We can’t feel our fingers. It’s cold. If we take Django and Chilli out with gloves on, we mix up the leads, can’t bag the poo properly, and generally fumble across the wasteland, dropping things. So instead of a long piece on dubious literary connections, here’s brief mention of a few new and recent books – genuine weird from Jon Padgett, historical scares from Amanda DeWees, apocalyptic adventure from Willie Meikle, and some fantasy…
What is a ‘classic’ horror story? Today we’ve picked out six tales which are both old-style and yet more intriguing than some of the usual fare, each with its own sense of dread. They’re not especially rare or unknown (except possibly for the Barry Pain story), but each conjures a sense of dread from quite different circumstances.
They might be said to form part of our set of ‘Tales Which Linger’, from which we offered twelve examples last year – and one even makes a repeat appearance. We offer no apologies. Your statutory consumer rights are not affected, but please note that the value of your dread may go up or down. Terms and conditions apply. Continue reading Six Dark Tales of Dread
Again with the troubling questions. Is author Adam Nevill secretly part of a warped cult, here to dissuade us from taking out-of-body adventures? Does he hold hidden knowledge, transmitted to him telepathically by an ancient Tibetan horror fan? Or is he a guy who writes stuff, like any mortal shell? One day we hope to interview him and find out (though possibly not, after he’s read this)…
Yes, Adam Nevill’s latest novel, Under a Watchful Eye, is out now. We’ll say more about it later, but first we must consider the silver cord – and Venus. Continue reading Adam Nevill: Under a Watchful Eye (on Venus)
We’re back for our latest look at the trials and tribulations of what happens when you submit a story to a magazine or an anthology. Come with us into the murky world of editing, where we shall reveal… something vaguely relevant, maybe. And very little of what follows will do you any permanent damage. So that’s good.
We’ve looked at hundreds of submissions in the last few months alone, many for Occult Detective Quarterly, some for an anthology, Their Coats All Red, and even a few for other mysterious projects and private critiques. Today’s reflections are based on all of these, but mostly on the experience of editing Occult Detective Quarterly – a matter of sheer numbers.
Last time on ‘So You Want to Submit a Story…’ we mentioned three areas – Lovecraftian horror, Victorian & Edwardian period stories, and Clive Cussler Syndrome, aka the art of over-description. This time we’re raising a few more issues you might want to consider when you submit a story to any magazine, anthology or similar creature.
What follows isn’t really aimed at the seasoned writer. Unless you’re so seasoned that you fear you’re fossilising. Nor do we pretend to be authorities on this sort of thing. We merely offer a few observations, which are meant to be helpful (that’s what they all say), and let you decide what you want to do. That way we end up in fewer court cases.
Firstly, we must raise an over-arching problem, the bane of many editors’ lives…
The Mystery Parcel
People do not follow the guidelines when it comes to the subject line of submission e-mails. Why is this important? With hundreds of emails, they have to be assigned to the right folders. If the subject line doesn’t say whether it’s a story, art or non-fiction, each email has to be opened to assign it. If there isn’t a title given in the subject line, then the editors and subs readers have to search and match the story to the name of the e-mail sender.
So we might get an email from hellkitten47 at aol.com, with no subject other than (maybe) the project name. We don’t know what’s attached, and if it’s a story, we don’t know what the story is called. There might be a story called The Lecherous Leprechaun by Amelia Susan Standish (Mrs). Or maybe a charcoal sketch of Sherlock Holmes eating a radish. It may even be cunningly disguised spam. Who knows? The temptation, which we try to resist, is to bin it.
Put simply, when you submit a story, absolute adherence to guidelines like this is the way to make sure that you at least end up in the correct folder.
That’s out of the way, then. So here are two other topics – The Strange Incident, and The Distressed Dame. These both relate to stories that we’ve had to reject. The first is general; the second is rather specific. If you disagree, feel free to comment – you may well know more than we do.
