publishing, Stories

Would you like to be a literary judge?

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Before we started The Rabbit Hole here at the Writers’ Co-op, I edited three anthologies called the Book a Break. They contained stories selected from submissions to a literary competition I ran, which attracted a fair bit of attention. I’ve now compiled all the stories into a bumper edition called 83 because, well, there are 83 stories in it. The aim now is to produce a Best of the Book a Break compilation. For that, the 83 stories will be whittled down to 40 or so, comprising those already commended plus 20 to 25 others, selected from the 58 other stories.

I could of course decide myself which stories to include. But as these things are subjective, I’d feel more serene if I had a few other opinions. So here’s your chance to be a literary judge. It’s very simple – all you need do is give a mark out of 5 to each of the 58 stories.

What do the judges get? A list of simple criteria to help them decide (see below), a free copy of the 83 stories, plenty of time to read them (the stories have a 2000 word limit, and the deadline is 31st April) and their name credited in the Best of the Book a Break compilation. The proceeds go to the Against Malaria Foundation.

Interested? Drop me a line via the contact page on this site.

 

Guidelines:
5: Yes! Took me straight into its world and left me thinking about it afterwards.
4: Great story – characters, dialogue and narrative all very well done. Comic, dramatic or disturbing, it hit the mark.
3: Good story, nicely told, but lacking that extra bit that would make it sparkle.
2: A bit hit and miss but enjoyable all the same.
1: Mildly interesting, but didn’t really work for me.
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humor, Uncategorized, writing technique

WRITING FUNNY

 – from the editors of Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine

Humor is as spontaneous as slipping on a banana peel. At the core of every joke, somebody is hurt who didn’t see it coming.

Humor is cathartic. 9/11 happened right after the staff of the online satire newspaper, The Onion, moved to New York. They worried, “Can we be funny?” Their writers satirized the hijackers as being tortured in Christian Hell by demons. The God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule issue was a smash hit. Fan mail showed that readers found release in ridiculing the terrorists.

Humor has sharply defined limits, as a French comedian discovered when he was charged with “defending terrorists” for his comment about a video. The video showed ISIS beheading a Frenchman. The comedian quipped, “It’s in the French tradition.” Now, I thought that funny because I’m not French. But know your readers. Don’t pull a Gilbert Gottfried. A couple weeks after 9/11, he performed at the roast of Hugh Hefner telling a New York audience, “I have to leave early tonight, I have a flight to California. I can’t get a direct flight — they said I have to stop at the Empire State Building first.” Gilbert immediately knew he’d blundered, “I don’t think anyone’s lost an audience bigger than I did at that point. They were booing and hissing.” Being offensive is not funny. Keep in mind that humor must be perceived as funny.

The dictionary first defines humor as a quality that makes something laughable or amusing. Duh! A more useful definition follows: “The ability to perceive, enjoy, or express what is amusing, comical, incongruous, or absurd.” Not much better, but at least it shows that funny requires agreement. The author perceives something funny and the reader finds it amusing. Show your work to others before deciding it’s funny.

Two things on “how.” Humor has to connect with your audience. George Carlin knew this. “There was about a two-year period at the end of the ’60s, when I realized I was in the wrong place and entertaining the wrong people with the wrong material and that I was not being true to myself.” It can’t be forced. Steven Wright knows this. “I don’t go off and sit down and try to write material, because then it’s contrived and forced. I just live my life, and I see things in a word or a situation or a concept, and it will create a joke for me.”

So, our advice to authors is to simply relax. Write funny speculative fiction that offers your readers some cathartic release in this fucked-up world. And remember, you can’t know something is funny until you laugh at it. Humor is as spontaneous to the writer as it is to the reader.

Sci-Fi Lampoon Magazine
Issue 2 is at the publishers!
Now accepting stories for Issue 3 http://scifilampoon.com/submissions/

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Writers Co-op, Writers Co-op Anthology

Rabbit Hole 3: Call for Submissions

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The Writers’ Co-op invites submissions of short stories (and poems) for the third edition of our yearly anthology, The Rabbit Hole, scheduled for release in September 2020.

This year marks a new departure, in which we explore how ‘weird’ fits into a genre. And we’re kicking off with ‘romance’. Do your aliens fall in love? Is your young hero consumed, swallowed and digested by desire? Does your ageing husband bring his passion back to life only to find it’s not what he thought it would be? The possibilities are endless.

