Apex Magazine, Publishing/Editing, Slush Lesson, Writing

Uncanny Magazine’s Looking For Slush Editors!


I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: if you’re an aspiring author and want to really improve your chances of being published, slush-editing for a good market is one of the best things you can do. Slushing for Apex was a great learning experience for me, and sparked the SLUSH LESSONS I’ve reposted here since they first appeared on the old Apex blog.

In brief: 30-60 submissions a month is essentially 1-2 stories a day, so while it’s a volunteer position (as was Apex’s), it’s pretty easy to keep on-top of. In exchange, it’s 1) a great learning experience if you’re a writer to see why X story gets pushed up and why Y story gets rejected outright, and 2) it’s a great way to build personal relationships with great authors and editors.

I slushed for Apex for almost five years, including under Lynne and Michael, and it was one of the best experiences if my career thus far, personally and for how it helped me look at my own fiction. I joined up with Apex originally for the love of short fiction, and to get to read some really great stuff, and to better understand the industry from the inside. Through that position, I got to attend several conventions (for free!), talk about slushing and working for a small press on panels, and meet a ton of amazing authors and fellow editors in the pro rooms. It also led to working as an interviewer for the magazine, and to a paying gig with Apex Book Company as a book formatter.

Since that day when I submitted my application to Apex, I’ve never looked back. If you get a chance to get in in the ground floor of Uncanny, do it! I’d apply myself if the Little Guy wasn’t already stretching my time too thin. So take a look and see if this might be for you!

Apex Magazine, Publishing/Editing, Slush Lesson, Writing

SLUSH LESSONS: Delusions of Grandeur and Other Pitfalls

(This was originally published on the Apex Magazine blog in April 2011.)

How do you measure your success as a writer?

Is it the number of times you’ve been published? Or the quality of the publication your work appeared in? Is it how much you’re paid for your work? Or is it the number of award nominations you receive for it? Is it how many good reviews you’ve gotten? Or how much you like your own work? Or what groups you belong to? Or what panels you’ve been on? Or how many times you’ve been a guest at a convention? Or the number of times you’ve been on Oprah? Or the New York Times’ bestseller’s list?

This is a particularly hard question to answer for a writer who’s only just started out in the field. When sales are few and far between and the rejections are piling up, how do you measure your progress? And how do you know when you’ve slipped your toe across that golden finish line to receive the honorary title of having “made it”?

When I was reading Stephen King’s On Writing, the one thing he said that stuck with me more than anything else was that selling your first book (or even first story) is only the very first step in the race. That’s where the real work begins. It made me stop to consider the truth of that statement, because the more you think about it, the more you recognize that it’s not even about that first sale. It’s about everything. Success is a moving target. The writing folks I know who are much further along on their literary path than I am have no fewer worries, no fewer goals, no sense that they’ve done all they can yet. Those books on their shelves? There could be more. Or they could be selling better. Those pro-sales? If only they were more consistent! Looking from the ground floor up, it can seem funny that a professional author is no less concerned about becoming successful. They sure look successful to me! But as I grow my little publication list, I start to feel the same way. Five years ago, I would have been thrilled to know I had even one sale under my belt. Now? Still happy, but frantic to find the next one. It’s a bit like hunger: you have to keep eating to be satisfied, because the moment you stop is the moment you start getting hungry again.

And that’s a good thing. It means we’re always searching to better ourselves, improve, work harder, try different things. It helps us grow to have a mirage to trail after, hoping some day to sink our fingers into its shimmering promises of perfect satisfaction.

But what about when you’re fresh to the game? If making a sale or even a pro-sale is the only thing signifying any kind of success, it’s going to be a long, hard road. A good road, and one that many, many now well known authors have traveled, but it sure won’t do anything on its own to encourage you. There’s a reason why so many authors say, “If you’d rather be doing anything else, this probably isn’t for you.” So what’s a newbie to do?

In some ways, just recognizing that “success” is a moving target helps lighten the burden of feeling as though the only way you’ll be “successful” is if your books are snatched up Harry Potter style and turned into a seven (or eight?) part blockbuster movie extravaganza. That may come, if we’re really, really lucky, but for now, at the very beginning of the journey, that pressure only makes it harder to write crap (like we have to in order to get better). Our first attempt at lit writing isn’t going to be as densely literary as Ulysses, and our first attempt at science fiction isn’t going to be as inventive as Dune. We may get there after decades of work; a particularly talented few of us may actually hit that prowess much earlier; and most of us may never get there at all. And that’s okay.

Tangible goals are nice, too, because you can quantify and control the outcome yourself. A sale is something beyond your control, but getting a story submitted somewhere is all in your hands. Michele Lee has a great article on the Apex Blog about how to set goals (and the expectations that go along with each kind of goal). Planning to hit a certain submission count in a year is a great way to get yourself out there and certainly increases your chances of making a sale over leaving your work in the “to submit” folder on your desktop.

Writing is a very volatile career, even—it seems—for seasoned pros. There will be a lot of ups and a lot of downs, no matter where you are on the path. But it’s the journey that matters in the long run, not that gold-leaf, quivering finish line in the distance. It’s also helpful to see that even established authors go through the same struggles, as you’ll find in either Nick Mamatas’ Starve Better or Gary A. Braunbeck’s To Each Their Darkness.

What do you think? How do you approach the tantalizing idea of “true success”? Does it matter to you, or is it something you’ve stopped worrying about defining a long time ago? In your career—no matter what stage you’re at—what event has brought you closest to that moment of perfect satisfaction, even if only for a day, an hour, or a few minutes?

