signal boosting, What I'm Reading

Fantasy Scroll Magazine Year One Anthology

27822923The first year of Fantasy Scroll Magazine has been assembled into an impressive anthology by Editor-in-Chief Iulian Ionescu and Managing Editor Frederick Doot. Titled “Dragons, Droids & Doom,” the anthology totals 51 stories by 49 authors–that’s a lot of wonderful reading!

While I’ve had to step away from slushing at Fantasy Scroll, I fully believe in this worthwhile magazine, and hope that you’ll consider a purchase of either the print or ebook version for your favorite SFF fan (which might well be yourself!).

Today's Desk, Writing

Writer’s Desk, 2/16

Since my mind is a blank, I’ll show you my desk.

Out the window: Strong breezes rattle the lady palm, making it sound like soft rainfall. Further off, dangling Spanish moss sways and dances from the oaks’ limbs. Earlier it was partly sunny, but now it’s mostly clouds, in preparation for tomorrow’s (very welcome) rains. As yet, it’s warm (about 70), but cooling quickly. Which is making me sad.

On the desktop: A sprawl of papers and maps and notes. A written list of blog topics to write about, should the brain go numb for too long.  A cup of Japanese green tea, and the remains of a gluten-free apple cinnamon  toaster pastry (cinnamon-mmmmmm!). Beside the desk, the dog is curled into his bed, sleeping snugly.

Today’s Work-in-Progess: First, a bit on the novel. I need to finish off this scene, and segue into the next. As the tension ramps up, I’m finding there’s less I can do in a single sitting. I have to get up, move around, release some adrenaline in some way, before I come back and try it again. (Or, in some cases, get distracted by something that absolutely needs to be done at this very moment or the world will end–AKA, cat vacuuming.)

Then I want to edit a short story written last month. It isn’t working as it reads now, and I think I know why–but I want to be sure before I chop and hack it up. This may be a slower edit than I’d like. Heh. What else is new?

And Another Thing:  There’s a new feature over at Fantasy Scroll Magazine. A podcast! The first episode is “The City Dreams of Bird-Men” by Emily B. Cataneo, and is read by Rachel Aronov. I think it’s well done, and well narrated. What say you?

Links, What I'm Reading

Links for the End of the Year

Winter is coming. Really, the equinox is on the 21st. So are you all settled in with your reading? No?

Well, let me recommend the latest issue of Fantasy Scroll Magazine. Yes, Issue 4 is now out, completing the first year of this publication. Weeee! Lots of great stories here, plus interviews and reviews, as well. Also, be sure to read the Introduction, which details great new things to come. Like what, you ask? We-ell, like a bi-montly format, a podcast, and more. (eh-hem) And consider that subscriptions make great gifts. As a slush reader there, I’m just saying. 🙂

Let me again sound off about Quarter Reads. They’ve updated their policy, letting you put down just $5 to try the stories, instead of the initial $10 minimum. They’ve added more authors, more stories, and more genre and subject tags to browse stories by. Give ’em a try.

Another reading favorite: Lightspeed Magazine’s recent release of FANTASY: Women Destroy Fantasy! Great fiction, great non-fiction, and amazing artwork, all guest edited by the amazing Cat Rambo.

Finally, I’ve been listening to podcasts from Beneath Ceaseless Skies’ Audio Vault, and haven’t found a bad one yet. They’re great for commuting, for holiday travel in crowded airports or trains, or just for plopping in earbuds and tuning out the holiday madness for a few moments of spec-fic bliss. Give them a listen!

There, now you’re set for reading materials. Winter may commence. Just, um, don’t let it freeze my Meyer lemons before they ripen. They’re getting so close, and I really want my very first harvest of 2 fruits!


Links, Viable Paradise, What I'm Reading, Writing Workshops

Bubbling Over with Good News

…but I can’t tell you just yet, so I’ll share some other great news that I can divulge! Namely, the first issue of Fantasy Scroll Magazine is out, and is really lovely. Especially near and dear to my heart is the interview with Sarah Hans, who is in the writers’ group that I used to belong to, and who is a wonderful person much deserving of the success heading her way!

Also, let me take a moment to remind you writers that Viable Paradise is accepting applications for this fall’s week-long workshop on beautiful Martha’s Vineyard. This year the workshop runs from October 12-17 (but you’ll really want to stay until the 18th if at all possible–trust me on this!). Will you be part of VP XVIII? You can’t be if you don’t apply! You have until June 15th to send in your applications. Hop to it!

Thanks to some happy chatter on Codex, I downloaded and played SPACETEAM. You need at least two people (but three is way better) with recent iOS or Android devices to play, but this free game is so much good, silly fun! You’ll be spouting techno-babble with the best once you start playing. And you’ll see what I do when I should be writing, instead. Now, quick–eject the Gyrespindle! 🙂 (for bonus fun, try playing in another language!)

Reading, research, Writing

On Loving Slush

Winter has returned to reclaim the remaining days ’til the Spring Equinox, and probably to fight it out even after that for control. I won’t miss its passing, slinking away into a sleety end. (notice here that I started with the weather–really, you’ll laugh later!)

