Tales from the Slush Pile

I’ve always imagined what life would be like for an editor. I imagined that editors reading a slush pile probably do sound a lot like Simon Cowell from American Idol. Faced with mountains of slush, sifting for gold among the lumps of rocks; each writer, myself included, convinced of their own story’s greatness, sometimes presuming to tell the editor so (uh, I don’t do that).

I know I left the guidelines for my Dark Faith anthology purposefully vague to allow writers room to interpret as they need to, but I’ve been a little bothered by those who, I don’t know, didn’t read them at all. The most egregious offenders have:

-pitched me a novel
-submitted a comic book
-passed off thinly disguised fanfic
-sent stories that are on the front page of the sender’s website (yes, we do look you people up)
-submitted the “white woman gets raped by a black guy then goes on a killing spree” stories

And though I have appreciated the go-getter spirit of some of the artists (the cover and interior artists have already been lined up, thanks).

Some cover letters have made me laugh and caused their stories to jump to the top of the TBR stack. Others have intrigued me enough with their personal story to do the same. This is not an encouragement to do likewise. Others have put me off just as much.

For the most part, folks have been extremely professional. If I do say so myself, the competition is VERY stiff (though I’m sure that won’t stop the eternal writer’s grouse: “my story was better than that one” when the anthology comes out).

Wait, this just in which certainly qualifies at unprofessional behavior: if you’re going to simultaneously submit to us (which I’m on record as saying that I don’t mind), be sure to let us know if you sell the story elsewhere. At least before we read said story in the magazine of, I don’t know, the same company publishing the anthology. That’s not a way to make friends across the board.

If nothing else, this is another take home lesson: editors talk to each other.

Mo*Con IV: A New Hope – Updated 5/12/09

“The Love and Business of Writing”

May 15th – 17th , 2009

What is Mo*Con?

Brought to you by the Indiana Horror Writers, Mo*Con is a friendly convention focused on conversations revolving around horror literature and spirituality (two great tastes that taste great together!). If you enjoy writing, horror, fantasy, poetry, and food, you’ll find plenty to enjoy at this convention

Who Will Be There?

Tom Piccirilli
Tom Piccirilli is the Edgar nominated author of twenty novels including THE COLDEST MILE, THE COLD SPOT, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, HELLBOY: EMERALD HELL, THE DEAD LETTERS, HEADSTONE CITY, A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN, and NOVEMBER MOURNS.

Gary Braunbeck
Gary A. Braunbeck is a prolific author who writes mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, fantasy, horror, and mainstream literature. He is the author of 19 books; his fiction has been translated into Japanese, French, Italian, Russian and German. Nearly 200 of his short stories have appeared in various publications.

Lucy Synder
The author the author of a trilogy of novels that are set be published by Del Rey starting in 2009; the first book in the series is entitled Spellbent. Also the author of Sparks and Shadows, a cross-genre short story collection from HW Press, Lucy A. Snyder may be most known for her humor collection Installing Linux on a Dead Badger (And Other Oddities). With over 70 short fiction sales and over 20 poetry sales, her fiction goes all over the road, although she does tend to write genre stories (science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, etc.) more often than straightforward mainstream fiction. She also writes a column for Horror World on science and technology for writers.

Linda Addison
Linda D. Addison grew up in Philadelphia and began weaving stories at an early age. She moved to New York after college and has published over 200 poems, stories and articles. Ms Addison is the author of “Being Full of Light, Insubstantial” (Space & Time Books) and the first African-American recipient of the world renowned Bram Stoker Award. She was honored with her second win in April 2008 for her latest collection.

