I am thrilled to see my horror story, "The Mystified Morpheus," accepted for publication in the Millhaven Press anthology Fierce Tales: Shadow Realms, especially due to the fact that selling horror has become about as difficult as writing comedy in today's offense-sensitive times. Just as comedians have to deal with worrying about their material being declared "offensive" to certain groups or individuals (or the fame-seeking wannabes who simply want to be heard and look for any excuse to achieve it), horror writers are finding their hands tied in a similar vein.
I can't tell you how many times I was unable to submit this story in the past because the publishers announcing their call for horror stories have posted their "automatic rejection" list, detailing story elements that would exempt a piece from consideration. And sure enough, there would be something there that would eliminate my tale in their eyes. I began to feel that horror in literary form had devolved into "horror-LITE," a weaker, safer, more audience-friendly form of horror that is nothing but a pale shadow of its former self. Funny how televised horror is the exact opposite.
Perhaps it is a backlash to TV, or to the previous decades of horror fiction that had little to no boundaries and took things to outrageous extremes, that resulted in this, but I still contend that horror is supposed to be horrible. If it's restricted from being too horrible, it's only hurting itself and the genre these publishers purport to publish.
And I do get it. I was recently reading a slew of old horror anthologies I had collected in the nineties and never got around to reading, and I personally found them to be gross and over-the-top, but I was more offended by the poor stories than any specific plot element in them. And it was just that--a specific plot element--that was mostly hindering my attempts to get this story before an editorial submissions board. It got so that I finally caved in and allowed myself to make one change--a slight one--just so I could submit it to even more publishers and improve my chances. (I guess I will always wonder if this change was even needed after all, and if this piece would have been accepted in its original, unaltered form.)
Fortunately, there are still a few publishers out there who actually ask for extreme horror and don't shackle writers' creativity by putting limitations on what they are allowed to include in their tales. This one was actually the only horror piece I currently have for submission calls, the rest being mostly science-fiction, with some fantasy and even comedy, so I probably won't have to worry about this again for a while. But I still commiserate with my fellow horror writers who must struggle to get their vision before an audience. With the already-challenging task of competing against seemingly more writers than ever before (let's face it, the Internet has made it easy for anyone and everyone to find and submit to a call for stories), we don't need additional reasons for our stories to be culled.
So that's why I am even more thrilled that this story is the one that has found a home. I can't wait to see what will be its neighbors.
So just as the Canis sapiens of my series are looking for a place to live and thrive, so too is the series itself. Dissatisfaction with its previous publisher has kept me from submitting the sequel there, and I am endeavoring to find a publisher that would pick up the series and run with it in a more productive fashion. So if you were wondering whatever happened to Book Two, this will hopefully explain its delay, for the obstacle that I have to deal with is the fact that offering Book One to a new publisher (which I am able to do, now that all the rights have reverted back to me) involves finding one that is willing to accept what they will consider to be "a reprint" as it has already been published before. And since most publishers are not interested in (and strictly refuse to consider looking at) reprints, this limits where I can take it. I was given hope though in my discussions with some industry professionals, particularly an acquisitions editor I chatted with at last week's Book Expo in New York's Jacob Javits Center, so I am not discouraged. In fact, I am more charged than ever to find a home for my creation that will be a better fit for it. So stay tuned, and be patient, as I have not abandoned it--or you!
I am constantly checking for when magazines and anthologies post their call for stories. For those familiar with this process, the term "simultaneous submission" should be all-too-familiar. It's one of the most important aspects in the submission process, as well as the most dreaded. It refers to whether an editor will accept a story submission from you when it is "simultaneously" being submitted to other markets as well. Some refuse to accept anything that has already been sent elsewhere, while (and this next trend fortunately is showing up more and more) others understand the need to send to as many publishers as possible and will accept simultaneous submissions. Why is this so important?
An editor preparing for an upcoming issue or anthology will set a reply date (or, if not an actual date, then the number of days or months that it will take for you to get your response). This is not set in stone, however, and editors may stray from this time depending on how overwhelmed they are with submissions. Sometimes they will let you know; oftentimes they will not. And some publishers do not even give you a hint at how long it will take right from the start. I also can't tell you (well, I actually can since I keep detailed records of all my submissions) how many times an editor will not even let you know if your story has been rejected and only contact the ones whom they will be purchasing stories from.
