Every once in a while I get into contact with a new voice in the writing community. It is a magical time for me when I can discover someone new and see how the world looks through their prose. One of the new writers recently came to me through a course I teach at University of the People. He has a strong voice and I think one of the better views of the Nigerian region that can be found. If you want something honest and thought provoking, then you need to check out Johnson-Ehidonye Patrick Sopuruchukwu Bernard.
One particular story of note is his analysis of youth crime in Nigeria. If you want to see history (and events) told from a perspective of someone who has to live in and is defined by the culture, then this is an interesting piece. Not only can we see the issue from the inside out, but we can see the author wrestle with the socialization of culture whilst exploring it from the inside.
I’ve been busy a bit. A new magazine launch will do that for you (not to mention the letters of applications that are being sent out to universities. Oh, the life of a recent PhD!). I am never too busy to get into a great horror show though. I love horror and I love my friends, so this is a great mix of the two.
Crimson Peak is the newest offering from Guillermo del Toro. If you don’t know who that is then stop reading right now and watch Pan’s Labyrinth or The Strain. He’s done other great things but those are my recent favs. Basically, all you need to know is Guillermo del Toro = Genius.
Crimson Peak is his latest offering and, from what I saw, it looks to be stelar. A period piece with excellent casting, directing, writing and costumes. Seriously–take a look at the trailer and tell me this doesn’t make you feel excited to be a horror fan.
I’ve got a lot on my plate (I just had a screenplay of mine optioned!) but I can always make time for Awesome and Crimson Peak definitely looks to fit that bill.
You wrote the perfect story and it is time you ship it off to a publisher. Easy, right? Just slap that sucker in an email, paste (with CCs) a bunch of submission addresses and wait for the magic to happen! Wrong. So damn wrong (I’m taking Twain’s advice and replacing my “very”s with “damn”s.) that it can crush a first time author. What follows are the top 5 issues to avoid whilst submitting to a magazine.
#5 Email Etiquette
I am the EIC of Ricky’s Back Yard. We have our first print issue launching in July and the deadline for submissions is May 4th (Yes, I am a Star Wars geek). I cannot count how many submissions I get that ignore basic rules of email etiquette. I have seen things like ‘Dear Magazine’ and ‘Dear,’. Those are the authors who at least had the idea to put a salutation in the email. Some authors would simply write, ‘Here’s my story.’ No introduction. No set-up for the story. No sign-off. No chance of me reading the story, let alone publishing it.
#4 Guidelines? We don’t need no stinkin’ guidelines!
My magazine’s guidelines are so few, it is almost comical. Send us a pdf attachment. Make sure you let us know if this is submitted elsewhere. No more than X words. No poetry! I sincerely think I just summed up our entire submissions page. So, it is puzzling when I see authors attach docs (okay, I can overlook this and I have never rejected anyone for not using pdf, but it is an easy indication that you didn’t read the guidelines). I scratch my head when people submit the one area of writing I explicitly state we don’t publish. It makes me darn right sad when I see people submit novellas with a note saying “Hey, I know this is more than X words, but I am sure you’ll like it!”. As you will see below, editors really don’t have an awesome amount of time on our hands. We (staff included) read the first paragraph–tops–on a first read and that is for pieces that actually fit the criteria. Imagine how much we read of the things that don’t come close to what the submission call requests? Let me give you the super secret industry scoop answer:
As you will see below, editors really don’t have an awesome amount of time on our hands. We (staff included) read the first paragraph–tops–on a first read and that is for pieces that actually fit the criteria. Imagine how much we read of the things that don’t come close to what the submission call requests? Let me give you the super secret industry scoop answer:
#3 YTpad. I mean Typos.
