Let’s talk about slush, ba-by…

Let’s talk about you and me… Okay, okay, so my flashback to the ’90s is a little sad but kinda on point for this blog post. As one of the editors for the SNAFU anthologies, and with an upcoming submission window opening, Matthew Summers and I would like to talk about stories, slush, and selections.

Disclaimer time. The information provided here does not guarantee Matt and I will select your story for publication – plot, character, and voice will. But don’t send us a romance tale when it’s military monster horror we’re after. We will cut you.

Right then. Let’s kick this baby off with the guidelines for the open sub window for SNAFU: Last Stand (just click that link). While stories subbed to Cohesion Press have specific marks that need to be hit, one thing EVERYONE needs to understand when subbing a tale to ANY market is to not only READ the guidelines but ADHERE to them (the adhering is the most important part). Know your market.

Slush, we’ve all been there. Jostling for position, stuck in the hell that is the slush pile, shouting ‘look at me’ as you push toward the roped-off area that is the shortlist. So how do you get past the cordon? Look, reading is subjective – what I like someone else may not (they’re wrong), but if the past couple of SNAFUs have taught me anything, it’s that Matt and I are pretty much on the same page when it comes to story selection. Not once have we had to fight it out (I’d win because I fight dirty, just sayin’). But your opening line, your opening paragraph, has to hook us and the following paragraphs need to reel us in. Your start needs to be strong, and it needs to build from there.

Stuck in Hell by 13UG-13th

Your aim, at this point, is to get onto that shortlist, and a killer opening scene is just the way to do it. Does that mean exploding out of the gate all guns blazing? Perhaps. We love high-action tales, and that’s bound to grab our attention. But it can also be that one line that sets the tone for what’s to come. One of my favourite opening lines from a story in SNAFU: Resurrection is from Conviction by NX Sharps – ‘On the 152nd day of our posting at Fort Conviction, Private Olyver Bagwell shit himself to death.’  That certainly had us take notice.

But the follow-up has to hold water. If your story doesn’t make good on its opening promise, then you could be in some trouble. Think about the story you’re wanting to tell, of the character(s) leading us through. A tale well written isn’t going to resonate as much as one that has me and Matt fate-invested.

That being said, well-written is definitely going to get you a look-in. We want narrative that moves a story forward, we want wordsmiths who know how to give us those evocative visuals that bring the horror, the fear, the dread. Active voice is your friend here. Spelling and grammar? We got that, but too many errors and we’re pulled from the story – it’s the same for all those babies sitting in slush piles.  

With the theme of Last Stand, characters will need to make their mark here. Interpret Last Stand as you will, there are an infinite number of ways to incorporate that into your story, but make that tale linger, make us think about it long after we’ve finished reading. And give us action. Make our hearts beat furiously, give us those ‘oh shit’ moments, and make your monsters fucking terrifying. Remember, this is horror, monster horror… with guns and shit.   

One of the best and hardest part of this process is the final selection from the shortlist. Matt and I have passed on some truly great stories, which is always a difficult thing to do. And we don’t take these decisions lightly – a lot of time goes into decision-making, a lot of discussion and back and forths until we have the mixture just right. We don’t make acceptances as we go; something we love early on may not make the cut because a later story in a similar vein resonates more. Our aim here is to provide our readers with a variety of kick-arse tales, where you don’t know what’s coming but you’re hanging for it just the same. The overriding theme that ties them together, obviously, is ‘last stand’. Make it count.

So while I hope this helps you to understand our process, I also hope it helps you to understand the process for any slush pile you find yourself in. Writing truly is the best gig in the world, and rejections are a part of that. We know. Matt and I both sit the other side of the table, we’ve had stories accepted and we’ve faced that sting of rejection. We understand the work, the effort, the time and the angst that goes into getting those words onto the page, of wrangling your imagination into narrative. We salute every one of you.

And for those of you who make it to that final ToC, just a note here to let you know the work has only just begun. There will be edits. We may ask for tweaks, we may ask for rewrites, we may cut a little, we may cut a lot. Thing is, we’ve been doing this a long time, we know our audience and we know what they like. Be professional, not precious. Co-operation is key here. That’s a two-way street, and we have cut stories because of bad author behaviour. Don’t be that person. Keep communication lines open and listen to us as we’ll listen to you. Our aim here is to get the most out of your story, and we will work hard to make it so.