Apex Magazine, Publishing/Editing, Writing

SLUSH LESSONS: The World is Not Enough: The Challenge of Fitting Writing into an Already Busy Schedule

(This was originally posted on the Apex Magazine blog in October 2010.)

Life happens. That’s something I’ve learned day, by painstaking day, since I decided to pursue writing fiction seriously. Something is always getting in the way. During my senior year of college, it was the substantial strain of classes, thesis work, finals, getting engaged and prepping for an elopement, along with some stressful family health crises. After graduating, it was picking up a new volunteer side job, getting married, honeymooning overseas, coping with the inevitable end to one of the family health crises, moving across the country, renting our first apartment, and—oh yah!—finding a day job in a busted-up economy.

I had always presumed, during those months of chaotic change and growth, that things would eventually settle down, and give me the time I’d need to finally be able to dig back into writing. They didn’t. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. Juggling multiple responsibilities, multiple roles, and the ever-present flux of life, I finally had to admit to myself that there was never going to be a “good time” to write. If I was going to take writing seriously–as nothing short of a career goal–it would mean pushing it up my priorities ladder and making time.

I’ve learned a few things about how to make all the tasks on my to-do list fit into a single day, and no—I’m often not as productive as I want to be. I’m a naturally messy, scatter-brained, stressed-out, over-extended creative type, who’s more likely to find things when they’re not put away in their “proper place.” It did not come easily, and I’m not done learning. Every new month, week, and day is a fresh learning opportunity for me. But of all the tiny, ah-ha! moments I’ve had to help me figure out the finesses of fitting the writing life into the rest of life, I’ve had four revelations that I always come back to. These are not secrets I’ve derived from the mysteries of the universe. In fact, they’re probably things you’ve heard before in different places, scattered throughout all the plentiful sources of writing advice. But let me boil it down to its essentials for those of you, like me, who wake up in the morning and think, “How on Earth am I going to get all this done, and write?”

1. Decide it’s worth it. And sacrifice for it. – This was perhaps both the easiest and the hardest thing for me to understand when I started out. On the one hand, I knew I really, really, REALLY wanted to write. It was in my blood. I thought about it all the time. I scribbled scraps of story ideas on infinite post-it notes and in journals and on the back of my hand or a napkin. Sometimes I even sat down for an hour or two and hammered out the first half of a short story before life caught up with me again. I loved it, but I wasn’t making any progress. I didn’t have time to finish things, or polish things, much less submit things. It was frustrating, and that frustration fed right into that evil editor inside my head who was constantly whispering, “Come on. You really think you can do this?”

I knew I had to do something, but it seemed like I’d already committed. I’d already said aloud to friends and family, and most importantly myself, that I wanted to focus seriously on writing. What was missing?

It took me writing out a schedule of my week, looking at how much time was spent doing any number of extra curricular activities, school work, actual day-job, and commuting (not to even mention making meals, sleeping, and spending time with family) to realize that even with the best intentions, I couldn’t possibly just “squeeze writing in” during those elusive downtime moments. I needed to cut back on things, to examine everything I was involved in and make the hard choices. If I wanted writing at the top of my priorities list, I had to make it the priority. I couldn’t feel that writing time was something that could be shifted, rescheduled, pushed off while I did things for other people. I had to start thinking about it as a career move, and that by skipping my writing time, or pushing other responsibilities ahead of it, I was cheating myself out of something really important. The writing time then came to symbolize “me time”: the time I spent working on something for myself, for my betterment, and as something that was important for my own happiness.

2. Set (reasonable) goals. – It may sound simple, but it’s often not. It’s easy to say “I’ll finish four short stories in a month!” or “I’ll get this novel draft done in twelve weeks, tops.” Even something as seemingly simple as “I’ll write 1000 words a day” can be a recipe for falling off the wagon.

I dream big, and often my aspirations are vastly more impressive than they are realistic. It’s important to set goals that you can actually hit despite your busy schedule, otherwise it’ll be all too easy to break the writing habit and let your resolve slide. Unobtainable goals, at least for me, make me sluggish, grumpy, and ultimately lazy. I’ll start off strong, but when I realize a goal is impossible to reach, my interest in even trying fades rapidly.

I make those goals all with the best intentions, but I’ve had to learn who I am and what I can and can’t do in order to find ways to trick myself into being productive. It’s also important to get to know yourself and understand your weaknesses. For example: I’m highly distractible. Ask anyone: my husband, my friends, my parents, my sister—they’ll all tell you it’s true. Setting a goal to sit down and write for five hours on a Saturday will not work for me. I’ve tried. And I’ve failed many, many times. I’ll sit down, totally focused, for about one to two hours, and then my brain just won’t take it anymore. I’ll start daydreaming. I’ll need to get up for various things I need to keep going. I’ll take a “twenty minute break” which ends up encompassing the rest of the day.

For me, a goal of 500 words per day (excluding Saturdays) does the trick: it takes me approximately half-an-hour to write 500 words, whether I’m on a roll or repeatedly smacking my head against a wall. It’s just long enough for me to suck it up and stick it out, even when I really, really don’t want to, but not so long that I’ll give up prematurely. And often, I end up writing a lot more than just 500 words, because once I get past the idontwannas, things tend to flow surprisingly fast. So whether it’s a word-count goal you can actually achieve, or a time requirement, or just a sentence a day, reasonable goals can achieve a lot more than huge ones.

But don’t neglect setting reasonable long-term goals, too. I keep two lists (because lists keep this scattered mind in order): one for monthly goals, and one for the year’s goals. I don’t necessarily worry if I don’t hit these longer goals in exactly the time-frame I’m hoping, but they do tend to keep me on track, and moving in the right direction. I think part of the benefit for me of having lists like this is that it protects my distractible mind from dwelling on what I want to accomplish in the upcoming months and year: another trick for keeping in-the-moment and on-task.