The Strange Incident
This is when you submit a story that doesn’t really have anything to it in terms of plot and internal drive. Typically, a Strange Incident story describes an event which may be unusual or unexpected, or an encounter where the sense of the weird predominates. It’s more of a situation report or an observation than a structured tale. ODQ receives a number of these, some of them really interesting. But…
You may have produced an unusual mood piece, but you have to be a pretty good writer, able to deliver high quality characterisation and atmosphere, to get away with it for publication. Some of what you might call the New Weird writers can do it. But we’re not all them.
And the longer the story you submit, the more any weakness here become apparent. Sometimes a short story can get away with sheer atmosphere. Sometimes.
We’re not against vignettes and slices of the strange, of mood pieces and almost poetic fragment. We love some of them, but this isn’t about individual taste. It’s about getting published.
On the whole, most magazines and anthologies are looking for something which does have a certain drive to it, which will satisfy the broad range of readers. They might take tales which are stylish meditations on the weird, but you have to research the market to know that it’s what they particularly want.
So if you must explore the strange incident, it has to be impressively done. Something odd which happens down the road is… just that, usually. Think about whether your submission is more of an exemplar of style rather than a story for which someone would pay. Because that’s the bottom line in many markets.
We had to decline a number of stories, even though they revolved around a weird concept which was different from the usual. We were actively looking for this sort of thing, and were always disappointed when we had to let one go. The point is that almost invariably in these cases, the concept was more interesting than the story. And that’s a hard one.
We wouldn’t want to discourage the flow of new ideas and approaches in weird literature. All we can ask is that when it comes to formal submissions, you consider aspects such as:
- Is this particular story the right vehicle for your concept?
- Do other people have any chance of grasping what you’re trying to express?
- Is it paced so that readers don’t merely drift away?
- Have you honed your writing skills enough yet to do your ideas justice?
If you submit a story which demonstrates a Yes to the above, you’re motoring, and in with a chance.
The Distressed Dame
Raymond Chandler is dead. Here’s one which hits ODQ a lot, but will happen when you submit a story to pulp, crime and mystery magazines as well. Whilst Pulp and New Pulp are popular, in a broader magazine there will only be room for one or two classic-style stories. The Private Investigator of the 30s, 40s and 50s is an iconic figure, and much loved, but he or she can also be a tired cliché.
This is a hard one. It can be done. With humour, or with a cunning twist or two, new life can be brought to the trope of the client turning up, and the PI getting drawn into a dangerous game. However, without twists, the world cannot bear many more strange women walking into offices unannounced, seedy offices which have ‘seen better days’, or PIs whose best friend is their Colts and their bottle of Jack Daniels.
That striking woman turning up can be a story killer to editors. It’s an image beloved of Bogartian cinema, and is so over-used that it easily becomes ludicrous. Here’s a quick checklist:
- Legs of an unfeasible length
- Breasts akin to geological promontories
- Dress or outfit which is tight, expensive, or both
- Hair which only comes in raven black, gleaming blonde or red
- Eyes which pierce or captivate rather than look at you
We get it. The approach is used to signal that we’re in that Pulp-y place, but it’s getting harder to cut it with that these days. Every so often a story will be satisfying enough, and the familiarity of an old trope will be pleasing. But are you sure you can carry it off?
If you’re not, adapt and invent. If you must have ‘a dick and a dame’ (excuse our language), entangle them in a new way. Revive old Chandler to do something different.
You can find other greydogtales musings on writing for publication kicking around the site, as in the How to be a Bestselling Author series. Some of them may not be entirely serious, of course…
Occult Detective Quarterly will be open for submissions again on February 1st, which will be flagged up in the ODQ section on this site and on the Facebook Group (no more subs until then, please).
Their Coats All Red, a very specific concept anthology, has its own Facebook Group, Imperial Weird, and guidelines which can be found here:
We’ll return, dear listener, in a couple of days with more of the weird, in one form or another. And we’re delighted to say that Issue One of Occult Detective Quarterly is even now winging it’s way around the world. There’s a link on the right hand side bar, as usual.