7 Steps I take Before Posting a Bad Review

image from openclipart.org by johnny_automatic


1. Wait a few days.  Sometimes the initial rage a book gives me fades.  Cooler heads prevail and some stuff that made me angry was subjective and not a reason to slam a book. 


2. Reread the summary.  Did the summary match what I read?  Sometimes I expect things from a book it didn’t deliver.  Was that me or was it the summary that made my perceptions not line up with reality? 


3. Check the genre.  I am looking for fantasy reads, preferably Urban Fantasy for an adult audience.  I spend a lot of time settling for Young Adult, Paranormal Romance and so on.  Sometimes what I hated is a genre standard, and I try not to hate on a book because it’s a romance with fantasy elements and I wanted the reverse.  


4. Look at what else the author published.  A book catalog sometimes puts a book in perspective and allows me to be kinder.


5.  Read another book by that author.  Sometimes I need to live in that writer’s style for over one book before I relate to what he or she is doing.


6. Read other people’s reviews.  Did someone else enjoy something I missed?  Was this book just not meant for me?  Others perspectives can help. 


7. I focus on what I liked about the book.  What kept me reading?  If I finished the work there must be some redeemable qualities, what drove me forward and is that more powerful than what annoyed me?


Tell me about your process.  Do you refrain from commenting on bad work?  Do you dive into a bad review without pause?  Do you try to be balanced or lean in to your personal views?  Tell me anything related book reviews or what you love/hate in books.

 

Looking for more posts about the reviews process?  Check out my personal blog where I wonder: “Does writing a bad review hurt me as a writer?”  Or read more with the North Alabama Writers’ Group with “Would You Rather?” a question on which kind of negative feedback you’d prefer to see.

If you’re looking for positive reviews try my Kindle Unlimited series.  So far I recommend the Secondborn Series and the Dragon Ridden Series.  Let me know if you have other thoughts or suggestions.  And as always, feel free to check out my Goodreads profile to see all the good and bad reviews.

Choosing Non-Violence in Writing

image from open clipart.org by studio_hades

I write all kinds of stories, but my favorite ones are where my character is presented with an opportunity for violence and rejects it.  It’s where my real life persona bleeds into my writing.  

 It’s difficult as a writer to create stories centered in nonviolence.  A death, fight, or even the threat of violence creates stakes in a work that keeps readers interested.  If no one is going to die or be harmed, then what drives investment?  

  1. Build interesting Characters.  Characters a reader wants to learn about benefit ALL works, but building a curiosity about “what will happen next” when a reader is confident the character is “safe” is crucial if you aren’t going to hold anyone’s life at gunpoint.  Readers have to invest because these your characters are funny, charming, quirky, intelligent, or determined.  
  2. Build Relationships.  Core to the soap opera genre is the “will they won’t they” “What will happen when Susie finds out?!” kind of drama. While soap operas also offer violence, often because serials have gone on soooo long, every relationship twist has been picked clean.  If you create deep complicated characters with established relationships, they you can hold interest with their interactions a long time, without ever threatening anyone’s life.
  3. Have a lot of characters.  People are social animals, and we like social interactions.  Instead of two main characters.  Have ten.  Let them have their own side plots, spread them out in your world.  Let them argue, separate, go their own ways and meet back up.  Conflicted goals and ideas can create a rat race to see who achieves their ends firsts.  Watch the “good people” get lost in less than moral means to their ends and the “bad people” gain humanity as they see all the harm created from theft x.  
  4. Add Mystery.  If people aren’t going around stabbing each other and shooting up schools, then there needs to be something else happening.  A quest, a pilgrimage, a strange ritual, or an action element that’s out of place.  Something curious or suspicious that makes readers wonder “what’s really going on?”
  5. Add Movement.  Violence is often equated with action, but it doesn’t have to be.  Dance, chases, cooking/cafes/restaurants/hotels all incorporate motion by design.  Giving the reader little actions to focus on 

November Open Calls for Submission Round Up

from openclipart.org by raseone

 

To be included in this issue markets must pay at least $.01 a word.  Some flat rates only pay that if writers stick to the minimum word count, and royalty pay = all bets are off.

