Category Archives: Short Stories

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

Having noticed the From Beyond the Grave anthology’s open call for submissions, from Grinning Skull Press, I sent out Phantom Chasers, and received an acknowledgment on September 26, 2012. 

During this time, I was finishing up the final edits of a novel I’d been writing, a reimagining of the original manuscript, and coordinating with a cover artist and a professional editor for a self-publishing effort. 

On December 25, 2012,  an acceptance from Grinning Skull Press hit my in-box. I couldn’t believe it! With the help of excellent editorial feedback and my wife’s brilliant proofreads, I had edited Phantom Chasers into print! 

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The work that came after the sale: I signed the contract, provided the publisher with an author bio, reviewed and approved the galley proof, and received payment. Then, as with every anthology or magazine where I’ve been published, I assisted with promotion. 

I was included with a very noteworthy group of writers. 

Brent Abell

Gordon Anthony Bean

Rose Blackthorn

Tim J. Finn

Scott M. Goriscak

Marianne Halbert

Jeffrey Kosh

Lisamarie Lamb

Mark Leslie & Carol Weekes

Edward J. McFadden III

Adam Millard

David North-Martino

Jeffrey C. Pettengill

Nelson W. Pyles

Michael Thomas-Knight

Robert W. Walker

Cynthia Ward

Jay Wilburn

Jennifer Word

 

Description: 

For some, death is not the end. There are those who are doomed to walk the earth for all eternity, those who are trapped between one plane of existence and the next, those who, for whatever reason, cannot or will not let go of the lives they left behind. These are the vengeful spirits, the tortured souls, the ghosts that haunt our realm. Welcome to FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, a collection of 19 original ghost stories.

You can buy From Beyond the Grave here. 

From Beyond The Grave cover 2

The editor contacted me with an opportunity for feedback. Turns out an author he admired, on the condition of anonymity, offered to give a critique to the writers in the anthology. This author read the stories and commented. If we were interested, the editor would send the author’s comments and suggestions for future improvements. You bet I was interested!

Pro-tip #3: Always take feedback. You don’t have to use it, but constructive criticism should always be welcome. You don’t get better through praise; you get better by accepting that you’re not perfect and neither are your stories. Then you get to work making them better, learning with each experience until you reach a professional level. It doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a long time. For some, it never happens. All you can do is work as hard as possible to reach your potential. 

I’m having a hard time finding the original un-redacted comments. Here are the positives I’ve shared publicly. I pulled it from an earlier blog. I’d love to know who this author is, but I respect his or her privacy. 

“Another good one. A very unusual idea which was extremely well executed. Even as short as it is, the character development is pretty damned good. We know who these people are in just a few lines. The foreshadowing… is a mite obvious, but it doesn’t matter. We KNOW that someone’s going to… die from very early on, but the author makes it work anyway…” 

Okay, first, what can we take away from the anonymous author’s comments? The author felt the story was unique and well constructed. This reinforces my proficiency with story structure. Also, character development is noted as a strength. I’ve been told that previously by other editors. Always concentrate on your strengths. I’ll write a blog on why that’s so important in the future. 

On the negative side, I telegraphed the ending. Yet, the anonymous author thought the story worked anyway. Not a big deal, since genre stories often follow a pattern. The idea is to make the story so enjoyable that the reader forgives formulaic structure. Readers will excuse your deficiencies as long as you excel at other elements of the story. 

If memory serves, the anonymous author took umbrage with my description of behind-the-scenes television. He felt that I didn’t know that TV shows need plenty of people off-screen to produce a TV program. Fair enough. That is how I present the pre-production in the story. 

I am taking liberties. Ghost shows, especially Ghost Adventures, make it appear as if the main people are alone during the investigation. This might just be TV magic, but isolation is a big part of the show. 

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The same with crafting a horror story. A sense of isolation, a feeling of being trapped, is important. If there’s avenue for escape, why don’t the characters leave? 

You must also condense a short story’s narrative.
For those reasons, I didn’t fret realism.  

Now, just because it’s fun to write about, I have some experience in television. In the early 90s, for a few semesters, I completed a work-study program in the broadcasting department of a local community college I was attending. I worked with students on their projects, including taped TV programs shown on a local cable channel. 

I ran audio and worked as on-screen talent. I even had the chance to learn old school linear editing. I ran audio and lighting for Dr. Timothy Johnson (ABC) at a lecture he gave in the college auditorium. I performed the job of many people that night (yes, I did it all alone). It was hectic, but it was a lot of fun!

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Anyway, the anonymous author was right. Anyone who has worked in TV would shake their head at how I presented the production in the story. Most readers don’t know what it takes to create the shows they watch so it’s safe to keep the story as is. Most will never know.

Yet, it is important to acknowledge where the weaknesses in the story lie, and then to weigh dramatism against realism. Bruce Willis loves to squeeze through air ducts in the movie Die Hard even though it’s not possible to do this in real life——and we love it. For 90 minutes we believe he can do it! Drama wins out!

