Monday, July 11, 2016

Let's Talk Money - Taxes, Licenses, & Square

I've posted about my experiences at Denver Comic Con (DCC) already, but something that I wanted to address separately was a first I experienced there. Some events you speak at do book consignments, where you sign your books over to those running the event, they sell them, and they pay you the book sales minus a percentage cut they keep. For this, the event planners have to have or get a sales tax license, and they are responsible for collecting sales taxes and paying them. You have no responsibility to deal with the sales tax in this case; you just collect your check.

At DCC, each author was responsible for selling their own books. I didn't learn this until close to the event, which sent me into a bit of an anxiety spiral, so I thought I'd share what I learned from this experience to help someone else who may go through it.

Special Event Sales Tax License

Because I don't have a sales tax license, not having had solo title books released yet, I had to apply for a special event sales tax license for the state of Colorado, plus one for the city of Denver. Each had a small fee associated with it. I was able to print up the forms online to fill out, then mail the check in with the application. To find those you need to fill out, just do a search on your state/city and special event sales tax.

The state did send me a copy of the license, though I didn't get it until after the event, but Denver did not, and it said online that they wouldn't. So I made copies of both license applications with the checks, and made sure to have them with me at DCC. No one checked, but it did say on the DCC website that they would, so there is always a chance that the venue will check to be sure you're legal. You should be prepared, just in case.

Moolah & Square

The next issue to address was how to take money. Square was quick and easy to sign up for. I just went to their website, filled out the necessary information, and ordered the hardware. The initial piece of Square hardware is completely free, including shipping, so you don't have to invest any money in it at all. I hooked it to my checking account so the money would automatically be moved to my account at the end of the business day. There is also a setting to do an instant deposit, but I figured it would be better to do it all in the evening instead of having a bunch of little deposits. This comes with an additional percentage cost, too. Setting the deposits up involved putting in the bank information, at which time they did a transfer into the account to confirm it, then did a withdrawal of that amount.



I went ahead and also purchased their chip reader, which did have a cost associated with it, but I figured it was an investment for future selling opportunities. Plus, I was in that mindset, because we'd just had to get them for the nonprofit I volunteer for as treasurer, so I wasn't sure if they'd be required by individual business people, as well. (They are being required for businesses.)



Square also had the option to order signs showing you take credit cards, and what credit cards are accepted. That was free, including shipping, so I ordered one of those.

Finally, there was an option to send a link to install the Square Register app, which I had texted to my cell phone. The app installed quickly with no issues, and I went in and fiddled with the settings on there and online, including things like what your receipt will read, and whether you want its appearance personalized.

The next step was to put the sales tax into the Square app. There's an easy spot in the menu to do this. Click on "settings" then "taxes. Click "create tax." Enter the tax amount and give it a name (for instance, I named mine "Denver & State Tax" since that will not be my typical tax amount, considering I reside in Colorado Springs, not Denver.) Once it's in, you can turn it on or off.

When you get the Square hardware, it consists of a white, square-shaped reader that plugs into the headphone jack of your phone or tablet. You then slide a card through the slot on it. The chip reader is a bigger, flat white square with a couple lights on it. It has to be charged, unlike the regular Square reader, so be sure you do that in advance. It comes with instructions in the box for how to use it for swipes or chips. I didn't end up needing it.

Square is super easy to use. You enter the amount of each item, and it will add it up for you. If you have sales tax turned on, it adds the tax to each item as you enter it, and tallies the total at the end, so you will not need to have a separate calculator. When you've entered everything, you select "charge." Select payment type. Then you run the card through.



The customer will have to sign on your phone. Unless you want various fingerprints/smudges on there, you might want to find a simple stylus to use. Luckily, I had one on the end of a highlighter, so I just took that with me. It worked beautifully.

Note that Square takes a percentage of each sale. It differs, depending upon whether you are sliding a card or manually entering a card number (if the reader isn't reading the stripe.)

Cash Sales

The day before the event, I went to the bank to grab some petty cash. I also spent the evening rolling coins from our coin jar so I'd have a roll of each type. You can get money bags at office places like Staples. I had a couple left over from when I did Mary Kay, so I took one of those, but it was just a basic one. There are also locking ones you can get if you want the extra security. And cash boxes. And all kinds of things. Peruse. Choose. Yay.

