Speculations: A ChiSeries Blog

Speculations is a blog hosted by the SpecFic Colloquium that will provide short articles discussing a range of topics related to speculative fiction--that is, science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, magic realism and other associated genres. We encourage you to applaud, to contend, to debate and to discuss the material here! We want a dialogue about the status of the field so please write in with your thoughts, but please respect Internet etiquette.

If you're interested in submitting a blog entry, e-mail Helen Marshall with the topic you have in mind!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Some Changes!

Now that the SpecFic Colloquium is over, we have officially merged Speculations with the main ChiZine Publications blog. You can find all the old posts (and new ones!) at http://chizinepublications.blogspot.com.

Thanks for all your support!

Helen Marshall

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An Introduction to Urban Fantasy

by Kelley Armstrong

“An Introduction to Urban Fantasy” is a primer for the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium, Saturday, 23 October 2010, at the Hart House and has been written in support of the Sunburst Awards. To register for the Colloquium, visit here.  Spaces are limited!

 I’m ambivalent about the label “urban fantasy.”  It’s a term that’s been applied to a branch of fantasy for decades, but in recent years has been co-opted to describe a very specific subtype.  Old-school readers take offense at paranormal authors using it.  The new audience for paranormal fantasy is confused if authors don’t use it.  So I’m flexible.  Or indecisive.

When I sold Bitten in 1999, there was no genre label for this type of work—supernatural beings starring as the lead characters in a thriller plot.  Laurell K. Hamilton was several books into her Anita Blake series, but she hadn’t made it onto my radar yet, nor the radar of most in the industry, who still used Anne Rice as the measure for comparison.  By 2001, when Bitten came out, Jim Butcher’s first Dresden Files and Charlaine Harris’s first Southern Vampire novel had also just been published.  All these books had a suspense/mystery main plot, and were set in a world peopled by supernatural beings—vampires, werewolves, spell-casters and the like.

My publishers and I initially referred to my novels as supernatural thrillers.  Over the next few years, as more of these series were launched, they began being to be labeled “paranormal suspense.”

Many of these early series had a strong romantic subplot that seemed to appeal to romance readers, so not surprisingly, a sister sub-genre was born: paranormal romance.  What’s the difference?  Plot focus.  If you can remove the romance and still have a story, it’s paranormal suspense.  If you can’t, it’s paranormal romance.  The industry doesn’t always agree, to the chagrin of paranormal suspense authors who find their books mislabeled, and have to deal with furious romance readers.

As paranormal romance grew in popularity, there was a move to more firmly establish paranormal suspense as a separate genre.  And so the term “urban fantasy” was born.   Or so you’d think, to hear some folks explain it.  The truth, as fantasy enthusiasts know, is that urban fantasy has been used to describe the works of authors like Emma Bull and Charles de Lint for years.  So it was co-opted.  Or stolen, depending on your view.

Today, urban fantasy is an established marketing category.  We used to say it required contemporary setting…until historical urban fantasy hit the scene.  Some will say the “urban” part means it must be set primarily in a city, but that’s also not true—most of mine have rural or small town settings, as do many others.

So I think I have good reason for being ambivalent about the label.  There’s no good definition and for every “rule” given for inclusion, I can name a handful of urban fantasy authors who break it.  But as a marketing category, it seems useful enough.  So when I give my talk at Hart House on October 23, I’ll call it urban fantasy, and discuss the genre in more detail.


Kelley Armstrong  has been telling stories since before she could write.  Her earliest written efforts were disastrous.  If asked for a story about girls and dolls, hers would invariably feature undead girls and evil dolls, much to her teachers' dismay.  All efforts to make her produce "normal" stories failed.  Today, she continues to spin tales of ghosts and demons and werewolves, while safely locked away in her basement writing dungeon.  She's the author of the "Women of the Otherworld" paranormal suspense series and "Darkest Powers" young adult urban fantasy trilogy.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

What is Canadian Speculative Fiction and Why Should We Care?

by Helen Marshall

“What is Canadian Speculative Fiction and Why Should We Care?” is a primer for the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium, Saturday, 23 October 2010, at the Hart House and has been written in support of the Sunburst Awards. To register for the Colloquium, visit here.  Spaces are limited!

I've been in the midst of helping out with any number of projects that aim to support Canadian speculative fiction -- that is, broadly speaking, the major genres of horror, fantasy and science fiction. Many writers have claimed that publishing, as an industry, is going through something of a crisis with the introduction of eBooks, the decline of independent (and chain!) bookstores, the possibilities of self-publishing. I don't want to debate the excitement or fear that accompany those changes. We all know we're moving towards a new landscape -- what that landscape looks like, no one is quite sure about yet.

But how is that landscape Canadian? Is there anything to be said for a Canadian aesthetics of genre writing?

I think there is.

Canadian horror writing, for example, a branch of speculative fiction and a particular passion of mine, has begun to move in strange and provocative new directions, becoming something altogether different from its American counterpart and wholly itself. In a recent blog comment, Rose Fox of Publishers Weekly praised the ingenuity of Canadian authors: “Horror is profoundly cultural. Over a couple of decades of reading a great many books, I've developed something of an immunity to American and British horror. I still can't really describe what exactly [Canadian horror authors] do differently, but it is different.”

The last several years have shown a revitalized interest in publishing darker fiction. Psychological horror dominated the short stories of the influential anthology Tesseracts, published by Calgary-based Edge Science Fiction and FantasyChiZine Publications too has demonstrated that horror (in Canada at least) is moving away from the splatter-and-gore stories of the eighties into a distinctly literary arena, giving us strong characters and themes that underpin provocative and unsettling narratives.

Things are moving here in Canada. There's a kind of excitement in the changes we are seeing, and it's generating some fantastic new literature.

And here comes the plug.  The Sunburst Award for the Fantastic, Canada's only jury award for genre writing, has been a long-valued institution. Unfortunately, the Sunburst Awards have run into a hiccup.  They do not have enough operating capital to keep going as they currently stand. This sad news comes at a particularly critical juncture in the award's life--the operating committee is in the process of getting the Sunburst organization registered as a non-profit, and getting it "national arts organization" status.  As part of a fundraising drive to shepherd the Sunburst through this change of status and structure, we’d like to ask fans, writers, editors, and publishers from the speculative fiction community to help raise awareness of this vital institution...

How to Participate

We're looking for short (30 second to 2 minutes) videos that say what you think about Canadian speculative fiction. These should be interview-style videos in the vein of Speaker's Corner and can be recorded as simply as with a web camera. Prior interviews or footage can be submitted provided that you have permission to do so.  We will host these individually on a YouTube channel (sunburstaward), but will also edit them in order to create a series of short videos to promote awareness of the fundraising campaign. A longer video will be shown at the opening remarks to the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium.

Not savvy with a camera? Send us a high res image of yourself and either a short paragraph in text or a recorded audio track.

Not Canadian? Never fear. If you have something you want to say about Canadian speculative fiction then we want to hear it.

 To participate, send your name, contact information, submission and a short release statement giving us permission to use the video/image to sunburstvideo@gmail.com by October 15, 2010.

Possible Topics:
-favourite Canadian authors and/or stories
-the relationship between Canadian writing and the rest of the world
-publishing speculative fiction in Canada
-the state of Canadian fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc
-how does Canada inspire your work?
-favourite Canadian settings to use in your writing

Of course, these topics are intended to be a jumping off point. Feel free to think outside of the box. And, above all, show your enthusiasm!

To donate directly, visit http://www.sunburstaward.org/


Helen Marshall spends the majority of her time pursuing a Ph. D. in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto where she gets to travel across England to examine fourteenth-century manuscripts. Of course, her fascination with the making and writing of books extends well into the present. Her poetry has been published in ChiZine, NFG and the Ontarion Arts Supplement. "Mist and Shadows," published originally in Star*Line, appeared in The 2006 Rhysling Anthology: The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Poetry of 2005." "The Gypsy" and "Crossroads and Gateways" both received honourable mentions in the 2009 Rannu Fund Contest, while four other poems were short-listed. She also works as an editor and slush reader for ChiZine Publications.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I am Canadian!

