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.
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‘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.

Interview with Joshua Demarest of Gallows Hill Magazine

I’m delighted to welcome horror author and editor Joshua Demarest to the blog today. Joshua Demarest is a professional writer, editor, publisher, and filmmaker out of Atlanta, Georgia. In his spare time, Josh collects and repairs antique typewriters, because he couldn’t think of any other stereotypical writer activities to participate in. Josh believes in ghosts and the power of positive thinking, though he has his doubts about the latter. He used to work in theater, where he switched on microphones and hung lights at enormous heights, though he had his doubts about the ladder. He lives with his wife, who loves and supports him, and his two cats, who don’t.

I’ve invited Joshua to talk to us about his work and his exciting new project, Gallows Hill Magazine. Here’s what he had to say!

Hi Josh! Could you introduce yourself to our readers?

Sure. I’m Joshua Demarest, writer, editor, and publisher of all things horror at Gallows Hill Magazine.

Who are your favourite authors and why?

I have a deep love for Tolkien. He truly is a master wordsmith and is an inspiration to generations of writers all over the globe. When I’m talking to highbrow literary people, I pull out George Saunders and Shirley Jackson, two genuine masters of the short form. To the horror of all of my classmates in 10th Grade English, I fell in love with Henry David Thoreau on the shores of Walden Pond. Honestly…this question is unfair! I have so many authors that I want to fangirl over and I don’t have nearly enough time!

So, why horror? What first drew you to the genre?

Horror, to me, is the genre that can affect the reader the most. Great horror will often make the reader have physical reactions. Think about that – physical reactions from words on a page. The power to move the reader to the point where their body triggers fight or flight is truly amazing. I also think it is the genre that allows us to confront the darkness of human nature, society, and (perhaps most uncomfortably) ourselves. We’ve got to reconcile the fact that humans are capable of incredible evil, but also incredible goodness, perseverance, and endless hope. Horror gives me a place to do that. Every story is really just a projection of our own fears, and I think getting that out on paper is cathartic.

Horror, to me, is the genre that can affect the reader the most. Great horror will often make the reader have physical reactions. Think about that – physical reactions from words on a page.

Which horror trope would you like to see eliminated?

Man, where to start. I’m actually going to do you two better and list my top three annoying tropes. First up, sex=death. I’m not sure why this trope is still around. Horror is a genre where we revel in watching people suffer. Can we please drop the false conservatism of killing any character that has sex on-screen or on-page? I don’t know. It seems tired and outdated. Second is the brooding vampire. I get it – life leaves you jaded. Eternal life must leave you…super jaded. But can we PLEASE come up with something more interesting than the dark, quiet, struggling-with-the-weight-of-guilt, super sexy loner vampire? Please? Third has to be exclusively Catholic exorcisms. I want to see exorcisms from every faith on the planet. Almost every culture in the world has some sort of exorcism-like ritual. I’d love to read them.

If you could have created any fictional character, which one would it be?

Norman Bates. I think he is the most complete horror character ever created.

That’s a great insight into what makes you tick as a horror author! Thanks Josh. Can you tell us now about Gallows Hill Magazine – what inspired you to launch a new magazine?

I think there is a wealth of hidden talent that isn’t getting the recognition it deserves. I think the traditional horror genre has done a disservice to countless writers that aren’t as marketable as King or Koontz. And I think that traditional publishing is becoming less and less relevant. The horror genre is going through incredible changes. Technological advances and vast increases in accessibility of independent content are creating a new generation of writers who create experimental, experiential stories. Gallows Hill is the magazine for those writers. Of course we’ll have some of the best fiction in the market. But we’ll also have genre news and reviews, resources for writers, and articles on how the genre is evolving. Gallows Hill was created to be the one-stop shop for horror readers and writers who want to keep a finger on the pulse of cutting-edge horror.

I think that traditional publishing is becoming less and less relevant. The horror genre is going through incredible changes.

What sort of submissions would you like to receive for the magazine?

I want to read fiction that compels me further. I want to read a submission that demonstrates great pacing and leaves you unable to look away. Give me your exorcisms, your creature features, your deranged serial killers. Give me your weird cults and psychological destroyers. Cross the line between horror and fantasy or science fiction or whatever genre you choose. Don’t just cross the line – erase it. I want stories that make me question who the real monster was. But I don’t want gore for the gore.

That sounds great! Do you have anything exciting lined up for the inaugural issue?

Of course! Our featured author is Richard Chizmar, founder of Cemetery Dance, author of A Long December, and (with Stephen King) Gwendy’s Button Box. You’ll be able to read an interview with him, read one of his short stories, and see what he answered in a rapid-fire game of word association. There will also be articles that focus on non-fiction horror – plenty of inspiration fodder for all of our readers. There is a writer’s resource section with interviews, tips, and tricks of approaching the industry and building your career, and a reader’s resource section that recommends and reviews the best new horror on page and in theaters. And of course, a selection of the absolute best horror fiction from around the world.

How can authors submit their work to you for the magazine?

Whether you want to submit fiction or poetry, artwork or reviews, head over to https://greensubmissions.com/956/gallows-hill-magazine/index.php and send them over.

Let’s wrap it up here. Tell us one last thing you want the readers to know about you!

