Tag Archives: Starline

Writing, Pandemics & All That Jazz

bookWell, I don’t think there is much point in singing the pandemic song. This might be the only time in recent world history, or ever, where the world is experiencing the same event at the same time, and we’re all in the same boat. Isolation, depression, sadness, frustration, anger, fear: it’s affecting all of us in different ways. We don’t know if our world will ever go back to what it was and maybe all of it shouldn’t.

I live alone, so I’ve been suffering loneliness on a grander scale than I already did. And I’m lucky; I still have a job that I can do from home. Though I would never have any issue in filling my days if I weren’t working–that is, if I could go out. These days, the big excitement amounts to going to buy food. Like most writers who need some alone time to write, I have that but, like many people, we haven’t seen our production go up as the unpredictable future weighs on us.

The quarantines have cut into everyone’s lives. I didn’t get to be guest of honor at the Creative Ink Festival. Maybe that will happen again in the future, if we have events anymore. I didn’t get to go to Europe or to Stokercon, or bond with friends and writers. So, yes, I too am suffering a malaise.

I have continued to sell various pieces so this will be a catch up post. Back in February, for Women in Horror Month, I had guest poets for every day of the month. I also wrote a guest post for Horror Tree, called “Writing Horror is a Nightmare.” It’s a short piece looking at the hard part of writing horror. Horror Tree for those that don’t know is both a zine that posts on markets as well as has blogs and articles to do with horror. However, all the markets they highlight are not all just horror. I subscribe to the newsletter for market tips.

I have had friends ask me where I find my markets, and I’m a search maven. So I thought PoetryShowcaseCoverI’d add this into the post, also for my friend Vie. Besides Horror Tree, I also check out Ralan.com.  Ralan has been running his site for a very long time and it lists specifically speculative markets. He breaks them into pro, semi-pro, pay and token categories, plus a few others. You can run down the list and see who is open and briefly what and when they accept.

A year ago, I started to use Submission Grinder as both a market search engine and to record my writing and sales. I have a hybrid system where I still use index cards for listing each story and poem and where I’ve sent them, plus I put them in the Grinder. I know I could switch to a spreadsheet (which I also use for taxes to list my sales) but I like the 3D aspect of searching for pieces by going through the cards. If you click on the Grinder logo it will show you tabs for Recent Activity, Recently Added Markets, and My Market Response List (the last for places where I have submissions). I check the Recently Added Markets to find new listings. I’d say it’s 50/50 on response since some “new” markets seem to be dead or unresponsive. The Grinder also lets you search for markets by genre and for poetry or fiction.

While those three are my mainstays, there are many others I use. Submittable lets you subscribe to their newsletter and they list callouts for submissions. You cannot tell if they’re paying or nonpaying unless you click on the market. Dark Markets is another one though I don’t find it that easily searchable. There is Publishing, and Other Forms of Insanity, which updates calls by month. Winning Writers is another one that lists markets, as well as contests and which ones are free. Some of these I get as newsletters, such as Funds for Writers and Pamelyn Castro’s Flash Fiction Flash Newsletter. I don’t always intensely study all of these but sometimes I do. And sometimes, I just google search to see if there is anything new. There are more market report sites out there but some of them are dated and therefore list markets no longer in existence. The ones I’ve listed here are the best and I’ve done a lot of searching. There is Duotrope, which is not free but is also recommended by other writers.

Pulp Horror Phobias 2Onto other news. I was awarded a BC Arts Council Grant in March. Oddly it was for an application from last year but I’m not saying no to funds for my writing trips. Engen Books in eastern Canada sponsors the Kit Sora flash fiction–flash photography monthly contest. I’ve used the short 250 word entries as a way to continue writing while grieving my bother’s death last year. In Dec. I came third place with “Accidentally, He Gives Her Dreams.” “Dinner Plans,” a drabble was part of the Quarantine Quanta contest in the humor category, and “A Taste of Eden” was podcast on Starship Sofa #625 in Feb.

There have been too many sales to list so, for poetry, I’m posting the ones that have been published:

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Women in Horror: Gerri Leen

WiHM11-GrrrlWhiteThis is what happens when you finish up a post at 2am. You forget in the first version to introduce your writer. So, ahem, Gerri Leen is another talent with a wicked sense of humor. Don’t ever try to feed her to dragons.

When did you discover poetry and who/what influenced you?

