The Nightmare Marathon

11904083_10152929958092511_5189460925051084452_nOver the last three days I’ve watched seven A Nightmare on Elm Street films. Why? It’s a good question, and I don’t really have a good answer. It’s a pretty dumb thing to have done. It started because I was thinking about horror films I’d enjoyed in my youth and wondering if they held up. I got to talking to some people about one of them, A Nightmare On Elm Street. I remembered loving it, and also really enjoying the third one, Dream Warriors. I knew I’d seen the second one, but couldn’t remember it (turns out that was my brain trying to protect me).

So I looked into getting the DVDs for a rewatch and discovered the sweet box set you see above. All six original Nightmare On Elm Street movies, plus Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. All on Blu-Ray. $40 for the lot. Well, that was easy – I bought it and then subjected myself to them all. I had no idea there were six originally. Regardless, I’d only seen the first three, so I was interested to see how it all shook out, but I was expecting diminishing returns. Oh man, did I underestimate how bad things could get. But it wasn’t all bad.

A Nightmare On Elm Street

Made in 1984 and introducing Johnny Depp! Both of those things surprised me. I thought the series started later. It turns out all 6 original films were made in 7 years, between 1984 and 1991. Churning it out, Hollywood style. But this first one is still a classic. It opens with the introduction of the monster, Freddy Krueger, still one of the best ever horror creations. The first killing is early and unambiguous. The film wears its intentions like a baggy red and green sweater and does everything it sets out to do really well. The horror of being at risk in your nightmares, the fear of falling asleep, the sustained tension and then sudden, horrific violence, without ever being too schlocky. All brilliant. I mean, Depp’s death in a geyser of blood and the first death wiping the girl all over the ceiling while she’s repeatedly stabbed – this stuff is really fucking schlocky, of course. But in context, its all very well put together. It’s horribly 80s, but it remains a great horror film. And still the best of the entire franchise.

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A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

It’s instantly clear that this film has a higher budget after the runaway success of the first, but that can’t save it. It moves away from being a purely nightmare film and tries to be a poltergeist film too, but it does both those things really badly. It does find itself a bit, way too late, but regardless, they try to reinvent the core concept, or at least expand it, and they fail miserably. Plus, they’ve done away with the iconic glove and the blades now grow directly from Freddy’s fingers which is lame and makes no sense. And those new blades are all thin and piss-weak. This one really is an atrocious debacle with a completely senseless plot. Terrible.

imagesA Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors

I remembered this one well, and remembered really enjoying it. I was hopeful it would hold up. And it really does. They get Nancy back, the main protagonist from the original, for one thing. New lead Kirsten heads a band of sleep-deprived kids, the setup is a clinic with the remaining Elm Street children all suffering from “mass delusion”, which is actually Freddy, of course. They give us a Freddy origin story: the bastard son of a hundred maniacs. It makes little sense, but it’s added depth. It’s a shame they subsequently drench the Freddy mythology in Christian mythology, but even so, this installment is an excellent sequel to first one. There’s another good development, with Kirsten having the power to draw other people into her dreams. That adds great breadth to the story. The best thing thus far is to entirely ignore that number 2 even exists, and just watch 1 and 3 – a great double bill. Incidentally, the theme song by Dokken is a truly awful 80s metal anthem, but that kinda works too. Dream Warriors is not as good as the first, but almost, and a damn good horror film.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master

