Tag Archives: horror

It’s Everything I Ever Was Afraid Of…

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I don’t always traumatize children, but hoo-when I do, I prefer to scar them for frickin’ life…

My publisher posted an inquiry on TZPP’s Facebook page regarding the 50 scariest books of all time. There was a photo of the cover for Stephen King’s It. I nearly crapped myself. This might have had something to do with the fact that I’m home from work dying of malaria or whatever the stomach bug that’s going around is, but probably not.

Stephen King was one of my favorite authors in my youth, and I stand by the notion that some of his earlier works will probably be canonized as literature after he passes. On Writing is without a doubt one of the most useful creative resources for would-be wordsmiths ever published, despite being mostly autobiographical. (That actually made it more inspiring, if I let out the truth.) Stephen King, thank you. You’ve given so much to me and to future generations of writers.

But I still hate your rotten guts, and I’m going to tell you why. Writing about evil immortal androgynous alien clowns in the sewer morphing into what children most fear and eating them alive was a supremely screwed up thing to do to an eight-year-old boy.

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But they all float down here, Danny-boy! Don’t you wanna float too?

My parents have to shoulder some of the blame. I mean, they let me watch the made-for-TV movie with Tim Curry pretty much right when it came out, as I recall. (I will find you in a dark alley and knee cap you, Tim Curry! You will rue the day you made me afraid of bunk beds! Unless, of course, you’re wearing clown makeup. Then I shall scream like a little girl and run for my life…)

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I guess my parents aren’t that bad. They could have ordered an It cake for my birthday–that’s right, AN IT CAKE. Who does this?! What the hell is wrong with people?!

Hold on… the stomach bug strikes again… Which means I have to go to the bathroom, which is connected to the sewer… If I die horribly while on the toilet, somebody hit the “publish post” button, please?

There was blood bubbling in the sink! I saw it! I thought grownups weren’t supposed to be able to see, Stephen King! You bastard!

See, that’s the problem with a creature feature wherein the monster can become your worst fear. Even the rules laid out in the novel/screenplay count for just about nothing because your imagination takes over. I’ve never lived in Derry, Maine, but after I saw the movie, the frickin’ clown was everywhere. At one point we went on vacation to a cabin in the woods, and every time I closed my eyes, I was sure Pennywise was looming over me. I would open my eyes and fixate on a color in the room (blood red, shock white, cat piss yellow) or an imagined color that corresponded with the monster. My brain being what it is, it began to compose twisted nursery rhymes about the different colors in the clown’s motley, identifying them with It’s freakiest features. There’s some psychology behind this–the bright, primary colors in a clown’s costume apparently make us uneasy on an instinctive level, suggesting danger. 

That wasn’t all, of course. There was a sewer grate on the playground at school where some of us swore to seeing claw marks in the cement fixture. Balloons at birthday parties began to suck. Then, of course, there was this wonderful scene from the movie:

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Pass the conditioner. So… Tell me about your nightmares. 

Which meant showers were not safe. My remedy, being the good little Catholic boy that I then was, involved bringing my little red radio into the shower with me and blaring Gospel music to ward off the evil. Hey, laugh all you want. I stand by what I did. I survived, right? And I don’t want to hear a thing about logical fallacies.

Crap, there goes the stomach again… Back to the water closet. Maybe I’ll play some Christian Pandora, just in case…

While I’m indisposed, here’s a gem for you to contemplate…

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What the serious hell?! Who does this?! What is wrong with people on the Internet?!

…Okay, so that time it was, “Kiss me, fat boy!” while I was looking at myself in the mirror. I had nearly forgotten about all of Pennywise’s stupid one-liners, which makes being so terrified of this made-for-TV movie even more embarrassing.

