Against All Odds

Strip away everything external, and the act of writing becomes profoundly physical. What's more intimate than expressing the hidden self upon a surface, transforming it in the process? Ten writers explore the erotic possibilities of the written word, from a typewriter that awakens ghosts of desire to a woman whose skin holds the stories of her lovers.

Against all odds, The Flesh Made Word will be coming out early next month. Probably May 5th, as long as the proof that comes back from the printer has no massive problems. Have I announced the Table of Contents before? I think I must have, but this has been such a long, drawn out project that I forget where. Facebook, perhaps? Who can find anything on facebook after a week's gone by? Here it is, set in stone-like pixels:

All the Spaces In-Between by A.C. Wise

Amanuensis by A. B. Eyers

Intrinsic Pleasures or, Twilight in the Bookstore by Andrea Zanin

Rival Pens by Benji Bright

Words are a Dangerous Thing by Trish DeVene

New Year's Sun by Nadine Wilmot

The Prophet Scroll by Delilah Bell

For All to See by Kannan Feng

Paper Skin by Sasha Payne

Compitalia by Sunny Moraine

Today's mini-exerpt is from A.C. Wise's "All the Spaces In-Between."

~ ~ ~

The typewriter came to Leon in the way all typewriters did, which is to say—of its own volition and in a way unlike any other.

But exactly like the others, every other stretching as far back as he could remember, it touched him first in dreams, reaching for him and pulling him into wakefulness.

Leon woke to a shaft of pale light lying across the too-large bed. The sound from his dream remained, a soft tap something like rain, but much more like the strike of keys. The taste of ink and a hint of metal coated his tongue.The room smelled of smoke, though he hadn’t burned so much as a candle in years.

His bones creaked as he rose, and his skin ached around them. Leon crept down the stairs.Typewriters flocked to him like strange birds, crowded every shelf and covered every available surface in his too-small shop. Grey light seeped through the windows and lay heavy atop the sorrow permeating the room. A glance flicker- quick took in each machine, everything in its right place. In silence, Leon greeted each by name, by the scent and flavor of their dreams.

Here, one tasted of mud and water. It had called him out of sleep with a siren song so terrible and wild he’d waded into the river to save it from drowning.There, one smelled of dry earth and vegetation just on the edge of rot. He’d found it in a corn field, watched over by a scarecrow, with a black feather stuck between its keys.

~ ~ ~

The Flesh Made Word will be available from Circlet Press in early May, in e-book and trade paperback, at the book retailer of your choice.


Clowns: The Kickstarter

Oh LiveJournal, how I neglect thee.

I last posted in August. In September, I started full time with a startup out of San Francisco. Still living on the east coast, but heading west regularly.

I've totally failed to mention here that, hey! look! We've got a Kickstarter going.

We're down to the last few days of the kickstarter. What are we doing? We're putting together an anthology of clown stories, slated to come out Halloween this year. We've reached our funding goal, but the more we reaise, the more stories we can include in the anthology.

We're also opening up for submissions for this anthology on May 1st and will be open until the 178th anniversary of the death of Joey the Clown, May 31st.

Anyway, come check out the kickstarter. Watch the video - you get to hear clown-themed music by Shriekback, watch a video created by Greg Bossert, and see me get a pie thrown in my face.

It's August, already. For fuck's sake.

July having been a whirlwind of activity, most of which involved (continues to involve) changes in the day jobbe. But which also involved an infiltration of Massachusetts by persons of the Mid-Atlantic persuasion for the purpose of attending Readercon.

Although not an official participant, I did end up on 2 panels - one being a Circlet Press group reading (wherein I read from my story in the upcoming erotic horror anthology, What Lies Beneath (which you should totally buy when it comes out - I share a TOC with A.C. Wise, Annabeth Leong, Lucy A. Snyder, Kaysee Renee Robichaud, and Kannan Feng). Sunny Moraine read from her story in the forthcoming anthology, The Flesh Made Word (which you should totally buy when it comes out - I edited it, and it has stories by A.C. Wise, Andrea Zanin, Sasha Payne, Trish DeVene, Benji Bright, Kannan Feng, Delilah Bell, Sunny Moraine, Nadine Wilmot, and A.B. Eyers).