Here’s where things go rapidly downhill and just don’t stop falling. They bring back Joey and Kincaid from Dream Warriors, but use a different actress for Kirsten. That’s already a bad sign. The 80s influence is stronger than ever and there’s a completely horrible karate montage early on. *shudder* Then, for no explicable reason whatsoever, in a dream Kincaid’s dog pisses fire (literally pisses fire) on Freddy’s grave and that brings him back from his holy water banishing. Because why not? Who the fuck cares, right? Let’s just get Freddy back. Fire-pissing dog? Sure! Kincaid and Joey both die really quickly, and then new Kirsten is left to build a new Scooby gang, only to die very quickly too (thankfully, because she was a terrible actor). It turns out the real hero this time is Alice. But here’s the thing – right as she dies, Kirsten gives Alice her power to draw other people into her dreams. There’s no explanation how she can do this – she just kinda lobs it out there like a fucking tennis ball. And it’s the single biggest idiot move of the franchise. Kirsten knows Freddy has run out of Elm Street children. She knows he’s using her power to draw new kids in to cut them up. He finally gets her, but she makes sure that her power survives. The one thing that can keep Freddy in business. This should be called A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: Kirten’s An Idiot. Then Alice starts getting all the powers of the other kids – for no reason – and suddenly she’s a karate master and kills Freddy by making him look at himself in a mirror. Evil, see thyself. Like he wasn’t already completely self-aware. Honestly, this film is so dumb it hurts. And there’s an awful Freddy rap over the end credits. Unforgivable.

A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child

I’m going to spend less time talking about these films now. But still probably more time than it took to write them. I’m guessing they were written by chimps on LSD. So Freddy literally rebirths himself through Alice’s dream. She dreams of him being born, et voila. Then Alice learns she has to find and free Amanda Krueger’s body (Freddy’s mum). Because why not. Freddy can suddenly do stuff while people are awake, completely inexplicably. Turns out, Alice is pregnant and Freddy is using her unborn fetus’s dreams. Someone kill me now. For some reason, that unborn child manifests as about 6 years old in Alice’s dreams and does more than the rest of the cast put together. Then Amanda shows up, does something, Jacob the unborn son does something and Freddy goes back into Amanda’s uterus, the end. Fucking insane.

A-Nightmare-On-Elm-Street-Freddy-Krueger

A Nightmare On Elm Street 6: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare

Too many colons, guys. You know what? Freddy has been dead since before the first film. That’s the central conceit of the whole fucking series. Whatever, let’s roll. This one is billed on imdb as “”Comedy/Horror/Thriller”. It’s set “10 years from now” where the town with Elm Street has no kids or teenagers left and all the adults are nutbars. The rest of America seems to just be ignoring this. No idea why Freddy is restricted by red lines on a map, but whatever. The comedy here is awful, the plot makes no sense – even less than 4 and 5, which is some going. Apparently Freddy had a daughter before everything went down, so he wants to use her. Somehow he does. They clearly had the finale of this film in 3D and the daughter puts 3D glasses on in the film to tell the audience it’s time! When she comes out of her dream, she says, “I’m still seeing things the way I did in my dream. It’s not over!” DON’T TAKE THE 3D SPECS OFF YET, FOLKS! This is how low they were scraping the barrel here. They eventually use the idea from the first film of holding on to Freddy while waking up to pull him out of the dream (why has this not happened before!?) and then the daughter kills him with a stick of dynamite. At the end there’s a kind of “Thank fuck it’s over” montage of all six films and it ends with a still frame of Freddy with RIP stamped over it. It’s really over, the character is really dead, the dream demons left his exploding body. Thank fuck for that.

So that was it. They decided it was impossible to make a shitter film than the sixth one and it finally died.

Or did it?

No. Just three years later, Wes Craven was back to make:

new_nightmareWes Craven’s New Nightmare

It’s worth bearing in mind that the only good films so far are 1 and 3 – the two Craven wrote and directed. New Nightmare is actually pretty good – it’s almost as if Wes Craven knows what he’s doing. The film is very meta – it’s the actors from the first film playing themselves, and Freddy is crossing over from film into the real world. Craven describes it as the evil being trapped in a story, but when the story ended, when the franchise was shelved and the story died, the evil was set free. Nice little idea. There are good nods to the originals and the tension and horror are ramped up again without the lame comedy. The end is a little bit hokey, but they do a good job of getting some of the series’ dignity back. The only real downer is that they went back to the crappy finger blades like in number 2, instead of the glove, even though a mechanical glove was what started it all off in this new film. Either way, this one was a good film, good production and acting, and a clever plot. After the atrocities of 4, 5 and 6, it was a breath of fresh air.

