Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Warning, shameless attempt at selling some books.

If you haven't purchased your very own copy of FEAST yet, now is the time. I have some blurbs from some excellent writers and some darn good reviews, but here is the bottom line. FEAST is a fun read that is well worth a measly $8 bucks. If anyone regrets purchasing a copy, just let me know and I will personally punch Greg Hall in the junk. Why Greg Hall? Better him than me.

If that weren't enough, here is what we Minnesotans call 'One heck of a Deal'. The next 10 people who buy FEAST directly from the Shroud website (Amazon don't count) will get a FREE copy of the extremely popular Choate Road fun book, KNOCK KNOCK...WHO'S THERE? DEATH!

That's right, fellow horrorist. Buy FEAST before December 1st and if you're one of the next 10 people, you get our special bonus book added on just because we love Thanksgiving. TWO great horror treats for under $10, just in time for the holidays.

"Choate Road ... it makes The Exorcist II look good."
~Rio Youers, author of EVERDEAD~

"The soul rot that is Choate Road is the online equivalent of crack cocaine. You'll find yourself debased, malnourished, drooling at your keyboard, yet strangely unable to pull away from your own train wreck of a life. Beware."
~ Michael Hultquist, screenwriter of VICTIM and co-editor of HARVEST HILL~

“Choate Road. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. They're so scummy and villainy that I don't even feel it's worthy of coming up with an original quote, so I stole from Star Wars. In short, I'd rather have George Lucas cuff me and drag me away for copyright infringement than to waste any time devoting original thought to Choate Road."
~Joel A. Sutherland, author of FROZEN BLOOD~

“I believed in God until I visited”
~David Dunwoody, author of EMPIRE~

That's right, fellow horrorist. Buy FEAST before December 1st and if you're one of the next 10 people, you get our special bonus book added on just because we love Thanksgiving. TWO great horror treats for under $10, just in time for the holidays.Whatcha waiting for?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Horror Palette

I was trying to describe my new, first and so far only published book to someone over the weekend at Crypticon here in Minnesota. Because most of my short stories are horror and I publish a horror magazine and also because I got the idea for the book from a nightmare I had, I assumed my book was a horror book. There are numerous threads and even more discussions and debates on what exactly is horror. Don't worry, I'm not trying to add to that debate.

There are some books that a vast majority of people would agree are horror books, but many more that would have less concurrence. I am self aware enough to know that my book is a heck of a lot closer to some of Koontz's work than it is Barker's, but this explanation seems to be lacking.

I had the kernel of an idea some time ago that I finally was able to put to paper this weekend. What I am about to share with you is a first concept. A very rough draft of what I hope can be developed into something useful. It is not a measure of a story's quality or literary merit, it is a graph which places a story based on an X and Y Axis. X is a scale of how scary the story is and Y is the measure of gore. These are two data points, but I think a third helps clarify a story further.Instead of going 3-D, I decided to use labels. Some of the labels I have so far are their own genres, and I am using them only for stories that have a strong horror element or are indeed cross genre. Some of the labels are just meant to clarify. Remember please that this is a draft that I put together with the help of Greg Hall, and not meant the final product. In the corporate world, we would call it a straw man. Something to discuss, yet has enough context to be able to be modified to the final product.

The scale could be anything, but I think a 0 to 20 would have enough range to be meaningful. But, maybe 0-100 would give more stratification. Regardless of what range is used, I have a few examples that I hope are at least in the correct quadrant, if not necessarily spot on. The hardest part I thin will be for a writer to place their own work.

I'm looking for feedback. Please focus on big picture. Let me know if the concept seems viable. If so, what additions or modifications do you suggest. Once I get a solid final product, I think it will be a good tool. I would then like to send a survey out to several people to get their perspective on how they would rate some distinct examples for each of the four quadrants so we can populate the chart with a baseline for comparison. Thank you in advance.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Long Ass Post about the HWA

Let me start this post by stating that I am proud to be a member of the HWA and I have a goal of achieving Active membership. I am not posting this on the HWA forum because it's too damned long. Part of it is rant, but most of it is my attempt at stating a position and making recommendations.

