Friday, January 29, 2010

January 29, 2010 Links and Plugs

Here's the book trailer for Peter Straub's latest book, A Dark Matter. You can also check out his Facebook for a contest.

Oh, and 90% into my breakfast of Pork & Beans, I find not one, but two cockroaches.

Here's some love for Mr. Fletcher:

Thursday, January 28, 2010

January 28, 2010 Links and Plugs

Bad news regarding Kage Baker here. To quote Jeff VanderMeer:
There’s no getting around just how much this sucks. Kage is a lovely human being and a writer who has given a lot of us many hours of rapt enjoyment. She’s also a very humorous writer, and I hope that her sense of humor is helping her a little bit in these extreme circumstances. (In typical Baker fashion, when, not knowing she had cancer, we queried about her contribution to the forthcoming Lambshead Cabinet of Curiousities, she replied in part that she wasn’t up to it unless we wanted her as medical specimen.)

If you want to drop her a line or send her something (you really should), the information on how to do so can be found here.
As for today's news, the elephant in the room is the iPad. Here's a quick rundown.

In local news, as far as speculation is concerned, since Neil Gaiman is dropping by the Philippines in March, maybe we'll finally see the Fully Booked Awards again.

I'm a sucker for the contributors:

The Book of Dreams edited by Nick Gevers

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Essay: Why the Hype Behind January 27, 2010

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

It's Wednesday already here in the Philippines but unfortunately, Apple has yet to make its big announcement (what use is it living in the future if your news is still the same as yesterday?). Everyone thinks they know what Apple will be releasing--and I have my own suspicions as well--but guessing what actually gets released isn't the point of this essay. Rather, I want to focus on a question that some people might have overlooked: why are a lot of people excited about the iTablet/iSlate/Unicorn?

If you think about it, the answer is simple: because Amazon has done a lackluster job when it comes to the eBook industry. To readers, it could be the delivery method (i.e. the screen, the device, the format, etc.). To publishers, it might be how Amazon acts as the self-appointed police (to address the latter's concern, Amazon even recently made an announcement that it'll increase its royalty option--although that honestly benefits self-published authors more than major publishers).

Don't get me wrong. As far as its retail branch is concerned, Amazon is more than competent. That's why other online retailers, bookstores or otherwise, are having problems simply keeping up with Amazon. The only online retailer that seems unfazed by Amazon is Apple's iTunes Store.

But when it comes to eBooks, Amazon for the past few years has monopolized the market. It's not fair to say that they don't have competitors (they do, especially as other companies attempted to release their own eReaders), but let's face it, when you think of eBooks, they're the elephant in the room. And to their credit, they achieved that status because they did something right: integrating shopping for eBooks (and taking into account that they are a major source of books online, electronic or otherwise) with manufacturing the device itself.

However, whatever praise I have for them stops there. There are several reasons why we aren't in the mythical age of eBook reading. If it was simply the fact that the Kindle was ugly, some readers could have lived with that. Aesthetics is great but for some people, utility is their foremost priority. Rather, it's the accumulation of other factors. There's DRM. There's the lack of a common format for eBooks. There's Amazon's dictatorship of the price for eBooks (not that I believe in completely free markets, but it's really crippling when someone else tells you how much you can price your non-essential commodities). Amazon's accumulated bad PR for the past few years (such as pulling out 1984 from a student's device). It all adds up to a certain dissatisfaction.

What Apple promises--or rather, what people think Apple promises--is something new and different. People are in love with the potential of the alternatives. Honestly, 24 hours from now, after Apple makes its announcement, I don't think they'll solve all of the problems concerning the eBook (especially if how they handle iTunes or their iPhone is any indicator). They'll probably come up with a fantastic physical product (hardware) but the real concerns of the eBook industry is its ecosystem: how the retailer will treat and interact with its customers, authors, and publishers.

Take a deep breath and enjoy the anticipation. Until Apple comes out with something definitive, everyone's imagination has conjured their idealized reading device.

P.S. No, I don't think Apple is creating an eBook-reading device more than a multimedia device.

January 27, 2010 Links and Plugs

Got 7 hours of sleep. Still want more sleep.

So here's a general question: what are your favorite "world sf" stories, or what are the stories that I should be reading written by speculative fiction authors from around the world?

Some Night Shade Books love:

Heartland by Mark Teppo

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January 2010 Blog Announcements

Hi! I just want to make some announcements with regards to the blog.

