August 31, 2012

Slush Piles and Other Crises of Faith: an interview with Maurice Broaddus (and a giveaway)

I Am A Reader, Not A Writer and Buried In Books are co-hosting a giveaway blog hop this week, and I'm taking part. But before we get to the giveaway, here is a great interview with of the men responsible for the book that's up for grabs in this giveaway!

Earlier this summer, I read and reviewed Dark Faith, an Apex Books anthology edited by MauriceBroaddus and Jerry Gordon. With the follow-up anthology nearly ready to hit shelves, I figured I should track down Maurice and ask him a few questions about the Dark Faith series and editing anthologies. Enjoy.

Gef: With Dark Faith exploring darker elements of faith and family, how much of a misconception did you find from prospective readers that the book was "Christian" horror?

Maurice: That was probably the biggest hurdle we had. When people see the word “faith” in a title, their mind tends to drift toward a Christian project (and Lord help you if you have any sort of religious iconography on your cover). It’s one of the reasons we put Jennifer Pelland’s story, “Ghosts of New York”, up first. Besides being a great story, the concept is easily pitched and people immediately realize that whatever they were thinking when it came to an anthology that turned on the idea of faith, they could go ahead and shatter that preconception.

Gef: How did you and Jerry Gordon come up with the concept for Dark Faith, or was this something presented to you?

Maurice: I host an annual convention called Mo*Con (we just celebrated our seventh year). Each year I invite a few horror, science fiction, and fantasy writers in, we hold the convention in a church, and we discuss topics related to genre and faith. You tell people you’re having a convention in a church, all they hear is “church” and, again, there are preconceptions to what goes on there. With the great line up of writers that we have regularly attending Mo*Con, we talked with Jason Sizemore, of Apex Books, about doing a Mo*Con anthology. That project evolved into Dark Faith.

Gef: Dark Faith: Invocations is on the horizon. Is the book designed as a continuation on the original theme, or are you looking to tackle the subject matter from a different angle this time around?

Maurice: We’re back in the saddle, continuing the same theme. The tone of Dark Faith: Invocations is a little different though. I don’t want to say the stories aren’t as dark, but the quirky factor is a lot higher. Our lead story is “Subletting God’s Head” by Tom Piccirilli.

Gef: Catherynne Valente's "The Days of Flaming Motorcycles" had to be my favorite story from the anthology, and from 2010 for that matter, and was kind of like a hit single of an album. When you put together an anthology, do you have ideas on which stories might have a broader appeal than most, or is that not even a concern?

Maurice: After the success of Dark Faith, I gave up on the idea of guessing what stories might resonate with readers. I could not have predicted Cat’s story taking off like it did. We were pretty much giddy at the prospect of her writing a zombie tale. The only limits we put on the stories were that they couldn’t insult a religion (critique is one thing, offend quite another) nor could they be proselytizing (yes, I play for “Team Jesus”, but I didn’t want stories that were little more than Jesus fanfic).

Gef: Are there any adverse effects to wading through a slush pile when editing an anthology? Do you find most authors follow the guidelines to a reasonable degree, or is there a glut of astonishing ill-suited and ill-written stories that darken your own faith in humanity?

Maurice: Sigh.



The guidelines are right there. Black and white. Pretty simple. Yet we got everything from full novels to things that couldn’t be classified as stories. But we expected a fair number of “the title says 'Faith' and I’ve been sitting on this story with nowhere else to send it, so what’ll it hurt to send it” type stories. The thing is, for all the complaint about seeing such ill-suited and ill-written stories, they were easy to reject within a few lines. Which is good when you have a huge slush pile.

But every writer should have a go at a slush pile. Not only to see what sort of stories editors see ALL THE TIME (that alone was eye opening) but to see what sort of mistakes writers make when telling their stories. That critical eye you develop when looking at other people’s stories you then turn to your own and go “time to cross out those pages and start over.”

Gef: How much a gearshift is there between writing your stories and editing someone else's?

Maurice: The big danger is sliding into “well, here’s how I would have written that” territory. Other than that, the shift wasn’t bad at all. I usually like to juggle a few projects at a time that way when my brain has shut down on one I can leap to another. And editing uses a different part of the brain, so it made for a good break from some of the stories I was working on.

A big thanks to Maurice for the interview, and I encourage everyone to check out his site/blog at And you'll want to thank Maurice as well, because he was generous enough to offer four lucky winners (living in the U.S.) a trade paperback copy Dark Faith: Invocations. So, if you'd like to get your hands on this anthology, just fill out the Rafflecopter form below. At the end of the contest, I'll draw four names. Good luck everyone! And if you aren't one of the lucky four to wind up with a free copy of the anthology, you can always find it available for purchase at Apex Books, as well as anywhere books are sold.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

August 30, 2012

Fellowship of Short Fiction: a Shock Totem round table discussion

I discovered Shock Totem a couple of years ago, when (I think it was) Cate Gardner brought the site to my attention through a tweet or blog post or something. I've since had a blast from not just reading the fiction published under their banner, but also participating in their flash fiction contests. This year marks ST's foray into not only publishing short fiction through their magazine, but a re-release of James Newman's The Wicked. Their fifth edition of the magazine was just released this summer, so I thought it was the perfect time to corner a few of ST's alumni and ask them a couple questions. Enjoy.

K.Allen Wood is the publisher and lead editor.

Mercedes M. Yardley is a minion of the slush pile and nonfiction editor.

JohnBoden is an editor, author, and interviewer.

Nick Contor is also an editor, as well an author.

What’s your opinion on the state of horror and dark fiction these days, particularly when it comes to short stories?

K. Allen Wood: Well, on one hand, I have read some fantastic short fiction in recent years, some of which we’ve been lucky enough to publish in Shock Totem. Off the top of my head, I’m talking about stories like Lee Thompson’s “Beneath the Weeping Willow,” from issue #4, or “Wanting It,” from issue #3. Stories not in Shock Totem would include “Dr. Adderson’s Lens,” by Natania Barron; “The Reverend’s Powder” (technically a novelette), by Erik Williams; and “The Last Stand of the Elephant Man,” by Jennifer Pelland (or the entire collection it comes from, Unwelcome Bodies, which is brilliant).

