On Leaving Dark Fiction Magazine

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It is with a slightly heavy heart – a heart that has been removed by a cackling scientist perhaps, and refitted with a combination of wheels and obese hamsters – it is with a hamster-heavy heart that I must tell you I am stepping down as editor of Dark Fiction Magazine (if you go there now you will see this post and a rather alarming picture of zombie me)

Unfortunately, it’s not for any particularly dramatic reason. The bodies have yet to be discovered (despite my notes) and we’ve all agreed to forget about the business with the elephant, so I won’t be flouncing off in a cloud of internet stink. The sad fact is that the time I would once put aside for reading submissions and wrangling narrators has recently become so vanishingly small that I now have difficulty finding it, even with the help of micro-goblins. These days I’m spending every spare moment working on my fantasy book (The Copper Promise, out in February from Headline books, first in a trilogy, no I’m not above plugging it here) and those characters take up a lot of headspace.

But, you know, it’s been a good couple of years. We’ve found some excellent stories, uncovered some new writers, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done. Short fiction, and particularly short genre fiction, is in fine health, and there’s some exciting stuff out there. I look forward to watching where it goes next. And Dark Fiction Magazine won’t be disappearing into a black hole with me; it will be passing over to the fine and excellent folks at Spacewitch, who will be taking it to new and saucy places, no doubt.

I am enormously grateful to the marvellous people that willingly gave of their free time and wicked skillz to make this thing work, particularly Marty Perrett, an awesome audio producer (known as Doug Strider in his local for reasons relatively undisclosed), and to Blane Traynor, Shock the Badger, who has provided us with some fabulous artwork. Huge thanks to the narration team, who are all excellent and very attractive, and to everyone who submitted a story.

And to the writers who have featured in the magazine over the years: cheers, guys. I think we did a beautiful thing.

The State of Play

Greetings from the mysterious mists of editing! I thought I’d just pop my head over the battlements so you know I’m still here; we might be down to chewing the shoe leather and eyeing up the rats for dinner, but the People’s Republic of Novel Revisions is still going strong.

 

No, I don’t know where I’m going with that either.

 

It’s been a busy few weeks. I’m in the midst of revising The Copper Promise and that has proven to be an oddly exhausting activity, at least mentally. It’s fascinating though; when Juliet gave me her pointers for smartening the thing up, it gave me a new perspective on the book, and now I understand rather more about the characters than I did previously. Which just shows how incredibly useful a very perceptive reader can be.

 

So yes! It’s very exciting, actually. One of my biggest jobs (ahem) is to reduce the word count as The Copper Promise is rather on the hefty side. On the face of it, to my delicate writer’s soul, this feels nigh on impossible. “I’ll never manage it!” I wail, chewing on my pens in Eat and worrying the Kenny Everett look-a-like who makes the coffee. “Every word is essential!”

 

Except it’s not, of course. I have spare words all over the shop, and scenes I am perhaps not utterly happy with, and so the Big Fat Chunky Word Count is being whittled down to a slightly more slippery number. It’s oddly satisfying, plus it’s enormous fun to be back with Wydrin and the gang. I’ve missed them.

 

In other bits of small news, Dark Fiction Magazine has reopened to submissions, and for our March episode we’re looking for stories inspired by folklore (a favourite subject of mine) so get scribbling! And yes, I am still doing the Everything and the Cat Project (even if one night of booze almost made me forget to upload the thing) and at the end of this month I’ll do a little post rounding up my favourite pictures so far. In the meantime, if you feel the need for random photos of trees and Lego in your life, you can follow me on instagram (username sennydreadful, as ever).

The Other End of the Year Post

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Well, essentially 2012 was the year of The Copper Promise. As you might remember, it was around this time last year that I released the very first part onto the wild plains of Amazon; The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel was supposed to be the first in a series of short sword and sorcery novellas. They were supposed to be fast, written and released one after the other, and they were supposed to be short.

 

And then while I was writing part two, at the beginning of this year, several things happened at once to change that. Firstly, I realised that releasing each part after I’d written it just wasn’t going to work – maybe if it was a silly thing that didn’t really matter, I could get away with that, but TCP was growing more complicated, and if I wanted it to be good, I would need to be able to go back and polish. And that was the other major thing: The Copper Promise was growing. I loved the characters, who felt frighteningly real to me, and I loved the story, which had accidentally grown into some sort of weird epic/pulp hybrid.

