Monday, June 29, 2015

Critique Group Panel Discussion

I sat on a critique group panel a few weeks ago for Pikes Peak Writers. There was a lot of information exchanged, with several different types of critique groups, so I thought I'd pass along a little of the information discussed in case you're thinking of starting one or looking to join one. I couldn't take notes, really, since I was up there and wanted to stay engaged in the conversation, so this is what I remember.

Damon Smithwick, me, Donnell Ann Bell, Chris Mandeville, & Ron Cree

Type of Critique Group

First, we discussed the types of groups we had. They fell into the following categories:

Hybrid (some online via Facebook, some in person)
Online Only
Classic (in person)
Critique Partner instead of a group

For the hybrid group, they post a certain amount in a closed Facebook group, but do not give feedback there. They then print it up, critique it at home, then meet in person to go over their critiques. Note: If you are interested in something like this, be aware that Facebook claims ownership of anything posted (the reason I don't post my photos there if it's something I think I might want to try to sell someday.) If you'd like to know the specifics of this hybrid group, Damon posted about it on his blog. (And he said nice things about me there, so hey, go check that out. ;) )

I was in an online only group, where there was a free forum created specifically for that purpose. We had an area to chat, plus an area to post our pieces for critique. We were expected to critique all work posted once per week by replying under that post with our critique. Another way to do an online one is to simply exchange pieces and critiques via email or another online format. 

The critique partnership is just what it sounds like. Two people exchange work back and forth. This gives them the freedom to set the pace, so if there's a deadline looming they can agree to submit more of their work, and to submit it more often if needed. This is probably the fasted way to work through a novel other than just sending it to beta readers. (For a definition of beta readers vs. critique groups, you can view this post I did previously.)

I saved classic for last, because it was the most common. It can work in several different ways, but the general idea is to exchange your pieces then meet to go over the critique. You can exchange them on paper at the previous meeting, over email at some designated point in advance, and an audience member said they exchange them via Drop Box, where they have a folder for that purpose. 

How do you do the critique?

There are also a couple different ways to do the critiques (and I'm sure more than this, but these were ways discussed). One group reads them aloud, then gets comments from those around them. You have to be able to quickly give feedback with a format like this. The typical format is to send them out in advance, as mentioned above, and to critique them on your own time. Then you can discuss what you wrote down and what your thoughts were after having had time to give it more thought.

What do you critique?

It was addressed what is actually critiqued. By this I mean, do you critique the grammar/spelling/punctuation, plot, character, details, etc. Overall, it sounded like everything is usually covered. Whatever catches your eye. My group will specifically ask if there's something they want you to look at when they send it out. Otherwise, each of us brings our own personality and style to the critique, addressing those things that we tend to look out for. 

Are you all at the same writing level?

In general, the groups were at the same level. One of the panelists said he hand chose his group to have only already published authors in it. My group has a range of experience, from beginner to a member who worked as a journalist before switching to fiction. One panelist said it can be valuable to have someone who is more advanced than you in the group (of course, there is a point at which someone has to be the most qualified.) 

In my experience, someone at a higher level is going to address the specifics, the rules, the technicalities. Whereas someone at a lower level tends to view the story from the point of character and story. Both of these are valuable (and my experience is by no means the be all and end all.) One group will catch the things others will miss.

What do you do if there's a member who isn't participating/following the rules?

This one was split along gender lines, which was interesting. The ladies wanted to try to be polite and/or nice about it and find a discreet way to encourage that member to either step up or step out. The men both said, "Tell them to leave." 

Do you set rules? What are they?

Overall, having rules was thought to be a good idea. For my group, we didn't set them in the beginning which has complicated things at times and led to frustration. Rules to consider would be: a required participation level (how long can you go without submitting/critiquing before being removed), frequency of meetings, how much to submit (words/chapters), how often you'll meet (weekly, monthly), when/how to submit, and anything else you feel should be established in advance.

Where do you meet?

Meeting places vary from homes to libraries to restaurants/coffee shops. If you meet in a restaurant or coffee shop, you have to take into account background noise, interruptions, and if you write something like horror, mystery, erotica, or anything else that might be tricky to discuss in public. Given, sometimes it's a kick to discuss where the body's hidden or how you killed victim in public, but will there be kids there? In that case, not a great idea. Homes seem to allow for better concentration and less interruption.

Do you socialize or just critique?

This varied, as well, but it seemed like most of the panelists did a little socializing at the beginning then jumped into work. One panelist said she was in it to work, not to socialize. My group chats for about half an hour before getting down to business.

How do you form a group? Where do you find other members?

