WRITE-A-THON

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June 23rd thru August 3rd, I am participating in The Clarion Foundation’s Write-a-Thon to help raise funds, with a goal of writing 40,000 words in that short span of time. I am looking for volunteers to back me, whether that’s by a flat donation or on a per-word basis (note that $0.01 per word would be $450 if I make my goal).

A dollar, two, twenty, or, if you’re willing, a per-word rate. It all adds up!

What will I be writing? My goal is to finish Seen In Distant Stars, a dark and dystopian science fiction thriller. I have about 40,000 words to go on this novel, so the Write-a-Thon will push me to finish, and also help raise money for a good cause while doing so.

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Kim Stanley Robinson and many others are participating, and if you’re a writer, I highly encourage you to participate as well. Maybe we can even team-up! Many of my mentors have gone through Clarion to improve their craft, and many recent writing peers.

Simply click “Support Writers,” then my name, Michael Bailey (<= or this direct link, to make things even easier), and then the “Donate” button.

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BEGINNING TO END

Not long ago, Crystal Lake Publishing printed a slightly older version of the following article / interview, “Ah-ha: Beginning to End” or “Chuck Palahniuk and Michael Bailey Discuss the Spark of Creativity” in It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life, a recent recipient of the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Nonfiction.

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Chuck Palahaniuk is a novelist and freelance journalist whose work can only be described as transgressional fiction. He has written such novels as Fight Club, Survivor, Invisible Monsters, Choke, Lullaby, and that’s all before 2002! He has written eighteen or so other books since then, such as his most recent novel Adjustment Day, a few coloring books, Bait and Legacy, and the graphic adaptations of Fight Club 2 (with Cameron Stewart) and Fight Club 3 (in the works). Adapted films of his work include Fight Club, Choke, Romance (based on his short story), and the forthcoming Lullaby and Rant.

With permission from both Chuck Palahniuk and Crystal Lake Publishing, “Beginning to End” is now free to share with the rest of the world, so enjoy!


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One lives in the Pacific Northwest and nearly lost his home in a wildfire the summer of 2017, while the other used to live in what is now a scorched part of Sonoma County from a wildfire the autumn of that same year. One’s surname is often mispronounced [ paula-nick, for those stumbling over it ], while the other’s surname is often mistaken as having Irish heritage [ Bailey, in this case, is English) ]. Both have been threatened by fire, both have problematic last names, and both have been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award on various occasions, and in a mix of categories.

Whether or not one believes in coincidence, these two magicians of creativity have been brought together, one thing leading to another thing leading to another, to discuss the spark of creativity from beginning to end. Something short and sweet.

Imagine these two strange fellows sitting behind laptops or notepads, conversing from places not-so-far-apart—perhaps one sips coffee, while the other sips tea (or maybe water or nothing at all)—to reveal some of their dark magic:


Michael Bailey: The first volume of Where Nightmares Come From focused on the art of storytelling in the horror genre, while this latest edition explores how storytellers transform ideas into finished product. Most writer interviews start with the obvious question: “Where do you get your ideas?” But let’s not go there. Story origin has been done to death. Instead, how about: What’s the first thing you do after your mind sparks original concepts? In other words, what’s the very first thing you do after that original ah-ha! moment?

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Chuck Palahniuk: Once an idea occurs I repeat it to other people to see how readily they engage with it. And to see if they can offer examples of it from their own lives. And to test whether others have seen the idea depicted elsewhere in the popular culture. If they engage, if they expand upon the idea, and if they offer no recent examples of it in fiction or movies, then I proceed.

MB: What’s your first-draft poison: dictation, pen and paper, pounding tired keys on an old typewriter, fancy computer / laptop, tapping tablets, cocktail napkin notes, or a combination of sorts? How do you release your words? And once released, do they live primarily on virtual paper, physical paper, or both?

CP: I make all my notes on paper. Only after I’ve collected several pages of notes do I keyboard the notes into a word processing file and begin organizing them by cut and paste. The next step is to look for plot holes and create the bridging scenes or moments to resolve those.

MB: I used to have an uncontrollable need to transcribe the noise from my head directly onto the page. Early drafts were perfect, of course (in my undeveloped head), ready to sell without revision. I think most writers go through something similar at the beginning, before learning the stuff not to do. Early in my endeavors I met Thomas F. Monteleone and F. Paul Wilson, and they fortunately set me right. They explained that writing / storytelling is a disease (if one must do it) … and like all diseases, one can’t go untreated for long, lest they shrivel up and die. They took me under their wings and showed me the ropes, for many years. And they introduced me to Douglas E. Winter, who (also over the course of many years) taught me the art of self-editing (much more difficult than editing the work of others). He slashed and sliced that evil red pen of his until my manuscripts bled, severed them in half, typically. “Start here,” he’d say, “on page 13.” My writing has evolved, sure, and my writing has gotten slower because I can’t help but edit along the way. With all that pre-loading, I guess my next question is this: How ugly (or pretty) is a Palahniuk first-draft?

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CP: What you’d call my first draft is actually my third or fourth draft. In a story, each of the three or five acts gets its own draft, and each must work well before I tackle the climax of the story. That way my eventual finished first draft isn’t too shabby.

