Month: August 2014

Horror fiction submission

Earlier this week I dashed off an 800-word flash fiction piece in a sudden fit of inspiration.

“Frankenstein’s Monster” features a man compulsively dreaming about a woman from his past. He worries this might start to affect his marriage (“I gave a wife… I love her very much,” he insists). So he goes to a quack “specialist” doctor to receive a new-fangled dream treatment. Unfortunately for our protagonist he experiences some ugly unintended consequences.

My target market for this piece is Every Day Fiction. They’re far and away my favorite online market, combining a skilled editorial team with a solid online format and plenty of opportunities for commenting and sharing. The latter is HUGE for writers in this day and age. In fact, old-school static pages have soured me on a number of other online venues, including hackwriters and Bewildering Stories. I am submitting primarily for visibility, after all. If a publication isn’t optimized for the modern web user it’s usually not worth a submission.

If EDF rejects “Frankenstein’s Monster” I’ll probably look to a specialty SF/horror market next.

The Bazaar: Chapter 21

Bandwidth

The prison was a real shithole.

Lousy network coverage. All old-school vanilla wi-fi. Not enough bandwidth to pull out all the stops. Not that there were stops to pull out in the first place. According to the specs all vital systems were electromechanical. Nothing networked. Not doors, not power, not audio surveillance. All Faisal had were a handful of grainy CCTV cameras. The signal kept cutting out and he was hardly even banging the needles.

The important thing was the mercs were back on the grid.

A translucent 3D blueprint floated in front of him. A red light winked on and off in the professor’s cell. Faisal waggled his hand back and forth at the wrist. The 3D model rotated. The faster he waggled the faster it spun until eventually its electric blue lines all ran together, transforming the prison into a sphere of electric blue light.

The source of the bandwidth problem was simple enough: solid fucking concrete walls without a booster in sight.

Not that Faisal would be able to do anything with a halfway decent signal anyway. All he had to work with was an antique Toshiba riot control bot at the end of the corridor: all-terrain treads, cattle prod and riot gun mounted on the mechanical arms. Night vision, thermal vision, etc etc.

As he parsed the specs the blue sphere began to slow.

Faisal drilled into the bot and pulled a background diagnostic routine. Shimmering windows popped up across his vision.

The bot still had some juice left in its batteries, despite having been in deep sleep hibernation for more than a year. Its internal diagnostics read green across the board. Whatever the fuck that was supposed to tell him. Whoever designed the displays left out the important stuff: barrel integrity/obstruction, for one. For all Faisal knew the bot’s riot gun would blow up on the first round, peeling the barrel back like a split banana peel.

Amateurs.

Even Hezbollah tweaked its shit to ease the maintenance burden. Half those guys didn’t even believe in bots – something about God and souls and man’s eternal hubris.

“You know Paolo, sometimes I think he does this on purpose. He wants a hundred million dollar show on a ten thousand dollar budget. I mean, is this really how you people run things here? Honestly I’m shocked you’ve lived this long.” Faisal didn’t bother turning to face the translator, who Don Carlos posted to observe before stepping outside to schmooze the clients with a special box of cigars he kept tucked away in his armored Land Rover for just such situations — crises where asses were badly in need of kissing.

He didn’t have to see Paolo to know the translator stood aghast, jaw unhinged and mouth wide open like a goddamn blue whale gorging itself on shrimp. “Everything’s broken here. What are you supposed to do if the prisoners actually riot? You’re going to send a bunch of guys down with shotguns and tear gas to get captured and held hostage have get their tongues cut out with kitchen knives? Did we go through a time warp to nineteen-fucking-seventy-two when we landed here?”

All at once the floating diagnostic panels disappeared.

Another dropped signal. It would be no problem getting the bot up and running. Keeping it that way with the crappy coverage would be another story.

Faisal sighed. “It’s a job for an AI, Paolo. ”

Something simple. Lightweight. Something that wouldn’t get jammed up in the pipeline. A Chinese hunter-killer would do. Faisal hated giving the Chinamen credit for anything. But when it came to getting jobs done on the cheap and easy they always seemed to come up trumps.

“Then again,” he said, “give me a half million Asian computer nerds and an unlimited budget and I’ll knock your fucking socks off, too.”

Out in front of him the electric blue sphere ground to a halt, resolving itself once more into the 3D image of the prison. The stationary light marking the nutty professor’s location winked on and off.

