Bam! Wap! Zowie!

Cast your memory back a couple of yesteryears and you might recall I was eagerly anticipating the publication of my first stand-alone work. At long last, the wait is over! May I proudly present …

NB: Groovy cover imagery notwithstanding, this is a short story, not a novel. That said, it’s a fairly action-packed, cinematic short story if I do say so myself. And the asking price is a mere pittance at 99 cents.

Get your Kindle copy on Amazon, and thrill to the adventures of Snow Wolf, a hero who fights to save the world and finds the very planet more than willing and able to fight back on its own! It’s the classic conflict of Man Versus Nature with superpowers, monsters, metaphysical mysteries and geological disasters!

RED IN TOOTH AND CLAW – Available now from Phrenic Press!

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Committing to the bit

Today is the official release date for CARNIVAL OF FEAR, which means you can get the anthology on Kindle and start reading it immediately, or you can order the paperback and start reading it eventually, depending on your delivery preferences. I’m not here to judge.

Normally I wouldn’t post yet another bit of hype so soon after the pre-order announcement but I am making an exception here for two reasons. First, there is an orchestrated publicity blitz happening today to drum up enthusiasm in the book, and I am a team player and doing my part.

Secondly, this gives me a chance to shout out to one of my fellow contributors to the collection, Jackie Sonnenberg. Not only did she write a fantastic story about a creepy little clown puppet’s revenge, she has been hitting the convention circuit DRESSED IN FULL COSTUME AS BOTTONI THE PUPPET:

Definitely something I deemed worthy of sharing with the widest audience possible.

Stock up on your nightmare fuel! CARNIVAL OF FEAR!

Midway mayhem

Today is pre-order day for CARNIVAL OF FEAR!!!

I teased this a while ago with the promo image for my story, The Tangler, which is about a couple of high school sweethearts, one of whom doesn’t like scary rides but gets talked into getting on one anyway, which opens her eyes to a special kind of nefarious nightmare. The rest of the anthology involves a collection of clowns, sideshow freaks, deadly games and other tainted treats. A furiously frenzied funland of horror!

Get your pre-order in RIGHT HERE!!!

Once more into the SCA clubhouse

I devoted numerous posts (see thus and thus and thus) to my short story “The Lengths That He Would Go To” a couple years ago, when it was first published in the Eldritch Embraces anthology. There’s not a lot I can add to all of that, but if you never got around to picking up the book where the story first appeared, you may be pleased to know that as of today you can read the tale online – no strings attached! – in Iridium Magazine’s premiere issue.

I’m very pleased to have found a reprint home for the story with this particular publication. Per the mission statement on the site, the high concept of Iridium is to spotlight “intersectional genre fiction with a focus on QUILTBAG+ characters” – all very good things I can totally get behind! While I’m at it, I’ll go ahead and excerpt a longer passage from their About page:

We believe that to reconstruct the world, we must produce diverse genre fiction that never reduces characters down to their identity alone because people are more than labels. We believe that fiction should subvert power structures, empowering the disenfranchised, rather than exploit the oppressed. We believe that fiction should not only entertain, but provoke.

Word. I wish Iridium the best of luck, and hope that they are around for a good long while. Ideally I’ll submit more to them in the future! Please check them out, bookmark them, and if you enjoy what you find there spread the word!

Second-hand advice (4): Breeding contempt

Back in college, when I took an intro-level creative writing class, the professor offered a bit of insight which I think bears repeating: a writer’s goal should be to make the familiar strange, and make the strange familiar.

The back half of this really resonated with me at the time, because I’ve always been deeply embedded in the speculative genre end of things. It seemed to me that this was a useful yardstick for determining the appeal of any given science fiction or fantasy story outside of the most obsessive self-proclaimed devotees. Case in point: the Millennium Falcon. It’s a completely invented piece of futuristic transportation technology, a YT-1300F light freighter armed with laser cannons and capable of faster-than-light movement, all of which is so far outside the sphere of lived human experience that it is, by definition, not relatable. But it is also dirty, and gets made fun of for being ugly, and it has a tendency to break down at the most inopportune times, all of which is highly relatable. The point being, it’s all well and good to be imaginative in filling a story with never-before-seen people, places and things, which is in fact the draw of speculative fiction for most fans. But it also helps to provide some kind of recognizable facet of those fantastic elements.

Later, in another creative writing class, one of my fellow students submitted a story for workshopping which was about a superhero trying to solve a crime committed at a comic book convention. This was circa 1994 or 1995, long before the mainstreaming of those things. And on the one hand I understood where my fellow student was coming from, taking two different things he was interested in and mashing them up for maximum crazy. But to anyone not already well-versed in comic-con culture or superhero tropes, the story was borderline incomprehensible. And I thought back to my previous instructor’s advice and wished my fellow student had adhered to it, either using more familiar police procedural elements to dig into the weirdness of comic-cons, or a more accessible setting for a mutant powered protagonist.

