Mad Scientist Journal Spring 2017 out now!

I mentioned that Mad Scientist Journal had accepted A Gift of Life and Death last year. The magazine is out now and available in paperback or Kindle versions on Amazon.

The story is also online – read it. The online version has the most beautiful art, a watercolour heart by Shannon Legler.

If you like my story, or any of the other stories on the site, consider supporting the Mad Scientist Journal Patreon.

A Gift of Life and Death accepted by Mad Scientist Journal

Next year A Gift of Life and Death will appear in Mad Scientist Journal. The main character, Mira, is a character from a longer project I’m working on (the same one that Makiruku appears in). A story with her has sat in my digital drawer for a while. It never really worked until I had the idea, prompted by a call for submissions by Mad Scientist Journal, to re-write it in the first person.

I’m rather pleased to see Mira, a secondary character in the novel, take centre stage to tell us, in her own words, what happened last night and why she’s changing the bedtime ritual she’s followed for years.

This was, incidentally, the fist project that I edited on the bus. So what? It turns out that editing on the bus (at least on First buses) is much more difficult than producing new material. More on that next week.

You write, you edit, you submit, you file the rejection

It was pretty much what I thought would happen: my first full novel submission was rejected.

In one way it was worse than I had expected. Temporarily convinced of my own genius (if I wasn’t, just for a moment, I wouldn’t send anything, ever) I hoped, crossing fingers and toes, that they’d want to read the whole thing. They didn’t.

You write, you edit, then you submit

I did it: I finished novel #1. Then I sent a sample of it to a publisher. (Thank you Gollancz for opening your slush pile to direct submissions!) What happens next?

The most likely outcome is this: nothing.

A better outcome would be a request for the complete manuscript. Then, I’ll dance and dance and dance. Even if that momentous email is followed by silence.

Next on the ladder of success is a considerate email that suggests what I can do to improve the novel, and why they’re not taking it. Again, dancing would follow.

The absolute best outcome, of course, is that they like it and want to do something with it. My chances are slim.

Can you imagine the slush pile they’ll have after opening the door to direct submissions for three weeks? From reading the comments on the blog, I know people from all over the world have sent in writing samples. We’re all crossing our fingers that our story is the one to get through, the one that catches someone’s attention, that doesn’t annoy or bore a tired editor who is wading through sackfuls of submissions as well as doing their day-job.

While I’m waiting to see if anything happens with my submission, I’m compiling a list of UK SFF literary agents. As excited as I am by this, my first submission to a publisher, and as much as I believe in my work, I know that the chances of anything happening this time are extremely low.  I need to plan for the next step.

My mother condensed her delights, concerns and recent bookshelf-tidying experiences into a dream that ended with a review of my book: ‘We no longer need bookshelves. We each only need two books: the Quran and Caroline von Schmalensee’s phenomenal new novel’.* The best review I’ll ever get comes from my mother’s subconscious. It’s rather wonderful, and awe-inspiring, to realise how much the people around you invest in your dreams. Thanks, mum. I love you too.

 

* I dreamt that I had misspelled the publisher’s name in two different ways in the cover letter.

It’s happening: I’m submitting

At the befinning of January, Gollanzc announced that they were open to direct submissions to un-represented writers. They wanted manuscripts for finished novels over 80K in length. To submitt, all we have to do is send in the 50 first pages, a synopsis and a cover letter, post-stamped by the 22nd.

I have a near-complete 100K crime/fantasy novel. It could be complete in the next ten days.

I can do this.

Hurrah!

Panic.

Shameless plug: FREAK Circus magazine and showcase

Last week I had a cold and, disappointingly, was too ill to go to the launch of FREAK Circus, the new Edinburgh-based literary magazine. Matching theme to name, the first issue presents at all kinds of prose and poetry freakishness. My contribution, Mouth, is about a young woman who has odd growths on her side. Some things you can get used to, some you can’t. (If you want to read Mouth, buy FREAK Circus. Links to paper and Kindle copies below.)

If you want to find out more about the magazine, why not attend the free FREAK Circus show case at the Bongo Club on November 6th, 19:00? I’m looking forward to it and see it as a launch party for those of us who missed the launch party.

freak-circus-poster

Looming Hills and Radiant Water in Blank Fiction Magazine

Imagine Scotland. Hills covered in heather, gorse and bracken are polkadotted with sheep and cattle. Between them nestle fertile valleys. Outside of the bustling cities, people live tranquil lives in the countryside, making their living along the coast and on islands in the sea. The coast is rich with crabs and mussels, the forests team with deer and the fields are full of pheasant. The biggest natural predator is the fox which thrives in city and country alike. The most famous predator is probably the Scottish wildcat, a cute and feisty tabby with impressive hunting skills. Humans rule supreme and they husband a sometimes harsh but always rich environment.

But what if this wasn’t quite true? What is sheep were protection, not just a source of food and clothing? What if the wildcat was more than it seemed?

