Archive for the ‘ Conventions ’ Category

A BOUQUET OF FLOWERS

If you were fortunate enough to attend the Horror Writers Association’s StokerCon (May 9th through 12th), your goodie-bag included the latest StokerCon Anthology. The book, edited by the wonderful Linda D. Addison, includes over 350 pages of fiction, nonfiction, artwork, poetry, et cetera.

I put together the anthology last year, and can attest that to accomplish such a feat is hell, although a beautiful kind of hell. Linda wanted to keep up the tradition I started last year of making the “souvenir book” more of an anthology … and now she hates me for it (but also loves me for it just the same).

For those who didn’t attend the conference, I am posting what I offered for the book. “A Bouquet of Flowers” is a 2,000-word essay on anthologies (one of my passions), which focuses on what one can expect when submitting their work to such things. Enjoy!


“A Bouquet of Flowers” by Michael Bailey

You’ve written a flash piece, a short story, a novelette, perhaps ventured into novella-length territory; maybe your manuscript took a day, a week, a month, maybe longer to compose. Hopefully you’ve stashed it away somewhere to marinate, passed it on to beta-readers, re-written sections, thrown away the first page [or first few because most stories often don’t know where to start], or you have at least gone through a few drafts before calling it done. Is it ready? Probably not. Try again. Is it ready now, this masterpiece? Good. Let’s call it done and sell the thing.

“But where?” you might ask, always on the search for decent per-word pay rates. An anthology is a good place to start, if any are seeking submissions. Wherever you plan to place it, however, keep in mind that there are certain rules to follow if you ever want your work to appear in print. For the sake of simplification, let’s focus on the anthology.

The anthologists, they are [not] gods; they are [not] gatekeepers.

Before going further, the difference between collections and anthologies must be defined, as well the origination of the word ‘anthology.’ There is often confusion between the two. Collections contain multiple works by a single writer—bound red roses, for example, all from the same source. Anthologies contain single works [of all types] by multiple writers—bound flowers of various color from a multitude of sources. It’s that simple.

An anthology is defined as “a published collection of poems or other pieces of writing.” The word ‘anthology’ is derived from the Greek Anthos [meaning flower] and –logia [meaning collection], or anthologia, a word denoting a collection of the “flowers” of verse. So, an anthology is therefore defined as a “small choice poems or epigrams, by various authors.” A bouquet of the written word, in other words.

And the anthologists, the modern bouquet-makers, they are people, and they are on your side whether you believe it or not. They can become friends—people you want on your side [if treated properly], as much as they can become enemies—people you will never side with [if treated poorly]. They are creators [gods], like you, albeit with much wider scopes in that they are responsible for creating larger stories out of many smaller stories. Anthologists are readers, first and foremost. Most read more unpublished work than published, and very few are writers themselves. Anthologists are editors, some recommending minor adjustments while others requiring more extensive editing, depending on the want of the piece, and its current condition. And they are compilers [gatekeepers], in that by creating anthologies they must first filter through hundreds if not thousands of stories before making final selections on a select few.

Why would anthologists [or their publishers, or anyone, for that matter] ever want to spend money on what you’ve created? Are you worth it? How beautiful is your flower?

Some math: An anthology receives a thousand short stories, with only twenty to be included. This means you have a 2% chance of making the cull if what you’ve created is good enough [it better be], and adhere to guidelines. Factor in that most pro-rate anthologies are often half-filled with stories from invited writers, and your chance of inclusion drops to 1%. Factor in that sometimes anthologists first fill 75% of a book before ever offering a “call for submissions,” and that number drops to roughly half of a percent. Your odds, they are small.

This thing you’ve created. What is it? It’s flash if under a thousand words, a short story if between that and seventy-five hundred, novelette if between that and seventeen thousand five hundred or so, and novella if between that and forty to forty-five thousand, which gets you into short novel territory. Novellas, they mostly have their own market now, albeit small, and the market for short novels is almost nonexistent. If what you’ve written—your darling, perfect manuscript—has dipped into novel­-length, then anthologists no longer concern you. In fact, if your story is anywhere over five thousand words, it’s going to be a tough sell to an editor for an anthology unless longer works are specifically sought.

Is your manuscript close to short story length? Six thousand is close, right? Seven thousand? Eight? Guidelines in short fiction markets most likely call for five thousand words or fewer, but editors don’t mind a little padding, right? Yes. Yes, they mind. Guidelines are established for a reason, and unless unrealistic [most likely non-professional, a la “calls for submission”], if you don’t adhere to a few simple rules [word count caps, content, formatting, et cetera], your story will go unread, in most cases, attachment unopened. Your story will be trash. Like fancy fonts? Like single-spacing? Like overwriting [not necessarily word-count but by what you might consider purple prose]? Like foregoing the marinating / self-editing / beta-reading stage[s]? Like bending guidelines? If so, you will soon become familiar with the term “instant rejection.” If an anthologist is specifically seeking short fiction in the five thousand range, and your story is a thousand to three higher than that, or longer, either start cutting, start cutting deep, or don’t send your story at all. If it’s close, get out the red pen; start highlighting, pounding Delete and / or Backspace until your fingers blister; most stories in the six and seven and eight thousand range work better as five, anyway. Cut until it hurts, and then cut more. Bleed your pages until all that’s left is what’s absolutely necessary. And never pad your story for the sake of word count.