MB: And a follow-up: How has your first-draft evolved during your writing career? Do you binge and purge? Do you edit-on-the-go?

CP: My process has stayed essentially the same since 1992. I takes long-hand notes. Then, transcribe the notes into a computer file. Then, print the draft and carry it with me on paper so I can read and revise it anywhere in the world. Then use those edits to revise the computer file, print it and repeat the process.

MB: Some writers set daily or weekly goals, whether it’s word count or page count. Some try for 5,000 words a day, some 1,000. Some try for 5 pages a day, some 10. Some try to at least write something each day. And there are some oddballs, like me, who go for months without writing a single word, sometimes as long as a year (although I’m always doing something creative), when suddenly the mind takes a laxative and dumps out 10,000- to 30,000-word chunks. What are your writing goals and / or habits?

CP: As a physically active person I hate to sit and keyboard. Notebook in hand, I’ll go for weeks just jotting down details that might apply to a story. This used to be called “brain mapping” in the science of the 1990’s. It takes a stretch of rainy weather before I’ll settle down and begin to type. Often the typing takes place aboard an airplane or in a hotel room or some other stifling place where I have no other options. As for goals, each January 1st I decide what I will accomplish for the year.

MB: What’s the most you’ve ever written at one time (not necessarily in a single sitting, but what you’d consider all-at-once)? And how long have you gone without writing?

CP: My greatest single sitting output was the eleven-page story “Guts.” To be frank, that many keystrokes makes my elbows and wrists ache like you wouldn’t believe. Years at the Freightliner Truck Plant have left me with carpal tunnel syndrome, and any kind of marathon typing now requires a Vicodin. Blame it on the drugs, but that short story just poured out.

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[ read Chuck’s short story “Guts” in Haunted ]

MB: Writer’s block: real news or fake news?

CP: Writer’s block: Not my problem. As with any living thing, there are dormant and active phases. When I’m not actively writing I still watch and listen, always trying to identify new patterns and ideas.

MB: ‘Character’ is arguably the most important part of a story. Some say ‘plot’ or ‘conflict’ or ‘the message’ is most important, but they are wrong, no? Your fiction always breathes with the lives of diverse, colorful, incredibly memorable characters. Where do your characters come from? I realize that’s sort of like asking the “Where do you get your ideas?” question, but since ‘character’ plays such an important part of the story, it seems to be an important question.

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[ his most recent novel, Adjustment Day is now available ]

CP: My characters are always based on actual people. Their most memorable lines of dialog have already been said by real people. Even their dogs are real. Although I’m trained as a journalist I find that there’s more fun (and money) in passing off reality as fantasy.

MB: So you’ve spawned an idea, and created characters, and they converse through dialogue and navigate plots and traverse conflict, and the manuscript has maybe gone through a few drafts (or not) and all that other magic that happens during storytelling, and suddenly you find yourself with a completed manuscript—short story, novelette, novella, novel, comic / graphic adaptation … doesn’t matter. This interview started with an ah-ha! moment—the original spark of creativity—but there’s another ah-ha! moment to consider: the moment one realizes a story is complete. What next? Do you send it to beta-readers, let it marinate in a drawer somewhere, send it off to an editor?

CP: To date I’ve done my beta testing while I write. By testing each scene on my peers or fellow writers in a weekly group. This creates an informal collaboration and allows contributions from possibly hundreds of people. David Sedaris advised me to always test new material by reading it aloud on tours; that works well also. Nothing goes off to New York until it’s made people laugh or cringe everywhere else in the country—or the world.

MB: We recently discussed the fires in California and in the Pacific Northwest, as well as some of our losses and scares. I was lucky and for some reason already had my laptop in the car before fleeing from one of these fires (and I habitually upload files to off-site storage), but the threat of losing creativity begs the question: What if it all burned down? Where do you keep your creations, in case a fire someday threatens (or accomplishes) turning them to ash?

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CP: If you’re talking about past notes, drafts, books, I don’t keep them. I burn everything once the final book has been typeset [ something both writers now have in common after the fires ]. Regarding on-going work, I back-up to flash drives and keep them separate from each other—in my car, with friends—and I always have a printed hard copy of the work in progress.

MB: And since this interview / discussion is for It’s Alive [ a follow-up to Where Nightmares Come From ], what is your nightmare, the thing that scares you most?

CP: Plenty of things scare me. These include driving over extremely high bridges or being buried alive. But nothing scares me the most.

MB: Over the last few years I have collaborated with writers for fiction and have sought out collaborative works for anthologies I’ve edited. My next anthology is composed entirely of collaborations, even [ Chiral Mad 4: An Anthology of Collaborations ]. Collaborations are perhaps my new ah-ha! in this business, something of which I want to see more. I love the concept of multiple minds working together to create entirely new voices and visions. But I have yet to collaborate on 1) interview questions, and 2) with Chuck Palahniuk. So, how about we spin things around? My freelance work is roughly 33% writer, 33% editor, 33% book designer, and now 1% interviewer. What question, in the broad scope of ‘from concept to finished product,’ would you like me to answer?