3. Reward yourself for achieving goals. – This doesn’t have to be expensive. I know a lot of authors who reward themselves with a new book, or chocolate, or a Starbuck’s coffee, for achieving their goals. Me, I’m even cheaper. I reward myself with stickers!

Silly as it may seem, I’m a sucker for positive—if cheap—reinforcement. I’ve got a variety of stickers, some for big goals, some for little ones. Double my 500 word requirement for a day? Sticker! Submit a rejected story within 24 hours of its last rejection? Sticker!

Clock in 3k words in one sitting, or sell a story? HUGE FRIGGIN STAR.

The reward really only needs to be something that makes you smile, and gives you that little extra push when you’re close to achieving one of those reasonable goals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to stop writing for the day, only to see that I’m at 897 words, and just a hundred more would get me a smiley sticker. :)

4. Cut yourself some slack. – Here’s another hard lesson I learned after two years of getting very frustrated with my sluggardly progress. Life happens. It gets in the way, it clogs up the cogs, it throws you and everything else off the boat in the middle of the ocean. Sometimes, it’s important to just let go. Stop stressing. Take a walk. Take a week-long break. Breathe and recuperate. Read. Relax. Goals are great, but if you’re making yourself miserable because it’s the holidays and your kids are home from college and work is going nuts and you haven’t gotten more than four hours of sleep for the last two nights and you haven’t gotten your word count done for the past three days? Take the day off. Don’t beat yourself up with guilt that you aren’t writing. Just remember to take a look at your goal list and get back on the horse as soon as you can swing it (or even if you can’t—just make smaller goals and work your way back up!).

Happy Writing!

Apex Magazine, Publishing/Editing, Slush Lesson, Writing

SLUSH LESSON: Voices on My Shoulder: The Inner Editor Vs. the Inner Critic 

(This was originally posted on the Apex Magazine blog back in December 2010.)

This is your brain: “I’m going to write that story I’ve had on my mind all weekend! It’ll be so fun!”

This is your brain on “inner editor”: “Wow, this is terrible. Is that even a word? There’s too much description, here. This is probably the worst thing I’ve ever written. The dialogue is clunky, the characters are flat, and nothing’s happening in the plot—why do I even bother? I should probably just give up.”

Any questions?

I’ve always been told that the inner editor in my head—described by so many how-to-write books as the arch nemesis of the writer—is an evil thing, best removed either entirely from the writing process, or at least compartmentalized into post-rough draft work. It’s a voice like Honest John’s, quietly whispering negativity into your ear, trying to make you slip off track and lose sight of your end goal. “Throw it away!” folks have told me; “Drown it out!” others have said. The overarching impression is that the inner editor is a no-good, washed-up, has-been jerk whose only real interest is to undermine your confidence and make you give up.

But I’ve always rebelled against the idea of completely shutting out the inner editor. I admit, I’m a bit of a contrarian. For me, re-reading a passage and deciding to rewrite it on the spot is part of my process, a guilty pleasure I rarely admitted to other writers for fear of being told—yet again—“You just have to tune that voice out or you’ll never finish.” The thing is, I know how to finish. I can complete a draft. What I struggle with is returning to a draft I’ve rushed myself through without respecting that slow, sinking dread I feel in my stomach when a scene or a character’s actions or passage of dialogue just doesn’t feel quite right.

Not everyone writes like this, and I’ll be the first to admit it’s slow and sometimes painful to edit as you go. Other writers I know are much more comfortable returning to edit a story they whipped out in a single go, and do a great job of working out the snarled knots they find to make a finished, polished draft. There are many ways to approach writing, I’ve found, and many authors who support different processes. I couldn’t deny that folks had a point about that quiet little voice that only comes out when I write: the inner voice also gives me a lot of crap, and can be very discouraging. So how should I think about the inner editor? Force for good? Or force for evil? Does the inner editor have any place in a rough draft?

This past weekend, I picked up a copy of Samuel R. Delany’s book about writing (subsequently titled, About Writing). While I was reading, I came across this statement:

If you’re going to say it, you must build up calluses against criticism—criticism from readers, from other writers, from reviewers, from editors, and from critics. Yes, praise is fine and fun. […] But the day-to-day diet, from others and, more important, from the little critic we all carry on our own shoulder, is a grim one. And it has to be so. (Delany, 108)

Prior to reading that statement, I had never thought of myself as having an inner critic. I knew I had an inner editor, but who was the inner critic? Both make me doubt myself, but are they different? Or are they the same?

I had also just finished reading his essay “On Doubts and Dreams,” included in About Writing, in which Delany had described that doubts are a good thing to have while writing. Doubts make you think, make you evaluate, make you question—sometimes rightly—parts of your work that aren’t really doing what they need to do. Or, in his words, (with the physical examples trimmed out): “Indeed, whenever you find yourself writing a cluttered, thin, or cliché sentence, you should doubt, and doubt seriously. […] What does this doubting mean? It means that a writer may just let any one of them stand. […] It means you don’t give any one of them the benefit of the doubt” (Delany, 98).

These contrasting reflections, tied together, opened up a perspective that works for me by dividing the two inner voices. The inner editor, as I’ve experienced her, is more like the editors I’ve met in real life, the ones who are well read, thoughtful, and offer encouragement as often as criticism. There’s no doubt that they question what you’ve put down, but they also don’t insist that you change something you want to keep. They respect you as the creative mind behind the work, and see themselves as a lens through which you can re-approach your writing with fresh eyes, to doubt some of those things you had left for granted, and ultimately consider their job to be making you—the writer—look better on the page. It’s a collaborative effort, not a combative one.