If you read today's interview (with the talented Angela Slatter, no doubt), you'll notice that I didn't include the header "Every Tuesday...". Unfortunately, as much as I love doing interviews--and I surprisingly managed to churn out one every week in 2009--right now, I have several new projects that needs my attention and prevents me from doing interviews on a regular basis.

That's not to say there won't be future interviews on the blog. I'm conducting a few right now and I'm saving them for the latter half of the year, when I can hopefully continue my "regular" Tuesday interviews.

In the meantime, I'll still be doing interviews for other sites. There's still the World SF News Blog, SF Signal, and The Nebula Awards Blog. Hopefully even the Shirley Jackson Awards Blog, if they invite me contribute again this year.

Thanks for all the support you readers have given me. Personally, I'm still surprised when people say yes when I ask them if I can interview them for the blog.

January 26, 2010 Links and Plugs

Congrats to the 2010 BSFA Awards Shortlists.

And here's a book trailer from John Langan.

Last but not least, Theodoro Goss is one of my favorite favorite favorite writers. She has a story up in Strange Horizons, and the reason I didn't plug it last week is that the second part wasn't uploaded until today (didn't want to leave you hanging!): "The Mad Scientist's Daughter" Part 1|Part 2. (I'll go read it now if you don't mind...)

So far hearing nothing but praise:

Interview: Angela Slatter

Angela Slatter is a Brisbane-based writer of speculative fiction. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies such as Jack Dann’s Dreaming Again, Tartarus Press’ Strange Tales II, Twelfth Planet Press’ 2012, Dirk Flinthart’s Canterbury 2100, and in journals such as Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Shimmer, ONSPEC and Doorways Magazine. Her work has had several Honourable Mentions in the Datlow, Link, Grant Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies #20 and #21; and two of her stories have been shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards in the Best Fantasy Short Story category.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what got you interested in speculative fiction?

I've always had a lot of fantasy/science fiction in my reading lists. I blame my mother for starting me on fairytales as a child and the traumatising effects of 'The Little Match Girl' . A few years ago when I was looking for a topic to do my Masters (Research) on, I thought about the idea of reloading fairytales as Angela Carter did in the seventies ('The Bloody Chamber' in particular) and Emma Donoghue ('Kissing the Witch') did recently - and as a lot of women have done over time. Those two were simply the ones I decided to study for the exegetical component. The creative work was a collection of 9 reloaded fairytales, called 'Black-Winged Angels'. I guess you just find your natural genre and this seems to be mine. I love the interplay of reality and confounded expectations, of imagination and flights of fancy that make up the spec-fic field. It's exciting to take a holiday in someone else's head!

What made you decide to transition from reader to writer?

I've scribbled all my life. I moved to Sydney at one point for 4 years and didn't write at all - but I guess it was just a long period of percolation! I moved back to Brisbane to "be a writer" and started a graduate diploma in creative writing - so I officially made the shift in 2004. Why did I do it? I was just in love with writing (still am) and making stories and I don't think I ever thought I'd be published, I just wanted to write and get the stories out. I wanted to learn how to mould the story into the right shape; I supposed getting published was just jam! :-) And maybe, I just had to get the stories out to stop my head from exploding :-)

How has living in Sydney and Brisbane influenced your writing?

I don't know that it has, honestly. Mostly when I write I use a kind of a European setting. I don't think I took much in from my Sydney period. Although, Brisbane has produced/influenced two stories, I guess: 'The Jacaranda Wife', in Jack Dann's Dreaming Again anthology (the jacaranda tree in my backyard was the inspiration); and 'I Love You Like Water', in the Twelfth Planet Press 2012 anthology (which was inspired by the awful drought we were experiencing - and looks like we'll experience again soon - in Southeast Queensland).

What made you decide to apply for Clarion?

Ah, the first time around it was my Masters supervisor encouraging me. I got in for the 2007 round of Clarion South, but couldn't go due to work and financial pressures. The second time because Kate and Rob the convenors yelled at me until I did it :-). So I did CS in 2009. It was a unique learning experience and the chance to be a writer fulltime for 6 weeks were, I guess, huge motivating factors in applying.

What was the most important lesson you learned at Clarion?

