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I decided to have a post consisting of links to sites, articles and blogs that might be useful for potential submitters to our little zine (and submitting stories in general). I’ve taken the liberty of listing these links in easy-to-follow categories:

 

Writing craft:

http://www.coffeehouseforwriters.com/fictionfix/

http://www.sfwa.org/writing/turkeycity.html

http://www.storytellersunplugged.com

http://www.lazette.net/Vision

http://www.sff.net/people/Vonda/Pitfalls.html

 

Why are these important?

Writing fiction (short stories or novels) isn’t a pursuit that you will ever fully master. Its universal mantra goes something like this: “Lifelong learning is your friend.”

 

 

The business of writing:

http://thefix-online.com/features/rookie-mistakes/

http://www.sfwa.org

http://www.hollylisle.com/fm/index.html 

 

Why are these important?

You want to be knowledgeable about this writing thing, don’t you? And by writing I mean everything that goes with the physical act of typing your fantastic tale.

 

 

Submission:

http://www.shunn.net/format/story.html

http://www.apexbookcompany.com/2009/01/more-messages-from-the-slushpile/

http://www.darkecho.com/darkecho/workshop/slush.html

 

Why are these important?

First impressions are important, right? What should you do (or not do) to create that first impression? Click the above.

 

 

Rejection:

http://www.writingexcuses.com/2009/03/29/writing-excuses-season-2-episode-25-the-seven-deadly-sins-of-slush-stories/  (THIS IS NEW!)

http://www.abyssandapex.com/200901-editorial.html 

http://catrambo.livejournal.com/227865.html 

http://stillnotbored.livejournal.com/633736.html 

http://www.andromedaspaceways.com/EveryProblem.htm 

http://mzbworks.home.att.net/why.htm

http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/004641.html

 

Why are these important?

This may be a reality check for some out there. Cold. Brutal. Helpful.

 

 

Author fan site-blogs:

http://www.chrisroberson.net/ramble.html 

http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/ 

http://nancykress.blogspot.com/ 

http://www.davidlouisedelman.com/blog/ 

http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/ 

http://www.jeffvandermeer.com

http://whatever.scalzi.com

 

Why are these important?

These sites can be fun but are also venues where issues of our industry are debated. Check them out regularly and you’re bound to find something 

 

 

Reviews:

http://thefix-online.com

http://spiralgalaxyreviews.blogspot.com

http://www.irosf.com

http://www.sfcrowsnest.com

 

Why are these important?

Some might ask, “Why should I read reviews for stories I didn’t write and zines or anthos I’m not in?”

 

Well…Short answer: One, you’ll get a taste for the type of stories a specific zine publishes (without buying/reading said zine). Two, if you pay attention, reviewers can highlight what works and doesn’t work in specific stories they review.

 

 

Genre news:

http://charles-tan.blogspot.com (especially his daily “Links and Plugs” post)

http://www.locusmag.com

 

Why are these important?

You want to be in the know about the field, don’t you? You don’t want to trawl the whole internet yourself, do you?

 

 

Editors skulking around the blogosphere and the wider internet:

http://time_shark.livejournal.com

http://ericmarin.livejournal.com

http://www.johnjosephadams.com

http://www.kith.org/journals/jed/

 

Why are these important?

If you have to ask, then I want you to go to the principal’s office. Now!

 

Note: Some of these resources provide “lessons” in more than one of the above categories. There may be overlap, but rarely duplication of learning.

 

That’s all – for now.

 

Keep writing and submitting!

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I was inspired to start writing speculative short stories after reading Fondly Fahrenheit by Alfred Bester. The story broke a lot of preconceptions I had about short fiction and the limits that were inherent to the form. For example, before reading the story, I had gotten it into my head that because of the length he setting, scope, and pacing had to be limited and slow.

 

The story contained several characters that reminded me of people I had encountered in real life. Coincidentally, Fondly Fahrenheit also involved subject matter from my academic life and interests of mine. All of this prompted me to research Alfred Bester and I soon discovered some real life commonalities. One of these commonalities was that Alfred Bester left short story writing to write comic books for a while, penning one of my favourite superhero comics, Green Lantern.

