Upcoming Release and Raffle – Her Dark Voice Vol 2

As previously announced, my story, ‘Under The Skin’, will feature in Her Dark Voice Vol 2 from Quantum Corsets. I’m excited to share the news that pre-order links for the charity anthology are now LIVE, along with tickets for a raffle organised by editor Theresa Derwin that features some fantastic prizes! 

The anthology will be launched at Edge-Lit 7 on July 14th, and the raffle will be drawn on that date. Follow the link to Theresa’s website to see the prizes, pre-order your copy and pick up some tickets for the raffle! The more that is raised, the more we can donate to Breast Cancer Now – a truly brilliant cause.

http://www.theresaderwin.co.uk/her-dark-voice-2/

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Why You All Need To Take Heed Of Faleena Hopkins and #Cockygate

So, as it often does, a storm has blown up on social media these last few days.  If you’re active in the writing community on Facebook or Twitter, you can’t have failed to hear about Faleena Hopkins and #cockygate – hell, even the Guardian here in the UK has picked up the story today, running a decisively biting assessment of her attempt to prevent other authors using a titular word that she’s laid trademark to (even if they have crushingly failed to spell her name correctly throughout!).

If you have somehow managed to miss the furore, Courtney Milan has written a thread with a succinct summary of precisely how this all went down.

The long and short of it is that an erotica author by the name of Faleena Hopkins managed to file a trademark for the stylised word ‘cocky’ as a series title, and by a succession of strong arm tactics and downright bullying behaviour, has tried to stop other authors using that word in their own titles – even those whose stories were published prior to her series, which incidentally, seems to have been referred to by Hopkins as ‘The Cocker Brothers’ series until she filed for the trademark. Even if the trademark can stand up to the separate legal challenges being prepared by author Kevin Knuepper and the RWA, to attempt to retroactively prevent authors like Jamila Jasper from using the word in their title with threats like the one below are, quite frankly, abhorrent.

And it isn’t only about the titles, even though Hopkins is surely on shaky legal ground with those alone. As of today (8th May), authors are reporting that even the use of ‘cocky’ as a keyword is resulting in their book being removed from sale.

This is people’s livelihoods at risk, and quite rightly, the romance community has rallied around each other to support authors who have been targeted by Hopkins, who, at the time of writing, has refused to apologise or withdraw her threats, claiming instead to be the victim of a sustained bullying campaign. However utterly delicious it is that the community has come together over a controversy by the name of #cockygate, the mere fact that at this moment in time it seems to be possible to trademark a word means that authors and publishers across every genre need to sit up and pay attention.

Imagine how many sci-fi books have ‘stars’ in the title? Fantasy books with ‘tower’, ‘mage’ or ‘witch’? Horror books with ‘dark’ or ‘shadows’? There’s a reason why those titular words are so prevalent, and that’s because they work. They clue the reader in as to the genre of the book, tell them what they can expect and stand up in the search listings as a flag for the story’s content. They work for both the author and the reader, and in my opinion, they can never be allowed to become the sole property of one overreaching, narcissistic author alone.

Right now, this is a one-off that will hopefully see justice done when all the dust settles. What’s most concerning, though, is the thought that right now, hundreds of entrepreneurial chancers are racing off to the USPTO to try to file copyright claims just like Hopkins before them. This sense of self-interest goes against everything I love about the supportive writing community. There’s limitless room for beautiful, well-written literature across all the genres. We need to support each other and build each other up, amplifying everyone’s success to promote the world of publishing as a whole. Divisive tactics like this harm authors, publishers, and the readers who invest their time and money in the stories we write.

I suspect that in a year or so, Hopkins’ name will be no more than a footnote in the annals of publishing history, one of those memes that everyone rolls their eyes at when they look back at the ashes of what was once a successful indie publishing career. We can only hope that she hasn’t unleashed Pandora’s Box on her way down.

Cover Reveal – Her Dark Voice Vol. 2

The cover art for the new Quantum Corsets anthology, Her Dark Voice Vol. 2, has just been unveiled, and it’s absolutely fantastic! I’m excited to be able to share it with you all here, as my story, ‘Under The Skin’, is part of the line-up.

The anthology is due for release later this year.

To Twist Or Not To Twist, That Is The Question

Recently the Yorkshireman asked me why it was that I struggle to watch TV shows or movies unless I’ve looked up the ending first, and I remembered how when I was little, I would always turn to the last page of a book to internalise the ending before I could read the rest of a story. That’s a habit I’ve broken now, but the sense of unease about not knowing how something will end has stayed with me. Hell, I even find birthdays and Christmas stressful unless I know in advance what’s inside all those wrapped presents, even those belonging to my daughters.