 

So I threw out the idea of instant gratification and wrote parts 2, 3 and 4 in 2012. And then I redrafted, and edited, and then edited some more, and ended up with a book nearly twice as long as anything else I’d written (it’s still too long). And what happens to it now? Well, that is the question.

 

Thanks to some quirks of fate and a writing buddy who always seems to know what’s going on before I do (I’m looking at you, Adam) The Copper Promise ended up on the desk of the fabulous Juliet Mushens of the Agency Group, and in a sudden twist of awesomeness that I’m still getting my head around, I got an agent. Undoubtedly one of the highlights of my year was meeting Juliet for the first time (who is every bit as sharp and hilarious in real life) and hearing her quote bits of my book back at me. I mean, you wouldn’t think that would be weird, but it is. In a brilliant way. Next year proves to be very interesting indeed.

 

There were other things happening in 2012, of course. After ignoring it for a year I finally summoned up the courage to read and edit my Urban Fantasy book The Snake House, and much to my huge surprise I didn’t totally hate it. I also started work on a YA Fantasy book called London-Under-Sea (all weird religion, sea monsters and fishpunk) although that is on hold for the moment while I revise The Copper Promise. In non-book stuff Mass Effect 3 came out and proved that it is indeed the greatest video game series of all time, if not the greatest SF trilogy of all time, and I sobbed and cheered my way through it in an epically messy fashion. I finally watched Avatar: The Last Airbender and utterly fell in love with it.

 

Other, more random moments of 2012: I saw two sets of friends get married and danced at their weddings, I wore a corset for the first time and didn’t die, I oversaw new episodes of Dark Fiction Magazine, and I attended Bristolcon, which was brilliant. I got hugged by a wookie in Wales, saw my name in the acknowledgements of a real, live book (twice, technically) and partially helped nag my lovely boyfriend into taking up writing regularly again.

 

And that’s all I can really remember at the moment – no doubt I’ll have left something significant off the list, but all in all, I reckon I can chalk 2012 up as a goodun’. Wishing you all a fantastic new year full of excellence and joy!

 

Rejections, a New Perspective: Or Developing Your Crusty Carapace

I haven’t mentioned it all that often on this blog, but these days I edit the audio fiction website Dark Fiction Magazine, and over the last year or so reading submissions has given me a new perspective on the short story market.

 

I know what it’s like to get rejections. I even have one from Black Static which I’m quite proud of, just because it came on a slip of paper and this somehow made it seem ancient and special, and I’ve lost track of how many I’ve received by email. It’s a very painful process, and I have ground my teeth and cursed the gods and the demons and all the little goblins in between, but after a while it doesn’t hurt as much. There are those markets, of course, which you’re desperate to break and each “no thanks” email is a kick in the writerly-ball-sack, but eventually you do start to form the beginnings of a crusty carapace that protects you from the worst of the agony.

 

Now, as the editor of DFM I’m the one sending rejection notices, and for a writer that is a very odd experience indeed. I feel bad. I feel conflicted. I occasionally cackle with the power of it all and stroke my evil cat. Mostly though, it’s a sobering process because it demonstrates exactly how complicated a rejection can be. I have, for example, said no to plenty of stories that are actually very good, but not right for DFM, or not a good fit for the upcoming episodes. I struggle with this a lot, because I don’t want to say to these writers, “you are crap”, because even though the email will say this isn’t quite right for us, it always feels like you’re being told “you’re crap”. Often though there simply isn’t room for everything good that hits the slush pile; last year we did five episodes (four stories an episode) and next year we’ll probably do four episodes, and that just doesn’t leave much space. Every story has to be very, very good and every story has to fit the episode – that leads to a lot of rejections.

 

There’s a lot of crap too, of course. For every story I agonize over there’s probably another two that get chucked pretty swiftly. Most of the time someone’s had an idea for a story and hasn’t quite got the craft to tell it yet, or, being a genre magazine, the story falls into common genre patterns, such as “It’s horror! Stick loads of blood and guts and possibly some uncomfortable sex in there!” I do, admittedly, have very high standards for short stories and a lot of submissions will come a cropper, and that’s as it should be; I want DFM to host the best weird fiction, after all. Some stories we receive just aren’t SF, Fantasy or Horror at all (which puzzles me a little – the website banner is a giant green zombie person, so you’d think that would be a big clue) and some are just too long or obscure.