Nov 11th

Speculative City:  open word count suggests nothing above 5,500 word count.  Looking for a speculative work using the theme “knowledge” has a preference for under represented characters within the genre but accepts all stories. responds in 90 days.  pays $20-$75

Shooter: 2,000-7,500 words the theme is rivalry “Send us stories, essays, reported narratives and poetry on anything to do with competition, antagonism, warring forces and individual foes. The context might be sports, business, romance, politics, survival; the characters might be students, frenemies, parents, current and former lovers, courtroom opponents. As ever, the theme is open to wide interpretation.” pay $25 a story

Nove 12th

Pseudopod: 1,500-6,000 words “We’re looking for horror: dark, weird fiction. We run the spectrum from grim realism or crime drama, to magic-realism, to blatantly supernatural dark fantasy. We publish highly literary stories reminiscent of Poe or Lovecraft as well as vulgar shock-value pulp fiction.” pay is $.06 a word

Nov 14th 

One Story: 3,000-8,000 words looking for literary fiction that stands on it’s own. 3 month response time. pay $500 and 25 contributor copies

Bikes in Space, the Non Binary Edition: 500-8,000 words on bikes in space scifi/fantasy genre with author and characters with non binary gender expression pay is at least $30 with 5 contributor copies

Nov 15th 

Lamplight: up to 7,000 words “dark fiction, both short stories and flash fiction. We want your best. But then, doesn’t everyone? No specific sub-genres or themes, just good stories. For inspiration, we suggest “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits”” pay is $.03 a word

Gehenna& Hinnom Books: 250-3,000 for flash and 3,001-5,000 word short story “We are looking for stories that fit the themes of Weird Fiction and Cosmic Horror. Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy are all welcomed, as long as they fit in the realms of Weird and Cosmic. All stories must also be speculative in some way. What we mean by this is that we don’t want stories based in realism.pay is $45 for flash and $55 for short story

Apparition: up to 1,000 words on the theme security pay is $5 flat rate

Nov 16th

Nothing’s Sacred3,000 words max “The horror within can range from subtle to grotesque, psychological to physical, dark to full out terror so long as it is character driven. Theme wise, Nothing’s Sacred is relatively open outside of distasteful stories of rape, the degradation and/or humiliation of women, and child porn of any kind.”pay is $.05 a word and accepting the magazine’s hypocritical title

Nov 25th

Moonlit Dreams/ Moonlit Nightmare: 1,500-10,000 words “short stories that explore the nature of the psyche, the world (or worlds) around us, and that speaks in some way to the theme presented. Stories should be well crafted and flushed out, having elements of a great story that could be told for generations to come. Including such things as romance, intrigue, comedy or drama are all par for the course as far as I’m concerned – the key is to write a story that lingers both in your heart and mind by the time the last page is turned.” pay is $.01 a word

Nov 30th

Mickey Finn 20th Century Noir: about 5,000 words under 3,000 is probably too short and over 8,000 will be too long “An annual anthology of hardboiled and noir crime fiction to be released each fall beginning in 2020, Mickey Finnwill pick up where the three-volume Fedora anthology series left off, pushing hard against the boundaries of crime fiction. Contributors will be encouraged to push their work into places short crime fiction doesn’t often go, into a world where the mean streets seem gentrified by comparison and happy endings are the exception rather than the rule.” won’t hear back to Feb 2019 pay is royalties 

The Twelfth Planet Press: 17,000-40,000 words “We want gritty pieces that challenge the system and punch the patriarchy in the face. We want stories that resist and rebel… and maybe also books that comfort & inspire. For when things are bad out there in the world. We are looking for books that feed the angry soul.” pay is $300 plus royalties

Third Point Press: up to 3,500 words no theme or genre guidelines pay $10 and a copy

Moonlight a Queer Werewolf Anthology: 1,000-2,000 words “Whether your werewolves are in space, school, or ruffing it in the outdoors, it doesn’t matter to us! We are looking for stories that span genres and tones. Your werewolves may be moody or the life of the party. All that matters is that they are openly queer and that there is an engaging story around them to be told.” pay is $.07 a word

Crannog: under 2,000 words no genre or guidelines pay is $50 per story

Apparition: 1,000-5,000 words on the theme of resistance “Apparition Lit is seeking original, unpublished speculative fiction that meet our quarterly theme. Speculative fiction is weird, almost unclassifiable. It’s fantasy, sci-fi, horror, and literary. We want it all. Send us your strange, misshapen stories.” pay is $.03 a word

Podcastle: up to 6,000 words “looking for fantasy stories. We’re open to all the sub-genres of fantasy, from magical realism to urban fantasy to slipstream to high fantasy, and everything in between. Fantastical or non-real content should be meaningful to the story.” pay is $.06 a word