That first writing professor wasn’t even talking about genre fiction when giving the advice, though. Her intention was to address frames of reference in realistic, literary fiction. A writer should be able to describe anything in such a way that the reader can make a connection. Whether writing autobiography from the perspective of an ethnic or religious minority, or writing historical fiction, or writing about the quirks of a highly specialized professional discipline, the ideas should not be so self-contained and self-referential that an outsider is baffled by them. In other words, the self-reflexive question a writer asks should not be “Can I or should I write about this subject? Will anyone else understand it?” but rather “How can I write about this subject so that everyone will understand it?”

The flip side took me a little longer to wrap my head around, but was probably the lesson I needed more. Everyone is at least passingly familiar with the old admonition to “write what you know”, but I’ve often felt as though that advice put me in an impossible situation. I am a cis-het white dude which means that my perspective on life is the default perspective of 95% of literature. I am American, and America has historically dominated pop culture, with a particular fixation on New York City, which was where my dad worked while he and my mom raised kids in nearby middle-class New Jersey. If I wrote exclusively about what I knew, I would be treading the same well-covered territory that countless other writers had gotten to first.

But that’s the trick, of course: write about what you know, but if what you know is overly familiar either due to true universality or popcult oversaturation, then make the familiar strange again. Write about it in a way that’s never been done before. Compare and contrast it to something less common, something not at all obvious.

And it’s important to note that this is good advice at both the micro and macro level. An entire novel about a boy and his dog had better have some fresh perspective to it to validate its own existence. But even a crazy pulpy story crossing over various subgenres can stumble by ignoring the suggestion even for a moment.

I am thinking of a specific novel I once read, which I’m not going to call out by name because (a) that’s not the point and (b) at the end of the day, whatever sins the author committed in writing the book, he still has multiple novels published compared to my zero, so dragging him by name would be highly petty. Still, I will always remember encountering one particular passage in the book where the protagonist fell overboard, sank underwater and had to swim safely to the surface. The author, in order to convey the time it took to reach the air above and also emphasize the physicality of the effort, described … swimming. In purely mechanical terms using very flat prose.

It bothered me for a couple of reasons. On one level I felt like it was an insult to my intelligence. I know how to swim, I know the coordination of limb movements entailed in the word ‘swim’ and I am reasonably sure that even someone who can’t swim understands what it means, so to be told explicitly that a swimming character raised an arm overhead and pulled it back through the water to create forward propulsion seemed condescending at best.

But on another level it struck me as a wasted opportunity, the blandest possible way to progress (or pad out) the narrative. Even if I had no idea how swimming worked, the rote description of it was still boring. It provided no character insight to the protagonist. It added nothing to the mood of the scene. It was the familiar remaining doggedly familiar. Different language, a strange yet well-deployed metaphor, a triggered ironic memory or an unexpected development, any of those could have elevated the material. It was just one paragraph out of an entire novel, but it’s the part that sticks out in my memory most prominently all the same.

Old stories never die

You might recall that when I ran down how the year 2017 treated me, writing-wise, I mentioned that I was pleased to have notched my first story reprint, and that I intended to continue the effort to get more of my work published anew.

Not even a month of 2018 has gone by, and I’ve succeeded in wildly outdoing my previous accomplishment, with three stories accepted as reprints! The Breaking Dawn, my take on Merlin in a setting far removed from Camelot, is going to make its next appearance in Re-Quest from Pole to Pole Publishing. The original anthology for which I pitched and wrote the story, King of Ages, was all about reincarnations of King Arthur’s court through human history, which gave my Merlin foray a bit of meta-context. Re-Quest will be a collection of quest narratives which are all reprints, and it will be interesting to see how my contribution holds up in that very different milieu.

Rendered By Her Deeds, a wicked and subversive fairy tale, was initially published in the Under a Dark Sign anthology and will be unleashed once again in Outposts of Beyond magazine from Alban Lake Publishing.

The Lengths That He Would Go To was first published a couple of years ago in Eldritch Embraces, the tagline for which was “Putting the Love Back in Lovecraft”, and my on-theme romance was a classic boy-meets-boy-possibly-interested-in-other-boy-who-summons-unholy-abomination-from-beyond yarn. It’s being reproduced in Iridium Magazine, a showcase for intersectional genre fiction.

The issue of Iridium for which I’m slated is due out in the next month or so, while Outposts of Beyond won’t be released until October, and the Re-Quest release is TBD, so check back regularly for more info on all of those!

All fun and games

Carnival of Fear is a horror anthology from Limitless Publishing, due out in April. It will contain 13 stories, each involving a carnival or circus (or sideshow) setting. And one of those stories is by me, a little ditty I’ve entitled “The Tangler”.

More info to come when the release date gets a little closer, but right now the anthology authors are all working on creating promo images for their individual stories. Here’s mine:

Click to enlarge to TERRIFYING proportions

I have never made any claim to being a brilliant graphic artist, and I’m not about to start now, but I like the way this turned out.