 

One of the most interesting bits of weird trivia is that Alfred Bester was often credited with composing the Green Lantern Oath that went a little something like this:

 

In the brightest day,

In the blackest night,

No evil shall escape my sight,

Let those who worship evil’s might,

Beware my power,

The Green Lantern light!

 

I’m writing this from fanboy memory, so I could’ve gotten some of the words wrong – my apologies to the more scholarly fans out there. The weird part is that he had been quoted as saying that the oath existed before he began writing the comic.

 

A recent post over at Boingboing.net about a Magic Lantern museum got me thinking about Green Lantern again.

 

The result of my musings is my conclusion that Green Lantern should be every writer’s favourite superhero.

 

Why?

 

Well, for those of you not familiar with Green Lantern, he or she (there used to be a GL Corps with hundreds of these appointed space-policing Green Lanterns) derives his / her power from a ring which he/she needs to charge with a green lantern (hence the name). Once charged (yes, like a cell phone), he /she is able to fly and create just about any weapon / vehicle / whatever out of solid green light.

 

You’re probably thinking: Hey, mildly interesting, but why should GL be adored by us writer folks?

 

Okay, sorry for all that background (infodump). The reason for my contention can be found in Green Lantern’s limitations and weaknesses, namely:

  • A green Lantern’s creations are only limited by his / her will power and imagination. This holds for writers too.
  • A Green Lantern ring must be recharged regularly, because it can only hold finite charge of energy. This holds for all writers (even the full-time ones), because we need to recharge our writing batteries with outside interests and real life.
  • The original GL Corps rings were all weak against the colour yellow / gold. To translate into writer language: Never pay too much attention to your own press and praise (gold). Keep striving to be better.
  • Alan Scott, the first GL, possessed an older GL ring that was weak against wood. However, even with the risk of flying into a tree during a low air chase, he soldiered on with the mission as his successors would one day do. Writers should keep in mind that although technology has changed, the mission (to write) stays the same.
  • The GL corps was comprised of heroes from different worlds across the universe and each guarded different sectors of space. Although, we’re all writers, each of us occupies a different point in “writing-space’. Learn from each other but follow your own path.

 

Wow, I surprised myself with how motivational this post has become. This is where my ‘charge’ has run out on this topic. Do you have a favourite superhero? Does he / she embody an ethic that you feel can help in your writing?

 

As always, keep writing and keep submitting!

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A few days ago, I learned that two of the authors, Justine Graykin and Lindsey Duncan,  whose stories are featured in Speculative Mystery Iconoclast #1ran into each other at World Fantasy in Calgary.  They had no idea that the other’s story had been published in SMI until Justine announced that she was going do a reading from ‘Ferrit and Faux’, her Fantasy/Mystery tale published in our debut issue.

What a coincidence!

It got me thinking though. Coincidence seems to be suspiciously commonplace in everyday life.  How many times have you picked up a ringing phone and it turns out to be a person that you were just thinking about?  How many times have you met a new friend who shares an interest or hobby with you at a location so far removed from said hobby (at least in your mind)?  For example, meeting a fellow Hell’s Angel at an Interior Design expo (okay, that was stereotypical of me – couldn’t think of a more contrasting example).

Coincidence is fascinating,  because of a number of reasons (or rather different reactions to it):

1. Some people point to the unseen hand of fate or the universe. I was meant to do x…

2. Others believe coincidence often has a logical explanation. Using the World Fantasy example, one could posit that because both Lindsey and Justine are Fantasy writers and the theme of the con was “Mystery in Fantasy and Horror” that it was logical that they would both attend. Their attendance and similar genre would influence the probability of them attending similar readings at the con, and would in turn increase the probability of them meeting.

It is interesting to play with the varied reactions of readers with regard to coincidence in stories.   Is coincidence just coincidence or does its occurence point to something more?  Writers may choose to lean towards reaction #1at one point of the story and then to reaction #2 at another.  It’s often entertaining to have these viewpoints present within the story’s characters – this may help readers relate to said characters.