You can use the Square app as your POS (point-of-sale) system, meaning if you take cash instead of card, you can still enter it into the app, just as you would use a register, and then you click to charge, and select "cash." It lets you enter the money tendered and tells you the change. Woo-hoo! Your cash sales appear with your credit card sales on the reports. It's fantastic! This is also true of check purchases. I did not have one of those, so I don't know if it has you enter the check number or anything like that.

No Signal, No Problem

I had read some comments on the DCC Facebook page before the event saying there were problems with cell phone signals at this venue last year, so I did a little research (Square makes it pretty easy), and discovered that Square can be taken offline if there are issues with the signal. Sure enough, I got there and discovered I had no signal. It was as easy as going into the menu and setting it to offline. It took the credit card payments and stored them in the system, and as soon as I had a signal again, they went through. To set to offline, you go to the menu, click "settings" then "offline mode." Slide the selector so it's on, and move forward with your sales.

Deposits & Taxes

Square automatically moved the money over at the end of the day, and they sent reports each day, so it made it easy to file the sales taxes, which had to be done by the 20th of the following month. I went ahead and did it about a week after the event, just to have it done with. My Denver taxes had to be printed up, filled out, and mailed in. The state taxes were completed online. I spent forever trying to register on their system, only to discover I didn't have to register to do a special event sales tax payment the way I'd need to with regular sales taxes if I had an ongoing license with them. Point being, it was way easier than I thought it was supposed to be. Whoops! It wasn't until I picked up the actual license they'd sent to me that I saw the instructions directing me to a different spot than the regular taxes. So, yeah, totally read all those words on your special event license. Sometimes they have instructions for filing.

Both of these tax types rounded the amount of sales, so my amount was $x.90, and I had to round up to the next whole dollar amount. They each then have a percentage to multiply that amount by, and you enter the amount. That's what you pay. Easy peasy.

Book Signings at Bookstores

I was curious how all this works at a book signing a person is doing at a bookstore like Barnes and Noble, so I asked a friend who has done several signings at bookstores. She said she consigned there the first time, so didn't have to have a sales tax license or POS system, and once her books were returnable to the original order company (usually Baker & Taylor or Ingram), they just ordered them and had them stocked on their own. So once again, no sales tax license or POS system needed. They had the books there already, they handled the payments and taxes, and she did the signings.

So far, in my experience, you'll do consignment at a conference, smaller convention, and possibly at a bookstore, if your books are not returnable to a source company. If your books are returnable, a bookstore or conference will order them for you when you do a signing there, but this means you don't get money paid directly to you. You'll get your royalty check later. It should be noted that I have no idea if they will ever order your books for you at a fan con, but from what I've seen, they will not. And at certain types of fan conventions (I asked a couple friends, and they said it is usually just at the big ones), you'll have to take payments on your own, meaning you have to get a special event sales tax license. You have to take and pay these taxes, even if you paid taxes on getting those copies of the books already. So when I ordered my cheaper copies via CreateSpace, I paid sales taxes, and then when I sold them, I had to charge sales tax and pay it again. You're welcome, government.



I don't know how consistent these methods are, so be sure to always check on your own behalf. This is just intended to give you an idea of what you might be able to expect at various types of events/locations. If you can't find how they handle the books online, and they don't give you that information in advance, give them a call or send them an email and ask. And do so in advance. You don't want to be scrambling for a sales tax license two weeks before the event.

#

Hopefully this saves someone else some time and/or panic. Just a tip: I made myself a sheet with a place to enter the sales amounts, plus tax amounts, totals paid, and method of payment. At the bottom of that sheet, I had the price of each book written down for easy reference, and so I wouldn't have to put stickers on the books as price tags (not all my books had amounts on the back.) You can actually enter each item into the Square register so you just select that item instead of punching in the dollar amount, but I chose not to do it that way. If I were doing bigger sales, I probably would have, but it didn't seem worth the work at the time. I'll have to play with that option before next time, though. I figure I can enter each book/magazine as it comes out, so it's in the system in case I need it.

Have you worked an event where you had to sell your books yourself? Did you know you had to get a sales tax license for it? What do you think of Square? Or do you use a different type of system, like PayPal, which I believe has a reader now? Have your events worked the same as I listed above, or have you found it's different?

May you find your Muse.

*Square images from Square.com
*Uncle Sam Pointing from clker.com, OCAL

Craft Book Review - Finish Your Book in Three Drafts - Horwitz

I don't do reviews on here by request except in the rare instances where I'm asked to look at a book on the craft of writing. So far, I've never been steered wrong on these, and this time is no exception.

