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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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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Punishment of the Sun at Tales to Terrify

tales-to-terrify-logoI’m becoming a bit of a regular at the Tales to Terrify podcast, which is fine with me as it’s one of my favourites. This time, it’s my only vampire story, Punishment of the Sun, which was published in the Dead Red Heart anthology from Ticonderoga Publications in 2011. It also got an Honorable Mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year #4 (Night Shade Books 2012) and was on the Recommended Reading List, Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, 2011 (ed. Liz Grzyb & Talie Helene, Ticonderoga Publications). I’m very proud of this story. I always said I’d never write a vampire yarn – the whole trope has been so overworked that I thought there was nothing else to say. Then editor Russell B Farr put out the call for the Dead Red Heart antho where he wanted distinctly Australian vampire stories. So I saw a challenge there I could rise to. And I’ve subsequently worked over the whole vampire mythology in my own way again in my novels, but not in a really upfront way – more as a small part of the larger supernatural world I explore in them.

Anyway, go and have a listen to the podcast here and be sure to grab a copy of the original anthology here (or wherever you prefer to shop), because it’s bloody excellent. See what I did there?

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Bloodlines table of contents announced

I’m very happy to announce this one, as I’ve been sitting on it for a while. You may remember, if you follow my short fiction writing, that a couple of years ago I had a story in a book called Bloodstones. Published by Ticonderoga Publications and edited by the wonderful and award-winning Amanda Pillar, it got a bunch of award nominations and loads of excellent reviews. It’s a great anthology and you should really check it out if you haven’t already.

Well, Amanda said that Bloodstones was hopefully the first of a series of dark urban fantasy anthologies and now the second one has been announced. Where Bloodstones was an anthology of dark urban fantasy with mythological influences, the new one, Bloodlines, is really embracing its title. Billed as “a non-traditional dark urban fantasy anthology” it will feature tales inspired by blood and blood magic. I’m sure there’ll be a very exciting array of yarns here, because Amanda Pillar is a brilliant editor like that. And I’m very pleased to say that my story, “Old Promise, New Blood”, will be included. Here’s the full table of contents announced today (alphabetical):

  • Joanne Anderton “Unnamed Children”
  • Alan Baxter “Old Promise, New Blood”
  • Nathan Burrage “The Ties of Blood, Hair and Bone”
  • Dirk Flinthart “In The Blood”
  • Rebecca Fung “In the Heart of the City”
  • Stephanie Gunn “The Flowers That Bloom Where Blood Touches Earth”
  • Kelly Hoolihan “The Stone and the Sheath”
  • Kathleen Jennings “The Tangled Streets”
  • Pete Kempshall “Azimuth”
  • Martin Livings “A Red Mist”
  • Seanan McGuire “Into the Green”
  • Anthony Panegyres “Lady Killer”
  • Jane Percival “The Mysterious Mr Montague”
  • Paul Starkey “The Tenderness of Monsters”
  • Lyn Thorne-Adder “Lifeblood of the City”
  • S. Zanne “Seeing Red”

That’s a fine line-up of talent right there. I’m sure a cover reveal will be coming soon, and the book is slated for release in print and ebook before the end of this year. Exciting stuff!

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