Author Archives: David North-Martino

About David North-Martino

DAVID NORTH-MARTINO is the author of WOLVES OF VENGEANCE and the forthcoming YEAR OF THE DEMON. His short fiction has appeared in numerous fiction venues including, Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers, the From Beyond the Grave anthology, the Daughters of Icarus anthology, Afterburn SF, and Dark Recesses Press. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, he holds a BLA in English and psychology. When he’s not writing, David enjoys studying and teaching martial arts. He lives with his very supportive wife in a small town in Massachusetts.

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—Phantom Chasers Part 1

Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, and I was still receiving small royalty payments from Extinct Doesn’t Mean Forever. I had found some momentum and was riding it for all it was worth. 

One night I was watching a TV program called Ghost Adventures. Now, before I continue, I am a believer in the paranormal. Although, I don’t automatically accept what I see on these ghost-hunting reality tv shows. But for the sake of argument let’s assume we all believe in ghosts (even if you don’t). Now, if you accept that spirits could contact you from beyond the grave, the last thing you would do is antagonize and make them angry at you. Well, the main guy on the show had been doing just that, and now according to the program, these spirits were pissed at him and calling him out, telling him through voice recordings that if he returned, they would kill him! So what does he do? Yup, he’s going back to confront the ghosts. Stupid? Absolutely! But what a great idea for a story! 

Ghost Adventures

Using that premise, and without a market in mind, I began a new manuscript. A classic style horror story, a cautionary tale if you will, began to develop. 

Pro-tip #1: When you have a story you’ve written without a market in mind look to anthologies. Magazines need to follow the structure and tone of the other stories. Many times there’s a house style, intentional or not. You must decipher the house style and write something that matches. With an anthology, editors accept a wider range of stories. As long as it’s a good story, and it meets the theme of the anthology, you have a better chance of being accepted than if you submit that same story to a magazine. 

Anyway, I sent the story out a couple times to various markets and the editors passed. Then I sent it to the open call for Epitaph’s: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers. The editor liked the story and told me it was publishable, but not strong enough to get past the shortlist once they had read all the stories. The editor had best-selling writers on tap slated for inclusion and experienced small-press writers sending her submissions.

Pro-tip #2: If you’ve been shortlisted, your story is publishable with no or little need for extensive editing or rewrites. You have a good story and the editor would have no problem publishing it if no other stories struck their fancy. The problem is, despite being well written and crafted, your story is not compelling enough for the editor to purchase on the spot. The editor puts it aside and if some other story comes along and knocks their socks off or is a little more interesting; they send that author an acceptance letter and you a rejection. When this happens with a pro or semi-pro market, you can pat yourself on the back for crafting a well written publishable story and get to work strengthening the manuscript in a rewrite. You want to make sure the reader can relate to the narrative or the main character and is wowed by the ending. If you can’t figure out what’s wrong, focus on the ending. Think of ways to make it more impactful, raise the stakes, make it personal, give your main character a lot to lose. 

As I mentioned in a previous blog, the editor asked me if I had anything that was timeless or had a gut-punch ending. I had neither but wrote a story that included both requirements. 

I relate that story of how I sold Malfeasance, my second attempt, in my blog post——here. 

Based on what I had learned from editorial feedback, I set about fixing the story.  I had decided on the name Phantom Chasers as I was looking for a title similar to Ghost Hunters, a very popular show at the time. (I hear that it’s coming back in another incarnation.) Here’s the question I wanted to leave in the reader’s mind: are the Phantom Chasers in the story hunting ghosts or are they in fact, well, chasing phantoms? Ultimately, the reader has to decide. 

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To revamp the story, I made a separate Word document, cut and pasted the original manuscript into the file, and began to read with an eye for weaknesses. Some scenes didn’t connect well. Some scenes needed editing for clarity. I went about fixing those areas. I punched up the ending, making it darker, scarier, and more impactful. 

The only thing left to do was send it out. I’ll talk about that next time. Also, stay tuned for more pro tips!

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The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—The Mesomorphic Woman Part 4

With my SF story The Mesomorphic Woman in mothballs and some short fiction sales under my belt, twelve years had elapsed since I’d completed the first draft. 

I noticed an open call for submissions for a new anthology with Pink Narcissus Press. With some strong Google-fu, I’ve been able to locate the original submission call and am posting below.