But slush! Ah, that I’m really loving.

Since it’s posted on the Staff page, it’s no big secret that I’m a slush reader over at Fantasy Scroll Magazine. (Remember my goals for the year? Finding a new slush reader position=check!) I’m a slush reader, or a first reader as some would call it. As a simple explanation of how that works: all the unsolicited submissions sent in end up in a database, and the slush readers split ’em up and read them. I (but it’s not just me) get to weigh in on whether I think these stories are going to end up in the magazine, or not. Slush reader decisions are NOT final. We may be overruled, in either direction. I offer up my opinion, and any thoughts that guided me to that point, to those above me in the food chain (editor, editor-in-chief, etc…).

It’s an unpaid, volunteer position. It takes time away from my own writing, and editing, and surfing for cool things on the internet. It takes time from my pleasure reading, for sure. Why ever would I want to do this, then?

Um, I like abuse?

No, that’s not it. Not it at all. Really. But the truth may be harder to believe. I do this because it’s a shock to the system, a school-of-hard-knocks method of learning to write, and to edit, my own stories better.

Let’s say you have 100 stories to read. And really, this is not unusual. Submissions come in waves at times, in drips other times, but there’s usually a few days of a backlog, at least. So, 100 stories. Fifty of them open with the weather. Nothing else, nothing to show how it’s unique, or odd, or that I should care. After I’ve read those fifty stories, and I begin to wonder why I should care that it’s a brilliant, sunny day, I start to think, “Hmm, starting out with a weather report is probably not my best bet for getting someone to read the rest of my really neat story, is it?” And so, I’ve learned something valuable, right there.

Another lovely piece of advice you often hear is “Don’t start with backstory.” Well, another 30 stories have just done that, so that I know what K’lthanniops wore as a child and how it felt mocked for its too-short snout, what it wore on the day 3 years ago when its clone-parent perished and how it now wished it hadn’t worn that (and probably that it’s raining on this being now), but I wonder what is going on and when the story is going to actually, you know, begin–and, multiply by thirty, and I suddenly, can see the utter wisdom of this advice, and the problem inherent in not heeding it. So, I cut off and throw away the first 3 pages of my manuscript, so it starts where the story does. See how I’ve improved? Now I’m better than 80% of the submissions!

(This isn’t even counting the manuscripts that just plain don’t follow the rules posted on the submissions page. For example, when we say “no poetry,” we actually mean it. I’ve also opened a couple stories only to find that “erotica” isn’t strong enough to cover what was inside, and wished I could wash my poor eyes out after reading. Please, please read the guidelines!)

At this point, you’re down to 20 stories left. Fifteen of them are about vampires, zombies, or vampire-zombies. They all sound remarkably similar, even though they’re coming from places around the globe. Hmm. And in yesterday’s reading, there was a vampire-zombie story that included a fairy-godmother and a pink roller-derby-playing unicorn, and it just rocked! So, against that near shoe-in, these others…well, really, they don’t stand much of a chance now, do they?

Let me highlight that: Even if they’re not badly written, they’re not unique enough in some way to stand out. Seeing that, in these kinds of numbers, was rather mind-blowing. It’s not enough to write a nice story about a dragon and a princess in peril. Those are rather standard tropes, and have been done (and are still being done) a million times. What stands out, fast, is something different. Different how? Ah, that’s what you, the author, gets to decide. Because really, every time I open a new story, I’m hoping to be wowed. To wish I’d written that story. To write “YES, YES, YES!” on my comments.

But wait, we’ve got 5 stories left. Where are they? These are the “real contenders,” the actual competition for the slots in this issue. All are pretty well written, all have something unique going for them: setting, character, dilemma, or what-have-you. This is where the real chance for the slush-reader’s learning comes in:  what makes the cut, what gets the “almost, but not quite” rejection?

This is where craft and polish gleam on the gems, and their lack makes a noticeable difference. Did typos trip me up? Or did I get confused by the pronouns? Did the ending feel like an emotional closure, or did the author just tell me “and that’s the end?” Was I lost anywhere in the story? Was the dialog realistic, and did the characters feel like real people, or like puppets the author moved about? Was there, actually, a story in there? Chances are, in 3 out of these 5, there were issues with these things. They’ll get the “almost, but not quite” rejection.

Leaving just two. Two stories that have given me no reason to stop reading them, who have pulled me along in their narratives, making me care for the protagonist’s journey in some way, and who have made me reach “The End” and think, “Wow. This needs to be published! This is good stuff!” I hug myself, do the chair happy-dance, and write “Yes!” in their comments, sending these two stories up the channels for serious consideration.

And this is why I read slush: I want to be one of those two out of 100 stories in some other market. I want to analyze all this raw data, draw conclusions, and inform my own writing with what I learn. For me, slushing is worth the time I give up, the time I could be writing, reading–or hey, even sleeping!–because it’s got me focused on what works, what doesn’t and why, up close and personal.

What do I suggest you do? Well, if you’re up for it, try applying for a slush reader position. And whether you do or not, I really suggest you check out Fantasy Scroll Magazine, and well, keep me in slush! I really, really hope to write “Yes!” on more great stories…