Coincidence is a powerful tool for writers and when done well creates expectations (based on the reactions listed above). The fun part is deciding whether to meet these expectations or go in th opposite direction.

As always, keep writing and keep submitting!

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Our slushpile suggests that Why-dunnit is not as popular as the Who-dunnit or the How-dunnit. Although quite a few submissions have combined all three types of mysteries, the full why-question-centric tales are not forthcoming.

I guess many writers believe that if you already have the ‘who’ and ‘how’, then the ‘why’ (although important) is just not intriguing enough to be the focus of a story.

Not so, I say. The why-dunnit represents some interesting opportunities in terms of original plotting.

The mysteries in why-dunnits are linked to questions of:

  • Motive (in crime mysteries); and
  • Why an unexpected event has occurred (in non-crime mysteries).

Example:
When a crime is committed, and there are several witnesses and/or a mass of evidence identifying the guilty party (who) as well as the method used (how), the motive (why) could make for a great tale if:
The ‘who’ doesn’t make any sense – there may be better suspects or an apparent lack of motive.

Tip: The answer to the ‘why’ is often character-driven (i.e. what the characters want or need) or as a result of movement from the status quo to alternate state of affairs. Characterisation and setting play a role in this regard and may even be clues.

A note on speculative mysteries in general:
A writer may infuse speculative elements in the ‘who, how, or the why’ of a story. Some tales are successful because all three aspects are given a speculative treatment. In others, only one question relates to the speculative domain.

Keep writing and keep submitting!

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A red herring is a ‘fake clue’ that leads the hero away from the true solution. Its purpose is to frustrate, confuse, and misdirect both the hero as well as the reader.  Variations of Red Herring:

  • The discovery of motive, means, and opportunity of multiple characters;
  • Physical evidence with multiple interpretations. For example, objects founds at a crime scene may lead to false assumptions (on the part of the sleuth as well as the reader);
  • The actual location of the crime scene may lead the reader down the wrong path;
  • Dialogue may spark a hunch that leads the reader away from the truth. Why did character x say that?
  • In Speculative Mystery stories prior knowledge (e.g. scientific fact, beliefs of the realm, known occurrences) presented to the reader may have a similar effect.
  • In scientific mysteries, it is helpful to remember that people are quite willing to believe anecdotal evidence (e.g. stories / experiences of a few individuals) when there is a lack of genuine evidence supporting an alternative theory. The writer may play with this phenomenon.

 It’s not always necessary to use red herrings in short stories, but if you do you should place them carefully. There should be plausible explanations for the presence of the false clue. It should be noted that these ‘clues’ tend to lengthen the story, because the hero has tofollow up on it and then discover that it doesn’t lead to the ‘who, why, or the how’ of the mystery. “Darn, back to square one!” For that reason, the writer should be wary of planting too many red herrings. Above all, even when dealing with red herrings (devices designed to mislead), play fair with the reader. 

Keep writing, keep them guessing, and keep submitting!

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One of the first posts I wrote for this blog dealt with Speculative Mystery rules and focused on the rules for the Mystery genre developed by the Detection Club. Beyond those rules, a rival set was developed and outlined by S.S. Van Dyne (a.k.a. Willard Huntington Wright) in an article called Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories in 1928. 

Of the twenty rules, many are reasonable, others seem outdated, while still others may serve as so-called ‘anti-rules’ for Speculative Mystery fiction. Two rules come to mind in this regard: 

Rule 8: The problem of the crime must be solved by strictly naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, Ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic séances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. A reader has a chance when matching his wits with a rationalistic detective, but if he must compete with the world of spirits and go chasing about the fourth dimension of metaphysics, he is defeated ab initio.  

Rule 14: The method of murder, and the means of detecting it, must be rational and scientific. That is to say, pseudo-science and purely imaginative and speculative devices are not to be tolerated in the roman policier. Once an author soars into the realm of fantasy, in the Jules Verne manner, he is outside the bounds of detective fiction, cavorting in the uncharted reaches of adventure. 

Of course, Speculative Mystery is a different genre than mundane Mystery. Secondly, Van Dyne is referring to Crime / Detective fiction only. Also, as the writing guidelines of Speculative Mystery Iconoclast state, our conception of Mystery is not limited to the Crime genre. 