 

If knowing how these things work hasn’t quite made rejections easier for me to stomach, it has at least made them easier to understand, and a year of chomping through the slush pile has taught me an awful lot about editing as well as writing. For 2013 we’re going to announce the themes of the episodes beforehand, giving writers more of a chance to refine their stories for the magazine, and hopefully this will lead to me sending fewer rejection emails. Plus the cat finds all the cackling puts her off her lunch.

Holy Link Post, Batman!

Busy week, no sleep, too much sugar… my brain isn’t sensible enough to give you a big fat blog post today, but I do have a series of links I should wave about, and one of them does include a big fat blog post:

 

I have been guest blogging over at Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, where I talk in a meandering sort of way about fantasy maps and my own journey as a fantasy reader.

 

The Dark Fiction Magazine Halloween issue is now complete, with excellent stories from Lou Morgan, Emma Newman, Adrian Faulkner and Joshua Malbin – all with a watery theme. I strongly recommend giving your ears this spooky and slightly damp treat.

 

The cover for Adam Christopher’s The Age Atomic has been revealed and it’s a corker.

 

Nanowrimo continues on its coffee-sodden way; I’ve popped up a rough synopsis for London-Under-Sea if you’re curious.

 

And that’s it! Hopefully next week I will have a more coherent set of thoughts for you, but for now it’s back to the word count.

Halloween Shorts Part 1: In the Wolf’s Glen by Andrew Reid

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Happy Halloween, everyone! May your pumpkins be bounteous and your skeletons ripe with gore. In celebration of the most wonderful time of the year (shh) we have an excellent creepy story from the marvellous Andrew Reid. A bit later I’ll pop up a story by me, and then this afternoon I will direct you over to Dark Fiction Magazine, where more Halloween treats await. Enjoy!

(You can also go here for an audio version, read by the author!)

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New Flash Fiction Competition at Dark Fiction Magazine

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Just a quick note to tell you that we’ve opened a new flash fiction competition over at Dark Fiction Magazine! The theme this time is Hidden History, and the deadline is the 13th of July. I bloody love reading fresh flash fiction, so please do get your entries over to us as soon as. 

We’ll publish you and everything!

It’ll be ace!

Go go go!

Dark Fiction Magazine Special Edition: Stories of the Smoke

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Just a quick note to point you in the direction of Dark Fiction Magazine, where you can now listen to four stories from the excellent Pandemonium anthology, Stories of the Smoke. The collection is jammed packed with excellent brain fodder so putting this episode together was a genuine pleasure; I strongly recommend reading every single little bit of it.

(big thanks to also to Gary Northfield for letting us use some of his fabulous illustrations)

Random Story Thursday: Six Months, Nineteen Days

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A short story for you, my little crickets, on this soggy grey Thursday.

(Note for the curious: technically this story is set in the same world as this one I recorded yonks ago for Dark Fiction Magazine, although you don’t need to have heard that to get this. If you get me. You get me?)

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Dark Fiction Magazine: 2012 and Beyond

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After a wee winter holiday, Dark Fiction Magazine is back with us, bristling with awesome science-fiction stories. Launch your ears into the future and go have a listen (for free) here.

 

The reason that I’m posting about it on my blog (other than the fact it’s just great, obviously) is that this is the first episode where my partner Marty and I have steering the Ominous Ghost Ship that is Dark Fiction Magazine.

 

We’ve been involved in the past, with both writing and narration, so when Sharon Ring and Del Lakin-Smith, the awesome chaps that founded the place, decided to take more of a backseat in order to pursue their own projects, Marty and I sort of shuffled forward to take the helm. Marty likes twiddling about with audio stuff (I’m fairly sure that’s the correct technical term) and I like reading through lots and lots and lots of stories (no, honestly, I do) so it seemed like the perfect fit.

 

Getting our first episode out has been an interesting process, and a huge learning experience. There were times, when self-imposed deadline after self-imposed deadline whistled merrily past my ears, that I wondered, “What on earth are we doing? Do I not have enough stories to wrangle as it is? I think my head might fall off.” But in the end, seeing the episode go live and knowing those four science-fiction stories will be amusing/alarming/entertaining earholes all over the interwebs was a lovely feeling, and I look forward to doing it again soon. So big thanks to: Marty, who not only handled the audio side of things but also did all manner of technical web stuff I didn’t understand, to our fabulous narrators and subs reading teams, who did an ace job as ever, and to Del and Sharon for letting us play with their toys.