Perhaps you never read romance. Perhaps you’ve never written it. So much the better! Who knows what lies outside the box? Couples who’ve escaped from it, couples desperate to get in. Couples who may not be couples at all, or if they are, they’re certainly very weird: Narcissus and his reflection, God and the Virgin Mary, Eija-Riitter Berliner-Mauer (who fell in love with the Berlin Wall, but when it got torn down started dating a garden fence)…  Or male and female in one – what could be weirder than that? Do you know the Potter Angelfish? It starts life as a female, then switches over to male – a handy technique used by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, though in the opposite direction.

I’ll stop there. You’ve got the idea. In fact I’m sure you’ve got plenty, and you don’t need me to give you more. Simply bear in mind that ‘weird’ doesn’t always mean outlandish – it can be subtle, discreet, even furtive. Witty too, or burlesque – we’re always open to humour. Or even, at a stretch, humor. We look forward to discovering whatever means you choose to warp, subvert, disfigure, disguise or otherwise befuddle the concept of romance.

There is a maximum word count of 5000. This is more a guideline than a strict limit – quality is the main criterion, not length. So a great story will be accepted, whether it’s 6000 words or 200 (flash fiction is welcome). But we’re looking for short stories, not novellas or extracts from novels – the story should be complete in itself. Though the anthology will be comprised mostly of stories, there will also be room for some poems or pieces of an experimental nature.

The deadline is 31st March 2020. Submissions should be sent in an attached file to curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com with the subject ‘Co-op submission’. They may have been previously published on personal websites (or elsewhere) but authors must have full rights to them when submitting. Authors will retain said rights after the story or poem is published in the Writers’ Co-op anthology.

Writers whose stories are selected will have the choice between keeping their share of the royalties or donating them to the Against Malaria Foundation.

To get an idea of type of stories published so far, you can get The Rabbit Hole volume one and The Rabbit Hole Volume two at a special discount price of $1.99 (until 31st January).

web cover                           Rabbit Hole V2 jpeg.jpg

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Uncategorized

Jobs I Have Done Instead of Writing

The following was written by American author Rick Harsch (who has lived in self-exile in Slovenia for nearly two decades): ‘Every subfamous writer knows it’s unseemly to bitch about having to work for a living, yet is all too aware that if he or she was a paid writer writing would be considered work, and so we subfamers are all in the horrible position of having spasms of acute awareness that in this unjust world in which we both continue to write and on top of that work for a living we are doing double duty while many a self-satisfied untalented schmuck is working about seven hours a week, living off a single novel that hit paydirt, muddling through an academic sinecure that requires an everchanging array of poses suggesting the suppressed pain that is art creation in times of distant tragedies and that worst of all human conditions, the human condition.

How do I handle this problem? Self-delusion is an absolute requirement. I must never fully realize the fact that my time has passed, that even if I were to become a wealthy writer overnight I am still too old to embark on the travels I’ve longed to undertake, and my cardiologist has forbidden me from even taking tennis lessons. And, well, shit, why not get this out in the open—though poor, I actually do live on the Mediterranean.

The other thing I do for this condition is work. I don’t mean writing, of course. Sure, I write, but we’ve already established that for me that isn’t work. So what I do and have done for the last forty years is whatever I have been able to make money. Strangely, the most outlandish work I did was before I had a family, kids and a wife, which is the point at which work becomes the most necessary. But that’s all to the good. I get published now and then, and I never ever want to see another book with my face on it and underneath “Rick Harsch drove a taxi…” Oh, how fucking exotic! Nothing wrong with it that a photograph wearing a sweater sitting with my Irish setter before a fireplace wouldn’t cleanse. I suppose what I want is “Rick Harsch drove a taxi and one time a guy named Earl shit his pants while in the back seat and Rick couldn’t get Earl out of the cab because Earl was built like a medicine ball with a lead core and it was the end of a lousy shift and he nearly had a stroke from the frustration and if that cab is still around somewhere it still smells like the Bowels of Earl.” Yeah, that would be okay.

All this arose in me, this writers at work business, from reading an interview on The Collidescope with Patricia Eakins, with her answering that potent question regarding what she did after her first book was published and reading about how she worked on some textbook that likely had little to do with anything she was interested in and likely because like all of us subfamers needed money and the universe did not care how she obtained it, or whether she obtained it at all. The utopian in me lives and was riled. I recalled the thousand injuries of Fortunato, my greatest enemy.