I’ve said it before. We read the first paragraph on the first, and sometimes second, review of a story. That’s it. That’s all. If two editors don’t think there is merit in that introduction we usually reject it. (I do have an editor who reads every bit of everything but don’t expect this from most magazines.) If your first paragraph is full of typos, then this is an automatic red flag. The story you submit should not be a first draft (unless you are Mozart); hell, it shouldn’t even be your second or third draft. The story you submit should be polished to the point where it comes down to a matter of artistic taste for publication. Do not let typos get in the way of your success. I can overlook weak writing. I can even give suggestions to fix the writing of a piece; however, I can’t overlook typos filling a piece. If you cannot be bothered to press spellcheck, then please do not be bothered to press send on that email. Save editor–and yourself–a whole bunch of grief.
Yes, that’s right–lying. How many times have I seen a previously published work sent in as a “first print” concept? So many that our publishing contract actually has a $1,000 fine for an author who is caught lying about their work. This is a very simple item to avoid. If your work isn’t your own–don’t send it out. If it is published anywhere else (you know that personal website of yours? Yeah, keep your stories off of it until AFTER you are allowed by the publisher to post them) then don’t send it to a magazine requiring first print rights. Not only do you make the editor of the magazine sad (which, in turn, makes a unicorn impale a kitten) but you are also ruining your own name. Who wants to work with an author that lies about his or her own work?
You’ve been rejected. It isn’t the end of the world. It will happen. It will happen a lot. A lot. A lot. Most of the time, when I reject someone, I send out form letters. I feel dirty about doing it, but it is the necessary evil of running a magazine. If I do want to see another story, it means I really want to see another story. Maybe the story you sent wasn’t “it” for our staff at the time. Maybe we want to see more (we did end up accepting someone recently after rejecting the author’s original submission, so never give up hope!).
No matter our response, do not write back with abuse. I have received hate mail for the things I’ve written before, but the hate mail I get as an editor deserves its own box in hell. One author, after being rejected, wrote back for me to f— myself, f—- my associate editors and that the author would kill my lawyer if the author ever saw them. Needless to say, that was forwarded to the FBI. Unfortunately, that wasn’t even the worst response by someone being rejected.
There is Zero call/room for/tolerance of abuse. I’m not sure what in society changed to say “hey, it’s okay to make threats! It’s only online!” but I do not put up with this (nor should anyone else). You’ve been rejected. It happens. If you want, ask the editor Why–that’s perfectly fine. The editor, if he or she has time, should (hopefully) respond. I know I would respond to this in order to help out writers. We don’t get into editing for the money (aaahahahahahahahaha…money? In print?! Seriously? Ahahahahahahahaahahaha) but because we love the art. We want to help people. We want to give them a platform for their voice. We don’t want to hurt people. We don’t reject things out of a humbug (but maybe we read your story on ‘the wrong day’–it happens). We’ll help you understand our view and how to ‘fix’ your story if you ask. However, keep in mind, we are people. Treat us like people. You can be frustrated–it is natural to be frustrated–from a rejection letter, but don’t attract more attention for the abusive letter you write back than the actual story you were rejected on.
I will leave you with the following. A real rejection letter I sent out to a real author. I have removed the name and identifying material for fairness. Maybe this letter will explain a bit about your own writing and rejections. Maybe it will offer you guidance. Maybe not. I think it is worth a read though.
I have reviewed your short story and, unfortunately, cannot offer it a spot in the Cult issue. Usually, I send a form letter for this, but I wanted to go over a few things with you so you can have a better chance finding a place for your story.
The first thing I see for you to work on is your email. The email is (usually) the first (and sometimes only) contact with the editor. Introduce yourself and your work. “Dear __________, I am submitting my story, ________, to your magazine. It is about (briefly describe) and is approximately _______ words long. Thank you for…etc.” That is the basic bare bones of it all. Of course, if you can point out that you have read the magazine before (obviously not a strategy for our magazine since this is a call for first issue submissions) and why (you could do this for every magazine, first issue or not) you want to submit your story to that magazine, then you will have a better chance at making a connection with the editing team.
