You don’t owe me anything

boy-reading Mea culpa. I am guilty of this and I’m putting my hand up right now to accept that and change my position. I’m getting more than a little sick and tired of authors demanding things of their readers. Back in 2011, I wrote this blog post where I said such things as “You’re a reader and you have a new responsibility” and “it’s an act of true benevolence to leave good reviews of stuff you enjoy, or drop by websites and leave a star rating. You can write a single line or single paragraph review and copy that to all the sites you visit or shop at. If you do blog, then reviewing a book on your site is fantastic. But whatever you do, do something.” While I still believe that stuff has true value, the last part is bollocks and I take it back. You don’t have to do something. You don’t have to do jack shit.

I also posted a thing recently which listed all the ways readers could care for authors – it was a funky little infographic and had things like leaving star ratings at Amazon and Goodreads, reviewing, telling friends and family and so on. Again, all those things are great, but you don’t have to do anything.

If you bought a book, give yourself a pat on the back, because you are a fucking legend. You did all you had to do. Anything else is gravy. I do log all the books I read on Goodreads. I usually leave short reviews, and cross-post to Amazon if I can. I’m one of three contributing editors at Thirteen O’Clock, a dark fiction review site. But you know what? I really enjoy all that stuff. I’m happy to do it. But I don’t have to do any of it and neither do you.

I honestly believe that reviews are the lifeblood of authors. Whether those reviews are on a dedicated blog, at sites like Goodreads or over a beer in the pub with your friends, only honest word of mouth really works. That’s the holy grail of marketing right there. People talking up your shit is the stuff of dreams. But if someone bought your book, enjoyed it and never mentioned it again, anywhere, it doesn’t matter. They haven’t slacked off in their readerly duties at all.

Too often now I’m seeing things like the stuff I posted before, but it’s starting feel wrong. Where my intention in posting it was a genuine entreaty for mutual support between readers and writers (who are often the same person, incidentally), I’m seeing a more and more militant approach lately and it’s pissing me off. It makes the stuff I wrote before seem just as militant and I don’t like that. I don’t want to demand anything of my readers. Fuck me, you bought my book! I’m dancing like a freaking numpty over here, because that is the absolute top of the line result right there.

If you want to do more, like write reviews, tell your friends, even buy more copies as gifts for like-minded friends and family, then you shit solid gold and your breath smells like roses dipped in chocolate and don’t let anybody tell you different, because you went above and beyond, dear reader. You, sir or madam, are a diamond encrusted behemoth of a human being. Because you didn’t owe me anything. No one does. But if all you did was buy and read my books, you still have gold shit, chocolate-rose breath and diamond encrusted body parts, because there’s nothing “all you did” about it. You bought and read a book. You. Fucking. Rock.

So yes, I do still stand by the value of all those lovely things readers can do, but I retract any assertion that they have to do those things. Because it’s getting kinda creepy and nasty out there and the last thing we need to do is be creepy and nasty around our readers. Talk about taking a crap in your food bowl. Readers are awesome and that’s all writers really want – to be read. So buy the book, read it and hopefully have a good time. If you choose to signal boost that book in any way, you’re brilliant. If you don’t, you’re still brilliant, because you’re a reader. And you don’t owe anyone anything.

*drops mic*

*reads*

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Russell’s Rough Syllabus – Short Fiction from the 1980s and 1990s

This is a guest post from editor extraordinaire and owner of Australian indie powerhouse press, Ticonderoga Publications, Russell B Farr. I’ll let Russ explain how this came about.

Russell’s Rough Syllabus

Short Fiction from the 1980s and 1990s

I was shooting my mouth off on Facebook about how it seemed that a bunch of Australians who came into the field seemed to have gaps when it came to recent classics. My second mistake was being very unclear as to what I meant by recent classics.

Alan Baxter called my bluff and told me to make a list, and in the spirit of put up or shut up, I have done so below.

What do we mean by classics anyway? Are they just the award winners – if that’s the case then I’d urge folks to go out and read all of the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Ditmar, and Aurealis Award winners from 1980-1999. That’s not really a subjective list, though, it’s a research project. Same with suggesting that the various Year’s Bests of the period are recommended reading: they are but that’s not the point of the exercise.