The other panel was on Unlikely Cartography - turns out that half the authors from Unlikely Story's just-released Unlikely Cartography issue were going to be at Readercon, as were both of the editors. Despite being in the penultimate Sunday afternoon time slot, enough folks came out to hear what A.C. Wise, Carrie Cuinn, Sarah Pinsker, and Shira Lipkin had to say about maps to give us enough of a turnout that we didn't feel lonely in one of the large rooms.

In other news - it looks like Unlikely Story has been getting more exposure, evidenced in the volume of submissions. We just closed submissions for the next issue (Unlikely Entomology) yesterday, with nearly three times as many submissions as we've received for any issue in the past, and submissions for the issue after that (Unlikely Cryptography) have started off at a good clip.

So, the plans for this weekend are: clean the house; read slush. There's also yardwork for to be done, but Alas! rain threatens.

the best laid plans...

This weekend was supposed to be productive.

And we did get the new issue of Unlikely Story published, so that's a thing. That's productive, yes?


I was also supposed to accomplish: install an air conditioner; clean the gutters; powerwash the siding on the house; 5 loads of laundry; go to sword-fighting class; mow the lawn; get a long-overdue chapter written on a novel.

But something happened yesterday. A low pressure front? Existential angst? I dunno, but most of yesterday was a total wash. My bones ached, and I blew off class. I did get the air conditioner installed today (and in the process found a book that I'd promised to loan to a friend but then couldn't find). And the laundry is a little bit done?

And I got the issue done.

Which is what matters, in the end.

Some Half-Asleep Thoughts on Short Fiction Markets

Yes, it's noon already.

Yes, I just woke up.

In my inbox were some calls for submissions, some of which are non-paying. So I thought I'd share my thoughts on that.

I have had some experience with non-paying markets, from when I first started selling stories. At the time, the drive was to get things published, to get my work out where people would see it, and, being filled with self-doubts and hating receiving rejection letters, I sent my work out to places I thought had a high likelihood of not sending me a rejection letter. How did I determine this? I sent my work to online magazines that published stuff that was noticeably worse than my early work.

The tactic worked. The stories were published. One was even published before I was notified of acceptance. There was no editing.

Which is to say (to paraphrase Cerebus the Aardvark), sometimes you can get what you wanted, and still not be very happy.

They say you get what you pay for. As a writer, the same applies, with a twist: you will get what the publisher pays for. The non-paying market field is filled with people who look at e-zine publishing and think, hey, I can do that. Chances are, no, they can't. When I launched The Journal of Unlikely Entomology in 2011, I had no idea what I was doing. None of us did. BUT. We were committed to it, and there was money on the table. We were paying our authors and our artists. We weren't going to take a story that I wasn't willing to spend money on, and, having spent the money, we were dedicated to making sure it was as good as it could be before it went out into the world. Without having made an investment in the project, there is little incentive for the publisher to do the hard work of actually creating a valuable product, and most of the time, they don't.

And sadly (or perhaps fortunately, given the general lack of editing), even for the purpose of having your work where people will see and read it, getting published in non-paying markets often doesn't even provide that. What exactly is the readership of a non-paying zine? What value does having a short story out in a non-paying market have for me? None.

THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS, and your mileage may vary, as they say on teh Intarwebs.

In the literary/mainstream field, non-paying short fiction markets seem to be the rule rather than the exception, until you reach a certain level of notoriety, at which point you get paid well - very well, by genre standards.

There are, also, some conscientious editors out there putting together good zines, without the means to pay. Most of them, however, will find some way to pay at least a token amount - a couple bucks via paypal or something. If you're considering sending your work to a non-paying market, take a look at their recent offerings. What is the quality of the stories? What about editing - are there lots of typos, misspelled words, horrifying sentence constructions? What about the presentation? Impossible-to-read blood-red type on a black background? Background images that obfuscate the text? Look for a clean, professional presentation and stories that look like someone actually paid attention to editing them.

One gentleman of my acquaintance was working on a short story collection which he planned to self-publish, and sent a number of the stories out to non-paying markets simply for the ability to put "previously published in" in front of enough of the stories that his self-pubbed work would be seen as something by someone whose work has been vetted through a traditional editing/publishing process. I think that's a valid reason. I've seen his work - it's certainly good enough to get picked up by paying markets, but he was looking for a fast turnaround.

