Short Story

22 Common Problems Associated with Short Story Submissions – from editor, Amanda Pillar

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November 7, 2014

Do you write and submit short stories to anthologies and magazines? If so, you really need to read this, from the award-winning editor, Amanda Pillar. Thanks, Amanda!

I’ve worked on seven anthologies over the past six or so years. I’m onto the eighth, the Bloodlines* anthology to be published by Ticonderoga Publications. I’ve also judged a couple short story and flash fiction competitions. Over the last six years, I’ve noticed reoccurring issues with authors’ submissions. While I will not reject someone outright for forgetting to use standard manuscript format, or for misspelling my name, there are editors who will. So it’s these basic mistakes that may be hindering authors from getting published. There are other issues as well – the quality of writing, willingness of an author to be edited, attitude of an author (if you’re rude, people won’t want to work with you) and so on.

But to help, I’ve compiled a list of 22 common problems associated with short story submissions, shown below in no particular order:

  1. Proof read your work. More than one or two typos (on the first 2 pages) are not your friend. In fact, it looks like the author rushed the submission or that they cannot proof read their work. The latter can leave an editor worried about the entire editing process to come.
  2. Read the submission guidelines properly. If it asks for fantasy, don’t send science fiction and vice versa. If I say I want urban fantasy, do not send stories that are set in the future, or contain aliens, etc.
  3. Send your manuscript in standard format unless otherwise asked for. This is an example http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html. (I tend to ask for Times New Roman font, because I hate Courier New. So check the guidelines to make sure!)
  4. Do NOT send a blank email with an attachment. Your precious story could end up deleted unread. You would be surprised how much spam can come through a dedicated submissions email address, so if you’re sending blank emails with attachments…
  5. Relating to Tip 4, put your cover letter in the body of your email. Do NOT send an essay. A couple of paragraphs will do. I’ve seen cover letters that are longer than the stories (well, almost). The editor will most likely not read your entire list of publishing credentials, so just put the most relevant.
  6. Check the name of the editor you’re submitting to. If it is listed, USE it. Not ‘Dear Editor’, ‘Hello’ or worse yet, nothing. I’ve heard there’s some confusion as to the use of ‘Miss’, ‘Ms’ or ‘Mrs’. Unless you know they’re married, or they say they have a preferred option, go with ‘Ms’. If they have a problem with it, well, you tried. It’s better than nothing!
  7. When writing your story SHOW don’t TELL. I cannot stress how important this one is.
    For example:
    ‘Bob and Jane ate the dinner Jane had made. The steak was overcooked. Bob didn’t like it.’ That is telling.
    This is showing: ‘Bob and Jane smiled at each other over the dinner table. Picking up his fork, Bob tentatively cut into the blackened steak Jane had set before him. She tried so hard, but she just never seemed to get it right. Bob took a hesitant mouthful and tried to hide the grimace that swept across his face.’
  8. Avoid info dumps. They are definitely not your friend. They’re more like an enemy. If you have a paragraph or three that are explaining some fundamental feature of your story, it can usually be done quicker and without the background detail. For example, pretend this paragraph is three paragraphs long talking about how vampires were really spawned from a human and demon liaison. Instead, you could show this in simple dialogue:
    “You mean vampires are real?” Jane asked.
    Bob nodded and adjusted the silver stake strapped to his belt. “Some human banged a demon. The result: blood drinking undead progeny.”
    Saying this, don’t just use dialogue to get around your info dumps. This is simply an example of how you can do it.
  9. Make sure you know your genres. This will help avoid Tip 2 from happening. Google is your friend. There’s lots of data out there on what is fantasy, what is scifi, etc.
  10. Make sure your first page is absolutely POLISHED. Some editors will not read past it if the writing doesn’t hook them. And remember, the editor is under no obligation to read your entire story. Some have limits: they’ll read one page, two pages or six pages before they stop reading if you haven’t hooked them. You never know what it is going to be.
  11. Make sure your story has a plot. Even if it is less than 1,000 words long, it can still have a plot. There’s a character, something happens to them, there’s a resolution. That’s a plot.
  12. Make sure your story doesn’t have plot holes. Things can’t just happen because they suit your story; they have to make sense. Otherwise, you end up with a Prometheus-style cluster-fuck.
  13. Short stories – as a general rule – do not need prologue-style paragraphs.
  14. Choose your characters’ names with care. Nothing too confusing. Gender neutral names are fine. Just nothing too long, or with too many apostrophes or hyphens. I’ll forget it, and potentially, I’ll forget your character or remember them as ‘that one with the stupid name’.
  15. It’s the 1960s NOT the 1960’s! Enough said. Unless the 1960s owned something.
  16. Don’t overuse exclamation marks. Capitals or italics usually do the job without the need for an exclamation mark.
  17. Incorrect uses of apostrophes is a personal pet hate of mine. Don’t do it. Ever. If you’re not sure, check. It’s vs its, you’re vs your, kids vs kid’s. Make sure it’s right.
  18. If you’re lucky enough to get personalised feedback, don’t argue. Say ‘thank you’ and move on, even if you disagree.
  19. If you’re submitting to an anthology of mine, avoid rape scenes or the needless denigration of women. It is usually done for shock value alone, or to show a character is a misogynist. You can shock people and show your character hates women without resorting to these two points.
  20. On the same page of Tip 19, do not send me stories condoning paedophilia.
  21. Make sure your story is standalone. I see lots of stories that are the start of something much longer.
  22. Last but not least: Voice. Make sure your story has a strong, unique voice.