My position is that due to a combination of market factors the current membership guidelines attaining Active membership is viewed as being too difficult. Furthermore, that because the attainment of Active membership is viewed as being unachievable, not enough people are joining. The HWA will benefit from a larger membership through the increase in volunteerism, an increase in dues and the strengthening and in some locations creation of a stronger local chapter structure.

There is a very good thread on the HWA website where members are discussing what other professional organizations provide their members in the hope that the HWA can attract and retain members by adopting some of these practices. I think the discussion will bear fruit, assuming the membership is willing to make some changes.

Any easy rebuttal to my position is that my angst is just sour grapes. I'm not an Active member yet and I want to become one faster, so I'm just complaining. It could be pointed out that many current Active members struggled for years to get theirs, so why should it be changed now? Let me be clear. I don't think Active membership should be easy and don’t mind if I have to wait many more years. I believe I will gain Active status and will continue to work toward it regardless. What I do believe is that it should be realistically attainable, and based on the current number of qualifying markets, that is less likely now than it has been previously.

The market fluctuates, but this current economy is the worst it has been since the depression. I remember the recession in the early eighties, and the only thing that made that one seem worse, was the lines for gas. We are not currently being rationed by the government, but everyone is cutting back. Writing markets rise and fall, that is a constant. The downward trend we are currently facing however is impacting the business in more ways that simply having markets fold. New markets are being created, but paying rates below the professional level. The reason is simple. They can't sell enough subscriptions to pay out professional pay. This has nothing to do with the quality of the writing or the quality of the magazine and everything to do with customers choosing not to spend their money on things that are not a necessity.
One restriction in the guidelines is what qualifies as a professional payment. Section 2 of the membership requirements states:

It shall be required that the publication, publisher, or other entity making payment as described in Section 1 shall be one that pays the same qualifying rate to at least 90% of its contributors. This is necessary to avoid having members attain Active status through "traded" or other irregular sales at artificial rates.

In other words, this provision is in place to stop people from gaining membership through fraudulent means.

I understand the reasoning behind this, but I don't agree that it is necessary. Many organizations have a code of ethics that they required their members to sign. In such a small community, I would think it would be difficult to hide such obvious collusion, but I'm guessing it's happened at some point in the past. Based on this language, winning a contest would also not qualify. That is too bad, because it can be much more difficult to win a contest than place a story in a pro pay market. That is except for recently. According to Duotrope, there are 32 markets that pay pro rates and take horror. A closer look reveals that like Necrotic Tissue, the majority of markets pay on a scale that doesn’t meet the 90% rule. Not counting anthologies, there are only 9 markets that qualify. Of these 9, at least 3 are combination markets that say they take horror, but rarely do. That leaves 6 markets that specialize in horror and pay pro rates that qualify. Of those 6, 3 are temporarily closed to submissions.

Conversely, the SFWA has a more rigorous process of qualifying markets, yet they currently have 21 magazines on their list. Anthologies come and go, but they make it clear that only an anthology from a qualified novel publisher will be accepted.

When one of the six markets is open, there are very few slots truly open to submissions. This is a business, and it does sometimes happen that markets choose a known writer with a following over an unknown writer in order to boost sales. Also, many markets have reduced the number of stories in each issue, making dropping the number of professional pay opportunities even further.

The goal is to make gaining Affiliate and especially Active membership meaningful. There is also a desire to keep Active membership exclusive. The question is how exclusive. I wonder whether or not when the organization began was there a certain number of Active members desired? As time has progressed, does the membership overall wish these numbers would increase or decrease? SFWA has 1,500 members. I didn’t see in their website what percentage were Active members, but based on the larger number of market, I think it's safe to speculate that there are more than 200. The HWA posts two data points on the website. The first is on the About HWA section and is from 10/1/2006. There were 240 Active members and 146 Affiliate members. The current numbers as of 10/28/2009, show a decline, with only 196 Active members and 141 Affiliate.