What advice to listen to and what advice to ignore. That sometimes even if you really don't agree with something, if 3 people or more have made the comment then you should probably look at it and consider making some changes. When to recognise that a comment is about making the story better technically or whether it's simply another person's preference for how they would have either written or liked to have had the story end.

What would you say is the biggest difference between you as a writer pre-Clarion and post-Clarion?

Oh, awful question. It's not been a year since I got out of Clarion South. When I first came out (which sounds like getting out of therapy, I guess), I'd say I was a less confident writer - the 16 extra voices in your head make things a bit difficult. I'd say now that I'm a more confident writer and that I have a great ability to write a story from a much slimmer idea or inspiration than I used to have. Maybe it's like a 'write on command' thing?

Heh. Does that mean it's easier for you to write nowadays? Or did you stop believing in "Writer's Block"?

Honestly, I don't think I ever really believed in "writer's block" - I think it's a blanket term for "lazy and/or scared". As a writer, you're always worried you'll get it wrong ... but that's what drafts and the editing process are for, to craft and re-work your prose. I think it's Kevin J Anderson who says "You can edit shit, you can't edit nothing", so even if the inner critic is saying "OMG, that is the worst sentence in the history of writing", just keep writing. You can always go back and edit it on the next pass. And when it's actually on paper or screen it's much easier to see what's wrong with it. And the bottom drawer technique also helps to give some perspective - put your story in the bottom drawer for a couple of weeks, work on other stuff, don't think about the story because things will be percolating in the back-brain. Then when you come back to it, you'll often find things are a lot clearer "Oh, of course, that's what I need! A pony with fangs!"

How about the Internet, how has it affected your writing career, or keeping in touch with your fellow Clarion students?

Mmmmm, it's certainly put a lot of carrier pigeons out of work and now you can get rejected faster! Internet has meant that there are extra markets in some ways - but with the recent closing of a lot of print mags, I'm starting to wonder if all we'll be left with are the Internet magazines. In terms of keeping in contact with fellow Clarionites, it's very handy. Also for keeping in contact with friends who are scattered across the world, again, very handy. And there is of course the weird sensation of making friends with people you've never physically met - like t'inter-friends. Sometimes I do make a point of actually picking up the phone to talk to friends so my social skills don't atrophy entirely. I think it's important to do that so when you do actually see someone face-to-face you remember how to talk to them with your mouth and not just by typing something witty.

Uh oh. I guess that means I should brush up on my social skills! Anyway, a lot of your published work is short fiction. What's the appeal of the format for you?

Ah, I suppose it's what I cut my teeth on. Also, when I get an idea, it's generally one I can see the end of - that is, I know how the story finishes. I enjoy the challenge of honing fiction down to being able to do the most with the least number of words. That's kind of why I enjoy doing The Daily Cabal stories - it's always a challenge to get a 900 word story down to a 400 word story and still keep a workable narrative intact. Why did I start on short stories? They just seemed manageable! But now in order to go on to the novel, I've realised I need to forget most of what I know about writing and start learning again - except for the spelling and the grammar parts.

Since you brought up the novel, what made you decide to finally start writing one?

Ah, the idea I came up with was too big for a short story or a novella. It keep pushing out the boundaries every time I thought I'd stuffed it into the shape I wanted. And the characters kept talking and meeting other characters ... it's become like an out of control New Year's Party you have when your parents are away. Maybe it was that the picture I had in my head for the beginning was so different from what was in my head as the ending ... on a chessboard you start out in one place, end up in another ... the novel is like a really big chess game with extra squares.

What are some examples of the adjustments you had to make when transitioning from writing short stories to novels?

Digging down into characters' emotions. I had a chat with the awesome Karen Miller who read over the first draft of part of the novel and she showed me the spots where I'd missed those emotional depths. In a short story - it's like an impressionist painting - you sketch details and let the reader's imagination work on the hints you've given (or maybe that means my work is actually best viewed from a distance, squinting!). With a novel, it's a Renaissance masterpiece, everything is carefully detailed (in a "showing-not-telling" manner, of course :-)) - you dig down and excavate the layers of the tale and of the emotions of your characters much more deeply. At least, that's the adjustment for me. And I'm still adjusting and learning as I go. I think writing a fantasy novel is a very steep learning curve for me - some days I think I'm trudging up Mt Doom carrying both Sam and Froddo - and they've both been eating a lot.

