Tag Archives: writers

Scarborough, Slugs and Suicide

Scarborough, Fantasycon, writng, speculative writers, seaside resort

The short side of the Grand Hotel. To the right is the front facing the sea and going down several more stories.

I’ve been meaning to post pictures and tales from my trip to the UK last September. I traveled to the midlands, starting in Scarborough, a seaside town on the east coast. English seaside resorts were all the rage in the early 1900s. The Brits tell me that they’re falling into decline because everyone can now catch a cheap flight to a warm Mediterranean coastline. These places are happy to have some cheaper rates and conventions still help fill the towns. So it was that I went to Scarborough for the Fantasycon by the Sea, put on by the British Fantasy Society. I’ve been to the UK a few times but never to the midlands so I combined it with a vacation.

I went a day early with a Brit I met at the last con, Paul Woodward, one of many writers I’ve met on my writer journeys. We went to Whitby Abbey the day before the con, and a beautiful day it was too. I’ll post about that soon but the night before the convention there was a walk through the amusement called the Terror Towers, where supposedly part of Michael Jackson’s Killer was filmed. It’s one of those cheesy scare factories with creepy clowns and vampire girls and spooky animatronics. These things never even get me with a jump-scare and I think I creeped out the creepy clown at one point when I sneaked up behind him.

slugs, Scarborough, creepy things, slimy

Just a small sampling of the slimy congregation.

After we went through the amusement (these seaside towns are famous for arcades, candy cane, tacky souvenirs and other amusements, we wandered back to the Not So Grand Hotel. It’s a behemoth that was once a a grand dam in its heyday, stories tall and overlooks the ocean. Now it’s a bit shabby, with plastic plants, weird baby blue and pink painted walls and some weird rooms like jail cells (not all though). The side facing the water is about eight stories tall with probably 100 stairs up one side. We chose to take the ramp up around the other side to the top. There, we came across a very strange site, something like 50 slugs congregating on the sidewalk like the best lettuce was to be found. It was dark and we couldn’t see any reason for the massive oozerama, almost like a visitation from the dark side.

overpass, suicide, jumping, Scarborough

To the very left of the picture is where the girl was first standing. To the right, you can see the road far below.

Then, as we moved up toward the hotel there is a pedestrian walkway that goes about a hundred feet over the road by the sea. We passed a teenage girl on the other side of the mint colored, cast-iron railing. It was waist-high and I said, wow she’s going to have trouble getting over to the other side. I thought she was trying to climb over and that she’d come up from the incline below. But something just didn’t feel right. I looked back, then stopped and looked back again. I realized this girl was not trying to get over to the right side, but was gradually working her way out over the bridge. I walked over to her and asked what she was doing, not quite believing what I suspected.

She pulled up her hood kept working her way out over the bridge. At this point I started to realize she was serious and tried grabbing her hand. She kept pushing me off and I turned to Paul and said call the police. Things like this tend to slow down time. It felt like long minutes, a half hour but it may have been no more than ten. Two older men walked over the ramp and I called out, asking can you help or call the police. She’s trying to jump. They pretty much said, let her jump and kept walking. I was so stunned at this and told them that I hoped nobody stops for them some day when they need help.

writing convention, British Fantasycon, teenage suicide

Yes, the drop off of this picturesque bridge would have killed the girl. Taken from the ramp, where the slugs were.

I finally clamped my hands around the girl’s wrist and put my back to the railing trying to hold her on. A young guy and his littledaughter came by and I got him to call the police and then another guy who had just finished working also came by and he came over to help me hold her on. Eventually a couple came by and they helped, with the woman spelling me off. The whole time this girl never said a word.

Scarborough, bridge, overpass, design

The ornate bridge from below.

Four police officers arrived and handcuffed her to the railing. Since several were women, none had the height to lift her over the railing. Four more arrived right away and they pulled her over. At that point, our job was done. We saw a couple of women walk over and I presume they were social workers. I hope that girl got the help she needed and that her life will get better.

grand-hotel

Inside the Grand Hotel, not looking as shabby as it does in real life.

All I can say is that I’ve never stood by when I saw something bad going down. I would not have been able to live with myself had I walked away and then heard the girl had killed herself. As the saying goes, the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, or in this case, for bad to happen is to stand by and not be involved. I got involved and at least saved someone’s life.

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Shitty Poetry Month

poetry, poems, shitty poems, CZP, Chizine Publications, contests

In a send-up of the WWW belt and poetry month, you can vote for the worst poet.