Presumably, some of the Affiliates from 2006 have reached Active status. I don’t know how many, but it seems a safe assumption. So even with some new Active members, the overall numbers have dropped while the affiliate numbers have remained fairly constant. I would have expected much more fluctuation in the Affiliate ranks. My belief before I saw the data was that once reached, people would maintain their Active membership. I realize there may be some people who have passed away, but surely not 44. Also, while I don’t know how many new Active members there have been in the last three years, I have to believe the number would be at least counter a loss of membership through death.
This leads me to believe that people are leaving Active membership for another reason. I'm not sure if the SFWA has similar issues, but their numbers seem to argue that if they do, it is not to the same level.

I also find it odd that there are more Active members than Affiliate. Dues are the same for all levels of membership, but I would think one goal would be to gain more members and increase the amount of dues coming in. Based on the numbers above, there has been a loss of about 47 members for a total loss of $3,055 in dues annually. Almost half of the dues burden is on the Affiliate members, the ones that by very definition are not getting paid at professional rates. For many, paying even $65 dollars in dues is an issue. Based on the difficulty in finding qualifying markets, I would expect the Active membership to be less than Affiliate, not more. Still, I expected there to be more than 196 Active members. There must be at least 500 writers currently living today that meet the requirements for Active Membership. I don't think I'm way off base guessing that as many as 1,500 people qualify for Affiliate membership. NT alone has paid at no fewer than 150 writers the requisite amount in the last two years, more than the current total of number of Affiliate members. Regardless of what the optimum number of Active members is, it's my opinion that there should be at least three time the number of Affiliate members striving for Active membership. So why aren’t people joining? And why are Active members leaving?

I do think that the perception is that gaining Active membership is more difficult than is warranted. While I can only base my conclusions on what I have read and heard, it seems to me that the goal for Active membership was to ensure a certain level of writing skill be validate through the free market. The assumption being that once this level of skill was attained, that the requisite number of professional acceptances would follow, whether it is in short story (the example I am beating to death), novel or the other avenues.

The novel requirement for Active status is a $2,000 dollar advance on 5% royalties. This eliminates the possibility of any small press I am aware of. The goal stated here is to set a professional rate for a novel, yet the advance could be given and the novel could have so few sales that the publisher would not even come close to covering the advance. It also doesn’t state whether the Royalty is to be 5% of Gross or Net sales. Presumably Gross, which was more common in the past, but it could be Net and still qualify since it isn’t defined in the rules. Again, I would argue that there should be flexibility. With the advent of Print On Demand marketing structures, a small press publisher could and often does according to Duotrope and Ralan, give between 25% and 50% royalties. There is rarely if ever an advance since small press does not have the operating capital necessary, but the volume of sale could exceed that of a novel sold to a larger publisher that issued a $2,000 advance with 5% royalties. These models may have made sense at the time they were created, but I think it’s time to reevaluate. Perhaps a $1,000 dollar advance on 10% royalties or no advance on 40% royalties would be acceptable. Presumably when the original amount numbers were chosen, there was some formula used that represented total pay to a writer. If that is the case, then a scale could be created that maintains the desired outcome but gets there in different ways.

Trying to come up with a market based approach could not have been easy. The rates were the rates because that is what the market would bear at the time. The goal was to find a way to identify "professional" work from amateur. Using pay is certainly easier and less bias than trying to have a group of members evaluate an applicant's writing to determine if it had achieved the required level of skill. I can’t think of a better method and my proposal isn't to ditch the market based approach, but instead to modify to keep in line with market conditions. The exception to this should be a new rule for those that win the Stoker award. If the real goal is to validate a certain amount of skill has been achieved, why then doesn’t winning the Stoker award automatically qualify a writer for Active membership?

I don’t think Active membership should be given away. It should reflect a level of skill and accomplishment, or it means nothing. While Active members may not even think about it anymore, there is a perception out there that gaining Active membership has gone from challenging to extremely difficult. If the market is the sole determiner and the market is constricted, the original intent has not been met.

