A Competition That’s Doing Good

5 Oct

Want a chance to win a prize for your writing whilst also doing good? Then, you want to enter A Story For Daniel. The competition itself is free and you could win £100 for writing a joyful or uplifting piece of flash fiction. The twist is that the organisers ask that you assist a charity or do a good deed in memory of baby Daniel. The deadline is the end of October 2017 and the competition is open to everyone.

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Corporate Cthulhu is coming!

5 Oct

Nothing is more terrifying and mind-shattering than the Cthulhu Mythos – expect, perhaps, the meaningless bureaucracy of a corporation. Well, now, these two hideous horrors are being combined in one anthology – Corporate Cthulhu!

The anthology is on Kickstarter now and needs your assistance if it is to meet its target and escape the cloying tendrils of Great Cthulhu and enter print. So, rush over to the anthology’s Kickstarter page and take a look at its contents and the various stretch goals, then pledge something towards making this blasphemous tome a reality!

Corporate Cthulhu

Word Limits

3 Oct

The word count can be confusing for those just beginning on the path of the writer. Thanks for the miracle of wordprocessing, you no longer need to count words per line and lines per page (unless you write longhand and need an estimate before you type it). Word or Libre Office or whichever program you use will tell you just how many words your document contains. Easy!

A word of warning, though. Remember that this count will include every word in the document, including the title and ‘The End’ (neither of which counts towards the total). If you have included your contact details at the beginning of the document, they will be counted towards the total (however, any words in the header or footer won’t be counted), but you can highlight your actual submission or delete unwanted words and then click restore to put them back once you have the word count.

Beware, too, of section breaks (such as *** or #), which will show up as words, but don’t actually count towards the total, and hyphenated words, which will show up as one word but may be counted individually. You may wish to remove hyphens and other such things before getting an accurate count.

So, you now know how many words your story contains. But, how many words are you allowed? The numbed will be listed for the magazine or competition – there may be a minimum and/or a maximum. You should always read the guidelines to see if these are hard limits (that is, you cannot break them by even one word) or soft limits (that is, you are allowed to break them by a reasonable amount – what counts as reasonable may be stated, otherwise a few words over is definitely okay and as much as 10% might be considered acceptable). If not otherwise stated, you can usually assume that you can go a few words over for a magazine or anthology, as the editor is likely to have the leeway to balance longer stories with shorter ones (although you probably wouldn’t be paid for excess words, if being paid by the word) and they may be willing to work with you to edit the story so that it fits. Competition entries should stick to the stated wordcount as deviating by even one word is likely to see your submission disqualified.

Personally, for competitions, I try to keep comfortably within the stated word-limits, just in case the word count I make it doesn’t match that of the judges. Leaving a cushion means you are unlikely to fall foul of a disagreement. (Remember, the judges are unlikely to contact you, so you won’t have the chance to dispute a disagreement.)

But, don’t worry about it too much – a little commonsense should see you through most situations.

Reality is Unrealistic

23 Sep

TV Tropes has an extensive selection of examples of the ways in which reality is unrealistic. That is, things that are true but which tend to strike readers or viewers as false. The same thing also afflicts editors, as I experienced twice recently.

My first experience was a passing reference, in a steampunk story set during the Prussian siege of Paris, to the loss of water pressure and the character’s need to wash at the sink. This struck the editor as liable to break a reader’s suspension of disbelief as “this is how everyone washed then.” Of course, this was in a story featuring electric artillery, massive land-battleships and a pneumatic postal system (not to mention the undead). Yet, while a reader could be expected to swallow such scientific advances, piped water was a step too far. Piped mail, but not piped water.

In real life, the French army introduced showers in barracks in the 1870s and the water supply of Paris was being overhauled, while gas was being piped into homes. So, the presence of a shower in an apartment in this alternate Paris was hardly a significant departure from the reality of the time, and one far less than the other elements in the story. Yet, it was one thing that stood out as something of a deal-breaker!

The second highlighted an apparent difference between the UK and the USA. The colours yellow and purple were relevant to a story I wrote, so I had an apparent Christmas present wrapped in yellow-and-lavender paper. In itself, it wasn’t a major plot point, but it did allow one character to observe those colours are associated with Easter rather Christmas, which served as a lead-in to a thematic element later in the story. All pretty inconsequential and throw-away, you might think.

Not at all! It seems that, unlike in Britain, where the story is set, the colours are indelibly linked with Easter, with stores being decorated in them (here, you’re likely to see greens and yellows). Thus, the American editor felt as if the story had blundered into some bizarro world, wondering why the fact was presented as if it were a piece of obscure Christian-only knowledge. Ironically, in the UK, I don’t know if you could even find Christians who are aware of the colour association (my limited researches have yet to show where the colour scheme actually derives from). Certainly, nobody I’ve canvassed knew the link. (I do have to wonder how many Americans would necessarily make the association at Christmastime.)

But, despite being entirely accurate to the British milieu in which it was set, the story lost credibility over what was essentially a minor element for the simple fact that the associations were different in the US.

So, if you need some entertainment, visit the TV Tropes pages and chuckle at the examples, but if you’re a writer, remember that, no matter how accurate you are, you will find someone who thinks you’ve made a mistake. And, if you are a reader, maybe double-check before leaping to criticise a writer for an error – they might actually be right, after all…

Equal Opportunity Madness is here!