In a send-up of all those poetry months, (and of course you know April is National Poetry Month) the folks at Chizine Publications decided to honor “Shitty Poetry Month.” There are many abysmal poems that fill the ether and the void and in fact, probably a lot of them should be voiced instead of being put into books and sent around the world. The vanity presses are famous for taking every piece of drek to mar a monitor and putting them into a lovely hardcover book, that they then charge you, the writer of terrible poems, to buy and give to all your friends so you can say, “Look! I is a writer.”

Yes, it’s that terrible and terribly fun. With tongue firmly in cheek, we were all asked to write terrible poems. It’s the last week of the contest, where each week you could vote for the worst poem. The four finalists will be pitted against each other, where you, brave reader, can vote for the worst poem of the year. I’m afraid to say my poem was not terrible enough. (What a relief!)

You can also read just how awful we can be when we just spew out whatever comes into our minds. Yes, poetry actually takes work. I’ve been working on some poems for year and years, to get them just right. Which reminds me, I have sold poems to On Spec and Burning Maiden. It will take a while for them to come out, which I will of course announce here.

In the meantime, entertain yourself with some shitty poems. And if you’re not familiar with CZP, they put out very good books in the dark fiction world. They also won a British Fantasy Award last year. http://www.chizine.com

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Women in Horror: Catherine MacLeod

women's rights, equality, sexism, women in horror, fiction writing, horror

Women in Horror Month, sponsored by the Viscera Organization

Women in Horror Month is sponsored by the Viscera Organization. This group tries to highlight women in film and other arts related to horror to give equal representation. Their vision and mission statements are at the end of this article. Now, here is another Canadian woman who writes about the dark side of life: Catherine MacLeod.

CATHERINE MACLEOD

My story “The Salamander’s Waltz” will be out in Chilling Tales 2 from Edge Publishing this fall. I’ve had a productive winter, working on several new stories, and finding lots of odd hours to write. I find that, generally, a nor’easter will give you all the time you need.

1. Why do you write dark fiction/ horror? Some people consider it only a sensationalistic tableau. Why this genre over others or do you span the literary landscape? 

I write horror because it’s what I like to read. I’m not good at watching it, though. Season of  The Walking Dead? Thank God for the pause button.

2. What dark themes do you explore in your fiction?

Children in peril. I can’t think of anything more horrifying. Loneliness. Betrayal.

3. Do you feel horror/ dark fiction is an important genre and why; what does it bring to the table or allow you to explore? Who inspired you?

Horror is the genre I understand best. (I tell people I’m a professional coward.) I’ll probably never solve a murder or catch a spy, and happily-ever-after isn’t even in my lexicon, but I’ve got fear down pat.

horror, dark fiction, women in fiction,

Chilling Tales 2 is out this fall, with a story by Catherine.

My biggest inspirations were Ray Bradbury and Rod Serling, who taught me that darkness can be beautiful, and Stephen King, who taught me that it lives next door. King’s novel, Salem’s Lot, was a revelation. Up until then I’d been reading M.R. James, Saki, William Hope Hodgson. All great writers, but they wrote about people I couldn’t quite imagine, doing things I didn’t quite understand, in places I’d never seen. There was always some distance between me and the story. There was none between me and Salem’s Lot. I live in that little town; I know those people. Salem’s Lot got right in my face. In a manner of speaking, it brought horror home to me.

4.  Do you feel women are under-represented in any way in the speculative arena or do you think there is more focus on them than on men? (Or examples of how there is a balance.)

Honestly, I don’t think about it much.

5. Abuse against women is worldwide: the gang rape of the Indian woman, women assaulted in various terrorist attacks or protests against regimes (Egypt, Syria, etc. throughout time), domestic violence and murder at the hands of boyfriends, fathers, families and husbands, sexist representation, being treated as second class citizens or possessions and made to dress in a particular way, etc. With all that’s going on, what do you want to say about where women are and what we can do to stem the tide? 

Last year a man told me, “Stories like yours just bring more evil into the world.” He explained that by encouraging people to believe in evil I was making it stronger. Then he started talking about the Stephen King story he was reading. Apparently he didn’t see anything wrong with a man having that kind of power.

(For the record, I think the evil is already here, and that it gets stronger when we look away. I don’t think my stories make much difference either way.)

6. Lastly, this is your space to add anything else you would want to say.

Usually I just work in a quiet corner, hoping to write something good enough to get read. It gets lonely sometimes. I appreciate the light that Women in Horror Month shines into my corner.

women in horror, viscera organization

THE MISSION

Women in Horror Recognition Month (WiHM) assists underrepresented female genre artists in gaining opportunities, exposure, and education through altruistic events, printed material, articles, interviews, and online support. WiHM seeks to expose and break down social constructs and miscommunication between female professionals while simultaneously educating the public about discrimination and how they can assist the female gender in reaching equality.