My aunt was a schoolteacher/principal, and she loved poetry.  She used to read it to me when I was child.  As a teen, I was a Star Trek fanatic, and I read Leonard Nimoy’s poetry when it came out back in the 70s, but beyond that I never really thought that much about it.  In college, I started writing poetry as a way to sort things out in life (massively emo things, most of which I would never submit now) and when I started to write seriously in my forties, poetry really clicked. Even though I don’t feel particularly drawn to rhyming poetry, I love the way songs are constructed and feel influenced by a lot of singer-songwriters across many genres.  I love the stories that songs tell and I tend toward narrative poetry more than other kinds.

Why do you write poetry?

It’s an outlet and brings me relief and a quick dopamine hit.  It seems to use a different writing muscle than prose—for me anyway.  And I just absolutely love writing it.

What do you think is the most difficult aspect in writing poetry?

Finding your own voice even if it’s not what others are doing.  Being brave enough to try things, to admit what you don’t know, to play and work hard even if it seems to come easily.  I never studied poetry so there are probably all sorts of things I do “wrong” if you want to get technical with it, but since I’ve been writing it for publication, I’ve tried to be more intentional, to get better at it, to understand how it works (even to study some), to try some form poetry even (since I default to free verse). I also think it’s important to not get discouraged once you start submitting.  To keep improving and improvising—and keep the poems out on submission. Just like stories, you never know who might love your work and how many times a poem will be out before it’s bought.  And just like prose, there may be editors who never buy your stuff and others who love you.  Balancing realism and hope.  Just keep writing new stuff and don’t obsess over what’s already out on submission.

String Theory

It gets loose
In the night
That damned puppet
I can hear it
Clickity-clack
Running up, sliding down
It trips sometimes
Tangles up its strings
Takes me days to work them free

Even longer to clean up the blood

I should tell
Maybe a priest
Could exorcise it
Sprinkle it
Salt it
Make it stop getting loose
Let me sleep
Just one night
All the way through

Without having to clean up the mess

But maybe not
He’d wonder why
I never said a word before
How many dead?
I never told
I never tried to make it stop
And if I did
Would it stop?
Or would it come after me?

And who would clean up then?

“String Theory” first appeared in Paper Crow, Issue 0, 2009

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Do you explore particular themes? What are they and why? ?

I love to retell mythology or fairy tales.  Give them a new slant, find an angle unexplored (or less explored—is anything really new?)  I like tales of redemption, honesty, unexpected connections, vengeance, and honor.  I currently have a poetry collection making the sub rounds—a mix of new and previously published poems focusing on mythology, fairy tales, and archetypal horrors.

What is it about dark (speculative) poetry that you think attracts people to read it?

The same thing that makes dark fiction or visual media appealing.  Dark stuff is fun.  It’s cathartic to let it out as a writer and take it in as a reader/viewer.  We all have the kinds of darkness we love and stuff we don’t do so well with (I’m a horror writer and yet I don’t like to be scared LOL and body horror is really hard for me to get through).  One reason I think horror writers in general are such nice folks is that they get their darkness out on a regular basis in such a positive way.

What projects (publications) are you working on or have coming up?

I write in a lot of genres and right now my projects aren’t horror or poetry. I have a middle grade mosaic novel featuring genetically modified racehorses that talk and race on their own/manage their own careers nearly ready to get out on subs to agents, and I have an urban fantasy/mystery/romance that needs updating/revising.  I try to create a lot of new poetry.  I have a chronic illness, so I don’t always get far on prose as I tend to check out when I’m going through a bad period, but poetry can be done in short bursts so I’m glad I’m inclined to write it.  Being ill is way less depressing when you have a side gig that accommodates crazy hours and not always being present.  I’m also always looking for anthology opportunities that spark the muse—both for prose and poetry.  I was super stoked to get into the HWA Poetry Showcase VI  last year and if there is a volume VII this year, I’ll be aiming for that too.