Some math: The average anthology runs 100,000 words, give or take. Twenty short stories, each five thousand words, adds up to 100,000 words. And some invited writers [more often than not]—with more selling-factor behind their names—tend to run long and sometimes get to run long. If the anthologist doesn’t cap payment on a specific word count [the “name” writers thus having more opportunity for income, or even offered higher per-word rates because of sell-ability], this in turn eats into the overall budget of the project. For the sake of word counts, this means there is indeed a reason for that hard guideline of five thousand words for the uninvited. It also means your odds of making it into the book increases if your word count decreases. Why? Editors often seek shorter fiction to make up for “name” writers taking their privileged space. The point? Stick to five thousand words as your own personal goal to benefit most from professional payment, but consider submitting shorter works to increase your chance of publication.

A simple rule to follow: Until you learn the art of self-editing, you will never sell a story to a pro-rate market. Master self-editing, and you will soon find yourself only selling to pro-rate markets. Another simple rule: Unless you are specifically writing for markets seeking novelette- or novella-length works, don’t ever send a story of such length to a short fiction market.

It all comes down to money.

Some math: The average anthology runs 100,000 words, give or take. A pro-rate anthology offers six cents per word [or should, at a minimum]. This means the budget for the work to be included [the words only, the meat] is typically $6,000, give or take, not to mention editor payment, artwork, cover design, publishing costs, marketing, and all those other essentials required to sell the book. This means the average anthology budget could start anywhere between $8,000 to $10,000, often higher, which in turn means eventually selling enough copies to recoup that cost. The book, if it is to be “professional,” therefore, must include only the best, which is why the hard work of the anthologist often goes unnoticed.

Is your story “the best” [not just in your mind]? Is your story original? Is your story good enough to survive the great culling of the anthologist? It better be the best fucking thing ever written. In a great bouquet [think the anthologies of Ellen Datlow, Stephen Jones, John Joseph Adams, Paula Guran, Thomas F. Monteleone, and many others], which brilliant burst of life is yours on display, or is your contribution lost in a bland display no one will ever remember?

But your story, it’s done, you’ve cut your darlings, you’ve bled the page, so to speak, and you’ve cut every word not absolutely necessary like the Jack Ketchums of the world. Now what? What’s your story worth [to you, to the anthologist]? What should you [expect to] be paid? The answer should always be “professional rate,” but that is not always the case in today’s market, although it should at least be your first choice when deciding where to submit.

Aim high, always. Start at the top, pay-wise. Avoid anything other than “professional” if you can. Six cents per word or bust! For science fiction and fantasy, this can be as high as eight to ten cents per word, sometimes twelve, so, if it fits, why not start there? Avoid “token” rate. Avoid “exposure.” Avoid “contributor copy only.” Avoid “royalty only.” Avoid “flat fee.”

Why are you writing? For fun? For exposure? For charity? What is your self-worth as an “author,” as a writer?

Let’s say your story is the best damn thing ever written. Let’s say an anthologist likes your stuff. Let’s say he or she has offered to buy your story, or your non-fiction article, or whatever, perhaps after a few minor tweaks, perhaps after some light editing, perhaps after some heavy editing. Good. Let’s say that whatever it is works for the intended project, and an anthologist has offered you a contract. Good. Do you sign it? Your first instinct is to scroll through, looking for payment information, your mind saying YES! LET’S SIGN THIS THING! and your heart racing, and you’re all smiles because, out of the small percentage of those not culled, you and your work have managed to squeeze in amidst names you [hopefully] recognize and names you [hopefully] don’t.

But the contract … what should you expect? Your goal, as a writer, is not to get screwed, always. It’s your work, after all, your name attached to the story, or whatever it may be. Despite the other names in the anthology, your name is now most important. What are you willing to sign away? Instead of relying on your first instincts of signing your name and dating the contract and announcing your fame to the world, there are important things to consider. Just as you are required to self-edit your work, you should be willing [as is your right] to edit contract details if they are seemingly unprofessional. Yes, you can do that.

Look specifically at the terms. Are you willing to part with your baby for a year, two years, three years, or [never] indefinitely? Are you willing to part with audio rights? Are you willing to part with media rights? Why would a publisher even need those? Are there plans for such things? Ask. If not, why are they there? And why should a publisher have the right to keep your work in print for the proposed terms? How long will the book be in print? Does the contract allow for inclusion in “best of” anthologies or a perhaps a personal collection? If not, it should. Does the contract allow for split royalty if the book “makes it big” and starts raking in the cash? If not, only the publisher benefits. Read the contractual terms carefully. Red-line what you don’t like. Add what’s not there. If you are a professional writer, and you are working with a professional anthologist, this shouldn’t be a problem.

This thing you’ve written, this flower, whatever it may be, if it’s good enough, and you’re good enough, the “anthologists,” the bouquet-makers, they will always be on your side, and soon you will find yourself not seeking “calls for submission,” but waiting for invites into future bouquets.