But just before I go, as you may have seen, the introduction for SNAFU: Last Stand will be written by Tim Miller (yes, of Deadpool and the new Terminator fame). As such, we understand the slush pile may well be large – Tim will be reading the final tales. And if that isn’t a reason to send us your very best, I don’t know what is.

Submission window for SNAFU: Last Stand opens April 1st, 2019. (No, that’s not a joke. Yes, we are laughing.)

Awards and Such Things

So a thing happened last week. My story, Child of the Emptyness (Grimdark Magazine #17), made the shortlist for the Aurealis Awards in the ‘Best Fantasy Short Story’ category. To say I’m stunned is an understatement. To say I’m chuffed to bits – also understatement.

Apart from the awesomeness that is being shortlisted, what makes this doubly, or even triply special is the amount of friends I find myself amongst – two of which are ‘my people’ (yes, it’s a thing, we all have them, I wrote about it). It’s a bit of a convoluted web this one, as I find myself sharing the fantasy story nod with one of my closest of people, Alan Baxter, who also got a nod in the ‘Best Fantasy Novel’ category, which also contains another of my closest of people (and bestie), Devin Madson.

Oh, but it doesn’t stop there! Also please find drinking buddy and he of the best-laugh-ever, J Ashley Smith in the Fantasy Short category. Add in the most wonderful Sam Hawke in the Fantasy Novel shortlist and… how the hell are you supposed to choose?  Huh? Huh?

And there are so many more: Joanne Anderton, Kaaron Warren, Rivqa Rafael, Maria Lewis, Shauna O’Meara, Kylie Chan… I couldn’t be more pleased for these wonderful people and amazing authors. The breadth of talent in this list is incredible to see – Aussie fiction is a deep, rich pool of unique voices that deserve to be read.

Make Good Art

But I want to make a shout-out to those who didn’t make the list. That’s right, you there, who sits down and makes word-babies every day (or every week, or whenever you can), you’re a goddamn star. To those who have the writer-imposteritis shouting in the ear yet still create worlds that are as vivid as the one in which we live – keep creating! To those who hope their tales will get the nod for which they so wish, then wonder what they need to do when their name doesn’t appear – I see you, I hear you, I feel you… I am you. We’ve all been there. Don’t give up. Because that character that’s whispering in your ear, urging you to tell their story may just be the tale those judges need. And if not? Well, you’ve created. You’ve put yourself out in the world, given joy to those who read it, and you should be damn well proud.

You got this.

Festivus Book Pimping – Devouring Dark by Alan Baxter

By Festivus Eve it’s another Pimpus! Slithering up onto the slab today is another amazing Aussie author, Alan Baxter… whose names completes that alliteration rather nicely! Devouring Dark is the latest offering from Baxter that mixes crime and horror – crime noir, if you will – while offering grey characters whose choices aren’t so much between ‘good and bad’ rather between ‘bad and holy shitballs’.

Devouring Dark follows Matt McLeod and his dance with the darkness, with death, and the choice(s) he makes in how to deal with the power he has and where that leads. Hint: not good places. These are my favourite kind of stories as they deal with that power of choice and allows the reader those ‘what if’ moments where we wonder if we’d make the same choices, the same deals if we suffered the same fate.

Death in all its form runs deep through the book and provides an almost narrative on society’s views and take on death and how we deal with it.

Here’s the blurb:

Matt McLeod is a man plagued since childhood by a malevolent darkness that threatens to consume him. Following a lifetime spent wrestling for control over this lethal onslaught, he’s learned to wield his mysterious paranormal skill to achieve an odious goal: retribution as a supernatural vigilante.

When one such hit goes bad, McLeod finds himself ensnared in a multi-tentacled criminal enterprise caught between a corrupt cop and a brutal mobster. His only promise of salvation may be a bewitching young woman who shares his dark talent but has murderous designs of her own.

I mean: ‘supernatural vigilante’. It’s got a nice ring to it! And that cover is to die for! (Yes, I punned.)