Daughters of Icarus

A brave new world of feminist science fiction

Pink Narcissus Press seeks short feminist science fiction writing for its “Daughters of Icarus” anthology. Submissions must explore gender roles in society; hard science fiction is not appropriate to this anthology. So long as your submission takes up this challenge, the only other requirement of authors is that the work has an original and creative voice. Authors would do well to acquaint themselves with the likes of Ursula K. LeGuin, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman to obtain a sound footing in the genre and a better understanding of previous work in the genre. Stories housed in new, unique worlds are preferred, as are those describing fantastical societies. Stories of any length will be considered. Deadline: May 31, 2012

The sentence beginning “(S)tories housed in new, unique worlds are preferred” caught my attention. With its setting of the Audallis biosphere orbiting Venus, The Mesomorphic Woman seemed a perfect fit. It was originally written with an eye toward feminist SF, explored gender roles, all the hard SF had already been removed from a previous draft, and I was already familiar with the authors listed. 

I looked through my stories folder and found the most recent version of the manuscript. Pulling it up I read through.  I could see mistakes in structure and pacing I hadn’t noticed before. Over the intervening years, I had increased my understanding of creating salable fiction. Creating a new file, I went over the story again. With an edited manuscript ready I gave it to my wife for a final edit. 

With the story polished, I figured I had nothing to lose by sending it out to Pink Narcissus Press. My trepidation, however, stemmed from placing a story in a political anthology where only those of the same political persuasion would ever read it. 

I hadn’t written to make a political point. I had written it as entertainment with a subtext the reader could ponder if they so chose.  The readers would be left to decide what they thought about the social issues presented in the story. In that, I meant for the story to encourage thought, not to preach. In that way, the story is ambiguous, allowing the reader to agree or disagree with the main character’s actions. Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? It’s never black and white when you’re dealing with human motivation.   

I assuaged these feeling knowing I would most likely receive a rejection anyway. Although, some part of me knew that if I sent the story in it would be accepted. 

I submitted the story and moved on to other things. Four months later I received an acceptance. Despite my previous apprehension, I was over the moon! 

The editor loved the story and asked me to include a 100-word bio with links to my blog, along with some basic information and my Paypal email to send payment. I signed the contract electronically. No further edits were required. My wife had edited me into print once again. 

I was flabbergasted to discover that The Mesomorphic Woman was the lead story. For those not initiated, anthologies usually open and close with their strongest stories. It was an absolute honor to represent Daughter’s of Icarus: New Feminist Science Fiction: Women’s Wings Unfurled. And to date, it is one of my most prestigious anthology sales. We were reviewed by the Library Journal and Publishers Weekly. 

“Strong pieces offer memorable takes on the notion of feminism in speculative fiction.”

—Library Journal 

“…on par with Pamela Sargent’s Women of Wonder Series…” 

—Publisher’s Weekly

Although out of print, Daughter’s of Icarus is still available in ebook format here. 

Next time I’ll talk about how I fixed a rejected story and sold it to another market. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—The Mesomorphic Woman Part 3

When I returned to writing fiction, the first thing I did was pull out the manuscript for Violent Fall and give it a reread. I liked it, but the story was too long for a “beginning” writer to get published and the story itself was incomplete. 

Incomplete as a manuscript. I had the ending sketched out in my mind for years. 

One thing I forgot to mention last time was that in 1996 I had just watched the movie Titanic. In that film, as the story unfolds, fictional characters Rose and Jack brings us on a tour of the whole ship from top to bottom.  

Titanic4

I wanted to do the same thing with Violent Fall. My central character Irina Kira would bring the reader through most of the Audallis sphere from the city of New Boston East to the forest and farmland at the top of the biosphere where she would have a “violent fall” returning to where she started in the narrative. The lower portions, the bowels if you will, remained mainly unexplored and only hinted at in various drafts. 

As I reimagined the story, I also changed the title. I had come across Somatotypes; the ectomorph, the endomorph, and the highly muscular mesomorph.  Somehow I put Mesomorphic with woman and a new title was born: The Mesomorphic Woman. I thought the title sounded like a science fiction story. I worked at erasing subplots, cutting to the heart of the narrative. 

female-body-types

I also wanted the ending to be hard-hitting. This is a secret of good storytelling. The resolution should have some impact. Think Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. With this story, I wanted the ending to have the emotional resonance of Amy Tann’s The Joy Luck Club.

 

When I finished the new draft, I put it away for a while and worked on other projects. After a second draft, I asked my wife to proofread. Then I began the submission process. 

Back in 2000, most magazines, especially the science fiction magazines (the old SF writers had a distrust for technology), required the old method of submission. This meant I had to print out a copy of the manuscript (after putting it in proper manuscript format) along with a cover letter,  clipping a SASE to the package, placing it an 8×10 envelope, and then driving to the post office to send it off.  Then I would wait a week and run to the mailbox every day for months while awaiting a reply. 