THE VISION

A world wherein all individuals are equally given the opportunity to create, share, and exploit their concept of life, pain, and freedom of expression.

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www.facebook.com/WomenInHorrorMonth

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Can Writers Be Rockstars?

Rock stars and movie stars and known for their blowouts, the drug and alcohol abuse, their indiscretions mostly because they’re so rich and famous they’re always in the limelight. Over at Terrible Minds Chuck Wendig argues/pokes fun at the image and says we need writers to be rock stars. But have we ever had them, those memorable characters known more for their antics with drugs, alcohol and sex than for their writing (almost), or those with personalities that would have them locked up if it weren’t for their mad genius?

Wendig names Oscar Wilde, Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway as characters in the past that had that crazed star image. William Burroughs would also enter that arena. Phillip K. Dick and Thomas Disch had a legendary hate on of each other. Dick, paranoid and spaced out on some substance hated Disch who was gay and reported him to the FBI (or maybe it was the CIA). I only learned this though reading Disch’s last book The Word of God. Disch got his last digs in at Dick in the stories (part fictional/part autobiographical) in the end. But these guys are all dead guys so they don’t count.

writers, rockstars, movie stars, assholes, prima donas, drugs, sex, bad boys

Creative Commons: Drew Coffman, Flickr

Who are our living writing rock stars, the bad boys and girls of the literary world, the ones whose pens drip a venom that pales to their verbal vitriol, their nasty antics, their crazed abuses of the body? Someone pointed out that perhaps it’s because rock stars are younger and writers older when famous that age tempers these antics, but what can we say about Keith Richards then, though the Janis Joplins and Amy Winehouses definitely fall early in the realm of substance abuse. Perhaps it’s because we don’t look at authors whereas we watch movie stars and listen and watch rock stars, that makes a difference. Writers create characters and your imagination takes over. Who wants to find out they’re an elderly housewife of three or that they’re old and fat and greying? Just doesn’t live up to the glamor, does it?

Wendigs subcategories are: Erratic Author Appearances, Intensely Weird Drug Habits, …Making Rock Star Demands, Insane Hobbies on Display, Jack Up Our Books With Rockstar Juice, Groupies+Entourage=Awesome, …Writer Cribs, …Hookers, …Public Urination. Hmm, granted this piece is high on irony, I guess this might be considered a primer for the famous on what not to do. For writers, maybe we live out all that through our characters so we’re less likely to act it out. The TV show Californication  probably comes closes to the fantasy of a rockstar writer. Of course it’s Hollywood so everything is skewed there.

So who is alive who might be considered a writing rock star for wacky habits? Harlan Ellison is definitely one. Not that he’s defecated in anyone’s mailbox (that we know of) but he’s more than spoken his mind, trounced people verbally and on the page and been known to do a few “rumored” deeds such as signing a woman’s breast or leaving the garden slug dessert (search my posts for more on this). Samuel Delaney was known for his erratic author appearances. Neil Gaiman is mentioned as someone who should be a bad boy but is relatively tame. Wendig did miss that Gaiman has an entourage. If you’ve seen if at a convention there is usually a contrail of black-clad gothettes following him about. Sadly, I cannot think of any bad girl writers.

I tried once to tell the writers group I belonged to that we needed to hang out in bars and perpetuate a lifestyle that could be more infamous than our writing. No one went for it though. Maybe I’d be better known if I had. 🙂 But the piece is right; overall we’re not the same prima donas as rock and movie stars. Check out Wendig’s article, and If you can think of a living writer known for strange, bad, erratic or aberrant behavior, post here so we can start a list.

 

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Writing: Black Quill Nominees

Dark Scribe Magazine, a nonfiction magazine highlighting dark fiction started doing the Black Quill awards three years ago. As I talked about earlier this week in “What is Horror?” small presses especially are doing very well with the dark speculative fiction market. The Black Quills look at all presses, whether large or small. This resurrection of dark fiction, after the large publishing houses pooh-poohed “horror” had as much to do with dedicated small presses as it did with the growing trend of print-on-demand publishing, allowing presses without millions of dollars to put out quality fiction in a professional capacity.

And the Black Quills are an award looked at with respect and probably opens the gate to a few more choices, besides the Stoker awards, given by the Horror Writers Association at the World Horror Convention every year, and named suitably after Bram Stoker.