By Julie Czerneda

“I am Canadian” is a primer for "Canadian Science Fiction: Taking Over the World, Nicely,” a longer talk that Julie will present on Saturday, 23 October 2010, at the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium.

 “I am Canadian” comes, not from the beer rant commercials (though I do enjoy those), but from my good friend Don Bassie who has done so much online and off to promote the creations of us Canadian SF folk. Even made us buttons. I’ve mine right here. It says, “I am Canadian SF!”

Of course, being Canadian, I couldn’t possibly use the full thing as my title even for this blog. Wouldn’t feel right. I mean, I’m not the only one … nor is SF all I am … it’s such a struggle for us, isn’t it, to toot our own horns?

Well, we should.

I’ll start.

::imagine me standing on a busy street corner with megaphone:: I Love Science Fiction!

I read it, watch it, daydream in it. I love how it opens my mind and shows me possibilities. I love the way it lets me build (or destroy) entire planets and visit futures that may or may not ever exist.

Science fiction rewards imagination and critical thought, exactly what we need to ride the waves of change. You there. All of you. Read it!

Not that I’d do that. The megaphone thing.

Being Canadian, I’m more likely to nod knowingly at someone on the bus, or in a bookstore, who has their hands wrapped around a science fiction book. Behold, a kindred spirit! (Which is getting harder to do, by the way, now that people e-read. How can you spot a kindred spirit that way? Don’t mind me, I’m leaning over your shoulder to peer at the header on your screen?)

As for Canadian science fiction? Our science fiction stories are second to none. Everyone should read them! Why are they great? Perhaps it’s our near-obsession with bad weather, since we do live where being outside could kill us. (Or make us deliriously content. We’re complex that way.) Then there’s our perspective on society, which we fully expect to be complicated, clunky, and subject to compromise, though ultimately reasonable if you don’t poke it too much.

Above all, I believe it’s because Canadian science fiction reflects how we view our place on this planet. We aren’t alone and we don’t want to be. We care, we connect, but we don’t tell others what to do. We worry when anyone suggests we lead by example, because we know we haven’t got it right yet, whatever it is, though we’re trying. Our stories are messy and challenging. Our characters are flawed and utterly human. Our ideas?

Oh, those are as big as our backyard.


Julie E. Czerneda is a best-selling, award-winning author/editor. Her latest SF novel is the Rift in the Sky (The Clan Chronicles #3), DAW Books. Her latest anthology is Ages of Wonder, with Rob St. Martin. Next will be A Turn of Light, Julie’s first fantasy novel. Julie is co-editor of Tesseracts 15: A Case of Quite Curious Tales, with Susan MacGregor. It will be an anthology of original Canadian science fiction, fantasy, and horror for young adult readers. Julie is also a juror for the 2011 Sunburst Award for excellence in speculative fiction writing. For more, visit www.czerneda.com.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Queering (My) Genre

By Gemma Files

"Queering (My) Genre" is a primer for "Queering the Genre," a longer talk that Gemma will present on Saturday, 23 October 2010, at the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium.

In 1984, having heard the same “future of horror” quote from Stephen King as everybody else in the world, I bought the first of Clive Barker’s Books of Blood. The last story in the book is “In the Hills, the Cities”, and readers, that’s when I knew for sure that I was lost.

I mean, I’d suspected as much previously--as I’ve said before in plenty of other venues, like Yukio Mishima, my heart’s sad leaning has always been towards “Night, and Blood, and Death”, but it’s been a while, and I’m down with that. The things I'm interested in have sharp edges and sad outcomes; I believe that anger is an energy, that the worst things we do we do to ourselves, and that wounds can become sex-organs if we play with them too often. Cronenberg, Ballard, Brite, Kiernan, Koja, Scorsese, they're all my muses: I love opera, narratives that float in a dream-state of bad romance and conflicted motivations. I like a bit of bruise with my kiss.

All of which pretty irretrievably makes “my” genre now and forever maybe horror, maybe dark fantasy, maybe just "dark".

When I was younger, I’d tell people I wanted to write horror (movies, then...how things change, though I sure wouldn’t turn a chance to go back to that down), and they’d say: “Oh, like Friday the 13th?” Aside from the fact that today the referenced film would probably be either Saw or Hostel, things haven’t really changed. “Dark” is not assumed to be a spectrum--with its steadfast concentration on the things most people would rather not think about too deeply, “dark” is assumed to come in one color only, one blood-rot-gross flavour. Because “dark” is not, has never been, never will be, the mainstream.

This is an interesting realization, especially when you factor in the perception that horror (in particular) is a genre which thrives on Other-ation. Peel back modern horror culture, and you fairly quickly reach the concept that dread comes from threat and threat comes from the violation of the "norm", with the "norm" automatically coded as the perceived societal media default: Male, white-skinned, middle-class, cisgendered, straight, Christian of some variety. People from inside these boundaries deserve to survive (our hero, his wife/GF, his kids, his support-system), but sometimes don't, which is horrifying; people from outside these boundaries don't deserve to survive unless they change themselves to fit inside them, and may in fact be coded as allied with/part of “the evil”, just by virtue of being outside the protagonists’ accepted rubric.

I find it only fair to mention here that “the default”, for the most part, bores me by definition, and always has. Not completely--I like to think I’m fluid enough that if you can convince me of something, elevate it beyond the usual, I’ll embrace it whole-heartedly. (Witness my attachment to King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and The Stand, as well as my championship of less-defensible Unca Stevie works like The Tommyknockers and Desperation.) But the problem with coding is that it’s short-hand, and short-hand is lazy; it’s a very easy way to look at the world. Darkness shouldn't be easy.

“In the Hills, the Cities” is a story about that classic horror movie protagonist pair trope, The Couple Who Go On Vacation and Stumble Across Something Unexpected. The thing they come across is a pair of giants made from lashed-together human beings acting in hypnotized concert--the rival cities of Popolac and Podujevo, who’ve had a ritualistic yearly wrestling match for district supremacy. But today, a terrible accident has left Podujevo destroyed and Popolac wandering free, massive and insane.

The story is brutal, poetic and crazed, with a striking sensual immediacy which set my creative bar forever at exactly that level--out of reach, I’m sure, but well worth trying for nonetheless, like I’ve been doing ever since. It breaks all sorts of rules, but the first one it screws with it does pretty much in paragraph one, by making that central couple a pair of dudes.

So we can credit/blame Clive Barker for having convinced me that what makes far more sense than knee-jerk heterocentrism in horror is the idea that if “dark” is for outsiders, then perhaps it’s the perfect place to find the representation that we’re denied everywhere else. The place where the outsider perspective can be centralized and given protagonist agency, as we often see in even the most mainstream of “dark” narratives--ghost stories starring women, monster stories starring children and old people, narratives in which the post-apocalyptic world boils down to a representative sample of humanity, and the freaks and geeks take over.

Or even those classic slashers which gave rise to the image of the Final Girl; once upon a time, that was a crazy idea. Now it’s become the rule rather than the exception, so we routinely stretch it just as far as it will go, and further--the same way we once began with ridiculous fake-inclusionary things like Blacula, cooked up specifically to access a particular market, and somehow (by stretching the definition of what was genre-“allowable”) ended up with the inventive, brave, unabashedly Afrocentric work of Tannarive Due, Maurice Broaddus, John Ridley and Octavia Butler.

This is why it can’t be all blood and boobs, why “dark” is the absolute best place for the envelope to be pushed--because when the biggest things are on the line, the subtext reads, anyone can be both the victim and the hero, like Barker’s Mick and Judd, who end up shattered not because they’re gay and deserve to be punished but because they’re humans confronted by the gloriously unspeakable.

And for all the blood and thunder it usually comes wrapped in, perhaps the real reason I keep on returning to darkness’s well, again and again, is that I personally find that idea...very comforting.