But then, I realized that my inner critic isn’t wholly my enemy either. Don’t get me wrong; she is a bitch. But she’s a bitch for my benefit. Her nasty little cut-downs, her eye-rolls, her snorts of disgust—they build up the calluses I need to survive getting my writing out of the desk drawer in public hands. Likewise, she reminds me with her outrageously false memories of a story being “brilliant” that even praise can be misleading. As a writer, it can be nearly impossible to know at first if a story is good or bad; the inner critic makes her snap judgments—“This is going to win a Nebula!” or “You should probably just stick this in the shredder now before anyone sees it…”—and it will be up to me and the inner editor later to determine if those statements have any merit.

Just thinking like that, I’ve started learning how to listen to the inner editor during a writing session—for my benefit—and tune out the inner critic, whose job is mostly to teach me to tune her out. Take the example I started with:

Wow, this is terrible. Is that even a word? There’s too much description, here. This is probably the worst thing I’ve ever written. The dialogue is clunky, the characters are flat, and nothing’s happening in the plot—why do I even bother? I should probably just give up.

I now see two voices in it, not one. One—the editor—is useful if only because she asks the questions I need to consider, though whether her questions should be acted upon is left to my judgment. The other one—the critic (in bold)—is a distraction I need to ignore. It’s left me much calmer in approaching my writing, because I can see both as good forces, if for different reasons.

Of course, this interpretation is my own, and probably doesn’t fit for everyone. What about you? Do you have an inner editor and an inner critic? Is there a difference? What’s your perspective?

Apex Magazine, Free Stuff!, Journal, Publishing/Editing

Apex Update: Book Giveaways & Free Samples

While I’m technically still on unofficial maternity leave from Apex Publications, I’m always following what the good folks there are up to, and thought I’d share a few things going on there this week.

First off: Apex is doing a couple of great book giveaways, until July 31st, over at Goodreads for their two newest releases*, THE APEX BOOK OF WORLD SF 3 edited by Lavie Tidhar, and WAR STORIES edited by Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00029]About THE APEX BOOK OF WORLD SF 3: “These stories run the gamut from science fiction, to fantasy, to horror. Some are translations (from German, Chinese, French, Spanish, and Swedish), and some were written in English. The authors herein come from Asia and Europe, Africa and Latin America. Their stories are all wondrous and wonderful, and showcase the vitality and diversity that can be found in the field. They are a conversation, by voices that should be heart. And once again, editor Lavie Tidhar and Apex Publications are tremendously grateful for the opportunity to bring them to our readers.”–Apex Publications



WarStories_CoverAbout WAR STORIES: “Join Joe Haldeman, Linda Nagata, Ken Liu, Jay Posey, Karin Lowachee, and many more as they take you on a tour of the battlefields, from those hurtling through space in spaceships and winding along trails deep in the jungle with bullets whizzing overhead, to the ones hiding behind calm smiles, waiting patiently to reveal itself in those quiet moments when we feel safest. War Stories brings us 23 stories of the impacts of war, showcasing the systems, combat, armor, and aftermath without condemnation or glorification.”–Apex Publications



Both contests end on July 31, so you still have eight days left to enter for a chance to win either of these great collections!

Also, if you’ve yet to sample the sheer awesome caliber of what you’ll find in WORLD SF 3, the current issue of Apex Magazine includes Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s story, “Courtship in the Country of Machine-Gods” (Thailand). It’s amazing, and free, so definitely check it out!

*I did the interior design for the print version of both of these titles! At some point I’ll have to do a post about book formatting work. :)

Journal, Publishing/Editing, The Zombie Feed, Writing

Zombies: More Recent Dead Announcement

ZombiesMoreRecent-200Hooray! The news is up on the Prime Books website, so I can now proudly and with happy-dancing proclaim that my zombie short story “A Shepherd of the Valley”–originally appearing in The Zombie Feed Anthology Vol. 1–is going to be reprinted in Zombies: More Recent Dead. This is a huge deal for me, in part because it’s my first reprint sale, and secondly (and perhaps more importantly) because my little zombie tale will be appearing alongside some truly amazing talent–Maureen McHugh, Joe R. Lansdale, Neil Gaiman, Caitlín R Kiernan, Genevieve Valentine, and Cat Rambo among many others. I’m so excited to be included in this project, and can’t wait to get my copy when the book comes out this September. I’ve read a couple of these stories already (particularly Maureen McHugh’s “The Naturalist” which alone is worth checking out this anthology to read), so I anticipate an amazing set of stories.

EEEEEK! So excited about this! This was the good news I came home to after the wedding in April. ^_^ Hooray! Hooray! Happy dance time:

Dancing Bear Gif

Author Interview, Publishing/Editing, The Zombie Feed

THREE QUESTIONS: Ty Schwamberger

The FieldsLadies and gentlemen, bogarts and ghouls (yes, I went there), today I’ve had the marvelous opportunity to host THREE QUESTIONS with The Zombie Feed’s Editor-in-Chief Ty Schwamberger. Mr. Schwamberger has just come out with his new zombie novella, THE FIELDS. Per the press release:

Billy Fletcher learned to farm the family’s tobacco fields – and beat slaves – by the hands of his father. Now, his father is dead, the slaves have long since been freed, and the once-lush fields are dying. Salvation by the name of Abraham knocks on the farmhouse door, bringing wild ideas. He can help Billy save the plantation and return the fields to their former glory…by raising his father’s slaves from the dead.

