Friday, 30 September 2016
There's nothing better than having your stories republished in a great venue that you're proud to appear in. I'm pleased to say that's happening to me now!
My near-future, grimy-black comedy story "Bad Copies" appears in Stories from the Near-Future.
You can pick up the paperback at Amazon: https://amzn.com/1945467010 - and Stories From the Near Future earns my respect and devotion by sending every contributor a hard-copy book (no longer a perk writers can count on)!
If you don't care about hard-copies - then you can get the e-book for $2.99 from Kindle or Amazon.
Kindle link: http://a.co/2XNgItb
Congratulations to editor Andrew McRae and all the writers published within the pages of this handsome book. Now...go order your very own copy.
Wednesday, 20 July 2016
Then, there's usually an additional wait for publication. Four months, eight months, a year. If you've been writing for a long time, you've undoubtedly experienced what it's like having a story accepted only to have the publication go under before they get around to publishing your story. Or paying you for it.
Monday, 11 April 2016
I have found writing these to be a wonderful way to creatively kickstart my brain and have written quite a number of the over the past few weeks. I expanded the definition a bit, writing a Double-Drabble. And here, making much ado about next-to-nothing, I am unveiling my epic Trilodrabble...
Fellowship is the Thing
When I was eleven, Uncle Bill gave me a ring. It left no black mark around my finger and had no gap at the back to accommodate my growing physique. It was real gold.
When I put that ring on, I became the opposite of invisible. My friends thought it was swank, and grown up jewelry turns girls on. I could do anything. So I never took it off – even when my finger started turning purple. Then black.
When the finger fell off, I threw it into a volcano in a desperate attempt to stop "the change" in its tracks.
The Two Flowers
The lava-spewing monstrosity was in a neighbor's yard, right beside a mountain of manure that had two flowers growing at the summit – incredible red flowers with stamen as yellow as the sun.
The girl I liked, Carrie, never looked at me anymore. So when I got down from the volcano, I decided I just had time before the school bus came, to pick her those flowers.
When I tried to give them to her, she told me I smelled like shit. And when I took off my shoes, she saw how big and hairy my feet are. Oh, well.
The Non-returnable King
A male charm bracelet, I thought. Why not! It would be the next big thing. Swank. Sexy! It could have soldiers and baseball players, grenades, dice, pistols, celebrity clitorises and a variety of balls. Gold, silver, precious stones. I even dreamed up a little gold Elvis Presley – jointed, with swingable hips.
I convinced some investors it would make us all rich. We stayed the course, kept hoping it would catch on. We waited and waited, before we finally lost our shirts.
Too late to change course, or make a new plan. The die were cast. The King's hips were frozen.
Acknowledgements: The idea of celebrity clitorises from Nick Cave's The Death of Bunny Munro.
Wednesday, 16 March 2016
I understand pretty much all of the arguments for e-books: ecological friendliness (Save a Tree!), lower costs, availability, accessibility, scalable type and so on. Good arguments.
But it's rare to hear anyone talk about the downsides. And oh, yes, there are downsides.
I understand that a lot of people read on their phones, and in fact, I see people doing it. But I simply cannot comprehend how someone could indulge in that activity for any extended length of time.
A cellphone has never struck me as an acceptable medium for reading fiction. Tweets and texts – fine. Most web sites are built to absorb in snippets. But chowing down on a 2000 or 3000 word essay – not so much. Even short stories lose continuity for me, as I zip from one screen to the next.
I am a reader who frequently flicks backward and forward; rereading passages to better appreciate something that comes later; doublechecking the names of characters to make sure they are who I think they are; reestablishing my place in the narrative; and so on. Poems and short stories are readable in that fashion, as long as they're not dependent on layout – but not novels. The centre cannot hold.
When the screen is tiny, there are far too many pages. It's easy to go too far or not far enough, and too hard to find my place again when I'm done my search. Reading Lord of the Rings or Moby Dick on a cellphone would be akin to listening to a song one bar at a time – which would suck the joy right out of it!