Nov 31st

Martian Migraine Press Monstrous Outlines: 1,500-7,000 words “an anthology of horror and weird fiction with a focus on the theme of camouflage: people, entities, monsters, gods, even concepts, that masquerade as things other than themselves. Predators in plain sight, deities on their down time, sublime extra-dimensional terrors slumming in 4D. We want to see stories of exceptionally well done camouflage, all the more baffling and frightening for its seamless nature. We want to see stories of seeming where the hidden thing is poorly hidden for a number of reasons: perhaps there are layers to its camouflage, or perhaps it doesn’t care how well it hides. Imagine the moment when the perfectly hidden thing reveals itself. When the poorly hidden thing reveals itself. We’re also interested in duplicates, doppelgangers, and shapeshifters.” pay is $.03 a word

Dec 1st

Remnants: word count varies a post apocalypse shared world story/series go to the site for details.  Pay: royalties

2100 A Health Odyssey: “give us your best 3,000-word short story that challenges today’s assumptions about the future of health care in the U.S. We’re offering a first prize of $10,000, second prize of $5,000 and other prizes for runners up and current employees, students and alumni of Jefferson.

Compelling Science Fiction: 1,000-10,000 words science fiction genre pay is $.06 a word

Deadman’s Tome: 4,000-7,000 word short story OR flash “Horror and dark fiction about demented psychopathic killers with a winter holiday setting” pay $10 plus royalties

 

 

Bells and Whistles: Fancy Grammar Editors for Writers

from openclipart.org by j4p4n

 


As I shared recently on my personal blog, grammar is the bane of my existence.  I’m so excited to tell the story or express my idea, that I never push pause and wonder if I’m structuring well. Then, I have comb through everything looking for missing letters, forgotten articles, passive voice, adverbs, missing commas, and the list goes on.

This is NOT a post about the weakest element of my writing (though my rambling could transform it to that in an instant).  Instead, I would like to present writers with some tools to combat the grammar demon.  After all Microsoft Word and Open Office’s tools, don’t catch most mistakes writers fear.  

ProWritingAid: Is hands down my favorite editing tool.  I use the “style” and “grammar/spelling” report the most and it helps me find all my major pitfalls.  There are over 20 reports a writer can comb through.  It allows me to hunt down overused words, pacing problems, and repetitive sentence structure.  When I’m “into” my story, I can spend days pouring through the reporting procedures making every element perfect.  And I walk away with the sense I improved my writing

Beyond the different reports, there are different evaluations for different writing.  I set my editor to ‘Creative’ on default, but you may prefer, “business”, “casual”, “web” or one of the other seven styles.

I use ProWritingAid in the web editor mode, but it has add ons that connect it to Mac, Scrivener, Word, and more.  I’ve been working with the software for a little over the year and there are major quality of life improvements with this software.  For example it doesn’t get rid of my bold, italic, or underlined text anymore when I copy and paste from one document t to another.  

ProWritingAid allows you to use their editor for 500 words or fewer for free.  To use the editor on longer works you must purchase.  They have many pricing options and it’s affordable (less so than when I bought in but still WORTH IT).  

Grammarly: This was the hottest grammar software on the market three years ago when I first poked around in the blogging world.  I was convinced this thing would 100% make all the right corrections, and I was disappointed.  A fellow writers’ group member, Ashley Saunders, (who is an expert on all syntax and structure) pointed out how much the software missed in my writing.  She complained my “edited” draft still read like a rough draft.

Because I was so disappointed with the free services of Grammarly, I never investigated if the paid version provided better corrections.  The pricing is more reasonable now than it was then.  It may be worth consideration.  Still, ProWritingAid offers more evaluation tools.  For a writer looking to make their work the best and not just grammatically sound, ProWritingAid exceeds Grammarly.

Hemingway App: An excellent free web app that offers writers insight into readability, adverbs, and passive voice.  I used to run everything through here.  Since I’ve worked with ProWritingAid a year, I’m convinced the software finds everything Hemmingway App does and makes more helpful suggestions on how to correct issues I’ve encountered.  Still, this a wonderful free app and perfect for an aspiring writer not ready to invest any money in a new editor.

Word Counter:  I haven’t played a lot with this online tool, but it’s an interesting cross between Grammarly, Hemmingway App and a word production app.  Their evaluations look interesting and the service is free.  They send me emails about twice a week and the topics are interesting.

Do you have a grammar editor of preference?  Am I missing the BEST one?  Have I over hyped one editor while downplaying another?  Talk to me, tell me more about the tools you use to make your writing everything it can be.

looking for more Writing tools Check out the First in the “Bells and Whistles”
series: applications that encourage writing.  Or check out “What’s In a Name?”  for name generating tools.

