Friday, May 30, 2008

Friday Flash Fiction: The Hastening of Battle

This week's title was inspired by my holiday in Hastings:


The Hastening of Battle
By Gareth D Jones


The opponents faced each other across the empty plain that had once been a green and pleasant vale. A phalanx of soldiers, encased in intelligent battle armour and backed up by armoured transporters, made final equipment checks. A very similar horde of troopers made almost identical preparations at the far end of the field.

The hardware had been pushed to the limits of technology. The software ran at unimaginable speed, responding to every command from the soldiers. Fire, counter-fire, evasion, tactics and assessment: the only limit was the reaction times of the soldiers.

As the time to engage arrived the order was passed to imbibe from their helmet’s dispensary. Both sides had different names for it, both official and slang: Reactin, Speed Inducing Nerve Stimulant, SINS, Fast, Whirl. The effect was the same, whatever they called it. The human body could make full use of the hardware.

The dispensary in Trooper Gilmoolly’s helmet failed to dole out the prescribed dose. He tried again, but nothing. He checked the diagnostics on his armoured sleeve, ignoring the blurred movement and noise in the background. Nothing. He looked round for a mechanic, frustrated at the problem. There was nobody to help. Nobody left at all. The fields, now even more scarred and pitted, were full of blasted machines, mangled armour and defeated troops.

The battle was over.


The End

Estronomicon #10


After a slight delay a 'Fiction Special' issue of Wales based ezine Estronomicon is now online for you to download, featuring 10 short stories.

There's also news that a new Rhys Hughes novel published by Screaming Dreams, the people behind Estronomicon, will be launched at the Welsh SF conference on June 21st. More details of the event can be found on the website.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I'm Back

So I finally return to the land of the living. I had a week’s holiday in Hastings, Friday – Friday booking hence no FFF for 2 weeks again. The location inspired a title for this week’s FFF, so that will be appearing on-line tomorrow.

After that I was ill for several days. Lying round feeling horrendous is not conducive to writing, so despite the huge amounts of free time I didn’t get round to anything much until yesterday. I managed to iron out a few wrinkles in the plot of Eternity, so after a hiatus of a few weeks I wrote another 2000 words yesterday. The future of that novel is looking more firm. Now I’m back at work I can’t imagine I’ll have much time to make further significant progress though.

Meanwhile, I received replies to 5 submissions, a startling amount for a 2 week period. Three were rejections, one for a reprint that I had vague hopes for and 2 for stories that I’ve almost given up on. One in particular I was convinced I’d found the ideal market for, so that was a big disappointment.

I also received a reply from an anthology, which said ‘thanks, but you seem to have attached the wrong story’. Oops. Not a great way to impress an editor!

Finally, an acceptance! Inside Every Succesful Man, first published in Hub last year, has been accepted by ClonePod. Not only will this be my first podcast, but is also the first story to be accepted three times: It’s already slated to appear in Italian webzine Intercom SF later this year.

So that’s me up-to-date. More news as it appears.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Editors: Trevor Denyer

Midnight Street is a smart looking A4 magazine published 3 times per year and containing a mixture of genre stories. I met up with editor Trevor Denyer in the subterranean vaults of CERN, somewhere under Switzerland, to discuss reading, publishing and fiction. Actually, I've never been to Switzerland; we corresponded by email.



GDJ: Like several other magazines, you’ve opted for the mixed genre approach. Are there any advantages or disadvantages to that choice?

TD: Because I have always had fairly wide ranging tastes when it comes to genres, I enjoy working across more than one or two. It broadens the possibility of receiving good quality work and, I feel, increases the magazine’s potential to reach people. Though it may be the case that not everyone will like everything, hopefully enough people will like the majority of what I publish.
I also think that, the more diverse the magazine’s remit, the more leeway I have to publish what I like and what I think the readers will like. This will include work that borders on the mainstream to that which is very firmly slipstream.
I suppose, if I had to consider the disadvantages of the mixed-genre approach, I would suggest that writers who haven’t read either the magazine or the guidelines think that it’s OK to send anything. That’s not the case, as there are limitations on what I’m likely to reject or accept. Still, I suppose writers who haven’t researched the potential market probably deserve to be rejected!