Eat

“More,” they say, pushing plates of sweets
And savories at me, smiling as they urge
Me to stuff myself until I can barely move.
The food is good—magnificent, actually—
So I eat and eat and eat and ignore
Their whispered “This will please him, yes?”
“He likes them plump and marbled.”
Does he now? Do they think I came here
Only to eat? “This dragon?” I ask and there’s
A hushed pall, a drawing away from the table
By everyone who’s not me. “Feed him often, do you?”
I pat my bulging middle. Even with all this food
I’m still hungry, still feel the mix of pain and nausea
Of an empty gut—babies will do that to you.
Did I forget to tell these folks who have their
Every wish granted by the dragon they so faithfully feed
That I am gravid, large with child? Well, children—
Well, they’re not human, so let’s just call them spawn.
My stomach growls and I pull another plate to me.
“When will I meet him, this dragon of yours? Soon?”
They look relieved—no more lies—and nod and murmur,
“Yes, soon” and there’s a beauty in their honesty so I
Decide not to tell them what’s to come.
My babes will be clutched with teeth, refusing this
Food I happily gorge on, for they eat only one thing:
Large, scaly, winged, breathes fire—you get the idea.
I wonder how these people will do once they have to
Fend for themselves? That is, of course, if they get away
Before I’m ready for my post-spawning meal.
My favorite treat after giving birth: humans.

“Eat” first appeared in Star*Line, Issue 42.3, 2019

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Is there anything else you would like to say about horror or poetry?

I blame my love of dark things (even my fantasy and sci-fi often skews dark) on my childhood: I saw Dark Shadows when it first aired.  I snuck viewings of The Night Gallery when my Mom wasn’t paying attention and The Twilight Zone, which was allowed, could be creepy as frak.  I was hooked on Kolchak and The X-Files and the series Friday the 13th. And I was forever terrified by that damned doll in Trilogy of Terror.  I didn’t start out writing horror but it was inevitable that I’d get here eventually.

LeenGerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. She has poetry published in: Eye to the Telescope, Star*Line, Dreams & Nightmares, Songs of Eretz, Polu Texni, The Future Fire, and others. She also writes fiction in many genres (as Gerri Leen for speculative and mainstream, and Kim Strattford for romance). Visit gerrileen.com or kimstrattford.com to see what else she’s been up to.

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Writing: The Sad State of Poetry in Speculative Fiction

Waaay back, when I first started to get serious about writing, I wrote poetry. Okay I started writing poetry at the angst-ridden edge of twelve, and shelved much of it until my twenties. Eventually though, my poetry grew up and ventured into the world.

My first professional sale was for a whole $1.45 and yes it was a science fiction poem to Star*line. I continued to sell a poem here and there for usually five bucks and a copy of the magazine/book. Then I hit it big and sold a poem to Amazing Stories; $36 USD. Wow! And from that, I was invited (they actually contacted me) to join the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), THE professional organization for science fiction writers throughout North America. (I  don’t think I’d ever heard of SF Canada way back then.)

Thirty-six dollars and SFWA membership. SFWA works on a third of the pie idea. Three pro sales makes you a real writer. One or two-thirds makes you an Associate. You still pay the same amount but you get fewer privileges and can’t vote for the board or the Nebulas. What does it get you? That may be a different post but there is a wee bit of prestige, a very wee bit if you stay Associate forever.

I’ve sold more poems and stories since then, but everything must be speculative obviously for SFWA’s requirements. The publication that your piece appears in must meet the demands of a high production number, be a long running publication, pay pro rates, be American (and a few, very few Canadian magazines), etc. for membership qualification. Oh and poetry, well SFWA decided to drop it like a hot potato. No longer can you become a member on poetry alone. Not even if you’re the best poet in the world. Bruce Boston is probably the best Speculative poet out there. Certainly the most well-known. Canada’s own Sandra Kasturi is no pale shadow either. And there are numerous more.

But here’ is thesad state of the beleaguered poem. Someone got it in their head that because a poem is a hundred words or a hundred lines then why, it’s gotta be easy and fast to write. I’ve spent days, even months writing a poem (in some cases, years, but not constantly). I doubt it was any poet who said, scrap the poems from SFWA. And if three measly poems were just too few for a full membership, then why not make it six or nine or a dozen? Nope, SFWA allows stories, novellas, novelettes, books, even flash fiction in the right circumstances (though I hear that’s iffy) but poetry. Ick. That stuff is for intellectuals pontificating down their noses. Who reads it?

And really, that is part of the problem, isn’t it? Who reads poetry? There is a small point here that I believe poetry is part of the old bardic tradition and really is meant to be heard and seen. Look at poetry slams (a discussion for another day). Many people read it…sometimes, for it to still be bought in some places. But enough? And poetry, well it’s unfathomable, bizarre, esoteric. And spec poetry has just gotta be worse. Doesn’t it? I mean aliens in a story gives you time to paint an elaborate picture, but a vignette? Well, we don’t have time to look at that.