Responses came. They were all rejections. One prominent SF mag complimented me on my world-building skills but they didn’t like the story. Eventually, almost everyone began to use email for submissions, the years had gone by without a sale, but another prominent small press SF magazine said the whole editorial staff loved it but had decided not to purchase my story. And so it went over the years. I had some anecdotal evidence that The Mesomorphic Woman was a good story. A tell-it-like-it-is receptionist, who was also a frequent reader where I worked, read it and identified with my major character Irina Kira. Despite positive feedback, I wasn’t able to sell the manuscript.

It wasn’t until six years later in 2006 when my short fiction began to sell. Yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why The Mesomorphic Woman wouldn’t sell. I got better at my craft and over the years tweaked the story, tweaked the language, hoping to make the manuscript salable. 

I finally decided I had to put the manuscript away. I could write new stories in the time it took to polish old stories that weren’t selling. I abandoned The Mesomorphic Woman, consoling myself knowing that I might include it in a future short story collection. 

Later, with the manuscript secured in my virtual trunk (my hard drive) an open call for submissions for a new anthology market caught my attention. They were looking for stories just like The Mesomorphic Woman. Was it worth resurrecting the manuscript one last time? I figured I’d give the damn thing one final edit and send it out, but not without some trepidation. 

I’ll talk about this more next time. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—The Mesomorphic Woman Part 2

 

Having decided my next story would be a dystopian short that drew inspiration from Cyberpunk and Steampunk, I envisioned a biosphere orbiting Venus, a once utopian society that had succumbed to decadence and decay. 

A fad on the space station/biosphere Audallis had the citizens dressing and speaking as if they lived in the Roaring Twenties and early 1930s. 

Yet, with a muscle-bound heroin, I chose to draw from the subgenre of feminist SF. 

Recently, I had an industry insider incredulous at the fact that I had a story included in a feminist publication, and not just included, included as the lead story! How did that happen, she inquired? You’ll have to wait to at least part III to find out that piece of trivia. Oh yeah, you’re in for the long haul. Haha! 

For many years, I’ve tried to stay away from politics. The old saying is you should never discuss politics or religion in polite company. And my politics have changed over the years. 

While earning my original undergraduate degree (an associate’s, later, I earned my bachelor’s) I took gender issues classes, women’s lit, and psychology of women. My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) had a phase where she was reading the current feminist books. I studied them and referenced them for my papers. The professors loved me, as you could well imagine.

I infused the narrative with what I had read during my college days. 

I never completed the initial draft of the story. Finding myself 8,000 words deep, and with my day career taking off, and eating up much of my time, I decided I had completed my initial goal of racking up my first rejection letters. I felt oddly satisfied. 

I’d written half a dozen short stories, sent them to market, and received positive responses for my efforts. Had I made a sale? No. But I was sure if I continued on I would. I was right, but back then it was easier to give up than face failure or even success. Maybe success seemed scarier. I had built up the story in my mind and trusted it would make me as a writer. It seems funny now but part of me felt that if I finished that story, publishing would welcome me with open arms and Hollywood would pay through the nose for a movie adaption. It was a great fantasy. 

A couple years went by. Long workdays as a security manager monopolized my time. Business writing replaced creative work. Then I was promoted into human resources in the same company, and a normal nine to five schedule left me with lots of extra hours to fill. I could finally sleep nights without worrying about a pager going off. Like Neil Diamond, “I felt an emptiness deep inside.” I couldn’t remember what I had liked to do outside of the day job. 

At first, I returned to martial arts. Even though I have always loved martial arts, training didn’t quell my emptiness. 

I discovered the horror community online, a group of writers who had gone underground after the 1980’s horror fiction implosion. 

Reading through the message board they frequented, I decided it was high time I returned to writing. I dusted off my old manuscript, the science fiction story with the working title, Violent Fall, and felt complete once again. 

Finishing the story sent me on a very long journey to see it published. 

We’ll talk about how that happened next time.

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a Sale—The Mesomorphic Woman Part 1

In 2012 and 2013 the floodgates opened with numerous story sales and publications. I even published my first novella, an ebook. Then I lost momentum. Everything from that time is a scramble in my brain. I had a death in the family that threw me for a loop, multiple projects, and high hopes.

It began with the sale of a short story originally envisioned and started in 1996, then finished and rewritten in the year 2000. I never imagined how long it’d take to sell that story. Yes, 12 years to sell it and 13 years to see it in publication, if we only count from the year of the rewrite. 