Stuart Horwitz now has three books out, all a part of the Book Architecture Trilogy. The first two are Blueprint Your Bestseller: Organize and Revise Any Manuscript with the Book Architecture Method and Book Architecture: How to Plot and Outline Without Using a Formula. The one I'll be reviewing today is Finish Your Book in Three Drafts: How to Write a Book, Revise a Book, and Complete a Book While You Still Love It.


I kept putting off reading this book, not because I wasn't looking forward to reading it, but because I read craft books differently than I read other types of books. I need time to jot down notes and to digest them, and I often have to break down my reading into installments. I didn't think I had the time to get this done until after Comic Con (I freeze up when I have presentations coming up, and I focus solely on those, to the detriment of other things.) It turns out, I would have been fine.

This book is broken down into only seven easy-to-follow chapters. It splits the act of writing and revising into three drafts: the messy draft, the method draft, and the polished draft. It includes access to nine videos on the Book Architecture website, plus nine PDFs that go deeper into certain aspects of the book, allowing you to explore them further, if you so choose, without muddying up the premise of the physical book.


The messy draft of the book is the creative act. He recommends getting those words on paper, even giving tips on how to generate material and how to KEEP generating material. He makes it easy by clearly conveying what you are trying to accomplish with this first draft. Hint: it's not perfection.

As he says on page 30, "You can't mess up the messy draft." Yet how many of us get stuck on the first draft if something isn't right? Stuart gives us the reassurance we need to go forth and spew out wordage.

The second/method draft is about making sense of what you've written in the first draft. In short, pantsers will love the messy draft, while plotters will love the method draft. This second draft is broken down into several steps, with the focus on discovering your scene, series, and theme. (Note: "series" does not refer to a book series, but to repetition of points in your story.)

Included in this draft are beta readers, with tips on what to look for in beta readers, questions you should be asking them, and how you use what they give you. This is a great, albeit short, section for those of us who struggle with this aspect. As with everything else, he breaks it down into simple terms and methods.

The polished draft is the one we make pretty. It's our final draft that we would be willing to send out to agents and editors. While he covers how to polish it, he also gives you permission to call it done without trying to find every minute detail that might need fixing.


I actually read this book in a single installment, taking notes, while internalizing quite a bit of what he said. He intentionally makes the process simple, while indicating ways to go deeper. There are several references to processes other writers have used, such as JK Rowling. He also covers killing your darlings, with pointers on removing unnecessary material you have a hard time parting with.

It should be noted that I first met Stuart at a Pikes Peak Writers workshop. From there, he has worked with a few of my friends as an independent editor or book coach, and I've heard only good from them. I highly recommend him as a speaker. He is engaging and friendly, in addition to being professional. This shows through in his books, as well, with a voice that's easy to read and to relate to.

This book can stand alone, but the entire series is a worthwhile read.

Check out his books on his website: http://bookarchitecture.com/books/



Stuart Horwitz is a ghostwriter, independent editor, and founder and principal of Book Architecture (www.BookArchitecture.com). Book Architecture’s clients have reached the best-seller list in both fiction and non-fiction, and have appeared on Oprah!, The Today Show, The Tonight Show, and in the most prestigious journals in their respective fields. He is the author of three books on writing: Blueprint Your Bestseller (Penguin/Perigee), which was named one of 2013’s best books about writing by The Writer magazine, Book Architecture (2015) which became an Amazon bestseller, and Finish Your Book in Three Drafts which was released in June of 2016.

Have you figured out a simple method for breaking down the drafts of your books? Have you read one of these books or attended one of his workshops? What craft books do you recommend?

May you find your Muse.

*Images provide by Stuart Horwitz
*Book covers from his website, www.bookarchitecture.com

Friday, July 8, 2016

Horror List Book Review: Flowers in the Attic

I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.

This week I'm reviewing Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews.


This is one of those books that's so well known that I felt like I'd already read it. Only, I hadn't. Hearing about it is one thing. Reading it is a different beast. I didn't expect to like it. From seeing parts of the movie, I thought I had the feel of it, but I didn't fully.

I finished this book a couple weeks ago. A lot of these books have faded away after I read them, but this one has stuck with me. While it's not the best book ever, what it makes you feel can't be erased. I tried to put my finger on how I could like it, while also acknowledging the lack of initial writing skill. What it comes down to is that V.C. Andrews was a gifted storyteller, but not yet the best writer. I'm sure her writing developed as she went, but as this is the only book of hers I've read, I can't say.

The story arc is what provides the greatest impact. We go from a happy, perfect little family, with supportive parents and pretty well-behaved kids, to a horror-fest of neglect and evil. 

