Saturday, February 18, 2012



ON WRITING: As I’ve often explained, I’m not a prolific writer. I have to really work at it. Oh, sometimes it just flows, but more often than not I have to really nurse it along. Part of my problem is the self-editing I do as I write, changing words and phrasing as I go, over and over and over again. While the end results is always for the better, it eats up a lot of time and concentration as I hunt and peck at words, trying to find just the right one. I should probably just go through, write a quick first draft without stopping to edit, and then go back and give it a good reworking. But that’s just not the way I work. I know some authors actually HAND write their first drafts and then go back and type everything in! God bless them! Besides the fact that I probably wouldn’t have a clue as to what my scribbling SAID by the time I was done, I would probably never actually FINISH anything that way. I have a hard enough time bringing a story to full fruition as it is – just peek inside my IN PROGRESS file on my PC and you’ll see loads of stories in various stages – some dating back to the 1980’s. Eh, I’ll get to them eventually!

I am in awe of writers who know their entire story at the jump – beginning, middle and end. I usually get a neat little idea and have to work back and forward from that point. I don’t outline, although I make lots of notes on character names, bits of cool dialogue, scenes, background info, etc. My biggest ordeal is bringing a story to a good, logical conclusion. It has to make sense to me – to feel “true” -- and as I create in the horror/weird/dark genre(s) things don’t always MAKE sense.  We (purveyors of the weird) expect our audience to have a healthy suspension of belief, but you can’t push that one TOO far. If it sounds dumb, contrived or over the top it probably is (and who the hell thought twinkling vampires would be cool, by the way?!). That’s one of the reasons I’ve never been a fan of science fiction – if it’s too far out there or removed from truth and reality I just can’t BELIEVE it enough to get into the story. I guess that’s why horror resonates with me so deeply – there is always some shadow of truth in every iconic horror situation.

In any event, I am now sitting on two more incomplete, unsold stories. I was working on something for a Cyberpunk Cthulhu Mythos anthology and just could not make it work. I had what I thought was a really cool idea, but again, I think it was the sci fi elements of the genre that I just couldn’t get my head around enough to make it work. The other was a neat little character sketch I wanted to submit to an upcoming anthology with a fungus theme. That one I’m sure I’ll finish and think I have a new market for it already, so I just have to get cracking. And in the meantime, there are two new additions to my IN PROGRESS file – a Steampunk Cthulhu Mythos story and one for consideration in a forthcoming S.T. Joshi anthology. Again, I just have to get tucked in and finish the damn things!

ON EDITING: Meanwhile, I’m busy reading for my next anthology – a werewolf book entitled MARK OF THE BEAST. I never go too public with my call for submissions, but somehow this one got leaked to a site that directs prospective authors to markets. Wow! I’m getting buried in submissions. Unfortunately most of them are just not very good. That isn’t to say that I haven’t gotten some good stuff – I have. I’ve gotten a couple REALLY good pieces, but the majority have been poor to mediocre. I understand that every writer has to start somewhere, so I’m trying to be patient and supportive, but I have a few words of advice for aspiring authors:

1.      Spell check! EVERY word processing program has a spell checker. Use it. I can overlook an occasional typo but some are just ridiculous.  PLEASE know the difference between “to”, “too” and “two” and “there” and “their”, and know the proper uses thereof! That’s BASIC English, and if you can’t handle that you have no business writing.

2.      Punctuation, people! There are more punctuation marks than commas, so branch out a little and mix it up. A high school English teacher once told me I was “comma happy”, so I understand whereof I speak. Semicolons can be your friends. And watch the exclamation points – I also tend to use WAY too many of them (well, in my e-mails and blogs – I almost NEVER use them in fiction). Using !!! too much makes you sound like a simpleton who is surprised by EVERYTHING!

3.      Character names: don’t use similar names for different characters – it gets confusing. And PLEASE, for the love of god, don’t overuse names with the “Sam did this,” “Sam said,” “Sam went here,” “Sam thought,” “Sam was,” “Sam said,” “Sam said,” “Sam said again”, etc. Use descriptives to signify Sam as well as just his name. Mix it up. I’ve gotten a LOT of submissions that fall prey to this one and I want to scream after reading the same name over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over…. Well, you get it.

4.      And finally, PLEASE follow the editor’s guidelines for submissions. I have VERY CLEARLY stated the format in which I want to see submissions, and still I get a LOT that do not follow my instructions. So I have decided (and have posted) that from now on if I get a submission that is not formatted as I requested I am going to just immediately reject it. I’m sorry, and I may be missing out on some good work, but if you don’t have enough respect to follow my simple submission instructions then you must not be truly serious about it.

