365 Shorts Success!

I’m as surprised as you are, but it seems I succeeded in the task I thought I was certain to fail. Towards the end of last year, I set myself a task to see if I could read 365 short stories in 365 days. I thought I’d never get close, but I wanted to record my short fiction reading and see how I went. Here’s the original post about it. I decided to set the year to start on December 1st 2012 so the end didn’t get lost in the Xmas/New Year shenanigans. That means the 365 days ran up until today, November 30th 2013. Instead of failing, I passed my target. I read 388 stories this year.

Now this has to be tempered with a few points of order. First and foremost, this includes podcasts. I listen to loads of short fiction podcasts – I’ve got a page all about them here. So I included listening as reading. I also included books and magazines that I’m in, but didn’t include my own story in the total count. Even so, I easily read past my limit. And it’s worth bearing in mind that my son was born at the end of October, so for just over the last month of this challenge, I’ve hardly read much at all. I think it’s fair to say I would have passed 400 if it wasn’t for that slight interruption to normal programming.

The thing this makes me realise more than anything else is that I probably read around this many stories every year. I made no special effort to make sure I hit my target. I listened to podcasts and read anthologies and magazines the same way I always do, and it turns out my personal challenge wasn’t much of a challenge after all. My eyeholes absorb that much short fiction on a regular basis regardless. Go me!

If you’re interested to see all the stories I read in the past 365 days, I’ve made a page here with all of them listed. Some were total shit, some were meh and some were absolutely outstanding. I haven’t bothered including any commentary on the list – it was a pain in the arse enough just to remember to write them all down as I went.

So it’s easy to read loads of short stories every year and you totally should. The form is fantastic, it takes hardly any time and the reward always far outweighs the effort. Unless the story was shit, of course, but that’s the risk you take. I read a story this year that won a massive award and I thought it was absolute bollocks. But that’s the beauty of art – there’s something to appeal to everyone and something to make everyone say, “That was bollocks.” You can usually find the magazines and editors whose taste gels with yours without too much effort and then you’re likely to get a hit rate of tasty yarns far higher than random sampling. But I’d recommend random sampling as well, because there are gems in every shitpile from time to time. Below, I’ll make a list of my favourite short fiction places, to get you started. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, just a shove in the right direction. Enjoy!

Great short fiction:

First and foremost, let’s get the shameless self-promotion out of the way. You can find a selection of my short fiction, free to read online, by checking out this page.

For great anthologies, check out the publications by these awesome Aussie small presses:

Ticonderoga Publications

Dark Prints Press

Coeur De Lion

(There are loads more out there.)

For excellent magazines, check out:

Abyss & Apex
Albedo One
Analog Science Fiction & Fact
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
Apex Book Company
Asimov’s Science Fiction
Aurealis Magazine
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Black Static
Chizine
Clarkesworld
Crowded Magazine
Daily Science Fiction
Escape Pod – sci-fi podcasting
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Ideomancer
Innsmouth Free Press
Interzone
Kasma SF
Lightspeed Magazine
Midnight Echo – magazine of the AHWA
Nightmare Magazine
PodCastle – fantasy fiction podcasts
Pseudopod – horror fiction podcasts
The Red Penny Papers
Shimmerzine
Strange Horizons
Ticon4
Wily Writers

Go forth, read short fiction and become a better person!*

(* May not actually make you a better person.)

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AHWA winner judges report

I just received the judges report for my AHWA Short Story Competition winner. Here’s what one of the judges said:

‘Showing his great proficiency of the written word, Alan Baxter gives an all too believable tale with “It’s Always The Children Who Suffer”. Classic, creeping horror to linger in your mind and prey upon dark little fears, both real and unexplained.’
– Ashlee Scheuerman

That’s very nice to read! You can find the story in Midnight Echo issue 10, out at the end of the year. You can pre-order print or electronic versions now at the Midnight Echo Magazine site. I have another story in that issue (two yarns in one mag!) along with loads of other great stories and features by tremendous authors. You know you want it.

http://midnightechomagazine.com

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Top Ten Horror Stories from Jones and Campbell

Over at This is Horror recently, Stephen Jones, one of Britain’s most acclaimed and prolific anthologists of horror and dark fantasy, posted a list of ten of his favourite horror stories. Here are the stories he listed (click the link back there to see the full list with his commentary – I’m just reposting the author and story title here):

1. A Warning to the Curious by M.R. James

2. The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

3. Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper by Robert Bloch

4. Sticks by Karl Edward Wagner

5. The Chimney by Ramsey Campbell

6. One for the Road by Stephen King

7. The Dark Country by Dennis Etchison

8. Dance of the Dead by Richard Matheson

9. The Man Who Drew Cats by Michael Marshall Smith

10. Homecoming / The October People / Uncle Einar by Ray Bradbury (Jones says “take your pick: they are all as wonderful as each other.”)