But then there’s the other hand, which is clutching the dreaded self-publishers. There has never been anything wrong with the act of self-publishing; it’s the majority of the writers doing so that has been the problem. Today, though, they’re no longer “publishing” their work in the ghettos of the Internet: the fan-fiction forums or poorly built websites full of ads and viruses and purple font on fluorescent green backgrounds. No, today they’re publishing right alongside everyone else, and they’re shoving it down our throats on social networking sites. Because they are Big Deal Writers now, of course. Thus we, the readers, find ourselves bobbing for chocolate in a pool of turds.

So I guess my opinion comes down to perspective—which seems to be dictated by how much time I spend on Facebook and Twitter on any given day.

Mercedes M. Yardley: I think that horror and dark fiction have gone mainstream. We’re seeing little girls in pink skulls and boys pretending they’re zombies before they even learn to talk. I don’t think society shields their kids the way we used to. I also think there is a resurgence of the short story. There is so much media that clamors for our time, and I think the average attention span is shorter than it was before. Short stories that can be easily read online helps fill this need. I see this as a perfect storm for horror.

John Boden: I hear a lot of people who claim the genre is dead or dying. That the short story form is becoming a lost art. I don’t see the evidence to support this theory at all. At ST we read tons of stories, metric tons. While they are not all stellar or of award-winning caliber, a lot of them are decent.

I think that the digital beast has certainly changed the field, for good or bad would depend on who you speak to. The reading tastes of the general public still seems to be media dictated. How the hell else would Fifty Shades of Gray be a household blockbuster?

Nick Contor: It’s a transitional time, away from traditional publishing and more toward DIY publishing with print on demand and e-books. It’s a double-edged sword because it has allowed a glut of material to be published, but there’s not yet a good mechanism for sorting the good from the bad. On the one hand, it has allowed good publications to put out a quality product while lowering costs, but it has also allowed people with a less discerning eye to put out a shoddy product.

I’d like to see more people spending time honing their craft and allowing them to develop as a writer before they publish, and also a greater emphasis on the fundamentals of writing such as grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.

With five issues of Shock Totem, plus the Holiday Edition, do you think ST has effectively staked out its territory in the short fiction landscape?

K. Allen Wood: Definitely. But again, it all depends on perspective. We’re on a slow burn, I think.

I was talking to Darrell Schweitzer at Necon recently, and he was telling me that he’s been talking Shock Totem to friends and colleagues (he has a story in our upcoming issue), and few have ever heard of us. And it’s true. I know it. It is somewhat surprising given how many copies we’ve sold—close to ten thousand—but I’d wager that the reason we might fly a bit under the radar is because I never wanted to strictly pander to the small-press readership, which is what a lot of writers and publishers do. That works well for some, of course, but it’s a limited audience...

And it’s also an audience made up of a lot of writers, and the sad reality is that for many of them their interest in Shock Totem only goes so far as to find out how easy or hard it is to get published by us. They’re our biggest fan until they realize kissing our asses isn’t going to be their ticket in, then they disappear and never mention us again. We’ve delayed issues for not having enough quality content, while other so-called publishers put out ten anthologies and half-assed reprints in just as many months. Who’s going to get more attention in that scenario? Sadly, not us.

Knowing this, we’ve pushed Shock Totem beyond the boundaries of the horror small press, and we’ve been successful. We may not be the most talked about publication around, but we’re not going away any time soon.

Let’s put it this way: When John Skipp and Jack Ketchum tell you that Shock Totem is great, they mean it, and we’ve earned that praise the hard way, the honest way.

Mercedes M. Yardley: I’m surprised by how many people have heard of us. Strangers come up and start talking about the stories they’ve read in Shock Totem, and that’s very cool. I think we’re insidious and we’ll slowly spread our tentacles over unsuspecting folk, sure.

John Boden: I’d like to think so. When Ken hatched the diabolical plan for ST and asked us along, there weren’t many markets out there. Shroud, Necrotic Tissue and a few others in the print realm and some e-zines—which, ironically, is what we set out to be. Now, with a few years and all those issues under our belts, the number of short fiction avenues is probably about the same. As for quality ... I guess that would be up to the readers to judge. I do know we are noted for consistent quality—Jack Ketchum and John Skipp as well as many others have championed us on this merit. We hope to continue flying that flag for our duration.

Nick Contor: I hope so. We have tried to put out a quality product in every aspect. Whether or not we’ve succeeded is up to the reader, but most reviews have been positive, so I like to think we’re building a fan base and a reputation for putting out a good magazine. Every magazine has its own style, and we might not be for everyone; but as long as the quality is there, I think you’ll find an audience.

What has been the biggest eye-opener while working with Shock Totem? Did you have a preconception that was shattered, or learned something you never saw coming?

K. Allen Wood: The negativity surprised me. (Says the guy who has just given two very cynical answers.) I wasn’t prepared for it, and I had to thicken my skin real quick. This genre means a lot to people, especially those writing within it, you know. I get it now, but at first it was like a sucker punch to the jaw.

Mercedes M. Yardley: The biggest thing for me was learning that magazines are ran by regular people. Gasp, I know! I thought editors were gods, or something. I felt like I was submitting stories and hanging my hopes on a star. Now I realize that stories will resonate with somebody or they won’t, and rejection isn’t that big a deal. I’m more patient because I realize that editors are really performing a labor of love. They don’t have to get to my story right now because they have lives. Actual, real, honest-to-goodness lives, and the magazine doesn’t always come first. And it shouldn’t, so I need to cool my jets.

John Boden: God as my witness, that would be the slush. I had no idea! I knew that stories were submitted to magazines and they chose what they liked, but the sheer volume of it ... I had no inkling. It is daunting and sometimes difficult to keep your judgmental focus sharp.

I also found it heartwarming to be received as warmly as we were by some folks who I have admired in the field for a long time. Getting to interview John Skipp for issue #1 is one of the high points of my adult life. Seriously.

And I get to do this with some of the coolest people I know. I don’t count Ken, Nick, Mercedes and Sarah among friends, they are extended family. The dynamic we have forged could never be replicated.

Nick Contor: I had no previous publishing or professional writing experience, so everything was new to me. The thing that surprised me the most was the low quality of many of the submissions. I’ve tried my hand at writing off and on for thirty years, and never felt my own writing was “good enough” to submit. It’s probably still not, but I’m miles ahead of a lot of the people who submit stories to us.