I love working with new writers. Please let me know if you have not published professionally yet and would like some feedback on your submissions. I’ll be happy to provide what I can. I also am easily reachable by Twitter – @JDDemarest – and am always available to answer questions and connect with other writers!

Thanks Josh!

~

I’m sure you’ll all agree with me that Gallows Hill Magazine sounds fantastic. I wish Josh every success with his new project and I’ve no doubt he’ll do well. Remember, if you want to get in touch with Joshua Demarest and Giles Press, you can reach him via Twitter at @JDDemarest, and that link again to find the guidelines, rates and submit your work to Gallows Hill Magazine is here. Issue 1 is scheduled to be released in October 2017.

A Rose By Any Other Name

Naming my characters is at once the most fun and the most frustrating part of writing. I swear I found it easier to choose a name for my kids than to get all the names right for all the characters in each story.

A name is so much more than just a label. If you get it right, it tells the reader about their background, their character, and just as importantly, the genre of your story. Take Count Vlad Dracula as an example. Say the name out loud; roll the syllables around your tongue and listen to the harsh consonants amongst the long, soft vowel sounds.

Count. Vlad. Dracula.

It really is the perfect name for the aristocratic vampire of legend. Stoker lucked out, for his Dracula was based on the historical Wallachian Vlad Dracula, but there are many other examples in literature of names that use this principle to work in the same way. Peake’s Steerpike, Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, Kesey’s infamous Nurse Ratched, even Dahl’s Agatha Trunchbull. Come on – you just can’t imagine a romantic heroine named Miss Trunchbull, but as a sadistic headmistress her name fits like a glove.

Drifting away from horror, I’ve always admired JK Rowling for the sheer amount of thought she put into naming even the most insignificant characters. Take Phineas Nigellus Black, whose portrait hangs in both Dumbledore’s office and in 12 Grimmauld Place. Nigellus is rooted in the Latin word niger, meaning black, and the Hebrew translation of Phineas is “mouth of a snake”. Phineas was a Slytherin, the portrait his only remaining mouthpiece.

The right name can make or break your character. When I sat down to plot out my new steampunk novella this week, there were eight main characters I wanted to name, from a Moulin Rouge dancer to the shadowy ringmaster of a travelling fair passing through Montmartre. And so Clemence Fontaine and Ignatius Demorte were born.

Shakespeare wrote that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. As much as I love his work, I would have to disagree. Getting the right name for your characters is key.

I would love to hear your favourite names you’ve come up with for your characters! Let me know in the comments below.

What Was Lost

I really miss editing.

There. It’s said. My name is Cara, and I used to be an editor. Under a previous nom de plume, I was a freelance editor. I edited horror anthologies and novels, and I was deeply proud of what I achieved. Helping other authors make their writing be the best it possibly could be was just as much of a thrill as creating my own stories.

And then life threw a curveball into my path. My impossible baby came along. Much wanted, but unexpected nonetheless. I planned to take three months of maternity leave before easing back into my freelance work; I didn’t want to take too much time out of a fast-moving market that I loved being part of. But then towards the end of the third month, I found myself standing at the side of the road calmly weighing up the pros and cons of throwing myself in the path of the next bus to come along.

Postnatal depression had hit with a vengeance. Out of nowhere I could barely face waking up each morning, let alone returning to work as I had planned. I spent the next two years on a high dose of mirtazapine just to be able to find an equilibrium once more.

For the last six months I’ve been able to stop my medication, and one of the best parts of not taking anti-depressants any more is that the fugue has lifted. I couldn’t write whilst I was taking them; now the inspiration and drive has returned. I can use the pain as a spur to dig deep and take my writing to places it has never been before.

I thought long and hard about whether to take up the mantle of my previous name when I resumed writing, but eventually decided to mentally ‘wipe the slate clean’ and choose a new name for myself. That meant I’m now starting from scratch. I still see a handful of names I recognise now and again, but mostly the publishing world is full of new faces. That’s great – but it means I’m finding my feet all over again, establishing my reputation from the beginning.

That in itself wouldn’t inhibit me from starting up freelance editing again, but for now the chronic pain issues I have with my spine after my pregnancy are uncontrolled. I can’t commit to editing a client’s novel when I don’t know if I’ll be able to get out of bed tomorrow.

For now I just keep writing. There’s so many submission calls and brilliant new publishers around that I have more than enough stories floating around to keep me busy – but every now and again, I stop and wistfully remember the days when I had the privilege of reading an author’s story before anyone else. Being able to guide them in shaping it into the book they wanted people to read was an honour, and I hope that one day I’ll be in a position to do that again.

Until then, if anyone is looking for a beta reader, I’m all ears!

Announcement – When Glints Collide

I’m excited to announce that my short story Life In Sepia has been picked up by Fluky Fiction for their upcoming anthology, ‘When Glints Collide’, a collection of science fiction, horror and oddities. My story definitely falls into the latter category! A spooky little tale sparked by the superstitions our ancestors held about the first cameras, I’ve held this one close to my chest for a while, but this anthology felt like the right fit for it. I can’t wait to read all the other stories in this eclectic collection!

‘When Glints Collide’ is scheduled for release in October 2017.