August 7, 2023

Episode 32: Beyond Imagination:
Must-Reads for Speculative Fiction Writers from Published Authors

Speculative fiction authors share their recommendations for books to read if you want to write in their genre

Episode 32: Beyond Imagination: Must-Reads for Speculative Fiction Writers from Published Authors

by Carma Spence | The Author Switch Podcast


Many years ago, I launched my first podcast The Genre Traveler in which I interviewed science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors. For this episode of The Author Switch Podcast, I gathered a few of them to share their recommendations for books you should read if you wanted to write in their genre. The result? An eclectic collection of books that both writers and authors can enjoy.

Recap & Takeaways

  • 02:25 Alma Alexander
  • 04:55 David Lee Summers
  • 06:05 Amy Grech
  • 08:49 Andrew Pyper
  • 09:55 Joseph Picard
  • 13:48 Richard Lee Byers

Links to Books, Resources, and Other Related Content

Vintage Related Content from The Genre Traveler

Transcript for Episode 32: Beyond Imagination: Must-Reads for Speculative Fiction Writers from Published Authors

Hello and welcome to episode 32 of The Author Switch Podcast. I am your host, Carma Spence, and I’ve got something interesting for you today in this episode because what I’m bringing you is sort of, it’s sort of like a panel discussion with panel members that were not in the same room at the same time.

What I did is this is the last surviving episode from The Author Switch before The Crash, which I talked about in a previous episode in which my hard drive crashed, not once, but twice. And then the hard drive where I had everything stored crashed and I was only able to save three episodes and I had a year’s worth of episodes.

This episode is different because what I did is I went to all the authors that I had interviewed in my very first podcast, The Genre Traveler Podcast. And in that podcast, I interviewed authors of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. And I asked them, would you like to participate in an episode where you share the books you would recommend that novice writers should read if they want to write in your genre? And I gave them the option to reply in text, audio, or video. So I have a mix of all these things. Some of these answers I will be reading and some of them they will be telling you in their own voice. So before I get into it, let me just give you a little heads up on who I am just in case you’re new to my world.

I’m Carma Spence, and I have been a published author for 16 years. I have 30-plus years of marketing and public relations experience. I have two books that have made it to the bestseller list and one of them won three awards. I’m also certified in author marketing. And of course, I am the host of The Author Switch Podcast.

Now, my first panelist is Alma Alexander. She’s an internationally published novelist, short story writer, and anthologist, whose most recent, well, remember, these were recorded two years ago, so some of this information may be a little dated, but I will, I will try and modify when I can’t, when I think about it, when I remember, but just keep in mind that these responses are two years old.

So her most recent literary honor of two years ago was being the finalist for the 2021 Washington State Book Award. Here is what she had to say.

Hi, I’m Alma Alexander, author of more than 20 fantasy and science fiction works.  The Second Star was recently honored as a finalist in both the Imogen Awards and the Washington State Book Awards.  When it comes to writing fantasy and science fiction, I would recommend reading books whose strength lies in their  world-building and the characters who inhabit those newly created worlds.

If you’re looking for nonfiction, craft-related books, I would recommend  Steering the Craft by Ursula Le Guin.  Herself a master of her trade and an absolutely amazing guide into its secrets.  But also read her fiction, her actual novels, try the Hainish novels, because you can learn a lot about craft just by paying attention there.

Le Guin does good world-building as easily as  breathing. Also, read  China Melville. I think that’s how you pronounce it. For language, try Perdido Street Station and  Scar. He uses language like a scalpel and when you finish any of his books, you’ll know at least a dozen more words than you had ever been aware of before you encountered him.

Also read Roger Zelazny, for worldbuilding, for character, for humor, for drama.

Also read the Grandmaster JRR Tolkien, because few have equaled his worldbuilding skills.

Read books which play with tropes, which reimagine things, which make familiar things seem rich and strange.

Well said, Alma. I totally agree with your recommendations.