As I said above, one panelist hand picked the members of his critique group from published authors he already knew. My group was made up of friends, and started when two of the ladies discussed the need for a group and put it together from there. In general, they were started with friends with mutual interests.

If you don't have a bunch of writers living around you or in your social circle, try checking out local writer's groups. Look at for writer's groups. Attend local writer's conferences and talk to people. Join online groups of writers and see if you can put your own online group together. After you've found likely candidates, you just get together and talk. Put together the group you'd like to have.

How do you choose who to let into the group?

Overall, it was preferred to have a closed group. By closed group, I mean you choose who you let in and keep the number relatively small. Choose people you get along with, whose opinions you will respect, and who won't be too nice or too nasty. You don't want someone who will berate you, but you also don't want someone to just pat you on the back and not say anything helpful. 

I had to submit a writing sample and answer a questionnaire to get into the online critique group I was part of. These were posted on the forum and voted on by the other members. They agreed to let me in. This isn't a bad idea. I'd definitely recommend it if you're putting together a group of people you aren't friends with, so you have a means of screening the group and seeing who is a good fit.

Do you all write in the same genre or does it matter?

For the most part, each group had a variety of genres. However, it was important that you had an interest/general knowledge of the other genres. My group has a horror/fantasy/young adult writer, an urban fantasy/mystery writer, two fantasy writers, a memoir/fantasy writer, and a middle grade fantasy writer. As you can see, there's a variety in some ways, but a lot of fantasy is represented, as well. It's also worth pointing out that, while most people in the group are submitting novels for critique, out of all the panelists and my own group, I'm the only one currently using it for short stories. 

How do you know a critique group isn't right for you/that it's time to leave?

If there is someone in your critique group that makes you feel bad about your writing, that discourages you, leave. If you aren't getting a helpful critique, leave. If all they do is pat you on the back and tell you how great your writing is without contributing any helpful criticism or feedback, leave. 

If it's not working for you in any way and it's not something you feel you can work on changing, leave. Only you can know if your group is helping you or holding you back.

How do I know I'm ready for a critique group?

If you are just starting, it may not be a good time for a critique group. Getting criticism that hurts you and kills your desire to write, or that makes you think you're writing crap and should just give up is not what a critique group is for. You need to not only be at a point in your writing where feedback is going to be valuable, but you need to be confident enough in your writing to wade through the feedback you're going to get. Some things they suggest will be right for you, and some won't. I comb through the feedback and keep those things that make me nod. Chances are, they've said something I was already thinking. If more than one person says the same thing, it probably at least deserves a second look, even if you ultimately decide not to accept that change. But you need to be at a point in your writing that you won't just blindly accept every suggestion of a change you get. You need to know what works for your piece and what doesn't. And you need to have the conviction to ignore feedback that doesn't benefit you.

In closing

I can't remember what else we discussed, but if you have questions feel free to leave them in the comments. I'm sure I forgot to mention a bunch of things that were discussed. The panel was a success, with lots of audience questions and interaction, which was wonderful. We panelists agreed on some things, but not on others, which was perfect and allowed for some discussion. 

Basically, what I'd like to leave you with is that you should look at your personal needs before deciding whether to join a group, and which group to join. What do you want out of it? What are your expectations of the group? Can the people in this group help you? Can you help them? Are you prepared to give critiques, as well as receive them? What is your end goal? What do you feel you bring to the table?

Finally, I figured I'd share my fellow panelists' books.

Damon Smithwick (writing as Damon Alan) - Amazon Author Page

Donnell Ann Bell - Amazon Author Page

Chris Mandeville - Amazon Author Page

Do you have a critique group? How does it work? Online or in person? Did you set rules? What are they? How often do you get together? What has been your worst critique group experience? Do you agree or disagree with anything above? Any questions I didn't address?

May you find your Muse.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

What do You See? & Links

Since I'm missing my hikes right now, I figured I'd post more pictures from my previous hike in Ute Valley Park.

It's impossible to get lost when you can always find Pikes Peak from the high points.

Now, what do you see in these rocks? Prairie dogs?

How about in this one? Do you see the smiley face?

Accepting Submissions:

Ideomancer seeks speculative fiction and poetry that are unique and non-traditional. Up to 7000 words. Pays $.03/word for fiction, $6 per poem. Submissions close July 31.

New Myths is looking for speculative fiction (but no graphic horror). Up to 10,000 words. Also take non-fiction dealing with fantasy/sci-fi and writing, and poetry. Pays between $20 to $50, depending upon story type. Deadline July 31.