So, the net result of all this? The whole base concept of A Nightmare On Elm Street is cool, and the original is still the best. If you want the full Freddy experience, a triple-bill of A Nightmare On Elm Street, then Dream Warriors, then New Nightmare is all you need. Everything else is bollocks and you can easily just ignore it. I wish I had.

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Fablecroft’s Focus 2014: highlights of Australian short fiction

fablecroftFablecroft Publishing have released the ToC for their Focus 2014: highlights of Australian short fiction and I’m very happy to say that my story, “Shadows of the Lonely Dead” from the Suspended In Dusk anthology, is getting another outing, and in excellent company.

This is the third in Fabelcroft’s Focus series, which each year collect an elite selection of work which has received acclaim via national and international Awards shortlisting. My story won the 2014 Australian Shadows Award for Best Short Story. So you know that every yarn in this book will be great. In fact, I’ve read most of them and I know they’re great!

Here’s the contents:

St Dymphna’s School for Poison Girls by Angela Slatter
Wine, Women and Stars by Thoraiya Dyer
Vanilla by Dirk Flinthart
The Legend Trap by Sean Williams
The Seventh Relic by Cat Sparks
Death’s Door Café by Kaaron Warren
The Ghost of Hephaestus by Charlotte Nash
The Executioner Goes Home by Deborah Biancotti
Signature by Faith Mudge
Cookie Cutter Superhero by Tansy Rayner Roberts
Shadows of the Lonely Dead by Alan Baxter

Focus 2014 will be available in September in all e-book formats.

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Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror 2014, featuring me

years-best-fantasy-and-horror-v5.webI’ve been Snoopy dancing about this for a little while now, and it’s finally public knowledge. Ticonderoga Publications have announced the line-up and cover of the fifth volume of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror, and it includes my story “Shadows of the Lonely Dead” from the Suspended in Dusk anthology. This is the same story that netted me the Australian Shadows Award for Best Short Story. I do love it when a yarn is so well received.

Editors Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene have compiled an impressive list of fantastic stories first published in 2014, from New Zealand and Australian writers. Just look at the stellar company I’m sharing.

The 28 stories selected are:

  • Alan Baxter, “Shadows of the Lonely Dead” [Suspended in Dusk]
  • James Bradley, “The Changeling” [Fearsome Magics]
  • Imogen Cassidy, “Soul Partner” [Aurealis 74]
  • David Conyers & David Kernot, “The Bullet & The Flesh” [World War Cthulhu]
  • Terry Dowling, “The Corpse Rose” [Nightmare Carnival]
  • Thoraiya Dyer, “The Oud” [Long Hidden Anthology]
  • Jason Franks, “Metempsychosis” [SQ Magazine]
  • Michelle Goldsmith, “Of Gold and Dust” [Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Maga 60]
  • Michael Grey, “1884” [Cthulhu Lives: An Eldrich Tribute to H.P.Lovecraft]
  • Stephanie Gunn, “Escapement” [Kisses by Clockwork]
  • Lisa L. Hannett & Angela Slatter, “Vox” [The Female Factory]
  • Gerry Huntman, “Of The Colour Tumeric, Climbing on Fingertips” [Night Terrors III]
  • Rick Kennett, “Dolls for Another Day” [The Ghosts & Scholars Book of Shadows: Vol 2]
  • Charlotte Kieft, “Chiaroscuro” [Disquiet]
  • SG Larner, “Kneaded” [Phantazein]
  • Claire McKenna, “Yard” [Use Only As Directed]
  • Andrew J. McKiernan, “A Prayer for Lazarus” [Last Year, When We Were Young]
  • Faith Mudge, “Signature” [Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fi]
  • Jason Nahrung, “The Preservation Society” [Dimension6]
  • Emma Osbourne, “The Box Wife” [Shock Totem: Curious Tales of the Macabre & Twisted #9]
  • Angela Rega, “Shedding Skin” [Crossed Genres]
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts, “The Love Letters of Swans” [Phantazein]
  • Angela Slatter, “The Badger Bride” [Strange Tales IV]
  • Cat Sparks, “New Chronicles of Andras Thorn” [Dimension6 Annual Collection 2014]
  • Anna Tambour, “The Walking-stick Forest” [Tor.com]
  • Kyla Ward, “Necromancy” [Spectral Realms #1]
  • Kaaron Warren, “Bridge of Sighs” [Fearful Symmetries: An Anthology of Horror]
  • Janeen Webb, “Lady of the Swamp” [Death at the Blue Elephant]