A VISIT FROM THE TOOTH FAIRY

The following is an interview with Zoje Stage, author of Baby TeethWhile this was put together prior to StokerCon (a conference run by the Horror Writers Association), I had the opportunity of meeting Zoje at the event. So, without further ado …

baby_teeth_1.jpg

The Interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

Baby Teeth seemed to have hit the ground running. The cover for the hardback is simple: blank white-ish background, shattered red lollipop, and those two words, which somewhat suggest that yes, this particular book is going to bite. I remember seeing the book for the first time displayed in a local bookstore in Santa Rosa, California, or maybe Petaluma, and it was like one of those presidential portraits that sort of keep staring at you as you pass, not wanting you to pass. The cover as striking as the title. And I remember thinking, Who is Zoje Stage? I didn’t buy the book, then. And I didn’t buy it the next two or three times it wanted me to buy it.

Some backstory: My wife and I have a yearly tradition of getting each other two books for Christmas, ones we’d not typically buy for ourselves; that way, each year, we are each introduced to two new writers minimum. The books I chose for her were, of course, Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage, and Cherry by Nico Walker (which he apparently wrote while in prison … or is still in prison, I don’t know). Both books were debut novels by writers I had never heard of before, and both had dust jackets that were a mix of white and red. They captured my attention in their first few pages (along with the back cover copy). The problem, however (at the time) was that I bought the books for her, as gifts, and the rule we have is that we can’t read them until the other finishes. She’s a slow reader, so this had me a bit worried because the two books (yours in particular) kept haunting, kept calling. Luckily, she breezed through it in a matter of days.

Suddenly I’m reading the book, and doing the same, alternating between chapters from the point of view of little, troubled Hanna, and her mother. Every time I’d finish a chapter, my wife would ask, “Where are you at?” and I’d tell her, and she’d follow it with a smile and say, “Oh, just you wait” and so I’d keep reading. I haven’t read Cherry yet, because she hasn’t yet read it, but I was lucky enough to have read Baby Teeth. It’s a real page-turner. This book is going to do well, I told myself, and This Zoje Stage is going to do well, and before I know it the Bram Stoker Award nominations are announced and Baby Teeth is on the list for Superior Achievement in a First Novel.

By the time this interview goes live, we will have already met in Grand Rapids, Michigan for StokerCon, hosted by the Horror Writers Association, and perhaps by then you will have taken home one of those heavy haunted house statues. But for now, we are complete strangers, and so I have a few questions as if we haven’t yet already met (like some kind of strange time-travel). That said …

The questions:

Michael Bailey: What made you want to write Baby Teeth, and why do you feel it’s connecting with readers?

Zoje Stage: I’ve long been fascinated by “bad seed” stories. I hate to say it, but sometimes children seem like otherworldly creatures to me, and it can be pretty freaky when you get a bad vibe from a kid in real life (which has happened). While “evil children” is a trope I’ve enjoyed especially in films, I hadn’t found a book that really delved as deep as I wanted to go, and you know what they say: write the book you want to read. I was particularly interested in exploring the dichotomies of such a child, as I do believe that a tiny percentage of the population may be truly psychopathic, but more often children—as highly sensitive beings—are influenced by the world around them. And I also wanted to see a realistic possibility for how a family would ultimately deal with a disturbed child, and there are parents who really have to confront this.

Part of why I think the book is connecting with readers is the dual-sympathy and dual-revulsion they experience with both Hanna and Suzette. Society puts an incredible amount of pressure on mothers, and that aspect is something a lot of people can relate to. And simultaneously, it’s very compelling to explore the inner workings of a child—especially one who is smart but off-kilter. Apparently even parents of the most wonderful children have glimpsed bits of Hanna-like behavior in their little progeny, and I think this has only increased the relatability of the story, as it makes people really ponder nature vs. nurture.

MB: This is your debut novel, but have you written others that are not-yet-published? If so, what can you tell us about those other manuscripts, and if not, how were you able to land this one so gracefully with St. Martin’s Press?

ZS: Baby Teeth was the sixth novel I’d written, and the fifth I’d queried. The first four were Young Adult, with the connective element of being fairly dark, but the genres were all over the place (sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, and something too weird to classify but inspired by Shirley Jackson). Then I made a startling realization that maybe I wasn’t the best person to be writing YA (for a number of reasons). While Baby Teeth is technically the second of the adult novels I’ve written, I recently did a complete overhaul of that first adult novel—and maybe it will become my third published book? I do not, otherwise, plan to revisit my earliest novels, and have written a few new things since Baby Teeth.

MB: A Bram Stoker Award is for horror. Do you consider Baby Teeth horror? How fine is the line between that genre and thriller, which book publishers seem to be using for dark fiction. That said, how fine is the line between horror and any other genre? Alma Katsu’s The Hunger comes to mind, which is historical fiction, yet recently won an award for westerns and is up for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel.

ZS: The first inkling I had that my book might be considered “horror” was in Aug. 2018—one month after publication—when it showed up on a Bustle list called “15 Horror Books to Pick up If You’ve Already Read Everything by Stephen King” (The Hunger was also on that list). Prior to that it had never occurred to me that my name would ever be mentioned in proximity to Stephen King! But more lists came out, and Baby Teeth ended up on Bloody Disgusting’s “10 Best Books of 2018 for the Horror Fan” and finished in the Goodreads Choice Awards for Horror in the #2 slot, right behind Stephen King. Suffice it to say, I’ve been thinking about the “horror” designation a lot over the last year.