I've heard of people writing novels on their cellphones! Seriously? With those itty-bitty keyboards and my enormous thumbs, texting is a challenge. Maintaining a coherent narrative would be like painting the Sistine Chapel on playing cards (thus creating the world's largest and most unhelpful jigsaw puzzle – where every piece fits almost everywhere).
All of my problems are exacerbated if I'm connected to wi-fi or a network. The constant bleeps and whistles are complete concentration destroyers. Even if I'm unconnected, the telephone is a constant distraction. And God forbid the fucking thing should run out of power or spontaneously decide to install an update as I'm turning a page.
I've never measured, but I would guess that when I'm reading a hardcopy book, I read at least 20 full sized pages at a sitting. If I got through that many on a cellphone, it would be a minor miracle. And since it takes 12 cell phone pages to equal one real page, I would be clipping along at a rate of about a page per sitting. Anton Chekov stories would be mini-marathons. Game of Thrones? No, just no.
My reader experience doesn't improve that drastically with tablets. I've used small and large screens, dedicated readers and all-purpose androids. Each of them has different problems:
- If I don't read fast enough, the screen dims.
- If I move my hand, or touch the wrong spot on the screen, I turn pages I didn't intend to turn.
- Or I turn them too fast – a chapter at a time is not unheard of.
At first, I thought that once I got used to this, it would get easier. But I've now read dozens of books in e-pub format and I still don't like it. Yes, it's doable, and it's convenient and desirable in all the ways I mentioned in the first paragraph. But I still don't find e-pubs very reader friendly. The tech, the apps, the connections are all unreliable. And adding bells and whistles somehow makes the devices even less reader friendly.
Maybe if I had grown up reading for pleasure on electronic devices, it would be less annoying, more intuitive. Maybe. But in truth, it would also be more distracting. Video games, movies, socializing, gossiping, videos, animation – they're ALL easier than reading and far, far easier than writing.
The formats in which we digest our entertainment have always been dictated by available media, and I honestly believe this is the beginning of the end for all the literary forms we currently know and love. There will always be people who love different forms and seek them out. But once the tools for modifying "literature" are available, accessible and easier to use, I believe that fiction will become more interactive, multi-channel and multi-sensual.
The seeds of it are at websites like sub-Q Magazine. Hasn't caught on yet and probably won't for awhile. And what we see there is a long ways from whatever form it will ultimately assume. But what they're aiming for is fiction that is created specifically to consume online – an admirable and inevitable goal that might actually make reading onscreen enjoyable. Until then – well it is cheaper, and more convenient. Maybe I'll...hmmm.
Hurry up interactive fiction. Your time has come.
Friday, 11 March 2016
So the short story marketplace is becoming incredibly crowded and competitive. Other than being a great time to buy short story collections and anthologies – what does that say about the literary landscape?
Is it actually easier – or harder to get a novel published these days than a short story?
Well if we're talking big name publishers, it's almost certainly harder than ever before. Lots of publishers have gone under in the past fifteen years – unable to hold their own in a marketplace where people who can barely string a coherent sentence together suddenly have the power to make their dreams come true by self-publishing a book.
According to a 2002 NY Times article by Joseph Epstein, more than 80% of people in the U.S.A. believe they have a book in them and 80,000 books are published in America every year. Remember – this was 2002 – ten years before the self publishing boom. These days, every one of those 200 million people has the resources to self-publish their book.
You may have considered such a thing, or, like me, have actually gone there. If you have a few dollars to spend and can afford to pay for a good cover and cover design, your book can be indistinguishable from the masterpieces or the gripping thrillers or the intellectual tomes that you're positioning yourself against. But the public is slowly starting to catch on to the signs that separate self-published books from their more well-heeled competitors. Like the imprint. If something comes from Doubleday or Harper Collins or Simon and Schuster – that means it has not only appealed to a distinguished and experienced editor – but also gone through a rigorous editorial process (or as rigorous as it gets these days). These processes do not guarantee quality, but they at least promise that the book will come up to the minimum standard that all books once had to achieve before they saw the light of day.