Best of “Kindle Unlimited” T. A. White “Dragon Ridden Chronicles”



Cover from goodreads.com

 

I am always skeptical when I pick up a book.  There are too many deceiving summaries and too many bad books with high reviews.  To make matters worse, I’m someone who has to finish a book once it’s started.  Because there are so many unpleasant tropes in high fantasy, the books are often long and lack resolution.  I HAVE to see things to the end, so I avoid reading them, even though I like fantasy.  

Despite all my hesitation, Dragon Ridden drew me in and left me charmed.  The first book is a perfect story.  Tate is loud, sassy, and smart.  I love following her around.  Her best traits: intelligence and suspicion are also the traits that get her most in trouble.  She’s inquisitive, loyal, and never gives up.

The world T. A. White depicts is familiar but different.  In many aspects, it reminds me of a scifi/fantasy crossover like Anne McCaffrey‘s Dragonriders of Pern.  Humans exist, but it divorces them from the history and geography of our world.  Also, there are other species we associate as “magical” that these works frame as science born.  Ancient lost technology and knowledge pepper the Dragon Ridden series and speaks to the inner seeker in all readers.

Can I gush “girl power” for a moment and just say how amazing it feels to read a strong female lead who doesn’t ooze femininity?  Tate is what I’d consider a “brawler” type character.  She lets her mouth run away with her and finds herself in fights.  Tate can’t take two steps without finding herself in some kind of trouble.  I love there is no moment where we have to hear about how Tate is “not ladylike” or where she’s “not like other women”.  The others tease her for what a trouble magnet she is, but that’s who she is not what her gender prescribes.

I love she never uses her “feminine wiles” to get information, sneak into places, or gain allies.  I love she never looks at a dive bar and thinks “I have to be careful cause I’m a girl and men are drunk and rape-y in there”.  I love she expects equal treatment from captains, kings, negotiating delegations, and barkeeps and they treat her the same as her male compatriots.  And all this happens without us ever enduring a scene about Tate being “unusual” for a woman “more level headed” or whatever that sets her apart and lets her be one of the guys.  T. A. White just writes her in as an equal and lets us enjoy that without feeling compelled to justify it.

To be fair, there are few other female characters surrounding Tate.  Their lack implies something “special” about Tate (at least in the human side other races have powerful female players).  But it’s so refreshing that no male character addresses how “improper” Tate is that I don’t care if other human women are more “traditional”.  The closest anyone comes to telling Tate to “fem it up” is when she’s going to formal events, they shove her in a dress.  Truthfully, I could do without the “women clothes are uncomfortable and restrictive” bit but when that’s the most bullshit your character gets for being a woman in what seems like a male dominated world, I’m in.  Aspiring writers, do you want to know what you do when you’re writing a female character in a man’s world?  Do this, don’t address it, act like her presence is normal and accepted.  Don’t make her some special snowflake we have to keep addressing in the narrative, just make everyone accept her without blinking.

Beyond world building and character building, the plot pacing in these stories is perfect.  There are not parts in any of these books I skimmed, looking to pull through to something interesting.  Everything T. A. White includes feels important to the narrative and engaging to the reader.  She often has multiple mysteries and sub plots going on in a single story and she adds red herrings along with peppering character development in across the books. I read during my breaks at work, and this series became difficult to read during those times because I wanted to sit in the break room and keep reading.  It was one of those books I’d take home and read instead of coming home and writing as I’d planned.  

Even better than perfect pacing, each book comes to a conclusive ending.  While I tore through the series, it is because I wanted more delightful writing.  I couldn’t get enough of what T. A. White was doing, not because I NEEDED to know the ending.  For the record, the third book in the Dragon Ridden Chronicles has such a conclusive ending, I had to go online to see if there are plans for a fourth book.  Amazing news: T. A. White plans to write a 4th book!  

Take Aways from T. A. White’s Success:

1. Women have a place in “high fantasy” and you do not have to make them special or otherwise justify their presence.  Let male and female characters exist as they are without an exposition dump. (this applies to any “minority” character in any genre) 

2. Sprinkle in world and character building across the series.  I need not know everything all at once.

3. Give characters nicknames if they are catchy and encapsulate an element of the character.  This is the one series where giving the same character multiple names didn’t confuse me, and it worked because we all call the character one name and that nickname is based on their attributes.

4. Mix fantasy and scifi elements together.  Tech and magic are not exclusive.  

5. Write a complete story with a beginning, middle, and an ending.  Be confident in your characters and larger world building.  People will read more because they like what you wrote not because you left them on a cliffhanger.

Looking for other great Kindle Unlimited Series? Check out our earlier write up on Amy A. Bartol.