I submitted Baby Teeth to my agent as a suspense novel, and so far as I know my publisher marketed it as psychological suspense. But since then I’ve heard it referred to as a thriller, domestic suspense, psychological thriller, and horror. I’ve been told by many, many readers—a large portion of them via social media—that Baby Teeth was the “creepiest” thing they’ve ever read. I’ve had readers report that the book gave them nightmares, or that they couldn’t read it at night, or while their young children were in the house … And that’s when I came to understand that Baby Teeth is a horror novel because it scares readers. It’s that simple. From the publishing world’s perspective each genre may mean a very specific thing, but from a reader’s perspective a “horror” novel is one that scares them—and I really can’t argue with that reasoning.

MB: The bio on your website states that “Zoje Stage is a former filmmaker with a penchant for the dark and suspenseful.” What can you share about your film-making experience, and why the move to fiction writing?

ZS: My storytelling goal with film was actually quite similar to what it is with novels: to create realistic stories with well-developed characters who were in odd situations. Film had been my passion for decades, but ultimately it was not a truly viable way for me to be my “best” creative self. It took me a long time to realize that, as it was a dream I wanted very badly, but I had to concede, as time went on, that I was not making the kind of progress I wanted to make, and my health and finances were becoming bigger and bigger obstacles. It’s also possible that I was intimidated by the prospect of writing novels, and it wasn’t until I was able to see the correlations between directing a film and writing a book that I felt ready give it a try.

As a DIY indie filmmaker (forever dreaming of a budget that never materialized), I basically wore all the hats: writing, directing, producing, shooting, acting, editing, etc. Early in the process, I realized that a novelist also wears many hats. The writer of a novel “directs” the reader’s attention toward what she wants them to see and know. She develops and performs all of the roles. In addition to being the production designer, the novelist stages all the scenes, and sets the mood. Each chapter of a book is like a sequence in a film, written, directed, and edited … But the big game changer? I didn’t need to secure locations or props, or upgrade or rent equipment, or beg friends for help in front of or behind the camera. I didn’t need more money to write a book, and I could realistically aspire—with sufficient practice—to “wear all the hats” with some degree of competence.

I found there were things I could do with novels I couldn’t do with film—like exploring thoughts and language—but my background in film and theatre proved to be extremely transferable. And somehow, in spite of living in a society that prefers “watching” over “reading,” from my perspective there are more opportunities for a book than a film, and room for more kinds of stories. One of the unexpected thrills of being published is the “presence” of my book in the world, and the chance for readers to keep discovering it. The publishing industry may not be perfect, but it’s a world away from the film industry and I’ll never go back.

MB: Do you also write short fiction, or do you tend to stick to longer works (asking for a friend)?

ZS: I have a weird relationship with short fiction (similar to my weird relationship with short films). With both, I’ve had the sense that I need a longer format to produce better work. There was a time when I wrote a ton of speculative short fiction and tried—and failed—to get it published. I haven’t written short fiction in years, although I do have a writing “to do” list that includes a couple short story ideas. Will I ever write them?

MB: To see if we can predict the future, what are your goals for attending StokerCon? Who are you most excited to meet? Do you have any predictions for the other award categories? For the last five years, during the award ceremony, I have circled who I think will win prior to everything starting, and then underline those that actually win; I think last year was my best, something like 90% correct.

ZS: I’ve never been to any sort of writing convention so I’m excited to see what it’s all about and hang out with so many writers. It’s a little funny that I have to travel to Michigan to meet “local” author J.D. Barker—especially since he invited me to participate in a local panel discussion taking place a week after StokerCon—but I’m definitely looking forward to meeting him. As a debut author I still feel very new to publishing (am I even qualified to be on a panel? LOL), so I’m hoping to glean info from more experienced authors. I’m also looking forward to meeting some folks whom I currently only know in an online capacity.

As far as predictions … There are only a few categories I’ll even wade into, as I am way behind on reading all the nominees. Needless to say, the nominees represent a standard of excellence and they are all worthy of winning. But here are a few guesses:

Superior Achievement in a Novel: Paul Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection: Gabino Iglesias, Coyote Songs

Superior Achievement in a Screenplay: Eric Heisserer, Bird Box

MB: After all the baby teeth have fallen out, what’s next?

ZS: I have multiple things in the works, though the only one with a definite home at the moment is my next novel, Wonderland: On the cusp of winter, a hardcore artsy New York City family moves to a place not quite on the map in the Adirondacks, and begins to experience bizarre and extreme weather. Being so out of their element, they aren’t sure at first if it’s just the influence of global warming, or some sort of haunting, or the decline of their sanity … But the situation becomes life threatening.

I also hope to find good publishing homes for My UnderSlumberBumbleBeast—the children’s book within Baby Teeth—and a short novel I refer to as a Wary Tale, which is a Fairy Tale for adults. And I have two other novels in various stages of completion.