August 29, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Suckers" by J.A. Konrath and Jeff Strand

Suckers (an Andrew Mayhem/Harry McGlade Thriller)
by J.A. Konrath & Jeff Strand
published in 2010

At first glance, I suspected this might be a precursor to the vampire gorefest that was J.A. Konrath's and Jeff Strand's collaboration with the likes of Blake Crouch and F. Paul Wilson, Draculas. Nothing could be further from the truth. What I found instead was a comedic romp featuring two of their long-running characters, Harry McGlade (via Konrath) and Andrew Mayhem (via Strand). So, after setting aside the mild disappointment from having my preconceived notions dashed, did I enjoy this novella?

In a word, yes, though I didn't enjoy it as much as I had hoped.

The story involves the two title characters meeting up by accident and then joining forces, in a manner of speaking, to investigate a house of reputed vampires. Andrew Mayhem meanders through his neighbors yards in order to get just the right kind of pasta sauce for his domineering wife, while Harry McGlade is investigating a missing daughter who has taken up with a vampire cult. The two men do not get along at all upon meeting, which prompts some quick bursts of violence, one-liners, and high jinx. Then they run afoul of the people inside the house they break into and things go from awkward to downright awful.

The story relies so heavily on the sarcastic humor that it saturates the pages. Some of the jokes evoked audible laughs, others the roll of eyes. What the story does manage to do is prevent things from becoming predictable. No sooner will some new threat enter the scene, then the plot will veer sharply and send Harry and Andrew careening into a new hair-raising ordeal. It provides for a quick little thrill ride, but ultimately disposable.

On top of Suckers, the e-book also includes a few short stories featuring Harry McGlade and Andrew Mayhem in their own aolo adventures. Hasry's lascivious and self-absorbed demeanor is grating most of the time for me, while Andrew's sadsack dimwit routine can run a little thin at times, but for readers that are already familiar with these two characters, the stories provide entertaining romps. For newcomers to the characters like me, it's going to be hit or miss. I will say Harry McGlade is well suited to the short story, because I'm unsure I could hack an entire novel of his demeanor. I don't necessarily need to root for a character to be engaged by the story, but when the character becomes more annoying than engaging, I'm not drawn to read more.

August 28, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Top Suspense: 13 Classic Stories by 12 Masters of the Genre"

Top Suspense: 13 Classic Stories by 12 Masters of the Genre
by the Top Suspense Group
published in 2011

With the rise of e-books, a consortium like Top Suspense is a new side-effect, and a pleasant one at that. A group of accomplished authors band together to publish their own books under a new label, rather than submitting to a publisher or convincing old publishers to reprint existing works. With this particular anthology, Top Suspense have brought together previously published stories by 12 authors, and thrown in a bonus story authored by all twelve of them.

While a couple of the stories were originally published over a decade ago, most are from the last five years or so. And despite a couple of creative deviations from straight crime and suspense stories, including a science fiction story from Ed Gorman, the gritty criminals in each story really pop off the page.

I enjoyed most of the stories and recognized quite a few names like Lee Goldberg, Dave Zeltserman, and Harry Shannon, but it wound up being the authors whose work I hadn't read before that wound up being the real treat.

"Fire in the Sky" by Joel Goldman had a great puppy love poisoned vibe. Bobby and his friend, Terry, are sweating it out in Electric Park and ogling the fountain girls who are putting on a show for the locals and tourists alike. Bobby has eyes for a gal named Elisabeth in particular, dreaming of a day when he could get out of Kansas and run away with her, and he almost gets his wish when an explosion at the park sends everyone in a frenzy and Bobby finds himself following after Elisabeth.

Another standout for me was "The Big O" by Vicki Hendricks and the tale of an abused woman looking to get away from her ex-boyfriend, Merle, only to wind up stranded with her baby in a rundown trailer park run by another cretinous bastard named Jimmy. She is a pretty piece of poison herself and plots to put an end to both men after a time, but has to work fast when a storm threatens to blow the trailer park and everyone in to kingdom come.

I think if this anthology was set up as a way to entice readers to seek out more work from these authors, I dare say it worked, because I've since added a few more names to my wish list. I wasn't a big fan of the 250-words-at-a-time collaboration by all 12 authors, but the premise for that story was impressive enough. Top Suspense has another anthology out called Favorite Kills, which I have on my to-be-read pile. If that one can manage to entertain me as well as this one did, all the better.

August 27, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Shock Totem #2" edited by K. Allen Wood

Shock Totem #2
edited by K. Allen Wood
ISBN 1453636005

Shock Totem released their fifth edition not too long ago, which reminded me that I still had a couple more editions on my to-be-read pile, including this one. It's one of the short fiction markets that is right up my alley with a clear affinity for horror and dark fantasy. This second issue featured a few familiar names for me, and introduced me to many more whose work I hadn't read yet.

Right off the bat, there was Richard Bare's "The Rat Burner," a grim bit of back alley brooding, about a guy who either spends him time in a rat-infested apartment or standing on a street corner getting paid to guide desperate people to a black door in a labyrinth of alleyways. Look up bleak in the dictionary and you'll probably find a quote from this story. Something like: "the girls say they get less customers when there's too many rats."

Leslianne Wilder had a sad and creepy story called "Sweepers," set in a Manhattan that's been submerged by rising waters and overrun by the corpses that haven't quite figured out how to be dead yet. Vincent Pendergast's "The Rainbow Serpeant," which I actually listened to a couple week prior on Pseudopod, is a really fun mix of weird and wicked with a man on a bus trying to get to his girlfriend, only to find himself in the company of strange passengers and an even stranger driver, on a bus that isn't quite what it seems. And the staggering imagery from Cate Gardner's brain makes an appearance with the story of a prisoner with a catastrophic gift in "Pretty Little Ghouls."

The most hard-hitting bit of storytelling comes in the form of a nonfiction piece by Mercedes M. Yardley called "Hide the Sickness," in which she recounts her time working at a home for juvenile sex offenders. The oppressive sense of constantly being looked at by kids as a potential target and victim was enough to make my skin crawl. There's a level of empathy that comes with the idea of kids being so cruelly abused that they themselves become abusers, but it's the kind of situation where my resolve and endurance pale compared to Mercedes.