If you’re looking for a tale of the darker kind, of crime bosses and corruption, and for those souls who have a direct line to death, then this is definitely a book for you.

Recommended for those who love horror, crime stories, supernatural tales, and just straight up action-based badassery.

Festivus Book Pimping – Dragonshade by Aderyn Wood

It’s a Festivus miracle! Two Pimpus of Bookus today? Time is short, my dudes, and there are sooooo many excellent books you should be reading and gifting to others. Seriously, what better present than something that ignites the imagination?

And we’re heading back into the realms of fantasy tonight with Aussie author Aderyn Wood’s most wonderful Dragonshade. As the title no doubt suggests, here there be dragons. But there is so much more at play here than mere dragons. Wood has delved into two cultures here, borrowing heavily from both Egyptian and Norse cultures to bring a vivid tapestry of both and what happens when those worlds inevitably clash – both good and bad. There is magic, too, also of the good and bad kind.

There is a stunning cast of characters in this tome, and a tome it is – the book taps out at just over two hundred thousand words, and normally I would balk at a book this size, but Dragonshade carries the weight of the words with ease – this doesn’t at all feel like an overlong story, in fact, it leaves you wanting more (no matter how well the threads of the story are tied up).

The battle scenes are epic in scale, but always there is the undercurrent of political sabotage, of betrayal, prophecies and gods, and a duck herder who might just be the one who can set the world to right.  

And here’s the blurb:

Prince Sargan is the worst swordsman in all Zraemia. His clumsy performance draws scorn from his uncle, pity from his sister, disappointment from his father, and sniggers from everyone else.
But soon, Sargan will enter the temple and begin his long-awaited path to the seat of high priest.
His brother will one day inherit the throne.
His sister will marry.
The enemy king will leave them alone.
And all will be right with the world.
Unless… the gods change the game.
And when the gods play, the game turns to war – the Great War.
Ancient prophecies surface, dark enemies rise, new allies emerge, old ones can’t be trusted, magic scorches the earth, reluctant heroes are made, and nothing is ever the same again.

Dragonshade was also an entrant in the SPFBO contest and missed out on a semi-finalist berth by this much <holds fingers together real close>. It got great feedback from the judges – scroll to the end to read the review here.

Recommended for those who love epic fantasy reads, dragons, intensive world-building, magic, dark fantasy, political shenanigans.

Festivus Book Pimping – Griffin & Price series by James A Moore & Charles R Rutledge

It’s amazing what a good (bad?) earworm can do, and so this morning’s Festivus Book Pimping comes to you via ‘Jolene’. Seriously, I’ll be shit-singing this for days now. <shakes fist at Charles>

We’re side-stepping out of fantasy for a moment and diving face-first into supernatural horror via the Griffin & Price novels masterfully penned by two of my favourite people – James A Moore and Charles R Rutledge (yes, despite the earworm).

The series consists of three books (so far): Blind Shadows, Congregations of the Dead, and A Hell Within. Each follows the trials and tribulations of Brennert County Sheriff Carl Price and his best friend, ex-mercenary turned PI, Wade Griffin. Set in the town (and surrounds) of Wellman, Georgia, a lot of super and preternatural happenings pit Griffin and Price against a host of monsters and nasties.

I love this series, and the two main characters have a rapport beset with humour and sarcasm that’s right up my reading alley. The writing is slick, the monsters are quite literally killer, and the brewing tension between Sheriff Price and the otherworldly Blackbourne clan only ups the ante. The secondary characters add extra depth to the stories, and only build on what is an incredible cast (I’m looking at you, Jolene).

You should be reading this series.

Blind Shadowsblurb:

When private investigator Wade Griffin moved away from his hometown of Wellman, Georgia he didn’t think he would be back. Too many memories and too many bridges burned. But when an old friend is found brutally murdered and mutilated, nothing can keep Griffin from going home. Teamed with another childhood friend, Sheriff Carl Price, Griffin begins an investigation that will lead down darker paths than he could ever have imagined.
Soon Griffin and Price find that there are secrets both dark and ancient lurking in the back woods of Crawford’s Hollow. As Halloween approaches, something evil is growing near the roots of the Georgia mountains, and the keys to the mystery seem to be a woman of almost indescribable beauty and a dead man who won’t stay dead.
As the body count mounts and the horrors pile up, Griffin and Price come to realize that the menace they face extends far beyond the boundaries of Wellman and that their opponents seem to hold all the cards. But the two lawmen have a few secrets of their own, and one way or another there will be hell to pay.