The gist of the story is that the father dies, and the mother takes them to her childhood home, where she allows her own mother to lock them in the attic under the pretense that they will be out quickly, once she has convinced her father to love her again, and to forgive her for her sins. Sins I won't go into here, because they're revealed to the reader at about the same pace as they're revealed to the narrator of the story, the oldest girl of the family.

As an adult going into this, I knew it couldn't be that easy. But the kids don't know that. Even as an adult, I had no idea just how long these kids would be locked in the attic. I knew it had to be a whole book's worth of time, but for all I knew, the pacing would be different.

At first, I couldn't understand how the mother was the bad guy. Obviously it was HER mother that was the issue. While that's partially true, the real gut punch is a mother's indifference, especially in direct contrast to how she treated her children in the beginning. 

This story wasn't scary; it was heartbreaking. The horror lies in the fact that children are neglected by their mothers every day in real life. Children are locked in rooms, in attics, in basements, sometimes even in cages. There's a famous case cited in Psychology texts about a child kept in a single room, whose mental development was deeply impacted by this. This horror is built slowly and naturally in this story, with the reader holding out hope that something will change, that someone will do something. There were parts I read with a hand clinched. I kept finding myself having to talk to my husband about it, because I knew what was coming, but it was taking me too long to get there. Would I have felt the same way if I weren't a mom? If I'd read this in high school like everyone else? I have no idea. What I do know is that the theme of incest was not the worst part for me. That's what everyone shrieks about (or whispers about), but I was far more affected by the evil indifference and selfishness of the two mothers depicted in this book.

I was a bit annoyed in the beginning, because the youthful narrator tried to give background and set the story through quite a bit of info dumping that didn't seem to fit the narrative or dialogue in places. This continued to a lesser extent through the rest of the book. I decided to wave that aside and continue. Once you get to the meat of the story, the pace accelerates. And the issue with the story is that the author wants us to figure out the awful truths and secrets this family hiding, which means she has to find a way to convey that through a naive young girl's experiences while locked in the attic.

There were places where I just wanted to fast forward. This was a combination of unnecessary material being kept in the book, possibly for length, and the need to see these kids get out of this situation and/or get some sort of revenge or vindication.

The character voice is pretty well done. It's told by the eldest daughter. The confusion of puberty, added to being stuffed into an attic and left behind by someone you love, is thoroughly developed in the pages of this book. 

Again, I didn't expect to like it. I thought it would be fickle and tacky. But the heart behind it, the horror anyone who has loved and been deceived can imagine, was worth the read, even if the writing style wasn't. I've seen it compared to soap operas and melodramas, which is true enough, but writers need to know storytelling as much as writing dynamics, and this is one way to see that. 

I would compare it to Twilight, in that the author had a compelling story to tell, but didn't necessarily have the genuine writing ability to convey it just right. Still, that didn't stop either author from selling tons of books, which goes to show that the story itself goes a long way, even in the absence of fully developed writing talent. I did have to shut down the editor in me to get through, but I was WILLING to do that in order to get to the end. 

Speaking of the end, I wasn't terribly fond of it. But I can't say more without giving things away. Just that I was disappointed.

I'm having a hard time figuring out the ranking, but I'll rank it somewhere between where I think its impact on me places it versus where the writing quality would place it.

My new rankings:

1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
9. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
10. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
11. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
12. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
13. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
14. Prime Evil (Douglas E. Winter)
15. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
16. Flowers in the Attic (V.C. Andrews)
17. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
18. Shadowland (Peter Straub)
19. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
20. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
21. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
22. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
23. World War Z (Max Brooks)
24. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury) 
25. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
26. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
27. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
28. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
29. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell) 
30. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)

The next book I'll be reviewing is Naked Lunch, by William S. Boroughs.

Have you read Flowers in the Attic? What did you think? Did you read it as a teen or an adult? Do you think that colored your view of it? 

May you find your Muse.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

IWSG - Conquering Insecurity & Links

It's the first Wednesday of July (July?? Summer's half over!), which means it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, created by Alex J. Cavanaugh.


Anyone can participate in the IWSG by posting their insecurities or reassurances (or a combination of both). Simply sign up at Alex's blog and put your post up! Then visit fellow IWSGers.

Also, be sure to visit the co-hosts for this month's IWSG: Yolanda Renee, Tyrean Martinson, Madeline Mora-Summonte , LK Hill, Rachna Chhabria, and JA Scott!