So just how long can a story be held in limbo like this until it can safely, and in good conscience, be submitted to one of those publishers that will not accept simultaneous submissions?
I wish I had an answer for this. All I can do is post this in hopes that publishers will be aware of this situation (that not all editors reply according to such regulated schedules--if they reply at all!) and perhaps adjust their policies to be more lenient and accommodating to their submitting authors.
Thank you for patiently waiting to hear more about Beverly's experiences. No one is more excited about seeing this tale unravel further than myself, and now that certain obstacles have been removed which had deterred its progress, it may now continue as planned. In the meantime, I shall be bringing copies of my book to several places in the coming months to try to initiate more readers into the fold. First up is the Baltimore Book Expo, where I may be found at my publisher's table on Sunday, September 24th, from 11:00 AM to 2:55 PM. For more info about the show, visit: http://www.baltimorebookfestival.com/. After that will be the York Book Expo (yorkbookexpo.org/) on October 21st, where I will have my own table for the duration of the event, and a local store appearance (date yet to be determined).
My apologies for the delay with Book Two. A personal crisis derailed my life about a year ago and is yet to be resolved, and unfortunately it has robbed me of my ability to work on it as I had been doing. Seeing my post about the book finding its bones reminds me of the great strides I had been taking, and it quite frankly pains me that I have not been able to continue as I had planned. But rest assured, the second installment IS being worked on; it is just progressing painfully slowly due to the as-yet-unresolved situation that still plagues me. Beverly Journal's tale continues!
This will probably come as a surprise to most, but I have never read the quintessential canine book, Call of the Wild, by Jack London. I read White Fang when I was young, but never this one, and I don't know why it has taken me so long to get around to it. I recently came across a copy of it, and since I have just finished reading the book I was trudging through (a lame sci-fi "epic" that ran well over five hundred pages), I shall begin this one next.
Nothing like the feeling when a story finds it bones! I was starting to worry that Book Two would suffer that literary equivalent of the "middle child syndrome," which often plagues second installments of trilogies. Then I hit upon the missing element that was needed to save it and make it stand out from Books One and Three. Now, instead of it being "that book I have to get through" to get to the one I am more excited about, I am actually enjoying the experience and look forward to getting home every night to continue work on it.
Check out this interesting article from a West Michigan news site:
Could Canis sapiens be loose among us?
Right up there with “What is your book about?” the next question that is always asked of authors would be “What kind of book is it?” And while it is nice to have a simple category that adequately sums up the tone and content of your story, the answer is not necessarily so easy to come up with.
I guess there must have once been a time when a horror was a horror and a comedy was a comedy, and never the twain shall meet, but I don’t recall it. Sci-fi/horrors, paranormal romances, dramedies! Nowadays we just love to dip our chocolate in someone else’s peanut butter in the hopes of inventing a new flavor. But it’s not even intentional. Sure there are those who set out to reinvent sub-genres from the get-go, but often it is the case that an author develops a story the way he/she feels it should be, and then has to struggle afterward trying to determine what category it most closely fits into.
Then add to that the problem of dealing with a series, where one installment may stray from the previous one’s prescribed subject matter. For it is as much fun for the author as for the reader to have a running character be suddenly put into a circumstance beyond his norm.
Take James Bond, for instance (the literary creation, not the film series, although there has been some variation there as well). Throughout the course of his novels, he has been involved in grand espionage adventures, but there have been attempts to stray into far-flung territories that have virtually gone unnoticed under the overall guise of its spy novel roots. He has been involved in a Western (The Man with the Golden Gun, complete with shootout on a train), a science-fiction plot (Dr. No, who is more machine than man—an early Darth Vader?), an Asian-themed excursion (You Only Live Twice), a taut thriller (The Spy Who Loved Me—just Bond showing up at a hotel to protect a woman from thugs), a tragic romance (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), and more. Giving each novel its unique flavor was what helped keep Fleming’s series fresh and interesting.