I've give a nod to "Leave Me the Way I Was Found" by Christian A. Dumais for offering a story that felt like a cross between The Ring and that short story by Stephen King where Alzheimer's becomes an epidemic of his brother's design. Imagine a video on the internet, one of those banal clips you see on YouTube, only this one makes viewers sick in a myriad of ways, some going psychotic, and more becoming suicidal. Would you watch it? Maybe just to see if it was real, and if so, if you were one of the apparent few who can watch it and not wind up dead?

Shock Totem #2 is definitely a different mix from the other issues I've read. This issue had a much starker vibe coming from it, thanks in large part to the stand-out stories I mentioned. The stories, as you read them, kind of spill out like brackish water with very nasty treasures writhing beneath the surface. I still like Shock Totem #4 the best, but this is a close second, and I still have issues #3 and #5 left to read.

August 24, 2012

Short Seasons: a guest post by Lisa Mannetti

I asked Lisa Mannetti to write a little something about short fiction, and to her credit, she knocked it out the park with a piece about novellas. If you haven't read her two-novella collection, Deathwatch, I highly recommend it. In the mean time, enjoy this latest guest post.

Short Seasons
by Lisa Mannetti

Long before I sat down and began writing "Dissolution" or "The Sheila Na Gig," I was very well-acquainted (oh, let's be honest I was smitten, I was passionately in love) with Stephen King's collection, DIFFERENT SEASONS. I think it contains some of his best writing. I'd also paid very close attention to what he wrote in the afterword about the marketability of novellas; and although when he wrote his tales, there were markets for horror novellas, by the time I wrote mine, those markets were pretty much moribund. And of those that were still extant, no one was exactly working up to carpal tunnel syndrome to notify me via email that life would never be the same if he or she couldn't publish either or both of these novellas. I more or less guessed--or say intuited--that might be the case when I sat down to write each of them.

So why did I proceed?

One answer is that I love a challenge; a second is that I was also madly in love with Stuart's voice in "Dissolution." The cadence and rhythm I heard is what first caught my attention and propelled me inside his story. Similarly, that very odd line gave rise to the rest of "The Sheila Na Gig," (which was actually written before "Dissolution"): "Her head was canted sideways, her wrinkled mouth, dripping milk." It was such a powerful image it literally hauled me into Tom's world. Naturally, I loved the maggots in "Dissolution," but I was equally drawn to the scene in which Stuart hears the girls playing, and calling out "Fly, Abby, let's fly," on the wheeled sheep toy that Gabriel Wickstrom had constructed so they might have at least a simulacrum of normal movement. This was another image I could see so clearly (even though the upper hallway was from one friend's house and the elevator from another home I was in and out of during my childhood); and as I heard the scene and wrote it down it gave me a lot of insight into Gabriel's character.

Which brings me an interesting point: since I don't write from outlines and often have no clue which characters (say, Gabriel and Ruth for instance) might turn out to be far more important than they seem when they first stroll onto my literary pavement, how can I even know whether I'm writing a short story, a novel or--ta-da!--a novella?

"I just know," is a really crappy answer--but it also happens to be the exact truth. Even though I may not have more than an idea, a situation, a couple of characters in mind, and a very vague direction I intend to head toward for an ending, I always know if I'm writing a short story, a novella or a novel. And I only know that because a few times I tried making a novella into a story (and vice versa), or worked on novels that were stretched or compressed. It's a lousy feeling. And instead of that wonderful sense of discovery (which for me is the reason for writing the book--I want to know what's going to happen next, too) and seeking around and exploring and getting all psyched up, mentally it feels exactly like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Nasty sensation. Akin to either cramming one's feet into very tight shoes or careening around in a pair of shoe boxes instead of actual footwear--the fit is just all wrong.

I write by intuition (rewrite is different, of course). But the excitement of the story process for me is in figuring out how it should all work as I'm constructing it. It often takes longer, I run into lots of blind alleys, but it keeps things fresh for me as I work.

Sure, if an editor asks me for a short story, I'm sort of aiming for that--and I think in the mysterious place of the unconscious---the word goes out that this piece is going to be big, medium or small--just like sizing coffee, popcorn or clothes. And certainly, I'd be the first one to say that sometimes themes that are important to my subconscious do get reworked in other stories, novellas and books, because unconsciously I still need to deal with that theme--but that's different from bringing a book to the chop shop or torturing a story on the rack.

My mother always said when I was a kid she'd call me from work and I'd tell her, "I can't talk now, I have to see how this story turns out." I guess because she was in the sciences, that floored her. It floors me that the kid is still in charge and still can't wait to find out ‘what happens next' when I write. I've never gotten over the first thrill of anticipating the swoops and turns of the wooden Dragon Coaster here at my local amusement park.

So. At present I'm working on a novel, I'm tentatively calling The Hunger Artist, and there's a second novel waiting in the wings after that. No square pegs in round holes for me; no jumping into a girdle to squeeze down a size or padding to give a story its booty. Nope. Also waiting to come on stage are two more novellas and a couple of short stories. The shorter pieces are every bit as mentally seductive (for me) as carnival rides--brief gaudy moments of delight. The novels make me think of the extended pleasure of those old "Grand Tours."

And, if you let them, I do believe books, stories and novels shape themselves; they know whether they want to be Ferris Wheel rides, weekends on Cape Cod, or treks to Everest. They know how long the journey needs to be and how much you need to pack. If you just let find out they know the agenda.

August 23, 2012

Keeping it Short: an interview with Voni Ryan

After reviewing The Light Side of Dark by Voni Ryan this week, here is an interview with the two authors behind the pen name, Toni Cantrell and Violet Ryan. Enjoy.

Gef: Collaborating on a novel is one thing, but I suspect collaborating on a short story is quite another. How does that process work for you? Is there a particular genre you find lends itself best to collaborative stories?

Voni Ryan: We didn’t ‘collaborate’ as such, we each wrote our own stories then combined them into a collection. We did collaborate on choosing which stories we wanted in the book and where to put them, and the critiques to polish and perfect the works. Since The Light Side of Dark is fantasy based, I’d have to say it’s a theme that is really well suited to our collection.

Gef: When putting together a short story collection, how much thought is put into the placement of stories? Is there a rhythm or flow that's sought out?

Voni Ryan: My stories are first in the book, then Violet’s to keep each collection as a unit for the reader. Our publisher said between 60,000 and 70,000 words was a good length for a short story collection, so we chose stories to equal approximately 33,000 words each. The stories have a fantasy/sci-fi theme and are of various lengths, some very short, some longer.