In addition to the above incredible tales, the volume will include a review of 2014 and a list of highly recommended stories.

The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2014 is scheduled for publication in late-October 2015 and can be pre-ordered at indiebooksonline.com. The anthology will be available in hardcover, ebook and trade editions.

Awesome!

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Some excellent Alex Caine news, but a bit of a wait…

Publishing is a funny old beast. It can be glacially slow sometimes, or it can take unexpected turns. Like the story I sold in 2011 that wasn’t published until 2014. Or the magazine that became an anthology. Or editors spontaneously exploding under their workload. One of these things may not have happened. Or did it?

Anyway, this preamble is leading to some excellent news for people waiting on print editions of the Alex Caine Series in Australia. So far, only book 1, Bound, is in print. However, the others are coming. Next year! The whole series is getting a new set of covers and Bound will be reissued in June, 2016 simultaneously with book 2, Obsidian. And then book 3, Abduction, will be out in September, 2016.

Now, I know waiting another year is kind of a pain, but all three books will be out within a few months of each other then, so you’ll be able to binge read the trilogy. And I can’t wait to see the new covers!

Meanwhile, you folks in the US will get the trilogy sometime around the end of this year or the beginning of next. And the ebooks are out everywhere right now. They’ll see new covers in Aus/NZ hopefully before too long.

So I’m sorry for the wait, but it’ll be worth it!

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Rejectomancy in words and numbers

There’s been a lot of talk online lately about rejectomancy. For those who don’t know, rejectomancy is the dark art of turning rejection into motivation and positive reinforcement. It’s a kind of bloody-minded alchemy of will. As Kate Heartfield wrote for the SFWA Facebook page on the subject:

Now I’m a non-fiction editor as well as a fiction writer, and I understand that rejection is the default, as it would be in any other transaction. When a customer walks past a rack of shirts in a store, that is not necessarily an assessment of the store-owner’s abilities. Maybe the customer is looking for pants. Maybe someone else will buy a shirt.

This is a great analogy and the line “rejection is the default” is absolute gold. It’s really worth bearing in mind two things when submitting for publication:

1. There are hundreds of people vying for a handful of spots, so you are much more likely to be rejected than accepted;

2. Rejection doesn’t mean your story is bad – it means your story is not right for that market at that time. You’re selling shirts while that editor is looking for pants.

Now, of course, repeated rejection might well be a sign that your story is bad. That’s what beta-readers, critique groups, editors and so on are for. As a writer, you absolutely must learn from rejection. Every time a story comes back, give it another read, another polish. Always make sure it’s been through the wringer of critique before you send it out in the first place. It’s in your best interests to only send out your best work, and your best work is not a first draft. Or even a second, third or fourth draft. And the better you get, the more likely you are to succeed with submissions.

You will, of course, get better the more you write, the more you submit, the more you learn. You should always be honing your craft. I know that I’m always looking to improve. I always try to learn from rejection. I’m definitely a far better writer now than I was ten years ago – that’s evidenced by the fact that I can make pro sales now where before I was selling into semi-pro markets, and before that token pay markets, or giving stories away to non-paying markets. Incidentally, you should never do that. I should never have done that. No one reads non-paying markets (except for a few notable exceptions) and you’re really just throwing work away. But, of course, we all do it, looking for that early validation of being published. So go for it, do what works, but try to gravitate to paying markets ASAP. Even if it’s a token payment of ten bucks or a bucket of cold fish or a fucking hat. Get something for your work.