Faisal waved it off and called up the gateway to his AI repository.

“Tell them to finish their smokes and get inside,” he said. “Show’s about to start.”

How to get indie books reviewed

booksSo your masterpiece is finally for sale on Amazon or Smashwords. Congratulations! Now the real work begins. You need to start spreading the word about your novel/short story, and one of the best ways to do that is through reviews. Unfortunately this process can be downright torturous — particularly if you’re learning as you go. If you are an indie writer looking for help landing your first reviews, here is my tried-and-true strategy in five simple steps:

1. Write a great book. Easier said than done, of course. Reader tastes will vary, but no matter what you write you absolutely must put out a high-quality product. That means professional looking cover art, formatting and copy editing. Going the indie route is no excuse for shoddy presentation.

2. Research the best markets for your work. Depending on what you’ve written and how big a following you have, sites billing themselves as general book review sites may or may not be the best fit. My short, “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell!“, is a pulp sci-fi story. It appeals to a niche audience. Due to both length and subject matter, I’ve avoided more “mainstream” reviewers in favor of sites like The Extremis Review and The Cult Den. These reviewers and I share the same target audience. You will need to find venues that fit with what you’ve written. Otherwise you’ll end up spinning your wheels.

3. Keep your review request short and sweet. Business writing should be brief and to the point. Here is a sample review request:

Dear Reviewer,

I am writing to ask if you would be interested in reviewing my sci-fi short, “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell!” (http://www.amazon.com/Vampire-Brides-Planet-Malcolm-Chandler-ebook/dp/B00ITC89XG), on your site.

I can provide a free review copy in .pdf, MOBI or EPUB format.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Malcolm Chandler

Don’t get complicated. If you’ve put out a professional product with an eye-catching cover and a compelling blurb, your work will speak for itself. Don’t be afraid to let your buy link do the talking. The longer your review request, the weaker its impact (and the more likely it will end up in someone’s junk folder).

4. Be patient. Reviews don’t get posted overnight. Reviewers are busy people. Many of them are juggling several projects of their own. My rule of thumb is to allow 4-8 weeks before sending a brief, polite follow-up.

5. Be professional. Under no circumstances should you take any part of this process personally. Some reviewers will ignore you, some will decline politely and others will be considerably more blunt. Don’t get snippy in reply, and definitely don’t get into any kind of blog/Facebook/Twitter war. Like it or not you are a business person. Your actions will reflect on your business. The best thing to do when faced with negativity is ignore it.

Hopefully you find these tips helpful. Please share any questions, advice or success stories.

“Fang-tastic!”

New review of “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell!” is online, courtesy of Reece Morris-Jones at The Cult Den. A very positive review. Reece gave it eight out of ten. I’ve posted the full text of the review below. If you prefer you can read the original here (it’s quite a bit prettier):

A short pulp story from an author who seems well versed in it, Vampire Brides from the Planet Hell is short but sweet. Our protagonist is sent to rescue a princess from a planet where the remaining inhabitants are vampires, upon pain of death if he fails.

That’s all we’re given- just enough information about the protagonist and his world to propel the story forwards and no more. Not that much more is needed. Brides is the best kind of pulp, trashy but aware of it and determined to make sure you come away with a smile on your face anyway.

Be it the way the protagonist comments on the implausibility of the female vampires bust on their frame, or the rough, slightly camp act of the head vampire, its a story that plays with the normal vampire conventions with a wink and a grim.

The only problem I suppose is its short length, being over and read in under a half hour easily. Not that I would want more mind, lest it retroactively diminish this story.

Vampire Brides from the Planet Hell gets in, gets out and leaves you to simmer in the warm afterglow of an enjoyable tale told well. I look forward to reading more of Malcolm Chandlers work.

* Okay, the phrase “fang-tastic” didn’t actually appear in the review. But he tweeted it. I swear.

Stepping back and some other random thoughts

I’ve spent much of today shaking off the cobwebs from a week-long vacation (check out the latest chapter of The Bazaar!). Also on my mind, in no particular order:

  1. Thinking it would be a good idea to try networking with some local writers
  2. Ready to launch myself back into promoting “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell,” possibly with some paid advertising (more on that to come as I investigate options)
  3. Realized I need to set a short story aside for a couple weeks before attacking a second draft

Item #3 relates to a story I’ve mentioned on this blog before. It was originally titled “Sweet Home,” then “Mirror, Mirror” and now “Tail Risk.” The story itself has changed as much as the titles. It’s a long short story (if that makes sense) that merges both horror and sci-fi elements. I like where I’ve gotten with it, but frankly have run into something of a brick wall as I work my way toward the end of the first full draft.