Gef: For you, what's the draw towards flash fiction?

Voni Ryan: We don’t set out to write ‘flash fiction’. They’re whatever length works best for the story we’re writing.

Gef: How do you find short fiction has been affected by the rise of e-books and the digital age overall?

Voni Ryan: Since we were fortunate enough to be accepted by a micro-press whose owner began as my agent, I’m sure being published is much easier than in previous years.

Gef: How have your experiences in writing and publishing it changed?

Voni Ryan: We now have a collection of short stories published which we didn’t have. Our writer’s group is responsible for whatever interest we have in writing short fiction, due to our weekly prompts and short writes. We pick a topic and have ten minutes to write about it. We’ve learned to love writing and reading short fiction.

Gef: Authors often cite other authors who influence their work on novels. Are there any who have influence your writing, particularly short fiction?

Voni Ryan: We write what we read, to a degree, but we’ve also developed our own style and voice. We may be influenced by favorite authors when we choose the subject matter about which we write, but what emerges is uniquely our own.

Gef: What other projects are you both working on for the future?

Voni Ryan: In addition to Absentminded, The Light Side of Dark, Strangers and Pilgrims, If Ever That Time Come and The Gazebo, Toni has also collaborated with Bea Simmons to produce Like Him With Friends Possess’d by Allen Simmons-Cantrell. She also has several other projects in the works, A Soft Place to Fall, a modern romance about a rodeo cowboy and a former Vegas show-girl/pit boss who raise Friesian horses in Bozeman, Montana, another about two forty-something women who find romance and murder on a Mediterranean cruise called Murphy’s Law, The Stone Family Saga, about four families whose story begins in 1870’s California, continues through two world wars and ends in the 1970’s. A Death in The Family which is a ’30’s murder mystery. Tales from Za’ar is a fantasy about flying horses and a wicked shape-shifter. The Dangerous Summer of Beauregard Clark is a coming –of-age novel about a Vietnam vet and his buddy set in the 1960’s and Class of ’57 which is a nostalgic novel about being a teenager in the late 1950’s. As you see, her taste in stories is quite eclectic.

In addition to The Light Side of Dark and Absentminded, Violet has published two more novels, titled The Ambassador’s Daughter and Homecoming. She has recently finished her very first historical romance, The Contract, which tells about a reluctant bride and an uncommitted bridegroom in 1860’s Montana, and has several other finished novels as yet unpublished, among them Dos, about a brash angry young man who must learn to control his temper. Accountable tells the story of intentions gone wrong and the results of a horrific auto accident. Love Strikes Twice is a tale of two college students separated by time and circumstance. Till Death Do Us Part tells of a young entrepreneur facing certain death and the girl who rescues him.

You can find previews of Violet’s work at

Toni’s information appears at

Also check out our publishers web sites:, and

August 22, 2012

Wish List Wednesday #119: Justin Gustainis' "Those Who Fight Monsters"

WLW is a recurring blog segment in which I highlight a book I have on my wish list. Sometimes it's a new release, sometimes a beloved classic, and sometimes it's a hidden gem.

Here comes one more monster book for my wish list, and another anthology to boot. I have been turned into a fan of urban fantasy over the last few years, but I tend to stick to novel-length fiction when it comes to that genre. There are plenty of anthologies, however, and this one really caught my eye.

Those Who Fight Monsters, which was published last year by EDGE, is a melange of established monster hunters all brought together by Justin Gustainis, author of a couple UF series in his own right. Fourteen authors, including Justin, offer up short stories containing characters from their respective UF novel series. In Justin's case, the story's based in his Quincey Morris series, while Rachel Caine has a story included from her Outcast Season series.

For a reader like me, who has yet to read the novels of nearly all the authors who contributed, this book feels like it would be a great sampler from which to decide whose novels I'd like to read. If nothing else, I'm sure I'd be entertained by the brief adventures their characters go on.

How about you? Have you found anthologies like this to be a helpful way of deciding whether to give a particular author's novels a go?

August 21, 2012

Rabid Reads: "The Light Side of Dark" by Voni Ryan

The Light Side of Dark
by Voni Ryan
176 pages
ISBN 9781926912653

Sometimes opening an e-book can be deceptive. For instance, when I opened up my review copy of The Light Side of Dark and saw there were over forty stories listed in the table of contents, I thought I had just set myself up for a marathon session. It turns out that, with the book clocking in at a hundred and seventy-six pages, many of those forty stories are actually flash fiction pieces. Consequently, the book was a bit of a breeze to get through.

The Light Side of Dark is a collection that definitely leans more towards lighter fare than truly dark subject matter. Oh, there's some twisted little tales scattered here and there, but for the most part the book carries itself with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards the darker elements of genre fiction. The book is a collaboration of two authors actually under the pen name of Voni Ryan, though I'm unsure if the stories are all written as a dual effort or if that is saved for the longer works in the book.

One thing I noticed with a lot of the stories is that the authors enjoy finding new twists on old tropes, whether it's in the scifi genre or the fairyland sort of fantasy. Then there were stories that had these big, blatant twists that make The Twilight Zone seem subtle. Stories like "Contract Time" and "Transporter Malfunction" had instances of real-life figures and characters from pop culture bleeding into the story, either through allusion or outright starring roles. Interesting tidbits, but the stories were so brief, they felt like drive-by cameos more than anything.

"The Wish Factor" was one of the bright spots in the collection, in my opinion. The title says it all, as the story revolves around a genie in a lamp yearning to be free--though there is another story in the collection actually titled "The Gene in the Lamp"--and finds his best chance with the woman who discovers the lamp and finds herself being used as much as she uses the genie. I also liked "The Gold Watch and Other Timepieces" for its western setting and time-travel element. It ended too early for my tastes, but what was there was definitely entertaining. "The Galactic Adventures of Shanda Neary" was another standout with its story of intergalactic law enforcement and an act of betrayal between two allies.

While I found quite a few of the stories to be engaging and entertaining, those tended to be the longer short stories among the collection, while I found a lot of the flash fiction to be very abrupt and tended to fluster me more often than not, almost like the stories were holding back something pivotal. Leave 'em wanting more, I suppose.