Sigh, there was an era where everyone was taught to read poetry. And what is “The Cremation of Sam McGee” if not speculative poetry? Poetry doesn’t have to be unfathomable or above people’s heads though I’ve had the most straightforward poems rejected by editors who said their audience wouldn’t understand them. Say the poem is confusing but don’t lower the intelligence of your readers, please.

Oh and did I mention that speculative fiction is the worst paid genre out there (except, would you believe, erotic fiction)? Yes, I can write a poem and receive $100 for it from Descant, or a story for a lit mag and get anywhere from $100-$1000, or I can write an article for anywhere from thirty cents a word to a dollar and more. Sure ,there’s a range but if you’re writing poetry and speculative poetry, well you really are the dregs of society. Not even as good as the tentacle waving scum of speculative story writers. No sirree. You’re filler on those pages that don’t have a story long enough.

That is the sad sate of speculative poetry. Alas. And this attitude is often held by those who have never written it or tried to understand it. SFWA has some pretty old-fashioned ideas that makes me wonder on the value of continuing to be a member when I’m a small time Canadian writer.

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Writing: Rejection Letters

On one of my writers’ lists we started discussing rejection letters. These have ranged from the ones that say, “I love your novel but have no idea how I would market it,” to form rejections.

In the range of rejections I’ve received is the acceptance letter from a new magazine that said they had “excepted” my story. I thought they had rejected but they hadn’t. Though the magazine didn’t make it to the first issue, I did get paid.

I have had many form rejections along the vein of “Thanks for your submission but it’s not right for us.” Fairly banal and doesn’t tell you anything of why they didn’t accept your poem or story. I have had the form rejections that are annoying and less than helpful. They’re usually the ones that say something like: “Thanks for your submission but we have decided not to accept it. The reason we reject pieces could be grammar, spelling, we’ve seen the plot before, flat characterization, not enough conflict, the editor was drunk, the editor hates stories about X, bad phase of the moon, we’re not paid enough to care, we don’t like you or your little dog too, etc.” Okay, maybe they don’t say all of these things but they may as well because, really, it’s a shot in the dark for any one of the reasons.

Asimov’s used to have a super irritating one for slushpile authors. It inspired me to write a poem about it that Starline published. I gave Gardner Dozois a copy when I met him at a convention, and I did eventually get out of that slushpile and that annoying letter. There have been a few that were downright insulting and snobby. Why editors think they need to do this to authors, I’m not sure but it usually bespeaks of nonprofessionalism in the magazine too.

I received one from a humor publisher done in the form of a breakup letter. I’m sure they thought they were being cute and funny but I would have rejected it for not being humorous at all and I found it more annoying in its coyness than anything else.

Some rejection letters use a checklist where there are boxes with such things as: plot has been done too often, grammatical issues, not enough conflict, characters flat, dialogue unbelievable, etc. The editor then checks the boxes  that pertain to your submission. Many of these letters also have the box that says, just not right for us, which is a valid reason. These rejections are marginally better because they may give you an idea of what doesn’t work in the story. I haven’t seen any of these for a while now. Either I’m getting personal rejections or the places I send work to just don’t use them.

The best rejection is one that says something about why the editor is rejecting a piece. Although this can often be subjective and once in awhile, downright stupid, (editors are people too) more often it will give you an idea of what is stalling the piece. An example of receiving some information and trying to correct the story is displayed by this one piece that I have never managed to sell. It takes place on an alien world with insectoid and larval creatures. I’d send it to one magazine and would be told the story was too alien and the reader couldn’t relate to the creatures. I’d rewrite and send it out to another magazine and receive back a rejection saying my aliens were too human. I did this for a bit, always having it rejected. Then I didn’t bother to rewrite the story in between the submissions and sure enough, one editor would say “too alien” and another “too human.” I’ll probably never sell that story until I’m a famous chestnut. So rejections must be taken with a grain of salt.

In the writers’ group, most of the writers said they’d prefer an informative rejection. Sometimes that rejection, after editors have held the story for a second reading, seems to be less preferable, but then it means I’m getting close. A no-no is to write back to editors and lambaste them for rejecting your piece. Professionals take it as part of the process and we chalk the annoying ones up to part of the experience. I always try, as an editor, to give a reason for rejecting as it hones my own skills and I know how much writers appreciate it. And so far, I have had letters of thank you but no one calling me names for rejecting their piece of genius.

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