GDJ: The title suggests you’re looking for perhaps darker stories. What appeals to you about them?

TD: I think that darker stories often reflect the human condition more accurately. As a result, I tend to find them more interesting. Everyone loves an anti-hero, whether it’s a character or a situation. Often, an element of darkness in a story gives it more depth and enables the formation of characters that are more three-dimensional.
I think that, in the right hands, the potential to shock, surprise and thrill the reader is more evident where there are shades of darkness in a story. That doesn’t mean that the story has to be overtly shocking. Often the more subtle approach is far more effective. That’s what I look for.
Incidentally, the title, ‘Midnight Street’ was inspired by a line in the David Gray song, ‘This Year’s Love’: (http://www.davidgray.com/music/discography/WhiteLadder.aspx)


GDJ: Producing a magazine is obviously a lot of hard work. What inspired you to take on the task?

TD: I’ve always been interested in editing and creating magazines. This began way back when I was at school. I, together with several friends, regularly produced a hand written and illustrated magazine. It included articles, comic strips and news. We came to the attention of the local newspaper, who typed up and printed 50 copies of one issue for us!
I enjoy the whole editorial process, though have far too little time to spend on it. I have a sub-editor who reads for me. Without him, I’d sink without trace under the weight of all the submissions!
I love the creative side of producing a magazine; what stories to include, how to balance them in terms of genre and subject matter, where to put interviews and factual articles, what stories to have illustrated etc.
I think the pay-off is constructive reviews and comments from readers. That’s what keeps me inspired and helps me to make decisions on policy and production.


GDJ: Do you have a favourite sub-genre or author? What other magazines do you enjoy reading?

TD: I enjoy reading Stephen King. I’m currently half way through ‘Lissie’s Story’, which is very different to his other novels. It’s a fascinating study of character and the effects of loss.
I like stories that have that kind of depth (though not so deep that they lose me!). I also enjoy James Herbert, but more for the excitement and escapism factor. I like reading Stephen Baxter’s hard sci-fi novels. Not necessarily for the science, but for the magical way he can twist this into something amazingly creative.
Of the (relative) new comers, I think Joe Hill’s work is outstanding, as is Marion Arnott’s. I admire Joel Lane’s and Tony Richard’s work enormously.
I suppose my tastes are eclectic. I like to read autobiographies, and have recently finished reading Eric Clapton’s excellent book.
As for magazines, I’ve always enjoyed ‘The Third Alternative’ (now ‘Black Static’), though sometimes I find the stories a bit long and something of a triumph of style over content.
I think the BFS magazine, ‘Dark Horizons’ is interesting and well packaged, though sometimes a bit of a see-saw as far as material goes.
Gary Fry’s ‘Fusing Horizons’ was always a good read, though I haven’t seen that around recently.


GDJ: One of my favourite stories last year was Spin-Off Merchandise in Midnight Street #10. Other stories in that issue were quite varied. What is it you’re looking for in a story?

TD: What I look for in a story is good characterisation; depth of character; an interesting and original plot line that is not necessarily obvious. The story has to excite me enough from the beginning (because those that don’t, tend to be summarily rejected!). There has to be something that very quickly hooks me in to the story, by way of writing style/competence, excitement or promise. I have very little time to cogitate over stories!
That doesn’t necessarily mean lots of action or blood and guts. It’s often the subtleness of a story that appeals.


GDJ: Several small presses and webzines have come to a finish in the past year, while several others have started and Midnight Street has moved into double figures. Do you think there’s an answer to be found, or should we just look on the bright side – there’s always something new to read?

TD: I think that small presses and webzines are labours of love. I don’t think that anybody should go into this area expecting to make a profit, because the odds are very much stacked against you.
I do it because I enjoy it. Discovering new talent and promoting it gives me a real sense of achievement. Promoting authors who are outstanding at what they do makes the hard work worthwhile.
The small (or as I prefer to call it – independent) press has always been unstable, for the reasons stated above. Despite all of this, though, there will always be someone fool enough to take it on!