Gerard Houarner
Gerard Houarner is a product of the NYC school system who lives in the Bronx, was married at a New Orleans Voodoo Temple, and works at a psychiatric institution. He’s had over 250 short stories, a four novels and four story collections, as well as a few anthologies published, all dark. To find out about the latest, visit www.gerardhouarner.com, or drop by and say hi at www.myspace.com/gerardhouarner or his board at www.horrorworld.org

Wrath James White
Succulent Prey marks his first mass-market release from Leisure Books. If you have a taste for extreme fiction with socio-political and philosophical messages that push boundaries, break taboos, and leave you thinking long after the book has ended then check out Teratologist co-written with Edward Lee, Poisoning Eros co written with Monica O-Rourke, The Book of A thousand Sins collection, His Pain novella, Orgy of Souls with Maurice Broaddus, Hero novella with J.F. Gonzalez, and Population Zero. If you have a weak stomach, a closed mind, rigid morals, and Victorian sexual ethics, than avoid his writing like the plague.

ARTIST GUEST OF HONOR:

Steven C. Gilberts
Steven and his lovely wife Becky now live in a spooky Queen Ann cottage within a small Dunwich-esk village of southern Indiana, near the now abandoned ammo plant of his youth. While hiding from the townsfolk, Steven concocts odd illustrations for the small press industry. His work has graced magazines from Apex Digest to Cemetery Dance, Dark Wisdom to Shroud Magazine.

***NOTE: Due to an unexpected schedule conflict, Gary and Lucy won’t be able to make it.***

When/Where is it?

May 15, 16, and 17th

Trinity Church
6151 N. Central Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46220

There are plenty of nearby hotels MicroTel has served well in the past:

Microtel Inn and Suites Indianapolis
9140 North Michigan Road
Indianapolis, IN 46268 US
Phone: 317-870-7765

There is also the Indy Hostel. This page will be updated as more guests and details are confirmed, though we’re capping the guests we can accommodate at 200. [We can also make special arrangements and point you in the direction of other nearby hotels, just drop me a line at MauriceBroaddus@gmail.com]

Programming

Friday
6:00 p.m. Doors open
7:00 p.m. Guest Dinner/Reception
9:00 p.m. Poetry Slam

Saturday
10:00 a.m. Doors open
11:00 a.m. Panels on spirituality, writing, horror, and readings. Lunch.
5:00 p.m. The Dwelling Place Gathering, featuring sermon by Wrath James White. Dinner afterwards.
[After party to be announced]

Sunday
11:00 a.m. Farewell Brunch

Cost: $35 per Person
Money will be accepted at the door or it can be sent to my paypal account [Maurice Broaddus – MauriceBroaddus@gmail.com memo: Mo*Con IV]

There will be several debut projects, so this blog will be updated accordingly. More details to come (as will a re-vamping of my web site to feature a Mo*Con page to include footage of previous Mo*Cons).

Keep up with all details on either Facebook or on MySpace.

*Hosted by The Dwelling Place and Trinity faith communities, both of whom desire to be a refuge or sanctuary, a place of rest and freedom for people to be themselves and be a place where people can connect with God and one another by joining Jesus’ mission to bless the world.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

On Author Pictures (a Fail)

I don’t want to shock teh Interwebz or anything, but I’m vain.

(I’ll wait for all of you to recover.)

As you know, I’m always here to offer advice to the young aspiring writer. Kelli Dunlap mocked the fact that I took four rolls of film before arriving at my last one. So I’ve been thinking about re-doing some of my author pics. Sure, sure, some of you may wander past my web site in hopes of catching a glimpse of the man, the legend, and you may say to yourself “that’s one scary, intimidating author.” Well, then my job is done.

On the other hand, I also want you to recognize me at a con. Not necessarily talk to me, but at least recognize me. You know, point to me in furtive whispers as I pass by, but not actually engage me, because, seriously, who needs that. But this gets to one thing I’ve disliked about most author pics: when I meet you at cons, I don’t need to do double takes to match the person in front of me to an outdated (to say the least) picture of you. To the point where I’m attempting to guess what decade your picture was taken or what kind of Photoshop you were using to touch up your … everything.