When I was nine years old, I decided something needed to be done. I would overcome my fear, and all would be right with the world. And so like any good knight, I had a vision of a quest that would redeem me–I would read the novel version of It, all 1,138 pages of It (see what I did there?). Being nine wasn’t much of a deterrent because I was already something of an expert in Classical Mythology by then. You see, my elementary school teachers didn’t know what the heck to do with me, so they tossed me into the library. I gravitated towards Greco-Roman myths because there were always paintings or sculptures of naked people. Perversity for the win!

I bought the book from a thrift store sans the dust jacket. On the spine in blood red letters was the word, “It”. Other than that, it was black as sin and completely featureless–my perfect little necronomicon. I began reading, and the book, of course, was much better than the movie. The different things the clown morphed into to scare the children (they taste better when they’re terrified, apparently) never frightened me as much as the clown itself. Without the visuals–besides those in my head–I made pretty steady progress through the book. Then, at night, when things got scary, I would place the book on the shelf in my bedroom and climb up into my bunk bed (where I was totally cornered), always making sure that I turned the book pages out. I certainly didn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night and see the blood red letters from across the room like a sigil of death.

Of course, every time I woke up, the book was turned back around. There was It, taunting me from the darkness. It, It, IT! I never found out if it was my dad or my little brother that was screwing with me, but maybe it’s time for a witch hunt. Because that crap was NOT cool.

So as you can guess, my quest was unsuccessful. No holy grail for me, just a life time of coulrophobia.  

One of my students who is preparing a haunt for this Halloween is planning on having a room dedicated just to juggalos in an effort to scare the life out of people like me. Knowing my fear of clowns, he actually sat down and interviewed me. He even took notes! Man, I wish I could get him to do that in class when we’re studying literature. I explained about the idea of the shock white face looking dead and masking something potentially even more horrifying and deformed beneath, about the bright colors and went on a tirade about the Carnivalesque. When I was finished, he showed me the layout for the clown room.

“So what would you do layout-wise to make this even worse?” he asked.

“Put a ball pit right in the middle that has to be crossed in order to proceed, and have a clown hiding in there.”

I was shaking at the mere thought of this.

“That’s downright evil! Are you going to come out to the haunt, Mr. Pike?”

“Not on your life.”

Happy Halloween, Blogsphere. And until next time…

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Unagented Speculative Fiction Publishers Worth Your Time

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Still haven’t landed an agent? There are a few publishers that will still take you seriously, and while there are listings upon listings out there in the vast ocean of Cyberspace, relying on experience is better than reading submission guidelines, going through the motions, and waiting months (or years) for your work to be ignored.

What’s my experience? See Rejection: Greatest Hits. While I haven’t listed the names of the offenders, I’ve been considered (and beaten up by) some of the biggest names in Sci-Fi/ Fantasy publishing. What’s more, I’ve often waited three times as long as the posted reporting times because my work was held for a second read or third read. Even my current publisher, albeit for legitimate reasons, is holding a novel well beyond the submission period.

Life’s too short. You don’t want to wait ten years to know who’s worth your time. So spend ten minutes reading this post. You’ll thank me later.

Tor Books

The editors at Tor might take awhile, and it might take a couple passes through their physical mail room in New York to reach the right person, but their acquisitions department does actively read and consider unagented manuscripts. If they feel your story has merit, they will respond with an e-mail and ask to read the entire novel. In my experience, if you get this far, you’ll at least manage some notes from several different editors that will give you insight into how to make your fiction more marketable.

The other reasons for wanting to go with Tor are obvious. When an imprint of Macmillan sporting some of the biggest names in the field (Robert Jordan, Orson Scott Card, Terry Goodkind, etc.) and twenty consecutive Locus publisher of the year awards actively reads unagented submissions, you submit your work.

Harper Voyager

Keep an eye on Harper Collins. While the editors don’t normally accept unsolicited submissions, they opened the floodgates to around 4,500 manuscripts for a two-week period in October of 2012. The plan was to find new voices for their upcoming digital line. Initially, the editors were only going to contact the authors in the running for publication, but as of December, this has changed. A recent press release indicates that they’re planning to respond to everyone on some level, even if it’s just a form rejection letter. This is progress, and to me it represents a potential paradigm shift in the way these mega-publishers plan to do business in the future. (I’ll keep you posted, Dear Reader. Two of those 4,500 manuscripts are mine.)