I for one have not "given" professional level pay to any writer at Necrotic Tissue. They have earned it by submitting what I believe is the best story of that issue. The best of not only the 22 or so in the issue they were accepted for, but the best of over 400 submissions that were received during that month. If I paid pro rates for all submission, it would still be my judgment on who was accepted. It would still be possible to "trade" professional pay with another market, though admittedly, due to the cost it would happen a lot less. The exception to this is anthologies. It is possible to have an anthology that pays professional payment to all of its writers thereby qualifying under the 90% rule described in Section 2 and to "select" either only friends or a writer that is also doing a professional pay anthology and accept each other in trade. With the glut of anthologies that comes out annually, this could be common practice and there is currently no way to identify the activity. Yet magazines that can’t afford to pay pro rates for all stories at what is usually four times a year, don’t qualify.

One of my goals is to make NT a pro pay market. Until then it's my opinion that if I pay someone professional pay for having what I feel is the best story of an issue, that it should be allowed as one of the three stories required to achieve Active membership. If there is any hint of impropriety, then the sale should be challenged and brought before either the membership committee or the grievance committee, whichever is deemed appropriate.
In the last two years, there has been a dramatic increase in the creation of sites devoted to horror. The Haunt attracted many members, some fans, but a lot of writers. The Dark Fiction Guild continues to grow but is currently at 396 members, though some are artist and horror directors. There are several other new sites and some have been around for years. The question we should ask is why? There is clearly a perception that these other sites are offering something that they can’t get from HWA. Some haven’t yet received the required $25 dollar sale to become Affiliate members, but many have. The Dark Fiction Guild has a section for groups, yet there is no HWA group. The perception, whether it is fair or not, is that the HWA is elitist. We can complain about this perception, or we can accept that it exists and work toward changing it. Time is limited to be sure, but if we want new members, we must market the HWA. Anyone out there who is writing horror should be a member. We should try to estimate how many there are and set membership targets. I can't speak for other magazines or publishers, but I would be honored to have an HWA ad in Necrotic Tissue and I would let the HWA advertise for free.

I believe in the HWA and think that it is capable of meeting the needs of all horror writers. To summarize, here are my 6 suggestions:
  1. Change the current rules to allow any professional payment to qualify toward Active membership. Establish or modify existing committees to investigate reports of impropriety.
  2. Create a Code of Ethics that all members are required to sign before being accepted.
  3. Qualifying sales and payment of dues should not be sufficient. A group is only as strong as its members and a level of professionalism and mutual respect as well as appropriate conduct should be the minimum requirements.
  4. Adjust the novel formula to account for a lower advance in lieu of higher royalties.
    Grant Active membership to any winner of a Stoker award in any category.
  5. The HWA should solicit membership, by having booths at conventions over a certain size and to create a presence on the web outside for the HWA website wherever it seems viable.
  6. Consider the creation of a beginning membership level that would cost less in dues and would allow people to get involved sooner (This suggestion may necessitate the creation of segmented levels in the forum and tighter monitoring).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Most Important Job

My oldest is now in 4th grade at a Spanish language immersion charter school. Because they are learning both Spanish and English, the kids skills like spelling and grammar are a little behind kids in regular school until around 5th or 6th grade.

I just found an assignment she had completed in class when she was in 3rd grade. It was an essay about their fathers (that's me!)

I am going to retype it using her words, but with some corrected spelling to make it easier to read. Frankly, there are times when I doubt that I am being the father I want to be and that my kids deserve. Many of us who were born in the 60's had dad's that were hard assess. I had the kind of dad that other hard assed dad's were afraid of. He only ever told me he loved me once, when I was 24. There were never any hugs or positive reinforcement. Dumb ass was a common name, but there were a host of others. He did teach me some valuable lessons that have helped make me successful, but what I wanted most was to know he both loved and respected me. If he were still alive he'd probably call me a dumb ass and say that those are things I should just know.

I'm not looking for sympathy, just making a point about the kind of father I wanted to be and didn’t want to be. Enough of my rambling, without further delay, here's my daughter's essay:

These are some things why I Love my dad. My dad is very smart.

1. My dad is smart because or else he wouldn't be working any more.

2. He's full of ideas.

3. He's just full of inspiration.

My Dad is funny.