CP: My question to you is: Do you think piracy has damaged the viability of writing professionally? And if so, how do you bring yourself back to the task despite that threat?

MB: There’s potential in book piracy eventually hurting the industry, but we’re not there, at least not yet [ maybe we are now, I don’t know ]; we may never get there. I would argue that eBooks, in terms of sales, have caught up to printed books, perhaps even surpassed sales in some cases, but I would also argue that most eBooks go unread. It’s easy to purchase digital books—a single-click sometimes. They are priced to move copies. It’s easy to fill virtual shelves with digital books because they are not really there and don’t take up physical space. They are simply strings of binary designed to mimic books, which is neat. But this also makes them easier to steal, sure, like music was easier to steal once it turned digital. How many digital books are read from start to finish? I’d guess 5-10%, if I’m being generous. A printed book, however, for now, is there, is something real, and harder not to read—if it’s pretty enough and smells like a book and you can hold it in your hands—and likewise harder to steal.

Here’s my confession, which might help explain what I’m trying to say. Before the fire (which took just about everything but our lives), I used to have a nice collection of Palahniuk on my shelves. I also used to have a Kindle with about a hundred titles, including your Kindle short story “Phoenix,” released in 2013, which I bought for $1.99 (a steal!). I have read every book of yours (that I used to own), from start to finish … except for one—the title of which I now find ironic because it’s the only book that still ‘exists’ somewhere in those 0’s and 1’s, and I could still read it on my laptop if I choose to. My physical books are gone, sure, but I’ll get new ones going forward, and I’ll probably read those before ever browsing my digital shelves.

My point: book piracy has potential to hurt the industry monetarily, sure (as piracy did the music industry at first), but we’ll always have books (like we’ll always have music). Piracy will never hurt the creative process. Books will survive as they always have. I would argue that those doing the stealing aren’t doing enough damage at this point, but someday (who knows?) they might, and the industry will adapt accordingly. Book pirates are most likely never going to read the books they steal, anyway, and neither are those taking them from wherever they take them, so who gives a shit? We’ll adapt. We’ll evolve. Musicians are still making music. Writers will continue to write, if they must, because writing’s a disease, right? All creators will continue to create as they always have.

No matter the threat, professional writers should continue to write professionally. Books will always have a place in our world, however they—and we—evolve. All we can do as writers is to keep writing. All we can do as editors is to keep editing. All we can do as book designers is to keep designing beautiful books. And readers: must keep reading (purchased books only, please). It doesn’t matter what tools we use to create, and it doesn’t matter what tools we use to immerse ourselves in those creations. We simply need to keep doing what we’re supposed to be doing.


Imagine the coffee and tea cups empty, or perhaps untouched this entire time and now lukewarm and undrinkable. Perhaps Chuck leans back in his chair, and Michael does the same. One stretches, while the other cracks his knuckles and winces. One looks to the blank wall and sets up the next scene, while the other looks off into the distance and listens for the voices. Both move on to the next project, for there are always next projects. There are stories that need to be written. There are deadlines that need to be met. There are books of various kinds in development.

 

TRESPASS!

Now through the end of June 10th, 2019, trespass the fiction of Erik T. Johnson for free, and anywhere in the world! His debut fiction collection, Yes Trespassing, a tome of over 120,000+ words, is available on Kindle for absolutely nothing. If you’ve ever thought of trespassing, now is the time.

Country-specific links: US, UK, Canada, Australia, Italy Germany, France, SpainJapan, India, Mexico, or search Yes Trespassing on any other Amazon site. The book is also available in a glorious trade paperback from Written Backwards.

And yes, that is a picture of little Erik on the front cover, and an entire short story.

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“Electric.” – Josh Malerman, author of Bird Box

“Absolute greatness. A magnum opus of almost staggering proportions … reminiscent of the works of Vandermeer, Burroughs, and Bradbury, but fully unique.” – This is Horror

“The stories read with an acidic note something akin to Chuck Palahniuk mixed with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.” – Unnerving Magazine

“Brilliance unfettered and unscarred by convention … Weird fiction at its gonzo best.” – Ginger Nuts of Horror

“A trippy mescaline-binge of truly superb fiction. Extraordinary.” – Patrick Freivald, author of Jade Sky

“No one writes a line like Erik T. Johnson.” – John F.D. Taff, author of The End in All Beginnings.

A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING

The latest Written Backwards interview is with John Langan. author of such novels as House of Windows and The Fisherman, as well as numerous fiction collections, including Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy EncountersThe Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographiesand his latest Sefira & Other Betrayals. His work can be found in magazines and anthologies all over the world. We discuss a little of everything …

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Michael Bailey: When overhearing people discussing the fiction of John Langan (because I often find myself doing most of the listening and not much of the talking while in crowds), I often hear things like “literary” and “quiet horror.” What do you consider quiet horror, and likewise what do you consider literary?