Red Moon Romance is seeking submissions of short cowboy romance (American west or Australian outback) for an anthology. 3000-20,000 words. Can be mixed with other genres, such as paranormal, steampunk, sci-fi, etc. Pays in profit share and paperback copy. Deadline July 31.

WolfSinger Publications is seeking speculative fiction stories about trolls, gargoyles and other bit part fantasy creatures for an anthology entitled "Misunderstood." 1000-6000 words. Pays $5, plus royalties. Deadline August 1.

Dreamspinner Press is seeking short romance stories concerning end of year holidays (Christmas, boxing day, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, etc.) Must have a happy ending. 5000-18,000 words. Pay isn't specified, but it's for an anthology, so likely royalties. Deadline August 1.

Helen Literary is open for submissions of short fiction with the theme "Animal." 500-5000 words for fiction. Lengths vary for poetry, non-fiction. Also take artwork. Pay is between $2 and $10, plus a subscription to the journal. Deadline August 1.


The First Line is holding their quarterly contest. Use the first line provided (currently "The old neighborhood was nearly unrecognizable.") to write a story of between 300-5000 words. No entry fee. Winners are not ranked--they are published. Pays $25-50 for fiction. Pay varies for poetry and non-fiction. Deadline August 1.

Blog Stuff:

The Cover Girls started a new blog hop in May. Fast Five Friday is all about lists. Each Friday there is a new topic; you write down a list of five things in response to it. You do not have to participate every week--just pick and choose the topics that interest you.

Of Interest:

The Clarion 2015 Write-A-Thon is going on now through August 1. You can support other writers or be a participant. Participants ask folks to sponsor them in a write-a-thon.

Plasma Frequency Magazine is closing its doors after bank fraud wiped them out. There is little hope of them getting their money back. Hopefully they can do a Kickstarter or something, but I haven't seen that mentioned.

What do you see in the rocks? Do you play this game when you go for a walk or hike? Any of these links of interest to you? Experience with any of these publications? Anything to share? Publishing news?

May you find your Muse.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Horror List Book Review: Blood Meridian

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 Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy.

I already posted about punctuation issues in this book in another post, so I'll only touch on them quickly. In that post I talked about the fact that Cormac McCarthy writes in a very specific way, which can be hard to get past enough to read the book. He didn't use quote marks at all for dialogue, commas were rare, apostrophes were rare, he wrote stream of conscious, there were major run-on sentences (some around a page long), and uses of the commas and apostrophes were inconsistent, so I could never find rhyme nor reason for why he chose to use the ones he did.

However, once I posted my little rant about this, I was able to let it go enough to get through the rest of the book.

One of the things I saw repeatedly complained about in other reviews of this book (I looked at the reviews before I realized this book was on my list) was the violence. I fear this is telling, but I didn't find the violence overwhelming. Possibly it was because I read those five billion reviews complaining about it before I hit much of it. But, really, it's a western. I grew up on spaghetti westerns. The Old West is always depicted as violent.

Another reason it probably didn't bother me so much is because the way he wrote made me feel separate from the action. I felt removed. I never engaged with the characters too much. There was one I felt for, because he seemed to stick to some version of morality compared to the others. He was called "the ex-priest." He had a name, too, but it was only used a couple times, so I've forgotten it. Tobin, maybe. Names really didn't matter, anyway. You see, the characters were "the judge," "the kid," Glanton, "the imbecile," Toadvine, "the ex-priest," "the black," and various and sundry others, including a couple Delawares. 

Oh, another grammar choice was the lack of capitalizations on some things. The names above are not capitalized because they aren't capitalized in the book. Mexican wasn't capitalized. So on and so forth.

In addition, there's a lot of un-translated Spanish. I knew enough to get me through, but if you don't have some understanding of Spanish, you'll miss small aspects. I don't think any of it was integral to the story, though.

I skipped what the story was about. Whoops. It follows a group of men who are hunting renegade Apache who are killing travelers. Only these hunters kill travelers, too. And when they can't find the Apache, they just go ahead and wipe out villages of peaceful tribes. They lie, cheat, and steal. They randomly kill people and animals, including driving an entire mule train off the side of a mountain. 

A lot of reviewers who loved the book claimed this was the "real story" of the Old West. Well, they weren't there and neither was I, so I couldn't tell you. It seemed to me to be the same story told over and over about the West, and from what I've read, those stories usually aren't so accurate. I couldn't say for sure. I did see several sources that said he did extensive research, including reading a book by a man who claimed to be part of the Glanton Gang (the gang of mercenaries this book is based on.) What I will say is that the white men (and one black man) were doing an awful lot of scalping. One of them kept ears on a string around his neck. There was rape, though not descriptive and explicit (thank goodness). It would appear there was implied pedophilia by the judge, as well. And just as in any other western, the Native American characters had no personalities. Shocker. Even the Delawares, who never actually spoke. They quietly rode along, scouted ahead, killed babies, disappeared to go do Indian things, I suppose. 

