Tag Archives: writing

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.

The Write People

Let’s talk about people. Not random strangers or the fabulous old guy I saw at the bus stop today shouting at passing cars, but those writerly people other writerly people can’t do without… or shouldn’t do without. (This is going somewhere, I swear.)

All right, so we all know writing is a solitary endeavour. I’m talking about the actual act of it – sitting in front of the pc, the laptop, or putting pen to paper old-school. But it shouldn’t be a lonely one. There’s a misguided “romantic” notion of writers holing themselves up in a room, coffee cups balanced precariously as you tap away like a crazy person, the outside world and living people some figment of your imagination because you live wholly within the created and among your characters. And while the coffee cups and crazy person might have a ring of truth, writers need that connection to other writers.

My partner, bless his sarcastically-gifted soul, refers to them as ‘your people’, and he knows when I need to reconnect (for the sanity of us all) … although it’s usually preceded by “day nine of you in your pyjamas”.

This weekend I get to hang out with one of my favourite ‘your people’ – Devin Madson. She makes the trip up to Sydney every year for ComicCon where we can talk all things books, stories, wrangle ideas, talk work, and just shoot the shit. It’s also where we get to catch up with our other writerly friends and revel in the successes of this year and where we think our imaginations will take us next.

There’s a solidarity among writers – no one knows the highs and lows of writing and publishing, the “I’m not good enough”s or the sometimes crippling writer-imposteritis; they’ll empathise, sympathise, and let you know you’re not alone in this gig.

a-mindful-installationA Mindful Installation by Jennie Lynn Paske

But Devin is more than just ‘my people’. You may have seen my announcement of a short story sale to Grimdark Magazine. I’m super chuffed about the sale, not just because it’s a pro-sale, and not just because the story was good enough to be accepted but that the story was actually written. I’m time poor. I run a successful editing business, and work will always take precedence – bills to pay, food to eat, you know the drill –  which means when something has to give, it’s usually writing and sleep (and fuck those people who say “if you want to write, you’ll find the time”, you can shove your self-righteous, guilt-tripping bullshit up your arse… but that’s a post for another day).

Where was I? Ah, yes, Devin. She knows how time poor I am, but she also knows the less I write the more antsy I become.  So with gentle nudges and on-point questioning, she pushed me to write the story that had been gnawing at me, that I thought would be a good fit for GdM. When that first draft was done, she sliced into it like a writing partner should – cutting away the unnecessary and drawing out the good. And so ‘Child of the Emptyness’ was born, and without her it would still be gnawing at my grey matter and making me feel like a failed writer. I also get to share the Grimdark Magazine ToC with her and her awesome story, ‘A Touch of Malice’ – it’s a hell of a win-win.

I’ve written posts about the ‘village’ needed to raise a book, a story but all writers need ‘their people’. You may think you don’t have them, but you do. They’re the ones who will kick you up the bum when they know it’s a kick up the bum you need; they will ask if you are writing with genuine interest and without pressure; they volunteer to critique your work because they want to read your stories, they want you to succeed. This doesn’t have to be an every-day thing, likely it isn’t. But it’s there, and that’s enough to feed the soul.

So a shout-out to my closest of people: Devin Madson (who makes me a better writer, and makes me want to be a better writer); Kirsten Cross (killer storyteller, maker of shenanigans, and my sister from another mother); Alan Baxter (you know why, mister – it’s all in the ‘at least…’ 😊); James A Moore (the kindest of ‘kind sir’s); and Matthew Summers, who never fails to keep me on track.

So find your people, revel in your people, and be the ‘my people’ for others. Like I said, the act of writing is a solitary endeavour, it shouldn’t be a lonely one.

I am woman, hear me swear

This post is brought to you by a random person’s ludicrous assumption that writers who swear (in their books or in any other medium in which they choose to write ‒ yes, even social media) are held to some imaginary higher standard because they should be “capable of being far more eloquent”.

Fuck that noise.

This was in relation to an opinion piece, and much “offence” was taken by the use of the ‘c-word’ (not actually used in the piece), and the ‘f-word’, and the further assertion that the use of those words was especially offensive to women.

She found them offensive, I did not. I am woman, hear me swear. This, somehow, makes me a bad feminist, writer, and woman? Not sure really. Because again, fuck that noise. You’re not my gatekeeper. You’re not the gatekeeper for all women, everywhere, at any given time. Like ever.

I swear. A lot. I use fuck as a noun, a verb, an adjective and have, on occasion, used it as an adverb. I use it to describe things, decry things, denounce and deny things. I use it to uplift, to cheer, to encourage without fear. I use it to heal, in solidarity, to proclaim and protest. I use it as a weapon, a shield; hell, I’ve used it in jest. Don’t tell me it’s only for characters who are villainous, don’t equate it with rape on your soapbox of innocence. I’ll use the word however I choose – my life, my story, my fucking muse.