John Langan: “Quiet horror” is a term I associate with the years surrounding the Splatterpunk movement, when it was thrown up as a more restrained alternative to the work of Skipp & Spector, Schow, etc. At the time, quiet horror was connected to writers such as Charles Grant and Steve Rasnic Tem. If I’m not mistaken, Doug Winter wrote a review essay arguing (compellingly, to my mind) that the apparent differences between the groups were vastly outweighed by their similarities. In the years since then, the term quiet horror has been employed in a less-systematic way in an attempt to identify works of horror in which the emphasis is on atmosphere and subtlety of effect rather than more dramatic narrative moves. Although I haven’t made a systematic study of it, I have the sense that it’s applied to those writers we associate with the classic tradition of the ghost story, with M.R. James or Susan Hill. The problem is, if you read James’s fiction, then you’ll find that there’s a lot of delightfully over-the-top stuff going on. (I also suspect that this more recent use of quiet horror is an attempt to draw a line between it and more cinematically inflected fiction, i.e. zombie narratives.)

As for the word “literary,” it’s one of those that tends to cause all manner of uproar, isn’t it? As I see it, the most important thing to remember about “literary” is that it’s an adjective, not a noun. In other words, it describes a certain set of characteristics that can be applied to any kind of fiction. What those characteristics are may be subject to debate, although I’m reasonably sure they would include attention to character and style. I think it was Nabokov who said that the literary is that which we are always rereading, and I like that definition very much.

MB: In the acknowledgments for your debut novel, House of Windows, you wrote, “This book had a hard time finding a home: the genre people weren’t happy with all the literary stuff; the literary people weren’t happy with all the genre stuff.” Who is your intended audience?

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JL: It used to be that I read everything I wrote to my wife. So while I wrote whatever I did because I wanted to read it, myself, she was my first audience. Then, after our son was born, it became harder to maintain this practice. I still have her in mind as my ideal reader, but these days, I’m also thinking about friends such as Laird Barron, Stephen Graham Jones, and Paul Tremblay. Anytime I write something that these guys like, I know I’ve made contact with the ball.

MB: Who do you write for? Who should anyone write for?

JL: At the risk of being redundant, I write for myself, my wife, my friends, and then anyone who’s willing to pick up the story or book and give it a chance. I’m not sure that there’s a universal answer for the second question—although it would seem to me difficult not to be writing for yourself—but I think you should write for whoever helps you to write. If writing for yourself alone is enough to make that happen, then that’s great. If writing for someone else helps, then that’s fine, too.

MB: Having read The Fisherman, which won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in a Novel a few years ago, I would have to say that I would consider it a multitude of things (horror being one of them), but not necessarily any one thing over the other. It’s horror, sure, but it could be considered cosmic horror, or Lovecraftian, or “quiet,” the way Victor LaValle’s wonderful novella The Ballad of Black Tom is a little of each of those things. What do you consider The Fisherman?

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JL: I’m happy to call it a horror novel, but that’s because I subscribe to a big-tent view of horror, in which all manner of narratives can be gathered under its folds. I tend to think that fiction in general is a fundamentally hybrid or mixed art (an idea indebted in no small part to the ideas of the literary critic M.M. Bakhtin), so it seems to me entirely appropriate that all manner of genres and sub-genres should be part of a novel.

MB: Is there a need for genre and sub-genre? I recently read a post by a prolific writer in which he stated (not verbatim) that he doesn’t write horror, or science fiction, or any one thing; he simply writes what he wants to write, and lets other people determine what they want to call it. Do you agree?

JL: From a critical perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having categories that allow you to point out similarities between different works of literature. From a reader’s perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having categories that allow you to find books that are similar to those you’ve enjoyed already. And from a writer’s perspective, I don’t see anything wrong with having a tradition to engage with in my work. So I guess as long as the genre category functions in an expansive way, in a way that brings more to the critic / reader / writer, I’m quite happy with it.

MB: I once overheard an editor say that she wished you wrote more often. Your first novel was published in 2009, and your second in 2016. But between that seven-year span you also published two fiction collections: Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters (2008) and The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies (2013), and co-edited an anthology with Paul Tremblay called Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters. That’s four books in seven years (five if you count the anthology, which I do, because I know how much work goes into them), which I would say is a good pace. Do you wish you wrote faster, or published more often?

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JL: Over the past several years, I’ve published a reasonable number of stories—as well as, very recently, a third collection of stories. My problem is, in part, that many of those stories have appeared in smaller press publications, which someone who’s read, say, The Fisherman may not necessarily have heard of. But I have enough material for at least another three collections after Sefira, and I’m hoping to do something about that sooner rather than later.

I do, however, wish I were one of those writers who can toss off a novella in a week. In part, my daily process means that I don’t work particularly quickly: I do a lot of revising as I’m writing. I’ve also learned that some works require more time than others to complete, and may need to be put aside for a while. (This was the case with both The Fisherman and Sefira, the title piece in my new collection, both of which took me years to finish.) And while I’ve enjoyed a great deal of success with my writing, it hasn’t been enough to support me and my family, which means I need to work a day job, which cuts into my writing time. In addition, I’ve been reviewing horror and dark fantasy for Locus magazine, which also requires a certain amount of time that would otherwise go to fiction writing.

Moving ahead, I’d like to devote a bit more time to writing longer works, especially novels.

MB: What are your writing and / or publishing habits? Do you write when you want to write? Do you set goals?