This year, the fourth annual Black Quill Awards, to be given out in February, have the following categories: Dark Genre Novel, Small Press Chill, Dark Genre Fiction Collection, Dark Genre Anthology, Dark Genre Book of Non-Fiction, Dark Scribble (stories in a magazine–paper or virtual), and Dark Genre Book Trailer. Why they limit the short fiction to magazines only and do not allow short stories in an anthology is beyond me. It seems an odd arbitrary choice. A collection is a selection of stories by one author and an anthology is a collection of stories by different authors. The collection award is given to the author and the anthology one to the editor. So the writers in an anthology are effectively barred from being nominated. Very odd. As well, there is no cover art award. Perhaps the trailer is seen as more effective because there is a script and that art really isn’t writing and belongs to someone else.

Several Chizine books authors have been nominated, specifically Gemma Files’ A Book of Tongues for Best Small Press Chill and Paul Tremblay’s In the Mean Time for Best Dark Genre Collection. That’s pretty good for a press that’s been going for about two years. The Horror Library Vol. IV anthology where my story “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha” resides, is also nominated in the Dark Genre Anthology category. Without further ado, here is the full list.

DARK GENRE NOVEL OF THE YEAR:

(Novel-length work of horror, suspense, or thriller from a mainstream publisher; awarded to the author)
  • A Dark Matter by Peter Straub (Doubleday)
  • Kraken by China Miéville (Del Rey)
  • Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon (Leisure / Bad Moon Books)
  • The Caretaker of Lorne Field by David Zeltserman (Overlook Hardcover)
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin (Ballantine)
  • Under the Dome by Stephen King (Scribner)

BEST SMALL PRESS CHILL:

(Novel or novella published by small press publisher; awarded to the author)
  • A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files (ChiZine Publications)
  • Dreams in Black and White by John R. Little (Morning Star)
  • Invisible Fences by Norman Prentiss (Cemetery Dance)
  • The Castle of Los Angeles by Lisa Morton (Gray Friar Press)
  • The Wolf at the Door by Jameson Currier (Chelsea Street Editions)

BEST DARK GENRE FICTION COLLECTION:

(Single author collection, any publisher; awarded to the author)
  • Blood and Gristle by Michael Louis Calvillo (Bad Moon Books)
  • In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay (ChiZine Publications)
  • Little Things by John R. Little (Bad Moon Books)
  • Occultation by Laird Barron (Night Shade Books)
  • Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse by Otsuichi (VIZ Media LLC)

BEST DARK GENRE ANTHOLOGY:

(Multi-author collection, any publisher; awarded to the editor)
  • Dark Faith Edited by Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon (Apex Publications)
  • Dead Set: A Zombie Anthology Edited by Michelle McCrary and Joe McKinney (23 House)
  • Haunted Legends Edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas (Tor)
  • Horror Library IV Edited by RJ Cavender and Boyd E. Harris (Cutting Block Press)
  • When The Night Comes Down Edited by Bill Breedlove (Dark Arts Books)

BEST DARK GENRE BOOK OF NON-FICTION:

(Any dark genre non-fiction subject, any publisher; awarded to the author[s] or editor[s])
  • Horrors: Great Stories of Fear and Their Creators by Rocky Wood (McFarland)
  • I Am Providence: The Life and Times of HP Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi (Hippocampus Press)
  • Night of the Living Dead: Behind the Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever by Joe Kane (Citadel)
  • The Conspiracy Against the Human Race by Thomas Ligotti (Hippocampus Press)
  • Thrillers: 100 Must Reads Edited by David Morrell and Hank Wagner (Oceanview Publishing)

BEST DARK SCRIBBLE:

(Single work, non-anthology short fiction appearing in a print or virtual magazine; awarded to the author)
  • “Bully” by Jack Ketchum (Postscripts 22/23)
  • “Goblin Boy” by Rick Hautula (Cemetery Dance #63)
  • “Secretario” by Catherynne M. Valente (Weird Tales, Summer 2010)
  • “The Things” by Peter Watts (Clarkesworld, January 2010)
  • “We” by Bentley Little (Cemetery Dance #64)

BEST DARK GENRE BOOK TRAILER:

(Book video promoting any work of fiction or non-fiction; awarded to the video producer or publisher)

You can go to Dark Scribe’s site to view these trailers: http://www.darkscribemagazine.com/4th-annual-bqa-nominees/

  • Neverland / Produced by Circle of Seven Productions (for the book by Douglas Clegg)
  • Radiant Shadows / Produced by Circle of Seven Productions (for the book by Melissa Marr)
  • Specters in Coal Dust / Produced by Michael Knost & Black Water Films (for the anthology edited by Michael Knost)
  • Under the Dome / Produced by Scribner Marketing (for the book by Stephen King)
  • Unhappy Endings / Produced by Delirium Books (for the book by Brian Keene)

Nominations for the Black Quills are editorial-based, with both the editors and active contributing writers submitting nominations in each of the (7) categories. Once nominations are announced, the readers of DSM have an opportunity to cast their votes for their picks in each category. In a unique spin intended to celebrate both critical and popular success, two winners are announced in each category – Reader’s Choice and Editor’s Choice.