There's now a monthly question you can answer. This month's question is "What's the best thing someone has ever said about your writing?"

I've got a short answer for this, and it's a double: 1. Your story scared me so much, I can't do x,y,z anymore, and 2. You made me cry.

Today I wanted to say, in brief, that to conquer your insecurities, you have to meet them head on. If you're afraid of putting your work in front of other people, go to a private critique session or find a critique group. If you're afraid of public speaking, try to get involved with some form of public speaking. If you're afraid to write sex scenes, slap one of those puppies out.

When you do the things you're afraid of, you take away their power. The writing world is full of fears, full of doing things that force us to put ourselves out there and make ourselves uncomfortable. But each thing we conquer takes us one step further.


STATS

Each month I do a recap of my submission stats and notes for the previous month. 

In June, I had 1 story accepted, submitted 0 stories, and got 4 rejections. It was a slow month. 

One of those rejections was one I'd already written off and resubmitted, as I didn't think I' be hearing from them (they had announced they'd made it through all submissions), so that one went down easy. In fact, it made me laugh.

I am, quite happily, down to 91 days as the maximum amount of time one of my pieces has been out awaiting a response.


LINKS 

Since it was IWSG week, I skipped my Monday post, so will include links here. This coming Monday, I'll be back on my summer posting schedule, which is Mondays only, with links on those days, and a horror list book review every other Friday.

Accepting Submissions:

Splickety Publishing Group is taking submissions for their October edition of Havok, theme HalloWhimsy. They're looking for humorous Halloween stories. 300-1000 words. Pays $.02/word. Deadline July 22. 

Dirge Magazine is looking for someone to do a monthly serial. They are currently taking 100-200 word pitches, plus a 1-2 sentence outline for each entry over the next 12 months. There will be a $200 advance, plus $50/month. Deadline for pitches July 31. 

Enchanted Conversation is open for fairy tale inspired stories and poems. 700 to 3000 words. Stories pay $30, poems $10. July submission theme is fairy godmothers. Deadline July 30.

Otter Libris is taking submissions for The Solstice Lady, a Christmas theme. 3000-10,000 words. Pays $25. Deadline July 31. 

Room is looking for food-related stories, poems, creative nonfiction, and art. Pays $50+ CAD, depending upon published page count. Up to 3500 words. Deadline July 31.

Digital Fiction Publishing Corp is open for reprint submissions in fantasy, science fiction, and horror. In addition, they have two special reprint anthologies open right now: Killing It Softly (stories by women) and Memento Mori (dealing with death). 3500-7500 words. Pays $.01/word. Deadline for all July 31. 

Body Parts Magazine is seeking horror and erotica with the theme Fairy Tales, Mythology, and Gods & Monsters. Flash fiction up to 1000 words or short fiction up to 8000 words. They also take art, photography, essays, and interviews. Pays between $5 and $20, depending upon submission type. Deadline August 1.

The First Line is taking submissions for their third quarter first line prompt: "Mrs. Morrison was too busy to die." Must begin with their first line. 300-5000 words. They also take poetry and nonfiction. Pays between $5 and $50, depending upon submission type. Deadline for this line is August 1.

The Shell Game is looking for submissions that combine creative nonfiction with ordinary sources (police reports, obituaries, recipes, etc.). 750 to 8000 words. Pays $100. Deadline August 1.

Of Interest:

Kim Liao wrote a piece entitled Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year. It was posted on Literary Hub, and I agree with the sentiment.

How have you conquered fears in the past? Are you working on conquering any right now? What is the best thing someone's said about your writing? Any of these links of interest? Anything to share? Did you submit anything in June?

May you find your Muse.

Monday, June 27, 2016

DCC Recap & Beyond the Trope Podcast Interview

Last weekend was Denver Comic Con, held at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver. Several months ago, I was invited to be faculty at DCC for their Literary Track, which was a fantastic opportunity. So after seeing how my husband felt about me possibly being up there on Father's Day (his response: "You're have a chance to be a speaker at Comic Con? You should definitely do that!"), I wrote back that I'd be delighted to take part.

We were encouraged, but not required, to propose panels we might find interesting. I proposed four; three ended up being picked up. I was on two of them, with the third occurring the day before I arrived. I also got to take part in an additional panel I hadn't proposed, but had expressed interest in, and did a two hour signing in Author Alley. That was the first thing I did. Finding my booth in the exhibition room was pure insanity. It took me awhile, but I finally found it by seeing my name on the board!