*For those of you wondering, no, this is not aimed at the Bloodlines authors who submitted recently to my collection. I have experienced nearly all of these issues for every anthology I’ve ever done. And it’s happened to a lot of my editor friends as well. This list was compiled in the hope that for the next collection we editors undertake, these issues won’t be reaching our inboxes.

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photo 300x300 22 Common Problems Associated with Short Story Submissions   from editor, Amanda PillarAmanda Pillar is an award-winning editor and speculative fiction author who lives in Victoria, Australia, with her partner and two children, Saxon and Lilith (Burmese cats).

Amanda has had numerous short stories published and has co-edited the fiction anthologies Voices (2008), Grants Pass (2009), The Phantom Queen Awakes (2010), Scenes from the Second Storey (2010), Ishtar (2011) and Damnation and Dames (2012). Her first solo anthology was published by Ticonderoga Publications, titled Bloodstones (2012). Amanda is currently finalising the Bloodstones’ sequel, Bloodlines, due out in 2015.

In her ‘free time’, she works as an archaeologist.

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Free and signed Halloween reads

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October 23, 2014

So that most awesome of festivals, Halloween, is fast approaching. I plan to start a new tradition this year, that I picked up from author Willie Miekle. Willie posted on Facebook how he always writes a ghost story by hand in a notebook every Halloween. Brilliant! I’ll be doing that from now on too. But it’s also the time for All Hallow’s Read, which is something Neil Gaiman started a few years ago.

Suspended In Dusk NEW 187x300 Free and signed Halloween reads

Suspended In Dusk

So what is All Hallow’s Read? Well, it’s a new Halloween tradition where during the week of Halloween, or on the night itself, you give someone a scary book. So here I’ll be giving you a scary book. A new anthology has just come out, called Suspended In Dusk. It contains 19 excellent horror stories, including one by myself, with an introduction by Jack Ketchum, all superbly edited together by Simon Dewar. The print edition should be coming out any time now, but the ebook is out already. And until October 31st, you can get it for free from Smashwords. Here’s the page to get it, and then use the coupon code DA68M at the checkout to change the price to $0.00. Happy Halloween!

And talking about scary books, you know the first Alex Caine book, Bound, is pretty scary, right? You can buy that in all bookstores, free shipping from fishpond.com.au, it’s still only $20 on booktopia.com.au. Lots of city stores have signed copies in stock. It’s also only $1.99 in ebook, from all the usual outlets.