Then again, I think he purposely made his characters oblique and hard to relate to. The judge was the big bad guy. He didn't appear to have a conscience. Yet he was apparently respected by higher ups. I found him a bit like how Charles Manson is being depicted in Aquarius right now. He gave ridiculous speeches, orated bullshit, philosophized. Blah blah blah blah shut up. 

The main character was the kid, but we didn't know much about him either. We basically traveled alongside him by happenstance. Fancy meeting you here. He was fairly set in his ways, despite only being fourteen. Outside of knowing that number, you'd never know he's an actual kid by his life.

It took me awhile to figure out how we were being held at a distance, because I was distracted by the grammar at the beginning. Then it struck me that we never actually get a character's reaction to anything internally. It's sort of an omniscient POV, but as a bystander, nothing more. There's no horror at their actions. Or even glee, really. These are just the things they do. By rote. And maybe that should be the most horrifying part of it. Toadvine and the ex-priest may have had the most conscience. Toadvine actually reacts to some things, such as the killing of a child. Perhaps he was trying to show the reader that the West wore a man down, took the humanity out of him?

I've already gone on way too long, but there's a lot to say about this book. I likely won't read another book by Cormac McCarthy, but I will say that it grew on me. The part I've so far failed to mention (though I did in the previous post) is that his descriptions/settings were vivid, somehow beautiful, even when they were harsh. He set each scene so you could picture it. The scenery was almost more of a character than the actual characters. There were sights, smells, sounds. His pacing was solid, plenty of action. Once I got past the punctuation and killer run-on sentences, I settled into the book. I spent the entire time worried that on the next page would be the violence I was expecting that I could not handle. While it wasn't a quick read, it also didn't take me any longer than most books do.

It bears mentioning that the grammar/punctuation is intentional. It's obviously not that he doesn't know how to write. He was even able to get that old spaghetti western vibe into writing. Men of few words. A callousness they can no longer seem to help. A bright white-hot sun that bleaches out the world around them. Pain, thirst, hunger, misery, filth. No, everything he does in this book, whether for better or for worse, is intentional. It's meant to illicit some response. I could see this being a book writing students were told to analyze to find the layers, the purposes, the tricks used to accomplish what he's written here. 

So, yeah. This is another one I'm conflicted on. And now I sit here trying to figure out where to put it in my rankings. It's one I've thought about for days since finishing. It needs to be digested. Each day I might feel a different way. I suspect the ranking might surprise you, considering how much time I spent criticizing elements of it, but hey, I like westerns, and I'm fascinated by what he did and the choices he made with his style. I will likely discuss this one with others for awhile to come.

My new rankings:

1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
5. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
6. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
7. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
8. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy
9. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
10. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury)
11. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
12. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
13. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
14. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell
15. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)

Surprised? Have you read Cormac McCarthy? This book specifically? What's your favorite McCarthy? Do you feel each way he broke the rules was deliberate?

May you find your Muse.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Have You Tried Turning it Off Then On Again? & Links

I'm back after technical difficulties that kept me from posting Monday! I was a bit panicky when I couldn't find a way to get into my own blog. Now I need to give my tech husband a hard time about carbon based errors. He had blocked YouTube, and it managed to block Google Plus and Blogger along with it, despite my Gmail working fine. Weird how it picked and chose what it wanted to block.

Why, yes. Yes I had.

Now for some links. Bear in mind that I am not endorsing these, merely passing them along.

Accepting Submissions:

Strange Horizons is open for submissions. Up to 10,000 words. Speculative fiction. Pays $.08/word. (Thanks to John Wiswell for mentioning they were reopening!)

Briarpatch Magazine is looking for writing on current events, as well as artwork. They prefer you query first. Queries for the November/December issue with the theme "Labour" close July 10. Pay varies from $50 to $150 per type of submission.

Saturday Night Reader is seeking flash fiction up to 1000 words. Most genres. Pays $5 CAD per published story.

Silver Screen Books is publishing novelettes each month themed around B movies from the 50s. Between 7500 and 10,000 words. Pays $20-$25, depending upon length. Also pays in a contributor copy (both e- and paperback) and a further contract for two novelettes.