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In our next thrilling episode, I’ll go over the judgment call of giving away your stories. Is it ever worth not getting paid for your work? We’ll talk “sharing pages” with the cool kids. When you’re starting out, can association be as good as money? I’ll try to answer these questions next time. 

Thanks for reading. 

Hey, feel free to give me feedback. I’d love to hear from you. Tell me about your own attempts at publication and about any successes. I’m sure readers of this blog will benefit. Better yet, blog about your experiences and leave a link. We can never have too much information. 

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!

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—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—Graven Image: Part 2

In 2007, marketing my short fiction had taken a back seat to everything else going on in my life. I was still planning on opening a small business, and I was working toward earning my bachelor’s degree. 

I continued to plug away on a novel, along with writing and submitting short fiction as time allowed. 

It had been about three years since my short horror story, “Graven Image,” had been published at The Swamp, and the year before, I had made my first paid sale by winning a contest at Dark Recesses Press.  I decided to try to sell “Graven Image” as a reprint to a webzine called Afterburn SF. 

Graven Image ended up  rejected by Afterburn. I put the story aside to await another viable market, and for a time it was out of sight, out of mind. 

Not long after, I received an email from Afterburn SF asking if the story was still available.  Turns out, the owner sold the webzine and the new publisher/editor, having found a copy of Graven Image among the paperwork he had acquired, read the story, like it,  and decided he wanted to publish it! 

What an amazing surprise!  I just felt happy it wasn’t sitting in some other magazine’s slush pile (that’s an old term for unsolicited manuscripts that used to litter the floor of publishing houses in the days before email and submission websites). 

Even more surprising, he paid me six times as much as I would have received from the previous editor. I agreed, of course, and not long after had my third publishing credit and my second paid story. 

After selling Graven Image, my focus went back to my studies. I wouldn’t make my next sale for another four years. Graven image would later be adapted for audio. I’ll get you a link soon. 

After graduation, I’d take a story I wrote for an advanced creative writing class, and turn it into my next writing credit. 

I’ll tell you more about it next time. 

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

Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I made my second fiction sale in 2007. I hadn’t been focusing on my writing. Instead, I had spent most of my time pursuing a business opportunity, and earning a long overdue bachelor’s degree. The sale itself came as a surprise. You see, the same paying market that rejected my story would accept it not long after. Here’s how it happened: 

One morning, I awoke from a nightmare. In the dream I had been staring at a monitor bank, and on each screen was a live video feed of of a corpse in repose. The image remained with me, and I ended up building  the story Graven Image around it. 

Having worked for many years in the security industry, working my way up from a security officer to a manager at a nine building Fortune 500 corporation, before being promoted into the HR department at the district office, I decided I would write about a character who had been downsized from a job in corporate America and ended up needing to take a security job to make ends meet. 

Although it’s never mentioned, to round out the setting, I decided to set the mortuary in the story in my fictional town of Wellington, Massachussets. My first novel WOLVES OF VENGEANCE also takes place in the same fictional location. A forthcoming thriller novel, YEAR OF THE ASSASSIN, has characters connected to that town, but there is no supernatural element in the story.  

Much like my previous story sale, Despair, this tale is pure horror. Some of my later works tend to mix the horror genre with crime fiction or science fiction. 

After finishing the story, I began the process of sending out Graven Image to market, starting with the top markets and then working my way down from highest paying to lowest. 

Although, this is a tried and true method, it’s not always the most efficient way to make a sale. More on that in another post. 

 Close to four years had gone by with only rejection letters to show for my efforts. I was active on a horror fiction message board at that time and noticed that some novelists, with mass market paperback deals, were submitting to a webzine called The Swamp. The  Swamp didn’t offer payment, but just like with Dark Recesses Press, I liked the people who ran it, and felt it would get my work some exposure. 

The joke is that people die of exposure. But I needed an acceptance of some sort to keep pushing on. There was no guarantee that I’d get an acceptance, even in a non-paying market. I figured it was worth a shot, and if I got in, the acceptance would place my story next to some successful writers.  

Finally, I received an email acceptance. I’d have my first publication credit, and a sample of my work that could be read for free online. I was stoked! 

 I received great feedback on that story. Readers liked the creepy atmosphere, and two family members refused to read any more of my horror stories because they said it gave them nightmares! That’s high praise when you write horror.  I had transfered my nightmare to at least two other people. Mission accomplished! 

Three years later I would attempt to sell Graven Image as a reprint to a paying market. Like I mentioned above, it would be rejected by a paying webzine before later being accepted by that same webzine. I’ll tell you all about how that happened, and how I made my second paid story sale next time. Since, like Despair, Graven Image is out of print, I just might post it here on my blog after posting Part II.

Stay tuned! 

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

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 4

Unsure of who was calling me from Canada, I decided to check my email. I had just heard a notification, and the Canadian caller had yet to finish leaving a voicemail. 

I saw the newest email in my inbox and sighed. It was a response from Dark Recesses Press regarding the contest I had entered. In that moment, I believed I had received another rejection. How could it be anything else? I had suffered rejection for six long years, and knew nothing else. I was getting used to being disappointed. 

Pulling up the email, I scanned it quickly. 