The End

Gemma Files is a Canadian horror writer, journalist, and film critic. Her short story, "The Emperor's Old Bones", won the International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Story of 1999. Five of her short stories were adapted for the television series The Hunger. Her first novel A Book of Tongues explores the range of homosocial and homosexual bonds that bind her exceptionally strong characters, drawing attention to the way in which an ultra-masculine network of relationships underpins the history and mythology of the American West.

A Book of Tongues: Volume 1 of the Hexslinger Series
by Gemma Files

Two years after the Civil War, Pinkerton agent Ed Morrow has gone undercover with one of the weird West's most dangerous outlaw gangs-the troop led by "Reverend" Asher Rook, ex-Confederate chaplain turned "hexslinger," and his notorious lieutenant (and lover) Chess Pargeter. Morrow's task: get close enough to map the extent of Rook's power, then bring that knowledge back to help Professor Joachim Asbury unlock the secrets of magic itself.

Magicians, cursed by their gift to a solitary and painful existence, have never been more than a footnote in history. But Rook, driven by desperation, has a plan to shatter the natural law that prevents hexes from cooperation, and change the face of the world-a plan sealed by an unholy marriage-oath with the goddess Ixchel, mother of all hanged men. To accomplish this, he must raise her bloodthirsty pantheon from its collective grave through sacrifice, destruction, and apotheosis.

Caught between a passel of dead gods and monsters, hexes galore, Rook's witchery, and the ruthless calculations of his own masters, Morrow's only real hope of survival lies with the man without whom Rook cannot succeed: Chess Pargeter himself. But Morrow and Chess will have to literally ride through Hell before the truth of Chess's fate comes clear-the doom written for him, and the entire world.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

To Dream the Impossible Dream: Opening Arguments against Realism

By Claude Lalumière 

"To Dream the Impossible Dream: Opening Arguments against Realism" is a primer for "Against Realism: Hard SF, Autobiography, and Other Questionable Strategies for Writing Fiction," a longer talk that Claude will present on Saturday, 23 October 2010, at the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium.
Genteel society loves realism. That alone should be enough of a call to arms for writers -- indeed, all artists, as iconoclasts by definition -- to strive against it. Here, I will briefly introduce why I mistrust realism, and why I believe it to be an insidious distorter of human expression and lived experience.
I use "realism" in its broadest sense, to encompass not only movements such as American Realism, Naturalism, Social Realism, their legacies, and their descendents -- such as Hard SF and one of its recent subsets, the Mundanes [i]--  but all artistic expression that values the comforting verisimilitude of consensus reality over the disquieting uncertainty of truth -- although few, if any, of realism's adherents and defenders would acknowledge that such is the consequence of a realist approach to art. And by "truth" I do not mean the sophistic illusion called "objective reality" but rather that utopian, romantic, and quintessentially quixotic quest not to understand but to intuit the complex, ever-changing, and fundamentally unknowable web of life and existence of which we are part, thus embracing a sense of wonder, awe, compassion, and even terror. In essence, "to dream the impossible dream." [ii]
The rise of realism in the nineteenth century was motivated partly by "a reaction against romanticism" and "an interest in scientific method." [iii] It will come as no surprise, then, that, as a vocal detractor of realism, I am an unabashed romantic and that my profound and unshakeable atheism encompasses a mistrust of science, its dogmas, and its societal project.
Furthermore, "Purporting to be undistorted by personal bias, Realism believed in the ideology of objective reality." [iv] Although I hope that few thinkers would now explicitly or knowingly adhere to such a naive proposition, it betrays a fundamental unease that still influences and holds sway over the decidedly anti-romantic biases of genteel institutions such as English departments, university writing programs, mainstream literary awards, and literary criticism.
Our individual and collective memories are formed by storytelling, by the stories we tell ourselves and each other. These narrative memories -- about our origins, our aspirations, our defeats, our victimizations, our victories, our kinships -- are the building blocks of our sense of identity, both as individuals and as societies. States, religions, and other forms of identity-based authority notoriously mistrust art, try to dictate what art should or should not express. Such authorities maintain dominance through narratives of collective identity.
Even when it purports to have a progressive agenda, realism, which is necessarily measured against consensus reality, reinforces dominant narratives and thus the institutions validated and empowered by these narratives. Non-realist art, by its very nature, transgresses the boundaries of consensus, identity, and social order, potentially threatening the hegemony of ruling ideologies and, at a personal level, putting into question identities constructed under its aegis.
Of course, I realize there are many shades between these extremes of realism and non-realism, of comforting and transgressive, and many permutations that complicate such a simplistic dichotomy. After all, yes, non-realist art can be used as a tool to validate regressive agendas, and realism can illustrate troubling inequities. Even in such a case, a non-dominant group, too, tends to form its own micro-hegemony and tightly control transgression from its proposed worldview -- and that can include controlling the art that purports to express that group's cultural identity by demanding that it conform to its brand of realism, to its realist narratives. 
Realism, then, being by its very nature rooted in the hegemonic worldview that defines it, remains a primarily reactionary and dominating force that gnaws at the romantic and transgressive roots of so-called "genre" fictions and, more broadly, impedes the potential of individuals and communities to transcend the limits imposed by normative narratives of identity.

In the opening paragraph, I equated "artist" with "iconoclast" -- and I fully recognize my own bias in this matter. I do not consider "art" the work of so-called "artists" whose creations serve to reiterate or reinforce without question the status quo, the dominant worldview, or an entrenched societal paradigm. Art should be the vehicle on our quixotic quest for the unattainable truth. It is by nature restless. It can never be satisfied with where we are. It must forever, at any cost, propel us elsewhere -- where there be dragons. In such dangerous waters, realism can only blind us and thus imperil our survival.


Claude Lalumière is the author of the collection Objects of Worship, the Fantastic Fiction columnist for The Montreal Gazette, and the editor of eight anthologies, including the Aurora Award nominee Tesseracts Twelve: New Novellas of Canadian Fantastic Fiction. With Rupert Bottenberg, he is the co-creator of Lost Myths, which is both a live show and an online archive updated every Thursday. Claude's The Door to Lost Pages, a novella, will be released by CZP in spring 2011.
"To Dream the Impossible Dream: Opening Arguments against Realism" is a primer for "Against Realism: Hard SF, Autobiography, and Other Questionable Strategies for Writing Fiction," a longer talk that Claude will present on Saturday, 23 October 2010, at the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium

Objects of Worship
by Claude Lalumière

Twelve strange, eerie, sensual stories by a bold new voice in weird fiction. Capricious gods rule a world of women. Zombies breed human cattle. The son of a superhero must decide between his heritage and his religion. Young lovers worship a primordial spider god. The apocalyptic rebirth of the god of the elephants. Monstrous chimeras roam through a devastated future Earth. A retired fisherman caught in the middle of a conflict between gods and superheroes. Teenagers struggle to survive a surreal ice age . . .

[i] mundane-sf.blogspot.com.
[ii] "The Impossible Dream," from Man of La Mancha (1972), lyrics by Joe Darion, music by Mitch Leigh.
[iii] Donna M. Campbell,"Realism in American Literature, 1860-1890," www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/realism.htm.
[iv] "Realism (Arts)," en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Realism_(arts).

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Escaping the Genre Ghetto – Exploring the State of Speculative Fiction at Toronto’s SpecFic Colloquium

TORONTO, ON (September 7, 2010) – On October 23, 2010 authors, editors and readers will gather to explore the state of speculative fiction in Canada at Toronto’s SpecFic Colloquium.

Canadian speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror, etc.) has been increasingly recognized internationally for the calibre of its authors and their insight into the nature of social and religious identities, the implications of new technologies, and the relationship between humankind and its environments.  “Our authors are breaking out of the genre ghetto,” says co-organizer Helen Marshall. “Their stories disrupt habits, overcome barriers of cultural perception to make the familiar strange.  They show us the speculative fiction can be an ideal tool for social examination and critique.”