Flash Fiction Online is looking for flash between 500 and 1000 words. Genre is open. Pays $60 per story.

You & Me Magazine wants stories about your personal experiences with medical illnesses. They expect articles to be between 1000 and 3000 words. Payment is somewhere around $.04-.05/word.

Poetry Foundation is accepting poetry, including visual poetry. Can submit up to four poems at a time. Pays $10 per line.

Of Interest:

Business Insider put up a story by Maggie Zhang: 22 Lessons From Stephen King on How to Be a Great Writer.

99U posted a piece by Jamie Todd Rubin on productivity: How I Kept a 373-Day Productivity Streak Unbroken.

Marketing Land put out a story by Kelsey Libert on what publishers want in a pitch: Survey of 500+ Publishers Reveals How They Want to be Pitched, Part II.

Any of these of interest? Anything to share? Publishing news?

May you find your Muse.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wednesday Already?? & Links

Whoops! Now that my kids are out of school I'm having trouble keeping my days straight. I'm pretty sure it's Wednesday, which means I need to put out a links post. Yikes!

Yep, I just consulted with my computer, and it is, in fact, Wednesday.

Thank you, Computer.

Since I'm woefully unprepared, I'm going straight to the links.

Accepting Submissions:

Uncanny Magazine is looking for speculative short fiction. 750-7500 words. Pays $.08/word. They are only open to submissions from June 16 to June 23. (Thanks for the info, DeAnna!)

Story Magazine wants your take on their themes. This month's is Un/Natural World. No word restrictions. Pays $20/page for prose and $30 per poem. Current theme deadline is July 15.

LampLight Magazine is seeking dark fiction. They take flash fiction and short stories. 2000-7000 words (1000 or less for flash.) Pays $150 for short stories and $50 for flash. Current issue deadline July 15.

A Two Dame Production is putting together a literary erotica anthology, A Slice of Sin. Up to 4000 words. Pays $25 and a contributor copy. Deadline July 15.

Lightspeed is looking for science fiction and fantasy. 1500-10,000 words. They prefer 5000 or less. Pays $.08/word. Deadline July 15. (Thanks to John for the info!)

Splickety Havok is accepting stories for their October issue. Theme is Shivers & Screams. Fiction under 1000 words. Pays $.02/word. Deadline July 24.

Country Magazine is open for submissions. They pay $250 for stories that run a page or more. A page is about 400-500 words.

Grimdark Magazine is looking for grimdark fantasy and science fiction. Stories up to 4000 words. Pays $.07 AUD/word.

Cicada is looking for YA. Current call for submissions with the theme Ghosts. Up to 9000 words for fiction, up to 5000 for non-fiction, poetry, comics, and art. They take work from teens, too! Stories and articles pay up to $.25.word, poetry up to $3 per line. Deadline for this issue is June 26.


A Life Examined is doing a fun and easy blog hop the first Monday of each month. Each participant answers that month's question. Simple! July's question is: What are three things you'd do tomorrow if fear wasn't stopping you?

Any of these of interest to you? Anything to add or share? Got a teen who might like to write a story or article? Have you read any of these magazines or submitted to them? 

May you find your Muse.

Monday, June 8, 2015

My Pledge

I wasted way too much time yesterday reading through another author meltdown in response to a bad review. I couldn't tear myself away, because he just kept responding, digging deeper and deeper.

It was horrible.

It had already gone viral, which is how I happened across it. The author has now been removed from GoodReads. Not only had he violated TOS by harassing and attacking a reviewer (and yes, nasty personal things were said), but then he put up a blog post saying he would send free copies to anyone who would give him a 5-star review.


I'm not going to re-link to it here, and I suspect most of you will have heard of it already, anyway. After all, there were at least three blog posts put up about it over the weekend. Those were just the ones someone linked to. Not only that, but they grabbed screen captures of stuff that has now been removed.

No, the point in posting this is to make a pledge to my future readers that I will not attack you if you give an honest review. I'll curl up in the fetal position, rock for awhile, sob, eat a lot of ice cream. But I will not attack you. I will likely take it personally, even though I know better, but I will still not attack you. I may write bad sad poetry about it, or journal about it, but I will not attack you. (Okay, just kidding about the bad sad poetry and journaling, but hey, it's an option.)

What's the point in reviews if they aren't honest? I realize I just have short works published in anthologies/magazines, so I haven't felt that pain yet, but I'm seeing over and over authors that flat out state that it is an attack if you give them a low rating on a book, and that you should not have left the review if you didn't like it. They insist that only good reviews should be posted. Well then, why post reviews? Why? If people can't depend upon them being honest (and I realize we already can't), why bother?