Now I’ve had a chance to think it through, I can see how that carries through to my writing. Even though my characters and the plot are under my control (most of the time!), I find it hard to throw in a big twist at the end of the story without signposting it so much that there might as well be a big neon spotlight dancing over the hints that are woven in. I feel cheated when I read a story with a final twist that comes out of nowhere. If it feels like an organic progression of the plot, with hints throughout the story (even if I missed them at first), then well done to the author, but it destroys the enjoyment of the story for me if I feel like the author is deliberately trying to pull the rug out from beneath the reader’s feet by throwing in a twist for the sake of it. It’s one thing to draw in a peripheral character, for example, and show the hand they played in how the plot unfolded, but to introduce Sally’s long-lost third cousin, twice removed, on the final pages merely to unmask him as the villain is sloppy writing.

Of course, as with all things, there is a balance to be found. Whilst relying too heavily on the surprise element of the twist should be avoided, the reader needs to feel a satisfying pay-off from their investment in your characters and stories, and a well-crafted, genuine twist is often a great way in which to pull your plot together at the denouement. That’s something I intend to work on in my writing this year.

Let me know about the twists that worked for you – and those that didn’t!

Drugs, dilemmas and other stories

So my little corner of the internet has been quiet for a while. I make no apologies for it – this is my space, after all. However, I would like to offer up an explanation, as well as looking forward to better times to come. The end of 2017 and the start of this new year have proved difficult for me, health wise. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I have a chronic pain condition which affects my mobility, and despite my efforts to follow doctor’s orders (most of the time) this has worsened significantly in the last few months. The new medication I now take to make it out of bed each day has proved hard to adjust to, and combined with a truly delightful kidney infection that landed a week before Christmas, I’ve found myself struggling to balance looking after my health with my university commitments, writing, and most importantly my children.

It’s come to a point now where I have to prioritise my health until I have my meds and pain under control, because if I don’t, I simply won’t be able to keep on top of anything else. But whilst things may be quiet on my end for a few more months yet, I have no intention of giving up writing. Not only is it hugely beneficial for my mental health, but I simply couldn’t imagine going without an outlet for all the stories that burst into being inside my head. I have inspiration aplenty – all I need is pain-free time and a chance to get them down on paper. I have (runs off to check The Grinder) 8 submissions out right now, with another I’m hoping to beat the deadline on next week, health permitting. Hopefully at least 1 or 2 of those will be picked up.

On a brighter note, I have stories out in two upcoming anthologies to look out for; Fluky Fiction’s The Muse and The Flame, and Crescendo of Darkness from Horror Addicts. Also published this month was all the sins, Issue 6, which featured my short story, ‘The Price of Blood’. Please check it out and let me know if you liked it!

Announcement! Horror Addicts – Crescendo of Darkness

I am delighted to be able to announce that I’ve signed a contract for my short story, ‘Six String Bullets’ to appear in the Crescendo of Darkness anthology by Horror Addicts. I loved the story call, and I’ve long been a fan of the team at Horror Addicts, so it was a honour to be chosen to have my story as part of the great line-up. The cover artwork (designed by Carmen Masloski) is fantastic, and I can’t wait to see how the anthology  comes together.

Release date TBC.

RELEASE DAY! Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths

I’m excited to share with you all the news that Left Hand Publishers have released their new anthology, Beautiful Lies, Painful Truths, Volume 1, featuring my story, ‘Family Ties’. The stories were all inspired by the following quote:

Life asked Death, ‘Why do people love me, but hate you?
Death responded, ‘Because you are a beautiful lie, and I am a painful truth.
~Anonymous

The anthology features a wide range of authors, each with a different and fascinating take on the prompt. As well as myself, Shaun Avery, S.R. Betler, J. Ryan Blesse, Devin Bradley, Terri Bruce, Steve Cameron, Douglas Clark, JCC Downing, Carrie Gessner, T. Gillmore, S.D. Hintz, LJ Hippler, Michael J. Hultquist, Robert James, A.G. Lopes, Paul K. Metheney, Robert Petyo, EB Pollock, Brandon L. Summers, Timothy Vincent and J.M. Williams all share their response to the quote to produce an anthology ranging from the macabre to the quietly thoughtful, beautifully collated by the professional team at Left Hand Publishers.

Reviews are already flooding in, and I’m delighted by how well the anthology has been received, as well as proud to be a part of it.

The quality of the stories read are amazing, with intricate plots in a short story form coming off as so perfect in their construction. The scope of the imagination of the writers just boggles the mind in the executions of stories that make you think. What might be considered ‘good’ isn’t. What is seen as dark and painful is honestly the way it should be. Major kudos to these stories. These stories will challenge everything you thought you knew.

Bruce Blanchard, book reviewer.

If your interest is piqued, head on over to Amazon to pick up a copy for yourself – and don’t forget to let me know what you think!

Story Notes – Life In Sepia

My story, ‘Life In Sepia’, was recently published by Fluky Fiction in their anthology, When Glints Collide. It’s a short piece – a little over 1000 words – but it’s a story I’m rather fond of, so I’d like to share with you all a little of the background to the story and how it evolved.

The initial spark for the idea came from a childhood memory of long, lazy summer days spent weaving in and out of the legs of the grown-ups at the village fair. I grew up in a quintessential English village, a stone’s throw from the green and the local church that was the centrepoint of village life. The summer fair was the highlight of the year, but for a wistful six-year-old with a head full of sunshine, stories and unicorns, and no concept of danger, it was all too easy to become lost amongst the crowds.