Over the past few decades, the stigma of a self-published book has been enough to ensure that said authors are not taken seriously by the literati – the critics, other writers, bookstore buyers and so forth. Most self-published books suffer from "cheap design." Even if the author has gone out and consigned a wonderful work of art to grace the cover, and hired a professional copy editors to vet the prose – there are still tell-tale signs that give it away. Many of these books waste the beautiful cover image by embedding it within poor design – a badly chosen or overly familiar typeface – sized and coloured or poorly placed on the page; there may be a complete absence of design on the spine or back cover; badly laid out pages inside, with lack of margins or white space, hard to read or uninspired typeface or similar design problems. None of these problems fatal in and of themselves, but collectively they conspire to reveal the final product as "amateur."
And even if the book gets all those things right, it can give itself away in a multitude of other ways: lack of reputable blurbs on the cover or within the front or back pages; 100% five-star rave reviews online; and most obviously, an imprint that no one has ever heard of. A web search for the imprint reveals that they have published a total of five books – all by the same author.
A self-published book that doesn't display any of those obvious tells suggests an insider perspective. It's a sign that even if the book was self-published, the author knows books, understands marketing and has invested the time and effort to put out a professional looking product. This is also a clue that their book may be considerably better than most of the self-published work on the market (or not). The process can also work the other way – where a brilliant book is hidden behind layers of bad design and poor marketing choices…but I like to think, or at least hope, that the author involved in such a project stands at least some chance of getting discovered and building an audience for themselves.
As for the book-buying public – we're all on the lookout these days!
Which brings me to the trend that I was intending to talk about. The rise of the accidental small publisher.
Once an author has self-published a few books, they will likely make many of the above discoveries for themselves. Coming to realize how important design is in creating a professional looking product, they find and hire a good designer. They may bring some literate, unemployed friends on board as editors and start building a publishing infrastructure. And having done so, they discover that their books still stand out as self-published because there are no other authors on their imprint. If they network and belong to a writer's community, they may know other authors who are producing good work. By publishing their books (maybe with some personal investment from the writers involved), they can build a small stable of writers. They discover they can get the word out about their company and attract visitors to their website by publishing short story collections. This works better if they actually pay authors a nominal amount like a penny a word. Gradually, the website starts looking more and more legitimate and this begins to boost sales of their own titles. At that point, they probably just pay novelists commissions on sales on their books – which gives them a way of not only recouping their own investment, but bringing the writers back with more and better books. And then, some of these accidental publishers may come to the revelation that if they are willing to pay advances – on the novels as well as the short stories in the anthologies – and as little as a couple hundred dollars will distinguish them from 95% of the micro-publishers in the marketplace – they may be able to attract some truly outstanding writers. Because with the current state of publishing, there are hundreds of writers who would have (or actually have) been mid-list writers or better in the old regime. And they are grateful for any publisher who will pay them real money. Suddenly the new imprint is getting some respect and maybe even an award nomination or two.
From out of the ashes of the old publishing model – I can see more than a few of these publishers rising. Many will likely continue to grow and evolve, because they are not saddled by the same sort of infrastructure that "real" publishers have to deal with. They can write their own ticket. And in the process, they can provide a worthy home for some wonderful writers who were left wandering the wilderness with their poor tattered manuscripts.
Publishing is dead. Long live publishing.
Monday, 7 March 2016
When I finished writing my story, "They Fell Away," I was certain that it was one of the best things I've ever written. I remain confident in it - but for the sake of keeping it real and properly tempering my expectations - in the hope that it make the process of writing and submitting stories more bearable - I gave some thought to the actual odds of getting an acceptance whenever one sends out a story.