You seem to be connected with various Australian publishers. What's the publishing industry there like?

Oh that's a big question. I will try to give a small controlled answer! We have arms of the big publishers here (like HaperCollins, Hachette, Random House, etc), we also have some awesome smaller presses like Sleepers and Scribe. The issue for Australia is our smaller population - we just don't have the same size market as the US, so that contributes to books being a bit more expensive here. That said, we are one of the highest book buying per capita countries in the world - which is nice.

We have a few good little spec-fic presses, like Twelfth Planet, which regualrly punches above its weight. There is also Pulp Fiction Press, which is awesome - I do some work for them at the end stage of a book's journey. I am variously known as The Polisher or The Eviscerator. Why do I work for them? Because I admire their commitment to producing the best book they can and making sure a story is the best it can be in and of itself.

It's a healthy industry, I think is what I'm saying! And no, I'm not saying anything about the recent parallel imports debacle as it's been widely and openly discussed for months. Okay, I will say "In your face, Productivity Commission!"

Any projects that you're currently involved with?

Yes, but if I told you I'd have to kill you.

Any advice for aspiring writers?

Learn your craft. Take advice. Learn that a worthwhile, well-considered crit isn't about you, it's about making your story the best it can be. Read a lot because it's part of the learning process, but make sure you work out how to write your own thing, using your own voice instead of re-writing The Lord of the Rings.

Anything else you want to plug?

Did I plug something before? Nope :-) But thanks so much for the chance to do an interview! And thanks for questions that made me think - although I know it's hard to tell! :-)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Book/Magazine Review: Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Dragonhaven is one of the easier books to review because I precisely know what I liked and didn't like about it. McKinely writes a novel wherein dragons are just like any animal, complete with having its own scientific name. The conceit lies in the fact that the story is set in a national park, one that specializes in dragons.

McKinley has a distinct first-person style that on one hand, gives it a successful young adult voice, but on the other, can get dragging at times as it's one of the most inelegant ways of peppering readers with the info dump. Of course if you're the type that's more interested in the science of the plausibility of dragons, this might appeal to you, but for more impatient readers like myself, I'm more interested in the conflict.

Another problem of the book is that the author's goals is sometimes at odds with each other. For example, McKinley tries to be upbeat by ending its chapter with a cliffhanger. This would have worked in a shorter narrative but McKinley's prose is long and tedious, dampening whatever suspense the previous passage built upon. Then there's also the issue of characterization. McKinley actually writes a convincing cast but space for characterization seems to be competing with exposition.

Admittedly, Dragonhaven starts to pick up towards the latter half of the book but for some readers, this arrives too late. While McKinley is to be applauded for her detail and description, the pacing has room for improvement.

January 25, 2010 Links and Plugs

Congrats to the Aurealis Awards finalists and winners!

Also check out the Helping Haiti Heal fundraiser.

Lastly, a site that I contribute to, BSC Review, gets a facelift.

Thanks to Jason Sanford for reminding me...

Tesseracts Thirteen: Chilling Tales from the Great White North edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell

Friday, January 22, 2010

January 22, 2010 Links and Plugs

Magic Under Glass gets a cover change:
Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.
As for me, it's another of those 18-hour work days so...


If I haven't plugged this before, well, now I have:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

January 21, 2010 Links and Plugs

Expect intermittent appearances from me. Phone line is grounded, so no Internet.

Also, be sure to check out the gender post links below.

eBook eBook eBook:
The Spires of Denon by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Feature: The Speculative Detectives

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

While elements of mystery creeping into your science fiction or fantasy isn't anything new, there's lately been a trend where books are influenced by both the noir/mystery genre and speculative fiction. You'd think they'd be derivatives but several of the titles are very distinct. Here's are a couple that I'd like to highlight:

The Last Book by Zoran Živković (PS Publishing) - The Last Book is fiction that works on multiple levels, treading metafictional ground, referencing Umberto Eco, and alluding to the mystery genre in general. Combine this with Živković's simple yet elegant language and you end up with a very unique title.

Last Days by Brian Evenson (Underland Press) - There's something immediately bizarre when you dive into Last Days, especially when you're dealing with antagonists that call themselves The Brotherhood of Mutilation (pay close attention to the book cover). Much like The Last Book, this novel is also layered as Evenson tackles philosophical quandaries and the division of the book suits this form.

