New Blog: Dark Corner Newsstand

For a while now I have been thinking about putting together a site for links to indie markets for short genre fiction, and I’ve finally decided to do it. I have also decided to join the Amazon Affiliate Program, and will be using Amazon Affiliate links. I don’t expect to make a lot of money, but I won’t turn it down.

Primarily I want to try to collect all the links to indie publishers of short fiction magazines and anthologies into one place so that I’ve got a short answer to the question, “Where do I go for quality SF, Fantasy, or Horror short stories?”

So this is it, The Dark Corner Newsstand. It’s now very much a work in progress–I’m still working on putting up the links. In time I’d also like to include reviews, links to reviews from other sites, and any promotional material the presses themselves want to send me.

I’m actively soliciting markets to include, please feel free to contact me with any suggestions.

My intention is to make the site primarily for readers, but information regarding calls for submissions is also welcome.

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Millhaven Press seeks Sword & Sorcery Tales

More Heroic Fantasy, please!

Books of the Broken

Millhaven Press is looking for one more Heroic Sword & Sorcery Tale to complete an anthology due out in winter 2018/Spring 2019.

The story should be 10,000+ words.

The theme is generalized and should be taken as a jumping off point.  We want each story to embrace the works of Robert E. Howard and others, but not mimic them.  We want a creative approach to the genre.

Compensation is 20% of net sales plus a free contributor copy.

Send submissions to millhavenpress@gmail.com.

Use Sword & Sorcery/Story Title/Word Count in the subject line of the email.

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Ant-Man And The Wasp: A father-daughter dance.

This will be a thematic review of the Marvel Studio’s film Ant-Man And The Wasp. First I am going to make some general comments, but everything below the “read more” link will contain spoilers.  Although I usually try to make reviews spoiler-free, in this case some of the themes I will be discussing directly relate to significant plot events.

Got it? You have been warned and “When you are warned, you must listen”.  (No one ever catches that reference…)

Okay, general notes. The film is fun, face-paced, stylish, and exciting. It is a good popcorn movie, full of humor (stuff that made me laugh, and I’m a total grump at comedies) a few edge-of-your-seat sequences, and some heartwarming stuff.

This film has all of what I like best about the Marvel product–eye-popping visuals, snappy dialogue, fast action, great visual design. Highly recommended.

Now for the thematic part–spoilers beyond this cut: Continue reading

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How to Make This Editor Happy

A few notes from an anthology publisher on what he’s looking for from a story.

Building Worlds

During the submissions period for Ye Olde Magick Shoppe, my current anthology project, I received around a hundred submissions. Some were of beginner quality, which is not a bad thing per se, since it means that the authors can improve their work through feedback. Other works were of higher quality, but didn’t mesh well with my own particular aesthetic preferences; other editors may well accept such work, even if I didn’t. Unfortunately, between the sheer number of submissions and my own time constraints, I did not give individualized feedback to the submitters—which is not fair of me, since they did put in the work.

I think it’s worthwhile, therefore, to write up a post discussing some of the common patterns among work that was not accepted for the anthology. That way, authors considering submitting their work to me in the future will know more about my preferences, and whether…

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Ocean’s 8

This is going to be my review of the film Ocean’s 8, and I will make it spoiler-free because I am directing this review specifically at people who haven’t seen the film. If you’ve decided not to see it, I want you to reconsider, because it is a great movie.

Let me explain.

I love heists.  I am a huge fan of the genre–to be honest my appreciation of fictional heists had a lot to do with me becoming a locksmith. (Just to be clear, I have never used my skills to commit a crime. All of the overcoming security systems I have done has been as a contractor for the legitimate owners of the property. But, deep in my heart of hearts, I’m always going to want to be part of a team of international jewel thieves. Don’t tell me you don’t.)

Okay, back to Ocean’s 8. This isn’t some “reimagining” or “homage to” or “interpretation of” a heist–this is the genuine article. It hits all the essential beats and it does it honestly. There’s a lot of fun here (and a good heist should be light-hearted) but it’s always having fun with, never poking fun at. This is a grand caper in a style I had thought lost forever.

We open with Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) at her parole hearing prior to being released from prison–already we have echoes of the classics. After a very heartfelt and impassioned promise to leave her life of crime forever and settle down to a quiet life with a normal job, we cut straight to her pulling a series of small scams at various stores for operating capital and a new wardrobe, climaxing with her fast-talking her way into a hotel room paid by someone else.