So how do I describe my series? I simply call it a werewolf story, but if pressed I would describe it as horror, cringing to do so because it does not exactly fit with what I consider a horror, except superficially. I almost want to call it science fiction, since to me it is more about exploring the culture of an alien (no, not from outer space) species, but I also acknowledge that Book One is very much a paranormal romance, with a great deal of it concentrating on a forbidden love affair. However, the second book is by no means a paranormal romance, and the third (not to give anything away) is actually the closest to being an actual horror story. So how do I describe the series as a whole? ...No, really, I’m asking you: How do I describe the series?
Is it even necessary to describe a series? Must everything be pigeonholed for easy consumption? Don’t get me wrong; I like to know what I’m getting into when I start reading a book or watching a movie. In fact, knowing what genre it falls in helps me decide whether to read/watch it or not. But I also like a little leverage where that’s concerned. I particularly like my sci-fi and horror to blend; in fact, films of the fifties did this all the time (The Thing from Another World, The Blob, etc.). So why was it that the first ALIEN film was treated like it invented the wheel?
What kind of book is it? To me it is so much more than one thing. It has horror elements, but it also has science-fiction elements. It is a tale of forbidden love, but it is also a thriller about a person dealing with emotional trauma. I find it as hard to simplify into one word as I would find it hard to describe one of my sons in one word, but nevertheless an author is expected to be able to do so with his or her book.
I suppose simply saying “fiction” isn’t good enough, huh?
After a writer painstakingly crafts his work with sentences that best exhibit the notions that crept from his or her mind, the next step is to go back and reevaluate them. The obvious reason for this is the hunting down of any typos or mistakes—both grammatical and plot-related—that are apparently unavoidable no matter how practiced or experienced you are. But this also is the time when certain sentences may come off sounding awkward and in need of reworking.
One of the things I have to watch for is sentence length. I do not like simple sentences. (Except, apparently, to make a grand statement like the previous one.) Compound sentences, complex sentences, compound-complex sentences… These are the types I prefer, and I frankly don’t see the reason for writing an adult-targeted story as if it were written for grade-school students who are just learning to read.
Say it simply. Why? So it can sound dull? Are we really encouraging writers to simplify their text just so less-learned readers can avoid the experience of having to look up and learn a new word? What would be terrible about that? In high school I went through a period where I started riddling my speech with “fifty-cent words” (perhaps a result of all my late night reading). When this of course did not go over well, I did a complete one-eighty in college just to fit in better. But in my writing… there I stayed true to my nature.
It is no surprise that writing teachers would occasionally comment on my long sentences. They were grammatically correct—in fact, I think one of the joys I take from writing in this way comes from composing a perfect sentence that links all my related thoughts together in an interesting manner while remaining 100% accurate from a grammatical standpoint. But even I will admit when a sentence gets away from me and is in need of reshaping. I just object to the notion of simplifying for no reason, when the sentence successfully does its job and conveys my idea flawlessly but is simply longer than the average reader is used to.
I never emulated Hemingway. Known for simple sentences, his writing style is exemplified in classrooms as the ideal to strive for. (I am only learning now that his style changed depending on the particular book, and that he even crafted a sentence that was well over four hundred words!) It has also been argued that it wasn’t his sentences that were simple as much as his choice of wording. That’s even worse! Could you imagine how dull it would be if we were to go through life only hearing and using the same boring words?
Well guess what; it’s already been imagined. In George Orwell’s 1984, which I am currently halfway through reading for the very first time, Big Brother’s society uses a technique whereby the language is being eroded away so that all concepts are represented by a few simple words. This is done in accordance with a belief that eliminating certain words altogether from a language will eliminate the possibility that its members will even be able to conceive of the notions behind them. If there are no words to convey the concepts of freedom or rebellion, how can one consider them?
I don’t know if there have ever been any studies to justify this idea—or how one could even be accomplished!—but it still stands as one of the elements in the novel that one would want to avoid in real life. What a colorless world we would live in if our speech—and more so our reading material—were dumbed down to the point of lacking any interest altogether. The story alone cannot cut it; even the most engaging tale requires flavor to bring it to life.
Which brings me back to the editing process, and the tightrope we walk when trying to conform to certain accepted notions of how a sentence should be while still allowing our personal flair to show through. It is perhaps the least pleasurable part of the writing process for an author, but it is also one of the most important steps, as how your narrative sounds to the reader’s ear may win or lose your audience. Is it any wonder that this topic weighs heavily on my mind?