I have not read China, but I have read pretty much everyone else, and Ursula Le Guin is one of my top three favorite authors of all time. So thank you for that, Alma.

My next panelist here is David Lee Summers. I met him at a Steampunk conference on The Queen Mary in Long Beach. David Lee Summers is a writer by day and an astronomer by night. He writes Steampunk Horror and Science fiction. You can learn more about his books and stories at In this video, he recommends a book to those interested in writing steampunk.

Hi, I’m David Lee Summers, author of Owl Dance, which is the first novel in the Clockwork Legion steampunk series. Because steampunk is Victorian inspired fantasy and science fiction, I recommend reading books by the masters of the age like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. In particular, I love the Naval Institute Press edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, translated by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter.

It’s not only a great readable translation, but it’s fully annotated and gave me great insights into the politics and science of the 1800s.

Thank you, David for submitting that video and sharing your thoughts.

Our next panelist is Amy Gresh. She has sold more than 100 stories to various anthologies and magazines, including a New York State of Fright, Apex Magazine, Dead Harvest, Flashes of Hope, Gore Fest, Hell’s Heart, Hell’s Highway, Hell’s Mall, Needle Magazine, Punk Noir Magazine, Scare You to Sleep, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, Tales from the Lake, Volume 3, The One That Got Away, Thriller Magazine, and many others.

She has a poem that was featured in Under Her Skin Anthology. Amy is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the International Thrill of Writers who lives in New York. You can connect with her on Twitter, @Amy_Gresh, or visit her website, And Amy’s panel answer is in text, so I will be reading it.

I read Tender is the Flesh this past summer after fellow HWA New York Chapter member editor Ellen Datlow recommended it during our monthly Zoom meeting.

Tender is the Flesh depicts a society where a virus has contaminated all meat. Due to the lack of animal flesh, cannibalism becomes legal. Marcos, a human meat supplier,  is conflicted by this new society and tortured by his own personal losses. It’s a meaty, heartbreaking dystopia novel.

His wife has left him, his father is  slipping away into dementia, and Marcos tries not to dwell on how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was announced that an infectious virus made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the transition. Eating human meat. Special meat has become legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing. Then one day he’s gifted with something truly special,  a live specimen of the finest quality.

Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden, the consequence being death, gradually he starts to  treat her like a human being. And not long after, he becomes tormented by what has been lost and what might still be saved.

Well, thank you for that interesting, uh, submission there, Amy. It sounds like a very well-written novel. I’m not too sure I have the taste for it. Waka waka.

So our next panelist is Andrew Pyper and he submitted an audio submission. So I will be letting him speak in his own words. But just as an intro, he is a best-selling author of multiple novels, including  The Residence, a ghost story set in the White House and based on true events.

Hi, I’m Andrew Pyper, author of The Residence. And if you are looking to write a literary horror novel, the novelist I would probably first recommend is  Peter Straub, especially his books  Ghost Story and  Shadowland. Peter’s writing  is so wonderful because he takes his subject matter, even if it’s quite fantastical, and his characters seriously. And it’s that seriousness of approach that I think adds to the scariness of the work,  but as well, the overall effectiveness of the work. He doesn’t tip his hat to the genre context in which he’s working. And I think that’s what makes his novels so special.

Thank you for that submission Andrew. I really appreciate your contribution.

So our next panelist is Joseph Picard, and just as an aside, he is the epitome of that Maya Angelou quote that says, they won’t remember something, I’m paraphrasing, they won’t remember what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.

When I interviewed Joseph for The Genre Traveler Podcast. I actually don’t remember anything we said. I just remember he made me laugh. I really really enjoyed our conversation. And he is he’s kind of funny or at least he has the kind of humor I like so I’m gonna try not to laugh as I read his text submission because he does throw in a lot of humor.

So Joseph …even in his intro, listen to this.