Therefore, we reject half of Rule 8 – the half pertaining to strictly naturalistic means. However, we agree that the reader should have an opportunity to match wits with the detective or hero protagonist (at least to some degree). 

Where Speculative Mystery is concerned, Rule 14 should be rejected for the most part. However, just because imaginative and speculative elements are introduced, it doesn’t preclude any rationality or scientific grounding from being applied to detection.      

If Speculative Mystery Iconoclast were to compose rules of its own, said rules would read something like this:           

The problem of the crime may be solved by any means necessary. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, Ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic séances, crystal-gazing, and the like, may be used. However, these methods are best when used in original, entertaining ways and where possible to only illuminate part of the mystery. The protagonist hero should consider the above devices as ‘sources of information’ and not a replacement for detection. 

The method of crime (or oddity), and the means of detecting it, may be either rational, wholly speculative, or both. Speculative elements from Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror often posses an internal logic that is analogous to rational science. This internal logic (the nuts and bolts of how these elements work) is governed by laws created by writer. However, even if they didn’t, it might be entertaining to see these collide with logical detection methods employed by police officers, private eyes, and sleuths both amateur and professional. 

So ends the sermon. 

Keep writing and keep submitting!

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In my last post, I highlighted the scarcity of Horror crossover stories in the slush pile. So, during this blog-witching quarter of an hour, I’ll discuss Speculative Mystery Iconoclast’s Horror Mystery crossover preferences.

There are a myriad of Horror categories and a few different perspectives on each. However, when you read Horror / Mystery and Science Fiction / Horror / Mystery in our submission guidelines, the Horror we refer to is ‘Supernatural Horror’. In Supernatural Horror, you’ll encounter ghosts, vampires, demons, werewolves, occult forces, and other things that go bump in the night. This category is a lot broader than most people think, though.

Note: I’ve edited the guidelines to make the above clarification more explicit.

Supernatural Horror writers actually have an advantage when writing crossover mystery tales, because their genre lends itself to characters asking questions (mostly, as a result of experiencing something weird or just curiosity about people or place).

Some pointers:

1] Build and maintain suspense throughout the story.

2] Create and maintain suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader – make them believe in your setting, characters, and conflict. Mix and/or juxtapose the natural and the supernatural.

3] Never drop the pace of story for any prolonged stretch of time. Don’t feel the need to add in a really boring bit where nothing happens just to make the story longer.

4] Be original. Don’t be predictable. Avoid clichés. For example, recently, the movie ‘Thirty days of night’ dispensed with many modern vampire clichés: The mysterious Dracula-esque vampire; the vampire nobility (ala Anne Rice); and the ultra-hip vampire (from the Blade movies). Instead, the vampires featured onscreen reminded me of Hyenas while feeding – animalistic. [There is a short list of horror clichés at the bottom of this post.]

5] Avoid excessive gore. Every drop of blood needs to be motivated (yet not necessarily committed to page). Yes, this sounds really weird after mentioning ‘Thirty days of night’, but less is really more.

6] Remember, Horror Mystery crossover stories are still mysteries. So, don’t hide or withhold any information from the reader. This goes double if you intend withholding to set up a twist ending. That would be an abrupt twist ending. If you want to try such an ending, try to develop an organic twist ending that flows from the story.

7] Don’t give the ending away midway through the story.  The telegraph went out of style nearly a century ago.    

8] The golden rule: Be entertaining. Don’t let the writing get in the way of the plot. Avoid too much description (of things that aren’t remotely relevant). Be concise. Don’t draw out the story unnecessarily.   

Additional horror clichés:

  • Potential victim of a serial killer turns out to be a vampire.

  • All the horror was simply a dream. Probably something both the protagonist and the writer ate.
  • All the horror was simply a manifestation of the narrator’s mental problems.
  • The narrator turns out to be dead (and the writer chooses to reveal this at the end).
  • This list goes on longer than I’d like this blog post to be. What’s that noise coming from the cellar? I’d better go investigate – unarmed and alone…

    As always, keep writing and keep submitting!

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