No harm came to me, of course – I’m clearly a well-adjusted adult human, whose love for horror and all things weird in no way indicates any pathological tendencies to seek out fear at every turn. Right? That aside, the memory that came back to me of looking up at so many unfamiliar faces closing in on me was the spark of the story that eventually became ‘Life In Sepia’. Lifting that memory away from the 1980s, I shifted the story back 150 years and placed it firmly in the Victorian era, adding a dash of superstition before transferring the viewpoint to the father desperately seeking his wayward child.

And so the story was born. It’s one of the shortest stories I’ve written, but I think that done right, flash fiction can have a powerful impact on the reader. Every word counts to set the scene, illustrate the characters and draw the reader in towards the story winding around them. It has certainly stayed with me since I wrote it, and I was delighted when it found a home with Fluky Fiction in their anthology. It’s amongst great company with the other authors there – if you pick up a copy, please do consider leaving a review on Amazon/Goodreads to let us know what you think!

The stranger smiled. Tall and thin, his limbs were gangly and jerked as if he were nothing more than a puppet under the spell of a child’s hand. His looping, elaborate moustache twitched with excitement as he swept his ebony top hat from his head, and his dark eyes shone with a feverish lustre that made the baker’s blood run cold as the man spoke again.

“Yes, I have seen her. You need not fear for your daughter. I have saved her.”

‘LIFE IN SEPIA’.

When Glints Collide is available to purchase now: Amazon US/UK

The Cardinal Sins of Submission

As I work my way through the fantastic stories and poems that have been submitted to Gallows Hill Magazine, it seemed a good time to share with you all some of my top tips for making it out of the slush pile. We all know publishing is a competitive business; there are hundreds of stories submitted to each opening, and that’s something to be celebrated. Writing is more accessible than ever, and equally, there are always new venues opening up to showcase the very best of genre fiction. But that means that if you want your story to stand out, you need to do everything you can to present yourself and your story in the best light.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure you don’t commit the cardinal sins of short story submissions.

  1. FORMATTING is vital. Seriously. I can’t stress this point enough! When an editor is reading through dozens of submissions each day, ‘quirky’ formatting will do you no favours. Presenting your work in bold font, unusual typefaces or without appropriate paragraphs and punctuation will elicit a pained groan from the weary editor, and giving them a reason to mark your story down from the start is a Bad Plan. Most publications will list the expected formatting for your submission, but when in doubt, always use Shunn standard format for your short stories. Learn it and use it.
  2. GUIDELINES are there for a reason. Don’t subvert them. It doesn’t make you clever or special; you just look like an arsehole. If an editor requests a hard limit of 5k, sending in your 7000 word story is an auto-rejection. If the guidelines request a HEA (happily ever after), then your story that culminates in a beautifully tragic murder of one of the main characters isn’t going to fit, and it’s a waste of your time and theirs to send it in. Read the guidelines, stick to them, and you’re already halfway there.
  3. SUBMITTING CORRECTLY will also stand you in good stead. If the publisher asks for a cover letter, provide one – and think about what you’re writing. They don’t need (or want) to know about the trophy you won when you were 9. But if you’re a member of the HWA or your story was recently nominated for a Stoker, then by all means let them know. Send to the correct email address, or via the submission portal if directed to do so. Don’t find the editor’s personal email to send it to them directly; it only makes you look like someone who isn’t willing to follow the process, and is therefore likely going to be difficult to work with. Address your email formally and politely, and if in doubt, address it as “Dear Editor”, NOT “Dear Sir”!
  4. And DON’T SELF-REJECT. Have confidence in your writing and in yourself. Once your story is the best it can be, get it out there! I know how hard it is for a writer to open up to criticism and send each story out there. Our writing is often intensely personal, and taking a risk on rejection is difficult. But if you’ve read the guidelines, crafted a story that fits and believe in it, then send it off! Take a chance and see what happens.

‘Pick Your Poison’ Cover Reveal And Release Date

I’m so excited to show you all the fantastic cover for the upcoming anthology Pick Your Poison by Owl Hollow Press! My story, ‘Three French Hens’ is featured alongside a standout list of authors, and the anthology will be available to buy from October 17th 2017.

Pick Your Poison has stories from Diane Arrelle, George Brewington, Nichole Celauro, Michael Harris Cohen, Derek Des Anges, Leslie Enstminger, Cara Fox, Sharon Frame Gay, Tom Howard, Charlie Hughes, Aaron Max Jensen, Kevin Lankes, Frank Oreto, Cary G. Osborne, Colleen Quinn, Angela Raper, Jason Rubis, Lawrence Salani, Katie Sherman, Rebecca Snow, Leigh Statham, Benjamin Thomas, Clair Watson and Devon Widmer. Emma and Hannah at Owl Hollow Press have been great to work with, and I can’t wait to see the finished book and share it with you all!