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!

Advertisements

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!

When Glints Collide Pre-Sale!

The Fluky Fiction anthology featuring my story, ‘Life In Sepia’, is just a couple of weeks away from release! Available from October 10th, When Glints Collide is a collection of science fiction, horror and oddities with something for every fan of quirky fiction that sends a shiver chasing down your spine.

There are two special pre-order deals available now. If you order your Kindle version before the release date, you can get it for the special price of only $0.99!

Alternatively, for those who prefer to have a paperback copy in their hands, you can order direct from the Fluky Fiction Etsy store for the special pre-release price of just $10. Readers from the USA can also get free domestic shipping with the special discount code FREESHIPFOX.

An Anatomy Of Fear

For horror authors, the definition of fear and how to invoke it is the most important question to answer. I’ve had the privilege of reading the slush pile for Gallows Hill Magazine, and in the course of doing so I’ve read some truly fantastic and powerful stories that have stayed in my mind long after finishing them. I’ve been reflecting upon what made these particular stories stand out from the rest. There was no particular theme running through them, but the one thing they did have in common was the author’s ability to understand precisely how to play on the reader’s instinctive fears.

In my opinion, the greatest horror is psychological. Gore certainly has its place in the genre, but for me, the most successful horror is that which has the ability to sink its tendrils into the reader’s mind and captivate them entirely. To do that, the author has to comprehend the concept of human fear. We all have phobias, some stranger than others – mine is cotton wool – but tapping into a universal fear across that spectrum is incredibly difficult. You might write a spine tingling piece about spiders, but for someone who isn’t afraid of them in the least, however well your story is crafted, it won’t hit the spot. To hook as many readers as possible, you have to appeal to humanity’s base instincts.

We’re complex individuals, but as a species we have the same instincts for self-preservation. That instinct has developed a variety of hard-coded fears that are hard to shake even when we become rational adults with a harder skin than the child we once were, peering tentatively under the bed for fear of what might lurk there unseen. It’s those seemingly simple fears that can lift a well-written piece of horror into something truly fantastic; the monster in the shadows, the menacing stranger, confined spaces, deprivation of senses, contagion…the list goes on, opening up endless possibilities for the imaginative horror author to weave these fears throughout their stories and speak to the reader’s innermost fears.

Of course, there’s far more that goes into creating the ultimate horror story, and I won’t pretend to be an expert – far from it. But I do have a few more tips to share from an editing perspective, and I’ll be doing so over the coming weeks.

 

The Art of Nicola Samori

When seeking inspiration for what I write, I almost always turn to the senses. I never write in silence; some kind of rock or heavy metal music plays in the background to get the words flowing. But to spark the story in the first place, I look for visual inspiration.

In a truly serendipitous discovery on Tumblr, I found the art of Italian painter and sculptor, Nicola Samori. His subverted Baroque style is a direct challenge to the viewer, and as I looked through his work, I felt a shiver chase down my spine. The dark beauty of his paintings makes my soul sing. They are a Gothic author’s dreams lifted from the mind and page, and translated into a series of paintings that will provide me with inspiration for years to come.

When I finally pick up that first million dollar advance, one of Samori’s paintings are right at the top of my list to buy.

Il corpo squisito
Aveeva
Lenza del padre

All images are the copyright of Nicola Samori, whose website is here and Artsy profile here.