KNOW A NOMINEE

Prior to the Bram Stoker Awards ® this year, volunteers within the Horror Writers Association began a series of interviews called “Know a Nominee,” in which final ballot nominees of the various award categories were asked a series of questions to provide readers insights and information about the nominees and their work. Some of these interviews were posted on the official Horror Writers Association’s Facebook page (I’m not sure if any made it onto the HWA website or newsletter, as they have in the past) and for a while it was going well. This is typically a great series of interviews. Unfortunately, because this is a volunteer-run organization, life sometimes gets in the way for volunteers, and well-loved projects, like this one, get pushed to the back burner, forgotten like a pot of previously-boiled hot dogs found floating in cold water the next morning. My own interview was for The Library of the Dead, which was nominated (and eventually won) for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.

As it turns out, a handful of interviews took place this year (some posted, most not), and sometime between pre- and post-Stoker season this interview project sort of disappeared into the ether. A handful of interviewees (like me) were left scratching our heads, wondering if the interviews were ever going to be published as the first StokerCon drew near. And then that date flew by, and a few others, and then a dozen more. What happened to the interviews? Upon asking about this very question within the organization, this prompted more confusion among members: “I was never interviewed…” and “What happened with the Know a Nominee interviews?” and “Interviews?” and my own question of “Since the Know a Nominee interviews sort of fizzled out, can we post our interviews elsewhere so they don’t go wasted?” (or something like that). Apparently, not all nominees this year were interviewed, which is too bad… This is a fun part of the award season, where you really “get to know” the nominees in the various categories (hence the name). For me, this interview series is an opportunity to get to know those outside the con scene (which is where we really get to know each other).

Know a Nominee was left abandoned mid-stride this year because of understandable, unforeseen happenstances in the lives of organization volunteers (it happens), yet here we are now, well past StokerCon and the Bram Stoker Awards ®, and there are interviews waiting to be exposed. There are shriveled hot dogs floating in cold water at the back of the stove, and they either need to be reheated and finally served, stored for later consumption, or thrown out.

After reaching out to the Horror Writers Association, those interviewed (and still stuck in interview limbo) were told we could use these Know a Nominee interviews elsewhere on the interwebs, if we so pleased. Three options: throw it out, store for later, or reheat and serve now. Interviews take time away from other projects we could be working on, so why let them go to waste? Why not put them out there? Who cares if it’s still hot or not, luke-warm, cold… Okay, yeah, interviews are best served hot, but so what. Most of the forgotten interviews run between 1,000 and 2,000 words (I have only asked four others, so you will have to deal with that estimate); mine runs about 1,600. So, without further ado, here is my reheated, barely palpable Know a Nominee interview, which was conducted by Brock Cooper, a member of the Horror Writers Association.


Please describe the genesis for the idea that eventually became the work for which you’ve been nominated. What attracted you most to the project?

The Library of the Dead was conceived by the collaborative minds of a gruesome twosome: Gene O’Neill and Gord Rollo. They happened upon Chapel of the Chimes, a crematory and columbarium in Oakland, next to the beautiful Mountain View Cemetery. It’s a massive labyrinthine building, and within its walls are the ashes of over a hundred thousand of California’s dead, most of which are contained within incendiary urns on shelves reaching from floor to ceiling, three stories high. But these are not ordinary urns. Most are brass, or golden, and they are shaped like books, and because of the building’s unique interior design, most of the rooms (and their libraries) are lit naturally by the sun through stained glass, some entire rooms glowing gold. It’s a wonderful place, and I highly recommend putting it on your list to see if you’re in the California Bay Area. There are gardens inside, and fountains, and other treasures, but the books make this place unique. What if each “book” not only held the ashes of the dead, but their stories as well? What happens when opened? What if there’s a ghostly librarian who wanders the halls at night, a caretaker of sorts? That’s the premise of the anthology Gene and Gord wanted to make. Somehow it landed in my lap. And somehow I was convinced to write “The Librarian,” the intertwining story linking the tales together. And now I’m proud to see a book about this library of the dead nominated for the Bram Stoker Award ® for anthologies, along with the story/introduction by Norman Partridge called “Special Collections,” which is up for long fiction.

What was the most challenging part of bringing the concept to fruition? The most rewarding aspect of the process? 

Each story in the anthology is something unique, written by different writers with entirely different voices, and some collaborative, such as Mary SanGiovanni and Brian Keene’s “The Last Thing’s to Go,” or “Fault Lines” by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon. Different ashes. Different stories. Each golden book within the library had to contain a different story that needed opening, with characters ultimately finding their way back to the library, and that was the only common ground when I first started this book. Bringing the stories together into something cohesive required stylistic illustrations (which were created to perfection by the wonderful GAK) to help fuel the reader’s imagination, and photography of the real library of the dead in California, as well as “The Librarian” piece to help tie the stories together, which is its own story within the anthology. As you move through the book, this second-person narrative guides you along, your own personal librarian pulling golden books from shelves and opening them for you as you are guided from room to room, exploring the ‘tales the ashes tell’ (which happens to be the final story by Gary A. Braunbeck), until you realize you’re not only lost within the labyrinth of golden books, but becoming part of the library itself. The anthology contains black and white photography I took of Chapel of the Chimes, and 17 original illustrations by GAK (all inspired by the photography; if you look closely, you’ll see some of it captured within the art). All of these things had to be fused together seamlessly to make The Library of the Dead, which turned out to be quite a beautiful golden book. The most rewarding aspect of this process? Well, the book can be read like a novel, with each unique story serving as a different chapter of something larger. Something difficult that happened along the way was the loss of J.F. Gonzalez, to whom the book is dedicated. One of his final stories is in this book, called “It’s Getting Closer,” and GAK created a special illustration for him at the end of the book.