Blurb for Congregations of the Dead:

It’s one of the hottest summers on record and a storm is brewing over the small town of Wellman, Georgia.
Still reeling from the horrific events of the previous October, all Sheriff Carl Price wants is to get back to a normal life. Unfortunately things aren’t working out. He’s got the Brennert County’s DA breathing down his neck for answers about what happened in Crawford’s Hollow. He’s been served with a lawsuit by the Blackbourne family. And just after he witnesses a child abduction, the one person who always puts his life into a tailspin shows up to add to the pressure.
Meanwhile, against his better judgment, Wade Griffin agrees to look for a teenage girl who’s gone missing. It’s not his kind of case, but he’s trying to establish his private investigations business and perhaps abandon his past as a mercenary. But Griffin’s luck isn’t any better than Price’s and he ends up crossing paths with the man behind most of the organized crime north of Atlanta.
Both lawmen have their plates full, but then they learn that there is something abroad in the night. Not the supernatural menace they dealt with before, but something even darker. Just what is the secret of the charismatic Reverend Lazarus Cotton and what is he hiding in his small mountain church?
Once again, Griffin and Price must call upon all their deadly skills just to stay alive and even in the middle of a pitched battle against things that shouldn’t exist they are reminded that sometimes the darkest evils reside within the human heart.

And the third in the series, A Hell Within:

Something dark is looming in Brennert County, Georgia. Sheriff Carl Price and ex-mercenary-turned P.I. Wade Griffin know well the other-worldly undercurrent that runs through the small town of Wellman, but with the Blackbournes trying to rebuild their strength, it seems they can breathe a little easier, Just a little. Griffin starts working a case when he stumbles across a massacre at a drug lab, and when Price is called to the scene of a brutal triple homicide, it has all the markings of Blackbourne retribution. Before the blood is dry, two more people are torn apart. As the body count rises, Griffin and Price find themselves in the middle of a turn war where bullets and black magic are the weapons off choice. Caught between the worlds of monsters and men, Griffin and Price enlist the help of associate Carter Decamp to put an end to the brewing battle. But the gates of Hell have been opened and the beasts won’t be denied their chance to feast.

And as a post-Festivus bonus, there’s a Griffin & Price novella to be released in the latest SNAFU: Resurrection anthology. Over 20,000 words of wicked horror in the form of Call up the Dead, due for release December 27 – pre-orders available here.

Recommended for those who love supernatural horror, horror, fantastic beasties, otherworldly monsters, crime, urban horror, and just general top-notch writing with killer characters.

Not recommended for those who have an aversion to violence, demonic shenanigans, gore.

Festivus Book Pimping – The Nevernight Chronicles by Jay Kristoff

All right folks, I’m cutting it fine with recommendations and the looming of Festivus so I’m going to try and pump these pimps out… okay, could have worded that a little better, but onward!

First Festivus Pimpus for today is the first two novels of Aussie author Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight ChroniclesNevernight and Godsgrave. I came late to the party for these novels, yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it meant I got to read the two in quick succession. The only drawback being the third in the series, Darkdawn isn’t due for release until late next year. But don’t let that hold you back from diving deep in the darkness that is these chronicles.

Nevernight follows the life of Mia Corvere from child to assassin for the Red Church in all things murder. Vengeance is the driving force behind Mia’s assassin schooling, having watched her father executed and her mother and little brother exiled to an island prison. It’s Mia’s travelling companion, Mister Kindly – a shadow cat that allows her to slip between the shadows and bend them to her will… of a kind. The world-building is intricate, and the characters (first and secondary) are brilliantly fleshed out. Kristoff makes you care for them, and as the self-named bastard that he is… well, I’m not going to spoil that for you.