I think this collection would suit readers with a light-hearted appreciation for genres twists and turns, and go for the bite-sized story form. I think readers looking for a book with more meat on the bone than that might walk away disappointed, though. You definitely need an appetite and appreciation for flash fiction, and if you do then there are stories aplenty.

August 20, 2012

Rabid Reads: "Shock Totem: Holiday Tales of the Macabre and Twisted"

Shock Totem: Holiday Tales of the Macabre and Twisted 2011
edited by K. Allen Wood
ISSN 1944-110X

Sure, it's a tad early to review something Christmas-y, but surely I can be forgiven when department stores already have their Christmas decorations at the ready for the day after Halloween--maybe even before. And, hey, isn't Christmas horror good any time of the year? I think so anyway.

This issue of Shock Totem brings together eight short stories, as well as eleven short trips down memory lane with various authors sharing their Christmas memories--twisted and macabre as they might be. It starts off with a story by Mercedes M. Yardley called "Heartless" that is just all the way disturbing, about a heartbroken woman who finds a demon in her bed and she is too lonely to wish it away.

K. Allen Wood's "Streamer of Silver, Ribbon of Red" is a story that starts off with a sinister sense of humor. I mean, the villain is a homicidal clown dressed up as Santa--come on. The story plays out through the clown's point of view, which I had my doubts about, but as it played out it became clear that the story just wouldn't work any other way. And the payoff had a mischievous Hitchcock feel to it.

My favorite story is a relatively short piece called "Tinsel" by John Boden. I'll simply sum up my thoughts on this tale by saying stories of loss and loneliness don't always resonate as well as this one. Well done.

There's a couple other stories that offer some snow-dappled scares like Kevin J Anderson's "Santa Claus Is Coming to Get You!" and Robert J. Duperre's "One Good Turn." As for the holiday memories, they were like bonus interludes between the stories. Jennifer Pelland's had one of those childhood memories that echoes something from my past, while I'd say Mark Allen Gunnells had one of the more charming stories.

Honestly, I would have been perfectly happy to trade the memories from more fiction, but I'm not complaining. It's a nice slice of holiday hellscape wrapped with a pretty red ribbon--and dripping with blood. Happy holidays!

August 17, 2012

Letdowns and Showdowns: a round table discussion with the authors of Corrupts Absolutely?

This is the third and final round table with the Corrupts Absolutely? gang. I hope you've all enjoyed these, and if you haven't read them all yet, once you're done here, go back and you'll find a week's worth of goodness dedicated to this anthology. I'll go ahead now and thank all of the authors for taking part, as well as Lincoln Crisler for helping get all these ducks in a row. Now, onto the topics.

Which superpower feels like it would be more trouble than it's worth? Is there one you'd consider foolproof?

Kris Ashton: I definitely wouldn’t want to be Ghost Rider – there’s an existential horror about his powers that the movie version failed to grasp. I doubt any superpower would be foolproof. Regular human powers cause enough trouble.

Wayne Ligon: That depends on how it’s written. Telepathy is one of those huge, wide-open, ‘gateway’ powers that encompass a huge number of effects. You could have someone like Professor X, who can shut down every mind on Earth, or someone like Peter Stanchek who has to pop pills to keep his gift from driving him crazy.

Taking ‘having control over it’ as a given, though, Telepathy seems like it would be the power most likely to be more trouble than it’s worth. The pure temptation to change how people thought about you, or to know what they really were thinking about you in the first place, could utterly destroy someone with a weak personality or self-image. If there is no common way of defending against it, the minute it became known what you could do, every intelligence agency on Earth would be after you to either recruit you or kill you. No secret would ever be safe, again. Suffice to say that if I had it, I’d move to Washington DC to troll minds and drop anonymous leaflets.

Again, ‘given control’, telekinesis is one I’d think would be relatively foolproof. Move things, move yourself, control kinetic energy, eventually learn to operate on the nano-level to change matter, etc. You can produce an astounding number of effects depending on how ‘deep’ you want the power to actually go.

Ed Erdelac: Superspeed. It's awesome. You can do a lot with it, but if you're not paying attention, you could probably run over somebody, just obliterate them. Birds and animals too. Also, you'd go through shoes pretty fast. Plus, all I've ever read suggests speedsters possess a tremendous metabolism, so think of your grocery bill.

A foolproof power....that's tough to conjure, as a power without drawbacks isn't very interesting, is it? Maybe Mr. Fantastic/Plastic Man's power. They're pretty much indestructible, they can take on whatever shape they can imagine. That's pretty cool.

Cat Rambo: Telepathy. Imagine how creepy it would be knowing what everyone else is thinking. And one thing comic books have taught me -- there's no foolproof power. There's always some fateful Kryptonite lurking somewhere in the corners.

Jason M. Tucker: Honestly, I think Victor’s power of seeing peoples’ sins and wrongdoings, past and future, would be maddening. How could you ever grow close to someone if you know all of their past skeletons, as well as the things they will do in the future? I don’t know if there is a foolproof superpower. There always has to be some type of weakness and disadvantage if it’s going to be interesting.

William Rose: I don't think any of them are foolproof. People are down right ingenious when it comes to working the system, and I think superpowers would just be an extension of that. "Hey I can do this incredibly cool thing! Now, how can I make this work for me..." Because of this, I really wouldn't want any sort of metahuman ability. Life is hard enough without the added stress of constantly keeping your abilities in check. I mean, think about it: if you read minds, sooner or later you're going to find out things you'd rather not know; if you've got super strength you'll end up hurting someone. We've all heard the expression "I guess I didn't realize my own strength" ... and that comes from normal people. You can't feel pain? Sounds good in theory, but pain lets us know when something is wrong. Mutant healing factor? I think not. If you know that you're body will heal any wound, it's only a matter of time before this is taken for granted. When things are taken for granted, people get careless. And when people get careless, other people get hurt. People who don't have that healing power. So, no thank you. I'm happy being a regular, run of the mill guy in this instance.

Karina Fabian: I’m with Tim on human torch—setting yourself on fire? Give me a flamethrower—or getter yet, just give me a gun. I’m surprised no one mentioned the Hulk. Wardrobe failure aside, is smashing everything just because you’re ticked off ever a good idea? However, part of what makes superhero fiction so compelling is dealing with—or not dealing with—the negative aspects of power. I agree with the others that comes down to control—the better your control, the better the power. However, I have to add that the more intelligently you use that control, the better. How many of us armchair quarterback superheroes? I know I do. “You can do X—why are you still trapped?!”