JL: I try to write every day, with a goal of completing a page a day. When I’m not working a day job, it’s easier to maintain that schedule. In terms of publishing habits, I’ve tried to say yes to every invitation to contribute to an anthology I’ve received. (Which I suppose has cut into my novel writing.) I have immediate goals, usually to have something done on or not too far past the deadline. My long-term goals are a bit more nebulous: I would very much like to complete one hundred stories and ten novels—arbitrary numbers, I know, but ones that help me have some sense of how I’m doing, overall. I think I’m up to around sixty stories, with several more underway; while I have plans for another six novels if I can ever find the time to write them.

MB: You have been a finalist for the International Horror Guild Award, a Bram Stoker Award nominee for Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection for Mr. Gaunt, and won for your novel The Fisherman, as well as serve on the Board of Directors for the Shirley Jackson Awards. What do awards mean to you, and what do you believe they should mean to other writers?

JL: The recognition an award nomination brings is a fine thing, while an award can certainly make your day. In my case, the Bram Stoker was the award I had first wanted to win, back when I was a teenager and it was created, so while I could not have complained had any of the other writers I was on the ballot with won it, there was a special delight in hearing my name read out on that night.

At their best, awards can shine light on deserving work, leading readers to writers they might not otherwise have encountered. That said, in any award process, there’s always going to be work that is overlooked, that may not come to light until years later. And even if you win an award, you still have sit down to write the next day. So awards should be enjoyed, but not used as the final measure of success—which is, after all, having readers for your work.

KING OF ILLUSTRATIONS

The latest Written Backwards interview is with Glenn Chadbourne, an artist from Maine. He is perhaps best known for his work in both the horror and fantasy genres, and his knack for artwork inspired by the works of Stephen King and other greats. He creates covers, illustrates books and stories for magazines, among other things.

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The interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

When someone sees a Glenn Chadbourne illustration, they are drawn to the fine lines, the incredible amount of captured detail, the depth, the light you create in the dark; they instantly know that what they are experiencing is a work by Glenn Chadbourne. You’ve made a name for yourself, and your work is highly recognizable. You have created seemingly countless illustrations, most inked in black-and-white, but others painted in full color, and for the likes of Stephen King, Rick Hautala, Joe Lansdale, Douglas Clegg, and many others. But you also create beautiful book covers, among other things.

I can’t remember how long ago I met you, but you were an artist Guest of Honor at an event, perhaps a World Horror Convention, and you had what seemed like a hundred pieces on display. Now, I’d met your work long before meeting the actual you (perhaps Cemetery Dance magazine a few decades prior), and I was drawn to your displayed art at that convention as easily as I was drawn to your illustrations I’d first admired so long ago. I bought a piece from you, a Stephen King thing with Pennywise and a couple dozen of his other minions, and shook your hand, said to myself, “Someday I’m going to work with that guy.”

Fast forward closer to the present, and I find myself commissioning your work for Chiral Mad 3 (45 illustrations total), and later working with you on the special edition of Josh Malerman’s Birdbox, and again with illustrations for my own Psychotropic Dragon (see first image above), and then yet again with Chiral Mad 4: An Anthology of Collaborations, in which you beautifully adapted Jack Ketchum’s story “Firedance” (26 pages). So, I guess you could say I was right all those years ago. I ended up worked with that guy (you), and hope to again sometime soon.

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Now that all the mushy stuff is out of the way, a few questions (some of which may lead to further mushy things):

Michael Bailey: How many illustrations have you created in your lifetime (rough estimate)? It must be an insane amount. And a follow-up: How often do you find yourself creating art, or how many hours in a day, on average, do you typically spend doing so?

Glenn Chadbourne: Good lordy, I wouldn’t / couldn’t begin to give a body count on how many illustrations I’ve spun up over the years … I’d have to stick with “countless” because I’ve had, and continue to have something on the drawing board daily. Multiply that over the course of thirty years and a good catch-all number might be a “shitload!”

MB: Do you have any favorite pieces (or projects) you’ve worked on?

GC: As for favorites, certainly the King projects, for the obvious reasons, but also, aside from his popularity, his work speaks to me on a personal level. He lives here in Maine and I live here in Maine, and there’s a familiar atmosphere of surroundings, of personalities in his characters that hits a local comfy zone. I know places and events he writes about firsthand, as opposed to someone’s story taking place in Transylvania. Of course, Steve has turned Maine into the Transylvania of America! And, of course, being lucky enough to have illustrated some of his work has helped showcase my work to a wide audience. Also, his work has a visual texture that screams DRAW ME.

MB: Your adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s “Firedance” was your first time working on something of his. What was it like working on that project after knowing him for so many years? I had originally hoped for ten pages for Chiral Mad 4, but you must have had fun, since you eventually turned in twenty-six …

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GC: I thought the absolute world of Dallas Mayr (Jack). I met him at a yearly convention I go to in Rhode Island (NECON) long before I made my bones in this racket, and he was so gracious and kind, offering advice, and just being an all-around sweet soul and buckets of fun to hang out with. I had been reading his stuff for years, so when the chance came to illustrate “Firedance,” I was thrilled. It’s a very different kind of Ketchum story; so fun and whimsical and, of course, it too takes place in Maine. He loved what I did with it art-wise, and I felt so happy he got to enjoy the final product before his death. I miss Dallas, and I raise a glass in memory while writing this. He was truly one of the good guys.