I’m sometimes asked when you should give up on a story. It’s a hard question to answer. Some stories sell quickly, some take longer, and some never sell. In this business perseverance is everything. 

The origin of the story begins much earlier than even 1996 though. The first inkling arrived when I was in high school. Back then, a new game show appeared on the air later at night, at least in my market. The program, American Gladiators, pitted superhero type muscle men and women against your run of the mill athletic but common Joe and Janes. 

 

The contrast reminded me of Joe Buscemma’s depiction of the superhero vs. the ordinary person in How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. 

how-to-draw-comics-the-marvel-way-page-38

While watching the program, an idea hatched. Raye Hollitt (Skin Deep), a female bodybuilder who used the stage name Zap, inspired me. 

Zap

Wouldn’t it be interesting to cast her in an action film like the ones in which  Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger starred? I decided the world was not ready for that idea, and besides, I didn’t know how to write or submit a screenplay, anyway.  

80s icons

Around 1996, with the 1980s horror fiction implosion far behind me, I returned to reading Science Fiction. I picked up copies of science fiction magazines, read Neuromancer,  and caught up on some 80’s SF I had missed. 

Neuro

While perusing an issue of Science Fiction Age, I read a steampunk story and used it as the model for the tone of my next manuscript. Continuing to take my cue from that story, I mirrored not only the mood, but the female lead. Unfortunately, after looking through a pile of back issues, I haven’t been able to identify the story that inspired me. 

SF Age

As I wrote, the muscular female idea reemerged and Irina Kira was born. I remember reading or thinking Kira was a Russian name that meant Strong woman. Although, Kira, from my research for this post, means “leader of the people.”  

I decided a Russian first name, Irena, which means peace, matched one theme of the story. Leading the people into peace seems à propos, but what happens after the end of the story is up to your interpretation. 

 I envisioned a muscular woman living in what had once been a utopian society within a biosphere orbiting Venus. A popular self-help book of the time, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, inspired me to use Venus as the location for the orbiting biosphere space station.  

Men from Mars

Looking for a name for the biosphere/space station, I dreamed up the Audallis Sphere. It sounded like something out of a SF story. 

I came up with a history of the biosphere and the science behind Audallis’ artificial gravity, neither made the completed manuscript.  

Then I chose to include a controversial idea that would forever change the direction of the manuscript. 

We’ll talk about that next time.

 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 2

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 2
Two months later, I got word that awaiting publisher approval, Malfeasance had made the cut. I was cautiously ecstatic. The editor didn’t think the publisher would kick anyone out, but she couldn’t officially accept any story without the publishers go-ahead.   
Here’s what she wrote about the story:

I really liked it. It was a great premise, good writing. I love Law and Order SVU and it reminded me of that but with an evil twist. I liked too that the villain really wasn’t in the story till the end yet he was a huge presence. I have to think that’s not easy to do, but you pulled it off.
About 21 days later, she gave me permission to announce the acceptance on social media. Then in August, I signed the contract. Realizing I could take part in my first reading and signing, I committed to attending the inaugural, but now defunct, Anthology Convention (AnthoCon) in New Hampshire. 
I had a fantastic time at the convention. 

After the reading, I took part in my first signing. Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers did well, selling out the 100 copies we had on hand. Then it continued to sell at other conventions and at online retailers. 

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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this was my first opportunity to share pages with the late great Rick Hautala (sometimes billed as the other writer from Maine, as he was Stephen King’s roommate in college), one of the authors who inspired me as a teenager during the 1980’s horror boom. 

Here’s some information on the anthology:

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The anthology features 26 stories and poems from the delightfully scary to the deeply macabre. 

Epitaphs, edited by author Tracy L. Carbone, includes an introduction by award-winning author and publisher Peter Crowther, as well as a cover by Danny Evarts. The table of contents in this chilling anthology is as follows: 

Perfect Witness – Rick Hautala 

To Sleep, Perchance to Die – Jeffrey C. Pettengill 

The Christopher Chair – Paul McMahon 

A Case of the Quiets – Kurt Newton 

Build-a-Zombie – Scott T. Goudsward 

Not an Ulcer – John Goodrich 

The Possessor Worm – B. Adrian White 

Make a Choice – John McIlveen 

The Death Room – Michael Allen Todd 

Stoney’s Boneyard – Holly Newstein & Glenn Chadbourne 

Kali’s Promise – Trisha J. Wooldridge 

The Sequel – David Bernard 

Malfeasance – David North-Martino 

Private Beach – Stacey Longo 

All Aboard – Christopher Golden 

Holiday House – LL Soares 

Lines at a Wake – Steven Withrow 

A Deeper Kind of Cold – K. Allen Wood 

Alone – P. Gardner Goldsmith 

Pandora’s Box – Roxanne Dent 

Chuck the Magic Man Says I Can – Michael Arruda 

Burial Board – TT Zuma (Tony Tremblay)