So I thought, if I wanted to take a bunch of new readers through a crash course in two decades of the genre, unleashing all manner of themes, works that stood out for challenging the reader, for superlative writing, for a range of styles, which stories would I deem to be unmissable, compulsory reading? Like a syllabus, only I’m too lazy to group these in an order that would make sense. I’ve also skipped the boundaries of subgenres, as I’m not a huge one for labels.

A definitive list would run into hundreds of stories. I’ve tried to be restrained, picking no more than two stories from any writer (except Howard Waldrop, but we all know he’s an incredibly special case). And looking over the list I can see a number of glaring omissions, stories that could be added, and as a slight indulgence have tacked on an extra 6 at the end that I couldn’t squeeze in anywhere else.

If you want to learn to write a great story, I think this list is as good a place as any to start. In the 30 and 6 stories below are unforgettable characters, challenging ideas, stunning narrative twists, examples of the very best that the very best genre has to offer.

If you want to know how great the short story can be, I urge you to track these down, consume them, and let them blow your mind.

1980s

1. “Her Furry Face”, Leigh Kennedy
2. “All My Darling Daughters”, Connie Willis
3. “The Ugly Chickens”, Howard Waldrop
4. “Flying Saucer Rock & Roll”, Howard Waldrop
5. “Night of the Cooters”, Howard Waldrop
6. “My Lady Tongue”, Lucy Sussex
7. “Rachel in Love”, Pat Murphy
8. “Touring”, Michael Swanwick, Gardner Dozois, Jack Dann
9. “Till Human Voices Wake Us”, Lewis Shiner
10. “The Aliens Who Knew, I Mean, Everything”, George Alec Effinger
11. “The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter”, Lucius Shepard
12. “On the Turn”, Leanne Frahm
13. “Heavenly Flowers”, Pamela Sargent
14. “Kirinyaga”, Mike Resnick
15. “Slow Music”, James Tiptree Jr

1990s

1. “Beggars in Spain”, Nancy Kress
2. “Haiti”, Steven Utley
3. “The Country Doctor”, Steven Utley
4. “The Chop Girl” Ian R. MacLeod
5. “Reasons to be Cheerful”, Greg Egan
6. “Merlusine”, Lucy Sussex
7. “The Phoenix”, Isobelle Carmody
8. “Love and Sex Among the Invertebrates”, Pat Murphy
9. “Foreign Devils”, Walter Jon Williams
10. “The Night We Buried Road Dog”, Jack Cady
11. “Bold As Love”, Gwyneth Jones
12. “Bears Discover Fire”, Terry Bisson
13. “Even The Queen”, Connie Willis
14. “Ursus Triad, Later”, Kathe Koja and Barry N. Malzberg
15. “Niagara Falling”, Janeen Webb and Jack Dann

And for extra credit

1. “The Caress”, Greg Egan
2. “The Magi”, Damien Broderick
3. “Pretty Boy Crossover”, Pat Cadigan
4. “Rock On”, Pat Cadigan
5. “The Paladin of the Lost Hour”, Harlan Ellison
6. “Replacements”, Lisa Tuttle

I can’t thank Russell enough for this – it’s a fantastic effort. And there are several stories above that I haven’t read, so I’ll be tracking them down. And I should point out that Russ really knows his stuff, as evidenced by all the amazing books he and his partner in life and Ticonderoga, Liz Grzyb, have produced by seriously talented authors. Go to the Ticonderoga site and peruse the amazing anthologies and collections of short fiction available there. – Alan

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The Hero’s Journey explained brilliantly by puppets

I first read Joseph Campbell when I heard that Star Wars was constructed by stealing all the best classic mythology ideas and working them together into the monomyth framework. I wanted to understand it. Since then, it’s always informed my writing. I don’t always stick too closely to it, but I always use it as a guide. After all you have to know the rules to break them. Today I came across this, and it is simply brilliant. And hilarious. The Hero’s Journey explained:

 

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Behold the Midnight Echo shiny and the story of a title

midnight-echo-9My contributor copies of Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 9, landed in my post box this morning. So shiny. I’m very happy that my story, The Fathomed Wreck To See, is in this one. The issue had a Myths & Legends theme and my story plays with the siren/mermaid mythology. But, as is so often the case, it’s really a story about love and loss and people.