“Blah, blah, blah… Rejection,” I said to my wife who was reading over my shoulder.  

“Wait!” Patty said, sounding excited. “I think you won.” 

“Yeah, right,” I said. “There’s no possible way I won that contest. Don’t you understand? I only get rejections.”

“No, read it again,” Patty said. 

Sure. Sure. Let’s prolong the misery. 

I began to read the email again. This time I did so slowly, methodically, and once I saw the part where the publisher had congratulated me on winning the contest, time seemed to slow. 

The room got brighter. I really couldn’t believe it. Out of something like 90 submissions, the editors had chosen my story. 

Then I realized that the publisher lived in Canada. Had she tried to call me? That certainly would make sense. 

I dialed into our voice mail and listed to her message. She wanted to personally congratulate me on winning the contest. 

I had to call her back! I had to call her back immediately!  Getting her number off the caller ID, I frantically dialed, but still felt I was living in slow motion.

When she answered, and after I introduced myself, time not only snapped back to normal, but accelerated. I have no idea what I said to her, but I do remember she was quick to get of the phone with me. I had gone from slow motion into manic overdrive, barraging her with a rapid fire word salad. At least she could tell I was excited!  

In the weeks that followed, I received a $500.00 check, a $40.00 Shocklines’ Edition of The Priest of Blood by Douglas Clegg (“Read that book, David!” Clegg would later tell me on the message board. And I did. It’s a fantastic novel.), and received a handwritten note from the publisher. 

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I would also receive publication on the Dark Recesses website, and in the PDF version that was available on CD ROM. This was all before the e-book revolution. 

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Of course, I also had bragging rights, and for the first time felt like a real writer.  And that’s how I became a paid, published author, and made my first sale. 

You can do the same with just a little talent, a lot of hard work, and plenty of persistence. 

In the final part of this story, I’ll tell you about the aftermath, and how I made the sale count for more than just a writing credit. 

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

The Scribe’s Arcanum:

Anatomy of a First Sale—Part 3

Just about to give up hope on my vampire short story, “Despair,” I spied a contest at Dark Recesses Press. Time was growing short for getting a sale that would qualify me to remain a member of the Horror Writer’s Association. 

Dark Recesses Press had their 2nd annual Deja Vu Horror Contest coming up. This contest was all about familiar horror tropes.  For a small entry fee, I could submit a story that was either a parody of a genre trope or do something new and unique with the trope. I had just the story… or so I thought! 

I had no illusions of winning this contest, but with the story off working in the background at least I could dream.  As such, I gave it a quick read through and sent it by email to my wife for a quick proofread.

My wife reviewed the story. Having grown as an editor since her last revision,  she realized I had a character who served no other purpose than to die. She advised me to extricate the character from the story.

Impossible! There was no way I could remove the character. She was integral to the story. I was overtaken by frustration. I had a novel to get back to and new short stories to write. I didn’t have the time to complete a total rewrite nor did I have any way to get rid of this character without the structure of the story collasping. 

Deciding to sleep on it, the next morning I awoke with an answer. It was certainly one of those eureka moments. 

I realized I could employ a technique filmakers use when adapting a novel. They take two or more characters, and make them into a composite. In this way, they’re able to have one character do the work of two or more. This is necessary sometimes when condensing a long novel into a two-hour movie. 

The reduction of this character would shorten my story, but it would still be well within the bounds of the required word count. I went to work in earnest. 

In the process, I had to revise and rearrange the story, making it much tighter in the process. 

Patty read my new version and completed another proofread. We were both happy with the final results. Essentially, with all the changes, it was a new and improved story. 

Now, not only would I be breaking the rule of sending to the top markets first, I was also going against the advice of paying a fee to enter a contest. Money is supposed to flow to the writer. But the entry fee was small ($11.00 I believe), and I had interacted with the publisher, and one of the editors, on a horror message board. They were good people, and I knew their hearts were in the right place. In the coming months they were bringing  Dark Recesses Press from a micro-zine to a semi-pro web magazine. They were doing everything right, and I wasn’t going to let any well meaning advice get in my way of getting another rejection. No, sir! Not me. 

With nothing to lose, I paid my fee and sent the story off through email. Then I tried to forget about the whole thing. There was no way I was going to win, anyway. I just wanted to keep up my momentum. Maybe someday I would make a sale. Either way, I couldn’t stop writing. I had the bug, and I had it bad. 

One night in 2006 my wife and I were sitting on the couch with our laptops, the TV buzzing white-noise in the foreground.  The phone rang and I got up to to check the caller ID. To my surprise, someone was calling us from Canada. Who the hell was calling us from the Great White North? Most likely a wrong number, I thought. Yet, I wondered if it could be some long lost family member, my dad has people in Canada. I had also interacted with some Canadian writers on the horror message board. Why would they be calling me? I could daydream about someone wanting to collaborate, but the idea seemed absurd. I didn’t even have a first sale yet.  It was fun to dream, though. 

I returned to the couch, and then I heard the chime of an email notification. I clicked through to check it. Both the phone call and email were about to change my life. 

I’ll tell you about it next time.