My dad is funny because one time at the table he said "Why don’t cannibals eat clowns?" and I said I don't know why. And he said, "Because they taste funny." And this other time he said to me "Hey Andrea, do you want to see a magic trick? And I said yes and he opened the dishwasher and put his dishes inside and he said "Ta da." Oh, and one more time my dad picked me up and put me on his shoulder like I was a dead person and said "wew wew wew."

Why my dad is Lovable.

He's Lovable because he likes to hug and kiss me XOXOXOXOXO. He's also like my own little chair or actually big chair because he's a grownup of course. My dad says I love to a lot to me.

The End.

Every parent makes mistakes, though rarely as many as the children think. It's easy to get focused on the frustrations of my day job, or my magazine or writing. Things don't always go the way we want and it's easy to question whether we are making a difference at all. I'm very fortunate because regardless of what happens at work, the magazine or with my own writing, I've already reached my most important goal. Both my daughters know how much I love them. Now, the trick is to remember that even though I say it a lot, I need to find different ways to tell them and show them, so they never have to wonder. In the end, it is the most important job I'll ever have.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Duotrope, I can quit anytime I want...

For those who don't know Duotrope, is a site designed for writers to find and research writing markets. They currently have 2,650 markets listed, many in genre fiction. For those that do know, you may also frequent . I love Ralan's site and got my first few acceptances from markets I had found on Ralan. While I do love Ralan's site, I am not addicted to it. Of course, I'm not addicted to Duotrope either (coughs and breaks eye contact), I can quit anytime I want. I just don't want to.

What attracts me to Duotrope all hours of the day and night is the data. First, they are set up as a search engine. I can keep my search general and get all 2,500 markets, or I can refine my search so it will display only the pro pay markets for horror that take short stories and are offered in print, accept electronic submissions, and I can choose not to show markets that are temporarily closed. Booya baby!! Today there are 10 such markets and I can sort them alphabetically, by pay, average response time, or % of acceptance.

Now this is enough for me to swear undying loyalty to Duotrope, but that's not all the site offers. Oh no, not by half. I love data. I love spreadsheets and for a few years I tracked my submissions on a spreadsheet. Then a friend (or enabler??) told me about a feature on Duotrope called submissions tracker. By creating a profile (it is free), you can add stories to your list as you write them, then you can track who you submit to. By selecting a response option of "Pending", you can let the site keep track of your submissions for you. But wait, that's not all! The site tracks this data on the markets own page, so we can all see how many people (not names, just numbers) are pending (aka, waiting for an acceptance or rejection) and the average number of days they are waiting.

Duotrope keeps the last twelve months of data on each of the markets pages. Necrotic Tissue has had 339 reports in the last twelve months with an average response time of 15.1 days (not too shabby). It shows two pending, which means that two writers haven't updated their pending to either an acceptance or rejection, because we responded to everyone that submitted for July by August 15th. When a writer changes their status from Pending to Rejection, they can pick one of eight other options which include form or personal rejection.

There is a page that summarizes what they call "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly", where they list the best and worst for response times and acceptance rates. Possibly my favorite feature is the "What's New?" page. It shows the newest markets added, which have recently opened or closed and has a detailed list of everyone that has used submissions tracker to reflect a rejection or acceptance. I could go on and on, because there is more, but I think I've made my point. My point was that I am, despite my denial, addicted to Duotrope, but with good reason. As a publisher and as a writer, it is a fantastic resource. It's also a great resource for fans. If you love reading and want to find a new magazine or book publisher, Duotrope is the site for you. Each market page has a link to the actual website so you can check them out in detail.

I noticed that Dark Faith Anthology hasn't sent out a response lately, and that my submission was sent 86 days ago. In that time, I have realized that the submission I sent needs some work. I have a bad habit of getting psyched about a stories premise and sending it off before it is polished. By clicking on the market's link, I see that it closes on November 1st. I'm hoping to get my rejection before then (I am assuming it's a rejection at this point, but you never know), so I can squeak in a more polished and perhaps more appropriate story before the deadline.