MB: With your artwork for King’s “The Last Rung on the Ladder” in Chiral Mad 3, you created more than one illustration (five, in fact). What’s your draw to King’s fiction? And a follow-up: Out of the estimated total illustrations you think you’ve created in your lifetime (from the first question), what percentage of those are King-related?

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GC: “The Last Rung on the Ladder” is such a cool nostalgic story, and once again so visual. You can smell the hay in the barn and see the afternoon dust motes fluttering between rays of sun through the cracks in the siding—and you can feel the tension like a coiled spring ready to snap. When rereading it (I’d read the story countless times over the years), I just saw so many things to draw fly through my head that I put them down on paper. As for how many King related drawings I’ve done … I have to figure in both volumes of the Secretary of Dreams, The Dark Man (90 odd pages for that) and numerous individual gigs, chiefly for Cemetery Dance special editions Full Dark No Stars, and the bells and whistles volumes of the Doubleday years books, where I did frontis art and separate portfolio paintings. All that would carry a page count in the hundreds. Also, I did the art for the beautiful Carrie limited edition for PS Publishing, and their edition of The Colorado Kid. So again, all told: works leaning well into the hundreds. I feel like the luckiest fatboy on the planet to have been given the chance to fly with it all.

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MB: Who have you always wanted to adapt, and are there any emerging writers on your radar?

GC: I’ve always wanted to do a sprawling series of Lovecraft paintings, and I may do that on my own time and dime at some point. As for newbie writers … There are so many talented writers out there with strong scary voices that deserve a platform. I’d be up for illustrating whatever might be asked of me.

MB: Besides paintings and illustrations, do you dip into any other mediums?

GC: Every so often a short story idea of my own knocks me in the noggin, so from time to time I write a little fiction. The ideas just roll through my thoughts and I stop whatever I’m doing and roll with it. I’m not about to quit my day job, but I enjoy writing.

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MB: Did you always know you were gifted as an artist? Did you one day discover or unlock that talent? And a follow-up: When did you first start dabbling?

GC: I was an only-child with no other nearby kids to play with, and so from a very young age I began to draw. Forrest Gump ran, I drew. It came naturally and evolved over time. At first, I drew little boy stuff, G.I. Joe scenes, the usual. Then around nine or ten there was a mom and pop store that sold comics and the Warren magazines of the day, and after a steady diet of that stuff, I was hooked on the spooky. This was also near the tail end of the 60s and I got hold of all the great old underground comics of the day. That’s where I first ran into R Crumb comics, and he was a god to me. He’s where my love of uber detail came from. Long story short though, I’ve just always done what I do. I have no choice; it’s simply in me.

MB: Is there any advice you would like to share with those exploring creative outlets?

GC: My advice would be simple: follow your dreams. If it’s to be “your thing,” your voice, listen to it. It will yell and there’ll be no choice. And remember to enjoy it along the way. There may be rejection slips that mound to the ceiling. Fuck ’em. The greatest creative minds in history could paper their walls with them. Keep at it, never relent, and follow your dreams.

Peace ’n love,

Glenn Chadbourne.

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CREATOR OF HEROES

The following is an interview with New York Times bestselling author David Morrell, master of the high-action thriller, creator of Rambo, author of such fine novels as First Blood, The Protector, and Murder As a Fine Art. He writes nonfiction, and for comics, and is a mentor to emerging writers and has a passion for protecting wildlife. And his latest collection, Before I Wake, is available June 30th from Subterranean. He’s all over the place, but at this moment he’s at Written Backwards to share a few things. Enjoy!

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The interview [ by Michael Bailey ]:

My first exposure to your work was in the form of a Halloween costume. This was either 1983 or 1984, which means I was either four or five years old when I first met a character by the name of “Rambo” (only knew him by that name) because my older siblings talked about him often. You published the novel First Blood in 1972, and ten years later, in the fall of 1982, the movie debuted (directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Sylvester Stallone, who also contributed to the screenplay). Back then, movies stayed in theatres much longer, for years even, and First Blood was a huge success, grossing an unheard-of $125.2 million, which, way back when, was a lot of money.

Here’s where the costume comes in. My oldest sister came out of her room the following year (or the next) with fake blood dripping down her face and neck, her long hair tied back with a red ribbon around her forehead, and I believe she wore a tank top and a long black survival knife belted to her waist, the kind with a compass on the hilt (back then, you could wear such weapons in public). “I’m Rambo,” she had said, for Halloween, introducing him to me, and she explained the blood was there because Rambo had apparently jumped off a cliff and into some trees, scraping his face and neck. Let me repeat that I was either four or five years old, so I wasn’t allowed to watch such violent movies. This Rambo guy sounded kinda cool, I thought. And my sister, she’s kinda cool.