And I’ll do it in goddamn rhyme.

swear words

I’m a writer – words are my playground. All of them. I can use any I like, any that fit the idea, the narrative, the exposition, voice, character, dialogue I’m wanting to convey. I write horror and grimdark, there’s going to be ‘the swears’. As an editor, it’s my business to know words, their context, their use as storytelling and character devices. This includes all the swears.

And all the swears includes the word ‘cunt’. Yes, I use it. And I own it when I use it. I use it in writing, in dialogue – for characters and in my own. I’ve been called it and called out for it; don’t wear it, don’t use it. It’s offensive, derogatory, demeaning and vulgar. It’s a word that I’ll use, and you need to get over it.

So don’t come at me with your holier-than-thou attitude when you clearly don’t want to debate.

There are those who boo-hoo writers who use curse words in their writing, that it shows classlessness, an inability to write and use words “they” find offensive. That a “true” writer would find other words to get their point across… because by all the gods, vanilla writing that all sounds the same is exactly what readers want. Yes, let’s censor our characters! Why say: “off you fuck” when the snark of “off you fudge” falls so much better from cursed lips. Let’s not be reflective of a character’s true nature, let’s not let natural dialogue flow, or be true to ourselves or our stories.

I’m not going to censor my characters, and I’m sure as shit not going to censor myself because someone else thinks I’m doing things “wrong.” Thing is, I understand that all the swears may not be for you, and that’s fine – you do you. But don’t tell me that I can’t call myself a feminist because I say ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’ or any other manner of the swears I deem appropriate for me (or my characters). You don’t like it? Well, I’d say you can “fudge” right off.

TO EDIT OR NOT TO EDIT? (A STUPID QUESTION ANSWERED.)

To write is human, to edit is divine. ~ Stephen King.

You need to edit your work. Let me say that again, just in case you missed it the first time:

YOU. NEED. TO. EDIT. YOUR. WORK.

It’s not a difficult concept to grasp – even the above words are simple, but it appears a lot of writers believe this is a stage that can be skipped or is entirely unnecessary (I shit you not). They’re wrong. So very wrong. Like, drowning in oceans of wrongness. I recently saw someone proclaim they didn’t need to edit their story before subbing; they’d written it in one sitting and it was good enough to sub without an edit.

No.

Just no.

And fuck off.

There’s a certain level of arrogance and ignorance tied into believing your work, your stories, don’t need another set of eyes to go over it. Forget the fact that you might have misspellings, verb tense issues, punctuation and dialogue anomalies; that your plot isn’t on point, your character is inconsistent, or, hell, that the story just doesn’t make sense. How do you know the tale you’ve visualised has transferred to the page? Do you just not care? Or, are you so sure of your own “perfection” that no other input is necessary? That’s some high-level cognitive dissonance right there.

There are some stories that do just flow from your fingertips onto the page, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need at least a beta reader, someone to give you feedback, to ask questions of plot or dialogue or story direction. Things that will make your story better. Why would an author not want that? Why would you not want to improve not only your story, but your writing?

I’m a professional editor (yes, got the certificates and the industry experience to prove it), and I’m also a writer. Do I edit my own work? Of course I do. Do I send it to others to beta read? Damn straight. Do I have someone else edit it? Hell yes I do. Why? Because I’m too close to the story to see any issues it may have, because I want to know whether it makes sense, because maybe a question or note will make the story stronger, clearer, more kick-arse. Because I want MY BEST WORK out in the world, not just my: ‘fuck it, this’ll do’ work.

Of late, I’ve seen a surge in this ‘fuck it’ submission process, the belief that you just write and your subs will be accepted. Sure, there are places that will accept that “work”, and if ‘for exposure’ markets or ‘contributor copy only’ markets are your thing then… well, okay. You keep doing you. But why not aim higher? Do better?

It comes down to how you value what you do. How you value your readers. Writing is a craft, it needs to be honed, practised, built upon, and you never stop learning. EVER. If you believe you don’t need to edit, that you don’t need beta readers or those rejections that make you look again at your story and better it, then stagnant you will be, stale your stories will become.

edit all the words

Look, I can’t make you engage beta readers, I can’t make you use an editor or hell, even make you edit your own work, but I can guaran-damn-tee you, you won’t hit any of the success you’re wanting. Having a bibliography of pubbed stories in mags or anthologies no one’s heard of doesn’t up your author profile as much as you’d like to think it does. Give me a story published in Nightmare Magazine, or Grimdark Mag, Apex or Clarkesworld over multiple stories published in markets even Google would have trouble finding.