Wondering why Kindle Unlimited?  Check out my post: 7 Reasons I read Kindle Unlimited

For further discussion on reviews try our “Would you Rather…” post that asks writers to pick between two different kinds of negative reviews.  Or try Do Critical Reviews hurt me as a Writer?

Behind the Scenes: Writing “Halloween Spirit”

image from openclipart.org by bf5man

This post speaks to my personal writing process for “Halloween Spirit” and as such is contains spoilers for that work.  For a deeper understanding of the elements included or explained in this post please read my flash fiction (it’s short and free ^_^).

Zach Standfield challenged me to write a piece of flash fiction in August. One of the ideas I had was to create an elaborate detailed summoning rite that brought about the end of the world. The short work would focus on my strengths: lyric description and magic set in a modern world. It would avoid my weakness for action scenes and it side steps issues I have about over explaining or creating a finite conclusion.

I wrote two flash works for Zach (neither of which he’s seen) and they both took a grim turn resulting in the brutal murder of the female main character from outside forces she surrenders to. Waaaaay too close a metaphor for the suicidal tendencies slipping into my own head because I’m not handling stress well at work. For the record, I’m not contemplating a plan to end my life, it would be stupid to take a permanent solution for a fleeting problem. But the stress from ongoing conflicts at work is leading me to think “it would be much easier if I wasn’t around” and that was coming through too literally in my writing.

I shelved the third flash idea since I didn’t want it to morph into a 30 something female woman sacrificing herself on the boardroom floor, using the energy of her death to open a hell dimension that forces the people who mistreated her their to suffer for eternity.

Then, I had an idea for our blog. Each of us should write a Halloween themed flash for our blog. Awesome idea, except I suck at short stories and had no idea what I would write.

I thought maybe I’d lean into my fae angle and do a “Wild Hunt” style thing, but “The Most Dangerous Game” already exists. Plus, the idea took over 1,000 words to explore. If I wanted to do something new/interesting, it would take more than 1,000 words.

Next I thought “what’s my thing in the writers’ group?” My literary device is some kind of magic. This reminded me of the summoning story I‘d planned for Zach’s challenge. The problem: no Halloween tie in. So I changed the summons and instead of focusing on a cinematic summoning ritual, I focused on the holiday and hidden darkness that lingers in the fall. I played on the “Wicca” God and Goddess creation myth where the Goddess Births the God, they become lovers, and he dies on Samhain, to be birthed out again in the following Yule. I tossed in two cult classic “Wicker Man” (1973) references to hearken the reader back to a certain time and tone.

For birds gathering, I chose crows over ravens primarily to reference the figure “The Crow” (1994) and foreshadow the death elements. Also, crow mythology pegs the creatures as watchful, resourceful and often tricksters… all elements I wanted to elicit in my story. I thought about using Ravens in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, but those birds are larger, live in only specific regions, and mythologically relate back to winter.

I wrote the first 600 words in one afternoon and would have finished, but I had to stop and go to work. I reread/edited what I had so far and finished the first draft four days later. Ran everything through ProWritingAid and posted to Google Docs for the Writers’ Group to Critique. I read it out loud one last time and added it to our queue for publication.

While the creation process was painless, I’m torn on whether I like the final product. There are great single lines and ideas, but the word limit combined with the time constraint kept me from digging in to find a perfect moment. I usually only consider works done after months of review and reflection, so I figure in six months time, I’ll know what would make this story engaging.

 

Interested in reading more from Jessica Donegan?  Check out the NEWG bliz round robin exercise here with Jessica’s ending available here

Looking for more spooky stories, please consider Christopher M. Palmer’s work “The Ghost Strikes at Midnight

Halloween Spirit

Continuing the challenge from writers’ group to write a spooky Halloween flash fiction (under 1,000 words) story.  I couldn’t leave Christopher M. Palmer to have all the fun ^_^

-Jessica Donegan

from openclipart.org by j4p4n

It’s too early to feel the chill in the air or to see the leaves burn, but the cloaked figures know it’s the perfect time to prepare. As the grain rolls into the full harvest and man rests in his power, they pick the perfect location: an abandoned lot. Was it once a Circuit City? No one remembers, technology’s wheel spins far faster than the natural turn of time.

 

Vague chalk markings and a quick chant bless the hollowed building. This is the chosen vessel. Common elements like graveyard dirt, salt, and water charge the structure.  A shadow of intention settles.