Pyr

Let’s start with an image:

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I just grabbed the first book out of Pyr’s now-expansive catalog. Impressive, right? Now imagine it in high gloss as a wraparound image. That old cliche about never judging a book by its cover doesn’t actually hold up in the industry. While this publisher has been around for a comparatively short amount of time, sales are up and new authors are being discovered monthly. I sent Pyr a novel a few years ago that, in retrospect, was nowhere near ready for publication. The editor I dealt with read the entire manuscript, corresponded with me over e-mail, and even asked a few questions about my world during his reading. You can’t ask for more than that.

Well, at this point, I can. My best material is all Sci Fi. Pyr currently only accepts unagented submissions in the genre of Fantasy. Check their list of sub genres, though. You might still qualify.

ChiZine

This Canadian press seems to be expanding, and the editors are nice people who will provide you with notes on a partial if you catch their attention. Unfortunately, they’re currently swamped and closed to submissions. Their yearly reading period typically begins in July, but it looks like they’re now shooting for July 2014. Still, ChiZine is a great place to try after you’ve waited the prerequisite 6-12 months at one of the bigger U.S. houses, and your odds of at least getting feedback on your writing–which is crucial–are much higher.

Writers of the Future

Yes, L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology, started this contest decades ago. The contest itself has nothing (in my experience, and other bloggers who have placed and attended the workshops have confirmed this) whatsoever to do with personal religious beliefs. It is, believe it or not, one of the most viable ways to be discovered because the contest judges are all successful writers from the industry.

All entries must be under 17,000 words, but the judges will consider novel excerpts if they feel like they have a sense of closure. Each quarter, those who place in the top three are awarded 1,000, 750, and 500 dollar prizes respectively and flown out to Los Angeles to workshop with major authors. There’s also a yearly prize of 5,000 dollars for the top winner, not to mention publication in a very visible anthology.

One of my favorite new authors, Patrick Rothfuss, landed his agent through this contest after being rejected by the universe. Now he has two bestsellers, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. (I also know they read what you send them because I managed an honorable mention last year. Dave Wolverton, best known to me for his contributions to the Star Wars universe, sent me a signed award in the mail. The child in me thought this was pretty cool. I’ve also heard reports of feedback from finalists and those who have placed.)

Anyone who has yet to publish a novel professionally (less than 5,000 copies doesn’t count), two novelettes, or three short stories is eligible to compete. I’m making a point to enter this contest every quarter in 2013 until I’m ineligible.

Zharmae (TZPP)

A list of publishers wouldn’t be complete without the press that discovered my novelette in a competition last spring. Zharmae is an up-and-coming publisher that has recently acquired the rights to William Tedford’s TimeQuest series. The editors are actively seeking new and established writers through general submissions and their annual competition, which has far fewer restrictions than Writers of the Future. (Some of the writers I was up against have several publications under their belts.)

Though 2012 saw only two books roll off this publisher’s presses, Zharmae is doubling this in the first quarter of 2013 alone with two anthologies (RealLies and Irony of Survival), a novel (TimeQuest: Star Rashannon), and a memoir (Twat). I’d like to see this indie press, which seems mainly focused on speculative fiction, enjoy some of the same successes as Pyr, but only time will tell.

Are there other presses out there that accept unsolicited speculative fiction? There are plenty that claim to have opened their doors. These are the ones that will give you a fair shake. While I’m not planning on raining down fire and brimstone on my blog about their competitors, there’s probably a reason I haven’t listed them here.

It’s a cut-throat business, fledgling writers. But it gets an awful lot easier when someone believes in you, and there are people with clout out there willing to do so. The trick is finding them. Good luck.

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