My goal is to only pull up Duotrope once a day, since the data does not update in real time (yet). Odds are it will look the same no matter how many times I obsessively open it on the same day. I do have five stories currently out there, so there's a lot to check. Really, I might have missed something. Got to go, I have something I need to do.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Bernard Cornwell is a Genius

There are many schools of thought pertaining to writing. I think this is so because there are in fact so many different kinds of people writing and not every piece of advice or technique works for everyone. A piece of writing advice I subscribe to and believe is broad enough to apply to most writers, is to read. A lot. Reading within the chosen genre is a good idea, especially for new writers, but reading outside the genre is perhaps more important as writers develop.

I didn't hear this advice until after I had started writing with a vengeance three years ago. Luckily, I have always had varied tastes in literature. I cut my teeth on the greats in Fantasy and SciFi and didn't discover Horror until my early teens. I was ignorant of the small press offerings for most of my adult life, so I felt trapped by what the bookstores had to offer. I had my favorite authors and certainly I experimented from time to time, but I found I could read faster than even a dozen authors could get out new books.

A friend of mine suggested I try something different. Historical fiction in the form of a series by Bernard Cornwell with a central character called Sharpe. Cornwell uses fictional characters to guide the reader through actual historical events of note, in this case the Napoleonic Wars. He later expanded the series to cover Wellington's earlier Indian Campaign. Richard Sharpe started off as an enlisted man and was given a battlefield promotion for saving Wellington's life.

But the Sharpe series was just my introduction to Cornwell. He has published 47 books since 1981 covering mostly English History (there is a Civil War mini series). The most recent book is Agincourt and I can't believe I didn't see it coming. You see, Mr. Cornwell loves archers as any Englishman should, and while I am not English, I also love Archers. The battle of Agincourt was made famous by Shakespeare's Henry the V. It was an impressive battle for many reason, and has always been a favorite of mine. Now for those of you who do not like reading Shakespeare (and you know who you are), you can follow the fictional archer Nicholas Hook from 1413 to 1415 and get a genuine feel for what it was to live, love and fight in England and France during that time period.

I've seen whole threads discussing how to write realistic battle scenes, especially as it relates to melee combat. I recommend people quit looking for answer of this type on forums and start reading more. Bernard Cornwell is a master, wether it is individual combat or a whole scale battle with swords or muskets.

Michael Knost put out a great book called Writers Workshop of Horror. It is filled with excellent advice from writers who are all great, but are recognized for certain things such as opening, character development etc. The book is an excellent writing reference for any level of writer. If you have issues with openings, read Elizabeth Massie's chapter, Creating Effective Beginnings. The unspoken message though is to also read some of Elizabeth's work and the other writers that have been recognized by fans, peers and even critics as being particularly proficient in a certain aspect of writing to get a real feel for how those aspects are done.

I recommend that once you feel comfortable with the horror genre, to expand into other genres. Wether you're a writer trying to improve or an avid reader, you won't be sorry if you pick up a copy of Agincourt. Did I mention he was a genius?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What the bloggidy blog am I doing?

Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and now this. This is of course a blog and I'm pretty sure blogs were around before the rest, but I never had cause to start. I always have things to say, but was pretty sure no one would care.

That hasn't changed much, but I would like to use this blog to discuss both my writing and my magazine Necrotic Tissue.

So this is my first official blog! Try to stay in your seats.

My very first published book is officially out. Feast is a novella (though technically is considered novel by the old standard of a writ en work over 40,000 words). What, me bitter? NANOWRIMO, or national novel writing month considers anything 50,000 and over a novel and the big boys in the publishing biz very by genre and publishing house. For horror, it is usually not a commercially viable novel unless it is at around 80,000 words.

Feast is about 45,000 words. Tim Deal from Shroud Publishing accepted it last year along with five other writers, all better known than I am. I'm proud to be among such writers as Rio Youers, Maurice Broaddus and D. Harlan Wilson.

It is for sale on Shrouds site:

And Please type my name into the search field on amazon. I did and it was a hallmark moment in my writing life.

I hope you give it a try and if you like it, please write a review on amazon. Also, let me know what you think of it here.

I'm sure I will fill this blog with sporadic and incomprehensible rants from time to time, so swing by if you have a moment.