I always set stuff aside when I start to get blocked. I’m confident in my ability to finish what I start. Also, I find that coming back to a draft with fresh eyes yields better results then slugging through the pain at times like this. I hope to clear my brain with some free writing before coming back to “Tail Risk.”

Here’s the opening, in case you’re interested:

I’m ready for the biggest score of my career. I sit up all night thinking about it, propped up on a couple thousand dollar pillows. It’s not the coke keeping me up. I’m not high. I don’t feel even remotely high. This isn’t drug-induced euphoria. This is the fucking inevitability of success electrifying my brain matter.

“Ten million dollars.”

“Mmm?” the blonde in bed beside me rolls onto her stomach. She’s got a constellation of moles on her back. I vaguely remember making a pattern out of them earlier through an alcoholic haze while she was doing the reverse cowgirl on my five thousand dollar Italian leather couch.

I can’t wait for the morning meeting.

I can’t sleep, either, so I run through the score in my head. Every detail. Every eventuality. All that risk management bullshit Pike bitches and moans about. I run it all, again and again and again on a loop. I get out of bed and scratch the numbers out on a yellow legal pad in my office. Don’t even bother with a light. I’m so wired I can see in the dark. Fucking night vision. Like a fucking owl or eagle or some other killer bird. Suck it Pike. Bet you can’t see in the dark. A lot of good your risk management bullshit will do you there.

I figure I can clear ten to thirteen million on this thing. Ten million, easy.

That’ll mean senior trader. Partner. The world.

I pace the length of the room in the dark.

Bloody Mary watches from he shadows. She’s a vaguely human shape in the dark. Not that her appearance ever changes.

Scraggly hair hangs down around her face, in her face, in her eyes — a wet mop of a hairstyle. She wears an old-fashioned nightgown. It’s got to be at least two hundred years old. It’s got these ridiculous ruffles all down the front and little pink hearts embroidered at odd spaces. Also she’s covered in blood. Hair, face, nightgown. She’s soaked through with blood, as if someone’s drenched her in buckets and buckets of it.

The Bazaar: Chapter 20

Masterpiece

Fulton floated in the limitless reaches of the cosmos with Reese at his side.

He didn’t feel like he was floating. He was still standing upright. An invisible floor remained beneath his feet. Reese hadn’t gone so far as to simulate spacial disorientation. A bit disappointing, really. If it were anyone else’s app Fulton would have put it down to laziness.

But this was not anyone else’s app.

Reese wanted him to feel like he was standing on his own two feet.

“Welcome to the universe,” Reese said. “Take a look around. Get comfortable with your place in it. You may have some trouble with the latter. It’s not easy locating yourself within the limitless expanse of the cosmos. Even the planet Earth, for that matter. Any guesses where you might find it?”

Zombie Reese held up both hands and turned round in a circle.

I surrender, Fulton thought.

“I have to admit I don’t have the slightest clue, either. I can tell you we’re several hundred billion miles from the Milky Way.” Reese pointed off into the darkness. “Home is a few hundred billion miles that-a-way.”

Then his voice darkened.

“You know I often think about my place in the universe. More specifically, the utter insignificance of it. The universe is so vast that our home galaxy does not even register as a point of light in the distance. Consider: every sensation you have ever experienced; all your relationships; your most sacred, personal thoughts and feelings…” Reese trailed off.

As his voice faded the star field transformed back into a room of sorts. Once again Fulton stood in the midst of four walls, a ceiling and a floor. The space was larger than the hotel room. Much larger. Cavernous. Different images played across the walls, ceiling and floor.

Upon closer inspection they were not just images, but video feeds.

And not any old video feeds either.

In one Robyn walked down the aisle in her wedding dress, her father on her arm. Another showed the narco chick, Lela, bleeding out on the floor in the hotel lobby with her foot twitching uncontrollably. Yet another displayed the downtown cityscape at night. Towering skyscrapers loomed up from the fortified central business district: Banco Nationale, International Machining Ltd., Agrocore, USBev (which for whatever reason had decided to continue operating its bottling plant in the capital, presumably for tax purposes). The USBev logo was actually an LED screen that played an animation on repeat: a line of bright red bottles that filled with bright red liquid then exploded one after the other, as if someone were using them for target practice. Fulton remembered that cityscape from the just the other night as he sat in his hotel’s rooftop bar, nursing a scotch.