All dark genre works published between November 1st, 2009 and October 31st, 2010 are eligible. DSM does not solicit nominations, nor are there any fees associated with the Black Quills.

Please note that only one ballot per email/IP address will be accepted. Multiple ballots received from the same email/IP address will be discarded.

Reader voting closes at midnight EST on Friday, January 21st, 2011.

Winners will be announced on Tuesday, February 1st, 2011.

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Writing: What is Horror?

As I write up these different definitions there will indeed be crossover as there are genres and subgenres and sub-subgenres for each type of writing. The world of publishing is taken up with labeling, much like the world in general. We like things to fit into neat categories. For marketing we want to appeal to a certain demographic so although I might write a story and not put any tag on it, someone else will: either the reader, the publisher, or the reviewer. And they may all tag it differently.

Horror in essence is meant to do one or more of these things: terrify, scare, gross out, disturb. At its simplest horror revolts and scares. At its most complex horror is disturbing and thought provoking. I did an earlier review on the novel A Fall of Angels by Stephen Gregory, which presented an insidious horror of a disturbing life that included murder and incest. Horror has an interesting niche. If you think of movies, there are those ridiculous (in my opinion) teen slasher movies with really dumb plots and lots of Freddy Krueger gore and murder. And stories can range too. Recently, doing a panel at Orycon on gore versus terror, we talked about when gore is appropriate (the satisfaction of seeing or reading about a zombie’s/bad guy’s head exploding) and when terror is effective. Gore is throwing a bunch of intestines in your face. Terror is me telling you that there is something alien eating its way into your brain right now, can’t you feel it? All of this is horror. Horror includes tension and suspense. It keeps you on the edge of your seat or wriggling with moral or psychological discomfort. Sometimes it lulls you into a false sense of security until it unleashes the terror.

Most mainstream publishers no longer publish horror, just as they don’t publish westerns anymore either. It fell out of favor, meaning the sales dropped because the publishers were probably marketing it as gore and guts. In fact, horror, like any of the major labels or genres, encompasses many subgenres. Some of these include dark fantasy, psychological horror, splatterpunk, gothic horror, supernatural horror, and others. (BTW, this is my take on the genre; you are bound to find other or varying definitions.)

  • Dark Fantasy–these stories involve anything fantastical. It could be a person who extracts blood from their victims to make plants grow, a man-eating troll, an insidious worm that crawls into your pores and makes you see corpses, or a host of other hobgoblin nightmares. Lord of the Rings, interestingly enough can fall into a lot of categories and the whole story could be considered dark fantasy. The anthologies I’m in, either Evolve or Horror Library Vol. 4 could both be considered dark fantasy though some of the stories in the latter may be straight horror with little fantasy. Whereas Evolve is all about vampires and almost all of them are dark fantasy.
  • Psychological Horror–these stories deal with the twistings of the mind. The novel I mentioned, A Fall of Angels, is definitely a psychological horror. It is both the horror of a man sliding farther from the norm and his feelings as well as the horror of seeing this decline. It may be that the person imagines something but it’s not real, or maybe it is, or perhaps they’re crazy but instead there is a conspiracy against them. These can be very insidious and subtle to outright living hells in one’s mind, or the prison of their bodies that can drive them insane.
  • Splatterpunk–I haven’t read the Resident Evil books but a lot of that shooting and gory mayhem, bodies and heads exploding, blood gushing on a rampage of carnage falls into the splatterpunk category. It may include punky or trendy people but it will definitely include lots of gore and splatter although the story can also be a dark fantasy, splatterpunk psychological horror. What defines a story’s genre or sub-genre over another is that the emphasis or main theme is more in one category, or how the publishers think they can market the story.
  • Gothic Horror–such stories could involve hauntings, old mansions, vampires, strange brooding towns and people. Think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and any H.P. Lovecraft story whether about the Great Old Ones or the darkness of the human soul. Gothic can be set in the past but is just as likely to be in the present or even the future. The mood and atmosphere is always very important, where the setting itself can be as oppressive as the creature. Victorian sensibilities can abound. And thankfully Lord of the Rings is not gothic horror.
  • Supernatural Horror–involves just that. Whether its ghosts, Great Old Ones, witches, vampires, mages or some other sinister sword or hat that takes over a person’s mind, it is all supernatural. And the biggest area in supernatural would be religious themes; demons, devils, angels, saints, priests; heaven and hell feature very big in the supernatural. It’s the most popular sub-genre for movies. If the devil’s involved it’s most likely supernatural horror.

