. Sanderson's story. He is a wonderful world builder, and the environment in this short story was no exception. He had wonderful concepts. He is, This book is excellent for the aspiring writer. The Writing Excuses podcast team (Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Brandon Sanderson) show their creative writing process from brainstorming ideas to the final short story. They show their editing process with a draft marked with their revisions. I have to admit, I couldn't get through Mr. Sanderson's story. He is a wonderful world builder, and the environment in this short story was no exception. He had wonderful concepts. He is, however, known for the long length of his works (his Writing Excuses cohorts tease him about it frequently) and I was not up for the "closer to novelette" length this time around. I'll revisit it later when I'm ready to tackle it. There will be a lot of great things to absorb. I have learned a lot from listening to Writing Excuses, and this book reassured me that a first draft can be absolutely terrible, but you can still edit it to become something great. They did a lot more editing than I thought they would when I started the book. These are veteran writers so their first drafts still had more polish than mine will, but this book has significantly reduced my fear of my writing not being "good enough". First drafts are only first drafts after all! Thank you, Writing Excuses team! This collection has taught me more about the writing process than any description given in a writing book could.

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