This guy went so far as to call the reviewer evil and immoral. And worse.

Mind = blown.

So why not join me in a pledge to your readers? Hell, if some creative human being out there wants to make a badge of the Author's Pledge, I'll happily post it.

Don't know the unspoken rule?


Did you see the review I'm talking about? How many times have you seen an author go over the edge due to a bad review? What do you feel are the unspoken rules for authors reading their own reviews? Do you read your reviews or skip them?

May you find your Muse.

Car Over the Cliff by OCAL
Hand by Shannon

Friday, June 5, 2015

Horror List Book Review: From the Dust Returned

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 From the Dust Returned, by Ray Bradbury.

(Cover artwork by Charles Addams)

First off, this book isn't horror. I know many of you don't read horror, but this doesn't qualify. It doesn't even pretend to.

I find Ray Bradbury to be a lyrical writer. His word choices, the flow of his writing, the pictures he paints, they're all so delicious that I can feel them in my mouth as if I'm reading aloud, even though I'm not. They have such a substance to them. Sometimes that's a bad thing, because I lose myself in enjoying his wordplay more than the story itself. And sometimes I have to read a sentence over again because the meaning was beyond me at first.

This novel made me think of The Addams Family or The Munsters, and that's what this story is like. It follows a family of misfits, monsters even. Some have been around since King Tut's time. Each family member has their own special ability. One has wings like a bat. One can flutter about the world in other people's bodies, creatures of all kinds, and even dandelion fluff. They take in an orphaned child who is pure human (reminding me even more of The Munsters, but she was a cousin, if I remember correctly.)

There is nothing frightening about this family, despite the fact that they're classic monsters. The story is whimsical. It's a commentary on the changing of time and how it can impact a family. How you can go from great heights to dust. During the time of their origins they were respected and feared, but now people don't believe in them, and they're losing power.

While they need people to believe in them in order to continue on in their existence, they walk a fine line between semi-belief and a belief so thorough that humans will hunt them down. They want people to fear them a little, to believe something bad is possible, but not to come after them with torches a la Frankenstein.

Several chapters felt disjointed from the rest of the novel, as if they'd been written at a different time. They felt like self-contained stories that were related to the rest of the novel, but were somehow apart. Lo and behold, when I got to the end I found a listing of several chapters that had been published as short stories a couple decades before. This didn't ruin the story for me, but it was noticeable and bears mentioning. 

This was a quick read, each chapter a story about a different character and the way life had changed for them through the years (decades, centuries). I enjoyed reading it for the beauty of the prose, the pacing was pretty good. While it wasn't action packed, it was brief. There was an arc, but I was still left at the end wondering if there was really a point in having put it together in a novel. It was clear he was fond of this family and these characters, though, and it was a project close to his heart that took a long, long time to complete. If nothing else, it shows how our tastes in horror have changed, and how differently we view monsters now. Vampires are no longer scary. Ghosts are a comfortable presence. Mummies are nothing more than dusty, shambling mumblers.

In short, if you're looking for a fun and fluffy read with lovely language, one that takes you back to fond Halloween memories from your childhood, pick it up and give it a read. If you're looking for a thinking piece or something frightening, this isn't the book for you. I've only read two of his other novels, one of which is also on the list (Something Wicked This Way Comes), and I enjoyed them. He has a wonderful grasp on a boy's childhood in a prettier way than Stephen King (who I also think has such a fantastic grasp on boyhood, but often the darker side of it--and, yes, I'm saying this as a female, so what do I know, right?) This story is no exception, as it follows the young human boy amidst these creatures who make up his family, but it is done in a different way. He's the glue that holds the story together, as well as the beginning and end.

I liked this book, but it didn't belong on this list. Still, I'm ranking by how I like the book, not by how much I agree with its presence on the list.

My new rankings:

1. The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
2. The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale)
3. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
4. Those Who Hunt the Night (Barbara Hambly)
5. The Wolf's Hour (Robert McCammon)
6. Berserk (Tim Lebbon)
7. Best New Horror, Volume 1 (edited by Stephen Jones and Ramsey Campbell)
8. The Imago Sequence (Laird Barron)
9. From the Dust Returned (Ray Bradbury)
10. In Silent Graves (Gary A. Braunbeck)
11. The Cipher (Kathe Koja)
12. Drawing Blood (Poppy Z. Brite)
13. The Doll Who Ate His Mother (Ramsey Campbell
14. Hotel Transylvania (Chelsea Quinn Yarbro)

The next book I'll be reviewing is Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy. If you read my Monday post, you've already gotten a taste of my thoughts on it, but I didn't realize when I wrote it that this book was on one of the two lists I'm doing simultaneously. I was pondering whether I was going to finish it, but now I have to, as I committed myself to getting through these lists. I'll either have plenty more to say, or it will be a brief review.