There are of course, other categories and the definitions will blend and change as they evolve. Like the horror genre,which was blacklisted by the major publishers, like a sinister demon that they thought they had killed, horror has resurrected itself in numerous small but professional presses, coming back stronger, more diverse and respected for its tenacity. The World Horror Convention, and the Horror Writers Association continues strong through the dark imaginings of writers in horror.

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Writing: Sunburst Awards Needs Help

The Sunburst Awards is a Canadian award for speculative fiction, which is judged by a panel as opposed to fans. They have only been going a few years and were named after Phyllis Gotlieb’s book by the same name. Two prizes are awarded annually, one for adult and one for young adult SF. It seems they are running into monetary issues for funding the prize. Below is the letter I received, so that if anyone wants to support the Sunburst, they can contact the organization. http://www.sunburstaward.org/

As a Canadian writer I can say I support and like Canadian speculative fiction for many reasons. We are small in population compared to the US. In fact our population could fit into California so we have many hurdles to the publishing industry. It still costs the same in production to make a book but if you’re selling to a percentage of 36 million people, it’s a much smaller group than the same percentage of the US population. Hence why we’ve often needed funding to keep various arts afloat, that the US doesn’t need.

Our writers are as unique as anyone else. Canadian themes can often include the landscape because it is such a large part of the nation’s psyche. We’re the second largest country on Earth after Russia, and we have a whole lot of space. Not only that, but most of our population is along our southern border because a lot of Canada is harsh and cold in winter.

If you are an editor, author, publisher or reader of the speculative community, then you can show your support by donating or by make a short video as outlined in the letter:

The Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic is a juried award based on excellence of writing in two categories: adult and young adult. The awards are presented annually to Canadian writers with a speculative fiction novel or book-length collection of speculative fiction published any time during the previous calendar year.

Unfortunately, the Sunburst Awards have run into a hiccup.  They do not have enough operating capital to keep going as they currently stand. This sad news comes at a particularly critical juncture in the award’s life–the operating committee is in the process of getting the Sunburst organization registered as a non-profit, and getting it “national arts organization” status.

As part of a fundraising drive to shepherd the Sunburst through this change of status and structure, we’d like to ask writers, editors, readers, and publishers from the speculative fiction community at large to record short (30 second to 2 minutes) videos that say what they think about Canadian speculative fiction. These can address a variety of topics: where the field has been; the state of field today; where the future might lie; favourite authors, etc. These will be posted individually on a YouTube channel (sunburstaward), but will also be edited in order to create a series of short videos to promote awareness of the fundraising campaign. A longer video will be shown at the opening remarks to the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium (http://specfic-colloquium.com).

To participate, send your name, contact information, video and a short release statement giving us permission to use the video to sunburstvideo@gmail.com by September 15, 2010.

For more information on the Sunburst Awards, visit http://www.sunburstaward.org/ or contact secretary.sunburst@bell.net.

To donate directly, visit
http://www.sunburstaward.org/content/levels-sponsorship.

Sincerely,
Helen Marshall
Sunburst Award Volunteer
Co-Organizer of the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium

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Writing: Unfathomable Poetry

There are many styles of poetry, or maybe I should say bad poetry. Crossing my desk as an assistant reader at Chizine, I see a range of good, bad and confusing. http://www.chizine.com/ There are the rhyming poems. The cultural convention of today has fallen away from rhyming poetry, partly because most people don’t have the depth of education on forms to write it well and the result is bad rhymes. Joyce Kilmer’s poem is touted as one of the worst poems of all time, at least for its time, but not just for the rhyme but also the gooeyness. Still, Trees was an immensely well-known poem and sat on the wall in my childhood home for years. It was easy to memorize such lines as “I think that I shall never see/a poem as lovely as a tree/a tree whose hungry mouth is prest/against the earth’s sweet flowing breast…”

The rhyme was pretty simple and that style has turned off most editors from even considering rhyming poems today. Chizine doesn’t even accept formal verse “of any kind” yet we do get a few rhyming poems. Formal verse is poetry that uses the effects of rhyme, meter or form, especially in fixed styles like sonnets or Glossa. Without the full literary educations that most people once had anyone with a pen or a computer pops down a few lines and thinks they should rhyme. “I saw a cat/it had a rat” is simple beyond belief. Rhythm and meter are difficult aspects to master. I’ve only got the hang of it sometime so I tend not to do many poems with meter. Free verse that lacks rhyme, meter, form, etc. may still end up with its own form or internal rhythm. It’s part of how our brains and our language work.