Lee Mather: Nothing is foolproof. I could find a way to mess anything up.

Wayne Helge: I'm such a sucker for the rich guys with crazy toys, but Batman and Iron Man are both one stray bullet away from taking a dirt nap. And as far as foolproof powers? That's a tough question, but I'd love to invite Wolverine to my backyard to watch the kids. Odds are that none of the kids would step in dog crap that particular day. That would be a major success.

Tim Marquitz: I think being able to burst into flames like the Human Torch is kind of a reject power. I mean, flying would be great, but honestly, I can set crap on fire without burning through my underwear.

I also don’t think there’s a foolproof power, but some are more subtle than others and that’s a bonus. Having the telepathic/mind control powers of someone like Professor X would be cool. You could get away with pretty much anything as long as you never got too carried away.

Jeff Strand: Invisibility, because at some point you should leave the women's locker room and go to work, or at least get something to eat, but that would never happen. A custodian would be cleaning up the shower and smack into my invisible dead malnourished body with his mop. Most of the really awesome powers have some sort of drawback, but I'd think that the lamer ones, like the ability to magically clip your fingernails to the perfect length, would be relatively foolproof.

Which two characters from Corrupts Absolutely? would you like to see in a cross-over showdown?

Kris Ashton: It’s probably bad form to nominate the protagonist from my own story, but I’d like to see a showdown between him and Drake from Tim Marquitz’s "Retribution." Would Drake’s brand of shady vigilantism trigger the kill urge?

Ed Erdelac: Maybe I'm being biased, but the first thing that comes to mind to me is Punkinhead meets Oz from "Ozymandius Revisited." Oz is Abassi with more experience using his powers, coming from a better, more educated background, operating from a more holistic frame of reference. I like to think Ozymandias would end up taking Abassi under his wing out of boredom, opening his mind. They'd probably end up fighting though - and how would that go? A battle of sundered realities, each trying to think the other out of existence. Cool...

Cat Rambo: Just two? I'd like to see all of them, actually. It's such a fun anthology.

Jason M. Tucker: Hmm… this is a fun question. I think I might like to see Sabre from Anthony Laffan’s story fight Z-Pack/Rogue Agent from Wayne Helge’s story. I don’t know why, but they popped into my head! I think there could be some good brawls with lots of potential.

William Rose: I'd love to see Oz from "Ozymandias Revisited" squared off against Abassi from "Conviction." That would be an epic battle.

Karina Fabian: I’m not into show-downs, so all I’ll say is “Leave poor Deryl out of it!”

Lee Mather: I'd like to see the protagonists from Tim Marquitz's "Retribution" and Joe Mckinney's "Hero" lock horns. One can explode on demand and the other can see roughly seven minutes into the future. It would be interesting to see how anyone could avoid or prevent a bomb blast in seven minutes or so…

Wayne Helge: I went to high school with Ed Erdelac and Malon Edwards. Those guys can write the hell out of their stories and have publication credits out their ears, so I'd love to see an Erdelac-Edwards-Helge Corrupts crossover. To the death. I'm betting that Zooster would not survive, and I'd be perfectly fine with that.

Tim Marquitz: I think I would like to see Weston Ochse’s character versus Joe McKinney’s. Nothing like a battle of two men who know what the other is going to do.

Jeff Strand: Does it have to be the characters? Because I would love to see Weston Ochse battle Lincoln Crisler. That would be an awesome spectacle. 

Thanks again to all of the authors for taking part in these round tables. As for the rest of you, be sure to get your hands a copy of Corrupts Absolutely? so you can enjoy all the super-powered antics, too. 

August 16, 2012

Capes, Cowls, and Credibility: a round table discussion with the authors of Corrupts Absolutely

Here's our second round table discussion with the boys and girls behind Corrupts Absolutely? I already offered a brief roll call of our contributors, so there's no need to be redundant. Just go have a look at yesterday's round table, where you'll find out a little bit about each author, as well as links to their websites and blogs. Now, onto the topics.

Considering how people behave with mundane power, do you believe the old adage, with great power comes great responsibility, translates well to superheroes? Do you think there is more accurate axiom that could be said of superheroes?

Cat Rambo: I think it absolutely translates well. Because if they're not doing that, then they're supervillains, not heroes.

Jeff Strand: The best axion would be: "It's not always necessary to destroy so much stuff while you're battling supervillains. It's not like the economy is in fantastic shape right now, so if you could avoid throwing Doctor Destructorium into the side of an expensive building, it would be appreciated."

Lee Mather: Yes, I think it translates well. If they weren't responsible then we would be in serious trouble. In essence, they're the older brother, the policemen, the government. Because they're so much stronger than us, we have to trust in them. Whether I believe in the reality of the axiom though is another story… plus the adage "with great power comes an opportunity to oppress the little guy," doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Karian Fabian: How about results may vary? Each person reacts differently. Consider winning the lottery: Some will use the money responsibly and benefit themselves and others; others will blow it in an orgy of spending and end up back where they started—or worse. Some people handle fame with grace and are an inspiration—others seem to live to be tabloid fodder. If you enhance a person, you still have the basic person, and that will determine what they do with their enhancements.

Wayne Helge: I think it all depends on how the hero comes into the powers. If you have Spider-man growing strong and agile overnight, he's going to abuse it because he doesn't know how to handle it. If you have Bruce Wayne training for years and years, adapting his life, his mental process, his behaviors; he's going to adjust as he goes and be ready to manage his abilities once he realizes he could wipe the floor with a room full of tough guys. What's the axiom? Jack White probably said it best (albeit in an entirely different context) when he said, "steady as she goes."

Tim Marquitz: I think the adage presumes a morality that is rare in modern times. I believe super-beings in the current age would be far more selfish, far more mercenary in the use of their power than those of the 20’s, 50’s. There would be exceptions, of course, but I think real super powered beings would imitate the comics where more and more are becoming anti-heroes.

A more appropriate adage would be the one Corrupts Absolutely? asks. Does power corrupt? I believe so.

Kris Ashton: I think Stan Lee nailed the essence of superheroes with that line. It even applies to The Punisher and Batman, who aren’t meta-humans as such. When you have a power others don’t, how you use that power defines you.