Emma grew up on Skye but moved to Glasgow when she was a child. She knows how to stay safe on the island: she knows the rules. All islanders do but they keep their business to themselves. People on the mainland don’t know anything of the dangers the islanders deal with. Then Emma’s best friend moves to Skye to paint for six months. How can she keep her safe?

Blank Fiction Magazine‘s first horror edition is out now. I’m delighted that Looming Hills and Radiant Water is one of the four stories in this issue. Blank Fiction Magazine is available from the Apple Newsstand and their own website. It’s only $1 per issue.

Blank Fiction Magazine Horror
My feral cat is in horrifically good company

Hin Leung reads Mouth at Liar’s League Hong Kong

Liar’s League’s website says “Writer’s write. Actors read. Audience listens. Everyone wins.” Although I have been known to read my own words on stage, I thoroughly agree that having an actor read them is better for everyone. A professional can add nuances and feeling to my words that I cannot. When I read what I write, the words always mean the same. In someone else’s mouth, they can take on a different meaning.

Also, not all writers are great readers. Some should never red their own stories because they cannot do them justice. And that’s fine. Putting emotion onto a page is a very different skill from pulling it off that page and projecting it into the world. Liar’s League take a writer’s words and gives them to  an actor who performs them for an audience. I think it’s a great idea.

I sent a story to Liar’s League London earlier in the year. They didn’t want it, but, to my great pleasure, passed it on to Liar’s League Hong Kong, who did. In a couple of weeks, Hin Leung will read Mouth, a story about a young man with something growing in his side, to an audience. I wish I could be there! The event might be recorded: I really hope it is because I’d love to hear how Hin brings my words to life.

Liar’s League Hong Kong

Liar’s League presents Here & Queer
When: 29:00, October 27, 2014.
Where: The Dairy, The Fringe Club, Wyndham St, Central, Hong Kong

The best rejection ever?

I mentioned that I sent a query after not hearing about a story. I’ve now heard and the rejection I received was the kindest, most encouraging and informative rejection I’ve had to date. It made me thoroughly happy.

Happy? About a rejection? Absolutely.

Stories are rejected for all kinds of different reasons. Looking past the past rookie mistakes (not following submission guidelines, or submitting bad writing) the story might just not fit the market, or be similar to something that featured recently, or have unsuitable content.

Mine was rejected because it was a cliché.

Most rejections don’t come with a reason, so finding out is a boon. And mea culpa, the story was a cliché, I just hadn’t realised. And that’s a problem. I should have recognised the pattern when I was writing it.

The editor liked the story a lot and was very close to running it. But that would be an open invitation to the world to fill his slush pile with more of the same. And that’s no fun for anyone. Fair enough. I hold on tightly to the pretty words, words like “your writing is first-rate“. Those are words that warm the cockles on a cold night. I might have them embroidered so I can hang them on the wall. And I take great comfort in the fact that the story was good enough for an editor to take the time to tell me why he wasn’t running it. It’s a huge compliment.

Unfortunately, that story was not my first cliché. I recently retired a story when I came across a description of the plot in a list of stories a magazine (or was it an anthology?) didn’t want*. There is was, among lists of plots that made me think “but surely no one would...”: my plot. The poor thing didn’t even make it out the door before it was retired. There was a reason for that: Julia’s Dream I knew for a cliché. But I liked it, mostly because it used a dream I had for one of the scenes, but also because I had fun playing with senses when I wrote it. It was good practice.

The conclusion is that I need to think of better plots. Original, interesting plots. Stuff with ideas. At the moment, I’m not writing much because all of my ideas feel unformed: I have a bunch of scenes but they don’t go anywhere.

I need to practice idea generation. I need to read more speculative fiction short stories.

I need to learn to recognise the ideas I shouldn’t run with.

 

Strange Horizon’s list of what they see too often makes interesting reading, as does the list of the horror stories they see too often. (Neither of these is the list I found my dream plot on. The story I had rejected this week fits loosely into three or four categories. Ouch.)

Looking after your ego

Today, for the first time, I sent an email to an editor to ask if I’d lost his reply to a submission I’d made.

Editors are busy people so I don’t want to query, but it’s been 74 days, and the guidelines said to please query after 60. So I did. I expected to find out that a rejection had gone missing (I have searched through my spam folder, but you never know) but got more cheerful news.

No, I haven’t made a sale. But I might. The editor said the story is on his to read list because the second round comment was that he had to buy it. I’ll find out if he agrees sometime this week.

I might still get a rejection but I am over the moon. Not only did the story get through the first sift, but the second sift really liked it. Whatever happens, I know that someone other than me enjoyed it.

Someone told me recently that writers have huge egos but low self-esteem. I think that’s probably true for many artists – and many people – and it is certainly true for me. So I grab every kind word, every grain of positive feedback and clasp it to my chest as a kind of confidence-boosting floatation device. Of course, I get bad feedback too, but I try to let go of that after studying it closely. The trick  is to let the good buoy me up and try not to let the bad drag me down. Today, that was easy.

Thank you, kind editor, and  second-round reader with the positive comment, for giving me a boost.