This Is Horror, that wonderful UK blog of all things dark, said about my story:

Alan Baxter’s ‘The Fathomed Wreck to See’ delves into the mythology behind those beautiful, yet deadly, creatures known as Sirens. Dylan is slowly drinking himself to death on his boat after the recent loss of his beloved Catelyn. He’s also dying from cancer, so things couldn’t get much worse, though when he meets a beautiful blonde woman on the docks things start to look up. The woman, however, is not what she appears to be, and Dylan soon finds himself in a whole heap of trouble. Baxter’s story is one of love, loss, and rejection, and it’s a beautiful addition to this issue.

That review by Adam Millard, so thanks Adam!

They did an in-depth review, with something to say about every story, so you can read the full review here.

In case you were wondering, the title of this story, “The Fathomed Wreck To See”, is a line from Gregory Corso’s poem, “Seaspin”.

“To drown to be slow hair
To be fish minstrelry
One eye to flick and stare
The fathomed wreck to see
Forever down to drown
Descend the squid’s conclave
Black roof the whale’s belly
Oyster floor the grave –

My sea-ghost ride
And slower hair
Silverstreaks my eyes
Up up I whirl
And wonder where –

To breathe in Neptune’s cup
Nudge gale and tempest
Feel the mermaid up
To stay to pin my hair
On the sea-horse’s stirrup –”

(CORSO, Gregory (1960))

Get your copy of this fantastic issue, either as a big glossy magazine or a very fine ebook, from Midnight Echo Magazine’s website or from Amazon US or Amazon UK.

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I won the AHWA Short Story competition!

snoopy-danceWell, I actually co-won in a dead heat with Zena Shapter. The Australian Horror Writers’ Association (AHWA) runs a competition every year for both short stories (1,000 to 8,000 words) and flash fiction (up to 1,000 words). You may remember that last year I was a judge along with Felicity Dowker and Jason Fischer. I thought I should really enter the competition that is run by the association I’m a member of and that I’ve judged in the past, so this year I entered both the short story and flash categories. I couldn’t be happier that my story, It’s Always the Children Who Suffer, was picked as a joint winner with Zena’s story, Darker. I also scored an Honourable Mention in the Flash category. Pretty bloody good all around!

Here are all the winners and HMs:

SHORT STORY WINNERS:
Alan Baxter, “It’s Always the Children Who Suffer”
Zena Shapter, “Darker”

SHORT STORY HONOURABLE MENTIONS (in no particular order):
Cassandra Newman, “Divorce Granted”
Ron Schroer, “Lustbader”
Shaun Taylor, “Open Windows, Closed Doors”
Noel Osualdini, “Skin”
Sam Howard, “Wee Willie Winkie”

FLASH FICTION WINNER:
Tim Hawken, “Moonlight Sonata”

FLASH FICTION HONOURABLE MENTIONS (in no particular order):
Noel Osualdini, “Night Escape”
Mark Farrugia, “Palatable”
Mike Pieloor, “The Itch”
Alan Baxter, “Under a Wing and a Prayer”

Martin Livings, the competition manager, did a great job. The comp is judged blind, so all stories go to Martin first and he strips them of all identifying marks so the judges get nothing but a story and judge each one on merit alone. Martin also figured out some stats on the competition. The stat I was most pleased to see was the Entries by Gender one. In a field so historically dominated by male writers, it was great to see not only a joint decision with a man and a woman picked as the short story winners, but according to Martin’s stats, entries were split male/female as 58% / 42%. That’s not bad and it’s great to see. Australia has a fantastic tradition of women horror writers (Kaaron Warren, Angela Slatter, Joanne Anderton, Felicity Dowker, et al), and it’s great to see that reflected in stats like these.

Lastly, I want to thank my four year old niece, Malina Cootes. We all know that kids come out with the weirdest shit, and my winning story was inspired by something Malina said, as reported to me by her mum. She woke up one night, very upset from a nightmare. When her mum went to comfort her, Malina said, “There’s a dream in my bed!”

And a story was born. And it won the AHWA Short Story competition. Thanks, Malina!

The three winning stories will be published in a future issue of Midnight Echo magazine, so I’ll be sure to let you know when that’s out.

Now excuse me while I Snoopy Dance.

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