But I digress. Back to rejectomancy. When I say there’s been a lot of it about, I’m talking about things that SFWA post I linked above and then Elizabeth Bear tweeting:

And Nalo Hopkinson replying with this:

In fact, those tweets triggered a flood of chat and it’s been Storified here:
https://storify.com/rcloenenruiz/the-writing-life-the-truth-about-rejections

Pretty good reading, right?

You didn’t read it? Go! Read it now, I’ll wait…

*flicks over to the other open tabs*

*makes sure no one is watching*

*giggles*

Oh, you’re back? So, that says it all about about rejection and I don’t need to say more. So why am I crapping on about it here? Because that’s what I do. And I thought I’d add some numbers of my own to the mix. A lot of those folks are talking about novels as well as short stories and the same rules apply to both in terms of submission and rejection. But for the sake of numbers, here are my figures for short fiction.

Out of 56 published short stories for which I have rejection figures, I have a total of 238 rejections. That might seem like a good rate at first glance – after all, an acceptance rate averaging a hit for every 4 or 5 submissions would be fucking great! I’d love to have a strike rate like that. But I don’t.

Some of those early hits were non-paying markets that accepted my story on the first try. Zero rejections for that yarn. Which is good on the face of it, but is actually only because those markets are desperate for anything that’s basically literate and a trained monkey could get published there.

There are also several stories on that list which were accepted with zero rejections because they were written specifically for anthologies after I’d been invited to submit. That happens later in a career when you’ve established yourself and your ability. Sometimes editors come to you. It’s an awesome feeling and one of which I’ll never tire. Of course, even then there’s no guarantee you’ll be accepted, but the chances are obviously much higher than cold subs.

So all those with zero rejections are actually skewing the results a lot.

Looking at cold subs, to paying markets, I have a handful there that landed the right home on the first try, but the vast majority have at least a few rejections first. Among those, I have 24 published stories that collected 5 or more rejections before selling. That’s almost half of my published stories that were rejected five times or more. The rest had 1 to 4 rejections, with the handful of exceptions mentioned earlier. But let’s just look at those with 5 or more rejections before a sale.

Of those 24, the breakdown is like this:

8 stories rejected 5 times before selling.

3 stories rejected 6 times before selling.

2 stories rejected 7 times before selling.

3 stories rejected 9 times before selling.

2 stories rejected 10 times before selling.

1 story rejected 11 times before selling.

1 story rejected 12 times before selling.

3 stories rejected 14 times before selling. (Not sure why 14 is becoming a theme!)

And my current record-holder:

1 story rejected 17 times before selling.

That’s right. I have a story that was rejected 17 times and I didn’t give up on it. You know why? Because I’m a stubborn fucker with a skin thicker than a geriatric rhino. You have to be if you want to be a successful writer. But you know what else? That story changed a lot between submissions. It started out as a sci-fi story and sold as an urban horror story. I realised the SF trappings were wrong for that one. I listened to editorial comments. I made it better. And then I started sending it to the right markets for that kind of story.

Several of the stories with high rejection counts had similar changes – massive cuts, title changes, characters taken out or put in. But not all of them. For many of them, the changes were very small, but I just kept on until I found the right desk at the right time. I used rejectomancy to alchemically change those stories from unpublished to published.

Subsequently, among those stories with 5 or more rejections, one won a competition, several were listed on Recommended Reading lists, and a couple were nominated for awards!

That tweet from Elizabeth Bear above is so true: “Right desk, right day, right story, write better. It never stops being true.”

So good. I might put that on the wall above my desk, in fact.

So there you have it. The dark art of rejectomancy. Embrace it. Use it. Learn to love it. Go and read that Storify about rejection again. And whenever you feel down about it all, just remember that some of the greatest books and stories in the world were rejected numerous times before they sold. There’s nothing different about you. Stay strong, be stubborn, thicken your skin, always hone your craft and never give up.

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