The second thing I notice about the email, and this is a lesser sin, is that you attached a doc file where the guidelines state to attach only pdfs for verbal text. This tells me that you didn’t read the guidelines. Furthermore, three editors are listed (one is for graphic art, so really two are of concern) but the email isn’t addressed to either of the verbal text editors or even a generic “Dear Editor”. Again, this is your first contact with someone you are asking to publish your work. Make the first contact work for you.
As for the story, the first thing I noticed is a typo on the first line. (You also have a typo in your address line, but I really couldn’t care less about that; however, the story itself needs to be a clean print.) Usually, unsolicited material gets read up to the first paragraph. That’s it. That’s all. You have the first paragraph (tops) to impress the first reader. Seeing a typo in the first line is a red flag for an editor and seeing additional typos (you have at least two more typos) will certainly close down any opening for publication.
The story is a skeleton. Show–don’t tell. Character A does this or that. Show it. Show the process. Break it down. Take your time. Bring me there. Make me go “Oh my crap! Don’t do that! Get away from the _____!!”. The story, as it is now, is a skeleton. It has a basic structure but it is missing the sinew to hold it together; it is missing the muscle to manipulate the parts; and it is missing the flesh to protect the form.
My advice, and it’s free for a reason, is to re-write this story. Re-vision it into a true piece of horror. You can do it. It takes time, but you can do it. Make me feel blood soaked. Don’t say they are blood-soaked, but make me want to take a shower after reading the story.
I invite you to resubmit a re-visioned piece–don’t microwave the text–use a slow cooker. Let the meat fall from their bones. Remember, your plot line has been done (this is okay, what hasn’t been done before?) so you will have to put something into it that makes it jump off the page. Make it drip.
Remember, this is only one person’s advice. Take it. Leave it. Tell me “thank you” or tell me to “bug off”. It’s up to you. Either way, I wish you the best.
Hellraiser. This movie made me love the bad guys. Tell me you didn’t cheer for the Cenobites. Tell me that you actually liked the vacant headed heroine of the movie. This movie, quite simply, builds like a great orgasm. Okay, so not that intense. But the image is there. The image and the use of bodily fluids are quite prevalent in the movie. The story is a morality tale with a slight twist. The twist is–we start to want the people to get punished. They are representatives of the human race and, yet, we want them to be destroyed. We want them to be consumed. This isn’t because the story isn’t strong (it is), or because the characters aren’t likeable (they are) but because the Cenobites are so fricken cool and a total embodiment of the taboo that we want them to win. We want them to win because we don’t want them to leave our sight.
There might be some sort of comfort to know that there is an order–even in Hell and even if it is the Order of the Gash.
If you haven’t read the book that the story is based (The Hellbound Heart) then you really need to pick it up. Clive Barker is a masterful story teller. He is simple. Direct. Dark. Having his words for this story come off the page is a real treat for me as a writer. I grew up watching the movie (and grew up a few yards from where the Hellraisers are filmed), but it is the story and style of Clive Barker that really pushes this through.
Yes, I know. I usually leave you with the trailer to the film. This time…Let’s just say I love Ozzy and Motorhead.
Groundhog Day. We all know the movie. We all love the movie. That is when Bill Murray has the same day happen to him again and again and again. I grew up in the frozen ghettos of Northern Wisconsin; I knew what reliving the same day after day after day felt like. No, it isn’t the absolute death of culture that I was trapped in that made me feel like Groundhog Day, rather it was NBC playing the Night of the Living Dead every–single–night before having the station sign off.
That’s right. The one channel (we sometimes got PBS for Doctor Who…sometimes) our tin foil laden television (now with colour!) could pick up was NBC. Let that sink in for a bit.
The good news is, the Night of the Living Dead kicked some major booty. It was scary. It was intense. It was what hope could be if not stomped on by every other creature on this blue marble of ours. I won’t bore you about the story. I will, however, tell you what lesson we can learn as writers from this masterpiece.