AND - probably most importantly - there are markets that exist as benefits. This is what I received in my email overnight. If there's a good reason to give away one's creative work, it's for the purpose of generating awareness of a worthy cause, and of generating revenue for that cause. Coming Together is an erotica imprint whose tagline is "Doing good while being bad. Erotic fiction to benefit charity." The email I received informed us that they will be starting calls soon for two new projects, one a science fiction themed anthology that benefits the International Still's Disease Foundation, and the other an ongoing line of Steampunk themed stories to benefit the National Math & Science Initiative. If you feel like doing good while being bad, either as a reader or a writer, check out their site to see their offerings and the charities they support, and to see what calls for submission are currently open.

A Quick Note About Cover Letters

This post applies to short fiction submissions. Things are a bit different when pitching novels, querying agents and whatnot.

Over the past three years, we've received a lot of submissions, and a lot of cover letters. After reading these, there's some things I want to say about them.

Let's get one thing straight right from the start: There is very little you can say in your cover letter that will improve your chances of having your story accepted.

This is an important thing to understand. For short story submissions, the cover letter exists to convey specific pieces of information that the editor wants to see. It is not a sales pitch. In the case of Unlikely Story, we want to see the following: your name; your story's title; the word count; if it's a reprint where and when it was first published. This is so that we can populate our spreadsheet when your submission comes in without having to first download your story, then open it in a Word or equivalent, just to find out the title or word count. We don't mind a short bio - one or maybe 2 sentences - simply because if we like your work, we may want to look to see what else you've done, if we have time for pleasure reading. If we've met somewhere, it doesn't hurt to include something like, "It was a pleasure meeting you at Balticon last year," or something like that. And that's it. Last month I met the editors of another online zine, and they said "we mark that field in the submission form optional because we don't want to see cover letters." Why? Because their online form already gathers all the info they need, and anything you say in addition to that is either of neutral value, or will actually harm your chances.

So here's an even baker's dozen of Don'ts when it comes to cover letters:

  1. Don't get the salutation wrong. That's disrespectful. Get the names right. Get the honorifics right. If you're unclear on what the right honorific is, use full names. Alternately, go generic. I typically use "Greetings," as my salutation, as it applies equally to junior and senior editors, and to slush readers. (There are some editors who dislike the generic salutation.)

  2. Don't only address the male editor(s). I can't tell you how often this happens.

  3. Don't be overly casual, unless you know the editor personally.

  4. Don't be rude.

  5. Don't be unprofessional.

  6. Don't NOT provide the specific information requested in the submission guidelines.

  7. Don't give us your complete multi-volume autobiography.

  8. Don't give us your complete bibliography of every story you've ever had published or self-published in the history of your complete autobiography.

  9. Don't I repeat DO NOT summarize your story in the cover letter. If we can't figure out what your story is about by reading your story, we probably don't want it; when you tell us in advance what to expect, we can no longer look at the story objectively, and it's points off.

  10. For the love of everything anyone has ever held sacred (including Pete), DO NOT tell us how we are going to feel about your story.

  11. Corollary to #10, don't tell us how your story is going to catapult our magazine to fame and glory.

  12. Don't tell us how stupid and blind to great art all the other editors who rejected your story in the past are, or even that it has been sent out before and been rejected.

  13. Don't ignore the posted submission guidelines for the market you are submitting to, even (especially) if they contradict anything I've said in this post.

There are a couple things that you CAN do:

  1. Include a brief bio of 1-2 sentences, mentioning the most prestigious markets you've sold to to date.

  2. Be comfortable with the fact that you haven't sold anything yet - as my karate instructor told me, long ago: "We all start at white belt." Being previously unpublished will not hurt your chances of selling a story. In fact, most editors are very happy when they get to be the first one to publish someone who shows real potential.

  3. Especially if you're a new writer, do not be shy about asking for feedback. (DON'T DO THIS IF YOU DO NOT RESPOND WELL TO FEEDBACK YOU DON'T LIKE!) You won't necessarily get feedback (and don't be offended if you don't - there are legitimate reasons why an editor might not provide feedback), but sometimes you will, and that advice can be invaluable. When I first started submitting work, I'd include something like, "As a relatively new writer trying to improve my craft, any feedback is appreciated." The first story I ever submitted was rejected with a couple lines of feedback, which helped me fix the story and sell it elsewhere; same happened with another story, which went on to become my first professional sale.

