The Big Idea: Tiffani Angus & Val Nolan

Have you always wanted to give speculative fiction writing a go, but felt like you could use a hand, or two, or five? Authors Tiffani Angus and Val Nolan are here to lend you all the hands you might need with their new guidebook, Spec Fic For Newbies.


A Short History of How Spec Fic for Newbies Happened:

Writing guides are too often stuffy rulebooks. Worse still, we find that they rarely contain what we were looking for when we started out: an unapologetic love of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror in all their brilliant, weird, super-meaningful glory! It was that love of genre fiction and a desire to write it better that led us to the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in 2009 where, over endless squid patties in the canteen (seriously!), we met and first began to hone our own voices.

In the decade that followed, we both finished PhDs, shared convention panels, and published short and long fiction, as well as academic work, but we never forgot how amazing it felt to find our SFF/H creative community and learn our craft from instructors who genuinely loved and understood the challenges of genre writing. It’s an energy we’ve tried to bring to our own teaching ever since.

Snap cut to the COVID-19 pandemic, when everything went online, including the UK’s annual Eastercon, during which Tiffani ran a workshop about writing Historical Fantasy that (spoiler!) became the structure of the sections of this book. Francesca T. Barbini, Luna Press’s Managing Editor, caught the workshop and offered Tiffani the opportunity to produce a SFF/H writing guide.

Tiffani’s first response was to rope in Val because together, with their focus on different subgenres, they could come up with something really fun, helpful, and super nerdy for newbies and even more established writers. And so Spec Fic for Newbies took shape as a guidebook for writers who maybe think, “I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a new genre,” or maybe realize “Uh-oh, this story is apocalyptic and maybe dystopian but I feel a bit stuck.” The idea was to distil our classroom teaching into something portable and accessible. Less a textbook than a treasure map. We’re kinda excited to find out what you’ll discover when you explore it!

Things That Are Cool About Spec Fic for Newbies:

  • It’s based on our combined twenty years (yikes!) of experience teaching creative writing, especially SFF/H writing: Maybe you never got to go to college or maybe you did but never had the opportunity to study SFF/H writing with a sympathetic instructor? This book is our effort to help you put that right. When you’ve spent as long teaching and offering feedback to novice writers as we have, you get a real sense of what students want (and a solid perspective on what universities aren’t providing when they try to jam centuries of SFF/H tradition and evolution into a single session!). The experience we accrued along the way drips off every page of Spec Fic for Newbies like sticky protoplasmic goop. The result is a celebration of writing about the androids, swordplay, and monsters we all love rather than the divorces and minimalist kitchen interiors that LitFic-y professors tell us that we’re supposed to write about. Because this isn’t a book about gatekeeping, it’s a book about blowing the gates wide open! 
  • We come at this project as published authors: We know what it’s like out there in the slush-piles: that writing is hard and it’s easy to get discouraged. So, part of our goal with this book is to offer support and encouragement, because even though we’re snarky as hell with each other, we’ve had the chance to grow thick skins, which we know takes time for a newbie. We were conscious of just how much we’d been helped by authors and teachers who’d come before us (Scalzi at Viable Paradise included!), and we wanted to pay that fellowship forward. Spec Fic for Newbies is us lowering the starship gangway to welcome you aboard.
  • It’s organized to make it easy to dip into and out of: The three main chapters (SF, Fantasy, Horror) are each divided into 10 subgenres or major tropes. Each section is organized along the same lines: a brief history of the subgenre looks at its origins and development, along with a quick précis (ooh, fancy!) of key authors and texts; a “spotter’s guide” to typical manifestations of the subgenre (types of Big Dumb Objects, for example); a look at what makes it cool; a list of things writers ought to watch out for; an occasional extra element spotlight (such as character motivation); and, finally, a pair of activities to get you started. Each section sort of looks like this blog post (you can’t blame us for doing that, we’re teachers! #ObjectLesson!).

Things to Watch Out for in Spec Fic for Newbies:

  • Check out our specific nerddoms leaking through! We love cheesy 1980s genre movies and sprawling multi-book fictional epics, current short fiction and genre classics. Val tends toward Science Fiction, especially Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica, so he brings a love of characters at the heart of big interstellar tales to his discussion of Aliens, Utopias, and big honkin’ space lasers. Tiffani often writes fantasy with a historical flavour, loves a good paradox, and so brings a depth of knowledge to discussions of Time Travel, costume porn, and Steampunk. Honestly, we have so much to nerd out about that we’re already working on Volume 2: Subgenre Boogaloo!
  • Further reading: Spec Fic for Newbies doesn’t cosplay as the final word on its subject. Instead, we provide an extensive bibliography to point you deeper and deeper down the rabbitholes of each subgenre. 
  • Clowns: Just, you know, something to watch out for in general.


  • We’d love it if you’d buy or borrow the book and try out some of the activities we suggest. Hopefully you’ll dip your toes into subgenres you’ve never tried before and, tentacles crossed, you’ll discover some cool stories and characters along the way. We look forward to reading some of your results in genre magazines and websites in the near future!

Spec Fic For Newbies: Linktree

Visit the authors’ blogs (Tiffani and Val). Follow Tiffani and Val on Twitter.

3 Comments on “The Big Idea: Tiffani Angus & Val Nolan”

  1. Just bought this for my Kindle after seeing the post. Note for UK folks – Amazon UK have it listed but it’s a one to two month wait for the physical book at this point.

  2. Robin and LAJ: Thank you! I hope you enjoy it!

    And thanks for the head’s up about stock! I saw yesterday that UK Amz was out of paperbacks, but UK people note that the linktree provided has other UK retailers that carry physical copies (such as Waterstones). Blackwells also has paperbacks, but Linktree doesn’t like the link!

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