So, all that said, I’ve been busy wading through a lot of werewolf stories. So far I have about a dozen in my YES file, a dozen in my MAYBE file, and I’ve rejected* DOZENS and as of today still have a dozen to read through. And my deadline is not for many weeks yet, so at this rate I expect I’ll get in another 40 submissions or more. It’s exciting to find new voices and annoying to read dreck, but I understand you can’t have one without the other. But I wholly understand why most editors have closed anthologies and read on an invite-only basis. 

(*And let me say that every story I’ve so far rejected hasn’t been bad – some just weren’t original enough or just didn’t catch my attention or fit my vision of the project for one reason or another.)

And therein lies the double-edged sword of writing and editing: the perceived cliquiness of it. When I started out writing I was pissed about the number of projects that were invite-only. But as I’ve honed my craft, made a quasi-name for myself and done editing of my own anthologies by reading slush piles, I UNDERSTAND. Most editors are very busy people who also write, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that reading submissions cuts into a lot of writing time if you are going to give each submissions a fair read. Therefore, most editors have a stable of authors they work with whom they know are good, reliable and easy to work with. I have my own list that I always send out to first before making any kind of open call. It’s just the way the industry is. So how do you break into these cliques? Just persevere. And be GOOD at your craft. You only get one chance to make a first impression (a sad but very true old saying), so if the first story an editor reads by you is amateurish or crap they will likely not even bother with your stuff in the future. But making a name for yourself in small press and on-line markets can go a long way in getting the attention of editors. Some of our greatest authors – and a couple of my personal favorites – started in the small press way back in the mists of time in the 1980’s (before the interwebs) and today have near-mythic reputations.

ON SELLING: And finally, I’ve recently placed a couple more stories. My “Mother Blood” will be appearing in the forthcoming UNDEAD & UNBOUND anthology. If the title didn’t say it loudly enough, U&U is a collection of stories about walking dead of various persuasions. It’s got a really fun cover, and [SPOILER] my undead menace is one of the ones that graces the cover. Fun.

The other sale I’m really proud to announce is a weird little dark fairy tale thing I co-wrote with my pal, the sickeningly-talented T.E. Grau, called “Ignis Fatuus.” This one is a part of the fabulous Lois Gresh-edited DARK FUSIONS anthology which is to be published in a wonderfully signed hardcover edition by PS Publishing next winter. This story was a blast to write. I am amazed still how well my work meshes with Teds – you really can’t tell who wrote what. It was a fantastic partnership forged in the cauldron of weird things and magical notions. 

From Lois' blog (


In no particular order, these are the contributors to DARK FUSIONS: WHERE MONSTERS LURK.

Cody Goodfellow
Nicholas Kaufmann
Mark McLaughlin
Darrell Schweitzer
Robert M. Price
Ann Schwader
Lynn Spitz
James Alan Gardner
Michael Marano
Lisa Morton
Nick Cato
John Haefele
Christopher Fulbright
David Sakmyster
Yvonne Navarro
Nancy Kilpatrick
Scott David Aniolowski & T.E. Grau
Norman Prentiss

We have a great lineup and some terrific stories in this anthology.

Abundant thanks to Weird Fiction Master ST Joshi and Fantastic Publisher Pete Crowther!


“Ignis Fatuus” was actually earmarked for another anthology but I sold it to Lois when she wanted to buy my “Letters to Santa” story for DARK FUSIONS. Unfortunately, I had already placed "Letters to Santa" in HORROR FOR THE HOLIDAYS. So it worked out well, and she got a really cool little thing. Ted and I are presently working on something ELSE for that other anthology. Interestingly enough, I’ve since had ANOTHER request to publish “Letters to Santa” by another pair of editors! Guess this one is going to have a life of its own. But I’m doing something new for them – I just hope they like it as much as they liked “Letters."

So, the last year has been pretty good – I’ve sold four stories, have another two (at least) with homes to go to, and am in the process of editing my SECOND anthology in twelve months. Now if I could only WRITE a bit quicker, I’d be all set….

Until next time from the House of Secrets,

Meet me tonight in dreamland
Meet me tonight in dreamland
Where the things I want will come true
For in dreamland they always do
So meet me tonight in dreamland
Meet me on the path of green
Where nightmares disappear in dreams
Sleeping as one
Flowered river carries us down
To dreamland