GDJ: What plans do you have for this year?

TD: Plans! What plans? All I can say is that I intend to continue publishing ‘Midnight Street’ three times a year (health permitting). I’ve had a lot of illness over the last couple of years, but things have improved now.
Things I’d like to do are to completely revamp the website, using a new software package I’ve got; perhaps resurrect ‘Legend’ as an on-line magazine; produce an annual anthology; try and do more writing myself…..but we will see. Time is very much at a premium. I’m back at work again now, and there are always other family type things you have to do.
Anyway, one thing you can be sure of is that I will continue to promote the magazine and will be lurking about in the independent press world for, I hope, many years to come.

Trevor Denyer April/May 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Submission Statistics

Looking through my Great Submission Tracking Spreadsheet, I noticed a few interesting facts:

I've only received acknowledgements from 1 in 3 submissions. Most English language subs are acknowledged, but most other languages aren't. I was under the impression that I made more foreign subs than English; this is because you can sub to as many diffeent languages at the same time as you want. As I generaly have to wait months before writing the sub off - because of not getting a reply - it turns out that over a year the foreign subs average out at only 1/4 of my total.

I currently have 6 new stories out under submission, but with reprints, anthologies, foreign languages and podcasts I have a total of 36 subs outstanding. Lucky I have my spreadsheet to keep track of it all!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Foundation

Last week I read SF Choice 77, a great selection of stories that are now over 30 years old. Like much of the greatest SF, they haven’t aged at all – a sign of the great flexibility of our favourite genre.

That having been polished off fairly swiftly – books were rather thin before the 80s – I moved on to Foundation’s Fear. I read all of Asimov’s original Foundation series, starting when I was about 15. After his 2 prequels were published I then read the entire series again. I was a bit dubious when this new trilogy was released, though Greg Benford and David Brin are two of my favourite authors, but decided I would read the first at least. So I was quite shocked when I opened the book up and saw it was first published in 1997. I know I’ve been busy, but 11 years to get around to reading it?!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Flash Fiction: Rosetta


Rosetta
By Gareth D Jones


“In here,” said the farmhand, a wrinkled Mexican with a toothless smile. He led the two black suited men through the sagging barn entrance to the dim interior. A peculiar and unpleasant odour filled the dust-laden air. A pair of younger farmhands stood just inside, nervously holding shovels. They smiled uncertainly as the agents passed.

At the back of the barn, on bales of straw, sat a startlingly unlikely trio. To the left, a farmer, moustachioed and muscular. To the right, a grey, slimy figure, a creature almost man-like. Its violet eyes were far too large for comfort and it seemed to be the source of the smell. It emitted a series of whining noises that grated against the ear.

“He says hello,” said the young girl who sat between the two.

“My daughter, Rosetta,” said the farmer, standing to shake their hands, “she’s the only one who understands him.”

The agents looked at each other speculatively, then settled down onto bales to begin the interview.


The End

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Reviews Old & New

Two reviews of Jupiter magazine have appeared in the past week.

Firstly a review of #19, that contained my story Roadwalker, on SFSite. It describes the entire contents of the magazine as 'somewhere towards the higher end of semi-pro SF', and calls Roadwalker 'modest but pleasant'.

The first review of #20 has also appeared, on the SFRevu site. It only has a brief word to say about each story, but does say of Roadrider 'I look forward to the next installment'.

The next instalment, Roadruler, will be out in Jupiter #21 in July.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Editors: Terry Martin

Murky Depths arrived last year and was an immediate eye-catcher. Issue #4 is due out soon and continues to draw attention with both its illustrated stories and comic strips, and those that fall in between. I met up with Terry Martin at this year’s Eastercon in Heathrow, where I didn’t conduct this interview. We later exchanged emails to get to the truth about the life of an editor.