 

Weeks pass, mundane as all those before them. Do more crows rest in the lot? Who can say?  Even if the sky shadows with dark wings, what does it matter? Anything is better than those fat pigeons with dull eyes. Perhaps rust colored markings grow in the parking lot, but isn’t that part of the lot’s decay? If the strange shapes look like markings, they must be a construction crew’s notes. Wouldn’t it be nice if the city did something with this eyesore before the building collapses in on itself and becomes dangerous to the locals? The strange script must mean revitalization.  

 

Days grow darker. Mid September arrives unnoticed by the masses. The back-to-school frenzy distracts, and then it’s a matter of settling into their new normal. Familiar change pulls everyone toward the quiet peace that settles in most homes until Thanksgiving. If anyone watched the shadows grow in the old lot, they’ve forgotten it in their rush.  Those contractors never acted on the strange red scrawled notes. No demolition or construction came to fruition. The effort stalled. Are they tied up with the inspectors?

 

It’s a shame we won’t see the new building before Christmas. Who was hoping for a custom sporting goods store or a boutique that showcased their style or a toy store for the kids? All pointless pondering: it will not happen in time for Christmas this year.  

 

The cloaks smile, in growing twilight. Crows cawing drown out the chink as they cut chained doors. They slip inside the building. Cobwebs scrawl their own spells across the rafters. Rats scurry, but they’ve already feasted on poisoned bait. No point to bring in hunters when time will do the work.

 

They bring the salt and water from before, reinforcing the foundation, but it’s time to add spirit to their intent. Passion, movement. Sage smudges burn in each of their hands. The cobwebs shrivel in the heat and the coven laughs. The chanting rises, relentless. Fluid movements of the group become harsh choppy waves. They part and flood the old shopping aisles. Blood runs free as the group scratches and scrambles for those last moments of life. Sacrifice is necessary, they will die, but not alone. The building fills with endings. First the failure of some long defunct chain, and now the organic viscera of blood. Sage ashes float across the floor like restless dust bunnies. Energy builds boiling: the wicker man will rise.  

 

Bright banners adorn the re-purposed building. Orange as the dying sun and the dark smoke of the reaper rise in the public’s perceptions. Smiles of the young at heart curve across the mass’ faces as they drive by a once abandoned lot. Frowns fill frumpy prudish faces.  

 

A Halloween store,” they think, “it’s the fleeting fancy we needed.”

 

And Halloween Spirit reaches out to embrace the masses. A waving ghoul extends its arms by the entry. Tall air blown dragons hold fire in their eyes as their wings flap with impressive mechanizations. Ghouls drag plastic carcasses across the floor, startling inattentive adults and terrifying little children. Movie characters of the moment peel manic, terrifying laughter. It leaves no pop culture reference of the moment unmined. A spectacle of capitalism as much as love of the holiday.

 

Pimpled disinterested teens staff registers. When they aren’t too busy watching their phones, they make jokes at the expense of their clients. Don’t these people know Halloween isn‘t for sale? It’s a time of pranks, mayhem, and fear. A $90 costume won‘t make the experience. Fools, all the casual shoppers.  

 

But they invoke the Spirit and it sits with an arcane sentience. Watching its patrons and worshipers alike. Disguised as a common retail front, it plants seeds in all is customers.  

 

As the moon rises luminous and night takes hold, the cloaks gather one last time. Fire cleanses their summoning as they wail and dance. Tearing clothes, pulling hair, and shredding skin. The end arrives and they embrace the darkness as the embers burn out. Autumn is a natural conclusion, like old age.  Their Elder God demands humanity pay its price each year.

 

The uninformed populace laughs and goes door-to-door gathering treats.  Older revelers pose at the bar in full Hallow’s Eve regalia. For some unfortunate few, those who fell to the siren’s call of a certain store front, their soul will be stolen away tonight. Smile wide and drink deep from life because in the twilight sits every man’s end. Death, like Damocles’ sword dangles.  In this end, those few costumed in an unknown deadly contract will see the truest face of All Hallows Eve.




 

The Ghost Strikes At Midnight

At one of the recent writer’s group meetings, we decided that everyone should write a flash-fiction length (under 1,000 words), scary story for the month of October. Here is mine.

-Christopher M. Palmer

Every Halloween, the neighborhood tradition was for the older kids to stay out after dark to play “The Ghost Strikes at Midnight,” a version of hide and seek. Abigail Richmond wanted to play every year, but her parents arranged for her older sister to bring her home after trick-or-treating, saying she wasn’t old enough to stay out and play in the dark with the other kids. This year, she was seven and Halloween was on a Friday, not a school night, and her dad convinced her mom that it would fine as long as she didn’t get scared.