However, if you want a signed copy directly from me, that’s no problem. They’re only $20 plus postage. Email me at alan [at] warriorscribe.com and tell me where you are and I’ll let you know the postage. I can send those signed copies anywhere in the world, even though the books are currently only officially available in Australia and New Zealand. A signed copy of Bound? What a great gift for Halloween, or Christmas, or just because you’re a great person and you buy books as gifts. You rock.

Meanwhile, grab that free anthology while you can. It really is a good collection of scary stories.

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SUPERPOW! Coming your way at the end of October

By
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September 16, 2014

RRPSuperpow front med 200x300 SUPERPOW! Coming your way at the end of OctoberThis is very exciting. I’ve always wanted to write a superhero story, but never found the right opportunity. Then, a little while ago, the wonderful K V Taylor, editor at Red Penny Papers, contacted me and said, “Hey, I’m putting together an anthology of superhero stories. Any chance you’d consider contributing?”

Well, yes. Yes, I would. And so I did. And now that anthology is almost upon us. It’s called SUPERPOW and it’ll be published in print and ebook on October 27th. Check out that sweet cover to the left. The cover artist is “Astro”, and her site is http://nogutsnoglory.tumblr.com/

Here’s the word from RPP and Table of Contents:

Bang, crash, pow!–oh, but there’s so much more to the superpowered characters these Red Penny Papers alumni have created in Superpow. Our cover heroes come from two new pulptastic superhero novellas from Corinne Duyvis’s Pantheress, one of the rogue heroes of Sigma City, and William Vitka’s Ruben, trying to make a new life in a world where everyone has ‘funny’ powers… except for him. And these two are just the beginning of the villains, heroes, and observers waiting in the pages of Superpow.

Table of Contents:

Masks of Sigma City – Corinne Duyvis
Leather Boy v. The Zombie Horde – Fox Lee
Birthplace Revisited – Edward Morris
Lighting Time and the Time of Thunder – Alexandra Seidel
Autumn of the Greatest – Alan Baxter
Free, Proud, Imbued with Liberty – John Medaille
Starlight – Milo James Fowler
Ice Child – Alexandra Seidel
Unsuper Translator – Louise Bohmer
Portrait of a Better Man – Jocelyn Adams
Bruiser – William Vitka

Superpow is the first and only fiction The Red Penny Papers has ever charged for, so apart from just being a gorgeous collection of superhero pulp short fiction and poetry, it’s a great way to help us a little around the house. It will be available in print and as an eBook on October 27, 2014. Watch this space for more!

 SUPERPOW! Coming your way at the end of October

 

 

I’ll be sure to let you all know when you can get your copy. (And very soon I’ll have news of another anthology that’s out any day now. It’s all happening at once around here.)

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Sci-fi six pack for only 99c, including me

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September 10, 2014

scifi box set 300x300 Sci fi six pack for only 99c, including me So this is exciting: The publisher of my Balance novels, Gryphonwood Press, has put together a book bundle featuring six great sci-fi stories from six top-notch authors, for only 99 cents.

Humans fight off an alien invasion. A race of super-soldiers turn on their creators. A specialist undergoes a dangerous procedure in order to access a secret locked in his mind. Futuristic submarine warfare on alien worlds! A telepath and spice dealer battle gangs and madmen. A futuristic bounty hunter pursues a madman across the galaxy.

A dirty half-dozen science fiction thrills, three novels, two novellas, and a short story, by William Meikle, Justin Macumber, Terry W Ervin II, Terry Mixon, Ryan A Span and that one about the futuristic bounty hunter? That’s my novella, Ghost of the Black: A ‘Verse Full of Scum. So much sci-fi for under a dollar.

This box set will only be available for a short while. Get it now!