Joseph Picard is a self-proclaimed hack and encourages everyone to embrace being a hack. The first step in being amazing is being terrible, and between the two is a messy labyrinth of messing up and learning from your mess-ups.  You succeed or you learned. There is no Dana, only Zuul.

And for those of you who haven’t figured it out, that is a  Ghostbusters reference, so check it out.

Here is his submission.

I write science fiction, and I’ve had to admit that my last two books aren’t science fiction because there’s no fictional science in it. So I have to call them speculative fiction. Among science fiction, there’s a range of how  hard it is. Some people have strong opinions  on which is better  and worthy, but as long as your flavor of prose resonates with readers and yourself, it’s plenty valid.

Some of the hardest science fiction I enjoy is Robert J. Sawyer. My favorite is one of his softer sci fi, ironically. The WWW series has large swaths of it, which is very character-based content, but you will learn actual science in the process and some not quite as actual, but quite plausible.  Slightly lighter sci fi is another of my faves, Michelle Brown’s  The Underlighters. It’s highly character based in a post-apocalyptic setting.

Spoilers? I’ll try to tread carefully. The factor of the dust involved, is portrayed in a nearly mystical manner,  and the science at play isn’t overtly explained. The characters are not equipped or trained in ways needed to fully understand the nature of the dust.

As we get into lighter and lighter sci fi, the science becomes less and less specific and arguably less realistic. Transporters, warp drives, replicators. There’s so little real-world science that can justify some of these things. That some say it may as well be magic.  Then we can mix in things like the force. When Phantom Menace tried to bring midichlorians into the force and make it more science-y, a large portion of the Star Wars fanbase rejected  the idea, feeling the force is meant to be magical.

So what’s the perfect amount of hardness for sci fi? It doesn’t matter. But be aware and be consistent. Be aware of what you are and make it clear to your potential readers what they’re in for. Reader expectation is a problem I flounder with. The first book of my second series is  titled Rubberman’s Cage, yet, disappointingly, has no BDSM latex bondage content.

Thank you for your submission, Joseph. I will agree with you on that one. I would love it if replicators existed, but I just don’t see them coming true. Although I have heard that there are 3D printers that they are now trying to get it to print food. I highly suspect it won’t taste that good. But, I’ll probably give it a try when it becomes available.

My last panelist is  Richard Lee Byers, who submitted a video submission. Richard Lee Byers is the author of more than 50 fantasy and horror books. He’s also scripted a graphic novel, had a screenplay optioned, and contributed content to tabletop and electronic games.

Now take it away, Richard.

Hi, I’m Richard Lee Byers, author of The Head of Mimir: A Marvel Legends of Asgard novel, and many other titles.  I write fantasy and horror, and I’m here to recommend one of the best horror novels of recent years. In my opinion,  Ramsay Campbell is our greatest living horror writer, and  Somebody’s Voice doesn’t disappoint.

Campbell uses mood, ambiguity, and characterization superbly to show a mind caving in under pressure. The novel is also up to the minute in terms of dealing with an issue currently facing fiction writers, and by extension, society in general.

Thank you for that submission, Richard. I hope, dear audience, as, uh, some people like to say, I hope that you have enjoyed and I found informative the panelist submissions that I shared with you today. If you want to read any of their books, I have included links in the show notes to everything they mentioned, and I am also going to do my best to dig up the episodes in which I interviewed each of these authors and give you access to that as well in the show notes.

You can find the show notes at (for The Genre Traveler) /tgtpanel. Again, this is Carma Spence, your host, hoping that you go out there and turn your Author Switch on so that you can get the books out that you were meant to get out and reach the readers you were meant to reach.

This is the end of this episode of the author switch. Ciao!

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The Author Switch is a podcast dedicated to helping experts, entrepreneurs, and small business owners turn on The Author Switch — and keep it on — so that they can leverage the power of books to take their businesses to a whole new dimension. Learn more about the show and where it is available on its page.