The City in These Pages by John Grant (PS Publishing) - This is Grant's tribute to the Ed McBain novels and for most of the book, he succeeds in writing a compelling and believable police procedural. Since The City in These Pages is in this list, however, there's more to the story than what it originally seems...

The Little Sleep by Paul Tremblay (Holt) - While admittedly neither fantasy nor science fiction per se, The Little Sleep contains genre sensibilities (just read the first chapter). What makes this a unique P.I. novel is that the main character is narcoleptic, and that can be quite a detriment when you're investing a mystery. Readers should also keep an eye out for its sequel, No Sleep till Wonderland.

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry (Penguin) - Aside from the conceit of being an actual manual of detection, Berry creates an elaborate setting and backstory for this novel which includes detective agencies and a rogue's gallery of sorts (and if that isn't noir, I don't know what is). The simplistic tone of the novel can be misleading as The Manual of Detection has its own share of intrigue.

Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (Underland Press) - Clearly fantastical from the get-go, VanderMeer inserts the noir genre into his Ambergris setting as a sense of mystery, paranoia, and vulnerability pervades the narrative.

January 20, 2010 Links and Plugs

This week's controversy revolves around Bloomsbury's second white-washed YA cover. And a related controversy is an anthology that I'm part of...

Also check out a video posted on Lou Ander's blog: Games and the Female Audience.

And here's your photo of the day (source):

artist: Anouk Kruithof


And here's a spanking new cover for one of my fave books from 2009:

The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January 19, 2010 Links and Plugs

For reasons only known to Lavie (and probably the publisher), he needs to sell 92 copies of The Apex Book of World SF before the month is out.

Since I already interviewed Nick Mamatas on Haikasoru, check out their books:

The Book of Heroes by Miyuki Miyabe

Interview: Kaolin Fire

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Kaolin Fire is a conglomeration of ideas, side projects, and experiments. Web development is his primary occupation, but he also develops computer games, edits Greatest Uncommon Denominator Magazine, and occasionally teaches computer science. He has had short fiction published in Strange Horizons, Tuesday Shorts, Escape Velocity, and Alienskin Magazine, among others.

Thanks for agreeing to do the interview! First off, is your name really Kaolin Fire?

It is (Kaolin Imago Fire), though that's threatened to get me into trouble at times (I've had one editor tell me they almost threw my piece out of slush for ignoring their "no pen names" rule).

What made you decide to become a writer?

It just seemed to happen to me, time and again. My mom encouraged me with writing poetry at an early age (first memories of such around age 6 or 7), and I remember writing on and off for classes or outside of classes since then. There were a number of years when I forgot about writing entirely, but it picked back up more seriously in college. A close friend got me into an online writing group and that and others like it have kept me going since.

I've always been an avid reader, and grew up in a family of readers--we'd have piles of books borrowed from the library to choose from every week--so that probably played a large part in it as well. I'd read any chance I could take, outside of tinkering with computers.

An editor?

This I fell into by way of writing, and by way of web development. Everyone needs a web developer, and if they don't think they do, they don't understand what they're missing.

Someone in my first online writing group had kind of a windfall and decided to drop a chunk on putting out a magazine. I did the web design and development to support that--making it so a dozen writers from all over the world could collaborate on selecting and editing pieces. Some of us had been critting each other for half a decade by then, but it's amazing how different actually having to select pieces for publication is. It takes it to another level, and I think that experience has really helped me see my own writing in a properly critical light.

Is it true that you work with 5 monitors, and it's still not enough?

It's definitely not enough, though the number only bumps to 5 when I've got my laptop hooked up--and it's a bit of a strain to see in comparison to the four others on my desk. The primary is 1600x1200, left and "upper right" are 1280x1024, and "lower right" is currently a 1600x1200 CRT. They're spread over two computers, and I use a software KVM called Synergy to manage them.

My current "dream" is 6 1600x1200 LCDs in a 2 tall, 3 wide grid. I also want them to put off less heat.

I tend to be working on 3 to 5 projects at a time, and any given project can easily take up 3 monitors on its own (doing a book cover, for instance--one for PhotoShop, one for browsing for reference photos, one for keeping notes--or running a 3d program, or so on).

How did you get involved with GUD Magazine?