Struggle sells. We rooted for the man to survive. He almost did. Almost. Why did he have to die? Think of it: Why do we have our ‘favourite’ characters live in our stories? Does your audience connect with those stories? I’m guessing they don’t. Why not? Because life isn’t like that. We like to see, even in fantasy, something real happen. Throw a car at your protagonist. See how she gets out of the way. Hell, even Superman died. Why? Because he became boring. Kryptonite wasn’t his weakness–not having a real one was. The same applies to the Living Dead. He dies because he has to.
Who do you have in your own story that is ‘too precious’ to throw a curve ball? Maybe a favourite character or even a line (darling) you just can’t toss. My suggestion, and that of Romero, is to kill them (or at least toss a car their way).
When Hollywood runs out of ideas (on a daily basis) it turns to the tried and true formula of The Remake. The new Poltergeist movie seems to be an unneeded update of the original. Will I see it? Oh, mais oui, I will be first in line to see the remake. I love horror. I love some of the actors in the movie (damn you Academy for no Moon golden statue for Mr. Rockwell). I love Sam Raimi (and I sure the hell hope Bruce Campbell kicks the Groovy level of this movie up a notch). I am a horror junkie. I saw crappy sequels of movies that I didn’t know the original existed (I’m looking at you random Netflix movie!).
Back to the original Poltergeist. We’ve all seen it. We’ve all been (if you were my age) scared shitless of tv sets for a bit. How many years in therapy did it take for me to be able to turn off the damn tv when the channels finally went to bed? Thank God for HDTV. Kids today will never know the horror of the snow sound n vision.
Besides making me scared of tvs, Poltergeist had a lot of other life-defining items for me. The little girl? Something about her never sat well with me. She was an awesome actress though. She brings out the ‘you feel for her’ that Exorcist never really did for me. The scenes of the primal fear of thunder/lightning bring to light a good grasp of psychology. Even the spirit guide was a little person. Think of that: Two of the main driving forces (Heather O’Rourke and Zelda Rubinstein) in this film were under 5 feet tall. Did the casting go with our fear of the ‘non-normal’?
Does the movie have its version of bang horror? Yes, but it builds up slowly….slowly…slowly….it keeps building to the point where even the tv set can give nightmares. That’s pacing, folks. That is suspense. That is also (mostly) what is missing in current horror today. The tease, as it were. Can the remake bring the tease back? Only time will tell.
The Conjuring. If you believe in ‘true case’ studies in the paranormal (or not), The Conjuring still comes in strong with its story building. All too often do we see a horror movie go for the effects and the scares instead of building the story. If you build the story, if you invest time into the characters, then you will have something strong.
One of the tricks to Creative Non-Fiction is to have your specific story reach and connect with a general audience. If you have a novel that is all about you, then the only person who really is interested in it is–you. Even celeb autobiographies have the core human traits exposed. For a great example of this, one needs to look no further than Artie Lange’s book, Crash and Burn. In Crash and Burn, Lange exposes the raw nerve of addiction and does so in a way that connects to people who have dealt with addiction directly or through family and friends. A case can also be made with Jim Breuer’s book,
A case can also be made with Jim Breuer’s book, I’m Not High. Breuer is a master story teller. His stories work because he can connect the experiences he had in his neighborhood, and later with is dad, with a very human connection of empathy. Breuer connects with the reader and makes them give a damn even if they do not have the same experience because he makes a real connection with every character in his book. (Note: If you do buy Jim’s book, make sure you pick up the Audio Book version. His audio book is the reason why audio books exist.)
Both of these books resemble exactly the story that The Conjuring brings. They all make a connection to what makes us human. They tell us, ‘You are not alone’ and, in doing so, they demonstrate that emotion can be generated for a person you do not know because that person already tapped into the primal force of ‘you’.
The Conjuring taps into that force and it does so with a grace that makes you wonder ‘is this real?’. If, by the end, you have to google the subject matter of a movie (horror or not) then that artist has done his job–a lesson worthy of study through this film (and one to adopt in your own writing!).