So I dragged my friend Larissa Johnson out to take some new snapshots and I’m trying to decide on what look to go for this time. I’m trying to decide what strikes the proper chord for an image of me. We have:

the obligatory slightly pretentious me.
moody, slightly scary me (ooooo, spooky horror guy!)
a man and his muse
a lot of shots with a variation of me looking pensive. You’ll note, there’s a fine line between looking pensive and, frankly, the world giving me a headache. Yes, this was my fourth outfit change of the photo shoot.
an excuse for me to wear my bowler. This is my “Maurice the Icon” shot. Every aspiring writer should have one.
do you want a little pirate in you? It is important that every writer be concerned about his image. After all, your author pics are what define you to the readers. Um, sure, some people may argue that it’s the writing that may define you, but they’re wrong. It’s all about image. Listen to the man in the pirate hat (and, mind you, who DOESN’T have a puffy shirt in their wardrobe?)

This blog brought to you by my third dose of Thera-Flu. I’m not actually sick yet, I just enjoy the rush.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

Don’t Talk to Writers…

…or at least don’t read writers you know. You may be happier that way.

My wife doesn’t read my fiction. The reason why was touched upon in one of the panels I was on at ConText. We were discussing how we incorporate real life into our writing. My position was that everything around me was up for grabs. In particular, I draw on my story and the things that connect to my story. You engaging me, your story bumping up against mine, all stories period … all up for grabs for me to draw on.

When folks ask “where do you get your ideas from?” I don’t want to have to respond, I wait for folks to do or say something interesting, but you rarely do. But it can be a little disconcerting to see bits of a personal argument in print or see a friends’ history informing a character. But it’s what we do. Lord help you if you are friends with a writer/pastor: your story could end up doing double duty in print and a sermon.

It’s a fine line to walk, protecting privacy and being true to the demands of the story. Can we go too far? Um, yeah. Show of hands: how many of us have spent the night on the couch after our spouse came across something we’ve shared or written? It’s so bad, the official term in the Broaddus household for retracting/editing a statement or story is the “corrective memo”. My wife does read my blog. I’ve gotten more than a few corrective memos (she was ESPECIALLY not pleased with the original versions of me detailing—emphasis on details—the birth of our first son (in two parts, no less).

This blog is dedicated to the person who wrote me saying “you don’t have to use this e-mail as a blog or story. We’re just having a conversation.” Yes we were. At least I’m not using your name. When all is said and done, we do ultimately respect people’s privacy (if only for fear of a libel suit). Truth be told, only you will know when your story’s been co-opted, unless you or the author run your mouths about it. Ironically, most of the time my friends don’t even recognize themselves in my stories unless I point them out. That’s the point.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

I’m an Artist Dang It (Or I at least Play One on the Internet)

Okay, here’s what set me off: I was on a message board (mistake number one. I really keep learning that the main board I need to be visiting is my own) and a writer was extolling the need to write irregardless to “artsy” things like grammar. That was then coupled with the idea that we should be concerned only with the story, not with pretensions to “high art”.

This is exactly the attitude I’m really tired of encountering. It’d be one thing if I just heard it from the occasional newbie writer (mind you, it’s not like I’m swelling the ranks of the mid-listers), but it seems to be a fairly tenacious thought among too many writers (and even more fans) of the genre. This idea that we write solely to entertain, with the intimation that we aren’t creating art because art is the realm of snooty critics.

It’s almost like the take home message is that one’s devotion to one’s craft is a bad thing.

It’s typically perpetuated by those who love the genre, so it’s hard to be too mad at them. They’ve embraced horror as a community and are protective of it. I get that. However, it’s that same slavish fan devotion that can threaten the health of the genre. It reminds me of the panel I was on at Necon: “KICKING HORROR TO THE CURB: Why genre horror deserves a quick and nasty death, and how every one of us can help!” aka “KILLING THE GENRE IN TEN EASY STEPS: Why Category Horror Deserves to Die a Brutal, Messy Death and How You Can Help!”