Can the resurrected slaves breathe life back into the Fletcher farm? Having brought the slaves back from graves that his father sent them, can Billy be the kind master his father wasn’t? Is keeping the farm worth denying the men the freedom they earned with death?

Billy’s conscience holds the key to those mysteries, but not the biggest one: what does Abraham really want from the former slave owner’s son?

Find out what the reviewers think by heading over to Ty Schwamberger’s blog, and pick up your copy of the novella either in paperback or e-book format!

1. The Writing Question: What published story of yours was the most difficult to write, or the most difficult to sell?

I’ll start by saying this: I’ve been extremely fortunate and lucky – fortunate, because for whatever reason I’ve always been good at “pitching” projects to prospective publishers, and lucky, well, I think everyone needs a bit of luck at one time or another in this business. Some people don’t believe this when I tell them, especially with 4 books, 1 short film, and several short stories and articles already out there, but I didn’t start writing until early 2008. In fact, the first two “horror” authors I read that got me into writing were Jack Ketchum and (this won’t surprise a lot of folks) Richard Laymon. After those two novels, I just sat down, not knowing what the hell I was doing, and started pounding away at the keyboard. Three months and 100,000 (awful) words later my first novel was finished (and subsequently published, but I don’t talk about that one). After that, I just kept going. After THE FIELDS, there will be 6 additional books (novellas, a collection, anthologies I’m Editor on), a few short stories and 1 feature-length film that is currently in pre-production (there’s a few additional things in the works, but I can’t talk about them quite yet). And that’s all before the end of 2012. So, you can see, I really pushed myself in the beginning. Hell, I still do. Ok, that was a long ramble to one part of the question… In short, I don’t think I’d classify any one book as a “difficult” sell to a publisher. The publishing world is generally a slow-moving machine. That’s just the way it is. You have to keep forging ahead, blazing new trails, and never, ever, give up.

As for THE FIELDS… Jason Sizemore (owner of Apex Publications) and I met a few years ago at a convention. I quickly grew to love the catalog of quality books he was putting out, and ever since I have been trying to pitch something to him. Before writing THE FIELDS, I had always enjoyed zombie movies and books, but I didn’t want to just rehash the same stuff that’s already been put out there a ton of times. I wanted something different. Unique. Something that’s never been done before. So, it was around this time last year that I came up with the idea to write a zombie story, but place the “characters” in the middle 1800s. The middle 1800s, you ask? Yup, you got it. What could be more exciting than former slaves rising from the dead hellbent on getting back at the same people that made their lives a living hell. BUT, I didn’t want the story to be just about revenge. Oh no. I wanted something deeper. A lot deeper. I think Jonathan Maberry, whom wrote the introduction to the novella said it best: “It’s part horror story in the classic sense – misdeeds from the past coming back to haunt the present. It’s part zombie story.  It’s part adventure. And it’s part social satire in its darkest sense. The Fields is a morality tale.  With zombies.

I’m extremely excited that it’s finally seeing the light of day…and I think folks are going to be pleasantly surprised they’ll get a lot more out of the book than just brain munching fun!

2. The Horror Question: Blood and gore: scary or not scary?

It depends. Is it integral to the story? Or is the writer just going for the gross out factor? Personally, I enjoy (if “enjoy” is the right word to use) a little slice n’ dice. But, again, it all depends on the plot. Back in the horror hay day of the 1980s, slasher films were almost always putting three common elements into each movie: action, gore and sex. When I first started writing (specifically, my first novel), that’s pretty much all there was. Well, that, and perhaps a little plot on the side. But, growing as a writer over the years, I’ve learned more about the business, what does and doesn’t sell, and subsequently toned down the sexual content in my stories (unless I’m contracted to write about it, of course…then money talks and bull–)…

Anyway. Back to gore…

For instance, THE FIELDS, has very little gore. Yes, there is some (you can’t write about zombies without mentioning their rotting skin or need for eating the living, right?), but not very much. As I mentioned before, I wanted THE FIELDS to be different. Very different. I wanted the reader to get more out of it than the brain-blasting, undead fun many of us enjoy. I think THE FIELDS is very scary, because the “zombies” in the story represent something a helluva lot worse than an ambling horde coming after you. It talks about racism, a young man’s love and respect for his father – even though he knows his father was wrong for treating the slaves like he did – and just how much one is willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of man.

3. The Oddball Question: Barring family photo albums, religious books, cookbooks, etc.: If you could save only one book from your house because a blob monster was about to absorb it into its massive jelly-like girth, what book would you grab?

“The Bible” aka A Writer’s Tale by Richard Laymon. I’m fortunate enough to own a copy, and would throw a tray-full of ice cubes at a blob monster to slow it down long enough, so I could run and grab the book. EVERY aspiring author should do whatever they can to find a copy and give it a read. But, don’t ask to borrow mine, or you might just get bitch slapped.


Ty Schwamberger is a growing force within the horror genre.  He is the author of a novel, multiple novellas, collections and editor on several anthologies.  In addition, he’s had many short stories published online and in print.  Two stories, ‘Cake Batter’ (released in 2010) and ‘House Call’ (currently in pre-production in 2011), have been optioned for film adaptation.  You can learn more at:  http://tyschwamberger.com.

Apex Magazine, Publishing/Editing, Writing

Slush Lessons: What I’ve Learned About Writing From Slush Editing

(This was originally posted on the Apex Magazine blog in 2009.)

