Sunday, 28 November 2010

York-based Spookiness 2010

If all goes to plan and the trains don't get snowed off, I will be spending next Saturday in The Minster Inn in York, drinking beer and swapping ghost stories with a group of fellow writers.  This is how I've passed the last three first-Saturdays-of-December, and I hope I get to do the same for a fair few more, because it's become one of the high points of my year.  I mean, beer, ghost stories, more beer ... it's hard to go wrong with a recipe like that.

It also means that I've had to write a new ghost story - otherwise what would I read?  So far, the results have been pretty positive.  In 2007, I read The Untold Ghost, which ended up as the editor's pick in Pill Hill Press's Haunted anthology,and in 2008 I went with The Burning Room, which should be out in Bull Spec next month.  Last year's story, Knock, Knock, is still looking for a home, but it's a strong tale and I've faith that it'll make it eventually.  Meanwhile, this year I'll be debuting a tale I put together last month and literally just finished the first redraft of, called Prisoner of Peace.  I'm really pleased with it, I think it might even be the best of the bunch, and it'll be interesting to see if anyone else likes it as much as I do.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately, I guess, depending on your perspective), I'll be trying to hold me own against some serious competition.  I'm not sure just who's going to be around for this one, but previous years have featured the likes of author / editor David Stuart Davies, the excellent Mark Valentine and my friend Mr Rafe McGregor, who introduced me to the whole thing, (and gets mentioned in this blog almost more than I do!)

So if you happen to be in the vicinity six days from now, around one in the afternoon, why not drop in and listen to a bunch of ghost stories?  Did I mention there's going to be beer?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Strive Critiqued at

I mentioned a few weeks back that I'd been approached by a student, named Heather Vann, who wanted permission to reprint my story Strive to be Happy, (originally published a couple of years ago in Flash Fiction Online), on the site so she could critique it as part of her course.  At the time I'd given my permission with a couple of stipulations, hadn't had a reply back from Heather, and wasn't sure if she planned to go ahead.

Though I never did hear back from Heather, I was pleased to find out from the owner of that she'd gone ahead with the article (weirdly, it was scheduled for the day after I finally got round to querying.)  The story, followed by Heather's commentary, can be found here.  In her opening sentence, Heather describes Strive as "a piece that manages to encompass the vast emotional roller coaster of the human psyche", so I guess it's safe to say she liked it.

It's deeply weird, though undeniably kind of nice, to have written something that affects people enough that they tell others how much they enjoyed it, or - more bizarre still - write essays about it.  It's also rare as hen's teeth in my experience, and I don't entirely know what it is about this one story that gets such a response.  After all, this isn't the first time something like this has happened.  Strive was also discussed at length last year by author David Erlewine at Five Star Literary Stories, and in the same year was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Flash Fiction Online editor Jake Freivald.  I even had someone approach me about adapting it into a short film, though unfortunately that was back in the days before I got my website e-mail forwarding set up and by the time, months later, that I replied, it was too late.  Still, pretty neat, huh?

Anyway, whatever I got right that's struck a chord with a few people, I'm definately glad, and hopefully one of these days I'll pull it off again.  Thanks to Heather and Randall Brown at for putting Strive to be Happy in front of more readers.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Glass Houses out in Theaker's #34

Hot on the tail of last week's publication in Encounters, I've just discovered that I've another story out - and sticking with the theme of the month, it's another shortish, slightly mad sci-fi tale.  Only this one is called Glass Houses, and the magazine is the always delectable Theaker's Quarterly Fiction.

I've made no secret of my fondness for Mr Theaker's eccentric magazine baby, it's odd as all hell and a labour of love in the best possible way.  One of the things I really admire about it is that each issue is a noticable step forward from the last, and issue 34 is no exception. For once, I've actually managed to get my hands on a copy before blogging about it, and it's definitely the finest TQF I've seen. 

First up, the cover is by Howard Watts, another TQF regular whose art - despite a knee-jerk resitance I have to computer generated imagery - I've come to seriously like.  Isn't it neat how that building in the background looks just like the Statue of Liberty until you actually concentrate on it?  The details in Howard's work - like those banks of poor, exposed trees - hint at whole cultures, whole worlds even, just waiting beyond the edges of the image, which has always been one of my favourite qualities in genre art.

Inside, you have a whole ton of fiction - including what might possibly (but hopefully won't be) the last published story by my semi-retired author friend Rafe McGregor - a quite staggering number of reviews, and a fair amount of editorial content from the always entertaining Mr Theaker himself.  At 156 pages, it's a particularly colossal issue.  And, all else aside, (and not counting the milliseconds of life it takes to download a copy), it's completely and utterly free.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Some Theories out in Encounters #4

I just got word that the new issue of Encounters is out from Black Matrix Publishing, with my story Some Theories Regarding the Current Crisis nestled somewhere in its nether-pages.

Normally at this point I'd say that I can't actually comment on the magazine because I haven't seen a print copy, and while that second bit is true - I believe it literally just came out today - the first bit isn't.  That's because Black Matrix make canny use of some neat technology to let readers sample the first few pages on their site.  (This tool, by the way, is something I've seen nowhere else, and I'm bewildered that more magazines haven't adopted it.)  So I can say with confidence that Encounters is one of the best-presented small press 'zines out there, with an emphasis on clarity and readability (something else I'm often puzzled by the lack of, even in the professional publishing world) and some nice, eye-catching artwork.  I was also impressed by Guy Kenyon's editorial, the gist of which is that he wants to put out a magazine full of good fiction and get it read by as many people as possible.  Needless to say, that's pretty much exactly what I want to hear from an editor who publishes my work.

Of course, these are all things that Guy's been getting right since day one, and pretty much the reasons I submitted to him in the first place.  I've mentioned many of them before, but I figure they warrant repeating - one of the reasons why being a discussion that I touch on at the end of this post.

Before that, though, a few notes about Some Theories Regarding the Current Crisis.  I've mentioned the gist before, I believe, (think atmosphere-driven sci-fi with an emphasis on spooky weirdness), but it occurred to me a few days again that I've never credited Alasdair Stuart's considerable input.  Some Theories was actually written for a planned shared-world antho that Al was cooking up with the York writing group he hosts, and much of the background (as well as a fair share of the weird) is his contribution.  After I left York I rewrote it to help it stand on its own two snow-shoe'd feet, and of course I'm far too mean to consider giving Al a co-author credit or anything like that, so I'll settle for pointing out what an excellent writer (and human being) he is, that he has more good ideas in the tip of his pinky than I do in my whole damn head, and that some of them went towards making Some Theories what it is today.

That being, spookily weird.  I said that, right?

Lastly, something that readers may possibly find interesting: In the early days of Black Matrix Press, author John Scalzi wrote a blog post castigating them for their low pay rates and Guy Kenyon responded on his own blog.  This is a subject that I've written on quite extensively myself here, and one I find both interesting and under-discussed within the industry.  I've been thinking a lot about the small press lately, and what I'd like to see it doing in a perfect world, and I plan to put some of those thoughts down here when I get a spare few minutes.  In the meantime, I find John and Guy's comments interesting because they sum up so well the fors and againsts of what Duotrope's Digest calls token-paying markets.