[Aside #1: I’m all about “transcending the genre”. Here’s how I look at it: I’m a casual sports fan at best. The kind of fan drawn in by the Tiger Woods, Michael Jordans, and Danica Patricks of the world. If you’re a sports franchise and you aim your product at your hardest core fans, you’re going to lose me. If you can give something for the casual folks to latch onto, you do so, knowing that you’ll get most of your hardcore fans to come along anyway.]

Anyway, these brand loyal horror fans have gone out, seen a bunch of movies or read some Stephen King, Clive Barker or whatever author drew them to horror and then end up writing stuff that mimics them. They end up creating derivative stories, never as good as the stories they’re imitating, trying to rekindle the feelings evoked from the first stories that inspired them. In short, they are like a drug addict chasing a high: always trying to repeat the experience of the first high (not appreciating the diminishing returns with each attempt).

[Me, it was Poe. And I kept churning out Poe pastiches and re-hashes until I found my own voice. After that, I started turning out a new brand of dreck, but at least it was dreck unique to me until I was good enough to start getting some stories published. Actually, I received one of the best compliments the other day. A fellow writer said “Let me say how impressed I am with how much you’ve grown as a writer …Your storytelling has always been strong, but you have, for me, stepped across that threshold that separates writers and artists.” I hope to keep living up to those words.]

These are the same folks who get hyper defensive when critics take works seriously and discuss their merits seriously in terms of language use, theme, characterization – standards by which we can judge what is good. I think when folks here critics talk, they confuse matters of taste with standards, confusing good with entertaining. Look, I Rocky 4. Yeah, I admit it. It entertained me to no end. I could probably sit down and watch that movie right now. But I know that it wasn’t a good movie. If the movie’s sole job was to entertain me, then it accomplished that. If the creators strove to do something … good (and we can measure that in terms of coherency/depth of story, characters, acting, direction, and the avoidance of, say, every boxing/sports movie cliché in the book), then there was a massive fail.

The debate about being a writer vs. being an artist is a false one. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to tell the best story possible, without “writing to impress the critics” (if by that you mean writing for their approval). You write for yourself (the artist) or for you audience (to be commercial, again, not a pejorative); those are the only two targets worth aiming for (and their aren’t an either/or proposition).

There’s nothing wrong with being original. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring for more. You respect your audience by respecting your craft. By giving your stories theme, strong characterization, and depth, in addition to your plot – that’s the “high art” of the craft.

Look, you’re going to fail readers as you experiment and stretch … but you’ll fail yourself (and eventually them anyway) if you don’t.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

Battle of the Nitwits

As I read far too many author blogs, one of the things that continues to bug me is how many spend time arguing with nitwits. To be clear, I’m defining nitwit as a particular kind of Internet troll who spends their time endlessly sniping at a target or otherwise running their yap in a state of self-importance/attention whoring. True, true, this defines most message board interactions, but the nitwits tend to focus on a primary target and fixate.

I’ve had my share of nitwits (fairly insulting blogs, e-mails, letters, phone calls, and message board threads dedicated to me included in the prize package) and answering their charges is simply not worth my time. I don’t care (as long as they link to me). Seriously, the first thing I ask is “who are they?” because while I don’t mind constructive criticism, not every critic is equally worth hearing from.

It’s fairly common for the newbie writer to seek to establish themselves by going after a few easy targets, whoever the perceived bad boy is (in the horror community, Nick Mamatas and Brian Keene are popular targets). These would be iconoclasts may rationalize their behavior by declaring that they simply won’t put up with the behavior of an unprofessional martinet or what have you, but it’s so regular a practice that I’ve taken to calling this the Brian Keene effect. Since the theory is that you make a name for yourselves by going after someone bigger, not smaller, take heart in the fact that you’re a target.