BUY YOUR COPY OF SCI-FI SIX-PACK

Kindle | Kindle UK | Kindle AU | Kindle CA | Nook | Kobo | Smashwords

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All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

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August 12, 2014

By now you all know I’m good friends with Angela Slatter. You should also know that I’m a huge fan of her work – it’s great when one of your friends is also one of your favourite writers. One of the best books I’ve read in recent years was Sourdough & Other Stories, Angela’s collection of short stories published by Tartarus Press. Not only is it a collection of brilliant stories, it’s a beautiful artifact of a book too. Tartarus make wonderful things. Well, Angela was supposed to write a sequel collection, but being the contrary writer she is, she wrote a prequel collection instead. It’s called The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. Tartarus agreed to publish it and Angela scored the amazing Kathleen Jennings to do internal illustrations for it. The result is a book even more beautiful than Sourdough, and equally chock full of amazing stories. I know that, because I’ve read it. The book’s not out til September 1st, but we’re friends, remember? So I got Angela and Kathleen to talk a bit about it and the process of its creation. You can read that below. At the end is a link to the Tartarus Press website where you can pre-order the book, and I really, really recommend that you do. And if you haven’t read Sourdough, buy that too and you can read it while you wait. I’m not just talking up my friends here, either – Sourdough was nominated for the World Fantasy Award and the Aurealis Award for Best Collection. These are books you do not want to miss. Over to Angela and Kathleen.

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Angela3 206x300 All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other RecountingsAngela:

My Author’s Note to Bitterwood goes thus:

The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings is intended as a prequel to Sourdough and Other Stories. It was meant to be a sequel, but the tales were determined to defy me—they insisted upon telling what had happened before, to show how the books of Murcianus came to be, how Ella came into the world, where Hepsibah Ballantyne—who appears only as a name on a headstone in Sourdough’s Lodellan cemetery—began the chain of events that are traced through the mosaic of this book. Bitterwood expands and builds upon the world of Sourdough and, I hope, makes readers feel they are coming home once again.

I’d written “The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter” in 2011 as a standalone story for Steve Jones’s A Book of Horrors anthology, and that seemed the place to start. Hepsibah had gone from being a name on a grave to a powerful presence, so that story is one that threads through the whole of Bitterwood. As I wrote the stories fell into place and I can honestly say that this collection was one of those rare things that a writer dreams of: knowing exactly what was going to happen, when, and to whom. I was able to weave together so many of the things I love: elements of history and myth and fairy tale and folklore. There are little nods to writers as diverse as Umberto Eco and Kim Newman. There are vampires, boarding schools for assassins, pirates who are being hunted to extinction, a brazen head that tells the future, bakeries and rats, transformed badgers and dreadful revenges − and books. So many books.

bitterwood7 225x300 All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other RecountingsAs the narrative came together I started to think not about a cover, strangely, but about internal illustrations. I love Kathleen Jennings’ artwork and I knew she had an ambition to do endpapers, so I asked if she would like to beta read the stories as I finished them and, if perhaps the spirit moved her, do some illustrations as she read? She said yes, which was lucky for me; luckier still the lovely people at Tartarus took both the collection and agreed to use Kathleen’s illustrations. I feel very fortunate and privileged to have drawings done that truly capture the spirit of the tales I wrote. And of course there was the absolute wicked delight of having Kathleen text me photos of what she’d done as she read a story.

It was such a pleasure to work with her and I hope I was a well-behaved author! I don’t think I was critical or asked for any kangaroos to be added to The Last Supper. I’m doubly spoiled because Kathleen also did the artwork for my limited edition collection of Black-Winged Angels (Ticonderoga Publications), which echoes the silhouette technique of Arthur Rackham, but has its own wonderful unique beauty.

kathleen colour 287x300 All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other RecountingsKathleen:

Angela would keep dropping hints about the most beautiful parts of her stories, often before they were written – badgers (sigh) and a school for poison girls, doors in trees, dangerous quilts… so any workload-related resolve was fairly well weakened by the time she sent me the manuscript, because now they were here! They were real stories in the world, and I could read them!

I spent a lot of time in cafes, reading and sketching, sending Angela texts with reactions and pictures – each gaining energy from the other’s excitement! We’re still doing this, if you saw our comments back and forth when Tartarus released pictures of the Actual Book.