Some time after our friend's venture ran out of steam, a few of us got back together and sought to address issues that we felt had cropped up. We wanted more individual control over each issue, a different aesthetic, a stronger purpose. We'd moved forward with our lives, some, and had some money and a lot of time to devote to the idea. Some of what we brainstormed was a lot more "in your face", but it's always been about blurring the boundaries between genre and non-genre, understanding the negative stereotypes each get and trying to raise the bar for both.

And then of course I sat down and built the website, and the initial two designs--though I was very lucky to trade a professional designer for our current one. I did a brief retrospective regarding the website designs mid-2008:

What does your current role in the magazine involve?

Not foremost, but most fundamental, I keep the magazine running at a technical level. I manage the domain, the server it's on, massage the website periodically. One of the main maintenance bits I do on the website, outside of posting new pages for different sales/events we try and updating the color scheme a touch for each new issue, is adding various statistics; we've got a public page of them at but we have others, too, showing us how well each issue is performing, how our mailing list is doing, and such as that. I also attempt to streamline the submission and editing processes as we hit recurring snags. The last thing I did there was make the website spit out RTFs of our contract for each piece, so that we didn't have to edit them manually.

I also tend to function as the magazine's front man online--if you see GUD Magazine on twitter, facebook, myspace, gather, etc; chances are, it's me. I'm frequently checking out new online social venues, seeing if I can build a buzz or a conversation. I also poke my head in at a half dozen writing boards somewhat regularly, just to promote.

On that note, I'm also pretty much in charge of all of our advertising. I do a few long-running campaigns through Project Wonderful, but am also on the lookout for good "synergies", random opportunities both online and in print. I keep dreaming of being able to get a real radio spot together; or a billboard on a busy highway; or a tv spot. But we'd have to be doing absurdly better to risk something like that. Some of the more out-of-the-way things I've talked myself out of include advertising on pizza boxes and at gas pumps. Possibly the most out-of-the-way thing I _have_ done is put links to or ads for GUD in some of the flash games that I develop. Oh, or the "What GUD Monster" are you quiz ~ We haven't done an ad buy that was over $100, and I'd say our average spend is a few hundred dollars a year.

And then we're getting into the real nuts and bolts of the magazine. The way we have things set up, whoever is "instigating" an issue runs slush--generally puts an eye on every piece submitted, or at least sets the rules for what other people can reject. We rotate instigator-ship to give each other a chance to recover from that, and to keep the tone of the magazine shifting a bit (though we have a shared dream, as it were, that we're all working towards). It would actually be kind of interesting to see how many pieces I've rejected over the course of the magazine (I'm a junkie for statistics), but that's one I haven't gotten around to implementing.

Of course, we'll all jump in and comment on anything that the instigator is uncertain of. The instigator also generally figures out issue ordering, handles contracts, and blurbs. Our amazing copyeditors (Julia Bernd and Debbie Moorhouse) step in after acceptance, work everything into a standard format, fact check, and discuss any "big picture" problems they see with the contributors. After two or more sets of this, the instigator comes back in and approves/rejects any minor edits/suggestions and does a bit more tinkering--and that version, cleaned up, gets sent back to the contributor for approval. It's a little more awkward when one of our two primary copyeditors is also the issue instigator, but it still gets done.

Once the copy is cleanproofed and accepted, our layout guru (Sue Miller) sets it out in InDesign; and more recently she's been doing some creative tinkering with the covers, which I've really enjoyed. She does the full cover layout, including author names on the back, blurbs, etc. This then goes back to the contributors for one last approval before we move to print.

Which brings me to shipping and distribution, which I'm also largely in charge of these days. Once Sue confirms the proof copy, I get a large number of boxes; with Issue 4, Julia Bernd and Michael Ellsworth (Consulting Editor) came down for a "shipping party" to get review copies, contributor copies, and subscriptions out. I try to go down to the post office once every week or two to ship out new orders. We also ship bulk to re-mailers in the UK and Australia so that follow-up orders can make it out more quickly to Europe and Oceania and surrounding areas.

What do you look for in a story?

All the usuals, of course--a good hook, good conflict, writing that pulls you through it, characters that drive it, an ending that caps the piece or even heightens it. The main question I'm asking myself as I read is--do I really care? I have to be enjoying myself, first and foremost--and I enjoy all the above, plus a certain sensibility for rhythm and imagery. Don't knock me out of the story with bad grammar, bad spelling, painful turns of phrase, off-key tones.