Blurb for Nevernight:

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

So Nevernight leaves off on a hell of cliffhanger, so I couldn’t wait to dive into Godsgrave to see how further Kristoff could fuck with my emotions – I think it’s like sport for him. And I wasn’t disappointed. Now a fully-fledged assassin, Mia is thrust into the world of the gladiatori, where she must fight on the sands for the truth and the chance for revenge upon those who destroyed her familigia. Godsgrave ramps not only the tension but the stakes. Giving you more to care about and thus more to lose. Truths are revealed and paradigm shifts are made (and all the while, I’m sure Kristoff is laughing his arse off).

Godsgave blurb:

Assassin Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo, or avenging her familia. And after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it’s announced that Scaeva and Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end them. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between loyalty and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.

These books aren’t going to be for everyone – they are dark and brutal and don’t shy from violence or sex (there is a lot of sex happening, I’m just sayin’, and the descriptions of said sex can go on for pages). There are footnotes throughout both books that provide a greater understanding of the world and what’s going on. Most of the time this works, but not so much when the tension ramps up – at time it did take away from it, especially in those moments where the info wasn’t necessary to the forward momentum of the story. But I found you could skip some of these without losing anything from the story.

Oh, and the covers are beautiful.

Recommended for lovers of dark fantasy, grimdark, horror, assassin tales, vengeance/revenge stories, subterfuge, great world-building.

Not recommended for those who struggle with in-your-face violence, graphically-depicted sex scenes (of all iterations), swearing/cursing (although, that worked a treat for me).  

Festivus Book Pimping – Faerie Apocalypse by Jason Franks

Hark, the Faerie Apocalypse sings! Well, likely more screaming than singing, but work with me here. Breaking through the Pimpus of Festivus veil is Aussie author Jason Franks’ most weirdly wonderful Faerie Apocalypse (IFWG Australia). As you can probably tell by the title, this is some darker reading but Franks has fleshed out this oddly-magical world with characters that verily leap off the page, and the storytelling is masterfully done.

We follow the story of four unnamed protagonists, each with their own story of venturing into the Faerie world. I wasn’t sure whether not knowing the names of the protags would work, but the writing is so well done that the names don’t matter – the stories, the journeys (gods how I hate that word) do.

It’s clever storytelling with sardonic Australian wit that deconstructs everything you ever thought about fairy tales (or faerie tales – absolute bonus for that spelling, too). Faerie Apocalypse draws you in with its fable-esque narrative then continues to hammer any thoughts of hope from you – this isn’t a bad thing. It’s sharp, it’s twisted, and the threads between all four protags and those special faerie world characters are skilfully woven.

And as killer lines are shaping up to be a thing in the Festivus Book Pimping, how’s this: The magus racked the uzi.

Back cover blurb incoming…

Over the centuries the Faerie Realms have drifted away from the mortal world. But for some, the Doors will open. For some, there is a Way to travel there, if they want it badly enough.

If they dream it hard enough.

In this era, only lovers, poets, and madmen can access the Realms of the Land–and for good reason.

A succession of mortals travel to Faerie: a veteran seeking beauty; a magus seeking power; an urchin seeking his wayward father; an engineer seeking meaning. These mortals bring the horrors of our age to the Land, and the Folk who live there respond in kind.

Franks has taken a risky approach to the narrative, and it pays off. There will be those, however, who probably won’t quite take to the quirks, to the brutality, to the mirror Franks places on humankind… the worst of humankind, no matter their intentions. But it’s these types of books that really stand out for me, that hit at the heart of humanity and aren’t afraid to show it in all its ugliness, in all its beauty – you can’t have one without the other.

Faerie Apocalypse was one of my favourite reads this year, you should check it out.

Recommended for readers who like dark fantasy, horror, re/deconstructed faerie tales, boundary-pushing narrative, all-round kick-arse storytelling.

Not suited for those who struggle with violence, horror, and all things dark and nasty. (Huzzah!… Ahem.)

Faerie Apocalypse was one of my favourite reads this year, you should check it out.

Recommended for readers who like dark fantasy, horror, re/deconstructed faerie tales, boundary-pushing narrative, all-round kick-arse storytelling.

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