Writers are readers, we know the markets that accept only the highest possible standards, and those are the markets professional writers want to crack – and by professional, I mean those who take the process of writing and all it entails, seriously. Who know there’s more to writing than just words on a page.

It all really comes down to choice:

Be the writer who wants their work to be the best it can be, who wants constructive criticism for the sake of the story, who wants to be better, do better, and to break into those pro-paying markets who have the high standards for which you strive. To have publishers ask you to sub to them because they’ve seen your work and want it; to have readers search for your work because your tales resonated with them, because they love your storytelling.

Or…

Don’t.

Don’t Be A Cock (*trademark pending*)

There’s little doubt you’ve heard of the furore/shitstorm/WTFedness going on over in Romancelandia regarding a certain author and their trademarking of a particular word to the exclusion of all other authors/titles. If you haven’t, head over to Twitter and the #CockyGate saga. Be careful, it’s a rabbit hole – you’ve been warned.

This isn’t how I intended to spend the start of my Monday morning, but I’m caffeinated and well, it’s Monday. So while I will wade into the sea of shit this author (she’ll get no naming rights here) has created, I’m not going to go into the epically stupid thing she’s attempting nor the blatant hypocrisy she trying to foist into her narrative (it’s outstanding), or the ‘How to Commit Career Suicide’ this so very much looks like. But I will address a few things; while this author plies her trade in the romance genre, this affects every author in every genre and sub-genre.

The first thing to get straight is that it’s a trademark she’s attempting, not copyright – two different things. If you’re going to go head-to-head with her and/or weigh in on this debate, please get that piece of information right. I’m not going to go into the legalities of it here, there are greater (and more willing) minds than mine to do that. But use the right term.

This author is using intimidation tactics to have other indie authors with the word ‘cocky’ in their book titles make changes or she will sue. Yep, you read that right. And one of the things she continually spouts is her “graciousness” to allow them to keep their earnings and reviews, so the changes they “must” make aren’t a big deal and won’t cost the author anything.

Yeah, that’s the bullshit I want to talk about. Indie, or self-published authors don’t have the backing (and funds) of those authors traditionally published. It costs money to edit your book, it costs money for cover art, it costs money for cover design/layout, it costs money to advertise. All of these expenses come out of the often very empty pockets of an indie author. Any changes to books currently uploaded to any and all platforms will require funds to have those changes made. It will cost not only money but time, and time lost often equals money lost, potential readers lost, potential sales lost. To threaten another author into doing so is delusional at best, reprehensible at worst.

All writers, myself included, write because to not do so hurts the soul. To have that passion stomped on, threatened, bullied, isn’t going to win you any favours, it isn’t going to win you readers, and it sure as shit isn’t going to win you market-share (or dominance).

Look, publishing is hard, getting your name out and your books sold in today’s market is hard, but you don’t go about it by stepping on other authors, you don’t go about it by trying to bankrupt other authors out of the market. It’s a big fucking table we’re sharing, and there’s room for everyone. And there are plenty of readers to go around.

Think of it as Ægir’s feast – your ale horns will never be empty, and there’s a regenerating boar outside providing limitless bacon for all.

Don’t try and block seats at the table, lest you want the chair pulled out from beneath you.

Oh, and don’t be a cock… unless you’re this ↓ fabulous!

cock

Minefields and zen

The last six months have been… well, a little bit shit. There’s been good happenings, don’t get me wrong, but working through grief is a minefield. Good days. Bad days. Utter shite days. Minefield. Work has been a constant, which is good – get to pay bills and eat, always a bonus. And I’ve been writing, which is better.

Still, work has been eating up a lot of my time. I love my job, so much so that I don’t quite consider it “work”, although the hours I pull would beg to differ. The last two months especially so. Working from home is one of the many bonuses for my job; but it also means I don’t quite get to work set hours. This means I can be working ‘til midnight. I’m a night-owl, so that helps. I’m also up at 6.30am to squeeze in a run before organising the kids for the day.

It’s a long day. And of late, they’ve been exhausting days… weeks, really. Months, truly. The stories I’ve been working on have been amazing, but the body and mind can only take so much before it puts on the brakes whether you like it or not.

But better than that, is a partner who says: “Fuck this shit, we’re going away – you need a break before you break.” (He’s amazing.)

So we’re packing up the fam, and heading to the country. More specifically, my father’s farm. Three hundred acres of rolling hills, no Internet, crappy phone reception, solar-run facilities, and nothing but birdsong and cattle cries.

I hope to recharge, to do absolutely nothing, and perhaps deal with shit a little more than I have been. Maybe read. Perhaps write.

Remember to take those breaks, folks. Revitalise and recharge. I’ll see you on the other side of this holiday, a calmer, more zen person… and blogging far more regularly!

Farm