Abigail wasn’t scared of anything. She was the first to volunteer in class, she loved to perform, she wasn’t even afraid of the dark or of scary movies and TV shows, not that she’d seen that many of them—her parents were rather strict with her TV viewing. Her sister, Penny, and her friend, Renee, had teased her all week about how scary it was to play in the dark. “You’ll get so scared, you’ll be the first one the ghost finds because you’ll be peeing your pants and running home to mommy,” Renee told her.

“You’ll see,” was Abigail’s response.

She had already picked out her first hiding spot: behind the loose latticework under the porch of the deserted, dilapidated, and spooky-as-all-get-out Lindholm house. She’d spied it out after school three days before, first checking that no one was watching her approach the house. They had been warned to stay away from it, but also she didn’t want anyone to find her hiding place. She thought it might be be dirty and icky under the porch, but the soil was dry and packed down hard. There were a just few beer cans and cigarette butts, and a couple of cobwebs she swept away with her hand. She wasn’t afraid of spiders, either, she just didn’t want them in her hair. She was sure that no one would think to look under the Lindholm house’s porch, since many of the kids said the house was haunted and dared each other to enter the yard to touch the side of it.

She hoped she didn’t get picked to be the ghost, because hunting was not as much fun as hiding, but since she was the youngest, she doubted that would happen. Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe seemed random enough, but kids always threw in a few extra phrases if they didn’t want to pick someone.

Abigail was so excited to be playing with the big kids, trick-or-treating was almost perfunctorily rushed through. She only wanted to hit the few houses that gave out the best candy every year and, by the time the sun fully set, she was ready to drop her plastic pumpkin full of candy off at the house and ditch her plastic dinosaur mask — she was not happy with her store-bought costume this year, but it didn’t really matter, the green dinosaur suit would be hard to see in the dark. She grabbed a couple of candy bars and ran out the door and up to Caleb’s house, where all the kids would be meeting.

“Who’s the baby?” Caleb asked, knowing good and well who she was.

“Shut up, Caleb,” Abigail retorted. He just laughed.

They finally started the game at eight thirty. It was a perfect Halloween night, crisp as a tart apple, with a light wind stirring the fallen leaves. As Abigail suspected, when she was about to be picked as the ghost, Caleb threw in another “old dirty dishrag” and the clenched fist bumped on Penny to be the first ghost. The game was about to start!

Her sister wasted no time in starting the count. She yelled, “It’s noon!” Then quieter, and in a spooky voice, she said, “The ghost strikes at midnight.”

The kids scattered, most of them had already figured out where to hide. Abigail ran behind a row of bushes to get out sight quickly. The limits were Oak Street to one side and Chestnut Street to the other. Anywhere on the two cross avenues, Morgan and Cameron, was fair game. With such a large area, Penny played fair and counted slowly. Abigail was on the backside of the house next door before she heard, “It’s one o’clock!” followed by the fainter promise of the striking of the ghost.

Abigail wanted to win so badly, she didn’t want anyone to see where she hid. She waited in the bushes until Zach and Jess passed by. She saw Ashley hide behind the shrubs beside the Johnson’s back shed. She wouldn’t be able to see the Lindholm house from there. The coast was clear and it was already seven pm according to Penny’s chant. Abigail ran into the shadowy yard of the Lindholm house, pulled the latticework skirting aside, and slid into the darkness under the porch, pulling the lattice back in place. Safe and hidden and no one saw her.

Faintly, she heard the last count, “It’s MIDNIGHT! THE GHOST STRIKES AT MIDNIGHT!” Penny yelled. Abigail giggled to herself, certain that she would impress everyone with her bravery and her skill at hiding.

Penny found Lionel right away. He had a crush on Penny and probably wanted to be found. He tagged along as the Penny the Ghost searched for the rest of the neighborhood kids.

Next was Patrick and then one by one, they all fell to the searching of the ghost and her minions. Penny looked anxious the one or two times she’d passed in front of the Lindholm house. Abigail had to be nearly the last one left and she smiled thinking that Penny was actually worried about her.

“I’m going to win,” she said to herself in a soft voice.

“Yes, you are.” A damp, gritty hand closed around the lower half of her face. “No one is ever going to find you.”

October Call for Submission Round Up

It’s that time of the month again!  The time I round up all the open calls for submission I can find.  This time around I took a queue from Chris’ post on Dragon Con and only added calls where the writer is paid at least $.01 a word.  Until I looked for it, I didn’t realize how little some of these venues pay.