Just like every other writer out there, I’m always on the look out for things that will improve my fiction. Whether it be advice in a writer’s magazine, inspiring tips in a how-to-write book by a favorite author, or a variety of websites, critique groups, or outside inspiration, there is always something new to learn. Slushing, however, is one of the best sources for insight into improvement.

All authors seem to make similar mistakes, and I’m no exception—I see myself rejecting stories for things I know I have in my own fiction. That’s why I began making this list, and why I’m sharing it with you.

1. If it’s Science Fiction or Fantasy, does it have some hint of that in the first  page or two?  Time and time again, I see stories in which the speculative element doesn’t appear until more than half-way through the story. In almost all of the stories I’ve seen pass through our ranks to the second or third reading, you know almost immediately it’s SF/F/Horror. It doesn’t have to be blunt: even a subtle foreshadowing or the perspective of the POV character can insinuate that this is sf/f/h before you have so much as mention an alien, a dragon, or a deranged serial killer.

2. Is it a “Surprise Ending”? Surprise endings almost never work, and it’s not because they can be predictable. The story has to spend its bulk leading up to the “shocking surprise” at the end, usually to the detriment of the tale itself. It’s an inefficient structure weighted too heavily on the finish, which is usually the best part of the “surprise” story. The problem is that the idea presented in the finale should have been the idea explored throughout the story, instead of being tucked away at the end.

3. Is the setting well-thought-out and developed, even if the story is set in modern-day? This may be a slightly more personal preference, but most of the stories I’ve seen pass through from slush to second and third readings are stories with rich backdrops. This doesn’t mean they spend paragraphs describing the landscape or the society—in fact, it’s usually the opposite. Most of the backdrop is revealed through the characters as they live—the background (as strange as it might be) is as natural to them, and as intricately connected to them, as our environment is to us. How often do we stop to consider the impact of having to have at least three meals a day due to the structure of our digestive system? Our lives revolve around this means of gaining energy, but we don’t think about it because it’s so engrained in who we are. Meanwhile an alien visitor who absorbs energy from light might find all the technology, architecture, and instruments involved in our breakfast/lunch/dinner lifestyle very odd indeed.

4. Do the characters act realistically? This is, of course, always a point of debate between writers and readers, from what I’ve seen, but it is still an issue I find often jarring while slushing. If the first instinct of a reader, upon witnessing your character do something, is to sit back and say “What?!” there’s something inconsistent in the way the character has been presented. Either the action needs to change, or there needs to be a hint earlier that the character is fully “in character” when they perform the action.

5. Is the tense correct? Over and over I see mistakes with tense. Stories which begin in present tense often fall back into past tense irregularly, which makes the story look (and read) as though it’s been poorly edited. And it’s not just in present tense stories, either. I’ve seen past tense stories that flop all over the place with tense. I’ve done it often enough myself to realize it’s worth mentioning here.

So there’s a taste of a few things I’ve learned while slushing. There are, of course, many more smaller things, but these ones stuck out in my head the most, because I see them so often—both in my own writing as well as the slush pile.

Author Interview, Publishing/Editing, The Zombie Feed, Writing

THREE QUESTIONS: Brandon Alspaugh

Brandon Alspaugh’s story in The Zombie Feed Vol. 1 is a multi-layered, and multi-era, examination of the undead and undeadness. You won’t find zombies eating brains in “The Sickness Unto Death”, but you will find letters, online discussions, Confederate soldiers, ancient death myths, faith-frightened monks, and the story of a modern soldier returning home after his untimely death. The assortment of narratives are all linked by Eric Masonis’ homeward-bound journey to reunite with his family, and the alternate sections of forward narrative and backward-glance vignettes creates a rich quilt of human experience in the face of the sometimes horrifying, sometimes vengeful, sometimes poignant return of the dead to the world of the living. This is definitely one contribution to The Zombie Feed Vol. 1 you won’t want to miss!

You can pick up your copy of The Zombie Feed Anthology on Amazon.comBarnes & Noble.com, or from The Zombie Feed directly. Get it on your Kindle or your Nook (or in any e-format from Smashwords) for just $2.99! Seventeen awesome zombie stories for $2.99? It’s like Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Winter Solstice has come early! :D

1. The Writing Question: What published story of yours was the most difficult to write, or the most difficult to sell?

The same story actually ticks both of these boxes – it was a piece called ‘City of Altars’, published by Dave Lindschmidt in the dearly-departed City Slab. I had been reading a lot about shamanic states in various world cultures, about the transcendent or fugue state they enter where they really feel they’ve touched a higher plane, particularly during sacrifices. Of course, since my mind is a feckless hummingbird, I was also reading Robert Ressler’s Sexual Homicide at the time, which is one of the foundational texts in criminal profiling. The connections drew themselves.

I must have done four successive drafts before I had something readable. That’s the problem with ‘idea stories’ – it’s really difficult to find a way to explain the weird ideas and tell an entertaining story, which is why a lot of them tend to have a college professor type that sort of tags along and drops in a page of exposition between chase scenes. I didn’t go that route, but maybe I should have – it sure worked for The Da Vinci Code.

The story bounced around the horror mags, with the rejections pretty universally reading “Interesting, but not for us.” Then Scott Standridge, who was editing City Slab at the time, wrote back with “I get it, and it’s a great idea, but the story takes way too long to get going.”

He was right, damn him. Alfred Bester once wrote that a bad writer ends his story where a good writer begins his, and my story started in the most boring place possible and then wandered aimlessly around London before stumbling to its conclusion. So, after briefly cursing God for creating editors who actually have valuable insights and suggestions (it’s so much simpler when they’re just evil) I junked as much of the beginning as I could, reworked the plot sequence, and made it all one full-tilt race through the psycho-geography of London.