These were my first customers:



My awesome husband not only encouraged me to go, despite it being Father's Day weekend, but he came up with me on Saturday to support me. Usually, he's at home while I'm running around doing writery things, and it's a world he hasn't really been able to be a part of, but for DCC he sat with me for those two hours behind the signing booth, carried my giant bag full of those books and other items, took photos in my first panel, made sure I ate, and walked with me two blocks to the hotel while I checked in. We had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe on 16th St. before he headed home. He then came back up Sunday with the kids so we could go out for dinner in Denver.

My only panel on Saturday was "Monsters, Not Just for Horror Anymore." On this panel were DeAnna Knippling, Jade Goodnough, and Stephen Graham Jones. We discussed types of monsters, the genres they appear in other than horror, the difference in monsters between genres, and a ton more.


Later on, after my husband had gone home, I walked to a Hyatt by the convention center to meet friends at the bar. Instead of staying at the main floor bar, we went to one on the 37th floor, I believe it was. The view of the mountains was absolutely amazing, and we've vowed to go back. Plus, their desserts were yummy. I was so exhausted from the day that I got zero work done in the hotel room that night, despite having brought all kinds of projects with me, instead staring off into space while watching a show on natural disasters. I fell asleep to the sound of bongos and revelry down on the 16th Street Mall.

Sunday morning I had a panel on "Twisted Fairy Tales in Media," where we discussed the recent retellings of fairy tales, how fairy tales have changed through the decades, and what fairy tales we'd love to see retellings of. On this panel were Dana Simpson, DeAnna Knippling, Colleen Oakes, and Lisa Price Manifold.


My sister came to pick me up after this panel so we could run to lunch at a Native American restaurant in Denver to, as she put it, break the bread of our people. Tocabe was a cool place, though not what I expected. It was Chipotle-style, where you choose the type of meal (I chose Indian taco), your meat (chicken, beef, ground or shredded bison), and your toppings (green chilies, yummmmm). Some iced tea and fry bread nuggets, and I was dusting powdered sugar off my black shirt on the way back to my final panel.

My last panel was "Why We Write Short Stories," with the great Ed Bryant, Frank (F.P.) Dorchak, Josh Viola, and Ian Brazee-Cannon. This panel discussed the ins and outs of short stories, the draw, how they can benefit you, and what to do with them.




DCC attendees had great questions. Not in any of the panels did we lack for thoughtful questions to keep the conversation going. I met some authors who were new to me, got a new dress and a t-shirt, and enjoyed talking about writing. It was sometimes an overwhelming experience (my initial invitation said over 100,000 people were expected--DCC sold out Saturday tickets), but I found a nice, peaceful out-of-the-way place to go when I needed to be out of the steady stream of people. Plus, it was fun to see all the creative costumes. My favorites were gender swapped ones or familiar costumes made fresh with an unusual detail. For instance, there was a medieval Batman and a male slave Leia.

I also got to say hi to the Beyond the Trope folks, who put on a podcast about all things speculative fiction and geekery. Shortly after Comic Con, they posted my podcast interview with them about writing horror. You can check it out on Stitcher and iTunes (episode 106). We talked horror, short stories, urban fantasy, wendigo, and graphic novels. If you like this podcast, you can find a bunch more, plus blog posts, at the Beyond the Trope website. They're also looking for folks to interview, so contact them (info on that page) if you're interested. They can do it via Skype, so you don't have to be local.

Sadly, Cary Elwes, Ralph Macchio, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan did not magically turn up in my panels as I'd hoped they would, nor did I actually get to see them at all, but it was still a phenomenal weekend, and I'm glad I was able to be a part of it. I'll be doing a post on some set up/sales tax info I learned in order to do this event, so stay tuned. In the meantime, let's move on to links.

Bear in mind that I'm merely passing these along, not endorsing any of these. Always do your own due diligence before submitting.

Accepting Submissions:

Flash  Bang Mysteries is accepting all kinds of mysteries and suspense. Flash fiction between 500 and 750 words. Pays $10. Deadline July 31.

Strigidae Publishing is accepting submissions to Ceto's Brine, an anthology of ocean themed horror. No more mermaids, but everything else is fair game. 5000 t 12,000 words. Pays $30. Deadline July 31.

Chicken Soup for the Soul is looking for college student stories and parent to parent stories. Must be written in first person. Up to 1200 words. Pays $200. Deadline July 31.

Roane Publishing is seeking romance for the anthology Love Under the Harvest Moon. Fall/harvest themed romance. 7000 to 15,000 words. Pay not specified. Deadline July 31.