It was a lovely way to work, actually: just a free hand to sketch my way through the book. Because the original plan was to try and sell Tartarus on the idea of endpapers, I was going for multiple small images and the individual pressure was off – I could just draw anything that caught my fancy. And then Angela would edit it out of the manuscript. But anyway.

bbparts All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

I’m still haunted by images from this book. Images and titles (‘Now all pirates are gone’). And Tartarus did a lovely job of putting the pictures in just where they ought to be – Angela and I had to check in with each other to say, “Did you see where they put the badgers? I knowwww!”

Still haven’t drawn endpapers.

***

The Tartarus Press website is here and you can buy Sourdough & Other Stories here (This is a link to the paperback. I think the beautiful hardback is sold out, but worth sending an email maybe) and pre-order The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings here. Go. Now!

You can learn more about Angela here and more about Kathleen here.

bitterwoodfinis 300x215 All about The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings

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Talking up the good stuff

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July 30, 2014

I’ve been going on a lot lately about Bound. It’s no surprise, really. I have a book out from a major publisher and it’s on shelves in bookstores and everything! I’m still finding it hard to believe, but I’m certainly enjoying it. However, now I want to spread the love – I’ve been going on so much lately about myself, it’s time I talked about other people a bit. Below are the books and stories I’ve been really enjoying lately and I highly recommend you check them out. Let’s go:

The Hunt for Pierre Jnr By David M. Henley (the sequel, Manifestations, is out now too.) As the blurb says, “He can make you forget, he can control you and he is only eight years old. Three months after his birth he escaped. An hour later he was lost to surveillance. No one knows where he has been for the last eight years … Now Pierre Jnr is about to return.” Sounds good, right? It is.

Home & Hearth by Angela Slatter. All you need to know about this one is covered perfectly in Andrew McKiernan’s review here. I agree with him completely.

Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew McKiernan. I had the pleasure of MCing the launch of this excellent debut collection of short stories. It’s fantastic and Greg Chapman sums it up nicely in this review here.

Exile by Peter M Ball. Okay, I haven’t read this one yet as I’ve only just bought it, but Peter Ball’s stuff is always good and I expect this novella to be up there as well. So I’m including it here.

Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott. This is a great novel and I reviewed it myself at Thirteen O’Clock, so head over here to learn more.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. I mean, really, it’s enough that it’s by Gaiman, right? But this is a wonderful book and very British in style and setting. As an ex-pat Brit, that appealed to me a lot. But whether you’re British or not, it’s well worth your time.

SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror edited by Geoff Brown and A J Spedding. I had the honour of writing a foreword for this collection of military horror short stories. There’s fantastic variety here and it’s a tremendous collection. You’ll be surprised at the scope.

Trucksong by Andrew Macrae. A post-apocalyptic Australia with sentient trucks fighting and fucking and stuff. I know, right? It’s written in an incredibly well-developed Australian voice and is something quite different.

Galveston by Nic Pizzolatto. This is the guy who wrote True Detective, which is some of the best television I’ve seen in recent years. This is a southern crime noir kinda thing, fantasically written. I loved it.

North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud. Possibly the best short story collection I’ve read in recent years. Again, I reviewed it for Thirteen O’Clock, so go here to read me gushing about it.

Lexicon by Max Barry. My book of the year last year and it won an Aurealis Award. A fantastic story about the power of words and language and modern magic rolled up with science and it’s a thriller and… and… Just read it.

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes. A superb supernatural serial killer, crime thriller thing. This book has had loads of attention and all of it well-deserved. A must read.

And next up on my list are Guardian by Jo Anderton (which will be great because it’s book three after Debris and Suited, which were great), Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (after the awesomeness of The Shining Girls, I can’t wait for this one) and Dreaming of Zhou Gong by Traci Harding (which I only got yesterday, signed no less, and I’m looking forward to a lot). Very exciting reading ahead, I think.

A quick web search will reveal any of these to you, so off you go and get some good stuff. Let me know what you think. And if you’ve read something simply brilliant lately, drop a mention in the comments and we can keep this sharing of good stuff going.