Are you a Ray Bradbury fan? Have you read this book? What did you think? What is your favorite Bradbury? Do any of the classic monsters still scare you?

May you find your Muse.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


It's the first Wednesday of June, which means it's time for a meeting of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, created by Alex J. Cavanaugh. If you have writing insecurities and/or want to offer your support to those who are insecure, sign up and join us!

For the second time in a row, I was short-listed by the same Hugo award-winning, pro-paying magazine. For the second time in a row, I got a form rejection from the editor. A form letter. No explanation as to why it was good enough to make it out of the slush pile, but not good enough to make it. No feedback. I get that they're busy. I do what I'm supposed to do, not responding to the rejections or the short-listing so as not to clog up their inboxes. But a part of me is deeply frustrated when I get a form rejection after having been given that little extra piece of hope.

You know what it feels like?

You know, right after she sees her parents coming up the drive and gets that glimmer of hope? "Mo..." STAB.

Okay, so that's over-stating it, but, while I haven't reached the point of giving up, I haven't gotten an acceptance in two months, and it is always somehow worse when I get that close, only to then get a form rejection letter. It hurts when you fall off a step. It's crippling when you fall off the roof. I can feel the frustration and hopelessness setting in that say I'm no good, this isn't going to happen, I'm just not there. I'm fighting it, but it's hard to continually get rejections. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but blah, I'm on a low. Not the lowest, but low all the same.

I need an affirmation from outside myself to tell me that the fight is worth it. That subjecting myself to criticism and rejection is going to pay off.

I do make it worse by starting the submission process with pro markets and working my way down, but I can't know I won't make it into a pro market unless I try. And if pro markets short list me, it means I'm getting close, but I'm not there yet. I WILL make it into that publication. It is a primary goal for me.

Alright, here's the part where I keep myself honest by reporting my submissions for the month of May.

I wrote a new short story for a specific anthology call and submitted it.
I have 12 submissions out, including the new one.
I submitted 7 pieces this month, including the new one mentioned above.
I got 5 rejections this month, including the short-list.

Moving on, I also share various publication links every Wednesday, so here are this week's links. I am not endorsing any of these, merely passing along submissions calls I've come across. Always do your due diligence before submitting to a market.

Accepting Submissions:

Crossed Genres new theme is Sport. They're looking for fantasy and/or science fiction. 1000-6000 words. Pays $.06/word. Deadline for this theme is June 30.

The Literary Hatchet is seeking horror short stories, poetry, humor, interviews, art, photography, and illustrations. 1000-6000 words for fiction. Pays $1-$10, depending upon submission type. Current submission window closes July 1.

Defying Doomsday is seeking stories for an anthology of apocalypse survival fiction wherein one of the protagonists is suffering from a disability. 3000-7000 words. Pays $.07/word. Deadline July 1.

Emby Press is launching an Emby Kids anthology about monsters. Tell a campfire story of an original monster appropriate for kids up to PG-13. Middle Grade. 2000-8000 words. Pays $25 and an e-copy of the book. Deadline July 1.

Indie Authors Press has several anthologies open until filled. Altered States II wants cyberpunk. 2000-10,000 words. Pay is $10, plus an e-copy. Corpus Deluxe wants stories dealing with the undead. 2000-5000 words. Pay is a share of the royalties.

Bust is looking for she-centric articles. I didn't see whether it had to be written by women, but it is FOR women. They're taking pieces on everything from current news, pop culture, health, cooking, daily living, travel for women, local guides, sex guides, and short erotica up to 1500 words. Pay is not specified.

James Ward Kirk Fiction is looking for submissions to Ugly Babies 3. Poetry, flash fiction up to 1000 words, short fiction up to 4000 words. Two people will receive $25 Editor's Choice Awards. All published in the anthology will get an e-copy.

Martian Migraine Press wants weird erotica for Necronomicon, a tri-annual publication. Short stories up to 5000 words, poetry up to 50 lines, and up to around 5000 words. Pays $10 CDN, plus e-copies.

The Health Journal is always accepting submissions of health articles of varying types. Pays $.15/word. Rolling submissions for different issues. July 1 deadline is for September issue.

Plasma Frequency is always open to speculative fiction submissions. Preferred length is 6000 words or less. Pays $.01/word.