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Fast-forward another ten years, and I’m considered old enough to watch the Rambo movie (or perhaps not), and it quickly becomes a favorite. I watch First Blood a couple dozen times, and my older brother and I often play “Rambo” in the backyard, throwing knives at trees, making bows and arrows from fallen branches, scavenging to make forts in trees, crawling on the dirt, always running from something (like in the film). John Rambo becomes part of my childhood, and for the course of about twenty years, I don’t know there’s a book about this Rambo hero of ours.

Fast-forward another ten years, and I start writing fiction, poetry, anything I can think of. I don’t want to be a writer (and hate reading in general, at this time), but for some reason I have to write, like it’s some kind of disease. Sometime around then, I discover there’s a novel version of First Blood (why’d he call it that?), by some guy named David Morrell. And then I find his other books, such as The Brotherhood of the Rose, The Fraternity of the Stone, The Protector, The Naked Edge. I become a constant reader.

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Fast-forward another ten years, and I’m still writing, but seriously. I’m at some kind of boot camp hosted by Borderlands Press, with the likes of Thomas F. Monteleone, Douglas E. Winter, and F. Paul Wilson, and this David Morrell fellow I’ve come to know through his words and through his characters. The creator of Rambo! I’m thinking. The guy who created one of my (and my siblings’) childhood heroes! It’s thirty-something years later, and wouldn’t you know it, the idea behind First Blood is still relevant. My oldest brother, he’s been in the military all this time. He’s my own Rambo. He’s fought in the Iran-Iraq War, the Gulf War, the Iraq War, and countless others, and he’s there during the fall of Saddam Hussein, helps take over the Baghdad Airport and later shows me a picture of him and a few others underneath a sign proclaiming that such a thing would never happen. And each time he returns from war, like many others, he’s perhaps looked down upon.

Fast-forward to the present, and I’m interviewing the creator of Rambo, and so many other incredible characters. And I’m falling in love with new series altogether, such as the Thomas De Quincy series, which starts with Murder As a Fine Art.

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The questions:

Michael Bailey: I promise this will be the only Rambo-related question, but his story is important to me and to so many others, so I must ask: Why do you feel the story of John Rambo is forever-relevant?

David Morrell: It depends on which Rambo we’re talking about. The character in my novel First Blood is furious about what happened to him in Vietnam, whereas the character in the film is a sympathetic victim while the character in the second and third films is jingoistic. Sly told me that in retrospect he wasn’t happy with the treatment of violence in Rambo II and III, which is why he saw the fourth film [Rambo] as his version of a Sam Peckinpah movie. The character was more like the one in my novel. “Wars. Old men start them, young men fight them, and everybody loses,” Rambo says at one point in the fourth film (the director’s-cut DVD amplifies the theatrical version). If we look for a common denominator, I suppose it comes back to the military virtues of courage, honor, loyalty, and sacrifice, which are virtues that everyone, not only those in the military, should emulate. I mention those virtues in my Captain America; The Chosen six-part comic-book series.

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David Morrell with Sylvester Stallone

MB: Movies based on comic book characters are perhaps the most costly but also the most profitable of all movies, with Avengers: Endgame recently grossing over $1.2 billion worldwide over a single weekend, and movies like Black Panther and Captain Marvel and many others making over $1 billion worldwide before their short runs (compared to the long-ago). Movies are only in theatres now for months, yet raking in insane amounts of money. Why are comic book characters such a big part of our lives?

DM: It’s about promotion as much as the characters. After the collapse of the DVD market, Hollywood producers looked elsewhere for revenue. They found it in China and India, where the theatrical-distribution systems were starting to make Hollywood films available in a big way. Comic-book heroes (and characters from films such as Star Wars) are so universally familiar that Oriental audiences recognized them, despite the differences in cultures. In marketing language, these films are “pre-sold.” As the revenue from Oriental audiences increased, studios made more films to satisfy that market. Meanwhile, to use the United States as an example, the binge-watching of television series is so popular that only films with a visceral magnitude motivate families to leave the house as a group. A family of four spends more than a hundred dollars to go to a movie (a low estimate). The impressive CGI effects and the wall-rumbling sound of superhero films aren’t anything they can get at home. The spectacle is the attraction. Marketers have brilliantly convinced families that these are experiences they ought to share, even though the action scenes can be prolonged and repetitive to the point that they’re numbing. That isn’t to say I’m negative about superhero films. I loved the origin films for Wonder Woman and Black Panther, which emphasized characterization as much as spectacle.

MB: Why are we, as people, so in need of superheroes?

DM: It depends on how we define a superhero. Remember that in the 1930s Hitler used elements from Germanic mythology to promote his agenda. For a superhero to appeal to me, that character needs to personify fairness, selflessness, the belief in equality, the protection of the weak, etc. Fortunately those values are what traditional comic books and Hollywood superhero movies represent. In our crisis-ridden culture, we need as many representatives of those values as we can get. I’m reminded that the mass shooter at the film theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012 opened fire at an audience watching The Dark Knight Returns. He could have been a villain in the movie. When I wrote my Captain America: The Chosen comic-book series, my theme was that each of us has within us the capacity to be a superhero. In my Spider-Man: Frost two-parter, my theme was the selfless meaning of Spider-Man / Peter Parker’s mantra: “With great power comes great responsibility.”