These were his memories, from his POV, exactly as he remembered them. The app stripped them from his memory like files off a hard drive.

A torrid porno played on the floor. Fulton had the starring role. His co-star was neither Robyn nor some long-forgotten crush but his partner in crime, Emily. He registered this as porno because nothing about it was even vaguely reminiscent of lovemaking.

What he and Emily were doing was fucking. Pure animal fucking, replete with biting, scratching, slapping and choking. A casual observer might think the two of them were actually were trying to kill each other. In places they had broken skin. Blood trickled down Fulton’s back, along Emily’s left cheek.

“…Despite what you may have believe none of these things are any more significant than a single grain of sand on a beach…” Reese paused. He retrieved a cigarette from his pocket and lit it.

You son of a bitch, Fulton thought. You did it.

Reese continued. “For a million years we’ve lied to ourselves about the significance of our own thoughts and feelings. We have deluded ourselves into the belief that there is such a thing as an eternal soul, the way a victim of any trauma might disassociate himself from the event. Every day computers prove that it is possible for programs of incredible complexity to evolve out of simplest building blocks: combinations of ones and zeros. Here before your eyes is proof that consciousness, ‘the soul,’ can be manipulated as easily as any other media.”

All the walls switched over to Fulton and Emily fucking, as if to say yes, I did that to prove my point, Mitchell, now feast your eyes once more on this hi-def interdisciplinary masterpiece.

“There is no meaning in the things we see and feel,” Reese said. “No larger purpose. Complexity has evolved over time through the random, meandering interaction of basic structures. You may or may not be familiar with the principle of ergodicity: given an infinite time horizon a given event with a probability greater than zero becomes not only possible but certain. In that sense the development of ‘consciousness,’ ’emotion,’ – indeed the sum total of human civilization – is simply the product of the repeated interaction of countless random variables over an extended time horizon.”

A Colder War

shoggoth

A shoggoth

So you’re saying the Russians have these, uh, Shoggoths, but we don’t have any. And even those dumb Arab bastards in Baghdad are working on them. So you’re saying we’ve got a, a Shoggoth gap? A strategic chink in our armour? And now the Iranians say the Russians are using them in Afghanistan?
–Charles Stross, A Colder War

It takes a lot of nerve to write a paragraph like that with a straight face. What’s a shoggoth, you ask? If you don’t already know you ought to quit reading now. Neither A Colder War nor this review are meant for you.

Charles Stross’ novelette (available online here) imagines the Iran-Contra scandal in a world where H.P. Lovecraft’s entire Cthulhu Mythos is real. Not much more to it, really. Rest assured there is a plot. I won’t describe it here because frankly A Colder War is at its best sketching the impact of Lovecraftian horrors on Cold War politics. Readers ought to have the pleasure of discovering that for themselves.

Stross combines a strong voice with deadpan humor and more Lovecraft references than you can shake a shoggoth at. The quote at the top of this post is one example. If you’re not satisfied with that, here’s another:

“It is not the Russians that we quarrel with,” Mehmet says quietly, “but their choice in allies. They believe themselves to be infidel atheists, but by their deeds they shall be known; the icy spoor of Leng is upon them, their tools are those described in the Kitab al Azif. We have proof that they have violated the terms of the Dresden Agreement. The accursed and unhallowed stalk the frozen passes of the Himalayas by night, taking all whose path they cross. And will you stopper your ears even as the Russians grow in misplaced confidence, sure that their dominance of these forces of evil is complete? The gates are opening everywhere, as it was prophesied. Last week we flew an F-14C with a camera relay pod through one of them. The pilot and weapons operator are in paradise now, but we have glanced into hell and have the film and radar plots to prove it.”

If there is a downside to all this it’s that A Colder War is essentially one big gimmick (albeit a very enjoyable one). The story doesn’t feel fully fleshed-out, especially in comparison to Stross’ later Laundry novels. The novelette also ends abruptly, as if afraid to wear out its welcome.

Finally, it requires at least passing familiarity with Lovecraft’s fiction to enjoy. I can’t imagine someone ignorant of “At the Mountains of Madness” and “Call of Cthulhu” would get much out of A Colder War. As I mentioned above, half the fun is spotting the Lovecraft references. The average reader may simply find the whole thing bewildering.