Today I was sitting with one of my ex-bosses talking scattershot and a memory somehow came back regarding probably the oddest day I had in recent years that had to do with making money, or rather attempting to. A friend of a friend had this sister, see, and she does film casting, and they were hiring extras in Gorizia, Italy, about 90 minutes from here and one thing led to another, and nothing led to money, but I spent a bizarre day with an extravagant dame in her 60s who had seen the world and half the men in it, still sized us all up and let us know the fit, told amazing stories about back in the days her ex, a sea captain, had her on board and all the engineers were in love with her, and Omar Sharif, or some other famous guy, tried to bang her that night in Piraeus.

So what the hell, here’s a topic: Jobs I Have Done Instead of Writing.’

Rick Harsch has told me, George Salis, that I’m too young to have any good stories to share (I’m paraphrasing). Having taught stints in Bulgaria, China, and Poland, I’d have to disagree. Additionally, I’ve had to teach Chinese children online in which I am a clown-for-hire as early as 5 in the morning, forcing me on more than one occasion to live on China Standard Time (CST), which means I rarely saw the sun, such a pale clown needs no white makeup. Luckily, I’ve been able to reduce the amount of online teaching I do by ghostwriting, which suits my introverted personality much more, to say the least. As for work-related stories abroad, the craziest come from China in which I was forced to wrangle multiple classes with about 50 students in a class, some of which hide special needs kids who are not getting the special needs they need. I’ll save such stories for another day, perhaps.

I look forward to hearing about the strange and torturous things you other writers have had to endure with equal parts sadism and sympathy.

Rick Harsch hit the literary scene in 1997 with his cult classic The Driftless Zone, which was followed by Billy Verite and Sleep of the Aborigines (all by Steerforth Press) soon after to form The Driftless Trilogy. Harsch migrated to the Slovene coastal city of Izola in 2001, just as the Driftless books were published in French translation by a French publisher that went out of business a few years later. Rick is also the author of Arjun and the Good Snake (2011, Amalietti & Amalietti), Wandering Stone: the Streets of Old Izola (2017, Mandrac Press), Voices After Evelyn (2018, Maintenance Ends Press), Skulls of Istria (2018, River Boat Books), The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas (2019, River Boat Books) and Walk Like a Duck: A Season of Little League Baseball in Italy (2019, River Boat Books). Rick currently lives in Izola still with his wife and two children.

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books, 2019). His fiction is featured in The DarkBlack DandyZizzle Literary MagazineThe Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in IsacousticAtticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on FacebookGoodreads, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.

Stay tuned: coming Monday, 13 Jan 20, RABBIT HOLE 3 Call for Submissions!

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book promotion, book sales, self-publishing

So does free work?

free

Does it work to make your book free? The question arouses much debate, some of it passionate, and I’m not going to attempt to provide a yes or no answer. Many writers refuse to give their work away as a matter of principle, a position I fully respect, and in an ideal world, would prefer to adopt myself. Because writing takes time and effort, and working to give a product away isn’t something that’s done for cars, cucumbers or cupcakes, so why do it for writing?

The short answer is to gain visibility. Without visibility, selling your work is extremely difficult, but giving it away is easier. You might have a good cover and enticing blurb, but convincing people to fork out money on a totally unknown name is a challenge. But if you give them something and they like it, they’ll be more prepared to buy what you produce next. Or so the reasoning goes.

So this is what I’ve been doing. And since I promised a while ago to provide a few figures, here they are.

I made One Green Bottle, first in the Magali Rousseau mystery series, permafree on Amazon in September 2017. Since then, it’s been downloaded roughly 4600 times. Now, that’s all fine and well, but I have no idea how often it’s been read, or whether it’s disappeared into the welter of free books people have on their kindle without ever getting round to reading them. I’m not averse to seeing it downloaded free, but it would be nice to know if it actually gets read. However, that’s the same for most books, free or otherwise – feedback is rare, and once a book is out there, the author doesn’t know what becomes of it. The bottom line is sales figures.

Has the permafree book had any effect on sales of the others in the series? My guess is not, or minimal. It’s difficult to tease out sales resulting from my launch efforts (which so far are basically restricted to informing the 400 or so subscribers who open my newsletter) and the knock-on effect from the permafree. But if I take away sales occurring at launch time, the rest is a monthly trickle that falls a good way short of keeping me in coffee.