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MB: It’s not as well-known as some of your other projects, but you have dipped into Marvel comics, writing such series as Captain America: The Chosen (one of my favorite short-run comics of all time, the story you created as relevant as (or perhaps mirroring) that of John Rambo’s, once again making me think of my brother in the military), as well as a two-parter of The Amazing Spider-Man (#700.1 & 700.2), and an issue of Savage Wolverine (#23). The question: How much easier, or more difficult, is comic-writing vs. prose-writing?

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DM: I think of comics as stop-action stories comparable to storyboards for films. The dynamism comes from the jump between panels. One contrast between prose fiction and comics is that in fiction I can use all five senses to try to achieve a feeling of three dimensions whereas in a comic book I’m working in an emphatically visual medium, with limited sound effects that are printed on the page and require the reader to imagine them. Some readers might be surprised that a comic-book writer chooses the number of images per page (a single image or two or four or even eight images on a page) and describes what happens in each of those images. A 22-page comic book might have a script that’s as long as the comic itself. Moreover, what characters say or think needs to be kept to a minimum in favor of letting the images tell the story. I think of each page as a paragraph and try to use the bottom panel on a page to catapult the reader to the top of the next one. Similarly, when a reader turns a page in a physical comic book, I try to have a “reveal” on the page that’s uncovered. My essay about writing Spider-Man: Frost, can be found on the Writing page of my website, www.davidmorrell.net. The essay includes script pages and matching illustrations from artist Klaus Janson and colorist Steve Buccellatto.

MB: If you were given the opportunity, which comic series would you write next?

DM: Probably Batman, because of the psychological implication of caves and bats. He’s a DC character, of course, but I think my contract with Marvel has expired.

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MB: Okay, no more comic-related questions. You are well-known to up-and-coming writers (100% of those I encounter, at least) as a person always willing to offer advice and support, always going above and beyond, such as with your involvement in the Borderlands Press boot camps. Why is it important to help those new to the business?

DM: A couple of reasons. One is that the writing world is contracting. It’s increasingly difficult for beginning writers to get established. I recall the writers who gave me generous advice at the start: William Tenn, Stirling Silliphant, Donald E. Westlake, Brian Garfield, and Lawrence Block, to name some. I also recall how grateful I was. They told me to pay it forward, so that’s what I do. The second reason is that I‘m by nature a teacher. I love sharing information and explaining, which might be another example of paying it forward.

MB: You are also often involved with wildlife rescue, and have a few stories you’ve shared in the past with the wildlife where you live. What first sparked this need to help other animals and why is so important we do so?

DM: I’ve always felt close to animals and nature. One of my most transformative experiences involved living in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming for 33 days as a member of a Wilderness Expedition course through the National Outdoor Leadership School. That was research for my novel, Testament. I’ve always had my home in small communities with easy access to the countryside. I’m a gardener, especially when it comes to vegetables (and in New Mexico, that’s a task). I see my world as if it’s a Van Gogh painting with the universe’s spirit swirling through everything. The wildlife rescues started four years ago. I live in Santa Fe, near the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. One day I stepped outside and found a mother bobcat with two kittens. She stared into my eyes as powerfully as I’ve ever been looked at. But she wasn’t threatening me. Young and weak, she was pleading for help. I don’t feed wildlife. But I did let her use a copse of trees near my house as a den. I never bothered her. She and the kittens were there every day. Then one night, I heard three shots and knew in my heart that a neighbor had killed her. She never came back. I learned about the New Mexico Wildlife Shelter, who sent someone to teach me how to capture the kittens. I took them to the shelter, learned about its worthy mission, and have supported it since then. Last summer, the director brought a sharp-shinned hawk in a cage. The hawk had been injured but was now healed. I kept the hawk for a day as it became used to the sound and look of my wooded neighborhood. Then I released it. The hawk came back many times after that. On one occasion, it perched on a rain barrel and looked through our kitchen window. For me, that’s like going to church.

MB: As a creator of heroes, what single piece of advice would you share?

DM: If you mean advice about writing, my mantras are, “Be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of another writer.” And “Don’t chase the market. You’ll always see its backside.” But the larger issue is the responsibility that comes with writing in genres that attract more readers than other types of writing. My work emphasizes action and suspense, but underneath there are embedded themes, and they go back to what I mentioned that I felt were the qualities of a superhero: fairness, selflessness, the belief in equality, the protection of the weak, etc. It’s no accident that I wrote three novels and three short stories about protective agents and that one of them is called The Protector.

* For additional writing advice, check out The Successful Novelist: A Lifetime of Lessons About Writing and Publishing, and also his Writing page at www.davidmorrell.net.

A BOUQUET OF FLOWERS

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“A Bouquet of Flowers” by Michael Bailey

You’ve written something. 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 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 “small choice poems or epigrams, by various authors.” A bouquet of the written word, in other words.

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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.

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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], 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.

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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.

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Some math: The average anthology runs 100,000 words, give or take. A pro-rate anthology offers five or 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 $5,000 to 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 $7,000 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 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?

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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. five or 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.”

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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.

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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.

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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 other media rights? Why would a publisher even need those? Are there plans for such things? Ask. If not, why are they in the contract? 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.

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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.