GDJ: Murky Depths is both a cross-genre and a media-spanning magazine. Have you always been interested in all of these areas?

TM: I’ve always loved science fiction and, when there is a lull in that, I’ve tended to move on to fantasy. Horror was never high up on my reading priorities but I seem to be leaning more in that direction of late. But I find anything dark appealing.
If by media-spanning you mean the mix of straight prose and comic strips, then yes, both have interested me, but it’s only recently that I have seriously gone back to my comic roots. There’s a time in your life, working all hours, bringing up the family, when those little things that may have touched you don’t seem so important any more. When the kids grow up it’s like the floodgates are lifted and the things that once touched you attack you viciously. My response was to flow with it rather than deny it.
In regards to media mixing, we’ve teamed up with Variant Frequencies who have produced a podcast of “Saint Darwin’s Spiritiuals” by D K Thompson, which inspired BFS award winning artist Vincent Chong to come up with the cover for Issue #4. They’ll be uploading that to their site the same day we launch Issue #4 at the Bristol International Comic Expo on 10 May. I’ve listened to a preview and the quality is top notch. I think this is the first time a print magazine and a podcasting site have got together for a simultaneous launch of a story.


GDJ: What are the benefits or drawbacks of aiming for such a diverse market?

TM: I think that’s fairly obvious. The benefits are you’re appealing to two audiences, although there is always going to be a crossover. The downside is you have the purists who cringe at seeing prose and strips together, though generally it seems to be the prose purest who can’t stand a single illustration in their book. Strangely I can relate to that; that used to be me. The comic lovers, however, seem to be far more open-minded and, while the only book store that has taken Murky Depths is Heffers in Cambridge, there are a wealth of comic shops that stock it.


GDJ: Many new magazines start off small – low production values, low cost – and attempt to improve their look with time. You’ve come straight in with an all-singing, all-dancing product. What inspired you to aim so high?

TM: I’ve always been an artist -- I mean that in the most general of terms -- and I think it‘s important to present an artist’s work in the best possible light. I’ve had experience with publishing other small press magazines in the past so I knew the pitfalls. This time it was going to be speculative fiction. There are lots of magazines in that broad genre that don’t offer anything new; they come and go. If a new magazine was going to have any chance of being successful it was going to have to be different. Coming in with high production values was a given from the start. I’d received £120 from a short story published in a small press magazine that really disappointed me due to the quality of the mag. I’d rather have received nothing and appeared in a publication like Murky Depths. That just strengthened my desire to produce something that would make people go “Wow!”, and be proud to appear in it, and Issue #1 did that. There was pressure then to maintain that quality and I wondered how I was going to follow it up. But I think most people would agree that Murky Depths is getting better each issue – if that’s possible (certainly the proof reading has improved!)!


GDJ: You’ve taken the bold step, that many authors would envy, of giving up the day job to concentrate on writing and publishing. Are you enjoying the challenges and opportunities?

TM: I’m loving every minute of it, but wonder how I ever thought I could produce Murky Depths and hold down a full time job! Other editors didn’t think I could produce an 80-page publication every quarter, didn’t think there was enough good material around, but we’re proving them wrong. Although I’m excited about Issue #4, due back from the printers any day, I’ve already commissioned artists for all the stories in Issue #5, have cover artists on standby for Issues #6 and #7, and just sent a script to an artist for a new strip in Issue #6. There isn’t enough time in the day and I’ve been known to get up at four in the morning to start work because something has been nagging me.
Financially it’s a nightmare! But we won’t go into that . . . although I can say the target for Murky Depths is to break even on an issue within two years, which means that by then I’ll have invested more than I’m ever likely to get back.
I can also say I have the kind of wife that most guys would kill for. She’s understanding, supportive, helps out with Murky Depths where she can and, if there’s soccer on the box, she wants to watch it more than I do!


GDJ: You publish quite a variety of stories – though all with a murky slant. What is it you look for in a story when it lands in your in-box?