Besides forms of poetry, the other deciding factor in most rejections or acceptances is the content and how well it is written. Sandra Kasturi, the poetry editor for Chizine, has written pretty entertaining guidelines, but she’s serious about them. The goth poetry generator is listed http://www.deadlounge.com/poetry/poems.html because there are many bad poems, especially if they deal with fantasy, horror or dark fiction. Here’s my gothomatic poem:

Around, all around, the mourners gather.
My dread grows as doom’s scythe falls against my eyes.
It mutilates me, and darkly my
essence drips
to the barren land.
In numbness I fall limply
while oblivion takes my hand.
Now alone, my supplication falls upon blind eyes.

This is my salvation

Ook. Words like dread, death, blood, lifeblood, life, eternity, etc. are overkill and overdone. There are far too many poems like this already and yeah I’ve written some in the past too. But at least this poem progresses forward.

Some writers feel that every noun needs an adjective and you end up with an ungainly, shambling monster, reaching, ever reaching with bloodstained hands for the swollen brains of crying editors. And worse. Some poems constantly tell you how the narrator feels with such lines like, “I feel tired and fading. I feel the crypt ooze around me. A creepy feeling comes over me. I felt life leaving.” And sometimes it’s that often in a poem.

Then there are the unfathomable poems. I call some of these the descent into madness poems. There are authors who will string together very diverse thoughts or images. Sometimes they go together or you can glean a story from the sequence. Sometimes the poem goes on with no rhyme or reason. One poem might be intriguing but more than one has me going, well I can do this too but it won’t sell my poem. Here’s an example, made up on the spot, of an unfathomable poem, though indeed you might find a tale in it, if you look hard enough:

At midnight the rabbits died
I was once a ballerina falling
there is no reason to a songbird’s warbling
green fungus adorns my windowsill
cry, little monster, he yelled as he shot
god’s green earth likes to fester
cerulean are the bluebells of my memory
I could not get the toaster working
warthogs gore to maim
I will leave after the eyes rot.

Tada! A poem of madness. Yes, I get poems like this. I try to look for the story and there should be something the poem is saying besides random stringing of lines, though there have been poetry schools that go for sound more than content. But I’m not a big fan of those unless they go under the realm of sound and music. But what could I glean from this poem? Well, there is a majority of dark imagery, death and violence. Rabbits die, ballerinas fall, fungus is a form of rot sometimes, earth festers, someone shoots monsters, warthogs gore and eyes rot. A toaster not working might also denote chaos or things breaking down. God is mentioned but is it significant and the only positive line has to do about memory. Songbirds warbling could be positive but there is the negative spin of no reason for it. Granted I wrote this without thinking; still, this is the process I would go through in looking at someone’s mad poem. I would conclude some dystopian or descent to madness or unmaking. But I’m not sure I’d buy it, trying to correlate some of those images.

Even a madness poem should tell a tale, one way or another. There are of course, many other types or themes of poems but I have just received several unfathomable poems that I’m still trying to fathom in case I’m just not bright enough. The bottom line is that I look at whether the average reader will be bright enough to “get it” and since I’m at least average I’ll conclude from there.

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Writing: Nominations and Shortlists

On one of my writers’ lists we’ve been discussing when you should list that you’ve been nominated, shortlisted, longlisted or noted in various writing awards and venues. There are many different types of writing awards/honors. For some, the publisher or the writer might send in a copy of their story/novel/poem to be considered for an award. Sometimes there is a submission/registration fee.

Most literary magazines have contests and most of those have an entry fee. An author might win first, second or third place or receive an honorable mention. An award might call for nominations from a select membership or from readers (or publishers) and this could be quite open. Therefore I could list that my book had been nominated for an Aurora award (one of Canada’s speculative fiction awards voted on by readers) and it would mean that someone, including me, may have nominated the book. However, the pieces need so many nominations to make it to the shortlist. If I was shortlisted, in this case, I could say I was shortlisted or nominated for an Aurora.