What can I tell you about Sharknado that you don’t already know? It is probably the biggest cult hit of recent years (enough to spawn a small franchise) and it is part of the highest rated show ever to appear on the SciFi network. That’s right, the sequel actually beat out BSG. If that doesn’t make your mind explode then maybe this revelation will push you over the edge. Sharknado is also the first sign–ever–that Tara Reid can, indeed, read. We know this because that is how she delivers most of her lines.
The acting isn’t bad. Who doesn’t like to see Steve aka Biker Mouse from Mars dude aka Blondie McMuscles in a big screen (depending on the size of your tv) production? The writing is pretty something too. But what brings this movie into its own is the idea. The sure balls of the person coming up with the script to pitch makes this film stellar.
A bunch of sharks taking over Cali? Boring. A tornado that rips through LA? Seen it. But a tornado that is made up from a bunch of sharks? You mean Jaws really can show up in my toilet? Now, we’re talking.
It just goes to show that if you dream big and put in the hard work needed, even if those dreams include sharks spinning in mid-air, you really can pull off something amazing.
The one movie that really scared the crap out of me as a kid was Alien. This movie changed my idea of what science fiction could be and what horror could open up. The facehugger pictured here is the reason why I slept with my hand over my face for about 14 years. Yes, the argument was already posited that my sleeping with my hand in such a way actually mimics the facehugger rather than protects from it, but hey, I started it when I was 7.
This movie built a franchise, a world, and a hell of a lot of nightmares (a dancing spoof and one very cool space herpes reference). Was it the fear of the unknown that made this movie so terrifying as a kid? There were a lot of movies that dealt with the unknown and a general distrust of tech, sleeper cells and xenophobia. This movie goes beyond all of the traditional sci-fi as horror genre by pushing the storyline. Again, all of the special effects and super creeps in the world won’t hold up to a great story brought to life by a talented crew. It is their humanity that made this movie more frightening. This wasn’t some sort of ‘teens go out on a romp and start dying’ type thing. This was ‘People stuck in a job they didn’t want to be in and getting screwed over, used and abused by their employer’ type thing.
The time had a lot to do with the effect. Families were settling down and usually trying more than a few jobs to hold ends together. A group of vets were being refused jobs they were qualified for just because America wanted to exorcise its demons and cleanse its conscious, not by addressing its own evil, but by scapegoating the ones sent to fight. Then again, maybe a face hugger scared the crap out of me because I am an asthmatic who never could be more than two steps away from his rescue inhaler. They may not be able to hear you scream in space, but neither can they hear someone with a full blown attack cry out either.
The movie Alien will be played in all its glory for the Great Digital Film Festival brought to Montreal by Cineplex. I am going to the February 2nd showing. If you want to say hi, please do so. I’ll be the one watching the movie not with his fingers over his eyes, but rather across his mouth.
‘Stay away from Captain Howdy.’ That is the lyric, isn’t it? I saw Strangeland a few years ago. I think I had to rob a RedBox to watch it. What brought me to the movie was Dee Snider. Yes, I am an SMF. I remember seeing Twisted Sister live with Sebastian Bach before and stuff like that sticks with you (in a good or bad way). This movie made me see Dee Snider in a different way.
Snider writes this film which is part creepfest and part warning of a pre-dawn internet free for all. The movie feeds in on our fears of the online creepoid stalking the net waiting to meet either a young girl/boy or Chris Hansen. (For the record: If you are on his show enough to have your GPS listing the target house as a ‘favourite’ then you might want to rethink your life choices.) It taps into those fears and gives us a bit of a ‘look at me!’ type venture.
Can you identify with Snider’s character of Captain Howdy? Isn’t that the sign of a good writer? No matter how much of a monster the villain is, there is something identifiable about the man. Did Snider go a bit too far in insane isolation? Give the movie a whirl and find out. I think we are all a bit Captain Howdy in some aspect.