The colloquium, a one-day event to launch the Chiaroscuro Reading Series, will deliver lectures by major names in the field on topics such as urban fantasy, cognitive science, queering the genre, and how Canadian science fiction is taking over the world, nicely.  The lectures will be followed by readings that showcase emergent and experienced Canadian speculative fiction writers.

Guests include Kelley Armstrong, Julie Czerneda, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tony Burgess, Gemma Files, Karl Schroeder, Peter Watts, David Nickle, Michael Rowe and Claude Lalumière. 

Sponsored by ChiZine Publications, an independent publisher of weird, surreal, subtle, and disturbing dark literary fiction, the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium will take place on Saturday October 23, 2010 in the Debates Room and Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle.   Register at http://www.specfic-colloquium.com/registration.htm.

For further information about the Toronto SpecFic Colloquium, visit http://specfic-colloquium.com. For sponsorship partnering, advertizing opportunities or media queries, contact Sandra Kasturi, co-organizer at sandra@chizinepub.com or Helen Marshall, co-organizer at helen@chizinepub.com.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Why More Kindle Sales Over Hardcovers on Amazon Is a Good Thing

by Matt Moore

Amazon announced recently (July 19, 2010):

Over the past three months, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 143 Kindle books. Over the past month, for every 100 hardcover books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 180 Kindle books.

This is good news. Ebooks give readers a quick, easy and (hopefully) inexpensive way to not just read books, but discover and try new authors.

However, I’m wary of how publishers will react. Some publishers fear that ebooks released at the same time as hardcovers take away from sales of the highly profitable hardcovers. As well, there is a belief that demand for ebooks and hardcovers if released at the same time are equal, so the price of ebooks relates to its perceived demand rather than cost.

Now with Kindle sales surpassing hardcovers, publishers might feel justified in delaying ebooks or keeping prices elevated to make up for what they perceive as a shortfall in profits. Yet if publishers want to improve their bottom lines, they should drop the prices of ebooks and release books in ebooks and hardcover formats simultaneously.

Hardcovers Are Money Makers

Hardcovers have higher per unit profits than paperbacks. Publishers know that big name authors have a built-in audience who are willing to pay a premium for the latest book. This is the reason why paperbacks come out a year after the hardcovers—publishers give the audience the choice: buy the expensive hardcover now, or wait a year and save.

I don’t fault publishers for this approach—they are in business to turn a profit. My issue, though, is they’re mistaken impression that releasing an ebook at the same time as hardcover will eat into hardcover sales. What publishers do not understand is they are two different markets.

Readers of Hardcovers vs.Those Who Read  ebooks

Hardcovers are for serious, committed fans. They want to read the story right now, but also want the book—its weight, cover art, and whatever other goodies there might be inside. And later, they want it up on their shelf where they can see it… or allow others to see that they have it.

People who read ebooks want convenience. Bringing a paperback on the bus or to the beach is easy. Bringing the equivalent of many paperbacks in one small device—a device where you can preview and buy new books from anyplace with a wifi signal—is easier. For those who value convenience, a hardcover is a bulky, cumbersome object that gets in the way of trying to read it.

Publishers Don’t Understand These Markets

Yet publishers get this confused. They seem to think a committed fan will now opt for an inexpensive ebook rather than a hardcover. Or, they might think the casual reader will pay for a hardcover if no ebook is available. Neither of these is true, but with this news from Amazon, publishers may think “We can’t risk hardcover sales. We should delay the release of the Kindle version. Or, increase the price so we make up the profit from lost hardcover sales.”

Publishers Have An Opportunity

But the increasing sales of ebooks is actually good news for publishers and should result in good news for readers of ebooks.

Lower eBook Prices

With ebooks growing in popularity, publishers should be lowering ebook prices. There is a large market out there interested in ebooks, but are hesitant to buy a reader and then incur additional costs of buying ebooks that cost as much a paperback—better to just buy the paperback. By lowering the price, readers can make up the cost of the ebook device in the price difference between the ebook and paperback. Though publishers may make a lower per-unit profit, the increase in units sold will increase overall profit.

Further, with more casual readers buying ebooks, publishers can lower the print runs on paperbacks, which have a higher per unit costs than ebooks.

Release eBooks and Hardcovers Simultaneously

Releasing an ebook at the same time as the hardcover might improve hardcover sales. Imagine a new novel you’re interested in comes out in hardcover and ebook. Not willing to spend $25.99 on the hardcover, you buy the ebook for $5.99 (which is lower than the price of the paperback released next year). You read it and love it. You want to go back and re-read it, savouring the experience. Rather than read the book one small screen at a time, you buy the hardcover.

Now imagine if the ebook came out a year after the hardcovers. There might not be any hardcovers left in stock, denying the publisher that additional sale.

Two Audiences—Committed and Casual—Allow Buzz to Grow

By allowing committed fans (who buy the hardcovers) and those who are curious (who buy the ebook) to read a book at the same time, publishers allow for greater buzz to build from those two audiences, who each bring different perspectives. If the buzz is positive and loud enough, it might convince someone who is waiting for the paperback to go out and buy the hardcover.

By day, Matt Moore is a project manager and communication specialist in the information technology field. By night, he is a science fiction and horror writer with work in On Spec and Tesseracts Thirteen and an upcoming e-book published by Damnation Books. By later at night, he is the marketing director for ChiZine Publications, a small Canadian publisher. Raised in small-town New England, a place rich with legends and ghost stories, he lives in Ottawa, Ontario. He blogs at mattmoorewrites.wordpress.com.
By Matt Moore

When a prank goes wrong, three teenage boys are locked in the basement of a remote house by a man they know only as "Silverman". Given a gun loaded with one bullet, their captor instructs them to play a game: Before the next morning, one of them must choose which of the other two will shoot and kill the third. Play the game and the two survivors can go free. If they don't, all of them will die. As morning approaches and hope of being found and rescued fades, each boy must decide if he'll work with the others to try to escape and risk being killed, or save himself by playing Silverman's Game.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Book By Any Other Name

By Helen Marshall

The recent bidding wars over eReaders have spawned a series of articles in newspapers and online journals predicting the demise of the book and looking with interest, excitement, nostalgia, foreboding, and regret to the age of digital books.  As a book historian by training, and one who specializes in the period right on the cusp of the transition from manuscript to print, I’ve been watching curiously to see how it all pans out. Books are going through growing pains, a kind of shaky puberty: their hormones are all over the place; they are experimenting with new identities; there’s a great deal of angst and worry from their parental publishers who both look forward to a new age of cheaper printing costs, less environmental damage, and fewer warehouse fees, but also who also wonder what kind of friends their baby will make at school and whether they’ll be needed at all.

In many ways, it’s a time of crisis; but as with all such growing pains it’s the transition that hurts most and the status of the industry before and after may well look the same – even if we lose some players and gain others. It’s a big shake-up, a chance for reading to reinvent itself, to establish what needs to be kept and what can be thrown out with the trash, or, to be more eco-conscience, recycled.

But are books – the kind made from paper and glue that you buy at the drugstore – really dead? I think not. Books as cultural and physical artefacts are still ingrained so deeply that our subconscious will have a hard time letting them go. Can you imagine swearing on an eBook of the Bible? If you walk into a stranger’s house, will you shuffle through the files on their Kindle? Books have status. They have weight. They have beauty. They have authority.

Certainly, eReaders will chip away at the edges of that over time, but the fact remains that books and eBooks are two very different things: they encourage different kinds of stories, different reading practices, different reading experiences. The Guardian recently published a piece, “The Art of Slow Reading.” It suggested that the interactivity of texts, our ability to cycle quickly from partial text to partial text, was damaging our ability to absorb larger chunks of text. All we process is the bite-sized (or byte-sized). In medieval studies, we compare the phenomena of intensive and extensive reading: if you only have a very limited number of books, you read them intensively, again and again, until you have a very deep understanding of the text. That’s what medieval monks did. Reading extensively requires you to access numerous texts, but to have a less substantial grasp on individual content. Society has been moving increasingly toward extensive reading patterns (when it moves toward any kind of increased reading pattern at all). It seems to me that eReaders will likely continue to push us in this direction – certainly, some reading will improve: the inclusion of dictionaries, glosses, character summaries will no doubt mean that the text is easier to interact with. But it may also play havoc with an author’s ability to control narrative flow.