What do you think good horror/dark literature should achieve? How do you feel the work for which you’ve been nominated fits into or helps give shape to that ideal?

All good literature, dark or not, should move the reader emotionally. Good literature should fling one’s emotional state around until left exhausted. Without emotion, we are nothing. Horror, when done well, evokes fear, dread, uneasiness, terror, anxiety, all sorts of things … And when done well, the reader shouldn’t even notice it’s happening to them until it’s too late, until they set the book down, perhaps swearing a single word under their breath. All they know is that the pages kept flipping by as they got battered and got lost in the story (or stories), which is the whole point of a book. Good literature should spark memories: loss, pain, hope, failure, redemption, sacrifice, and I could go on for pages and pages about everything a book should do to its reader, but I won’t. What I think makes The Library of the Dead work so well is that it makes the reader part the book itself, pulls them along from tale to tale, and I think that’s why so many people have reacted positively. Some readers skip around anthologies, looking for familiar names or whatnot, reading those stories first before reading others, and some jump from story to story in no particular order. If you do that with The Library of the Dead, you are missing out. The book is designed to be read from cover to cover, first page to last page. The book is a journey, and the reader is part of the journey. They should be pulled inside this golden book and trapped inside with its ashes.

I’m curious about your writing and/or editing process. Is there a certain setting or set of circumstances that help to move things along? If you find yourself getting stuck, where and why?

Both my writing and editing processes are chaotic and should not be studied. My work is sporadically prolific, and periodically dormant. It’s probably unhealthy. If I find myself stuck, it means I’m not doing something right and should either do something else, or start over. Sometimes listening to music helps motivate the creative process.

As you probably know, many of our readers are writers and/or editors. What is the most valuable piece of advice you can share?

Create the most beautiful thing you can possibly create. It’s as simple as that. When you die, what do you want to leave in your wake? What do you want to be remembered for creating, a half-assed story everyone’s read before, a half-assed book no one remembers, or something completely original, something that cannot be easily forgotten?

If you’re attending WHC this year, what are you most looking forward to at this year’s event? If not attending, what do you think is the significance of recognitions like the Bram Stoker Awards?

I’m not sure I’ll make WHC this year [note: I ultimately did, and was able to spend some time holding the ashes of the great Richard Laymon], but I plan to attend StokerCon. I look forward to hanging out with those I’ve connected with over the years. I’m planning a signing event for The Library of the Dead, as well as the launching the next anthology, Chiral Mad 3. About half of the contributors in those anthologies will be attending StokerCon. Should be fun.

What scares you most? Why? How (if at all) does that figure into your work or the projects you’re attracted to? 

Memory loss scares me more than anything. Alzheimer’s. Much of my work (both my own fiction/poetry, and those I publish) is considered psychological horror. Losing one’s mind, one’s thoughts, one’s memories of who and what made them what they are … that is the most terrifying thing I can think of happening to a person, and I constantly wonder if it will happen to me. I guess that’s why I put a lot of myself in my writing. Every story I publish, whether mine or another’s, holds a different part of me, something that moved me emotionally, something I’ve pondered, a thought, a feeling, an instance. If I someday lose those memories that made me, I hope I’ll at least be able to read about those parts of me, whether I know it’s me or not.

What are you reading for pleasure lately? Can you point us to new authors or works we ought to know about? 

I don’t have as much time to read for pleasure as I’d like, so I guess I’m picky, a bit eclectic since most of what I read is unpublished. Read my anthologies and you’ll see a trend of new, emerging talent. Among the staples everyone should be reading, such as Ketchum, Braunbeck, Castle, Morrell, O’Neill and Edelman, look for work by those who have recently knocked my socks off with their writing: Josh Malerman, Emily B. Cataneo, Paul Michael Anderson, Erik T. Johnson, Damien Angelica Walters, Erinn L. Kemper, Meghan Arcuri, Mercedes M. Yardley (notice the amount of female voices in this list), Stephanie M. Wytovich, Autumn Christian, Laura Lee Bahr, Jon Michael Kelley, Christian A. Larsen, Usman T. Malik. How many names do you want? How about some voices I’ve recently discovered that have been around for a while, but I find quite remarkable: Jason V Brock, Hal Bodner, Darren Speegle, Lucy A. Snyder, Richard Chizmar, Michael McBride … I could seriously go on for a while. A full list of who you should be reading can be found in the anthologies I publish through Written Backwards and Dark Regions Press: all three Chiral Mad volumes, The Library of the Dead, Qualia Nous, the upcoming You, Human

Thank you in advance for your time and participation. 

 

THE LIBRARY OF THE DEAD / QUALIA NOUS / EVERYTHING ELSE

The Library of the Dead

The Library of the Dead was recently launched at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, where members of the Horror Writers Association, and many guests, were able to get a first look at this anthology at an hour-long Written Backwards event called “Readings and Shenanigans from The Library of the Dead and Qualia Nous.” Both anthologies were celebrated for their various awards and recognition, with both artwork and books on display (speaking of artwork, I hope to post a blog soon called “Illustrations for the Dead” to cover the beautiful artwork GAK has created for this project).