So, that's it. Now get back to writing!

And now for something completely different

It's supposed to snow tonight. It's like a fucking winter wonderland.

I might be happier about this whole gobs-of-ice-and-snow winter if I hadn't been combatting an array of maladies, meaning that shoveling is just one more thing to tire me out too much to brain effectively.

#include <grumpycatpic.h>

So, what's new? Well, if you've been following the Unlikely Story blogs, either on lj @ or wordpress @ (or on twitter, or G+, or possibly on facebook, though they've started to suck as far as actually communicating with people anymore), you'll have seen that Issue 8 (which is our 10th issue) is now available. This is our first Cryptography issue, and given the number of excellent stories we had to pass up due to budgetary constraints, I have high hopes for when this theme rolls around again next year.

What else is new? Well, some of you might know that a while back Circlet Press put out a call for an anthology called The Flesh Made Word, erotica about writing. The editing process got derailed for a few personal reasons, but we're now back on track and edits are in process. Working with Cecilia Tan at Circlet has been both interesting and educational. In every slush pile (and also in every critique group) there are always those maddening stories that are good, but something about them just doesn't sit right — that are missing something critical, but damned if you know what it is. Cecilia is brilliant at identifying those things, and I feel very lucky to have had the chance to participate in that process. Anyway, more news on that soon.

The Meat Man

So I wasn't home for this. I just heard it second-hand.

Today, the Meat Man came. He arrived in a van which was painted with pictures of meat. He and his partner were going door-to-door. He came to our door.

Lori answered.

"Hi," he said. "I'm from Delaware!"

"Excuse me?" Lori said.

"Oh, sorry," he said. "I'm from the Great State of Delaware!"

Lori saw the van at that point and said, "Oh, you're selling meat? Well, they're vegetarians here, so you're out of luck."

He laughed at that, but he didn't leave. Instead, he started to go into his spiel. At this point, Loki headbutted the back of Lori's knee and slipped past her, running at the Meat Man, barking wildly.

Lori said, "They're vegetarians, but she's not."

ice pellets? srsly?

It's pretty much exactly a week from when the ice storm started that took out power to 69% of everyone in Chester County, PA.

Our power went out last wednesday at 6am. Somewhere around 4pm, our neighbor's tree came down. 60 year old oak tree, just tipped over under the weight of the ice. Came down into our back yard, taking out the electrical cables. Pulled the telephone poles on either side of it toward it. ~snap~ Yeah, that. It was like dominos, breaking two more poles down the line from us.

Power was out for 4 days, coming back Saturday night. PECO showed up around 10am Saturday. The tree contractor guys arrived shortly thereafter. Tree guys spent five hours taking down the tree. Brutal work in 25 degree weather. The lead guy wore no gloves. His hands were bright red, and bleeding from multiple wounds. "I've gotta feel my work. I can't feel it through gloves."

PECO was in a holding pattern until the tree was cut away from the wires. I talked with those guys. They looked exhausted. Sixteen hour shifts. In this weather. One problem was that they didn't own the poles. Verizon did. So they couldn't actually fix the poles. Verizon had to. The guy shook his head. "Yeah, right," he said. "Maybe in a month or two." "After the next storm," one of the other guys said. So, they straightened the poles to the best of their ability, tied them off to trees so they wouldn't fall over, and got the wiring fixed.

Ten hours of work between two teams of workers. Multiply that by 750,000 homes without power.

Yeah, being without power for 4 days sucked, especially trying to keep a couple tropical animals alive in sub-freezing temps. But kudos to the guys who worked crazy shifts to get people back up as fast as possible. As painful as the experience was, I'm cognizant of the sheer scope of the disaster, and I'm impressed with how hard they worked to get people back online.

Tomorrow night, seems there's a nor'easter coming through. Initial reports called for snow all day Thursday. Weather Underground forecasts "ice pellets." Fucking hell. Like we need 24 hours of ice pellets.

I'm hoping that the trees that were going to come down have already come down. I'm going to pretend that last week's ice storm couldn't have weakened other trees. Maybe if I pretend hard enough...