This has, in some cases, proven to be a problem for the publishing of poetry. Billie Collins, in a recent article in the Associate Press, had a real problem with the way that eReader screens displayed the line-breaks of his poems: "The critical difference between prose and poetry is that prose is kind of like water and will become the shape of any vessel you pour it into to. Poetry is like a piece of sculpture and can easily break," Collins says.

It’s not just poetry that faces this problem. Prose writers – really attentive ones, anyway – use all sorts of features of layout to control the pacing of their books: white space, indentations, paragraph size. Read Dan Brown and you’ll find short, snappy paragraphs (much like Twitter feeds!); read Robert Shearman’s new book and you’ll find denser blocks with dialogue internalized so as not to break up the text flow. Layout matters, and eBooks aren’t quite there yet precisely because they are too interactive, too changeable, too prone to reader alteration.

There’s something about low-tech that can be useful. Here’s a chilling example. Most university libraries are spending less money on hardcopies and more money on digital databases because they are easier for both staff and students to access and they require less housing space. The problem is that digital databases require annual subscription memberships. As libraries dump their hardcopy budgets, what they find is they must devote more and more money to maintaining the subscriptions. If you buy your full library on an eReader, and donate your paperbacks to the Salvation Army, what happens when you need to upgrade? The Digital Age requires constant upkeep.

My point, though, is not that eBooks are worse than paperbacks; that they are somehow inferior in the quality of the product that they deliver. They aren’t.  But they aren’t a simple upgrade either. They offer us new possibilities for reading and writing. Video didn’t really kill the radio star, and even if the book is dead, I predict it will have a long afterlife.


Helen Marshall spends the majority of her time pursuing a Ph. D. in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto where she gets to travel across England to examine fourteenth-century manuscripts. Of course, her fascination with the making and writing of books extends well into the present. Her poetry has been published in ChiZine, NFG and the Ontarion Arts Supplement. "Mist and Shadows," published originally in Star*Line, appeared in The 2006 Rhysling Anthology: The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Poetry of 2005." "The Gypsy" and "Crossroads and Gateways" both received honourable mentions in the 2009 Rannu Fund Contest, while four other poems were short-listed. She also works as an editor and slush reader for ChiZine Publications.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

E-books: I resisted. Oh, how I resisted

By Ryan McFadden

 I resisted.  Oh yes, I resisted.  I didn't want to pay for a device just so I could do something that I already do.  It just didn't make sense.  Then, gradually, I started discovering how lazy I truly am.  You mean, I have to go out of the house, and go to a store, where they may, or may not, have that one copy of Knitting with Dog Hair book?

 It started simply enough: I had the Kindle app on my computer because I didn't want to wait for Amazon to ship me said Knitting with Dog Hair, so I ordered it instantly and had it delivered to my computer.  For a decent price without paying for that pesky shipping fee.  Interesting. But I couldn’t take my laptop to bed with me, could I? (Okay, full disclosure – I tried.) Then I got an iPhone.  Wow, I can have all my books with me all the time!  I can read in the bank line.  I can read when waiting at a red light (joking . . . I do this at all coloured lights, not just red).  I can read while you’re trying to talk to me.  “Yup, uh huh, yeah, interesting, yeah, genocide, yup, frogs . . . wonderful.”

But, that iPhone was frying my eyeballs.  When I was traveling recently, the glare on the screen (I mention traveling because it’s more difficult to control the environment), combined with the refresh rate (the amount of times, in a second, that the screen refreshes) made for a killer headache.

Then the e-book manufacturers started having a little price war and brought the price of their readers to a decent level.  What timing!  So I bought a Kindle from Amazon.  The Kindle has several cool features: it's e-ink (no refresh rate . . . so you're actually seeing a static image), search capabilities (can't remember where that character first appeared: use this), built-in dictionary (just move the cursor and it'll give you a definition at the bottom of the screen), it's wireless (so you can download and sync books anywhere), the battery lasts a week (not quite accurate), and adjustable font size.

If I had my way, I'd never buy a physical book again.  I know, I know, you like the smell of a book.  You know what?  That's mold.  Or chemicals, or bleach.  It’s not good for you.  I joke, actually, because I’m not a good one to argue about the tactile experience of books -- because I trash them, give them away, or junk them.  I have a good friend who has stacks of books with perfect spines -- as if they've never been read at all.  He delicately peers between the covers, turning the pages like this is a medieval manuscript.  My books are tattered, dog-eared, sauce-stained, and bloated from where they were dropped in water.  In other words -- I've never worshiped at the temple of the physical book.  It's just the delivery vehicle (and yes, with an expensive e-reader, I now have to treat it with respect).

Then there's the cost of books.  Simply put -- I don't care about the cost of physical books anymore.  I like that e-books are all $10.  I don't care whether it's available as a paperback or a hardcover and that it may or may not be more expensive.  I am purchasing a different product and I’m simply not concerned about it.  Like comparing a DVD, to a BluRay, to going to the theatre.  Each price doesn’t affect how I view the other forms.  $10?  I don't even think about $10.  It's an easy price.  It's a good price. It's disposable. And I don’t even have to leave my house to buy it. Will $6, or $5, or $9.50 cause me to buy more?  No.  I think the price has been set.  $10.  Done.

Now, there are down sides.  I can’t lend books (I believe the Nook, you can). Sure, no one makes money for lent books, but I don't know how many writers I've hooked my family and friends with because they read the first one that I lent them.  As an aside, Rob Sawyer made a good comment this past weekend: for $10, you don’t need to lend it.  Give it to them.

Is the e-book going to create business?  I don’t believe so.  But publishers will lose business if they don’t support it.  How am I so sure?  Because I’ve already skipped buying books because they don’t have them in e-format – and I’m not going to mention any names.

Small publishers should be front and centre in jumping on the bandwagon.  Generally speaking, it’s more difficult to get books from small presses – that whole pesky distribution thing.  Make it readily available so I don’t have to pay shipping for your books.  Don’t make me work to get a book from you (remember, I’m lazy).

The book is an interesting format.  While I’m hardly an expert at the history of the book (and I’m sure our friendly moderator Helen Marshall, who is an expert in this field, will slap me down ruthlessly if I’m wrong) but the book has not changed in centuries.  Compare that to music (people still claim that vinyl is better) and moving pictures (I’m still dead set against 3D).  Now, for the first time in centuries, along comes a change in the book format.  It’s worked for so long; why change now?  Because it’s better, that’s why.

This is a big issue.  I haven’t even touched on the role of publishers in all of this.  And marketing.  And even bookstores.  I’ll let someone else tackle that issue on a different day.

E-books are not going away.  Are they going to replace physical books?  Too early to say.  But don’t panic, fair book lover!  I’m sure there’ll always be a place for your leather-bound novel on the shelf.  And while you’re getting ready to settle for a night of pleasant reading with your physical book, don’t forget to spin up that phonograph so you can listen to all the hits of the 1920s.  Ah, the good ole days.

Ryan McFadden is an Aurora-award winning fantasy/SF author in London, Ontario.  His novella "Deus Ex Machina" was one of the four Aurora-winning stories of Women of the Apocalypse. The Apocalyptic Four are planning our next project, The Puzzle Box is under consideration by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Other writing credits include stories in Alienskin, Chicago Overcoat, Afterburn SF, Sinister Tales, as well as a finalist in the $1500 JFJK contest.