That’s a pretty solid list. In response to Jones’ list, Ramsey Campbell (at the #5 position above) posted his own personal top ten on Facebook. He referred to these as “Ten that I think are crucial”:

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

Carmilla by J Sheridan Le Fanu

The White People by Arthur Machen

The Monkey’s Paw by W W Jacobs

The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

The Colour Out of Space by H P Lovecraft (this one is my personal favourite HPL story too.)

A Warning to the Curious by M R James

Smoke Ghost by Fritz Leiber

Running Down by M John Harrison

The Hospice by Robert Aickman

You’ll notice the only story which appears on both lists is the M R James one. Now that’s a seriously solid reading list of short horror fiction. And I need to fill in a few blanks myself based on those recs, so I’ll be searching out the ones I haven’t yet read. But you know what else I noticed? Cockforest. Wang-a-rama. Sausagefest. Yeah, basically, they’re all blokes. Horror is a notoriously male-dominated genre. But it shouldn’t be, because there are loads of fantastic female horror writers out there. And several men on the lists above are contemporary and still working today, so it’s not even fair to say it’s just an historical aberration. And even then, historical aberration would be a bollocks excuse. What about Mary Shelley? Shirley Jackson? Ursula Le Guin? Gertrude Barrows Bennett (writing as Francis Stevens) who wrote in the early 20th century and has been called “the woman who invented dark fantasy.”? There are so many more.

In a more contemporary list, there are loads of great women horror writers at work today. Kaaron Warren, Margo Lanagan, Sarah Langan, Sarah Pinborough, Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett, Joanne Anderton. This is just off the top of my head. By all the tentacled gods of the nether darkness, there are loads of them out there making fantastic work.

So while you’re tracking down those stories above recommended by Jones and Campbell (which you really should), seek out some of the tremendous women of horror too. You owe it to yourself to experience their work and, as readers, we owe it to these wonderful writers to ensure their audience grows regardless of their lack of cock.

Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments below, both for your favourite stories and your favourite women horror writers. And don’t worry if you don’t know any women horror writers right now. That’s okay. But fix it, as soon as you can.

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Great and powerful opening lines

My pal and horror writer extraordinaire, Robert Hood, wrote a blog post recently about great opening lines. He links to an interview with Danel Olson on the subject, since Olson’s anthology, Exotic Gothic 4 (P S Publishing), recently won the World Fantasy Award (and contains an excellent story by Rob.)

Rob listed a couple of his favourite opening lines and asked if anyone else had any. I’ve got loads! It’s a bit of a pet subject for me. So I shared some of mine on Rob’s Facebook post and then thought I might post them here on my own blog, as I think they’re well worth sharing. This is just a few that immediately sprang to mind as powerful enough to stick with me. The strength of an opening line can never be underestimated.

“The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger

“The island of Gont, a single mountain that lifts its peak a mile above the storm-wracked Northeast Sea, is a land famous for wizards.” – Ursula Le Guin, Wizard of Earthsea

“The abyss should shut you up.” – Peter Watts, Starfish

“This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just to play a game.” – Iain M Banks, The Player of Games

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own…” – H G Wells, The War of the Worlds

“Of all the rash and midnight promises made in the name of love none, Boone now knew, was more certain to be broken than: ‘I’ll never leave you.'” – Clive Barker, Cabal

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave with one more, my all-time favourite. Not quite the opening line, but the end of the opening paragraph:

“Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet.” – Robert E Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword

Awesome.

Have you got any?

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“The Darkness in Clara” to be published in SQ Mag 14

I’m very happy to announce this one. SQ Mag approached me recently and asked if I’d be interested in submitting a story for their Australiana-themed issue 14, due out in May next year. I was honoured to have been asked and offered them my novelette, The Darkness in Clara. I’m very proud of the story and very proud that SQ accepted it for publication.

It’s most definitely an Australian story. It deals with country Australia, the small town mindset and the so-often-accompanying bigotry. I won’ t say too much more about it than that, other than it’s a dark fantasy story of close to 10,000 words. By SWFA standards, a short story is up 7,500 words, so that’s why this one is classed as a novelette.

The Australiana issue of SQ has also commissioned stories from the amazing Kaaron Warren and Sean Williams. I’m extra happy to be sharing some pages with those two Aussie writing legends. And there’s an open submission call still available for the rest of the magazine, so if it floats your writerly boat, get submitting.

And the last bit of great news to accompany this announcement is that the cover of the Australiana issue of SQ will be based on my story. I can’t wait to see what an artist comes up with there. I’ll be sure to let you all know when it’s out. In the meantime, you could check out the SQ website and Facebook page.

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