William Rose: I believe that adage is a good guiding principal. It's an ideal which should be strove for, but usually isn't.

Ed Erdelac: I think Lincoln hit the nail on the head using the absolute power quote for this book. But in the ideal world of superheroes as it has been established, I like 'Power has only one duty -- to secure the social welfare of the People.' - Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil. That's the kind of quote Captain Ameria could get behind, I think.

Jason M. Tucker: Uncle Ben was right. With great power comes great responsibility for damned sure, but even Spiderman had trouble with that in the beginning. He let the thief who ended up killing Uncle Ben slip past him. Talk about instant karma. Even though the adage is apt, it’s not something that I believe would enter the mind of most who developed superpowers. Unfortunately, I think the world would become a might is right kind of place. More than it already is. Power would very likely breed more corruption.

Wayne Ligon: I think that phrase, "with great power comes great responsibility," should be carved on every courthouse and statehouse in the land. If Stan Lee could be considered to have done anything truly great, it was distilling that phrase out of the human consciousness. I do believe in it. It is, like most high ideals, a goal to strive for instead of an everyday reality. You can tell tons of interesting stories about heroes that reach for it and fail AND heroes that reach for it and succeed, if only for a brief time.

Which superhero do you find to be the most implausible in terms of their behavior with relation to their abilities?

Cat Rambo: Superman. I think he'd be a much much colder fish than he's ever portrayed, and much more like Dr. Manhattan from Alan Moore's Watchmen than anyone might think.

Jeff Strand: I always felt that Underdog should have been angrier at the injustice suffered by house pets. He never seemed to care that much that dogs were on humiliating leashes and forced to eat the same gross food every day. I'm not sure this completely addresses the question you asked, but everybody else took the good answers.

Lee Mather: There are two – (ironically, two of my favourites) that don't stand up well in terms of plausibility. The first is Batman. Surely with so much wealth you would just invest in an army of vigilantes and get them to do all the dirty work while you sit back with a beer? Secondly, it has to be the Hulk. The whole point of him is that he is rage / the ID personified, so there should be no morality sneaking into his actions. I'd like to see him pull the legs off someone who cut him up in traffic, for example.

Karina Fabian: I have to go with William and Wayne—the comic book industry has reinvented our heroes so often that it’s hard to say which is implausible. You’d have to pick an iteration. I will say this, however: I’m disappointed in the trend of remaking superheroes into something against their original writing just to fit a political or social agenda. Make a new hero if you want to do that, and have him or her fit in smoothly. Save the slash for fan fiction, in particular.

Wayne Helge: Sad to say, but Spider-man's history of peer torture at the hands of Flash Thompson should have left him scarred and ready to abuse his new-found powers . It's sort of like winning the lottery. On the day after Uncle Ben's murder, I think he would have kicked the shit out of a lot of bullies. And it would have ruined him. But, on the up-side, it would have saved us from the dance scene in Spider-Man 3. I think.

Tim Marquitz: I always found Superman to be unbelievable. Maybe I’m just a horribly flawed person, but being more powerful than damn near everybody is a temptation I couldn’t pass up. There are way too many opportunities for personal satisfaction that I just can’t see Superman passing them up and always fighting the good fight.

I kind of see Hancock as a more realistic version of Superman. It’s easy to be flawed when everything comes to you so easily.

Kris Ashton: Wonder Woman would have to be up there: I’ve never bought the premise of her character on any level. Plausibility was something comic book writers had to tackle as their audiences became more sophisticated in the 1980s. They now have it down to a fine art.

William Rose: That's a tough question to answer, mainly because we now have so many different variations of the same hero from which to choose. And there are some heroes I dislike so much that when I consider them I really have to wonder if I'm being fair and balanced. Is this really implausible? Or do I just think that hero is kind of lame? So I think I'll have to take a pass on this question.

Ed Erdelac: I hate to say Superman, as it seems easy. To be raised by humans and yet inherit none of their prejudices, to be all-powerful and a total humanitarian. That would be great if there was such a person, wouldn't it? I love Superman. But I'm a Catholic, so I was raised to believe that's possible. Batman is pretty implausible too, though if you think about it. He's a 1 percent-er, and how many mega-rich folks would take the time to leave a note if they knocked off your rearview with their Maserati, let alone spend their nights protecting single mothers taking ill-advised shortcuts through back alleys? These are the two most popular guys DC has though for a reason. Because that's the kind of hero people would like to be out there....a guy from humble beginnings who is empowered and does the right thing, or a privileged guy who looks out for his fellow man. Batman is Jesus for atheists.

Jason M. Tucker: As much as I love the character of Superman, someone who has that much power would be very dangerous. How could one man be that good, standing for Truth, Justice, and the American Way all the time? Perhaps aliens don’t have the same strata of emotions that humans do, because you would imagine that all it would take was one little meltdown for Superman and the entire world would be screwed. With all that power, the folks in the DC Universe best thank their lucky stars that Supes was found by the Kent family rather than, say, the Manson Family. Now, there’s a story idea.

Wayne Ligon: None, really. Most superheroes we know are a product of multiple writers over a long period of time and not all writers are created equal. Any superhero can be written well and any superhero can be written poorly or mishandled.
Usually when people raise this question, Superman is the first character that comes to mind. So, I'll use him as an example.

Some have risen to the challenge of writing interesting stories for Superman while others have let themselves get blindsided by minutia. They look at, say, the vast array of abilities Superman has and think ‘there’s no way I can create any real tension here; he can solve any problem I could possibly pose’. That writer isn’t looking at the character of Superman, he’s looking at a laundry list of abilities, which is the wrong way to approach any character. It’s reminiscent of people thinking that, for instance, rich people have no problems. Of course they do. They have different types and kinds of problems than most, and they still have all the problems that come from being a human being. Writers that think Superman is not a very human being are completely missing the point.

If there was a time that really brought this home, it was the end of the Silver Age. You had writers artificially shackled by The Comics Code who had little choice near the end but to continually resort to self-parody or nonsense stories in order to create any hope of tension, because the Code prevented them from portraying superheroes and the world they lived in with anything approaching reality. I’m not a big proponent for superheroes being totally realistic; but a healthy dash of reality and a good helping of verisimilitude help to add enough of a grounding that it once more becomes possible to tell good stories and still keep almost all of the ‘tropes’ intact at the same time.