Women of the Apocalypse by Eileen Bell, Roxanne Felix, Billie Milholland, and Ryan McFadden

Four women. Four shooters. Four destinies to save the world…

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are coming. And four Archangels find the perfect champions to save the world: fighters, warriors, soldiers, and brave men, all ready to fight for humanity against end times. All they have to do is drink a shooter — a caustic mix of alcohol and divinity that will imbue them with the conviction to battle the Four.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Ethics and the After-Shudder in Horror Writing

By Helen Marshall

For the past four days, medievalists from around the world have been gathering in Siena, Italy to drink chianti and discuss literature, history, and the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. As a Ph. D student at the University of Toronto, I've had the great pleasure of joining them I'd like to recount one event in particular that really struck me.

Siena has been going through a nasty heat wave, and to cope a number of us graduate students spent Friday night drinking prosecco in our pool twenty kilometers from the city centre surrounded by the Tuscan countryside (hard work, I know!). Come Saturday, we discovered to our horror that all the air conditioning had been shut off. Sweltering in my first panel -- a distressingly packed classroom where we were all breathing too-warm recycled air, nursing hangovers, and trying to focus on what the smart people at the front of the room were trying to say -- I found myself in one of those dozy, dream-like states. Bruce Holsinger stood up to speak, and he began by recounting the recent work on parchment genetics, where scientists were analyzing the genetic make-up of parchment for dating purposes and to track herd changes. (Before the rise of the printing press in England, all books including ones of literature were written by hand on parchment or vellum, that is, the skin of sheep or cows.) He then told us that his colleagues had discovered something remarkable indeed -- all the books of Geoffrey Chaucer had been written on human skin.

As I said, I was drowsy and it took me some time to process this. Human skin? I was shocked, horrified. The stuff that I had spent the last two months research in archives, touching, smelling, handling, studying -- it was the skin of people! It was only once the wave of tired laughter rippled across the audience of academics that I realized this was a ploy, a brilliant rhetorical move. I had bought it hook, line and sinker.

His point was that, ultimately, there exists a whole history of animal genocide beneath the production of literature at its earliest stages in English history. The point that registered most deeply for me was that he had to use a story to get his point across.  Dry scholarship wasn't enough to produce an ethical inquiry, even if it was only a personal one, to the fact that a single book could require up to five hundred dead sheep to produce.  In many ways, it is monstrous.  And he begged us to consider -- was it worth it? Was (one of) the formative moments in English literary history worth the slaughter of so many animals?

Holsinger's paper sent a shudder down my spine, a genuine one, and it was something that never would have happened without the fiction he presented.  But what was that shudder? How did it happen? Aranye Fradenburg gave a brilliant plenary lecture which introduced the concept of mirror neurons: mirror neurons fire, she argued, when we see a familiar action and automatically emulate it. Chimpanzees watching other chimpanzees cracking nuts fire off neurons that mimic the actions in their own brains. Fradenburg suggested that not only was this the basis of human empathy, it was also the basis of literature, for descriptive passages were just as effective at causing mirror neurons to fire.

It is an old adage that horror is an emotion not a genre; it is the shudder, the cold sweat, the puckering of skin and the raising of hair. What Holsinger did was to tell a horror story, and for me, a terribly effective one. That horror came because I could suddenly perceive the blank subject of my research -- the parchment of manuscripts -- as my own skin. The genocide of sheep and cows was vividly revealed, even if it was only for a moment before the laugh dispelled the image, as something real and personal.

My point is that there can be a kind of ethics to horror writing, because horror -- more than any other genre -- is about the human, the psychological, the affective.  The point of horror writing should not just be to produce the shudder -- that's the first step, certainly -- but to use it, to make it do something. This is why, despite being a self -professed hater of horror, I still love the books put out by ChiZine Publications. Great horror -- the work of Ramsay Campbell, Tim Lebbon and Robert Shearman; David Nickle, Claude Lalumière and Brett Alexander Savory -- takes that next step and shows that the genre is about more than just a shudder; it is the after-shudder, the moment of truth that occurs when the boundaries of civilization and flesh break down, when you look at the figure in fiction and say, "That is me -- one day that will be me. I am mortal. I will die. Now what?"


Helen Marshall spends the majority of her time pursuing a Ph. D. in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto where she gets to travel across England to examine fourteenth-century manuscripts. Of course, her fascination with the making and writing of books extends well into the present. Her poetry has been published in ChiZine, NFG and the Ontarion Arts Supplement. "Mist and Shadows," published originally in Star*Line, appeared in The 2006 Rhysling Anthology: The Best Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Poetry of 2005." "The Gypsy" and "Crossroads and Gateways" both received honourable mentions in the 2009 Rannu Fund Contest, while four other poems were short-listed. She also works as an editor and slush reader for ChiZine Publications.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Joys of the Ten-novel Saga in the Age of Twitch Speed

By Lynda Williams

A ten novel saga? Come on! It’s nigh impossible to get people’s attention for ten minutes, let alone ten novels. Yet this fall I’ll launch Avim’s Oath, the sixth book in the Okal Rel Saga. Am I mad?

Maybe just a little. But at this point, I’m so committed to the project that starting something else would simply make no sense. This is the work I became a writer to write.

You know the old chestnut “write what you know”? It used to depress me because I didn’t want to write about being me. I wanted to tackle Big Issues and Big Love. Terror. Sex Roles. War and sustainability. I had literally grown up exploring my questions through the lives and cultures of my fictional universe. When most kids stopped playing, I began to write. I evolved my ideas under the influence of life experience and three university degrees. Now and then I tried to set it all aside to dutifully “write what I knew” but it never engaged me as deeply as Amel, Horth and all the rest of my favorite characters.

And then one day it hit me: Sevolites, reality-skimming, sword law and Reetion arbiters were what I knew. My fiction was a language in which I could express my questions and transport the reader to a world I have inhabited most of my life. Now, at fifty-two, as I look ahead to a new stage of life, there is no greater joy for me than hearing people talk to each other about the characters and situations of the Okal Rel Universe as if they’d been there. And to know they enjoyed the trip. And while there are thousands, not millions of such people in the world, I think sharing the Okal Rel Universe with them means more to me than sharing anything else with hypothetical millions ever could.

Because I am writing what I know, and since it’s been a lifelong project I need ten books to shoe-horn it all in. It’s about “life, the universe and everything” (with a nod to Douglas Adams) – even if that’s hard to summarize in a byte-sized spiel. You can say it’s about culture clash and sustainability in the face of over-powered technologies; you can reduce the life of a main character to a phrase like “long-suffering saint with a baggage from a childhood in the sex trade” or “unbeatable champion with social disabilities”, but I’ve never been happy with such attempts and continue to struggle with them.

My challenge, as a writer, is to learn how to invite people in. And maybe as I age and mellow I’ll get better at it. But I’ve stopped flinching at the smart advice to give up what I love because it isn’t fashionable. I guess that’s either original and inspired or stupid. But it’s my rel, as people say in the Okal Rel Universe. My mission, my burden, my purpose in doing what I do. It’s what I know and what I have to share that’s unique.


Lynda Williams has been creating the Okal Rel Universe through three degrees and at least as many careers. Now the books of the ten novel saga are rolling out from Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy one a year (Part 6: Avim's Oath forthcoming in 2010). Works by both Lynda and other writers captivated by the story-potential of the ORU, are published by Edge's sister-press called Absolute X-Press. Lynda taught and worked in educational innovation at the University of Northern B.C. for fifteen years, and is currently an administrator with the College of New Caledonia.

Avim's Oath (Okal Rel Saga)
by Lynda Williams 

The Queen is dead, and two princes, Amel and Erien, are pushed centre-stage and made to vie for power that neither brother wanted. Driven by vengeful princesses, most notably the beautiful and dangerous Alivda, the brothers must prove themselves, choosing between the lives they wanted and the roles that people demanded of them.