Am I despondent? Not at all. There are several factors that go against me. Firstly, I didn’t plan the series properly, so the third one I published was in fact the second one in Magali’s chronology. OK, Star Wars does that all the time but it’s confusing all the same. Secondly, I revised One Green Bottle so there’s a major difference in the current version compared to the initial release – also confusing. Thirdly, the covers, while fine in themselves, don’t correspond to the norms for the genre – they’re all being redone now for the release of a box set, so I’ll see what difference that makes. Did someone mention a learning curve? I’m still climbing steadily.

Of course, making a book free doesn’t mean that it will instantly become visible. You then have to let people know that it’s free. To that end, I enrolled Mystery Manor, the last in the series, in KDP Select, and then made it free for five days, which can be done once in any 90-day period. I then booked a slot on Freebooksy, who announced it to the 310,000 mystery novel readers they have on their email list. The result was just under 4000 downloads. And here there was a small but noticeable knock-on effect: apart from another hefty boost to the free downloads of One Green Bottle, there were 41 purchases of Cash in Carry, number two in the series (priced at $0.99), and 11 of Perfume Island, number three, priced at $2.99. The royalties covered roughly half of the $90 I paid for the Freebooksy slot.

I take some encouragement from this. Because again, the process could be improved – to enrol the last in the series in KDP Select when none of the others have been was illogical. But I’d always been reluctant to give Amazon the exclusivity they require for KDP Select, so it took me a while to take that step. I still don’t like it, but the fact is that I’ve made slightly more from Kindle Unlimited page reads than from sales.

The final verdict? In my case, the jury (composed of me and myself) is still out. But with better planning (conception and promotion) of the new series, and a greater backlist to offer, I should see a larger knock-on effect. On current evidence, it’s not worth making the first in the new series permafree – one seems plenty for that – but well-planned free promotions every so often might just do the trick. It’s a hard slog, because for every person who’s ready to pay for a book, there are a hundred freeloaders. But that’s the way it works – like panning for gold, you have to get rid of the silt and gravel first. And I’m an eternal optimist – there’s a lot more I need to do, but when I get to 10,000 subscribers, I hope to have enough nuggets to pay for my coffee.

 

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About Writers, book reviews, humor, Literary critique, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Of Burning Hotness & Tightly Curled Monkey Paws: Bad Sex Writing

You’re a writer—committing words to paper or electronic storage media—in the hopes that others might later read, and vicariously enjoy, the fruits of your labor. So when an award comes your way embodying recognition from your peers for demonstrable excellence in execution of the craft—popped champagne corks, streamers, and confetti all around, right?

Not so fast.

What if the recognition that comes your way is for writing some of the most descriptively awful, tortured-metaphor, laugh-out-loud-funny sex scenes ever committed to print—    then how would you feel?

Such is the position two 2019 novelists find themselves in: Didier Decoin and John Harvey. Britain’s “most dreaded literary prize”—the Bad Sex Award—was, err . . . awarded . . . to these two gentlemen for the creation of grammatical hydra-headed monsters of such overwrought metaphor, mangled syntax, and ”    wait . . . what?!” disorienting narrative description that awed judges truly could not decide upon a winner between the Gallic or the Anglo-Saxon contestants. They co-share the prize.

Readers in search of saucer-eyed, hand-to-mouth diversion may peruse this link for further details:     https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/dec/02/bad-sex-award-twosome-prize-goes-to-didier-decoin-and-john-harvey  

I considered re-posting some of the passages quoted in the Guardian article here so that drive-by readers may get a feel for the exquisite excrescence of the award-winning bad writing thus recognized by Britain’s Bad Sex Award, but . . . no.     :::shudder:::    Just . . . no. . . .

Once you’re done reading the article, however, let’s regather here and discuss. Have you ever written a sex scene in your fiction? How did it turn out? What is your opinion of sex scenes in fiction, generally? Are they necessary? (Let’s exclude, for purposes of this discussion, “one-handed books”—explicit erotic fiction primarily targeted at cisgender men: “I never believed this could happen to me: I hawked my wad of chewing tobacco onto the macadam, took a swig of whiskey from my flask, slung my reflector vest away, and stripping down to my tightly bunched gray underwear waded into the writhing, moaning mass of naked women softly trilling my name:  Ebenezer, Ebenezer . . .”)

David Foster Wallace once notoriously dismissed John Updike as “just a penis with a thesaurus”. Are there writers you think take things an explicit passage too far? Perhaps offend by tone, subject matter, and/or authorial voice? Obsessive “sex focus”?