VQR is looking for literary short fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. 2000 to 8000 words for short fiction; other word counts vary. Pays $200 to $1000. Deadline July 31.

Fun Dead Publications is looking for chilling Christmas tales. 1000 to 6000 words. Pays $10. Deadline July 31.

Contests:

Map Literary is holding the Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award. 7000-12,000 words. Fiction, nonfiction, creative nonfiction, and prose poetry. Winner gets $250 and 25 copies of the published chapbook. Deadline July 30.

The I Must Be Off travel writing competition is in its fourth year. Travel articles, anecdotes, and reflections. Up to 1200 words. Cash prizes, plus publication. Deadline July 31.

Spirit's Tincture is holding a flash fiction contest for their inaugural issue. 500 to 1000 words. $100 grand prize. Deadline July 31.

Ever been to a Comic Con? What did you think? What's your fandom? What did you do for Father's Day? Any of these links of interest? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Horror List Book Review: Shadowland

I'm reading through three lists of best horror with two friends (DeAnna Knippling and M.B. Partlow), posting reviews as we go. (For more information, including a list of the books, see this post.) To see the books I've reviewed so far, you can view the list at the end of this post where I rank them.

This week I'm reviewing Shadowland, by Peter Straub.


I had trouble getting into this one, possibly because it was very removed from my own personal experiences. It's a coming of age story that begins in a boys' prep school with a bunch of privileged kids. There are some odd occurrences, but it's all minor at this point. There's a terrible bully named Skeleton, who becomes increasingly psychotic and dangerous. Even his own father has no idea what to do about him. 

And that's all I really have to say about the first 2/3 of the book.

It got interesting shortly after a fire in the school. Two of the boys, Tom and Del, leave town to go to Del's uncle's home to learn about magic. The uncle is obviously damaged. Del is afraid of him, but wants to be like him. Things get strange, with a mysterious young woman and a troupe of freaky men added to the mix. The uncle isn't just performing illusions -- he possesses real magic. He's twisted, and in need of an apprentice to hand it all over to, but his way of testing this is to torment the two boys. It soon becomes apparent that he sees more than he should, and that he has controlled things leading up to the boys' arrival.

Peter Straub wraps in a magical fantasy with the horrors of a disturbed set of adults. Things get confusing, because the characters are confused, embroiled in one man's insanity. The pacing is slow in the beginning, and a surprising amount of time is dedicated to the mundane. There were also details that got overlooked or left behind. The boys are there to learn magic, but all we see is some showing off on the uncle's part, with no learning occurring. Yet, one of the boys must stand up to him later in the story to overcome him, and just magically knows...magic.

Not my favorite, but Straub's writing power can't be debated. Maybe this would be more appealing to a male, or maybe it fell flat for other reasons.

My new rankings:

1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. A Choir of Ill Children (Tom Piccirilli)
6. The Year’s Best Fantasy: First Annual Collection (Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling)
7. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
9. The Stranger (Albert Camus)
10. Dead in the Water (Nancy Holder)
11. The Damnation Game (Clive Barker)
12. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
13. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
14. Prime Evil (Douglas E. Winter)
15. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
16. The Tomb (F. Paul Wilson)
17. Shadowland (Peter Straub)
18. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)
19. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
20. My Soul to Keep (Tananarive Due)
21. Penpal (Dathan Auerbach)
22. World War Z (Max Brooks)
23. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury) 
24. The Red Tree (Caitlin R. Kiernan)
25. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
26. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
27. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
28. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell) 
29. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)

The next book I'll be reading is Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Do you enjoy Peter Straub's writing? What's your favorite coming of age story?

May you find your Muse.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Factions of Writing

Before we jump into today's post, if you're going to be at Denver Comic Con, please look up my schedule on my Appearances tab and come say hi this weekend. I'll be talking monsters, fairy tales, and short stories, as well as signing books.

***

When I became a mom, I discovered there were factions. Working moms vs. stay-at-home moms. Breast feeding moms vs. formula. Disposable diapering moms vs. cloth. Vaxers vs. non-vaxers. I'd just thought when you were a mom you were part of the Mom Club, and that you minded your own business, and all was well.

I was mistaken.



This was my first big introduction to the fact that cliques form in high school because humans need to feel like a part of a group in order to figure out their own identities, and that this continues long into adulthood. It may take a different form than the infamous high school clique, but it's really all the same thing. Feeling like a part of a group apparently means you have to feel like you are somehow better than another group. We see this in religion and politics all the time, but it certainly doesn't stop there.