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Readings and Shenanigans for the Library of the Dead and Qualia Nous

The first half of the panel included an introduction of panelists, a short discussion covering the real library of the dead and the original conception of the anthology, how the project was acquired by Written Backwards, as well as a discussion about the photography and the artwork (by GAK) used throughout the anthology. Yvonne Navarro read from her story “Those Who Shall Never Be Named,” followed by Weston Ochse reading from his story “Living Through Better Chemistry.” 10 copies of The Library of the Dead were given out to audience members for asking questions about the anthology. Erinn L. Kemper, Chris Marrs, Rena Mason, and Lucy A. Snyder discussed their stories as well. John Everson and Sydney Leigh (Shawna Bernard) from The Library of the Dead were also in attendance.

The second half of the panel covered Qualia Nous, a literary blend of science fiction and horror. Qualia Nous was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology, later to be given out by the Horror Writers Association at the Bram Stoker Award ceremony, although the prize eventually went to Ellen Datlow for her anthology Fearful Symmetries. Both Usman T. Malik and Rena Mason were recognized at this panel for their Bram Stoker Award nominations for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction from this anthology (Usman for his story “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family” and Rena for her story “Ruminations”) and both later took home the prize in a tie. Marge Simon was recognized for her Rhysling Award nomination for her poem “Shutdown,” and I’m happy to report that she also recently took home that prize, which was given out by the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA). Qualis Nous also recently received The Benjamin Franklin Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy (I stopped in to the award ceremony in Austin, Texas a month prior to accept the award), along with being a finalist for the Indie Book Awards for anthologies, a silver medal finalist for the Independent Publisher Book Awards, and winning the International Book Award for science fiction (also a finalist for their anthologies category), and bronze medal winner of the Foreword Reviews’ Book of the Year Awards / INDIEFAB (also a finalist for both their science fiction and horror categories).

Qualia Nous

Readings and Shenanigans for the Library of the Dead and Qualia Nous

Readings and Shenanigans for the Library of the Dead and Qualia Nous

Anyway, at the Readings and Shenanigans event, Marge Simon read her two poems from the anthology: “Shutdown” and “Tomorrow’s Femme, followed by James Chambers reading part of his story “The Price of Faces,” which sparked curiosity in Josh Malerman (author of the stellar Bird Box), which later resulted in his involvement in the upcoming Chiral Mad 3, but much of that will be covered later. Usman T. Malik, Rena Mason, Erinn L. Kemper, Patrick Freivald, Lucy A. Snyder, Jason V Brock, and William F. Nolan also discussed their stories. 10 copies of Qualia Nous were also give away to audience members asking questions about the anthology, so in total 20 books were given away to happy panel attendees at this event.

Tom Monteleone captivating the Anthocon audience

Tom Monteleone captivating the Anthocon audience

Then came Anthocon, one of my favorite conventions, organized by the Four Horsemen in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. At Anthocon, Written Backwards held another one-hour release (and re-release) event, which proved to be just as successful. At the Lazy K, the first of the new Allevon series of illustrated novellas by Written Backwards (and the latest novella by Gene O’Neill), was first up, and Gene was on hand to discuss thoroughly, along with Rena Mason, who wrote the introduction. Instead of Q&A giveaways of books, we handled things differently. Leading up to the event, those who stopped by the Written Backwards vendor table received 5 raffle tickets for each book purchased (and received a copy of At the Lazy K for only $5 (including 5 more raffle tickets)) if purchasing any book offered at the table, which also included Gene O’Neill’s most recent collection, The Hitchhiking Effect. Throughout the hour, we raffled off a few books by Gene, a few books by GAK, along with some of his artwork, freebies from the Written Backwards table, and a few books offered by Chris Marrs. And we discussed more books this time around, including At the Lazy KThe Library of the DeadQualia Nous, and the three Chiral Mad volumes.

Anthocon panel

Anthocon panel and book release

In attendance at the Anthocon panel: Thomas F. Monteleone (who did an unforgettable reading of “When I Was” from Chiral Mad 2, and has a story in Qualia Nous), Gene O’Neill (who discussed At the Lazy K and has stories in just about every Written Backwards release), Christopher Golden (who co-wrote a story with Tim Lebbon for The Library of the Dead called “Faultlines”), James Chambers (who read from his story in Qualia Nous), Kevin Lucia (who also read from his story in Chiral Mad 2), Gardner Goldsmith and Sydney Leigh (who both read some of their poetry from the upcoming Chiral Mad 3 and have stories in the various Written Backwards anthologies), Chris Marrs (who read from her story “A Chimera’s Tale” in The Library of the Dead), Rena Mason (who recently won a Stoker for her work), Meghan Arcuri (from the original Chiral Mad, and one of my fellow Borderlands boot camp grunts from long ago… which made up half the panel, actually), and of course the wonderful GAK (who illustrated The Library of the Dead and will have his hands full in future Written Backwards projects). Gord Rollo was also in attendance. He and Gene O’Neill first conceived the project after visiting the real library of the dead, a place called Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, California.