If the story is doing something I haven't read before, that's a bonus, but if it's doing something I've read in a different way, that's quite plausible too. When I'm done, if I've made it to the end, if I haven't been disappointed by the ending--and there are so many stories, brilliantly written, that just haven't been thought out well enough for the end--then the next question is how badly do I want to share it with people? I can be glad I read something but not think it had "that certain something" strongly enough to share it with anyone else.

That's where it helps to have a few other folks to bounce the story off of--see if they'll see something you missed; we all have different backgrounds to draw on. Then it's a matter of weighing the backgrounds and trying to judge what "the audience" will think.

How about in a poem?

For me a good poem is the essence of a story--metaphorically as if you took a plain sheet of story and folded it into an elegant bird. Word choice, imagery, characters, plot or vignette, it all has to be there, just tighter.

That said, I think it's very important for a poem to be understandable at first blush. If you can't connect with it, why would you bother trying to tease out any other treasures from it? And I'm okay if it only has that one level, if that level is painted well enough, has something new or notable.

What are the challenges in running and promoting GUD Magazine?

We were rather blessed to have found each other and found a common vision--there are amazingly few kerfluffles between staff, and all smoothed over quickly. The main challenges in running GUD revolve around money--it's a very expensive hobby that we'd like to better support itself down the road. As for promotion--we're not as good with that as we'd like. Nobody has any particular expertise on that front. We do what we can, but we could use more hats, especially those that didn't get tangled in our primary problem (the money).

We've run many sales and promotions, and the only one to date we've had a positive ROI on is our "pay what you want" sale. I'm not sure if it will still be going on when this interview is published, but some initial stats on it are available here: -- and I'll try to link back any follow-up posts. My original plan was to end the sale roughly December 7, 2009, but I may continue running it as long as it seems to bring in more and better sales than otherwise.

Our most expensive promotion to date was just prior to our "pay what you want" sale, and may have contributed to its success. With "30 days of GUD" we gave away one PDF each day of September to a randomly selected tweeter that included #gudmagazine in their tweets. And at the end, we gave away a Kindle 2 to (an also randomly selected) winner from that pool.

In your opinion, how does GUD Magazine stand out from the other speculative fiction publications out there?

I think we lean more "literary" than most; we care about the written word as much as we do about the story itself. That doesn't mean every story we publish is going to look like it came out of an MFA program; or that we'll turn down something that uses plain or standardly embellished language, but it is one predilection.

When you're reading a story in GUD, you don't know which way the fantastical element will go--or if it has one at all. I like to think that makes each piece feel a little more real, a little more "possible".

Is there a trend that you see in the fiction/poetry being submitted and actually published in the magazine?

I really don't pay enough attention to notice trends until I notice a trend of people mentioning a certain trend. Color me behind on whatever it might be.

When it comes to your fiction, what are the stumbling blocks you've encountered breaking into the industry?

The worst stumbling block is time. If I spent more time on my writing, editing my writing, etc., I would have a lot more published. I can see the improvement when I work at it, but I don't work at it nearly enough.

What I'm worst at, beyond that, is plotting. I'm still trying to osmose a proper understanding of it in such a way that it comes out well in my stories. My early writing all too often ended with some variant of, "And then [he/she] died.".

How do you find the time to write and edit and still keep up with the day job (and Twitter!)?

And so. :)

I have a very flexible day job (though it rides me like a rough mistress, at times); and a very understanding wife. Editing (the magazine) is a group effort, and we cheer eachother on. Writing I have to trick myself into. There are a few places I hang out that do weekly flash challenges and the like, and that's how I get most of my writing done.

Does your programming skills have any impact on your fiction?

They used to, but I've slipped away from more hardcore science-y stuff in recent years, gone for the more malleable magic realism or straight out fantasy, where you can make up just about anything you like so long as it's interesting, and feels believable, consistent, etc.

I have a few things I'd like to dust off and re-explore, but technology changes so much that even while I keep abreast of it, anything I wrote would not be able to. I've been enjoying Cory Doctorow's works, lately, in this vein. He knows his tech, but still talks about it so "loosely" it could almost be anywhen (just not now; but a little later when x, y, or z was solved).

How has the Internet affected you as a writer and as an editor for GUD Magazine? Would there be a GUD Magazine if there was no Internet?