This is a freakin’ operator. She has Rat Pack levels of smooooth, here, pure chutzpah to the walls. Before the opening credits are finished we know that this Ocean is a force to be reckoned with.

Then, of course, she goes and looks up her former partner. Lou (Cate Blanchett, who is rocking the Debbie Harry bad girl look) has a nice, easy profitable scam going on and is reluctant at first to join up with loose cannon Debbie, just out of prison with a 100 million dollar caper she dreamed up while in solitary.

But Debbie convinces Lou that this scheme is money in the bank and the pair start putting together their string.

Okay, a quick note–make that two notes–about the string. First, they are all women. In the context of the caper that Ocean is planning, though, that is a perfectly logical move. As Ocean says (while turning down one of Lou’s suggestions because he is a male) “Men stand out–women are invisible. I want us to be invisible.” And she is exactly right for this target–it’s a very posh celebrity gala where women are there to show off someone’s fashions or to look sweet on someone’s arm.

Second, it is an ethnically diverse string. Again, though, that makes sense because they are recruiting criminals in New York, which is one of the most ethnically diverse cities on the planet.

They aren’t any “diversity hires” on this film. Everyone earns her place on this caper. And the cast has an amazing energy and chemistry.

Then we have the nuts and bolts of the planning, and it made my heart sing with joy. It all makes sense. Maybe not in strictly literal way–I mean, I don’t recommend you use this movie as a blueprint to steal jewelry or anything. But during the full run of this movie never once did I roll my eyes.

Do you have any idea how rare that is?

To give one example, the hacker Nine Ball (the singer Rihanna, who carries off the role beautifully) needs to get into the security system, so she finds the person with the access she needs and checks out his Facebook page, finds his interests, and creates a special webpage to lure him into clicking on it and injecting malware into his work computer. No magic VR, no super secret double encryption, no type really fast while random numbers go across the screen BS. Just something that would work in the real world.

The whole movie is like this. This is exactly what I was talking about in my recent post on Romancing The Reader. These filmmakers seduced me into buying the whole caper, hook, line, and sinker, and boy did it feel good.

And because everything feels so completely real there is real tension. Everything does not go as the mastermind planned, there are last minute surprises and foul ups. You have no guarantees going into this film. More than that I will not say.

One last point, which is a fairly minor plot point but I am going to mention it because its inclusion shows how seriously the filmmakers take the tropes of the genre they are working in. There is an ex with an ugly history in Ocean’s past who shows up in the film, and there is a tense scene between Ocean and Lou in which Lou accuses Ocean of running a “a job within a job” and Ocean of course denies it.

That is pure Pulp Crime Fiction, folks. Straight out of the pages of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I mean, I was heartsick that Donald Westlake didn’t live to see it.

Ocean’s 8 is the genuine article. Forget what you think you know about this movie, it’s all entertainment, no message. Except maybe, “Capers are cool!”

 

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Wild Stars Interior Layout Complete!

Wild Stars III Kickstarter: Still plenty of quality swag left!

Cirsova

I’ve been going a mile-a-minute to get Wild Stars III: Time Warmageddon ready for release.

We’ve got all of the interior art images in from Mark Wheatley, including some fantastic 2-page spreads, and placed into layout.

What’s up next? Hitting that $2000 stretch goal for a wrap-around variant cover!

Want to see what it will look like? Back today for the exclusive early preview!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1161542777/wild-stars-35th-anniversary-time-warmageddon

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Romancing The Reader

I have written before about going on a date as an analogy for writing (perhaps because my success rate for both is near-zero, but let’s not dwell on that.)   My point is that a work of fiction is there to show the reader a good time. The reader doesn’t have to be there and can leave at any time. The author is the pursuer and has to romance the reader.

As a reader (and I can speak only for myself) I’ve come up with a few basic principles for seducing me, or at least charming me into going upstairs to look at your etchings.

Pick me up where I live. Sure, I accept that we’ll be heading off into some strange places, and I’m good with that.  I’m looking for a walk on the wild side or I wouldn’t have chosen your story in the first place. But you need to come get me at my front door.