Both conventions were incredible, and both book releases/panels were highly successful. Although I took few books with me to the World Horror Convention, nearly every book sold out at AnthoCon, which was roughly 120 pounds or so of books.

What’s next? Promoting At the Lazy K and The Library of the Dead throughout the book award season. Speaking of which, if you are a member of the Horror Writers Association and would like a copy of either of these titles for Stoker recommendation/consideration, please let me know. Send an email to written@nettirw.com to request either a trade paperback of PDF of either or both titles.

Have you seen the official book trailer for The Library of the Dead? If not, take a gander:

What’s next after all that?

Chiral Mad 3.

THE LIBRARY OF THE DEAD – BOOK LAUNCH

The Library of the Dead book launch is scheduled for The World Horror Convention 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia, specifically on Friday, May 8th at 4:00 pm. The event will be called “Readings and Shenanigans for The Library of the Dead and Qualia Nous” and will offer a few surprises.

WHC 2015 Ad

 

More details soon…

CHIRAL GLAD

CHIRAL MAD - COVER

Chiral Mad, the second psychological horror anthology by Written Backwards, has been out for just over a month now. Official publication date: 10/11/12. Unofficially, it was released at the second annual AnthoCon (hosted by The Four Horsemen) in New Hampshire exactly two weeks ago: 11/10/12, so it’s really only a few weeks old. We had a launch of the book with readings and signings by Gary A. Braunbeck, P. Gardner Goldsmith, Meghan Arcuri, Jon Michael Kelley, Patrick Lacey, and yours truly. To celebrate, 50 copies of the book were donated (purchased beforehand by a generous third-party, a $600 donation) and handed out via swag bags to the first 50 to register at the event. Nearly all of the copies I brought with me sold out, and there seemed to be a lot of buzz over the charity (Down syndrome), the cover, and the fine contributors of this project.

Gary A. Braunbeck gives quite the performance with his readings (I’ve had the opportunity to hear him read four times in my life), and likewise gave an emotional reading from his story “Need.” I had someone after the launch comment, “Man, that guy gives a performance…” Meghan Arcuri held listeners at the edge of their seats with her reading of “Inevitable” and shocked everyone in the room afterward by admitting it was her first publication, and her first reading experience. P. Gardner Goldsmith, as always, gave a memorable reading of his story “Sigil.” I would hire this guy to be the voice behind any of my works (audiobooks someday). In fact, since I’m not a fan of reading my work aloud, Gardner ‘volunteered’ to read my short story “Plasty” at a separate reading event, and had the crowd both laughing and holding back the bile in their throats with his audible charisma. Patrick Lacey was in attendance at the book launch as well and remarked that his story “Send Your End” was his first publication, which resulted in a round of applause. From reading his story, one would guess Patrick to be a veteran of the craft. We were limited by an hour for this reading/signing event, so a few of the authors, like Jon Michael Kelley, volunteered to instead discuss an important object in his story “The Persistence of Vision,” captivating the audience with his description of thaumatropes. Many authors approached me at the event and asked if they could submit something for the next project.

“How did you gather all of this talent?” I was asked regularly at the convention. “How did you get [fill in any of the following here: Jack Ketchum, Gary Braunbeck, Gary McMahon, Gord Rollo, Gene O’Neill, Jeff Strand] and all of these other awesome people into one anthology?” The answer I gave was simple, but longwinded: “These are all great people, in- and outside of publishing. Every one of them. I sought out 1/2; the other 1/2 came to me. I mentioned that all proceeds (every cent) from the anthology would go to Down syndrome charities, and gave a challenge of interpreting chirality, and they came to me.”

A month earlier, at KillerCon in Las Vegas, I was able to meet with seven of the Chiral Mad contributors, including Jack Ketchum, Gene O’Neill, P. Gardner Goldsmith, Eric J. Guignard, Monica J. O’Rourke, John Palisano, and Aaron J. French. There was a lot of early buzz for the project at this event as well, and we took some photos, signed a few things, and had a wonderful time. All great people, as I mentioned before. Not only do these individuals have immense pools of literary talent trapped in their minds that somehow find way onto paper, they are some of the finest examples of humanity.

Viral marketing is what really made this project take off. Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter and various blogs by contributors spread word of this anthology like the overused analogy of online wildfire. Creating a teaser book trailer (and later an official version) helped as well. The few days following the book trailer launch resulted in a couple hundred additional submissions. If you’re wondering, over 400 short stories were submitted to Chiral Mad. 28 made it into the book. 1/2 of the 28 were personally invited and submitted something extraordinary; the other 1/2 sought me out and submitted something incredible. All 28 authors tackled chirality differently, and all 28 created amazing stories.

So, where are we at after just over a month, or two ‘unofficial’ weeks? Let’s just say that the first charity anthology released by Written Backwards, Pellucid Lunacy, has raised a little over $2,300 to date. We’ve met that mark with Chiral Mad already, which is something incredible.

How do we keep the ball rolling and raise even more money/awareness for Down syndrome? Viral marketing. Word of mouth. Reviews (they are starting to surface). Social networking. Sharing. Blogging. Giving copies as gifts. Donating copies to libraries. Let’s spread some Chiral Mad.