If history and Lovecraft are up your alley, however, you owe it to yourself to spend an evening with A Colder War.

The Bazaar: Chapter 19

Pritchard

Pritchard launched right into it. “You have no idea the pressure this is going to put on our margins,” he said. “They knew exactly who they’d gotten hold of this time, and believe me they charged for it. You’re free now, incidentally. They agreed to let us talk while the commandant fudges papers.”

Emily’s eyes flitted around the room.

“Relax. I swept.” Pritchard reached into his suit jacket. He removed a closed fist, held it out over the table at ninety degrees and opened his hand. A black object hit the table, skipped twice then lay still, looking for all the world like a dead insect. “They hid it under the table,” Pritchard said. “Pretty old-fashioned. Probably didn’t work in the first place.”

From beneath the table he produced a black gym bag. He unzipped the top and lifted the flap to show off stacks of local currency.

“How much?”

“Ten million local.”

“In numbers I understand?”

Pritchard shook his head as he re-zipped the bag. “Not sure where the spot rate ended up. I wouldn’t want to misrepresent the extent of our losses. Standards and Practices and all that.”

For Pritchard there was no such thing as a casual day. Always best practices, always in suits. Here, as in Syria, the suits were linen. In Grozny he wore them under heavy, fur-lined overcoats that made him look like an oil baron who’d absentmindedly wandered into the combat zone.

Emily imagined his closet to filled with hundreds of suits, dozens of copies of each style, a warehouse full of them.

Whenever blood, shrapnel or accumulated abuse ruined one suit Pritchard simply pulled a fresh one off the rack. According to him there was no excuse for a sloppy appearance in a client-facing role. Not even in a war zone. Apparently they’d drilled that into him as he racked up his professional certifications. The acronyms took up a full line on his business card.

Pritchard ran Syria from the business center inside a shattered Damascus hotel (“all it needs is IT”). He sent the militia up to the roof to fix the satellite booster dish to the roof (“yalla binna, habibis!”), and while they were busy upstairs he rolled up his sleeves and ripped cable out of the wall to make room for his modular Bloomberg. Never even loosened his tie. He was wired of course but he liked to use a monitor for visual reference when it came time to bitch Emily out over cost overruns. That way he could point to fancy-looking charts and graphs during the lecture.

It surprised her he hadn’t brought his tablet to the prison. “Where are we on our contingency?” she asked.

“New York thinks we’re burning cash in the streets. You wanted journalists after we blew up the Tropico? We bought them. You wanted the professor? We bought him. Now this. We may need the journos back if it hits the wire. On the bright side I don’t think we have to worry about litigation.” Like many accountants Pritchard tended to ramble. “Can you spare a moment for a personal question?” he asked.

“Do I have a choice?”

“Why’d you go after him?”

She shrugged. “I went with my gut.”

Pritchard frowned. He wasn’t a soldier. He didn’t approve of gut reactions. “All your gut is good for is buying high and selling low,” he said. “That’s been proven scientifically, you know.”

“I assume my tracker’s still working then.”

Pritchard nodded. “It cost satellite time. The Drone Master nearly had an embolism. That vein in his forehead popped out about an inch when I told him.”

“Drone Master” was Pritchard’s name for the prissy liaison from USAF EXPED. His real name was Carter. Pritchard had taken an immediate dislike to him because he wore his ties in a half-windsor (“what is this, the junior prom?”). Carter ran the drone wing and managed their satellite time. Like all old-school military men he deeply resented contractors. Like, all the way down in his bone marrow. “Did he call New York?” Emily asked.

“It shouldn’t show up in your review. I wish I could say the same for our fiscal profligacy.”

Profligacy. The word reminded her of Fulton, lying face-up in his cell, a zombie staring blankly at the concrete ceiling, absorbed in Reese’s wonderland.

“The rest of this better come off on the cheap,” Pritchard said. “Our unit’s financials are already looking grim ahead of next week’s analyst call. I know you never bothered to pick up your MBA so I’ll warn you in plain English: New York will be tight going forward.”

“How tight?”

“Our next gig might be VIP security.”

“Bleh.”

“Bleh, indeed.” Pritchard closed up his gym bag. “Where’s the professor?”

“In his cell.”

“Crying?”

“Working, believe it or not… And my friend Jefe?”

“What, you want to see him?”