Six drafts and nine rejections later, it was finally published. I still think of it as one of the niftier stories I’ve written, in the sense that if I could somehow pipe it back in time to my 17-year-old self, he would probably think it was a little slice of demented awesome.

2. The Horror Question: What work of horror do you consider the most terrifying/freaky/scary, and why?

The purest horror I ever experienced was when reading ‘The Marching Morons’ by C. M. Kornbluth.

That probably requires some explanation. Essentially, this is the story of a man who, by virtue of a dental accident (look, it’s not like Twain did any better), winds up in a future dominated by stupid people. Although it’s one of the classic short SF pieces of the 1950s, it’s not without its flaws: the theory of inheritable intelligence is nonsense, the notion of the ‘average IQ’ being 45 is a contradiction in terms (average IQ is always, by definition, 100), and the characters often make speeches to each other rather than having actual conversations.

But here’s the thing.

We sympathize with the smart people in the future. They’re the ones who toil in the background to keep the world running. I think Kornbluth knew exactly who his audience was: the kind of people who identify with Odd John and Hari Seldon. Most readers of genre fiction have had the isolating experience of being the smartest person in the room. And who hasn’t raged against a world filled with those stupid people who bedevil our lives in hundreds of ways?

Where the horror sets in, for me, is how slyly Kornbluth twists that sympathy for the smart people into hatred for the stupid people. We’re shown that they’re not only stupid, but arrogantly so, wearing their sub-par IQs as a badge of honor. We watch them wreck cars that can’t go above thirty miles-per-hour, crash planes because they’re too busy annoying sheep, and when they speak they make Sarah Palin sound like Benjamin Disraeli. As the helpful Ryan-Ngana systematically lays out for us, they’re wrecking the species, and they don’t even care. Damn them!

That’s how it works. Once the story has decided something has to be done, we realize we need to get rid of the stupid people. Okay, so let’s put them on another planet. We’ll make them think it’s a great idea. Crank out commercials telling them how lovely it would be to take a trip to… well, how about Venus? Small, and hot, but hey, it’s the future. So you build these ghastly, shiny spaceships, and park them at the edge of town, and line all the stupid people up so they bumble in, two-by-two…

And then Kornbluth reveals that the spaceships are all Auschwitz furnaces writ large.

It’s a shock to the mind, a real jolt to the ventral tegmentum, when you realize “Holy shit, I’m kinda-sorta-Hitler.” We like to think there’s a huge gulf between us and them, but once you’ve agreed that any group of people – Jews, Latinos, Homosexuals, Stupid People – are A Problem That Needs To Be Solved, you’re halfway to Dachau.

Kornbluth saw – decades before Norman Spinrad drove the point home in The Iron Dream or Harlan Ellison detailed in ‘Xenogenesis’ – that the sense of isolation that typified most readers of genre fiction didn’t exclusively create a cadre of noble dreamers. We’ve all met the fans who have let their esoteric tastes warp them into something petty and anti-social and, most of all, angry. Angry and selfish and anxious to make every failure they’ve ever suffered someone else’s fault.

It’s just too short a distance from here to there. We geeks hold ourselves at a remove from the world around us, and writers even more so. We are all, at some point, all alone in a crowd. Spend too long feeling that way and it’s easy for the faces to blend together, to forget the crowd is hundreds of people, each with their own dreams and failings and hopes and fears. I think this is what Kornbluth saw, in the early years of the Red Scare and White Flight, and why he felt like making a point in scaring the shit out of us by showing us the worst part of ourselves.

Kornbluth terrified me to the core by holding up a mirror at just the right angle. He knew how easy it was, even for those of us who ought to know better, to slip into the same ugly thought processes. That’s why ‘Marching Morons’ is the scariest thing I’ve ever read. Our ability to deny the intrinsic humanity of another person is, to me, more terrifying than a hundred sewer-clowns.

3. The Oddball Question: Are you an e-reader or a tree-reader, or both? Why?

E-reading and tree-reading… gah. It’s really two sets of criteria you’re dealing with. Whenever you show a tree-reader an e-reader, their response is always some variant of “Oh, I like real books. I like the feel and smell and heft, the whole experience of it, and when you crack the spine for the first time…”

That makes sense to me. I have an e-reader packed to the gills, but I also I have floor-to-ceiling shelves along an entire wall of my office. I have some really gorgeous first editions, some Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts that are too big or unwieldy to digitize, and some hard-to-find brilliant SF from decades past that no one’s had the good sense to reprint (how can we live in a world that has yet to produce the Collected Fictions of R. A. Lafferty or Fritz Leiber or Avram Davidson?)

But I don’t kid myself – when I shell out money for a Subterranean Press or Charnel House edition of a book, it’s because I know they’re going to send me a beautiful artifact that’s as much a fetish object as it is a medium for recording stories. When I want to immerse myself in the beauty of the book as an object, I crack open the delicate pages of my beautifully-illuminated hundred-year-old copy of the Sefer Ha-Agadah. When I want to actually research something in it, I pull up the PDFs on my e-reader.

There’s no need for it to be an either/or proposition. For those who just want to read, the medium shouldn’t matter. My e-reader lets me carry a thousand books with me at any time, perfect for someone like me whose mood has a huge influence over what I want to read. It lets me read one-handed, which saves from the inevitable hand cramping that comes with trying to hold open a paperback with my thumb. It lets me have a copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray at the ready without having to shell out money to Barnes & Noble for one of their cheap, gaudy hardback reprints of a public-domain literary work.