In another case, my story might be shortlisted but in that version I may have submitted my story for consideration. A panel of judges or readers would then sort through and narrow the selection to a few. It might be the same judges or different ones, or the readership/members who then vote on a select few pieces and the winner is then decide. Stories and fiction for the World Fantasy Awards go through a selection process that uses jury and members. Past or current members of the World Fantasy convention (there is a set number of years that you can vote if you don’t currently attend) can nominate works. There are five spots in the final selection process. Two are selected from the member nominations and three from the jury. The judges, a panel of professional writers and editors, then make their selection. Whether they arm wrestle, discuss or just vote, I’m not sure.

The point is that there are numerous types of awards but an author who lists themselves as being shortlisted or nominated when all they did was submit their work for consideration certainly does not count as an accolade. It was pointed out that one person had listed him/herself as being nominated for a Pulitzer when in fact all that they’d done was submit copies of the book with the registration fee. That’s not only lying but puts a poor light on those who are actually shortlisted if every two-penny author feels they can say the same thing. It’s the same as if a massage therapist claimed to be a neurologist. Not the same thing at all.

There are a few awards out there or “Best of” collections where the editors tend to scan everything published. If there are small or obscure presses it behooves the publisher and the author to let the editors know. Recognition of award winners and nominees can be helpful to a writer’s career and to the publisher.

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Writing: Query Letters

A query letter is different from a cover letter. A cover letter covers the poem, story, article that you’re submitting at that time. A query letter is sent before the piece is submitted and is most common for book publishers and many nonfiction magazines. In either case you’re asking the publisher, or an agent if they would be interested in seeing your work.

Because it’s cost prohibitive to send full book manuscripts to every publisher under the sun (and there are many) it is best to ask them first if they’re even publishing the stuff you write. For editors it is also time prohibitive. Some publishing houses get a hundred manuscripts a day and they will know in the first chapter, and in many cases the first page or paragraph, whether they want to buy the book.

Publishers have different rules as to what they’ll accept. Some will not look at an ungented manuscript, meaning you’re going to be sending your query letter to an agent who will then contact the publisher should that agent decide to take you on. Some publishers will say send a query first and others will ask for a query letter with synopsis, or the first three chapters. Of course if each of your chapters is a hundred pages long you’ll want to limit the pages. I’d say that no more than 50 and probably more around 30 is average.

Editors are a temperamental lot, and should you get through the first tasks you don’t want them irritated at you. Which means, don’t send them weird stuff, and under weird is the following: colored paper, odd or hard to read fonts (standard is Courier, Times New Roman, or similar), pictures and other memorabilia of your life, stapled or bound manuscripts, toys, CDs, candy or other bribes).

And of course most of all you want to be clear and concise in your query letter. You absolutely do not want to tell an editor what they will think or feel. “You will find this an extremely exciting story which you will love.” You can’t possibly know what an editor will like or feel and telling them so also indicates that your writing might follow suit in telling the reader what the character is feeling as opposed to showing. (There are instances where telling works but it means knowing how to write first.)

So your letter should say something like:

Dear Tom Jones,

I have written a mystery novel about Angel McCracken, a detective too much a party animal for her own good. Cabana Boy in the Trunk is 110,000 words and the first of five books. Book two is completed and I’m currently working on the third novel.

I have been published in X, Y, Z… After three years working at Club Med, the behind the scenes lifestyle has added a steamy layer to the mysteries that I place in various resorts.

Now I’m no expert on query letters and I recommend everyone go and look at a few different ones. Readers Digest has good pointers and I believe a book on writing query letters. If a publisher asks for an outline or a synopsis with the query letter, then that is where you outline the story. If not, you put it into the query letter but make it briefer.

The first paragraph should say why you’re writing: you have a book or books, it fits into X genre, runs at this many words and who the protagonist is. Mentioning that there are other books, whether written or just plotted also helps because publishers always like to sell a series. Subsequent paragraphs will describe the basic gist of the plot. A summary paragraph on your credentials also lets the editor know your background. If it’s nonfiction, say a book on physics, mentioning that you work at NASA or are a physicist is important. Saying you’re a mother of two is not unless it’s pertinent to the book. However, it is good to put a personal note about who you are, and if you can relate it to the topic of your book, all the better.

In all, a query letter should be one page, and no more than two max, but one is preferred. Like an ad, you want to draw the reader into it and have them say, “Yes, that sounds interesting. Send me more.” Professional is the best way to go, and suit the tone of your letter to the type of publisher you’re talking to. And again, never ever tell an agent or an editor what they will feel or think about the manuscript.You can say, “I hope you will find this a tension grabbing and entertain reading. I look forward to hearing from you.”

And most of all, research query letters because you don’t want to have your story rejected on the basis of a letter.

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