TM: I’ll sound like a cracked gramophone record but a short story has to grab you from the off and keep you there until the end. Anyone who doesn’t follow our guidelines exactly – and that means tailoring a manuscript to meet our requirements (I’d recommend following that advice for all magazines) – is asking to fail. A borderline story will receive more chance of further scrutiny if the author has respected our wishes.
You say the slant is murky; let’s call it plain dark. We’ve accepted stories that aren’t really spec fic but the psychological aspect has been handled really well and fits into the Murky Depths ethos. If writers are going to try us with tired ideas they’ll have to find unusual angles. We have turned away excellent stories though that just don’t fit in Murky Depths. There’s a lack of science fiction submissions and I’d love to see more alternative histories and steampunk or new weird stories. Like I said, we seem to be attracting the horror writers but I don’t want Murky Depths going any further down that route. Perhaps dark futuristic fiction (the future is tomorrow) might be a good place to start if you are looking to hit us with something.


GDJ: Which magazines or authors do you enjoy reading?

TM: The only time I get to read for enjoyment is with my Horlicks when I go to bed, honestly! But I do like Jon Courtenay Grimwood and China Mieville. I have the latest GUD, Weird Tales, Apex Digest and Interzone on my bedside cabinet all waiting to be read.


GDJ: You’ve recently launched your own publishing imprint - House of Murky Depths. What plans do you have for that and for the magazine this year?

TM: Earlier this year we published the standalone comic Death and The Maiden #4 by Richard Calder. We’d published previous episodes in Murky Depths but DATM4 was twenty-six pages long – our limit on strips for Murky Depths is ten pages. It seemed the right time to start The House of Murky Depths. I’ve just received DATM5 from Richard and it’s the best yet. Some people seem to consider his Second Life-type illustration as cheating and his erotic leanings unnecessary but DATM5 is even more risqué than previous episodes. I expect us to have that available in the Summer, again as a standalone. We’ve also just signed Sam Stone for a three-book paperback deal, so our publishing arm will not be restricting itself purely to comics – and I’m sure you didn’t expect anything else from us! We’re aiming to launch the first in the trilogy, Killing Kiss, at Fantasycon in September this year.
As for Murky Depths itself, I can reveal that Luke Cooper is illustrating the cover for Issue #5 with the conclusion of The Dark Gospel, and future issues will see The Wrath of God and The Last Precinct in a similar vein to TDG. Jason Beam, an American artist, will be giving us the cover for Issue #6 and Chris Moore has agreed to illustrate Issue #7, so expect a space ship story in that issue! Oh yes, and Ian MacLeod has promised to try us with something although he doesn’t often write short stories. We aim to entertain our readers with very different issues and don’t plan on anything thematic although Issue #6 already has two Christmas stories! Watch out for us at conventions, you can see where we are going to be on the website. Drop by and have a chat.


GDJ: Thanks for your time.

TM: My pleasure. Can I get back to work now?


You can read other interviews in The Editors series here.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Neon News


Issue #15 of Neon - the journal of brilliant things - is now out. There's also news that after #17 there will no longer be a print edition of the magazine. The editor explains:


Having a print component to the journal was great; it helped us raise our profile and gain new readers, and it was immensely satisfying in a way that online publishing previously wasn't. However, it has now become a limitation. A lot of paperwork and effort is invovled in creating anything in print, and as the number of copies we sold increased, so did the amount of work. This put a limit on the circulation we could achieve. Returning the journal to its online roots will help eliminate that, and allow us to grow Neon even further.

Workshop Recruits

One of the attendees at our Eastercon Flash Fiction Workshop was Sarah Ellender, of the Plot Medics website. Last week she joined the flash fiction frey, along with co-medic Gai Sebold.

Meanwhile, I managed to escape censure over at Futurismic for my no-show last week. Phew.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Friday Flash Non-Fiction

Work has fried my brain this week, so although I have 2 ideas, they just can't make it into the keyboard. :o(

A bit of FFF trivia for you though: Travel by Numbers, the story accepted by Nature this week, was originaly intended as a FFF piece. I refer to it here, when I had great, and it seems justifiable, hopes for it.