You can find her author page here.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Getting Your Name Out There

By Laura Marshall

So you’ve written the best book ever, had it accepted by a publisher, and it’s going to the printer.  One problem: no one knows your name . . . yet.  Having a great book does not guarantee your book will sell.  The publisher can only do so much to promote your book, and usually it’s not enough.  As the author, you need to take things into your own hands and do some self-promotion.  Here are some tips and tricks to getting your name out there:

Building Your Online Presence:
Facebook, Twitter, blogging, and social networking are excellent ways to keep in touch with your fans and to let them know what you're up to. Create a fan page for your book, tweet about any awards you might be up for, inform people of your readings and launches so they can show up and support you. Maintaining an online presence is an increasingly important way to promote yourself.
1)    Start tweeting – If you aren’t on Twitter yet go sign yourself up now.  Sure it may seem like a silly thing to tell your friends about every minute of your day, but it’s a great way for fan to follow updates about you and your book.
2)    Open a Facebook account – Nowadays everyone has an account on Facebook so create a fan page for yourself.  This is a way for people to get to know you as a person, not just an author.
3)    Create a website – This is perhaps one of the most important tools for beginning writers.  When someone hears your name or reads something about you they like, the first thing they do is Google you.  And if you don’t have a site they won’t be able to find out more and become a fan.  Make this your top priority for your online presence.
4)    Write a blog – You may be surprised, but people want to know your thoughts.  It doesn’t have to be just about your writing, but include stories from your life, your day job, whatever.  And keep updating frequently so people will keep coming back.  Tip: Make sure to link your blog to your webpage and visa-versa so you get more traffic to your sites.
5)    Get on book networking sites – Make sure you are on book networking sites like Goodreads, Shelfari, Connect via Books, LibraryThing, and aNobii.  These are a great way for people to find your books, even if they aren’t looking for them.

Dealing with the Press:

We all want the kind of media coverage that Robert J. Sawyer has—articles, interviews, radio shows, awards. The trick is to figure out how to get it. Your publisher likely has limited resources so while they do what they can, you are far more likely to succeed if you can do some of the work yourself. After all, your publisher can only do so much to get the word out there. The more you can do for yourself, the more likely you are to succeed.
1)     Press releases – It’s a good idea to get into the habit of writing press releases yourself.  By definition a press release is simply a statement prepared for distribution to the media. The purpose of a press release is to give journalists information that will catch their attention and be useful to them when preparing a story. Journalists receive hundreds of press releases each week so the trick is to make yours interesting, relevant, and writable.  You can include them on your webpage, send them out with review copies, to newspapers and magazine, and most importantly, remember to follow up!
Here are some quick tips for writing a good press release:
•    Use an active headline to grab the reporter's attention
•    Put the most important information at the beginning
•    Avoid hype and unsubstantiated claims 
•    Keep your release to one page
•    Include a contact
•    Keep lingo to the minimum
•    Be specific and detailed
•    Proofread, Proofread, Proofread!

2)     Author Press Kit - Author press kits vary in context, complexity and appearance, but ultimately they are designed to convey basic information about a writer and his or her recent projects. They can help impress editors as well as provide useful information for media events, interviews, and for review requests. The cost of putting together a press kit depends on the quality of any hardcopy materials and whether you choose to build one yourself or hire an agency do it for you. Here are some tips for how to create one yourself:
Press Kit Ingredients: 
•       high-resolution author photo
•       high-resolution book cover images
•       a short biography
•       a publication C. V.
•       press clippings
•       press releases
 Of course, there are a number of additional documents you can draw up and include as necessary. An introductory letter can be a vital way to distinguish you from others in your field, to position your brand of writing as unique or cross-genre, or to highlight specific points of interest that may be newsworthy. Other possibilities include a quotes page which draws attention to positive reviews; sample writings from a blog or collection; description of current projects, etc. Every author has unique selling points so the key is to make a press kit that capitalizes upon yours.

Getting Yourself Out There:
So now you’ve got a great online fan base, you’ve sent out press releases, and compiled a press kit.  The next thing you need to do is get yourself out there so people know your name, and your face!  You can do this in a number of ways.  Here are some of the top ways:
1)    Organize a book launch/signing/reading – Your publisher may already organize some of these things for you, but once again they only do so much.  Take the initiative and organize these events yourself at book stores, private events, or in your hometown.  As The Writer's Handbook Blog says, “This a key activity for book marketing that authors can do better, more personably, and often more creatively than publishers. “ After all, this is a place to make sales, meet fans, spark interest and promote not just your book but YOU. Be personable. Be likeable. Be energetic. Give people a reason to want to read your book and follow your career.
2)    Attend Conventions - Genre publishing has an advantage over other kinds of publishing—you've got a lot of built-in opportunities for meeting fans and mingling. At a basic level, conventions offer you the opportunity to promote your book through readings, signings, launch parties and room parties. There are other possibilities too. Being on panels is a great way for fans to get to know you, and often times you can do a short promo for your book at the beginning. Being on a panel tends to be free and in many cases will allow you to get into the convention at a discounted rate. So don't just hide out in your room from the slobbering hordes. Go meet them. Go to parties. Go to the bar and hang out. Talk to people when they approach you.   Just don’t forget to tell people you are going to be there!
All of these are great ways to promote yourself and your book.  All it takes is some initiative, creativity, and persistence to get your name out there.  If you don’t have time to do all of these, talk to your publisher to find out what they are already doing and then fill in the gaps yourself.  Remember, just doing these things will not make your book a success, but they can certainly help!


Laura Marshall recently graduated from the University of Edinburgh with a Masters in Material Culture and the History of the Book. Though not a writer herself, she has spent much of her life supporting and herding literary types through her work for organizations such as the Ad Astra Literary Convention, Word on the Street and the Edinburgh International Film Festival. She is currently the marketing assistant for ChiZine Publications and an intern at Harlequin Romance.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Write what you know… um, wait.

By Marie Bilodeau

When I first heard that advice, I took it to heart.  I wanted to write sword and sorcery fantasy novels, so it turned out to be a painful process, for both me and the household furniture  (I’m all for practical experiences). And I never even mastered the cool sword twirling technique they pull off so easily in Conan.  Nor did I ever repay my mom for that broken chandelier, now that I think about it.

And I write fantasy fiction.  Imagine the poor science-fiction writer undertaking zero-G flight training and the horror writer hiring an axe-wielding maniac to chase him around for a while.  I have it easy, really.

Yet, somewhere between the flint napping and before the bungee jump, I began to have a realization.   It dawned on me that writing what you know is wise advice, but perhaps I don’t actually need to experience it all and can, after all, safely stop looking for that trebuchet-building course (seriously though, where can I get one of those?)

The “what you know” that’s most important is the stuff that we’ve observed since our time as frolicking children – ourselves and the people that surround us.  I know enough of people and have observed enough human emotions at work, mine included, to at least build realistic characters, which are the basis for a good fantasy novel.

Lands can be created, ruled, destroyed and rebuilt, but it’s the people that populate it that will make it real.  Readers, especially readers of SF/F/H novels, are willing to suspend disbelief as long as they like the characters and believe in them, wanting to see whether they’ll succeed or fail miserably.  If that happens to be on a gas-powered world populated by wheat-generating explosive june bugs (ew), so be it.

What will make your story work in these genres is bringing your own unique worldview to the pages.  Not a romantic?  No need for that luscious sex scene.  Against A-Type personalities? Go for mellow.  Don’t believe in basic mood changers like caffeine and chocolate?  Wait, that’s just crazy-talk.  But you get the gist.  You put in what you see and know as a person, do the research to convince equestrian experts that you do in fact know the basics of tacking a horse, and let your characters show their three-dimensional selves through their heartaches, triumphs, stupidity and hopes.

Of course, if you like personal experiences, then practical research can be fun.  I love new experiences, so would someone please send me information on trebuchet-building courses?  That’d be pretty sweet.


Marie Bilodeau is a professional storyteller and author living in Canada's capital region.  Her published works include a sword and sorcery trilogy, the Heirs of a Broken Land (Princess of Light, Warrior of Darkness and Sorceress of Shadows), and her upcoming space fantasy novel, Destiny's Blood. For more information on Marie and her works, visit her website at www.mariebilodeau.com.