28 Aug

A panel discussion at Balticon 49 in 2015 about ‘problematic things’ in fiction led to this collection, EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness – A Mythos Anthology. As the editors note, and I’ve discussed before, the relationship between authors and their work can be an awkward one for readers and defies pat responses in either extreme. Instead of rejecting Lovecraft’s creations out of hand, a joking suggestion about creating an anthology of stories that would make the ‘old gent’ spin in his grave was taken up and made reality.EOM colour

Now, I must declare an interest in EOM as I contributed the story The Horror of the Atoll, which heads into Cthulhu’s stomping ground of Polynesia and features native Polynesian characters as protagonists.

Other stories go further in offering characters quite unlike those found in Lovecraft’s fiction. The opening story introduces us to an “old, crippled servant and the even older mute priestess” of Bast, for instance, while the penultimate story features a lesbian Rabbi taking on the evil out of Innsmouth with a golem!

I must say that the final, not exactly serious, story, in which Cthulhu awakens on the first day of Chanukah, bored and grumpy, was my favourite. Luckily, he is entertained then bored back to sleep with a dreidel and humanity is saved!

It’s not uncommon to find Cthulhu Mythos tales that feature protagonists unlike those used by Lovecraft (I’ve written a few myself), but this collection strives to provide a real variety.

So, rather than worrying about the old gent’s views on race, you should read this collection and see just how far his collection can be stretched.

Goodbye, Doctor Who…

17 Jul

So, the new Doctor is a woman. Apparently, she’s very good, so it may be that the BBC genuinely chose the person they thought was best, but, given a couple of decades of raising the prospect, it can’t help but wonder if it’s been done to chase headlines or burnish their inclusivity halo (unless it’s just cost-cutting, given the claims they underpay their female stars).

Of course, there have been howls of outrage of the ‘they’ve changed it, now it sucks’ sort, so my personal disgust at the decisions may seem like more of the same, but it’s not. (If it helps, as far I’m concerned, it reached the ‘they’ve changed it, now it sucks’ point a few seasons back and my views on this decisions are more fundamental. I won’t be watching the new series, but I’ve seen only a few episodes across the last three or four, so it’s hardly a great protest.)

Between the huffing of those who hate change and those crowing about a feminist victory, a couple of key points seem to have been overlooked as the BBC betrays a generation of boys and girls. (My apologies to any regular readers who will have seen all this before.)

Why the boys have been let down should be obvious to anyone who can see past issues of continuity and gender revolution: the Doctor represents a rarity amongst the role-models presented to young boys. He is serious (but not stuffy), clever, asexual and non-violent, yet still exciting and brave, a character that taught boys they didn’t have to grow-up to be a thug, a fool or a sex addict. It’s ironic that, as people supposedly become more accepting and inclusive, that boys should have their horizons circumscribed.

Why the girls have been let down might be less obvious given the cries that this represents a feminist victory. You could call it that, but only if your idea of a victory is a pathetic one built upon a foundation of over fifty years of men playing the part. Given that the BBC stands accused of underpaying its female stars, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that they don’t believe a genuinely-female creation can be a success. If they wanted a female equivalent to the Doctor, they could have created a series based on, for example, Romana – no awkward baggage, no irate fans, no depriving boys of a role-model (Sarah Jane proved a success, in this regard – better even than the revived Doctor Who). Even better, create an entirely-new ‘verse without any male-lead hangovers. I’d actually like to see that. But, I don’t hold out much hope of the BBC or anyone else providing it. And, unless the novelty of a female Doctor can be translated into a much-better series, the declining viewing figures may well kill off the series altogether and we won’t have a female Doctor, either.

Are we reading the same thing?

12 Jul

About a year ago, I saw a lot of references to John Updike’s novel Rabbit, Run, all extolling just how brilliant it was. Intrigued, I decided to pick up a copy and read it. Boy, was I disappointed.

As I ask above, I had to wonder if we were reading the same thing. The book did open with promise. The description of Rabbit insinuating himself into a children’s game of basketball was a perfect meditation on loss and the disappointment of adulthood for childhood achievers. Had it been a short story, I would have definitely recommended it. (Updike was a short story writer prior to writing the novel.) But, other than two or three brief flashes of something interesting, the rest of the book failed to live up to that promise.

Perhaps the worst thing about it was that the writing was passable. There are novels that are as badly written as they are plotted that are easy to throw aside and there are novels that are badly written, but which contain good ideas – these are the real disappointments as, often, you can’t finish them, but you really wish they’d live up to their potential. Then, there are novels like this where the writing itself is okay, but the story is dire. encouraging you to keep on reading in the hope it will pick up, only it never does.

Updike possessed the technical skills to write a good novel, but this wasn’t it. I really can’t see what other people love about it. I’m not saying they’re wrong – taste is subjective – but whatever it is escapes me. It may be that his other novels would be a better fit for me, but I won’t be trying them – I’ve got far too many books to read as it is, without adding more on a vain off-chance! I certainly wouldn’t recommend it, but there’s always a chance it will be to your taste.