Windblown Shutter – John Grover 

Cheryl Takes a Trip – Stephen Dorato 

The Legend of Wormley Farm – Philip Roberts 

Church of Thunder and Lightening – Peter N. Dudar

Wow! What a talented group! Looking back, I find it humbling to have been part of this project. 

Epitaphs is now out of print, but an ebook version is still available. Since you can still purchase the anthology for the low sum of $2.99, I won’t be publishing Malfeasance on this blog.  Although, I am planning on recreating my reading, a reading that at one point in the narrative initiated a gasp from the crowd. Once I make a video and upload it to Youtube, I’ll link to it on this blog. 

Here’s a mixed review of my story by a reader on Amazon. It’s interesting, I was actually trying to make it feel like the reader was on a train, looking out a window, and seeing that the bridge is out ahead, knows nothing can be done about it, except take the plunge.

Malfeasance by David North-Martino: This was perhaps the most maddening story in the bunch. Just as with the previous story, I knew how it would end very early on. And yet it was crafted so intricately, I kept thinking no, I’m wrong, there’s a twist here I’m not seeing. But then… it ended just how I thought it would. Disappointing in that regard, yes, but it was still very much worth the read.

 Still, it’s good feedback, and I’m always trying to improve. Many times, a mixed or bad review can teach you much more than a fawning one. Check your ego at the door. 

If you’re interested, you can read a sample and get your e-copy here. 

The Scribe’s Arcanum: Anatomy of a  Sale—Malfeasance Part 1

 

I wanted badly to be in the inaugural New England Horror Writers (NEHW) anthology. Unfortunately, my first attempt was a failure. Then I turned it around. 

In 2011 my senior year at University was ending, and I was immersed in finals. I had sold The Language of Ice and was spending a good amount of time promoting the anthology. Then I found out about the debut anthology from the NEHW, a group I had been a member of for a few years. They had floated the idea for an anthology around for a long time, and finally, the project had received a green light. They’d decided on an editor and were opening up for submissions. Wow! I really wanted to be in that anthology. To represent NEHW in their inaugural publication would be an honor. The problem: I didn’t have the time to write something new. At least, that’s what I thought… 

Fortunately, I had already written a ghost story, Phantom Chasers, that I was beginning to shop around. Prepping the story for submission, I sent it out and hoped for the best. There was nothing left to do but return to my studies. 

Shortly thereafter, the editor let everyone know that the first round of rejections had gone out along with notifications for those placed on the shortlist. They would accept no story until they had read all the manuscripts, giving everyone a fair shot. The only problem? I didn’t hear either way. 

 Sending a polite email, I awaited a response. 

The editor contacted me. My story was indeed shortlisted, certainly publishable, but probably not strong enough to make the final cut. Bestselling writers were slated to send in tales, and everyone had to bring their A-game. Although, the editor encouraged me to send another story.  

Clarifying what she wanted, she told me to send in something that was timeless, like Ray Bradbury’s The Dwarf, or something that had more of a gut punch at the end, like Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. 

Thinking about all the stories I had available, I realized why some of them hadn’t sold. They were missing key ingredients.
Later, based on what I learned writing Malfeasance,  I would revamp Phantom Chasers and sell it, but that’s a story for another time. 

I felt encouraged, but it seemed like a daunting challenge to write something that would make the cut. Could I write a story that was both timeless and visceral? Despite the time crunch, I was up for the challenge. 

I had an idea to use the “ticking time bomb scenario” thought experiment as the basis for the story. Basically, an ethics debate on torture, I worried that my story might be too controversial for the current climate. Never one to back down on sensitive subjects, I went ahead with the story anyway. 

A mother and daughter would be the main characters in the story, culminating in a parent’s worst nightmare.  If I could affect the editor, I might have a chance of getting into the anthology. 
Spending the full month crafting Malfeasance, I sent in the story at the 11th hour. I opted to change the ending,  in hopes to give more twists and turns to the story, but my wife suggested I go with the first version as she felt it was more powerful.

Sending it off, I hoped for the best. 

Next time, I’ll tell you what happened.