Princess of Light by Marie Bilodeau

The Wall of Loss separating the lands of light and darkness is failing... Despite her attempts to stop them, dark creatures invade Princess Cassara Edoline's small and almost forgotten kingdom, murdering her family and taking her younger brother captive. Torn by guilt and clutching an amulet of powerful magic, she vows to rescue her brother and save as many as possible from the invading hordes. But first, she must find out what is causing the thousand-year-old magic of the Wall to fail and stop it, if she can. As Cassara's resolve and strength are mercilessly tested and her shaky alliances begin to crumble, she must find a way to master her newfound powers which promise both salvation and destruction, or watch her beloved land be consumed by darkness and death.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Maslow’s Horror-archy of Tension

By Matt Moore

Tension in storytelling is critical—what’s at risk, on the line, worth fighting, killing or dying for. But defining and describing tension in a way that will grab the reader can be a challenge. This is where Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes in handy.

A Very Quick Overview

For those who never took, don’t remember or slept through freshman psych, Maslow was a psychologist who proposed that humans have four levels of needs, moving from the purely physical to the purely psychological:
  1. Basic physical needs: food, water, air
  2. Situational needs: safety, shelter
  3. Societal needs: Love, belonging and acceptance
  4. Self needs: Self esteem, self respect, sense of identity
(For those who do remember freshman psych—or read the Wikipedia entry—this isn’t exactly correct, but accurate enough for this post.)
Advertisers understand these needs and appeal to at least one in every commercial. The juicy burger in the fast food ad? Level one. The alarm company ad with the big, bad man crashing through your front door? Level two. Diamond jewelry to tell her you love her? Level three. “You owe it to yourself to…”? Yup, level four.

Using the Hierarchy in Storytelling

Using the hierarchy, you can develop risks and threats according to levels. Let’s say an up-and-coming officer takes command of a colony on an alien planet and you want to put him at risk. How about:
  • Someone is trying to kill him (Level One)
  • The shield generator is in danger of failing, which could let in hostile aliens (Level Two)
  • His subordinates are blaming him for things not going well inside the colony (Level Three)
  • The shield is failing because of a mistake he made years ago that he never owned up to (Level Four)
So, multiple threats means many levels of tension.
But you can take this further. Let’s say the main character discovers a one-person escape pod to take him to an orbiting space station. Now, the main character can escape, solving the Level One & Two problems, but not Levels Three & Four. Or, stay behind and risk the Level One & Two threats, but have a chance to address Levels Three & Four.
Let’s take this even further: the main character can appease the hostile aliens by going out and sacrificing himself. This would solve the Level Two, Three & Four threats, but trade one Level One threat for another.

Describing the Threat in Appropriate Detail

Deciding the level of threat also helps determine its description. A level one threat—starving or suffocating—shouldn’t be described with intellectual and abstract narrative. Rather, sensory description—quick, evocative, raw.
Conversely, a threat to someone’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem shouldn’t illicit physical reactions, but rather introspection and logical examinations of one’s identity.

Dealing with Threats in Order

In his hierarchy, Maslow believed one had to address lower level needs before higher level ones. If you’re starving, feeling loved doesn’t matter. If you’re lost in the wild, who cares if you respect yourself?
This theory affects your writing. With our example, the commanding officer isn’t going to worry about his subordinates’ opinions as the killer hunts him through the bowels of the station. Once he’s eluded his stalker and ensured the shield is still holding, then he might worry about the furtive glances of this staff. And it’s not until he’s assured them he can deal with the situation that he can address his own self-doubts over what he failed to deal with years ago.

By day, Matt Moore is a project manager and communication specialist in the information technology field. By night, he is a science fiction and horror writer with work in On Spec and Tesseracts Thirteen and an upcoming e-book published by Damnation Books. By later at night, he is the marketing director for ChiZine Publications, a small Canadian publisher. Raised in small-town New England, a place rich with legends and ghost stories, he lives in Ottawa, Ontario. He blogs at mattmoorewrites.wordpress.com.
Tesseracts Thirteen
Including "The Weak Son" by Matt Moore 

This, the newest and most unusual of the popular and award-winning Tesseracts anthologies, utilizes the mysterious and bewitching number 'thirteen' to explore a new realm of innovative, thought-provoking and disturbing fiction. Award-winning authors and editors Nancy Kilpatrick and David Morrell have unearthed twenty-three stories of horror and dark fantasy that reflect a mélange of Canada's most exciting known and about-to-be known writers. These eerie-genre tales range from the unsettling to the sinister.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Necrotic Tissue: The Horror Writers' Magazine

By R. Scott McCoy

Markets come and go, some without ever putting out a first issue. As a writer, I had certain things I wanted from a market. A reasonable response time and a decent chance at a slot in the magazine were at the top of my list. It would also be nice if there were some mention as to why the story didn't make the cut. Do I need to rework something or is it just a matter of preference? Did I miss it by a mile or inches? My goal of creating a horror magazine was simple in concept: create a new market with a fast turn-around time, personal feedback and an equal shot for anyone who submits. We pick the stories, not the people. It would also be nice if we increased pay when possible and didn't disappear without warning. We started off as token pay and are now 1 cent a word for all stories but the Editor's Pick, which receives 5 cents a word.

Some writers start magazines as a vehicle to publish their own work. I'm not judging, but when I started Necrotic Tissue, I decided that I wouldn't do that. The other thing I decided in 2009 was that just because I had a completely open submission process didn't mean I couldn't solicit one story from a well-known writer. It's a bonus story, above and beyond the word count I have set aside for open submissions and a nice treat for subscribers. We've had David Dunwoody, Jeff Strand, Michael Knost and Anderson Prunty, with a commitment from Brian Keene for a story some time in 2011.

I have the tag line "The Horror Writers' Magazine" in the upper right hand corners for two reasons. First, I try to take stories from across the spectrum of the "Horror Palette", since tastes vary. All magazines are influenced by the personal likes of its editors, but instead of a more hierarchical construct, at NT my associate editors have an equal voice in final selection and I read as many submission as they do. I believe this creates a more balanced magazine with broader appeal. Second, our goal is to treat writers well, from our fast response time, personal feedback, to paying on time and putting out a product they can be proud to share with friends, family and fans.

There is no secret recipe for getting in to NT. You can read past issue to get an idea, but don't try to copy what you see. We want what all editors want. Fresh ideas and tight execution are the starting point, but characters drive the story. Get the reader to care about what happens to the characters, and you are on the right track. Beyond that, we do put out a help section in every copy and most spotlight common reasons for not being accepted. Some past topics include the hook, the ending and right sizing your story. Most of these help section articles are generic to any short story genre.

Whether you're a writer with a hundred publishing credits, a beginner who has never submitted before or a fan of horror fiction, come on by and give NT a try, you won't be disappointed.


R. Scott McCoy was born in Kodiak Alaska and raised in Bemidji, Minnesota. He currently lives in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities with his family. He's had more than twenty short stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies.  His first novel, Feast, was released from Shroud Publishing in September 2009 and his novel The White Faced Bear is due out from Belfire Press in October 2010.

Scott is the Publisher of Necrotic Tissue, a quarterly horror magazine and is an Affiliate Member of the HWA.

Feast by R. Scott McCoy

Deputy Sheriff Nick Ambrose can look into someone's eyes and glimpse their guilt, to an extent. But when he and his brother take on a psychopathic killer, he gains something more: the ability to see, and devour, souls. Plagued by this terrifying new power, and by the spirits of both his brother and the butcher trapped inside his mind, he sets out to understand and control his new fate and to grapple with the shadowy auras he now sees all around.

R. Scott McCoy's classic tale of horror confronted, within ourselves as well as the evils we face, takes Nick Ambrose and the reader on an action-packed and spine-tingling journey, leading a once-quiet man onto a tightrope of dark and light, where every move may threaten the very lives of friends and strangers or tip his own soul into the abyss.

Can he command the darkness welling within, or will he become merely its vessel?