"They Fell Away" bounced last week from a one cent a word market called Hypnos. The respected bi-annual, semi-pro mag gave me a short personal response essentially saying that they had been discussing it and decided not to take it. At least they discussed it - which meant that more than one editor had most likely read it. This was at the top of a long "form" that they send out to everyone - explaining that they can't respond personally because they receiver over 900 submissions per month - which would put it at 5500 submissions per issue - and can accept no more than a few. At best, the usual odds are close to 1000 to one.
Monday, 22 February 2016
Having seen the movie, The Witch, over this past weekend - I was impressed by its evocation of the 17th century - especially its depiction of how our faith governed every aspect of our values, our perceptions and our approach to life.
With no real knowledge or access to knowledge, those early pioneers were awed by and afraid of everything. Imagination blossomed and flourished in that garden of ignorance. Not knowing what was possible and impossible - made everything possible, everything real.
The sum total of individual knowledge was contained within our minds and within the pages of the one book most people in the new world had any access to - the Holy Bible. Civilization gradually changed all that. A proliferation of books from a huge range of experts and gifted scribes constantly set new limits and defined the boundaries of possibility. Humanity's growing knowledge base gradually eroded the power of religiosity and ignorance and finally brought our imaginations into check: the fantastic became mere whimsy, monsters became metaphorical and we lost our fear along with our sense of wonder. Anything that went against accepted truth, or which seemed to be unprecedented – was regarded as suspect. We had the hubris to think, "How can any condition exist in the real world without having been documented by now?" We could indulge in fantasy with the certainty that it wasn't real. Spiritualism became a retreat for those bored and repressed by the suffocating weight of knowledge.
A similar restlessness, curiosity and yearning for the excitement of the unknown led us to seek out things we did not yet know for certain - to invent new challenges and try find new roads forward.
In the mid-20th century, science fiction gave our imaginations someplace to go that was largely ungoverned by our prejudices and our then-current knowledge. It egged the actual scientists to push harder and go further. In that way, speculation allowed us to open new doors and examine new possibilities. And to look again into the vast and mutable face of the unknown. The thrill seekers and adventurers among us quivered with joy.
And our knowledge-base kept on growing and growing and growing. The computer revolution at the end of the millennium made all history, literature, math, geography, science and speculation available to everyone. But the unstoppable onslaught of information forced us to develop and use filters. No human mind can contain more than snippets of the vast knowledge now available to us.
The next great flood does not involve water.
Knowledge is becoming our enemy - because we don't know what to do with it all - other than sift through it endlessly. Reduce it to the finest grains. We may glean nuggets of insight, which will seem like nothing measured against the knowledge we already have. But all it will leave behind is quicksand - absorbing everything without a trace.
No human can comprehend the singularity that is well and truly upon us. It's like trying to understand God or infinity. The vastness renders us insignificant, reveals us as pilgrims shivering and praying at the edge of the wilderness - clinging to our own stubborn truths because we dare not open our minds to what they cannot possibly comprehend.
The rejection of the unprecedented is our knee-jerk reaction to being thrust into an uncertain future. We retreat into the tried and true. We hole up in our little hovels, afraid to go out, because the woods are full of witches. We may even turn out to be witches.
As the father in The Witch might have said, "That's what comes of going beyond our station."
If we have mastered any one skill as a species, it is the skill of reductionism - of thinking small and taking one step at a time. So I wonder that we don't have a greater appreciation for the little things: the snippets of wisdom the eldest of us have gathered in our long lives that can help our children to move into the future, inspired rather than overwhelmed by the manifold possibilities.
There is a way forward - a place we can go where the old rules no longer apply. But once we go there, we will no longer be human.
People of my generation are the last refugees from the pre-information Age. Beyond here, anything is possible. Beyond here, our ignorance becomes evident once again. Beyond here, there be dragons.
Tuesday, 16 February 2016
Sunday, 31 January 2016
On the other hand, I still have a week left.