When I became part of the writing world, I found it there, too. I'd been writing for a long time, but I was not part of the Writing World before. I once again found myself embroiled in factions. Indie vs. traditional publishing. Genre vs. genre. Oxford comma vs. skipping the Oxford comma. Short stories vs. flash fiction vs. novels vs. poems. I discovered some groups look down on other groups. Horror is often seen as less than the rest of speculative fiction, and there are those that say the writers of horror must be terrible people, lacking in empathy and remorse. Romance writers are treated as if they're unintelligent or lack writing ability. Poets and other types of authors glare at each other over a wide divide.



Writers of certain genres are often stereotyped in these ways, and it isn't limited to romance and horror. Is it true you can sometimes tell what a person writes before they tell you? Yes, this does happen. And it's not a bad thing, but when it reaches the next level, it takes a dark turn.

Why do we do this? Looking at the reason for the formation of cliques, people need to feel accepted. I don't think anyone sets out to be part of a clique. They identify with a group of people, gravitate toward that group, and subconsciously work to prove they deserve to be there. Sadly, this can take the form of putting down other groups. Then you get your factions. It happens in prison. It happens in the business world. It's everywhere.



Of course genre writers are going to be pulled toward each other. If you write romance, you're going to enjoy talking to other romance writers, because you can compare notes, bat around ideas, relish the intricacies you're intimately familiar with. Mystery writers can discuss the best places and ways to hide bodies and plant clues. Historical writers can point out the best places for research. There is support, comfort, and safety in being around like minded people. Moving toward those you identify with doesn't make you a bad person.

But putting down other people to raise your status does.

I see this way too often. College educated folks putting down those who did not go to college. Moms putting down other moms. Traditional and Indie published authors at each others' throats. Genre vs. genre vs. literary vs. poet.



It's seemed amplified to me lately, and I don't know if that's because tensions are so high in the States with such a contentious presidential election going on or if it's symptomatic of a growing sense of helplessness, but I wish everyone could remember that, no matter your faction, we're all people. No one's better than anyone else. No method of doing something is better than any other. If we all did everything the same way and liked the same things, life would be incredibly dull.

Instead of putting someone else down, talk to them and find out why they enjoy the things they do, why they do things a certain way. Understand a different viewpoint. Settle your empathy in place and learn about other people. All it can do is enrich your own experience.

To be clear, I'm not just talking about writers here. Humans are given empathy for a reason. We're given the ability to use logic and reasoning, and we should use it. You can maintain your status and your own individual personality without ripping someone else apart to do it. That, at least, should be where adults grow out of their high school ignorance without losing the person they created and got to know during that time.



Edited to add a note: This post was written before the shooting this weekend. There was also an issue of a racist comment one author left on another author's Facebook yesterday, which has blown up. While I did not write this post about homophobia and racism, it certainly applies. I wish we could spend less time splitting ourselves into groups, and more time working together and caring about each other.


Now for links. Bear in mind that I'm not endorsing any of these, merely passing them along. Always do your own due diligence before submitting to a market or contest.

Accepting Submissions:

Outlook Springs is seeking fiction, nonfiction, and poetry "tinged with the strange." Pays between $10 and $25, depending upon submission type. Deadline July 15.

Helios Quarterly Magazine is seeking fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and art. Current theme "Miscommunication." Pay varies by type of submission. Deadline June 30.

Bad Apple Zine is seeking YA fiction with a taste of the fantastical. They want at least one story per issue written by someone between ages 16 and 21. Pays £15.

Contests:

Winter Tangerine Review is holding the Winter Tangerine Awards. Only those who have not published a collection or novel may enter. $250 cash prize, plus publication. No entry fee. Deadline July 1.

FutureScapes Writing Contest asks you to envision a certain world and write about it. Up to 8000 words. Cash prizes, $2000 for first; publication. No entry fee. Deadline July 15.

What factions have you noticed as an adult? What cliques did you discover hovering around that you hadn't been aware of before? Have you inadvertently found yourself as part of a clique? What did you do about it? Are any of these links of interest to you? Anything to share?

May you find your Muse.

*Cat Fight Silhouette, by OCAL, clker.com
*Cartoon Ninjas, by Kelly, clker.com
*Closed Fist, by OCAL, clker.com
*Boxing Bears, by OCAL, clker.com
*Fighting Cat Bandaged, by Ruth, clker.com