I honestly have some trouble imagining a world without the internet. I've been on it in some fashion, being social, programming, since I was 12 or 13. Do I admit my age? That was back around 1990 or so. And before that I was already BBSing. My college career was, if not sideswiped, at least severely distracted by the dotcom boom, which had me learning perl and HTML "on the job"; bouncing from contract job to contract job.

I don't think there would be a GUD without the internet. I don't even know if I would have gotten back into writing without it--that's where all of my "writing buddies" are, except a very few--and those I only connected to through the internet, as well.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Write and crit. Write, crit, and read the sort of stuff you want to be writing--and read stuff outside what you want to be writing. And then write and crit some more. Don't stop writing. Don't stop fixing.

Advice for aspiring editors?

First advice: Don't. Really, don't. It's hell. :) But: Be sure you know what you're doing. Then: try slushing with some other mag. Many are open to it, especially if you have some background writing. Make sure you really love it. And make sure you want to do your own thing, that you're railing against the limitations of whatever mag you've tried slushing with. Make sure your significant other(s) and job(s) are willing to deal with this other life.

Expect defeat; but don't let that stop you.

Anything else you want to plug?

I could go on for years plugging my stuff, but this really has gotten absurdly long, so I'll just pick out a few categories of "things I do" ~

Book/magazine covers:
Computer games:
Web development:

Oh, and writers might want to check out ~ (to track and plan submissions) (a forum for discussion/promotion of twitter fiction)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Book/Magazine Review: Phantom edited by Paul Tremblay & Sean Wallace

Every Monday, I'll be doing bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

What is "literary horror," at least according to editors Paul Tremblay and Sean Wallace? The answer is Phantom, a compact anthology featuring fourteen unconventional horror stories. I wouldn't call the book striking, if striking meant being horrified or grossed out by the stories. That would, in my opinion, be the complete opposite of the goals of the anthology. Phantom isn't about immediate shock. In fact, the title is apt. The stories linger and haunt you over time as it gives you something to ponder on, as opposed to the immediacy of the prose of other horror anthologies. Because of this, it leaves Phantom in a peculiar space. On one hand, it's not a book that you recommend to a friend "Hey, if you want to get spooked, read this." Instead, it includes sensibilities that are more commonplace--to use a stereotype--in other genres such as Fiction.

Take for example "A Stain on the Stone" by Nick Mamatas. Readers are warned of spoilers: The piece is disarming as right from the start, Mamatas tricks us into believing that this is no O. Henry story. He reveals immediately what is usually the plot point of many horror cliches--that a horrible murder has been committed. This is the launching pad for exploring the psyche of the tour guide of this horrific town event, and Mamatas writes a believable protagonist, combining telling details with realistic humor. And yet, there is a surprise at the end, a concern that's less fantastical than a cult murder, but equally dreadful, although one more mundane. It's an ending that, to some extent, comes out of nowhere, but the author has been preparing us for this moment due to the careful build up. The tempo of the piece is subtle and the ending isn't an M. Night Shaylaman moment but rather a conclusion that works in the context of the reader's investment in the protagonist.

This isn't the only subversion to be found. One of my favorite stories is "The End of Everything" by Steve Eller which puts a unique spin on the zombie apocalypse. There's an emotional resonance to this piece because it's layered and complex. It makes readers question the concept of a monster in the case of the protagonist, and the undead are truly unliving because of their apathy. By the time we reach the end, we have lots of questions, and the author doesn't spoon-feed his agenda on us.

Another favorite, due to style, is "After Images" by Karen Heuler. In a certain way, this is the complete opposite of the conventional horror tale: it feels safe and upbeat. The reportage method isn't included to incite dread, but as a way of catching the reader's attention. The ending is also clever as it insinuates and rewards readers who've been reading between the lines all this time.

I enjoyed Phantom and applaud it for its alternatives to the stereotype of the horror genre. Granted, I can see some readers baffled by some of the stories, such as "She Hears Music Up Above" by F. Brett Cox, but such texts, in my opinion, is what pushes the boundaries and challenges both the reader and the author.

January 18, 2010 Links and Plugs

Lavie Tidhar is threatening to summon Golem Ninjas to assassinate my soul if I don't plug the Apex Book of World SF stories that are available free for download.

Also, check out Crossed Genre's Post A Story for Haiti.

And go buy, cat-lovers or otherwise:

Tails of Wonder and Imagination edited by Ellen Datlow