What are your insecurities? How do you pull yourself out of the submission doldrums? Any of these markets of interest? Anything to share? Publishing news?

May you find your Muse.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Pestilent Punctuation

I'm a grammar nazi. This isn't a fact I try to hide. Though I don't bust it out unless it's for my critique group or my own writing (so, no, I do not go around correcting people on Facebook, for instance). I went to the library this week to see if they had any of the books from the best horror novels I'm reading through and reviewing every other Friday. The travesty that was the horror selection at the library is a post for another day, but I did end up finding a Cormac McCarthy book, Blood Meridian. I'd been curious about him for awhile, so I decided to pick it up in addition to the ONE book from the horror list I found that I hadn't yet read (a Ray Bradbury).

Judging by my title, you can maybe tell where this is going, at least if you've read him. Maybe you're nodding? Maybe it's just me.

The man has his own system of punctuation. Specifically, he doesn't use quotation marks to set apart dialogue. He also doesn't use apostrophes in most cases. I found that he randomly used them. For instance, "ain't" had an apostrophe. Yet I'm pretty sure "aint" isn't a different word, so if you want to avoid confusion why put an apostrophe there, but not in "wont/won't?" "Wont" without an apostrophe is still an actual word with a completely different meaning. So if you don't put an apostrophe, you've just written the wrong word.


He also has a very stream of consciousness way of writing. I realized partway through a sentence that it had been going for quite awhile already. It actually ended up taking all of one page and part of another. In a hardcover. A single sentence that was more than one page long.

Blink, blink.

And, yes, it distracted me. It was working at first, but it pulled me out of the story when I realized it had been going on and on and on. Still, the fact that I made it as far as I did means his writing was flowing, despite the run-on sentence from Hades. That's the thing about his writing. If he weren't a good writer, it would be downright unreadable. Instead, you're lulled into continuing, muscling through. His flow and pacing work well. His descriptions are engrossing.

While he is a good writer, painting a picture with his words, I'm finding his writing style distracting. My poor little grammar nazi writer's soul is twitching inside me as I read on. Out of curiosity, I went to Amazon to look at what reviewers had to say. First of all, with 984 reviews, he's at 4 stars. Impressive. Or not? I don't know. Feels impressive to me for someone who has gone so far out of the mainstream rules of writing.

Anyway, I made it through five pages of reviews before anyone mentioned his lack of correct punctuation. Did they all know about it ahead of time? Does it really just not bother people?

In fact, the biggest technical complaint was about the vocabulary. The biggest non-technical complaint was about the violence. A lot of people took issue with the "pompous," "obscure," or "pretentious" vocabulary. Several of them said he did it on purpose to prove how smart he was. In fact, people repeatedly said they had to pull out a dictionary to finish reading it. I'm not that far in yet, maybe about 80 pages, but I have not had this issue. And not because I'm brilliant. I've got an okay vocabulary from being an avid reader, but it sounded from these reviews like every other word was twenty syllables.

But those same people had no issue with the screwed up punctuation?

Blink, blink. (Again.)

The thing is, I'm not having a terribly hard time figuring out when someone's talking. For the most part, it's quite clear. Yet it does pull me out of the story. I did notice that it gives a different feel to the book, changes the voice and tone some, which I find interesting. I want to continue examining that effect.

It makes me wonder, though, how he got published in the first place? I look at how regimented submission guidelines can be, and wonder just how someone gets their start when, from what I've been told, he does this in all his books. What editor took that gamble in the first place? What reader said, "I like this," and spread the word? How did his editor/agent get past the first page this occurred on and not give up, when we're told these days that mistakes on the first page mean they're not going to keep reading?

In other words, what's up with this?

I can see a well known author getting away with it after he's become well known and respected, but I really want to know how this happened in the beginning. When someone is given a chance despite breaking the rules, I want to know more.

Also, side note: Did they really use "ye" in the Old West? Because his characters are doing that. And I'm curious.

There's no big point to this post except that I wanted to talk about it, I guess. I'm curious how something like this begins, what the writer is thinking, what the editor was thinking, and just WHY? And I'm also curious as to why it doesn't bother more people. I get that I may be more bothered by something like this than most people, but I'd think it would irk anyone who is accustomed to reading, oh, I don't know, proper punctuation!? (<----totally not proper punctuation, but this is a blog post, not a novel, and I claim blog-etic license.)

Have you read a Cormac McCarthy? Did the weird punctuation bother you? Did you feel it changed and/or improved the tone of the book? Do you know of another author who does the same thing?

May you find your Muse.

Quotation images from Mohamed Ibrahim,
Confused Squirrel image by Kelly,