What this means in practical terms is that I want you to set the scene–setting, characters, objects, events–in terms that are familiar to me. If it’s a pastoral fantasy give me details that would be familiar to anyone who’s walked in a park–sunlight through trees, cool breezes, the smell of wet leaves, the distant sound of cattle. I am willing to go along with characters who live rough in the woods or in unheated cabins, but I don’t live there. Make it real for me in terms a city boy can relate to. In the same way I don’t live on a space station, so I expect you to give me the character’s day to day existence in easy steps. Talk about the sound of the air circulators, the solidity of decking underfoot, the windowless warrens where everything is artificial. That’s a breadcrumb trail I can follow into your world.

Clean up for the occasion. This one is a little tough for me to put into words, possibly because for me it is so obvious.  What I mean is not that your story elements should be attractive in real-world terms (i.e. I can thoroughly enjoy a story that features things I would never want to really experience) but that they should be initially presented in terms that allows them dignity on their own terms.

If you’re going to be taking me to a 33rd Century slum at the fringes of a spaceport on some dismal desert world, at least let me see some children playing hide and seek around the decaying wreckage of a sandcrawler. If your story opens with your character starving in some frozen wilderness, let him face his fate with dignity and resolve.  Show me characters at their best when you introduce them–they’ll be time to let slip their weaknesses and petty cruelties once I get to know them. Let me see the savage beauty of the wasteland, the hope that lingers in the hearts of the downtrodden populace, the captivating mystery that drives the mad scientist in pursuit of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.

And while I realize that this a trope that is endemic in all kinds of fiction, particularly Police Procedurals and Horror, don’t open with a character who is just there to die. Very little infuriates me more than being introduces to a character, trying to relate to a new person and a new world, and then having it all thrown away and having to start from scratch in chapter two. My first impulse is to say, “That was a short book, wasn’t it?” and read no further.

Take me someplace fun. Now, “fun” in terms of fiction can be an odd word. Frequently a fun story will involve nasty places and beastly creatures. “Thrilling” or “exciting” or even “terrifying” would be more accurate. But I really do mean fun. I want something to get my blood pumping, and I want it fairly early in the evening. It doesn’t have to be a significant event, and it doesn’t even have to related to the main plot. But show me what you can do–whether that’s action, horror, adventure, or steamy romance–within a few thousand words of opening line. Give me something to whet my appetite and want to stick around for the rest.

Don’t tell me how much you spent. Okay, so this one is a little more conceptual than the others, but I think the principle is fairly straightforward. I am a writer myself and I know how much work goes into crafting a novel. There’s worldbuilding, plotting, research, all sorts of notetaking and figuring and scribbled lines to try to keep all the pieces in place.

As a reader, though, I don’t want to hear about it. And that means that I don’t want to hear about anything that isn’t important to the action. Maybe you’ve spent days reading up on world events in 1655, but if your story takes place in London I don’t need to hear about what is happening in Moscow. (Was there even a Moscow in 1655? I have no idea.) Maybe you’ve spent hours writing the secret history of the Silent Sisterhood Of St Giles, but do I need to know it? No, I mean, seriously, do I need to know? Is the response you’re looking for “Wow, that’s really cool!” or “Aha, now I understand!”

If it’s the former, you probably want to consider excising that bit of exposition. Because you want me focused on what’s happening and not how you’ve engineered it.

Don’t move too fast.  I’ve written before about what I call “negotiated suspension of disbelief” but I’ll recap it here. Just because I’ve gotten into your car doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to go out parking by the lake. In the same way, just because I’ve agreed to dragons doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to starships. Everything that is fantastic has to be brought in and negotiated separately. This doesn’t have to be a long involved process, but you do need to invest in making it real to me. Convince me that it is believable. There is no “of course” in fantastic fiction.

Kiss me goodnight. Give me an ending that leaves me remembering the fun we had. This doesn’t have to mean a “happy” ending in the traditional sense, but one that is satisfying in a narrative sense. Beginnings and endings are both very fragile and a heavy handed or clumbsy scene at the end of the story can sour me on the whole novel–and leave me unwilling to give you another try. The ideal ending should leave me feeling that this particular story is concluded but life in your world goes on. Make me want to visit again, but let me feel that we’ll do something different next time, that it won’t just be the same evening all over again. I’m greedy that way.

Again, this is just me speaking as an individual reader, and I don’t intend for this to be a list of guidelines or a set of rules. Instead, I want to promote an attitude, a way of looking at the relationship between author and audience. Don’t take your readers for granted and take the time to develop a relationship, even in short fiction. Make it a night to remember.

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