But I couldn’t read it if it were out of power, or if the screen was cracked, and I almost certainly couldn’t use it as the lever to reveal the hidden stairway behind my bookcase (although I suppose an e-reader would simply put that sort of thing on remote.) I can’t give the copy to a friend or to a library when I’m done with it. And I can’t use the terrible books as kindling should the furnace break.

It’s fine to value the less practical, more sensual aspects of tree-reading, and I do it all the time. Still, it’d be silly to forget that the primary point of the book is to store text, and it’s heavy, wasteful, and decidedly tree-unfriendly to insist that this must be done on paper. Having an e-reader means I read and re-read more than ever. The stories haven’t lost any of their beauty or importance just because they’re rendered by a computer.

And in the final analysis, I’m in it for the stories.


Brandon Alspaugh is a writer. There are times when he pretends to be other things, and usually he gets away with it, but that’s just because he does a remarkably good imitation of a normal person, and no one suspects otherwise. A member of the SFWA and HWA, he is the only child he knows whose mother attended a parent-teacher conference to discuss his ‘excessive reading’, and imagines they preferred he find a street corner somewhere to loiter on.

Author Interview, The Zombie Feed, Writing


K. Allen Wood has contributed a gem of a story to The Zombie Feed Anthology Vol. 1 with “Goddamn Electric,” and those readers from the Northeast U.S. will likely recognize the deft portrayal of the region’s inhabitants. New Englanders don’t scare easy–maybe it’s the dark woods, or twisting dirt roads that don’t ever seem to go to the same place twice, or all the crumbling stone walls and old forgotten cemeteries–and Everett Sykes is no exception, even at a ripe old age. When mysterious dark clouds descend on Bridgetown and starts tossing vicious lightning like no one’s ever seen, he responds at first with calm rationalization from the shelter of his front porch. But as things get stranger, and people start coming back from the dead, crackling with the strange blue electricity from the clouds, Everett begins to realize that the world he knows has changed irrevocably. Survival is now squarely set on his own shoulders, and in typical New England fashion, he won’t be going down without a fight.

You can pick up your copy of The Zombie Feed Anthology on Amazon.comBarnes & Noble.com, or from The Zombie Feed directly. Get it on your Kindle or your Nook (or in any e-format from Smashwords) for just $2.99! Seventeen awesome zombie stories for $2.99? It’s too good to be true! :D

1. The Writing Question: What piece of writing advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you started writing? 

Without a doubt, start sooner.

I’ve been writing since childhood. Unfortunately there was never anyone there to encourage me, to push me, so writing just kind of blended into the background of my life. It was always there, something I always did, but it was never really something I consciously acknowledged doing. I just did it. Like breathing.

When I was around 12 or 13, I discovered Def Leppard and Run DMC and fell in love with music. I soon began playing the drums and guitar, then singing, and music quickly became this wonderful thing that I wanted to do in life. It became “the dream.” I was still writing of course, but music became this new thing that I needed to pursue. Or so I told myself.

I joined the Air Force at 20, spent nearly ten years traveling the world, playing in a band here and there, writing songs at home, but never really doing anything on a serious level. I told myself that was because it wasn’t very feasible while in the military, which was largely true. But after I left the Air Force, I quickly learned that my desire to play in bands had long ago burned out.

That was about eight years ago. A few years passed and I slowly began to realized that writing was my true love. For the first time in my life I was consciously thinking about what I was doing. The light was coming on, so to speak. However, I continued to find it hard as hell to let go of the music thing, even though I hadn’t played the guitar in two years, and probably hadn’t written a song in four! But I still couldn’t let go. Then I read Stephen King’s On Writing, and this short, so-goddamn-obvious passage kicked my ass in gear:

“Talent renders the whole idea of rehearsal meaningless; when you find something at which you are talented, you do it (whatever it is) until your fingers bleed or your eyes are ready to fall out of your head. Even when no one is listening (or reading or watching), every outing is a bravura performance, because you as the creator are happy. Perhaps even ecstatic.”

Within a month I had sold all my recording equipment and all my guitars save for one, my first. I began to write stories and polish them, finish them, rather than just doing rough drafts and moving on. And now, after years of polishing those stories, honing my skills, and reading, reading, reading, I’m slowly beginning to submit some of my work and even see some of it published.

So if I could go back in time, I’d take all those old notebooks full of stories and poems and lyrics, and I’d kick myself in the ass and say, “This is you, dude!”

2. The Horror Question: What horror novel or short story are you ashamed (or proud) to admit you’ve never read? 

Way too many to name. I’m a slow reader, so I’ve missed out on a lot of the classics. But since it’s been sitting on my desktop for months now, I guess I’ll admit to never reading “The Lottery,” by Shirley Jackson.

You would think I’d have read what many consider to be one of the best horror tales ever written, but I never have. Been meaning to, of course. And in light of my previous answer, I probably should. Now.

3. The Oddball Question: What, in modern society, do you consider to be the biggest waste of people’s time?


I’ve worked in the IT field since 1995, so I know how wonderful technology can be, but I also know how utterly pointless much of it is. Sadly, it sucks you in…and you like it. Trust me, I’ve spent countless hours wasting time surfing the Internet, arguing with dummies on forums, playing video games, and loved every minute of it. Technology is great. Technology sucks.


K. Allen Wood is a former musician and music journalist. His fiction has appeared in 52 Stitches, Vol. 2, The Zombie Feed, Vol. 1, and is forthcoming in Epitaphs, a Shroud Publications anthology. He is also the editor/publisher of Shock Totem, a bi-annual horror fiction magazine. He lives and plots in Massachusetts.

For more info, visit his website at www.kallenwood.com.