On the other hand, do you think there is something to be said for writers who dare to write against the grain of “contemptible bourgeois morality” and Puritanical prudishness? Are there writers you think handle sexual passages well? Do you regard titillation and/or sexual arousal as a legitimate aim of literary or genre literature? (After all, we applaud the writers who best evoke the senses when they write, so why should sex—an essential part of the human condition and a most poignant and transfixing experiential phenomena—remain “off-stage” in literature?)

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About Writers, blogging, inspiration, Research, Uncategorized, writing technique

On Falling in the Name of Research

by George Salis 

The act of writing a novel elicits a series of revelations punctuated by epiphanies. I will share with you two major eureka moments that occurred during the writing of my debut novel Sea Above, Sun Below.

Connected to the myth of Icarus and other vertiginous tales of yore, my novel features a group of skydivers who fall, metaphorically and literally. I’m afraid of heights but I felt like I needed to skydive in the name of research for my novel. As it happens, I loved the surreal experience so much I would do it again. Strapped to my instructor, we waddled to the plane’s open door, and he stood on the edge while I dangled unfathomably high above the earth and with fear I reached out to grip the metal portal, but the instructor gently pried me from even that precarious perch, and then the insensate suck, the slip from everything into nothing, and I realized this was it, that I was truly falling, skydiving, and the wind felt as though the sky wanted to make my mouth and lungs home, palate-scouring, and the seconds were drawn out into a brief infinity, an eternal moment. From there, the world below struggled between a two-dimensional illusion and the reality of three.

Yet, for all that that’s worth, I was fairly surprised to discover, once my feet were on the ground and I was back at my writing desk, that my skydiving description was quite accurate before I had conducted my research and so I ended up adding only a single sentence afterward: “Up here, while the wind became a chorus of tragic furies, the sun detached from the sky, letting the earth revolve like an orrery.” This is one example in which I learned to trust my own instincts, my own imagination. Was skydiving worth the effort, the confronting of fear? Absolutely. Research still has many benefits and can be a delight in and of itself. I should add that while the experience of falling conformed quite uncannily with my predescription, as it were, I did add a plethora of details from my experience within the skydiving hangar, such as the almost anachronistic bowling balls littering the hangar floor which I learned are used to push out air from the parachutes while folding them back into their packs for the next fall. So, aside from personal development, research can give you all those minute details which enhance a fictional scene, but if you cannot afford to go to Japan, for example, then you should rest easy knowing that you have the power to evoke your own germane version of the country.

Also, do not underestimate academic research, which is often less expensive and no less simmering with potential details, for one’s picture of a place or person will always be incomplete and eventually all that’s left for you to do is continue writing.

Mentally juggling and tallying the oftentimes ambiguous constituents of a novel in one’s head, even with the aid of notes and miscellaneous marginalia, can cause a daunting dizziness. To lessen the vertigo, I offer this lesson: I learned that it’s much more manageable to write each chapter as a short story (with chronology being far from a priority). There are certain aspects the short story is known for, yet there is no reason such aspects should be exclusive to it: an ensorcelling first sentence; a strategic entrance into the very story of the story; a self-containment that can feel like a certain tightness, which is not to suggest that you should avoid digressions (they can be, as Ray Bradbury said in defiance of Shakespeare’s Polonius, the soul of wit); an immediacy of image or action or development; and it allows you to weave your novel as if it were a tapestry, depending on the type of novel you are writing. I’m enamored with stories within stories, stories besides stories, in the vein of The Thousand and One Nights or Cloud Atlas, so my novel contains around ten different threads which were written with the mentality, the focused lens, of the short story, connected thematically, genetically, and more. An additional benefit to this method/perspective is that while you work on your long project, you might be able to send out some pieces of it for potential publication. Before Sea Above, Sun Below recently came out as a whole through River Boat Books, I was able to publish ten pieces from it, and in a few cases I received edits on the stories which ultimately helped the final vision.

It is worth noting that you should rage against my advice as you see fit. By all means, do the opposite of what I say if it works for you. Or better yet, use your finger to write your novel in the fog on a mirror; spin around quickly ten times before you sit down for the day’s quota; whisper your sentences backward to yourself; write your dreams then dream what you wrote. Who truly knows what will help?

George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books). His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is the editor of The Collidescope and is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland.

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