They know you, they read you. That’s not a relationship you’re obligated to reciprocate. People have a right to free speech, buy you are under no obligation to be given a platform in your house. The Internet is a big place, so let them go start their own blog/message board and run things their way. You don’t need to expend energy validating their opinions or otherwise giving them a platform. If you feel that their comments rise to the level of slander or harassment or threat, that’s why God created police and lawyers. Not taking up your blog space.

Unfortunately, sometimes nitwits can take over a forum. It’s funny how it takes only 2-3 prominent voices to seemingly poison a whole community. That will happen if they are allowed to dominate discussion. They can change character of board by simply posting so often they become the face of the message board. So, sometimes folks have to be asked to leave for the health of a board. It can seem unfair or even arbitrary but “you talk too much and spew little of value” can be just as abusive to folks’ sensibilities.

(To prevent this, whoever has the “vision” for said board needs to be a main voice on the board either through themselves or via their mods. In a lot of ways, the vision/voice is the main draw to the message board, which means that their mods need to not only grasp that vision, but also have the necessary people and communication skills to facilitate the discussions. Not let the nitwits run amuck.)

In the end, arguing with a nitwit only reduces you. Oh, I know it’s hard to not swing back and crush them. Lord knows, I know. Think of it this way: you swinging back at them is a no lose situation for them. Suddenly you are bringing your audience to them and when it’s the strong (read) versus the weak (not read), you are the bully. You don’t want to let the nitwits drive you to being unprofessional. And there is no reason I need to know who the members of the legion of nitwits are because you keep giving them air time. Notice none of mine were mentioned by name. Or linked to. And the Internet is a better place for it.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

Author Interview: Weston Ochse

I’ve been friends with Weston Ochse for a few years now and it’s always great (in a “I hate you” sort of way) to watch your friends blow up. Luckily, he still remembers who I am. His novel, Scarecrow Gods, won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in First Novel, and is about to be re-released as a trade paperback by Delirium Books. All of this made for a great excuse for me to pester him with a few questions.

Continued on the FearZone.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

Who Cares What They Think

Do you know what a highlight is for me as a blogger, as a writer period? When something I write generates thought or good conversation. After my last Blogging in Black column, I received the following comment:

Hi Maurice, Dealing specifically with the comment “(and many of us live with the insecurity of fearing that we’ll one day be exposed as the frauds we secretly believe we are)”. I haven’t ever had this problem. Sometimes I think that I should; that the lack of this insecurity is proof of a) inflated sense of self and/or b) willful blindness to reality. But, one of the reasons I didn’t study English literature in uni after having done it for A-levels/college and have no desire to do an MFA, is that I have a serious problem with the quality pronouncements of the ‘They’ of the literary world.

Continued on Blogging on Black.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.

Fear of Success

It’s that time of year when the Broaddus compound goes through our winter/spring tradition of watching American Idol. Last year I compared the auditions week to the writing business, first from a writer’s perspective and then from an editor’s. This year I’ve decided that the current status of my career is the equivalent of A.I.’s “Hollywood Week.” My stories are good enough to make it to the next round, the judges keep me around until the last round of cuts, and maybe, just maybe, I may make it to the final 24.

Fellow author, Chesya Burke, and my wife are convinced that I suffer from what could be described as an acute case of “fear of success”-itis. The symptoms can take a variety of forms and I thought it my duty to alert my fellow writers of the various ways this condition can sneak up on them.

Malaise. One can feel a general “out of sorts” in terms of their career. Maybe things have plateaued for you, it has been a while since you have received an acceptance (or the flip side, the mountain of rejection slips keep growing). Regardless, you have no oomph about yourself. You may squander opportunities (not do follow up e-mails after you spent a convention garnering contacts) or you don’t nurse your existing contacts as hard as you could.