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“Upon a Distant Shore” out now and free in Dimension6

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July 4, 2014

D6badge 300x256 Upon a Distant Shore out now and free in Dimension6I’ve been going on a lot lately about the release of Bound, but I’m a greedy little writer and have another release out today as well. This one is a short story called “Upon a Distant Shore”, available for free in Dimension6 magazine, issue 2.

Dimension6 is a great new project from editor, Keith Stevenson. Three new stories per issue, three issues a year, of great spec fic over 4,500 words. So that’s longform short stories, novelettes and novellas, in any ebook format you prefer, for free! You can’t ask for better than that.

My story is a short one at around 5,000 words. It’s about an astronaut on the ISS who really wants something to happen that’ll carve his name in the history books. And he gets it. Be careful what you wish for.

I share this issue with Dirk Strasser and Robert Stephenson – fine company indeed. While you’re grabbing this issue, you can snag issue 1 as well. All the details here. I hope you enjoy it!

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“Mephisto” published at Daily Science Fiction

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June 24, 2014

I’m very happy to have sold another story to those wonderful people at Daily Science Fiction. If you’re not a subscriber, you should be! Fresh and awesome science fiction, fantasy and horror stories direct to your inbox every week day. The stories are also published on the website to be read for free.

My latest story there is called “Mephisto” – a little yarn about small town vaudeville. Or is it?

You can read it here – please take a moment to give it a Rocket Dragon rating when you get to the end, it’s just a single click. I recommend signing up for the subscriber emails while you’re there. If you take the time to read, you have my thanks and I hope you enjoy it.

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Albedo1 reviews SQ Mag 14 very positively and is very kind to my story

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May 20, 2014

Roderick McDonald over at Albedo1.com has reviewed issue 14 of SQ Mag. It’s a fine review and says very nice things about my novelette.

“The Darkness in Clara” by Alan Baxter punched you in the face right from the start. On discovering her long-time partner Clara hanging by the neck as a result of suicide, Michelle feels she has to dig up the past to try to fathom the depths of the departed’s soul. Maybe not a wise decision, nevertheless she goes back to the town where Clara grew up only to find severe hostility. Of the many characters there was nobody to beat Wendy. What great descriptions you get in the story! Anyway, it turns out that Wendy and her pals detested Clara and had no sympathy for her suicide. Something in the past was the source of irritation and it was possibly to do with black magic!

An uncomfortable story to read because of the subject matter, it nevertheless became gripping especially with very believable characters that don’t miss and hit the wall. A really good story!

Can’t get much better praise than that.

You can read the full review here.

And you can read SQ Mag and my story here.

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Suspended in Dusk anthology, ToC revealed

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May 13, 2014

My story, “Shadows of the Lonely Dead”, is coming out in the Suspended in Dusk anthology (Books of the Dead Press, due mid-late 2014) and the editor, Simon Dewar, has just released the full list of contributing authors and their stories. It’s a stellar bunch:

Alan Baxter – Shadows of the Lonely Dead
Angela Slatter – The Way of All Flesh
Anna Reith – Taming the Stars
Armand Rosamilia – At Dusk They Come
Benjamin Knox – The Keeper of Secrets
Brett Rex Bruton – Outside In
Chris Limb – Ministry of Outrage
Icy Sedgwick – A Woman of Disrepute
J C Michael – Reasons to Kill
John Everson - Spirits Having Flown (Reprint)
Karen Runge – Hope is Here
Ramsey Campbell – Digging Deep  (Reprint)
Rayne Hall – Burning (Reprint)
Sarah Read – Quarter Turn to Dawn
Shane McKenzie – Fit Camp (Reprint)
S. G. Larner – Shades of Memory
Tom Dullemond - Would to God That We Were There
Toby Bennett – Maid of Bone
Wendy Hammer – Negatives

That’s alphabetical, of course. The final order of stories and a cover reveal are apparently coming soon. I think this is going to be a great book. A few of those stories are reprints, but the majority are original, and all follow the theme of “suspended in dusk” to some degree. Should be well worth a read. And can I just point out that I’m going to be in a book with Ramsey Campbell. Achievement Unlocked!

More news as it comes to hand.

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Welcome

The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Zetetic.

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