Oct 15th

Shifters United: 20,000-35,000 words on urban fantasy involving shape shifters ideally non-traditional variety pay is a royalty structure

Oct 24th

NonBinary Review: up to 5,000 words that have a clear connection to Dante’s Inferno could be the themes or the characters or setting.  pays $.01/word

Oct 31st

Heroes of the Apocalypse: 5,000-15,000 words with stories of “end of the world” author’s choice of how the end happens but the heroes must fight against the end of the world.  pay is royalty based.

Our Loss Anthology: up to 8,000 words on loss/pain looking for a creative way to incorporate the theme pay is a profit sharing thingy

The Realm of British Folklore: There doesn’t appear to be any word count but he is looking for British Folklore theme.  No specification on traditional vs more modern settings.  Pays $.01/word

Barking Sycamore: up to 1,000 words creative unthemed issue that appreciates neuroscience diversity, queer, or poc characters. pays $.01 word

PseudoPod: 1,500-6,000 words looking for horror, dark, or weird fiction pays $.06/word 

Nov 1st

Spring Song Press: 1,000-10,000 words “Steam and Laces Steampunk anthology” fantasy speculative fiction.  Pays $.01/word

Millhaven Tales: 2,000-8,000 words winter guidelines are action/adventure/western payment is a royalty based scenario 

The First Line: 300-5,00 words “As we trudged down the alley, Cenessa saw a small ___________” pays $25-$50

Concrete Dreams: 5,000-10,000 words on urban/modern fantasy is a kickstart campaign with a poorly laid out website (which is why I linked to HorrorTree instead of their junk site) but they plan to pay $.04/word

Unlocking the Magic: 3,000-6,000 words in the fantasy genre (no scifi) Looking for the common stereo type of the mentally ill person being susceptible to magic, but using self care to enhance instead of threaten their abilities. A healthy look at how magic/religion/ceremony can play with mentally ill pay is $300/story

All About that Genre, that Genre, that Genre

image from open clipart.org by SteveLambert


When I queried agents over my novel Follow Me: Tatter Veils, I got one personal rejection.  The agent (and I apologize as I can’t find the email to name him) told me a major stumbling block I might encounter in pitching my novel is that I suggested it for multiple genres.

My mind makes connections.  If someone followed my thought process, it’s like one of those mind maps except almost everything connections to each other some way.  In all my work pulling together this massive 75,000 word work, I’d never thought opening it up as a genre crossover would limit my ability to market.

Since then, I describe Follow Me: Tattered Veils as an Urban Fantasy. It fits considering the book happens in present day world and introduces magical/mythic elements into an otherwise mundane setting.

Except, it also doesn’t fit.  Follow Me: Tattered Veils is at its heart a book about obsession and stalking.  The protagonist, Roxi, is living her daily life when Gerry, an ancient unpredictable fae being, deigns to take notice of her.  From there, it’s a cat-and-mouse game of near brushes and tense attempts from Gerry to lure Roxi into his world.  The novel culminates in a chase through faery land where Roxi must either save her friends and escape this dangerous world or surrender her autonomy to Gerry.   

Could be Magical Realism.  I use the concept of fae glamour to make these otherworldly beings hide in plain sight.  I suggest this idea of two realities, the one we know and this other layer waiting underneath that Gerry, Roxi, and others work with.  It isn’t the traditional secret society type deal, more like an alternative experience of reality.

But, I think Magical Realism has more magic integrated that’s just a shoulder shrug.  Everyone knows about it, accepts it, and moves on.  My magic systems imply they are real like Christianity and like Christianity, few people have or seek a genuine experience.

My colleague Lionel Green, suggested the back was “terrifying” and he read straight through that part “non stop”.  It makes me wonder, is my work horror?  There are both the real world and fantasy elements of the book that are horrifying.  

In my heart, the book is a lot more about how a woman experiences the male gaze.  In that way, I think Follow Me: Tattered Veils might be women’s fiction.  The men who have read the book suggest that they “enjoyed reading it.  Good on its own, but I’d never buy this book based on the description.”  Does this feedback mean I’m marketing the book badly for both genders or is the work intended for a female audience? 

This sort of bullshit was why I wanted an agent.  Don’t they help you find and speak to an audience?  What do they do?  Because I had the idea, wrote it, edited it, and submitted it. So I’m just wondering when someone else comes in to help or if publishing is a solo journey.    

Alas, I need to choose the genre too.  Is there any part of publishing that isn’t a struggle?

Does anyone else have trouble identifying their genre?  Do you think being in the right genre is core to success?  Have you written anything that someone has labeled a cross over?

What about summarizing long works or picking which elements are most paramount?  I am so invested in Follow Me: Tattered Veils, sometimes it’s hard for me to know what’s important.  Any tips or tricks?  Do I Google search what’s hot and sell it that way?