Tortured artist (aka a writer’s dark night of the soul). You stare at manuscript after manuscript and you come to the startling realization that everything you’ve written reads like the work of a drunken third grader. The best treatment for this condition, mind you, is having a supportive spouse or friend who can cheerlead for you during these dark times.

Panic. It’s funny how we can react to out-of-the-blue good news. Like say a publisher has run across your work and asks you to submit a story to their next anthology. Or an editor contacts you because they’ve decided that you’re a hot up-and-coming writer who they’d like to start working with. How do you react to such good e-mails? ANGST! Panic and a subsequent reversion to Tortured Artist.

Fear of success isn’t just something newbie writers suffer. It can affect writers in other stages of their career also. You could be a huge deal in the small press world and then get the phone call from one of the big boys in the publishing industry wanting you to switch over. Suddenly your life threatens to become that transition from being a senior in high school (and BMOC) to lowly freshman in college. Instead of being a big fish in a small pond, you are now a small fish in a big pond. Sure, you have more opportunities and the possibility of more money and readers, but there is a trade off in immediate recognition and power you are able to wield. The prospect can be scary and a matter of what you want to do with your career (and where you saw yourself ultimately being).

Maybe this could best be described as a fear of publication failure. We don’t want people to read our stories and discover that we’ve in fact laid a literary turd (and many of us live with the insecurity of fearing that we’ll one day be exposed as the frauds we secretly believe we are). Nor do we wish to make a potential career misstep. The larger the stage, the larger the possible failing (and the more evidence you leave behind of that failing).

But it’s like that in life.

Writing is one of the few careers where you actually are betting on yourself. How much talent do I have? How many people can I reach? It’s one reason why some people choose to self-publish. It can be a long, hard road, but if it’s what we want, nothing can deter us from that dream. You may fail a few auditions along the way, may get cut early from a slush pile, or you might not make the final table of contents page for an anthology, but if you keep honing your craft, you will make that top 24.

And then anything can happen.

Notepad Worship

At our Ash Wednesday service, He Who Would Be Head Pastor commented on the fact that I always have a notepad and how to him it personified my attempts to join in with the Holy Spirit by participating in the act of creation. I’ve been stuck on this idea ever since.

My notepad has been like my security blanket. Writers write and we never know when a great idea will hit us, so being caught without a pad and pen is like showing up naked to take a final. I have it with me all the time.

-Next to my bed in case I have an interesting dream. -It goes into the bathroom with me, cause, you know, never a wasted moment. -If I go out for the evening, I tear off a couple of sheets and tuck them into a pocket. My notepad—more specifically, what it represents—nurtures me, I nurture it.

My notepad is also my act of worship. It helps me pay attention, participating and interacting with conversation as I process my thoughts (as opposed to me turning off my brain and “looking” like I’m paying attention). He Who Would Be Head Pastor often sees his ideas mulled over in my blog. It’s the same with my other notepad friends.

Similar to the idea of the thinking bloggers meme, I have friends who I hate talking to without my notepad handy. The kind of friends who make you smarter, iron sharpening iron, just by being around them. Where even casual conversation becomes intellectual bloodsport as we challenge one another’s ideas and spark each other’s creativity. You know, those big brain friends who give you ideas for blogs even with just their throwaway lines. That’s one of the reasons I do Mo*Con. (I suspect that it must be at least mildy ego-stroking for someone to whip out a notepad and jot down a thought inspired by you).

Writing is what I do, it’s my gift. So I bring it before God anyway I can. I love working on stories at church, yes, even (especially!) the darker ones. Surrounding myself with reminders of who the ultimate Author is, whose work I join in. I’m working out my spiritual journey as much through my art as through my faith. I believe using your gifts to your fullest—and bringing yourself to Him in worship—is what pleases God.

So even when it doesn’t look like I’m paying attention, I probably am. After all, there’s a good chance this blog was jotted down during a sermon.

***
If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say “hi”, feel free to stop by my message board. We always welcome new voices to the conversation.